Thus, Kant’s practical philosophy is beset by the antinomy (contradiction) between freedom and necessity: human beings are inwardly free but outwardly subject to the laws of causality. As a movement, Continental Philosophy lacks clear definition, and may mark merely a family resemblance across disparate philosophical views, its main purpose being to distinguish itself from Analytic Philosophy, although the term was used as early as 1840 by John Stuart Mill to distinguish European Kant-influenced thought from the more British-based movements such as British Empiricism and Utilitarianism. Continental Philosophy, then, is a catch-all label incorporating such Continental European-based schools as German Idealism, Kantianism, Hegelianism, Romanticism, Phenomenology, Existentialism, Marxism, Deconstructionism, Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Hermeneutics, French Feminism, and the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School. Continental Philosophy, then, is a catch-all label incorporating such Continental European-based schools as German Idealism, Kantianism, Hegelianism, Romanticism, Phenomenology, Existentialism, Marxism, Deconstructionism, Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Hermeneutics, French Feminism, and the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School. Following the French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes (1596–1650), Kant insisted that any investigation of the scope of human knowledge must begin with an examination of the cognitive faculties through which it is acquired. Why refer to it at all? We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. In the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh. Hume, in A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40), rejected the reality of cause and effect as ordinarily conceived, arguing that belief in particular causal connections could not be justified rationally but could be explained psychologically as the product of mere “habit” and the “association of ideas.” In so doing he potentially undermined the rational foundations not only of beliefs about things not immediately present in space or time but of all scientific knowledge (see induction, problem of). Until Kant’s time, all empirical judgments were regarded as vulnerable to skeptical doubt, because human experience is inherently fallible. Omissions? Behind the phenomena of experience, according to Kant, there is a realm of “noumena,” e.g., “things in themselves,” that is in principle unknowable. The problem of knowledge, according to Kant, is to explain how some judgments about the world can be necessarily true and therefore knowable “a priori,” or independently of experience (see a posteriori knowledge). That is to say, a thing can be an “object of possible experience” for human beings only if it conforms to human knowledge in certain respects. Against the champions of determinism, Kant insisted on the autonomous capacities of the human will: by universalizing one’s maxims (or reasons) for action in accordance with the categorical imperative—“Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”—one acts freely, or autonomously. Thereby, its actions obtain an ethical dignity or moral purity that approximates the sublimity of what Kant called the “kingdom of ends”: a noumenal realm of pure morality, unaffected by the vagaries of experience. But all attempts to extend our knowledge of objects by establishing something in regard to them a priori, by means of concepts, have, on this assumption, ended in failure. He is known for studying the particular contributors to... David Hume, oil painting by Allan Ramsay, 1766. Continental philosophy includes German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism (and its antecedents, such as the thought of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche), hermeneutics, structuralism, post-structuralism, decon… By following universal imperatives, the will escapes the contingencies and determinism of the phenomenal or empirical realm. In what he described, in the preface to the second edition (1787) of the Critique of Pure Reason, as his “Copernican” revolution, he proposed that knowledge should not depend on the conformity of a judgment to an object in experience; rather, the existence of an object in experience should depend on its conformity to human knowledge. Kant’s moral philosophy, as elaborated in the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) and the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), also proved extremely influential.
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