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Kant’s Philosophy – Greatness and Limits

Kant is undoubtedly one of the greatest philosophers in European cultural and intellectual history. Anyone who delves deeper into the philosophical thought of his works and is coming to know and understand his intentions and goals can only speak of him with deep respect and in great veneration. Karl Popper has mentioned him in the same breath as Socrates. Along with Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, Kant is one of those European philosophers whose works are studied again and again in every subsequent epoch of human history. This is true for almost all continents, cultures and nations where philosophers and historians of philosophy study the works of earlier European philosophers.

Great philosophers have influenced and contributed to whole epochs of cultural and intellectual history. Whoever studies the history of ancient Greek philosophy from the Pre-Socratics through Plato and Aristotle to the Stoics and Epicureans, may realize that Plato and Aristotle contributed to the emergence of a new, more reflective and much more complex way of thinking about man’s situation in the world. Their brilliant achievements were not creations out of a cultural nothingness, but they were a productive “discovery of the mind” (Bruno Snell). For their new ways of thinking have contributed to gaining a more adequate, clear and comprehensive understanding of the whole complex reality of man’s situation in the world.

The much-cited path from myth to logos, that is, from the mythical worldview of a predominantly orally transmitted narrative explanations of the world to an empirical and rational understanding of the world captured in written thought with the help of natural science and philosophy, is itself neither a myth nor a mere utopia. Philosophers and natural scientists have produced new aspects of culture and techniques in this way. Even though mythical thinking has never completely disappeared, but has merged with the old narratives and teachings of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the tension between myth and logos, or narrative and reason, has remained until modern times and modernity.

Since the emergence of Nova Scientia, the diverse cultures of modern Europe have still been permeated by the dynamic tension between myth and logos or between narration and reason. However, the Copernican Revolution of the late medieval and early modern periods overcame the demiurgic cosmology of the platonic dialogue Timaeus and the geocentric cosmology and spherical celestial mechanics of the aristotelian Physics. In this way, at first the manifold cultures of the European Renaissance and Reformation and then also the rest of mankind were led into a new age of the heliocentric understanding of the earth in a local solar system and in an almost boundless universe.

However, the tension between myth and logos could never be completely removed and disappear. It seems to belong to the condition humaine and therefore cannot be dissolved and eliminated without a damage. In the early modern period and in the epoch of the European Enlightenment, the bipolar tension between myth and logos or between narrative and reason became a multipolar controversy between religions and denominations on the one hand and philosophies and sciences on the other. This controversy still continued in the modernity of the 20th century and the early 21st century.

1. Kant in Historical Context

Kant is undoubtedly one of the most important philosophers of the later European Enlightenment. But his philosophical thought did not fall from the sky, nor did it arise from the inborn nature of a lonely genius. The genesis and development of Kant’s thought also has its historical and cultural roots in Königsberg at its time. He himself grew up as a child in a middle-class, strictly pietist family, then went through a pietistically influenced Königsberg school and finally studied above all philosophy and natural sciences at Königsberg University with, among others, the philosophy professor Martin Knutzen (1713-1751) and the theology professor Franz Albert Schultz (1692-1763). Both professors belonged to the school of Königsbergian Rational Pietism.

Königsbergian Rational Pietism was a specific amalgam of the Sensualist Pietism of Philipp Jacob Spener (1635-1705) and the educational and philanthropic Pietism of August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), as well as the rationalist system philosophy of Christian Wolff (1679-1754) and the aesthetic enlightenment philosophy of Alexander G. Baumgarten (1714-1762). These various precursors of Königsberg Rational Pietism were at home at the then most important university of the European Enlightenment in Halle an der Saale, where they both had to contend with and distinguish themselves against the long-established Lutheran orthodoxy.

Originally, Kant knew only the rather mediocre textbooks of metaphysics about man and his soul, about God and the world of nature. They were mostly religiously founded and contained dogmatic  teachings of the moral and legal duties of the natural law of his time. They awakened in him the genuine philosophical interest to clarify for himself what human beings, reasonably considered, can recognize and know, what they should do and refrain from doing, what they may believe and hope for, and what they may find beautiful and sublime and judge.

When Kant programmatically asks in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781), “What can I know?”, “What should I do?”, “What may I hope?”, every human being of common sense is addressed as a general human subject, as a judging “I” and not the particular and concrete individual Immanuel Kant himself. Therefore, Kant refers generally to the common human capacities for cognitive, linguistic and reflexive self-consciousness of adult human beings, whose silent thoughts and public utterances can always be accompanied by reflexive thoughts of the form “I think that … “.

Kant thought in general terms about what potentially unites all human subjects, consciously abstracting from contingent characteristics such as age and gender, such as family origin and ethnicity, such as economic power and social status, such as legal status as free and voting citizens or as unfree and wage-dependent day laborers. According to Kant, all human subjects or persons are potential citizens of the world, not only Prussians, but also other Europeans, not only Europeans, but also all other people living outside Europe. Such diverse and random characteristics as the lightness or darkness of their skin or the colors of their eyes, the shapes of theirs lips, noses and ears were of little interest to Kant. Unlike Johann Caspar Lavater (1741-1801) and some other of his contemporaries, Kant had little interest in physiognomic speculations about an alleged connection between people’s visible physiognomies and their presumed temperament or even their intelligence and character. Because of his interest in the common mental faculties of human beings, he was much less prone to discriminatory prejudice on the basis of accidental externals than were the empiricists, who proceeded from observations of the externally perceptible features of human beings.

In his theoretical and practical philosophy, Kant thought about the condition humaine from the perspective of a cosmopolitan horizon of all humanity, no matter what stereotypes he may have shared as a child of his time about these and those people. In any case, when in his lectures Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht (1798) he had expressed some common opinions about the typical differences of mentality among Germans, English and French, Italians and Spaniards, Africans and Chinese, he had not yet referred to “races” in the sense of the naturalist racial doctrines of the 19th century or even in the sense of the political racism of the 20th century. Like the French Enlightenment philosopher Montesquieu, he was concerned only with certain typical differences in mentality, which had been shaped over many generations by climate and language, culture and religion, and which were even more stable at that time because of the lesser breadth of communication and interaction.

