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Rand and I contra Kant

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I have written many papers in this century concerning Kant’s philosophy (theoretical philosophy and ethical theory) and posted them in Objectivism Online. In this thread, I want to accumulate from those papers ways in which Rand and Kant are opposed and to underscore my own original counters to Kant. This will include ways in which Rand’s philosophy and Kant’s are opposed that she did not realize, and it will include my criticisms of some ways in which she misunderstood Kant. Topics in Kant that appeared in my hardcopy journal Objectivity (1990–98) are here.

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I’ll indicate firstly basic differences between Rand’s theoretical philosophy and mine, as argued in my fundamental paper “Existence, We” (EW). 

I retune the conception of consciousness; redraft the definition of logic; add to Rand’s fundamental axioms and corollaries; replace Rand’s contrast class for concretes; and replace Rand’s categoreal scheme, her entity/attribute/action/relationship. All in all, safe to say, my philosophy is a kin of Rand’s Objectivism, but a replacement for it. My system can be aptly named Resonant Existence.

Another important basic difference between Rand’s philosophy and mine is that I reject her morality of pure rational self-interest. That morality be purely rational, I approve, with the right conception of rationality. It is the pure egoism I reject. I join Rand’s rejection of the moralities of sacrificial altruism and various other ethical systems. I have not yet set out my alternative to Rand’s ethics, that is, my own theory of ethics, which will be correspondent with my widest frame set out in EW.

The title “Existence, We” is short for the fundamental axiom of my system: Existence exists, we live. I said that my contrast class to concretes differed from Rand’s. Hers was concrete/abstract (which is usual), whereas, mine is concrete/formal. The formal in my system is fundamentally certain aspects in the mind-independent world. Knowledge of that formality, which I term belonging-formality, is from perceptual experience differing from, though alongside, the derivation of abstractions from concretes. I conjecture, for future development, that belonging-formalities in my category of situation are the basis of synthetic mathematics such as synthetic geometry (eg. Euclid). Tooling-formalities are our set-castings over belonging-formalities, such as in analytic geometry (eg. Descartes—the representation of curves by algebraic equations). Examples of my belonging-formalities are given in the fundamental paper. They are not Aristotle’s forms in his metaphysical form/matter composites, and they are important in refuting Kant, as we shall see.

I subsume Rand’s consciousness, as foundational element, under what I call of-existence. Of-existence is existence recruiting existence. I mean recruitment as in self-begetting polymer synthesis or in the woodchuck warily eating the zinnias, not “recruitment” as in a flame consuming fuel and oxygen. Focally, existents that are of-existence would be life and the living system that is consciousness; peripherally, existents that are of-existence would be autonomous machines. In my layout, abstractions are of concretes and of formalities; abstractions fall in the of-existence division of existence.

The elements I arrived at for widest frame in my fundamental paper:



Existence exists, we live. Consciousness is a living act. All living structures and processes are existents that are of-existence.

One’s consciousness is fundamentally cognizance of existence, and it is fundamentally coordinate with conscious others.

Existence is passage. Consciousness marks passage. Consciousness is passage and marker of passage.

Existence is situated. Consciousness sites. Consciousness is situation and cognizance of situation.

Existence is character. Consciousness is characterization. Consciousness is character and cognizance of character.


Ayn Rand’s fundamental axiom was Existence exists, and she spoke of the primacy of existence. By the latter she meant primacy of existence over consciousness, which meant (i) the universe exists independently of any consciousness and (ii) things have natures independently of consciousness. Identity is primary over identification, and concretes are primary over abstractions. My metaphysics is of the primacy-of-existence genre, but more generally than Rand’s. My primacy of existence means primacy of existence over of-existence. This entails that concretes with their formalities are primary over abstractions. Actualities and potentials are primary over recognitions and possibilities. Necessity-that of existence is primary over the necessity-for in consciousness. Then too, existence being primary over the of-existence that is living existence and the latter being (I say with Rand) the residence of all value, existence is primary over value.

In her mature philosophy, Rand’s primacy of existence runs against Kant when he writes: “Apperception, and with it thought, precedes all possible determinate arrangement of presentations” (KrV A289 B345). Against Kant also, and in step with Aristotle, Rand writes: “‘Things as they are’ are things as perceived by your mind” (AS 1036).

Rand spoke in that passage against Kant of “things as they are” and not of “things in themselves.” She was right to avoid the latter phrase because of the well-known shading of it. That latter phrase, down from Kant, intimates a systematic inaccessibility of mind-independent existence with its Identities by our cognitive faculties. In the same vein, rightly she would reject talk of the transcendental object or talk of noumena and their comprehensive contrast to phenomena, the latter a foul concept when transplanted from its use in Newton—phenomena as physical patterns in observational data, where those specific patterns suit only a specific form in the character of their physical cause—to fundamental ontology and to subject-object relations.

Talk of “things in themselves” meaning things free of any situation is talk of nothing. “Things in themselves,” meaning merely all that they are, is a sound sense of the phrase and not Kant’s sense when he is contrasting things in themselves with those same things as they are in their external relations such as in their relation to human consciousness. Things in all that they are are what we know part of and know that our known is only part of the all there to be known. Further, existence of a thing is nothing more than—indeed, it is identically the same as—existence of all that a thing is. This situation-criticism of Kant is original with me, and my doctrine on situation (Existence is situated) is demonstrated in EW.

