The Kantian Legacy in French Empiricism During the Early Nineteenth Century

Abstract : Although one may hope to gain a better understanding of Kantianism through a discussion of Kantian arguments against empiricism, my paper will rather be devoted to the study of the ‘images’ of Kant which were spread in France at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Those images did not faithfully depict Kantianism but they described what French philosophers knew about Kant and they had some influence on the development of French philosophy at the time. Actually, I will show that the study of this reception of some images of Kant contributes to reveal what I call a ‘French empiricism’ but also a renewal of the attitude of some French philosophers toward experience. This French empiricism (which was in my opinion defended by the French Ideology and especially by its leaders: Destutt de Tracy and Cabanis) was characterised by a legacy from English philosophers (especially Bacon and Locke) and from Condillac’s sensualism. It was influenced by the genetic approach in order to explain all our ideas from experience, by the interpretation of experience as conscious effects of senses and also by the necessity of making and classifying experimentations. French empiricism was then especially characterised by a physiological and medical approach very interested in conscious efforts which were regarded as the beginning of the genesis of human intelligence. The French reception of Kantianism and its opposition to it reveal those characteristics of a French empiricism. However, this reception of Kantian philosophy was not only made of oppositions. Degérando, for instance, used some images of Kant and especially the idea of the activity of the subject in order to criticise what he saw as a traditional empiricism and to defend a ‘true’ ‘philosophy of experience.
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Submitted on : Thursday, September 6, 2018 - 3:36:04 PM
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Charles Braverman. The Kantian Legacy in French Empiricism During the Early Nineteenth Century. Kant Yearbook, 2015, 7 (1), pp.1 - 22. ⟨10.1515/kantyb-2015-0001⟩. ⟨hal-01869599⟩

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