2. Kant’s writings read by yourself and sympathetically understood

It seems to be an almost impossible task to try to present and evaluate Kant’s philosophy in a single short essay. If nevertheless attempted, one must concentrate on a few essentials. One has to do justice to Kant’s personal intentions behind his only apparently well-known writings. For, if one only wants to talk down to a philosophical genius of his stature, then one can always find incidental details with quick misinterpretations that we, as contemporaries of the 21st century, no longer believe to be true and correct. It is much more difficult than playing the smart-alec and patronizing schoolmaster to first take this virtually inexhaustible classic by its strengths and to present his still valid contributions to the historical stream of philosophical insights. To do so, Kant interpreters must first have painstakingly learned what he had clearly seen and what we ourselves may have only glimpsed darkly, but have not yet been able to bring up so clearly without him.

When contrasted to the learned contributions of excellent Kant scholars, the image of Kant which is conveyed by most contemporary philosophy professors with an analytical bent in introductions, textbooks, and monographs, usually is far too rationalistic, too scholastic, too much fixated on his writings, and hardly dialectical. Therefore I limit myself to what Kant wanted to convey on basic anthropological, metaphysical, ethical, aesthetic, legal, and religious philosophical topics after his departure from the Leibniz-Wolffian scholastic metaphysics of the early Enlightenment. Like Plato with his critical stand on written wisdom, Kant was well aware that judgments written in long sentences in a bookish order, do not refer to concrete situations in the experiential world of life. Since they are philosophically abstracting and reflective in nature, they can only ever guide one’s own contemplation, reflection, and judgment. However, they can never convey fully the lifely experience and personal power of judgment that people need in order to be able to present, judge and solve concrete problems in their respective situations themselves.

In his late review Die Fortschritte der Metaphysik (1804) on the progress of metaphysics, Kant describes his own contribution to this gradual and cumulative progress, which he had intended and believed to have made with his critical philosophy, as a synthesis of Platonic Rationalism and Aristotelian Empiricism. However, Kant’s critical philosophy contains an essential ingredient that is lacking in both, in the Platonic doctrine of souls and ideas and in the Aristotelian cosmotheology, namely, a genuine Socratic unknowing of the ultimate metaphysical questions concerning the existence, essence, and will of God, the immortality of the human soul, and the freedom of the human will. These last metaphysical questions Kant interpreted – like Socrates before him – again as questions of faith and wisdom beyond the limits of human knowledge. According to Kant they go beyond what human beings can find out and know.

3. Kant’s personalistic conception of man

Kant’s philosophy is no longer theocentric like the philosophia perennis of medieval scholasticism until the beginning of the Renaissance and Reformation. It no longer teaches people to trust in God alone and his purpose for man. According to Kant, man’s earthly life is no longer a pilgrimage through this world directed by God, in order to prove oneself for an afterlife. Therefore, Kant no longer believes that this life will be followed by a Last Judgment, in which people will be judged according to their deeds, who will go to heaven and who will end up in hell. Rather, people walk their paths through this earthly world on their own, in accordance with their physical nature. The individual human being is neither only a conscious subject in a mechanistic external world as in Descartes nor merely a completely determined mode of the pantheistic all-nature as in Spinoza nor a windowless monad in the net of spatiotemporal relations as in Leibniz.

Rather, Kant’s philosophy starts from the living human being in an anthropocentric way and explores his specifically human capacities of experience and cognition, of knowledge and action, of experiencing and evaluating the beautiful and the sublime, of assessing the purposeful in the living beings and organs of nature, as well as of faith and hope for a better future. Man is still seemingly at the center of a geocentric world on earth, but he knows that appearances can be deceptive, and that the earth actually revolves around the sun. That this world was created by God and is maintained by Him is a reasonable belief, but it is neither a scientific discovery nor a philosophical knowledge proven by argument. Moreover, belief in God as the lawgiver of all our moral and legal duties, while useful and motivating, is not a necessary practical idea of the moral conduct of life.

Due to the condition humaine in the scientifically influenced modern age, all people, i.e. not only atheists and skeptics, but also Jews, Christians and Muslims of all faiths as well as the followers of other religions and all denominations, must learn to arrange their lives according to their own and common convictions and ideas, in order to be able to live together peacefully and justly with people of other faiths and other opinions. Therefore, according to Kant, all people, including believers and non-believers, have become agnostics. All subjects of belief are ultimately uncertain.

There is no communicable or provable knowledge of God, of the immortality of the human soul and of freedom of the human will. For to prove something means convince someone of something with arguments and that is, like communication, an interactive and intersubjective endeavor. But rarely has an atheist or skeptic been convinced of the falsity of his convictions by a theist or believer with evidence.

People can learn about themselves, however, that they are special intelligent living beings in earthly nature, and therefore neither reasonless animals nor disembodied spirits. In his late Lectures on Anthropology in Pragmatic Terms, Kant describes the general knowledge of human beings: human beings are corporeal persons with the ability to think and speak. They have a complicated mind with the various psychic faculties of sensuous sensations, impressions, and perceptions, of the thinking, reasoning, and judging mind, and of the abstracting, subsuming, and reflecting power of judgment. Human beings are bodily and mental beings from head to toe with the vital sensations of pleasure and pain, hunger and thirst, joy and sorrow, etc.

Because of their minds, they can experience a wide range of emotions, such as affects and feelings, passions and moods. They also have motives and intentions to do or not to do something, to plan and implement something. They can experience their cognitions partially only passively and partially actively control them themselves. They can think and say something with the help of the language they have learned, judge and evaluate, express and communicate. They can, within certain natural limits, remember and recount something past and guess and predict something to happen in the near future, fear and hope, and some other things.

In his Lectures on Anthropology, Kant also distinguishes in a pragmatic way between what human beings are by nature as biological creatures due to their natural-historical origin and development and what they are as social and cultural creatures due to their cultural origin and imprint, their upbringing and training, education and self-selection. However, unlike many of his contemporaries, he does not stop at this distinction between natural and cultural man, but sets all his hopes on a civilization of man through moral, legal and political ideals and principles of reason, subjective maxims and universally valid norms.

4. Kant’s skeptical reservations about unlimited claims to knowledge

“I had to suspend knowledge in order to make room for faith.” (Ich musste das Wissen aufheben, um zum Glauben Platz zu bekommen. KrV, B, Preface) Kant believed that he had to accept the limited scope of the cognitive faculties of understanding, judgment, and reason in understanding knowledge as true belief justified by sufficiently good reasons. He thereby wanted to preserve the necessary and appropriate freedom of faith which might be pervaded with unobservable facts and unprovable myths. The unavailable mysteries of faith have to be allowed to remain mysteries. However, his driving motive was to protect the irreplaceable contribution of the modes of faith to the ethical orientation and legal order of the polity not only from superstitious and fanatical enthusiasts, but also from the rampant pretensions of radical, atheistic, and naturalistic ideologues. For like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Kant was firmly convinced that the arts and sciences alone cannot perform these normative tasks of ethical, moral, legal and political orientation. For they can only determine what is (probably) the case and what is (probably) technically feasible, but never what is generally ethically, morally, legally, and politically good or what is best to do or to refrain from doing in very concrete situations.