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In 1960 Rand penned the essay “For the New Intellectual” (FNI). This was a major essay in which she gave her view of the wide arc of the history of philosophy from ancient to contemporary, set together with the course of religion, of science and technology, and of political and economic systems. This historical account is consonant with and overlaps what she had written in laying  out her own philosophy in Atlas Shrugged (AS) three years earlier. This essay is the opening chapter of her 1961 book having that same title. The rest of that book consists of philosophical passages from Rand’s novels. It includes John Galt’s radio speech from AS. Above that speech as reprinted in FNI, Rand wrote: “This is the philosophy of Objectivism.” She had given her philosophy the name Objectivism in the Preface of FNI.

I take Rand at her word: Galt’s speech is the philosophy of Objectivism. Nothing written later by her or her authorized advocates is required for what is the philosophy of Objectivism. That goes for FNI. Yes, Rand will add a couple of major theories to her philosophy later, and yes, she will later tweak her ethics and her definition of reason in very small ways, but what is in Galt’s Speech is adequate statement for what are the basics and the essentials of Rand’s philosophy. That does not mean, logically, that everything in the speech is philosophy at all or that all of the positive statements therein of Rand’s philosophy are part of what is essential to that philosophy. But all of what is essential to the philosophy is stated therein.

Some years after FNI, Rand wrote a couple of notable essays about Kant: “Kant versus Sullivan” (a defense of an empiricism) and “Causality versus Duty”. In the early 1970’s, Rand’s close associate Leonard Peikoff, professional philosopher, gave a series of lectures, taped and distributed, on the history of philosophy, including some covering Kant. Rand put her stamp of approval on these, and it is in these that Objectivist understanding of Kant and (leaving aside my own writings) relation of Kant’s mature philosophy to Rand’s is stated most fully. Those are here.

In her FNI essay, Rand writes: “Kant’s expressly stated purpose was to save the morality of self-abnegation and self-sacrifice. He knew it that it could not survive without a mystic base—and what it had to be saved from was reason.”

What Rand meant was reason in her sense of the word: the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by the senses. She does not mean what Kant meant by the faculty of reason in contradistinction to what he called the faculties of understanding and judgment.

The extent to which Kant was undermining reason in Rand’s meaning of the term needs to be detailed by consideration of how Kant had characterized perception and its relations to concepts and how he had characterized (partly affirming and partly limiting the) powers of understanding, reason, and judgment. What Kant calls understanding, reason, and judgment are together what Rand calls human reason. Kant and Rand agree, contrary Plato and Leibniz, that those powers of cognition do not “defy the bounds of all experience” (A702 B730). “All our cognition starts from the senses, proceeds from there to understanding, and ends with reason, beyond which there is found in us nothing higher to work on the material of [sensible] intuition and bring it under the highest unity of thought” (A298–99 B355). Yet, the most fundamental concepts, the a priori concepts called the categories of pure understanding “are not, as regards their origin, based on sensibility, as are the forms of intuition, space and time; they therefore seem to admit of an application expanded beyond all objects of the senses. Yet they themselves are in turn nothing but forms of thought that contain merely the logical ability to unite a priori in one consciousness the manifold given in [sensible] intuition” (B305–6; also A85–91 B118–23).

The phrase a priori is long taken by philosophers to mean “independently of sensory experience” in some sense or other of “independently”. For Rand our powers of conceptual cognition are not a priori powers in Kant’s sense of the a priori, nor in pre- or post-Kantian senses (ITOE 77; Peikoff 1967, 93, 97–98, 107–9, 116–17; Rand 1970). “Logic rests on the axiom existence exists” (AS 1016). Furthermore, Rand does not agree with Kant that reason is necessarily under a systematic cognitive illusion of thinking that certain wholes and unities are in the world, whereas truly they are only regulative ideas generated by reason. Rand holds that the whole and all the unity that is existence—exists (AS 1016; ITOE 39).

Dramatically unlike Rand, Kant does not think sensory presentations can be cognitive without synthetic a priori forms of intuition supplied by the side of the subject and without a common synthetic a priori source from the side of the subject for those forms and for the fundamental, synthetic a priori concepts of the understanding, without which no other concepts are possible (A124–25, B137–38, B151–54, B160–63, A142–43 B182, A145–46 B185). The power Kant calls the understanding brings given sensible objects under concepts. The understanding has rules for its correct thinking, namely logic. The contradictory is false. That is less than the full nature of truth, which demands “agreement of a cognition with its object” (A58 B83). 

Kant’s faculty of understanding is a part of what has traditionally been called reason. As said above, the power of understanding is the power of concepts (and more, A126–28). Human experience requires sensibility and understanding working together (see Bauer 2012). True, but I should say Kant underrated the active aspect of perception without concepts and the passive aspect of conceptual understanding. Perception without learned indications of affordances for action is only sensation (cf. Smith 2002, chap. 5). Conceptual understanding not given perception-cum-action schemata is clueless.

