Scottish Common Sense in Germany, 1768-1800

Scottish Common Sense in Germany, 1768-1800: A Contribution to the History of Critical Philosophy

Manfred Kuehn
Foreword by Lewis White Beck
Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Scottish Common Sense in Germany, 1768-1800
    Book Description:

    Kuehn suggests that the most important aspect of their reading was the perception of Scottish common-sense philosophers as opposing Hume's scepticism while complementing his positive teaching. Their views gave considerable impetus to those developments in German thought that ultimately led to Kant's critical philosophy. In fact Kant, whose devastating criticism of the Scottish common-sense philosophers is often cited, learned much from the Scots, as his Critique of Pure Reason reveals. Kuehn's analysis of the Scottish influence provides a new perspective on the German enlightenment and Kant's role within it, revealing the importance of problems of idealism versus realism and of philosophical justification versus mere descriptive metaphysics.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6404-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Lewis White Beck

    When I accepted McGill University’s invitation to participate in theexamen rigorosumof Manfred Kuehn, I did not expect that as a consequence I was going to have to change my mind about important issues in the history of German philosophy.

    Dr. Kuehn opened what he calls in this book “a new perspective on the German enlightenment.” He found a pervasive knowledge of and interest in Scottish common-sense philosophy among German philosophers of the last third of the eighteenth century, and saw ramifications of this system as its teachings were assimilated into the doctrines of several native schools of philosophy....

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    During the last two decades Thomas Reid has been rediscovered as one of the most important British philosophers. His works are being read and discussed again more widely as having something of philosophical importance to say.¹ At the same time, philosophical scholars have increasingly come to realize that his philosophy has had a substantial, though often unrecognized, influence upon the development of philosophy not only in Scotland, but also in a number of other countries. The extent and importance of the influence of Reid and his followers James Oswald and James Beattie in America, France, England, Belgium, and Italy are...

  6. I The Nature of Scottish Common-Sense Philosophy
    (pp. 13-35)

    Because I want to show how the Scottish common-sense philosophy of Thomas Reid, as propagated by Reid himself as well as by Oswald and Beattie, influenced German thought during the last third of the eighteenth century, it is necessary to state clearly what this philosophy consists of. This chapter is meant to provide this statement. It should not be viewed as an attempt to defend Reid’s philosophy. For, though I find it difficult to hide my sympathy for certain aspects of Reid’s position, none of the following should be construed as an argument for their philosophical validity. I am only...

  7. II The Philosophical Situation in Germany after 1755
    (pp. 36-51)

    When Christian Wolff died in 1754, his philosophy, which had dominated German schools and universities for the preceding three decades, had already begun to decline in influence. He no longer possessed the binding authority of his earlier years. But no new philosopher of similar stature or authority had arisen and the philosophical situation at the time of his death may very well be described as representing “the cognitive crisis of the Enlightenment.”¹ Moses Mendelssohn, one of the best known and most important philosophical talents of this period, described the philosophical situation as one of “general anarchy.” Philosophy, “the poor matron,”...

  8. III The First Reception of “Reid, Oswald, and Beattie” in Germany
    (pp. 52-69)

    The previous chapter has shown how after the middle of the eighteenth century, in the midst of what has been called the cognitive crisis of the enlightenment, the Germans began to show deep interest in British philosophy. It is not really surprising, therefore, that the Scottish philosophy of common sense came to be closely scrutinized in continental Europe. But, given the sheer volume of this critical discussion, it is surprising that the traditional account of eighteenth-century German philosophy virtually omits consideration of the Scottish influence.

    French and German journals began to review the works of Reid, Oswald, and Beattie almost...

  9. IV The Scots in Göttingen
    (pp. 70-85)

    Given the reception of the works by Scottish philosophers in theGöttingische Anzeigen, and given the close affiliation of the University of Göttingen, the “Georgia Augusta,” with Britain, it is not surprising that the philosophers of Göttingen, Feder and Meiners, were closely acquainted with Scottish common-sense philosophy.¹ Meiners thought so highly of Beattie’sEssaysof 1776 that he edited a German translation of it in 1779.² His connections with the Scots must have been general knowledge at that time, for in his Introduction to it he says that Beattie does not need to be introduced to the German public, and...

