Immanuel Kant: transcendental idealism and empirical realism

dialectic-3_textmediumPreviously, Kant’s critique of the modern rationalist and empiricist schools was examined. However, Kant was to offer more than a mere exposition of a dialectical struggle; he would ultimately produce a synthesis and a new philosophy that would change the face of modernism and shape the way we think today.

Rationalistic theses typically have a reliance on ideas that are known a priori (or before experience), and conversely a posteriori for empirical theses (or after experience). Kant begins his argument by stating that these two categories cannot provide an adequate description of the kind of metaphysical ideas in question.

Kant, inspired by Hume’s fork, describes two (nominally) new categories: analytic and synthetic truths. An analytic proposition is a statement where the subject predicate is contained internally i.e. all triangles have three sides or every effect must have cause (this is Hume’s relations of ideas). Contrarily, a synthetic statement does not contain the predicate i.e. this triangle is red or rain is an effect of atmospheric condensation (this is Hume’s matters of fact).

Kant contends that the dialectical struggle of rationalism vs. empiricism arises due to both sides conflating the analytic with the a priori and the synthetic with the a posteriori. The empiricists, Kant argues, had particular problems with synthetic a priori claims (i.e. the angles of a square always sum to 360 degrees) because they are true without experience but the predicate is not expressed within the statement. Similarly, the rationalists struggled with synthetic a priori claims which they attempted to prove analytically.

Kant focuses on problematic synthetic a priori claims in his synthesis. His solution is to view the mind as active rather than passive. According to the empiricists, pace Locke, the mind is a passive blank slate for the reception of information/ideas. For the rationalists, the mind is passive because it contains immutable ideas. The law of causality cannot be proven by experience, but a coherent experience is not possible without it as it describes the necessary operation of the mind during analysis. Kant’s point is that the experience required to form synthetic claims is not possible without the mind structuring perceptions in a meaningful way. In this manner, Kant is both a realist in regards to empirical knowledge while also being an idealist.



6 responses to this post.

  1. […] « Immanuel Kant: transcendental idealism and empirical realism […]


  2. […] way to understand the absolute idealism of Hegel is to first study the more moderate transcendental idealism of Kant. Kant is an idealist insofar as he contends that the necessary conditions for cognition are found […]


  3. […] his theory of transcendental idealism, Immanuel Kant contends that to know an external object one must understand oneself as a distinct […]


  4. […] The importance of Frege’s work arises from the inadequacy of Aristotelian and Stoic logic in dealing with mathematical statements, for example Euclid’s theory of the infinite amount of prime numbers. This was a problem for Frege because he contended that all the truths of arithmetic simply were truths that were both logical and analytic. In this way, Frege’s work is more in the rationalist tradition of Leibniz than in Kant’s transcendental idealism. […]


  5. […] by his teachers, who favoured idealism. There was a preference for Hegel’s idealism, but Kantianism was also prevalent. However, Russell began to find problems with his idealistic thinking, stating […]


  6. […] statements to the attention of modern philosophers. What would follow from Hume was the edifice of Immanuel Kant’s transcendental idealistic method and his redefining of the analytical and synthetic to also include the a priori and a […]


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