According to Kant, there is a generally valid ethics and a generally correct law for all citizens and people, which the philosophically educated can deduce from the principles of reason and apply in concreto with human judgment. In doing so, however, they need neither to refer to a mythical creation of the world or to a miraculous revelation of God’s will. Philosophical ethics is autonomous and does not need a religious foundation neither by God nor by some revelation. On this neuralgic point Kant agrees with the Platonic Socrates of his dialogue Eutyphron. Nevertheless, according to Kant, the sources of faith and the horizons of hope must not dry up. Kant’s Enlightenment intention is thus not directed against the raison d’être and contributions of a rich diversity of faiths in religions and denominations, but only against a dogmatic claim to a supposedly indubitable knowledge or to a supposedly certain knowledge in the metaphysics of God, soul and the world. For not only atheism and naturalism, but also such dogmatic claims invalidate and endanger the chances of a generally valid ethics and a generally right law for all citizens and people. Therefore, Kant is also a firm critic of all esoteric, gnostic and occultist pretensions in religions, denominations and world views.

Kant is firmly convinced that the wide range of what all human beings can recognize and know with the help of the natural light of sensual experience and imaginative intuition, of empirical understanding and a priori reason, is limited to the sensually experienceable phenomena in nature and culture, as well as to the hidden, but explicable basic forces and laws of nature, causes and effects, interactions and interrelationships. His firm conviction springs from a deep epistemic modesty, which opens a large and free space for ideological differences and religious diversity to faith, the appropriate love for God, for oneself and for one’s fellow human beings, and the deep-seated hopes of human beings.

The Catholic Church, with its then still customary hope for a better beyond after this “earthly vale of tears”, was not at all happy about this. The Catholic Magisterium condemned Kant’s philosophy as a heretic form of skeptical and Pelagian questioning of the Catholic doctrine and as a form of mere fideism. “Fideism” is the term used to describe the view, opposed to rationalism, that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated in a strict sense by means of rational proofs of God. Fideists are convinced that the beliefs of Christian theology are based only on a meaningful belief in revelation, but not on general philosophical or metaphysical knowledge. Kant’s agnostic critique of metaphysics was opposed and dangerous to the Catholic Magisterium’s traditional claim to possess and teach the only and complete true Christian doctrine. But from the standpoint of biblical theology, conversely, philosophical rationalism is heretical. For, if human reason alone were sufficient to demonstrate the existence of God to all men of common sense, then there would have been no need for Gods revelations. Gods revelation in His creation, in the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and finally in his incarnation in Jesus Christ would be unnessessary for faith in God.

However, the Reformed and Lutheran churches were also initially opposed to Kant’s Enlightenment philosophy and agnostic defense of faith. Despite its fideistic orientation and despite its biblically based critique of esoteric folly, Gnostic arrogance, and spiritualistic rapture, it lacked reference to the authority of Holy Scripture, to God as the Creator of heaven and earth, to Jesus Christ, as the Son of God and Savior, and to the Holy Spirit. So, at first, they also suspected Kant of being an opponent of their Christian doctrines and a rival in the struggle for the salvation of sinful man. Only later in the 20th century did some assimilated Jews see in Kant a reliable guide to the Halacha, as a new, enlightened form of Judaism. Also, some enlightened Protestants (Troeltsch, Ritschl, et al.) accepted Kant’s agnostic philosophy and developed a New Protestantism that was more ethical, diaconal, and cultural rather than biblical, pneumatic, and kerygmatic.

In any case, most contemporary Kant interpreters of the largely ahistorically thinking analytic philosophy completely fail to recognize Kant’s closeness to the Halle Pietism of A. G. Baumgarten, Francke, and Spener, as well as his origines in the Königsbergian Rational Pietism of Knutzen, Schultz and others. It was precisely this obvious proximity that made it so important for Kant, right at the beginning of his critical turn to distance himself polemically from the esoteric occultism and gnostic spiritualism of Emmanuel Swedenborg, who was back then a famous natural scientist and writer, in his long essay Dreams of a Visionary (Träume eines Geistersehers, 1765).

5. Kant’s Critique of Empiricism and Rationalism in Metaphysics

In his last writing On The Progress in Metaphysics (1804), which he released for publication, but which only appeared shortly after his death, Kant once again referred to what he considered his contribution to progress in metaphysics, namely his critically and differentiating synthesis of the two opposing positions of empiricism and rationalism. He had summarized this synthesis already in his first Critique in the well-known dictum: “Thoughts without content are empty and intuitions without concepts are blind. (“Gedanken ohne Inhalt sind leer und Anschauungen ohne Begriffe sind blind.”, KrV, A48 / B75)

When people recognize concrete objects, like stones, plants, animals or human beings in the spatio-temporal life-world, not only indefinite sensual impressions and explicit empirical concepts of objects are involved and presupposed, but also implicit a priori concepts. Such a priori concepts are, e.g. the logical concepts of identity and difference, sameness and dissimilarity, unity and multiplicity, part and whole, cause and effect, etc. However, Kant also claimed to have discovered that there are not only some a priori concepts needed for logics and mathematics, but also a priori forms of intuitions about three-dimensional space and irreversable time and both are involved and presupposed even by human empirical knowledge about individual objects in space and time.

However, people also have many concepts to which no concrete single things in the spatio-temporal life world correspond at all In logic and mathematics they construct whole well ordered worlds of abstract objects on the basis of abstract a priori concepts. It is true that by counting at least the simple concepts of integers can be applied in judgments to concrete objects in the life-world. Therefore mathematical concepts and judgments cannot only be consistent in thought, but also appropriate and true, practical and useful when applied to experiential objects in the spatio-temporal life-world.

