Transcendental idealism

epistemology, proposed by Kant, in which space and time are merely formal features of how we perceive objects, not things in themselves that exist independently of us

Transcendental idealism is a doctrine founded by German philosopher Immanuel Kant in the 18th century. Kant's doctrine maintains that human experience of things is similar to the way they appear to us—implying a fundamentally subject-based component, rather than being an activity that directly (and therefore without any obvious causal link) comprehends the things as they are in themselves.

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  • In sum, rather than being, in Guyer's dismissive phrase, "an anodyne recommendation of epistemological modesty," transcendental idealism, as here understood, is a bold, even revolutionary, theory of epistemic conditions.
    • Henry E. Allison, Kant's Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense, Revised and Enlarged edition (2004), p. 19
  • According to transcendental idealism, we can know the fundamental laws of nature with complete certitude because they are not descriptions of how things are in themselves independently of our perception and conception of them, but are rather the structure that the laws of our own minds impose upon the way things appear to us – and the laws of the mind themselves are not hidden mysteries that can be discovered only by the empirical researches of psychologists or neuroscientists, but can readily be discovered by every normal human being competent at elementary arithmetic, geometry, and logic. But precisely because the most fundamental laws of nature are in fact only our own impositions on the appearance of reality, we can also believe that our own choices, contrary to their appearance, are not governed by the deterministic laws of nature, but can be freely made in accordance with and for the sake of the moral law. At the same time, Kant will argue, the very “fact of reason” (as he calls it) that we are free to act for the sake of and in accordance with the moral law also implies that we are free to flout it, and thus that the possibility of doing evil is equally fundamental to the human will as the possibility of doing right, thus that all human beings are at risk of doing evil not because of the original sin of some distant ancestors but because of the radical nature of freedom itself.

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