Kant had our rational faculties beyond the understanding as two, which he called the faculties of judgment and reason. The powers of reason, in this narrower sense, are powers of inference and cognitive management (A130–31 B169–70; A686–87 B714–15; A723–38 B751–76). The three higher faculties work together, and each is a grand cognitive unifier (A67–93 B234–294; A669–704 B697–732; see further, Pippin 1982, 207–10).

Where Rand wrote that “Kant’s expressly stated purpose was to save the morality of self-abnegation and self-sacrifice,” she likely meant the Kant passage in the Preface to the second edition of KrV at Bxxx about knowledge and faith. She slides from faith to Judeo-Christian morality. Kant’s mature ethics is not altruism, to be sure. Rand was correct to not say Kant was aiming to fortify self-sacrifice for the sake of others. Kant did not promote that as basic principle for his ethics or basic purpose of his ethics. His is a partial self-sacrifice at base, but that sacrifice, so far as it is in the base, is not for the sake of others. His base shadows the First Commandment, with pure reason being the surely knowable director and God as rationally to be, along with human originative free will and human immortal life beyond death, thought and hoped, but not rationally known. Kant’s ‘reason’, including pure reason, is of course part of the human self, and overbearing concern for moral goodness of self by searching duty on duty prescribed by pure reason, is in a way selfish (as decried by Schopenhauer).

The passage at Bxxx is: “I therefore had to annul knowledge in order to make room for faith”.  I explain what Kant here means by faith here and here. Though it was a kind of faith, it was not the suspension of critical reason. To be sure, Kant could welcome radical, conservative fideists in the culture to tout his statement and take the new rising philosophy as vindicating their old-time Protestantism. Rand and many others not religious have taken Kant’s statement as sheltering and bolstering religion, whereas really he was promoting toleration between Protestantism on the one hand and philosophy and science on the other.

Rand was wrong to take a statement such as at Bxxx as Kant stating his purpose to be shrinking the scope of knowledge in order to shelter self-sacrifice as moral ideal. However, I have an indication that Kant’s philosophy had anyway brought about that very result by 1850 in German lands. Philosopher František Příhonský (joined at the hip philosophically with better-known Bernard Bolzano), who, focussed on and opposed to Kant’s theoretical philosophy, approves and applauds Kant’s ethics in this remark:

“Kant gained even greater merit, not just for philosophy alone but for humanity as a whole, in virtue of the fact that he supported ethics with a purer foundation and freed it from egoistic motivations. Before him, moralists for the most part paid homage to the principle of personal happiness [Selbstbeglückung], a principle as false as it is pernicious, which they not only sought to make valid in science but also to introduce into everyday life through popular writings. Now, it is easy to understand that men should have eagerly embraced and kept hold of a principle that so flattered their wishes, and it truly required Kant’s entire, weighty authority to wrest it away from them, and to convince them of its falsehood and its deleteriousness; a task in which the great man fully succeeded.” 


Bauer, N. 2012. A Peculiar Intuition: Kant’s Conceptualist Account of Perception. Inquiry 55(3):215–37.

Kant, I. 1781, 1787. Critique of Pure Reason. W. S. Pluhar, translator. 1996. Hackett.

Peikoff, L. 1967. The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy. In Rand 1966–67.

Pippin, R. B. 1982. Kant’s Theory of Form – An Essay on the Critique of Pure Reason. Yale.

Rand, A. 1957. Atlas Shrugged. Random House.

——. 1961. For the New Intellectual. Title essay. Signet.

——. 1966–67. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. 2nd ed. 1990. Meridian.

——. 1970. Kant versus Sullivan. In Philosophy: Who Needs It. 1982. Signet.

Smith, A. D. 2002. The Problem of Perception. Harvard.

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Concepts are employed in the understanding to make judgments. In judgments, according to Kant, “a concept is never referred directly to an object” (B93 A68). Concepts, when not referring to other concepts, refer to sensory or otherwise given presentations (B177 A138–42). This is part of Kant’s systematic rejection of what he called intellectual intuition. That rejection is not entirely wrongheaded, but this facet of the rejection is one of Kant’s really bad errors. I say as follows: the fact that concepts relate perceptually given particulars does not mean that concepts do not refer directly to the particulars of which we have perceptual experience. It simply does not square with the phenomenology of thought to say that when we are using a concept we are not referring directly to the existents (or the possibility of them) falling under the concept.

Kant observes that judgments, like concepts, are unities. It is the faculty of understanding that supplies those unities by its acts. The logical forms of judgment are not conformed to identity structures in the world or in given sensory presentations. Kant conceived those presentations as having their limitations set by relations of part to whole. He thought they could not also, in their state as givens, have relations of class inclusion (B39 A25, B377 A320). This is a facet of his overly sharp divide between sensibility and understanding. I have long held that relations of class inclusion are not concrete relations, unlike the relations of part-whole, containment, proximity, or perceptual similarity. That does not conflict, however, with the idea that what should be placed in which classes should be actively conformed to particular concrete relations found in the world.