However, in the metaphysics of God and the world, of the beginning and the end of the universe, of the limits of space and time, of the soul and its eventual immortality, of freedom of the will and causal determination, etc., we think about problems and issues that are beyond possible experience of concrete objects in the spatio-temporal life-world. This fact often leads to difficult questions, semantic ambiguities and contradictions that are difficult to resolve, to occasional aporias, and seemingly endless disputes. Therefore, Kant’s initial skepticism arose from the impression that there seems to be no progress in metaphysics and that metaphysics does not seem to be a successful and respectable science. Since its problems and topics are beyond possible human experience and do not lead to widely accepted knowledge, its concepts and thoughts seem to be futile and empty.

Kant, therefore, argued on the one hand, against the empiricism and skepticism of David Hume, in order to show that objective empirical knowledge about objects and their properties, relations and changes, causes and effects is not only possible, but real, at least in exact physics. But it is not only based on sensory experiences, on the empirical concepts of understanding, but also on the a priori forms of intuitions of space and time, and on the a priori conceptions and principles of human understanding. According to Kant, however, metaphysics also concerns the existentially relevant question of whether it is at all possible for human beings to know beyond doubt and beyond the limits of their lifeworld and scientific experience whether there is a transcendent God and whether human beings have free will and an immortal soul, etc. Kant, however, denies the possibility of metaphysical knowledge with respect to these three existentially relevant metaphysical questions. This is his famous critique of the traditional proofs of God, of free will and of the immortality of the soul.

However, Kant also denies the presumptuous claims of pantheists, like Baruch de Spinoza, to be able to rationally demonstrate more geometrico that there is no transcendent God because God and nature are supposedly one and the same, that there is no free will because everything in nature and in man is completely determined, and that there is no immortal soul, because there is nothing about man that is not material. Thus Kant became on the one hand an agnostic defender of the practically necessary idea of God and on the other hand a committed defender of freedom and the potential reasonableness of faith. Therefore, however, Kant also became a resolute critic of all esoteric, sensualistic or spiritualistic followers of a gnosis, who presume to possess an intuitive, higher and supersensible special knowledge of absolute certainty in metaphysical questions and therefore feel superior to both the rational ways of philosophical reflection and the experimental and empirical researches of the sciences.

6. Kant’s Critique of Sensualism and Rationalism in Ethics and Legal Philosophy

Until his existentially triggered critical turn, the young Kant was still a convinced follower of the emotivist ethics of Hutcheson and Shaftesbury, to which David Hume and Adam Smith also belonged. According to their rather Epicurean ethics of feeling, right and wrong ethical, legal and political actions always originate from an inner, specifically human moral sense and are not a matter of cognitive knowledge, rational considerations and generally valid rational principles.

Kant’s pre-critical emotivist ethics thus still contained a clear distancing from the intellectualist ethics of Socrates, according to which ethically, legally, or politically wrong decisions and actions always stem from a mental error and are due to a lack of genuine piety (eusebia) and of justice (diakaiosyne). Plato’s dialectical ethics, while partially preserving this intellectualist view in his understanding of the rational virtues of prudence (phronesis), justice (diakaiosyne), and wisdom (sophia), supplemented it with his understanding of the emotional virtues of prudence (sophrosyne) and fortitude (andreia). Only Aristotle and Paul had then pointed out that ethically, legally and politically wrong decisions and actions can also happen against better knowledge, since they often arise from a weakness of the will (akrasia) rather than from a lack of understanding (dianoia), of reason (nous) or of judgment (phronesis). Kant’s later voluntarist ethics of the good will agrees with Aristotle and Paul regarding the possibility of weakness of the will.

After his critical turn, however, Kant again abandoned the emotivist ethics of feelings and developed an independent and new ethics and philosophy of law more in line with Cicero’s De officiis (44 B.C.) and Rousseau’s Emile (1762), though also in distinction from the natural law views of Gottfried Achenwall and Christian Wolff. Kant’s critical ethics thus again approaches the classical ideal of a combination of the natural pursuit of happiness and of cultivated virtue.

Kant’s actual and mature ethics and philosophy of right, however, is found only in his late writing Metaphysics of Morals (1797), which he divided into a doctrine of virtue and a doctrine of right. The still much more widely read Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten (1785), on the other hand, contains only certain preliminary meta-ethical considerations in the search for his new ethics. It contains mainly conceptual analyses of basic ethical concepts such as those of duties and good will, the distinction between strategic arbitrariness, pragmatic prudence, and moral reasonableness, the distinction between means and ends, the distinction between emotional respect for principles and the cognitive understanding of the highest principle of practical reason, and, finally, reflections on the metaphysical question of the possibility of free will as an anthropological precondition of ethical and legal duties.

Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason (1786) follows on from this, but like his other two critiques, it belongs to the fundamental transcendental philosophical investigations of the possibility of the a priori in finite human beings. But unlike his Critique of Pure (Theoretical) Reason (1788), it proceeds entirely from the mysterious fact of a priori principles of practical reason, which can be explained neither causally nor teleologically nor psychologically. Here, according to Kant, we encounter the mysteries of the timelessly valid moral law and the good will in finite human beings, which we can only encounter with awe, especially since they are reminiscent of Socratic piety (eusebia).

However, anyone who wants to know and understand Kant’s actual and mature ethics must therefore study his Tugendlehre (1797). The guiding idea of his ethics is that what matters is the appropriate determination of the relationship between the natural pursuit of happiness and the moral striving for virtue. Virtue is based essentially in self-respect, that is, in respect for one’s duties to oneself and one’s duties to others. While all people by nature want to be happy in some way, there are many different and incompatible conceptions of happiness or satisfaction with the whole of one’s life. Therefore, what matters at large is not so much the wise and successful pursuit of one’s own happiness as the worthiness of each individual to be happy by living as virtuously as possible. Virtue, therefore, consists not only in self-interested, strategic, or pragmatic prudence and in the often accidental success of the pursuit of one’s own happiness but rather in moral consideration for oneself and for others, including the benevolent contribution to their happiness and satisfaction.

Before Kant, not only Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, but also Jean Jacques Rousseau had already pointed out the importance of natural self-love (amour de soi) in contrast to mistaken selfishness (amour propre) as a mental condition for the ability to love one’s neighbor virtuously. Kant, however, prefers the notions of volitional self-respect and benevolence because emotional love as a passively experienced feeling of empathy or sympathy can neither be recommended nor enjoined. One can love one’s neighbor only by respecting him and then, on the basis of knowing him as reliably as possible, doing him benevolent good and promoting his happiness as much as possible. Love of one’s neighbor must therefore neither patronize nor take over.

