What is German Idealism?

What is German Idealism?

July 1, 2021 Off By Felso

German idealism is the name given to German thought, which developed in the 18th and 19th centuries in general. The nineteenth-century German thinkers, who took Kantianism as their starting point, are called by this name: Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Scheiermacher and to a certain extent Schopenhauer. These philosophers are all metaphysicians. In addition, their characteristic is that they do not adopt Kant’s criticism even though they start from Kant. In other words, they aimed to establish a universal system with their philosophy and leave nothing to be said.


German philosophy marked the 19th century mostly with the works of Kant. His idealistic philosophy, which asserts that we can never know anything that exists beyond ourselves, sharply changed the course of philosophical thought. Kant; Although he is a few years younger than Hume and Rousseau, he is the philosopher of the next generation. His new explanations of the universe and our knowledge of it succeeded in combining approaches of rationalism and empiricism to suit more Romanticism and German culture.

Among Kant’s followers are Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, who are known together as the German Idealists, as well as Schopenhauer, who brought a distinctive interpretation of Kant’s philosophy by combining it with ideas from Eastern philosophy. Among the followers of Hegel’s strict Idealism is Karl Marx, who successfully combined German philosophical methods, French political revolutionary philosophy, and English economic theory. After co-writing the Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engels, he wrote Capital, arguably one of the most impressive philosophical works of all time.

In the decades after his death, revolutionary states were established in countries around the world in the light of his principles. Meanwhile, in the USA, which got rid of the British colonial rule and established a republic based on Enlightenment values, an American culture independent of its European roots began to flourish. While this culture was under the influence of the Romantic movement at the beginning, it formed a line of philosophy, pragmatism, which explored the nature of reality at the end of the 19th century and had local characteristics. This is consistent with the country’s democratic roots and fits very well into the culture of the new century.


Kant, the greatest thinker of the German idealist philosophy tradition, divided reality into the phenomenal world and the thing-in-itself field, and by limiting the discursive thought to the phenomenal field, he opposed the naturalist view of nature and therefore the mechanism, fatalism, atheism, egoism and hedonism contained in naturalism.

The idealist philosophers in question took the intelligible world as the starting point of their speculations, the freedom to which the moral law refers. The really existing, real world is the ideal or supersensible world, the world of the mind or spirit. These philosophers try to solve all the problems of philosophy by seeing the self-determining spiritual activity as the basic principle. They explain knowledge and experience, nature and history through this spiritual activity.

According to idealist thinkers such as Fichte and Schelling, the ideal principle brings unity to our knowledge by organizing categories, combining theoretical and practical reason, and allows us to overcome the opposition between mechanism and teleology. According to post-Kantian German idealist philosophers, we interpret reality only in the light of self-determining reason. we can understand time; The mind can understand the world only when it understands itself. Fichte, Schelling and Hegel said that within this framework, the discipline that will solve the problems of metaphysics is the theory of knowledge.

Philosophy is the basic and absolute science, the only science that can explain everything is philosophy. Empirical knowledge of facts is not real knowledge; Empirical sciences dealing with nature and history cannot be sciences either. Fichte, Schelling and Hegel are in complete agreement on this point.


German Idealism is a definition whose content cannot be explained very precisely. It is the period of German philosophy that started to take shape with KANT in terms of its subjects and method. The definition of German Idealism has even been used in the sense of philosophy in Germany. Periodic landmarks are KANT and HEGEL. What the thinkers of that period understood from German Idealism can make our job easier.

The simplest of definitions and the clearest of its definitions is C. L. MICHELET’s definition: “The history of the last philosophical systems in Germany, from KANT to HEGEL.” The view accepted in Germany since the beginning of the 20th century is that the continuity of German thought, of which ECKEHART, BÖHME, LEIBNIZ and KANT are the intellectual and moral fathers, is the most distinctive feature of German Idealism. For example, N. HARTMAN does not find it correct to perceive German Idealism as belonging to a certain period.

As we said before, German Idealism can also be defined according to subjects and people, due to the difficulty of its historical limitation.