Kant thought that our receptivity of given sensory presentation is not cognitive and requires conceptualization in order to become experience (B74–75 A50–51). “All experience, besides containing the senses’ intuition through which something is given, does also contain a concept of an object that is given in intuition, or that appears. Accordingly, concepts of objects as such presumably underlie all experiential cognition as its a priori conditions” (B126 A93). The sensory given presentation contains particular and specific information about the object that can be thought in concepts and judgments concerning the object. But the most general and necessary forms of objects in experience is not information supplied by the sensory given presentations (sensory intuitions), but by the understanding itself for agreement with itself (B114–16, B133n).

Without the general form of objects supplied by the understanding, there is no cognitive experience of an object. “Understanding is required for all experience and for its possibility. And the first thing that understanding does for these is not that of making the presentation of objects distinct, but that of making the presentation of an object possible at all” (B244 A199).

Kant is concerned to show that there are general patterns of necessity found in experience that are seamless with logical necessities. He errs in supposing that that seamlessness comes about because the general forms for any possible experience of objects logically precedes any actual experience of objects. That a percipient subject must have organization capable of perception if it is to perceive is surely so. Consider, however, that a river needs channels in order to flow, yet that does not rule out the possibility (and actual truth) that the compatibility of a valley and a river was the result of the flow of water.

According to Kant, we could have no experience of objects without invoking concepts bearing, independently of experience, certain of the general forms had by any object whatsoever. The unity-act of the understanding that is the conceptual act, which gives a unified content, an object, to given sensory presentations is also the very unity-act that unifies the various concepts in a judgment (B104–5 A78–79).

The faculty of reason, in contradistinction from understanding, does not deal with given sensory presentations, but with concepts and judgments. “Just as the understanding brings the manifold of intuition under concepts and thereby brings the intuition into connection,” so does reason “bring the understanding into thoroughgoing coherence with itself” (B362 A305–6). Reason provides cognition with logical form a priori, independently of experience.

The spontaneity of thought is unifying activity, whether in conceiving, judging, or inferring. In Kant are themes of integration and economy. Those are major in Rand’s analyses of cognition. However, for Kant the unifying activity of the understanding and of reason is not “an insight into anything like the ‘intelligible’ structure of the world” (Pippin 1982, 93).

Kant represents understanding and reason as working together as a purposive system. I maintain, in step with Rand, that all purposive systems are living systems or artifacts of those living systems. We hold that only life is an ultimate end in itself; life is the ultimate setter of all needs. The purposive system that is the human mind is the information-and-control system having its own dynamic needs derivative to serving the needs of the human individual and species for continued existence. Life has rules set by its needs for further life.

Life requires not only coherent work among its subsystems, but fitness with its environment. Rules of life pertain to both. Rules of mind pertain to both (cf. Peikoff 1991, 117-19, 147-48). Rules of logic do indeed enable coherent work of the mind, but they also yield effective comprehension of the world. Identity and unity are structure in the world, and, in their organic elaboration, they are structure of the viable organism (cf. 125–26). The normativity of logic arises from the need of the human being for life in the world as it is.


Kant, I. 1781, 1787. Critique of Pure Reason. W. S. Pluhar, translator. 1996. Hackett.

Peikoff, L. 1991. Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn RandDutton.

Pippin, R. B. 1982. Kant’s Theory of Form. Yale.

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Kant knew the power and glory of Euclid and Newton. He knew how Newton had used geometry and empirical findings, and he knew Newton’s weave of fundamental physical concepts given mathematical expression. In the same arena, mathematics and science, he knew Descartes, as well as Euler and Lambert (Friedman 1992).

In the arena of philosophy, Kant had before his eyes, importantly for logic and epistemology, the writings of Plato and Aristotle, and he had the moderns from Francis Bacon to Hume (Kuehn 1987; 2001; Garber and Longuenesse 2008). One of the first things one learns about Kant is that he was answering skeptical challenges to rational knowledge, especially from Hume, while also demolishing Rationalist bridges for knowledge of things as they are, unadulterated by the forms of our cognition.

Rand’s 1957 set out her own response to (mysticism and) skepticism, Rationalism, and Empiricism. Hers was a new metaphysics and theory of mind, indebted to Aristotle, but innovative and sensitive to developments in subsequent science and philosophy.

In FNI Rand characterized the modern Rationalist school as abandoning reality and the modern Empiricist school as abandoning their mind. Some sense of that characterization could be made if one is thinking of Descartes, Malbranche, Spinoza, and Leibniz for one’s Rationalists and thinking of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume as one’s Empiricists. These are figures of modern philosophy as Kant came to philosophy. Rand wrote in FNI that Kant “formalized this state [R v. E], and closed the door to reason” (30). It is not plain what she meant by that, but I suggest there is something along those lines concerning Kant that is true of his famous work and its influence in subsequent philosophy.

Kant inherited entrenched problematic divides in philosophy. Older among them would be the divide between the material world of the senses and the immaterial realm of thought, soul, and God; the divide between inclination and moral obligation; and the divide between reason and faith. More recent among them would be the divide between the deterministic world of science and the inner world of freedom; the divide between the value-absent world of reason and the value-full world of action and feeling; the divide between things and their effects on us; and the divide between “the subjective origins of our experience and its supposed objectivity” (Bird 2006, 1).