In this sense Kant understands the Jewish and Christian double commandment of love (Rabbi Hillel and Jesus of Nazareth) “Love God above all and your neighbor as yourself!” as a simple commandment of reverence for God and as a twofold commandment of respect for oneself and the other. One loves God, according to Kant and entirely in the spirit of the Reformers, neither by self-abasing submission nor by fervent public worship, but by “respect for the moral law,” i.e., by respecting its commandments and cultivating and realizing them as well as possible in one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. Even the Jesuan unique love of one’s enemies can be neither a felt empathy nor a masochistic sympathy for one’s enemies, but only a fellow human respect that is maintained even in the midst of strife and battle, because they too are God’s creatures.

Whoever wants to get to know and understand Kant’s philosophy of law must then study his Rechtslehre (1797). His Rechtslehre is about the metaphysical initial grounds of a universally valid law of reason as a secular successor of the older, mostly theologically based natural law. The orienting guiding idea of his legal philosophy is the universal legal principle of the lawfulness of an externally observable action in contrast to the externally unobservable inner disposition of citizens and people: “Every action is right which, or according to whose maxim, the freedom of the arbitrariness of each can exist together with everyone’s freedom according to a general law.” This principle of right serves as a measure and criterion of wise determination of concrete positive rights.

7. Kant’s Critique of Sensualism and Rationalism in Aesthetics

Kant criticized both empiricism (Locke, Hume, and Berkeley) and rationalism (Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza) in epistemology and metaphysics in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781) and in his  Prolegomena (1783). Then, in his Critique of Practical Reason (1786), he criticized both Epicurean sensualism and Socratic intellectualism in ethics. Consequently, in his Critique of Judgment (1790), he also criticized sensualist aesthetics of feelings (Hutcheson) and rationalist aesthetics of rules (Alexander G. Baumgarten).

The sensualists do not arrive at aesthetic judgments of taste about the beautiful and sublime that intend the free assent of others through communication and conversation, but rather close themselves individualistically, solipsistically, and self-sufficiently in their own and merely accidental aesthetic sensations and feelings. Hence, they tend therefore to absolutize their own personal tastes. They deny that aesthetic sensations, feelings, and judgments can be shared by different people and also partially communicated through analogies and metaphors. The rationalists, on the other hand, want to impose rather authoritatively and autocratically on all others, an artificial, previously constructed set of rules to which both producing artists and consuming recipients must adhere in their respective production, reception, and judgment. They deny that different people can have internally different aesthetic sensations and feelings, and that they can also make different judgments based on different tastes.

Kant, on the other hand, favors a middle way of personal aesthetic judgment, which is admittedly based on subjective feelings of the beautiful and sublime, whether we are talking about beautiful artifacts and works of art or the beautiful and sublime in nature. In making aesthetic judgments, we usually look away from the functions, goals, and purposes of the objects we are judging and view them with a “disinterested pleasure”. However, the aesthetic judgment about the beauty and sublimity of the judged objects does not follow any fixed rule of the mind, but arises only from the “free play” of the subjective sensations of taste. Due to a sufficient similarity of human nature, the personal judgment of taste can be expressed linguistically and communicated to others, despite the diversity of subjective taste sensations. In doing so, however, we intend the approval by others despite its origin in our own subjectivity. Their approval is more likely if they belong to the same origin, community and culture. But it is sometimes possible even interculturally and cosmopolitan because of a common human nature.

8. Kant’s Critique of Pietism and Gnosticism in the Philosophy of Religion

Kant knew Königsberg rational pietism from his childhood and youth on. After his critical turn, he criticized emotivism in ethics and sensualism in aesthetics. Similarily, he criticised emotivism in the philosophy of religion. Characteristic of any variety of pietism (Spener, Francke, and others) is to assume that Christian faith is based on religious emotions (sensations, affects, feelings, and moods). The Reformers did not hold this view because emotions are fleeting and are experienced only passively, and because Christian faith requires to understand the good news of God’s Word as it is contained in the Gospel and can therefore be communicated by words alone, but not by any sensual experiences. The senses are only needed to hear or read the message of the Gospel. The New Testament does not only contain narrations about the life, teachings and work of Jesus of Nazareth, but also wittness reports about the supernatural salvation events of the Christian faith, namely God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ as well as his death on the cross and his resurrection.

Therefore, Christian faith cannot be based only on pious emotions alone, but only on a cognitive understanding of and confessional assent to well-attested historical facts. On the one hand, Kant agrees with the Reformers and not with the Pietists. On the other hand, Kant does not agree with the anti-fideistic rationalism of the Roman Catholic Church, which claims that the essential contents of what they take to be the Christian faith (God, freedom of the will, and immortality of the soul) can be proved philosophically. All the more he rejects the esoteric gnosis of the Rosicrucians, Illuminati and Freemasons, if they believe that they could directly see the core content of the Christian faith with a special intuitive gift as a subjective certainty. Finally, Kant also rejects paranormal experiences and occultistic abilities as a source of religious certainties, claimed by esotericists and occultists, as epistemic self-deceptions and as religious delusions.

Further, Kant agrees with the Reformers that humans, unlike minerals, plants, and animals, are capable of good, relatively neutral, or evil thoughts, words, decisions, and deeds. But he does not accept the biblical myth of the Fall and the Augustinian doctrine of original sin as the supposed collective origins of evil in human beings. Unlike Plato, he also does not assume the origin of evil in the bodily, material, and sensual nature of man, but rather in individual orientation by misleading subjective maxims of morality and in willful error of judgment, which in concrete situations can be influenced by irrational inclinations (current emotions or habitual motivations).

Whether and to what extent someone has performed a certain factual action completely voluntarily and completely free of inner inclinations, volitional restrictions and mental compulsions, finite human beings can never find out and know without any doubt due to their limited cognitive capacity – neither in themselves nor in others. Therefore, they can also never be completely sure whether someone could not have decided and acted differently in a certain situation. It follows that they can also never be completely sure whether someone is to be praised and rewarded because of his good decision or rebuked and punished because of his bad decision. For only God, as the “knower of hearts”, could fully know and understand the hearts of men by virtue of divine omniscience.

Kant’s rational philosophy of religion, like Thomas Aquinas, preserves the boundary with Christian theology. In his ethics, Kant is aware that human beings can never by their own power secure their natural pursuit of happiness and their personal pursuit of virtue succeed. Therefore, it is not in their power to ensure that their natural striving for happiness and their moral striving for a virtuous life can be achieved together in this life. Therefore, they always remain dependent on the assistance and help of God in this life and after their death.