  10. V Scottish Common Sense and German Sensationism
    (pp. 86-102)

    The german philosopher who went farthest in the acceptance of physiological explanations of the workings of the human mind was Lossius. He is considered as the most radical materialist philosopher of the German enlightenment, and his most significant work,Die physischen Ursachen des Wahrenof 1774, is often taken as the example of a materialistic philosophy in eighteenth-century Germany.¹ It is said that in this work the last step is taken in the direction of replacing the key disciplines of logic, ethics, and theology with anthropology and psychology. Because Lossius appears, for example, to explain contradictions as “conflicts of nerves,”...

  11. VI Scottish Common Sense and German Metaphysics
    (pp. 103-118)

    How well known Reid must have been in Berlin can be seen when we consider that Moses Mendelssohn had read theInquiryin French before 1770, and had become interested enough to want to read and possess the original. For in 1770 he asked his friend and publisher Friedrich Nicolai to secure the book for him in English.¹ He must have been impressed, for in a letter of 24 July, 1774, he outlines a basic reading course in philosophy for a young man, includes theInquiryas the critique of sensationism, and recommends that Condillac be read in conjunction with...

  12. VII Scottish Common Sense and Tetens’s Analysis of Thought in Perception
    (pp. 119-140)

    Johann nicolaus tetens is perhaps the German philosopher most influenced by the Scots. Tetens always starts his own discussion at the point where the Scots left off, and his own considerations are greatly influenced by the Scottish analysis of the problem of perception. Dissatisfied with the state of German speculative philosophy as he found it, he turns to observational psychology for his method and to common sense for the subject matter of his philosophy. Thus he declares that the method he has used “is the method of observation; the one which Locke and our psychologists have employed in their empirical...

  13. VIII Scottish Common Sense and the German Counter-Enlightenment
    (pp. 141-166)

    There can be no doubt that Johann Georg Hamann, Johann Gottfried Herder and Friedrich Heinrich Jacob! were thoroughly familiar with the Scots. Thus Hamann referred to the French translation of Reid’sInquiryas early as 1772;¹ and because he actually possessed this work, it is very likely that he acquired it in Konigsberg shortly after its publication in 1768.² That he also knew of Beattie as early as 1772 and must have studied hisEssayrather carefully soon after it appeared in German is clear from his correspondence with Herder. This means that he was one of the people who...

  14. IX “Reid, Oswald, and Beattie” and Kant
    (pp. 167-207)

    Most philosophical scholars do not think it likely that Kant knew Reid. Further, those who admit the possibility are not convinced that Reid (and Beattie) could have contributed anything of significance to Kant’s critical philosophy. For this reason, I will try to show in some detail that (1) Kant must have known the Scots much better than has been thought so far, and (2) he could have found their views relevant. At the very least, they were important for his original conception of Hume’s problem. But very likely they also had an influence on his proposed solution—and not just...

  15. X Scottish Common Sense and the Reception of Kant’s Critical Philosophy
    (pp. 208-237)

    The judgment that did the greatest harm to the reputation of Scottish common sense in Germany, as well as in most other countries, was clearly Kant’s scathing attack upon Reid, Oswald and Beattie in theProlegomenain 1783. Yet, among other things, this attack may also serve as evidence for the predominance of the Scottish approach in the German thought of the period. TheProlegomena, apart from being an introduction to theCritique, is also a sustained argument against the common-sense approach to philosophy. And Kant’s attack on the Scots is more than just a passing remark upon some minor...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 238-250)

    If one thing has become clear in the preceding discussion of the Scottish influence in Germany, it is that Scottish common-sense philosophy had a much greater impact upon German thought than has been previously assumed. Whatever may be objected to some of the more specific claims advanced in the preceding chapters, it is now apparent that Reid, Oswald, and Beattie were no less influential in Germany than in America, France, Belgium, or Italy, and that they played an important role in the development of German thought from after Leibniz and Wolff through Kant’s critical philosophy and beyond. This is sufficiently...

  17. APPENDIX: “Common Sense” in the German Background
    (pp. 251-274)
  18. Bibliography of Works Cited
    (pp. 275-294)
  19. Index
    (pp. 295-300)