Where Kant attempted to smooth together those divisions, he succeeded little. Kant deepened and hardened the divide between inclination and moral obligation. However many ties he made between sensing and thinking, he deepened and hardened the divide between them. Moreover, he deepened and hardened the divide between things and their effects on us. His embrace and expansion of that divide entailed that all the widest unity and most necessary structure he would give to experience, understanding, and morality must come from the side of the subject. Space, time, objects, identity, causality, and moral reasons—all of them, systematically and fantastically, and seductively to many bright thinkers, must come from the constitution of an articulate subject striving for and touched by things as they are in themselves, things as they cannot be in our grasp, things with their own articulation unknowable to us.

Rand thought that higher animals are guided by “an integrated awareness of the perceptual reality confronting it” (Rand 1961a, 19). However, “an animal has no critical faculty . . . . To an animal, whatever strikes his awareness is an absolute that corresponds to reality—or rather, it is a distinction he is incapable of making: reality, to him, is whatever he senses or feels” (Rand 1961b, 17; see also ITOE App. 246; cf. Burge 2010, 279–81).

When it comes to human beings, Rand observes, they have an integrated perceptual awareness, one augmented by the ability to identify perceptual illusions (AS 1041). We can come to understand illusions in terms of veridical perceptual components of which they are composed (Branden c. 1968, 47–48). “If there were no objective perceptions of reality, from which ‘illusions’ and ‘appearances’ are intended to be distinguished, the latter concepts would be unintelligible” (Branden 1963, 2; further, Kelley 1986, 135, 182–83, 218, 232–42; Peikoff 1991, 39–54). Moreover, we are capable, when awake and healthy, of identifying the phantasmagoria of dreams and hallucinations as occasions of consciousness not fastened upon reality (Branden c. 1968, 87; Kelley 1986, 133–38, 217–18; Peikoff 1991, 41). We can also tell the difference between our episodes of perception and our episodes of memory or imagination (ITOE 30). In Rand’s view, all of those types of human consciousness have a content that “is some aspect of the external world (or is derivable from some aspect of the external world)” (31). I concur.



Bird, G. 2006. The Revolutionary Kant – A Commentary on the Critique of Pure Reason. Open Court.

Branden, N. 1963. The Stolen Concept. The Objectivist Newsletter 2(1):2, 4.

——. c.1968. The Basic Principles of Objectivism. Lectures transcribed in The Vision of Ayn Rand. 2009. Cobden.

Burge, T. 2010. Origins of Objectivity. Oxford.

Friedman, M. 1992. Kant and the Exact Sciences. Harvard.

Garber, D., and B. Longuenesse, editors, 2008. Kant and the Early Moderns. Princeton.

Kelley, D. 1986. The Evidences of the Senses. Louisiana State.

Kuehn, M. 1987. Scottish Common Sense in Germany 1768–1800. McGill-Queen’s.

——. 2001. Kant – A Biography. Cambridge.

Peikoff, L. 1991.Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. Dutton.

Rand, A. 1957. Atlas Shrugged. Random House.

——. 1961a. The Objectivist Ethics. In The Virtue of Selfishness. 1964. Signet.

——. 1961b. For the New Intellectual. Title essay. Signet

——. 1966–67. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. 2nd ed. Meridian.

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Rand conveyed an egregious misunderstanding and mischaracterization of Kant in the following:

“The ‘phenomenal’ world, said Kant, is not real: reality, as perceived by man’s mind, is a distortion. The distorting mechanism is man’s conceptual faculty: man’s basic concepts (such as time, space, existence) are not derived from experience or reality, but come from an automatic system of filters in his consciousness (labeled ‘categories’ and ‘forms of perception’) which impose their own design on his perception of the external world and make him incapable of perceiving it in any manner other than the one in which he does perceive it. This proves, said Kant, that man’s concepts are only a delusion, but a collective delusion which no one has the power to escape. Thus reason and science are ‘limited’, said Kant; they are valid only so long as they deal with this world, with a permanent, pre-determined collective delusion (and thus the criterion of reason’s validity was switched from the objective to the collective), but they are impotent to deal with belong to the ‘noumenal’ world.” (FNI 31)

Along with much characterization and criticism of Kant that is correct, in his lecture “A Critique of Kant’s Philosophy from an Objectivist Perspective” (early 1970’s), Peikoff reiterated those erroneous representations of Kant:

“Kant claims that human consciousness is invalid, that we’re not conscious of reality as it is in itself, only of a distortion of reality.” (Representation of Kant: false, true, false.)

“[Kant’s] basic argument [for that] is that certain ways of perceiving and conceiving the world are necessary. Therefore, he concludes, they are merely mind-contributed, subjective, not reliable guides to reality.”

“The essence of the Kantian definition of objectivity . . . is a collective necessity. All the subjects individually agree, and that unanimity makes it objective.”

In the next couple of installments in the present thread, I’ll sort out the errors in these characterizations and criticisms of Kant by Rand and Peikoff.

In the early 1970's, Peikoff gave elaborate tape lecture courses on the history of philosophy.* These are representations of that history with which Rand entirely agreed. Peikoff was no doubt the one who ultimately informed Rand of most of the history of philosophy she would come to know after writing Atlas Shrugged. The view of Kant's theoretical philosophy expressed in Peikoff's lectures, lately come to be online, would be what had come to be Rand's view also of Kant's theoretical philosophy by the time of the lectures. The lectures on Kant are the fullest reservoir of what Rand thought to be his philosophy and the correct comparison of her own philosophy to his.