Kant’s rational philosophy of religion can therefore say nothing about the essentials of Christian faith, neither about the justification by faith alone, nor about the grace and mercy of God, nor about the redemption by Jesus Christ nor about the fulfillment by the Holy Spirit. Even the problem of theodicy Kant did not consider to be solvable by reason and philosophy alone, why he referred to the biblical narrative of Job for its solution. Although Kant after his critical turn rejected the main theoretical arguments for the existence of God namely, the physico-theological, the teleological and the ontological argument, he insisted against atheism and pantheism that this is no prove of the inexistence of a transcendent God. He just insisted, that God can neither be directly perveived nor experienced nor can his existence and nature inferred from any facts about the world with certainty. However, he argued that there is a practical argument for the existence of God arguing from the fact of moral consciousness in human beings. Since Kant accepted this final moral prove that there must be a trancendent God, he is neither an atheist nor a pantheist nor a complete agnostic.

This is why some enlightened Jews of the 19th and 20th centuries (Cohen, Natorp, Cassirer, and others) were able to identify so well with and adopt Kant’s rational philosophy of religion. Thus, Kant became a guide and model for enlightened Jews and Christians. The modest and respectful Kant, rather than the polemical and mocking Voltaire, attracted and inspired enlightened Jews and Christians. It may have helped that Kant, unlike Voltaire, was neither an anti-Semite nor a mocker of Mohammed, neither an advocate of slavery nor a monarchist.

9. Limits and blind spots of Kantian philosophy

The greatness of Kantian philosophy is beyond question. So is Kant’s philosophical genius. His intentions were bona fide and so were his lifelong efforts of philosophical reflection. If someone ascribes a questionable absurdity or an obvious error to Kant, he can be fairly sure in most cases that he is misunderstanding him or imputing something to him that he neither meant nor wrote. This is especially true for his mostly misunderstood objection to perjury in court out of a general philanthropy. Since Goethe and Schiller, Hegel and Schelling, Brentano and Husserl, Jaspers and Heidegger, Arendt and Hersch, all those who philosophize in a serious and competent way take into account what Kant contributed with his writings to the self-enlightenment of philosophical thinking.

However, are there also limitations and blind spots of Kantian philosophy? Yes, there are. Kant’s philosophy is not “the last word”. In his essay answering the question, What is Enlightenment? (1784) Kant called upon his fellow philosophers to think courageously for themselves. Therefore, it cannot be in his spirit to dismiss critical inquiries and opinions about his philosophy. It is true that there has been a dogmatic Kantianism in the 19th and 20th centuries, but such dogmatization contradicts the spirit of his critical philosophizing. His sophisticated and complicated contributions to the philosophy of logic, mathematics and modern science are still discussed, but I must leave them here aside. But even these contributions are not simply obsolete, but surprisingly resistant, despite the more recent developments and acknowledged advances in these sciences.

1. With the epistemological problem of the possibility of a transgression of the subject towards the object, Kant, however, still remained attached to the problems of Lockean representationalism and of the Cartesian “subject-object split” (Karl Jaspers). According to these problems, people can only recognize their own conceptions of things, but not the things in themselves. Only Franz Brentano and the early Edmund Husserl assumed the intentionality of the psychic phenomena of consciousness and mind, according to which sensations and perceptions, but also linguistic concepts and judgments, can refer to external objects and public facts and not only to internal conceptions in private consciousness. If Kant had already assumed the intentionality of consciousness phenomena, he would not have had to write a “Transcendental Deduction” in his first Critique in order to prove against the skeptics the possibility of objective experiential knowledge from the self-consciousness of the subject.

2. Aristotle’s ontological categories can be applied to the phenomena of human experiential knowledge (phaenomena) at least heuristically and hypothetically. It is true that things in themselves, that is, the thought things of human experiential cognition (noumena) cannot be fully and finally known, since humans, unlike God, have neither an intellectual outlook nor an omniscient mind with which they could fully perceive things in the world at all levels and from all perspectives at once. Even if two or more people see the bowl on a table from different perspectives and without the respective back side, the bowl still exists independently of their perceptions. Hence, a limited objective experiential cognition is possible, as Kant considered. And therefore Aristotle’s ontological categories are also compatible with Kant’s philosophical thought. And his philosophy also leaves some room for newer insights in logic, mathematics and modern science, as they have developed further since his time.

3. Kant’s understanding of the natural sciences of his time however was strongly influenced by Newtonian mechanics. Therefore, it was mainly causal-analytical and mathematical-quantifying. However, other than Goethe, his mechanistic understanding made him question some phenomena and the whole teleology of nature. Although in Kant’s time all of nature and too many natural phenomena were interpreted teleologically due to religious prejudices and worldviews, Hegel had rightly rehabilitated the teleological functionality of individual organs as parts in the system of a whole organism. Although most contemporary biologists still adhere to Kant’s overly radical critique of teleological explanations and to a causalist reductionist understanding of the living, it can hardly be denied that all living creatures behave in a goal-oriented manner for the purpose of their self-preservation and reproduction, and that the organs of plants, animals, and humans fulfill natural purposes.

4. Who in an everyday or scientific matter has a more adequate grasp of the facts and situations, a more thorough understanding of the objects or persons, or has found the better solutions to a problem, can only be shown by objective and conscientious discussions. Kant’s reference to the practical necessity of experienced and witty judgment, however, is not sufficient to settle all factual and technical controversies. For even in such controversies there can still be divergent judgments by two or more experts with a nearly equal power of judgment. The power of judgment decides in concrete individual situations what is important. This is not decided by reason with its general rules and principles. However, since the power of judgment depends on personal experience and education not only for aesthetic judgments, but also for theoretical and practical judgments, emotions and intuitions always play a certain role. In all areas of knowledge and science, this speaks in favor of cultivated debate between equal experts, and in political life, it speaks in favor of parliamentary democracy with some advice from scientific experts and for a modern constitutional state that also protects the rights of outvoted minorities against the intentions, decisions and goals of the majority.

