Anschauung bei Kant und bei Goethe

Elemente der Naturwissenschaft 97, 2012, P. 29-52 | DOI: 10.18756/edn.97.29


This article first of all picks out as a theme the context in which Kant placed his Critique of Pure Reason. Against the metaphysical dogmatism of his day he set a critical investigation of the faculty of cognition. My interpretation of selected passages of the Critique of Pure Reason shows that in Kant’s conception of cognition the possibility of cognizing objects is reduced to the extent that in pure intuition the objects of the world comprise only relations. All other qualities must remain unknown. Being aware that with this conception he cannot grasp reality to its full extent, Kant defines its objects with the term ‘thing in itself’, in contrast to ‘appearances’ accessible to cognition. Some authors argue that although Kant’s justification for the cognitive limits of human reason was accepted by Goethe, the latter considered it possible to systematically overcome these limits in the knowledge of nature. Against this background, with the help of Goethe’s indications regarding his methodology, I show that long stretches of them can be read as developing and rendering in concrete terms some of Kant’s comments on the synthesis of pure intuition. Furthermore, I show that Goethe also agreed with Kant insofar as what for Goethe qualified as knowledge did not involve the claim to grasp directly the essential nature of reality, which, as Kant puts it, would mean grasping in cognition the essence of the ‘thing in itself’. It is self-evident that from these aspects Goethe’s theory of knowledge seems closer to Kant’s than if we focus above all on the difference between both approaches. In the view presented here, Goethe’s ‘breakthrough’ comprises the postulate: the judging activity of reason can be transformed into a flexible organ which – in consciousness – participatively reproduces the transformation of the appearances and thus reaches a ‘pure’ phenomenon.

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