Immanuel Kant

“Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) follows Rousseau in his moral philosophy. Earlier in his career, Hume’s thought had made him realize that objective knowledge of nature as it appears to the senses (i.e. laws of natural phenomena) required not on a priori concepts or categories, but also a posteriori sense intuitions: “Concepts without sense intuitions are empty; sense intuitions without concepts are blind.” The causal laws governing natural phenomena are absolutely universal and necessary, so nature is deterministic. Beyond the sphere of nature that can be objectively known is the rational or the noumenal sphere of liberty. Here, according to Kant, we cannot attain objective knowledge, but only rational beliefs or postulates concerning such things as the freedom and immortality of the human soul, the world as a whole, and God—they cannot be known objectively since we cannot perceive them with our senses), but only thought about rationally. Continue reading

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) still followed Machiavelli, but he wrote in reaction both to the modern project of technological progress through science (Bacon, Descartes, and the Enlightenment in general), and to the earlier state of nature political theorists, Hobbes and Locke. He was more concerned than all of them with morality; and he added legitimation to power as a great modern political theme (instead of the ancient themes of wisdom and virtue). In his First Discourse on the arts and Sciences Rousseau criticizes the idea that progress in scientific knowledge and technology automatically bring along with them progress in morals. As going from particular to universal, science weakens the citizens’ attachment to their particular country; as yielding useful products, it causes luxury which makes citizens soft, spoiled, and unwilling to sacrifice themselves for the good of their country. Continue reading