In those lectures, Peikoff remarks that Kant, Aristotle, and Plato are the philosophers most weighty and influential in the history of philosophy. Kant has an impact on all subsequent philosophy, he notes. That still goes, I should say. (In the broad arc, I note a polarity that goes Plato-Aristotle v. Descartes-Kant, notwithstanding all the criss-cross of affinities between these poles.) Concerning weight or stature of Kant, Peikoff says in his lectures: “Kant has one of the most ingenious, complex, integrated, comprehensive systems in the whole of philosophy.”

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Rand erred in taking Kant to be posing his distinction between the phenomenal and the noumenal as a distinction between a systematic illusion wrought over true reality. The phenomenal domain—though Kant is wrong to cast it as “phenomenal”—is real and upon it are truth, illusion, and error, according to Kant. He was wrong, I have argued above, to think there is any such thing as the noumenal in his sense of the term. But he was not posing the phenomenal—our world of experience and intelligence—as a grand illusion or distortion of something else. “Possible experience is what alone can give reality to our concepts; without it any concept is only an idea devoid of truth and of reference to an object” (A489 B571).

“Determination of my existence in time is possible only through the existence of actual things that I perceive outside me. Now consciousness of my existence in time is necessarily linked with consciousness of the possibility of this time determination; therefore it is necessarily linked also with the existence of things outside me, as condition of the time determination. I.e., the consciousness of my existence is simultaneously a direct consequence of other things outside me.” (B275–76)

Then too, when Kant speaks of appearances as constituents from which human experience is made, he does not mean appearances as opposed to what is really present. In speaking of appearance and the form of appearance, Kant does not mean illusion. He stresses the characters in appearance are actually given as in their relations to us as minds. Because such characters, such as spatiality, are not in objects apart from our apprehension of those objects, he calls the objects as given to us appearances (Bxxv–xxviii, A29–30 B45, A44–46 B61–63, B69–71, A155–58 B194–97, A257–58 B313–14, A293–98 B349–55, A490–97 B518–25, A506–7 B534–35, A538–41 B566–69; Prolegomena 4:287–93, 4:375; further, Allison 2004, 50–73; Grier 2001, 86–93; Westphal 2004, 38–41, 50–66; Parsons 2012, 33–41). 

Kant calls intuition our direct knowing of something whole, direct knowing of a singular thing whole (A25 B39–40, B236n, A320 B377). That, as opposed to knowing discursively, judgmentally, inferentially, knowing by generalization of instances or by accumulation of parts.

“Intuition that refers to the object through sensation is called empirical intuition. The . . . object of an empirical intuition is called appearance.

“Whatever in an appearance corresponds to sensation I call its matter; but whatever in an appearance brings about the fact that the manifold of the appearance can be ordered in certain relations I call the form of appearance. Now, that in which alone sensations can be ordered and put into a certain form cannot itself be sensation again. Therefore, although the matter of all appearance is given to us only a posteriori, the form of all appearance must altogether lie ready for the sensations a priori in the mind; and hence that form must be capable of being examined apart from all sensation.” (A20 B34)

No. Some order of sensations could be received with the sensory activations, and this order could be a factor in determining the structure of sensory organs in development and in evolution such that certain order in sensory sensations and in their further processing is discerned when presented (cf. Sellars 1967, 6–8, 28–30, 53–57; Pippin 1982, 47–52, 70–71, 115–23, 188–89, 226–28; Parsons 2012, 18, 30–41). The magnolia is seen by me presently as left of the willow oak, and the boxwoods are seen as between me and those trees. That can be because those are the spatial relations among the two trees, the shrubs, and my body as they they simply are, apart from my apprehension of them at this time. Kant’s arguments for the transcendental ideality of space are failures; the distinctive necessity of his extravagant transcendental ideality is at hand in the mere belonging-formalities unveiled in my system and in our apprehension of them alongside perception of concretes to which those formalities belong. Kant’s appearance should be dropped—spatiality is a character of objects, not only a character of our apprehension of them.

Adult experience is touched by concepts, both in our practical negotiations of the world and in scientific observation and controlled experimentation. On that much, Kant and Rand and I are in agreement. Just as Kant required a priori intuitions of the form of appearance in which objects are given to us, so he required a priori concepts through which any object given in appearance can be thought by us. Those formal a priori intuitions, space and time, together with a priori concepts of objects in appearance, make human experience possible. Jointly, these intuitions and concepts are necessary conditions for the possibility of experience itself (A92–94 B125–27).

By way of important contrast in Rand’s metaphysics or mine, the very general concepts and principles necessary for every experience apply not only to objects as in those knowledge-making experiences, but to objects and relations among them. They apply necessarily to rate of heat flow, for example, not only to rates of heat flow as sensed into or out from our skin. They apply to things as they are connected and not connected to other things, including to ourselves as minds (cf. Pistorius 1788, 178–79; 1789, 257–60). Such necessary concepts would be existence, identity, and causality, whose axiomatic or corollary standing was argued by Rand.