5. The somewhat laconic, often humorous, but sometimes sarcastic Kant used to judge the smaller weaknesses of people mostly in a rather realistic manner, but not without benevolence. Therefore, he also believed that experienced and mature judgment is rather rare even among enlightened and educated people. Therefore, Kant also believed that human beings, as intelligent creatures, not only need education and training in their early years, but also often need some authority and guidance later on. This seems to contradict with his passionate plea for the courage to think for oneself as the slogan of the enlightenment. But not everyone has this courage, and not everyone can think well for himself or for herself about all possible topics and problems without the guidance of another person who is more able to do so.

6. Unlike Plato and Aristotle, in his ethics, Kant occasionally seems to underestimate somewhat the power of the emotions and passions. Both the Aristotelian doctrine of mesotes and the Platonic insight into the practical necessity of a lifelong cultivation of the emotions he sometimes seems to underestimate. For good judgment thrives only on the emotional humus of prudence. Cultivated emotions favor ethically correct and morally good decisions, actions, and attitudes. Respect for the moral law and the rational examination of its subjective maxims by the generalization principle, on the other hand, usually happen only afterwards and can therefore come too late for spontaneous decisions in current courses of action. Thus, for example, the origin of an appropriate munificence between the two extremes of avarice and extravagance lies rather in the emotional dispositions of the heart and can hardly be achieved only by a rational control of one’s subjective maxims by means of principles of morality. It requires a deeper change in emotional and motivational attitudes and, perhaps also, unavailing, but liberating grace. However, Kants respect for the moral law can still subsequently contribute to character self-education, habitual consideration for others, appropriate caution about probable consequences, and open-hearted circumspection of circumstances.

7. In Kant’s time, modern social sciences did not yet exist, because they emerged only after Hegel’s historical social philosophy. Therefore, Kant did not yet have a distinct understanding of the extent to which people’s aesthetic sensations, preferences, and evaluations are shaped by upbringing and socialization, cultivation and education. However, this can be reconciled with his view of the genealogy and validity of aesthetic judgments about works of art, and natural phenomena, which mediates between sensualist emotional aesthetics and rationalist rule aesthetics. Nevertheless, this changes the assessment of when, to whom, about what, and to what extent one can be expected to agree with one’s own aesthetic judgments of taste. For then one will rather assume that divergent aesthetic assessments depend on different temperaments, personal life histories and educational paths and less on the aesthetic quality of the artifacts, works of art, and natural phenomena themselves to be judged.

8. In Kant’s time, there were no modern religious studies yet, because these also emerged only after Hegel’s historical philosophy of religion. Kant also did not yet have a distinct understanding of the extent to which people’s religious sensations, feelings, ideas, and beliefs are shaped by upbringing and socialization, cultivation and education. The history of the great religions and denominations with their manifold conventions, traditions, and institutions was almost not yet a topic for him. Kant stood still firmly in the Protestant tradition, but he was aware of the difference between his rational philosophy of religion, the sensualist beliefs of the Pietists, and the biblically based theology of the Reformers. As a philosopher, however, Kant developed a metaphysically, but not ethically agnostic point of view, which, was opposed not only to atheism and skepticism, but also to the rationalist and dogmatic pantheism of Spinoza and the rationalist and dogmatic theism of Descartes. Kant’s critique of metaphysics lead him to a practical faith close to the neological theologian Johann Joachim Spalding (1714-1804), but not to an atheist, pantheist, or skeptical criticism of religion. Thus, in his Critique of Judgment (1799), “It is just as necessary to accept the existence of God as to acknowledge the validity of the moral law…”. ‘To accept’ means to ‘agree’ and ‘confess’, but not to ‘suspect’ or ‘sense’, ‘feel’ or ‘experience’. Therefore he distances himself from sensualistic pietism as well as from the esoteric and occultistic gnosis of his contemporaries.

9. Kant’s conception of man as well as his epistemological and ethical reflections on general subjectivity and generally possible objectivity is sometimes too individualistic. It is true that people do not only stand before God as individuals with their Protestant conscience. In modern times, they increasingly stand alone: before doctors as patients seeking help with their physical complaints, and before judges either as accusers with the harm they have suffered or as defendants with the guilt they are charged with. Nevertheless, all human beings derive from lifelong formative human relationships, such as those of their family and sibling lineage of origin, as well as from formative human circumstances, such as their religion and denomination, ethnicity and culture, economic status, and acquired political affinities. Modern individualism may spring from cultural habits that may be typical of societies shaped by Protestantism and of increasingly individualised modernity, but it is certainly not universal.

10. Unlike Plato and Aristotle, Rousseau and Hegel, Kant did not develop a political philosophy that considered the wellbeing of the whole of a polis or nation. He still largely accepted the Prussian absolute monarchy of his time, despite his broad approval of the republican ideals and goals of the French Revolution. As a result, he leaves unaddressed both the problem of the appropriate relationship between the general will and the particular wills of the people (Rousseau), the problem of the separation of powers (Montesquieu), and the genuinely political questions of the best form of government (Plato and Aristotle) and of the wise art of governing (Macchiavelli and Bodin). This could give the false impression that only a general moral and legal philosophy is needed, but no genuine political philosophy. His ideas on peace politics to secure the most lasting peace possible between peoples and nations may seem modern and progressive, especially under the present conditions of a globalized humanity. But this impression is deceptive because it no longer allows the distinction between parochial civil rights and general human rights and between the internal and external of a polity. The lack of a genuine political philosophy of the common good of a polity is precisely the stumbling block of modern liberal democracies. They disintegrate into tribalist camps that absolutize their own ideals and principles, norms and values, but thereby become blind to the common good and to the possibility that the other might be right in some respect.

10. Kant and the Post-Kantian Philosophy

The German Idealists Hegel and Fichte tried to correct Kant’s philosophy in different ways. Hegel succeeded to some extent, but Fichte hardly at all. Goethe and Schelling were rightly bothered by Kant’s orientation towards Newton’s mechanics as the methodological paradigm of all natural sciences. But only Franz Brentano was able to overcome this paradigm properly by his appreciation of Aristotle’s worldview. For this, however, he overlooked Kant’s discovery of the synthetic a priori. Hegel’s dialectical synthesis of Kantian and Aristotelian elements prepared the way for Marx. Thereby, such a synthesis would have been the better way without Hegel’s dialectics until today.