Kant would have unity of experience yield objects of experience. That is phenomenologically and logically backwards. With objects in experience come their unities in experience, their existence, their traits, and the necessity of those traits. Objects in experience are in the world and given as in the world, space and time being in the world, not only in our experience of the world. We experience the object that is causing our experience of it. This written text is causing the reader’s experience of it. The keys I am striking are causing my tactile experience of them. Our intellectual grasp of the object will get beyond a particular experience of the object as object, but it need not entail reaching for any purely intelligible object causing the object as in experience. That is a reach for a phantom.

There is no transcendental object yielding the unities of objects and their unities with each other (further, Pippin 1982, 204–5; Longuenesse 1998, 105–11). There is no transcendental object yielding the unities of our own body and mind. The singularity of existence and the singularity of consciousness is implicitly, tacitly in every occasion of one’s consciousness that “it is” or “existence exists.” Moreover, the necessities of all the preceding unities are the necessities of existence and its identities: its passages, situations, and characters. The source of logical necessity is the necessity of existence and consciousness, the necessity that existence is identity and consciousness is identification.

I said that Kant’s “appearance” should be dropped because spatiality is a belonging of objects, not only a belonging of our apprehension of them. I have said there is no transcendental object, no need to posit a merely intelligible cause of “appearance,” or speaking without that garble, no need to posit a cause of existence per se. Those differences with Kant tell the most obvious difference between Kant and Rand or I on the nature of empirical truth. Such truths in Randian philosophy or mine are truths of things as they are, which are ever things as they are in veridical perceptions and under valid concepts rightly integrated with observations and with other concepts. Existence is identity, and unity and necessity in both experience and thought are from the empirical world, contrary classical empiricism, rationalism, and Kant’s transcendental, formal idealism.


In the next installment, I’ll treat Rand’s error of taking Kant as replacing objectivity with collective agreement. I expect to end this thread with a refutation of Kant in ethics and in theoretical philosophy that is contained in Rand’s philosophy, which I was the first to notice. Perhaps I can add to this thread more counters to Kant’s ideas in theoretical philosophy in the more distant future. I should mention that chapter 4 of Fred Seddon’s 2003 argues against some characterizations and criticisms of Kant from Rand and from David Kelley, prominent proponent of Rand’s philosophy. Mention also should be made, though it’s a shame it needs to be made: Rand getting some of Kant seriously wrong or right bears not at all on the correctness of her own philosophy, which must be held up against reality on its own for assessment. Rand’s views on other philosophers and their philosophies are not part of her own philosophy Objectivism, any mere say-so to the contrary notwithstanding.


Allison, H. E. 2004 [1983]. Kant’s Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense. 2nd ed. Yale.

Grier, M. 2001. Kant’s Doctrine of Transcendental Illusion. Cambridge.

Kant, I. 1781, 1787. Critique of Pure Reason. W. S. Pluhar, translator. 1996. Hackett.

——. 1783. Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics that Will Be Able to Come Forward as Science. G. Hatfield, translator. In Immanuel Kant – Theoretical Philosophy after 1781. Cambridge.

Longuenesse, B. 1998. Kant and the Capacity to Judge. Princeton.

Parsons, C. 2012. The Transcendental Aesthetic. In From Kant to Husserl. Harvard.

Pippin, R. B. 1982. Kant’s Theory of Form. Yale.

Pistorius, H. A. 1788. Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant. In Sassen 2000 (S).

——. 1789. Kant’s Purism and Selle’s Empiricism. (S)

Sassen, B., translator, 2000. Kant’s Early Critics – The Empiricist Critique of the Theoretical Philosophy. Cambridge.

Seddon, F. 2003. Ayn Rand, Objectivists, and the History of Philosophy. University Press.

Sellars, W. 1967. Science and Metaphysics – Variations on Kantian Themes. Ridgeview.

Westphal, K. R. 2004. Kant’s Transcendental Proof of Realism. Cambridge.


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Rand errs in thinking Kant lands with collective opinion replacing objective reality. In Rand’s understanding of Kant: “Man’s concepts are only a delusion, but a collective delusion which no one has the power to escape. Thus reason and science are ‘limited’, said Kant; they are valid only so long as they deal with this world, with a permanent, pre-determined collective delusion (and thus the criterion of reason’s validity was switched from the objective to the collective), . . . (FNI 31). Peikoff: “The essence of the Kantian definition of objectivity . . . is a collective necessity. All the subjects individually agree, and that unanimity makes it objective” (“A Critique of Kant’s Philosophy from an Objectivist Perspective” [lecture, early 1970’s]).

In Prolegomena Kant had observed “there would be no reason why other judgments necessarily would have to agree with mine, if there were not the unity of the object—an object to which they all refer, with which they all agree, and, for that reason, also must harmonize among themselves” (1783, 298; see also A820–23 B848–51; 1786, 144–46). In Critique of Practical Reason, Kant reiterates that “universality of assent does not prove the objective validity of a judgment (i.e. its validity as cognition) but only that, even if universal assent should happen to be correct, it could still not yield a proof of agreement with the object; on the contrary, only objective validity constitutes the ground of a necessary universal agreement” (1788, 13).