Nietzsche and Kierkegaard were more worldview writers than systematic philosophers. They took Kant’s methodological approach to the subject to an extreme. The subjectivist philosophy of life following Nietzsche and the individualistic existentialism following Kierkegaard declared irrationality to be the inescapable condition humaine. Karl Jaspers did not consider both “exceptional thinkers” to be connectable because they destroy reason and thus philosophy and the sciences (Vernunft und Existenz, 1935). Lebensphilosophie and existentialism were aestheticist escape movements springing from a Romantic fear of the sobering consequences of scientific knowledge of reality. In so doing, they compromised human personhood as the unitary source of a potentially universal reason. They have so much shaken confidence in a common human nature and in a potentially universal reason that neither philosophers nor scientists can take them seriously. The huge successes of the scientific exploration of the world speak against them.

Kant and Brentano still preserved the human person as the unitary source of sensory experience and linguistic concepts. The personal power of judgment arises from this unified source. The source dries up as soon as this unity is torn apart. There is a tragic destruction of personal judgment and potentially universal reason. The unity of the person as the source of sensibility and judgment, understanding and reason is then broken apart with and after Husserl and Frege, Moore and Russell. Philosophy loses its quest for wisdom and becomes a supposed science rather than a discipline of its own kind. But in doing so, it mostly becomes too scientistic and submits to the reductionist paradigms of evolutionist naturalism.

After Kant and Brentano, a momentous schism occurred between phenomenology as the phenomenological analysis of pre-linguistic sensory facts and linguistic analysis as the logical-semantic analysis of linguistic expressions and sentences. The phenomenologists challenged Kant’s thesis that “intuitions without concepts” are blind. The Hegelians, on the other hand, disagreed with Kant’s thesis that “thoughts without (empirical) content” are empty. The anti-Hegelian Logical Empiricists and early Analytic philosophers, on the other hand, celebrated this very Kantian thesis as the key proposition of his critique of metaphysics.

Since then, Kant has been regarded by both the Phenomenologists and the Logical Empiricists as the founder of a critique of metaphysics that they have sharpened even further. In order not to be suspected of being metaphysicians, most philosophers become even more scientific by breaking down all major philosophical topics and problems into small-scale individual problems, analyzing them methodically and trying to solve them rationally, just like the modern sciences. Therefore, like the pious and artists, they refrain from looking at the whole and producing creative syntheses. The pious live from narratives that create meaning, artists from their creative productivity. But the greatest philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, Kant and Hegel, Brentano and Peirce, were pious, artists, and scientists all in one. In this sense, they were still friends of wisdom.

11. Kant and Contemporary Philosophy

Kant is an indispensable starting point of all serious contemporary philosophy. He is like a rock around which no new wave can go. Logical empiricism, from which analytic philosophy had taken its starting point in Berlin and Vienna, worked on problems they had inherited from Kant and Hegel, Frege and Brentano, but shortened them by first dispensing with anthropology and psychology, ethics and the philosophy of law, aesthetics and the philosophy of religion. This could not go well for long, so that later analytic philosophers added these fields of work again.

Contemporary philosophy mostly disintegrates into analytic philosophers on the one hand, who neither adequately understand nor fairly interpret nor highly enough value the intellectual greatness of the great philosophers of the past, and into historically educated historians of philosophy on the other hand, who understand their respective favorite philosophers from the history of philosophy, but do not know how to cope with the deep crisis of philosophy in the present. The psychiatrist, psychologist and philosopher Karl Jaspers once made the correct diagnosis that contemporary philosophy suffers above all from the fact that it no longer has a clear self-understanding of its own goals, tasks and methods.

As long as this remains so, scientism and the academic compulsion to specialize will dominate. Contemporary philosophy no longer manages to become a productive, culture-forming creative force for society and its legal and political institutions, which it once was with the great philosophers. It can therefore no longer stop the increasing disintegration into sectarian and tribalistic groupings and into a variety of divergent worldview communities. This is to the detriment of the unity of peoples and nations, which then take refuge in the ideologies of liberalism and capitalism or of authoritarianism and nationalism.

Kant and Hegel, Brentano and Peirce had in mind not only the unity of the human person, but also the whole of philosophy: Anthropology and psychology, epistemology and metaphysics, philosophy of logic and mathematics, philosophy of natural sciences, ethics and philosophy of law, aesthetics and philosophy of religion still formed a unity with them. Since then we have been waiting for philosophers who honor these great philosophers by bringing their contributions into a fruitful synthesis. If this succeeds, philosophy can overcome its deep crisis and flourish again in the 21st century.

12. Kant and the Future of Philosophy in the 21st Century

Kant and Hegel, Brentano and Peirce not Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas belong to the future. Plato should always be considered the greatest man of letters among the philosophers, although many of his anthropological convictions are now only historically relevant through Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Aristotle should always be considered the greatest systematist among philosophers, even though some of his cosmological convictions have been rendered untenable by modern science. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas will remain inspiring thinkers for the Christian churches and their theologians, even though some of their philosophical and theological convictions are no longer tenable. But Kant and Hegel, Brentano and Peirce are and will remain for Jews, Christians and Muslims the most important masterminds of modern syntheses of narrative faith and rational science.

Since the beginning of the 21st century at the latest, postmodern irrationalism has been further intensified and spread by the technological innovations of the Internet and the smartphone. The qualitative ideals of truth and evidence of assertions and theories are displaced in the post-modern information societies by the quantitative and technical goals of the quantity of information and the speed of its transmission. The resources of a potentially universal reason and a potentially objective knowledge, still preserved by Kant and Hegel, Brentano and Peirce, do not fit the postmodern denial of facts and evidences, truths and arguments.

Whereas in the 18th century it was still considered appropriate and progressive to conceive of humans primarily as social creatures capable of language and reason, at the beginning of the 21st century it is supposedly appropriate and progressive to conceive of humans only as individuals controlled by emotions and processing information. It is fantasized that people can allegedly even choose their own sex and reinvent themselves again and again. But this alleged ability has long since become a social constraint. But where individual autonomy becomes a social constraint, sociability and community, belonging and solidarity wither away.

Since then, among intellectuals, almost only a few neo-Aristotelians understand man – apart from ordinary people – as a social being endowed with language and reason, since former Marxists converted to Nietzsche. Postmodern individualism and irrationalism is the ruling ideology of the profit-driven culture industry of libertarian capitalism, which threatens to sink the West.


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Ulrich DiehlUlrich Diehl

Ulrich Diehl

Ulrich Walter Diehl is a Philosopher and Protestant Theologian at the University of Heidelberg and held academic positions with the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of European Enlightenment (IZEA) at Martin-Luther-University in Halle-Wittenberg and the Karl-Jaspers-Edition of Heidelberger Academy of Sciences.

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