In his logic classes, Kant used a textbook of G. F. Meier that included an informal fallacy of “logical egoism”, which blasted ignoring what others think as a help to win the truth. Kant transmuted that fallacy significantly to fit his mature philosophy as he developed it. Notes of students in Kant logic lectures mention this fallacy (c.1770, 45–46, 81, 93, 150, 178–79, 187–88, 234; c.1780, 806, 853, 873–74; 1792, 706, 721, 740, 746; 1800, 36–37, 48, 57, 80.) In those notes, Kant gets right the order—trueness in reason to object, concurrence of other minds in their reason concerning the object—even if he massively errs by the constitutive role he gives to forms of sensory intuition and fundamental a priori concepts in the presentation of objects (see also Allison 2004, 88–89).

“Logical egoism” in Meier means something much less elaborate than what Kant developed under the same heading. The occurrence in Meier is in his list of “logical prejudices,” which today our logic texts would call informal logical fallacies. “Logical egoism (egoismus logicus), when someone holds something to be logically perfect for the reason that he himself is the originator of it.” Other prejudices on Meier’s list are more familiar from lists of informal fallacies in our modern texts. These include adducing antiquity or improper authority as support for a proposition. No one I know of would disagree with Meier that “logical egoism” is a fallacy. Rand too concurred that such is a fallacy; that was in her essay “Selfishness without a Self.” Likewise, in Branden’s “Counterfeit Individualism.”

In the Bloomberg logic notes (early 1770’s), we find Kant raising the heading within a defense of the right and value of people to freely exchange ideas and property. These notes continue:

“Everyone who has the principium of conceit, that the judgments of others are for him utterly dispensable in the use of his own reason and for the cognition of truth, thinks in a very bad and blameworthy way.

“This is actually logical egoism, however, which of course could not and would not require that one communicate his own judgments to others, too. This so-called logical egoism consists, then, in nothing but the presumed but often false self-sufficiency of our understanding, existing for itself, and, so to say, isolated, where one believes he knows enough by himself, and believes he is infallibly correct and incorrigible in all his judgments. And we easily see that this conceited mode of thought is not only completely ridiculous but is even most contrary to real humanity.”


“It is true, of course, that in matters of the understanding the judgment of others judges nothing. But it is still not on this account superfluous, nor yet dispensable. By instinct, man’s understanding is communicatio. If it is communicative, then, it must really be sympathetic, too, and it must be concerned with what others judge of it.”

From the Vienna logic notes (early 1780’s):

“There are sciences in which we actually often have to rely on our own reason, and without needing this external criterium, [yet] without committing the mistake of egoism. E.g. In mathematics the evidence is so great that no one can resist it, if only he follows the proofs set forth. Otherwise, though, this historical criterium of the agreement of others cannot be completely dispensed with. For although it is not a sole criterium, it is a joint criterium.

. . .

“If it does not happen that we lay our thoughts before universal human reason, then we have cause to call into question the validity of our judgments, because we do not wish to follow nature’s wise precept that we test our truth on the judgments of others. It is wrong, accordingly, for the state to forbid men to write books and to judge, e.g., about matters of religion. For then they are deprived of the only means that nature has given them, namely, testing their judgment on the reason of others. The freedom to think in silence is given by the people who tyrannize so despotically. But that is only because they cannot prevent anyone from doing it. I can always think what I will. But as for what concerns logical egoism, it has to be conceded that since human nature depends on using this external criterium, I also have a right to expound my thoughts publicly.”

There are substantial differences between Kant’s and Rand’s conception of human nature and the social ingredients in the attainment of knowledge. But they are not the difference she thought was there and publicized. I imagine hers was the common error of reading developments after a philosopher into that earlier philosopher, who really would have opposed any such development or implication. (Think of Kant’s rejection of Fichte’s attempt to develop Kant’s critical idealism.) Rand’s representation of Kant on this was, as I showed earlier, vastly at odds with the body of his own published works. He did not propose that objectivity be replaced by collective agreement. Yes, there is too much subject-sidedness (deep and ineluctable) in Kant’s conception of the objective. But it does not amount to or imply: “Let’s take a poll to see whether heavy bodies fall faster than light ones.” I agree with Kant that human understanding is communicatio. And that seems partly at odds with Rand’s express views on the value of society to the individual, on the nature of language and discursive thought, as well as the communicative nature of art, which I think are ever stilted to fundamental human individual as if alone.

My concurrence on a point of Kant here or there does not mean that in fundamentals Rand is more profoundly opposed to Kant (the distinctive thought of Kant) than I am opposed to Kant. Rather, Rand and I can be at our separate stations on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, both of us genuinely opposite Kant stepping off the tour bus on the South Rim.


Allison, H. E. 2004 [1983]. Kant’s Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense. 2nd ed. Yale.

Branden, N. 1962. Counterfeit Individualism. In Rand 1964.

Gregor, M. J., trans. 1996. Immanuel Kant – Practical Philosophy. Cambridge.

Kant, I. c.1770. The Bloomberg Logic. In Young 1992.

——. c.1780. The Vienna Logic. In Young 1992.

——. 1781, 1787. Critique of Pure Reason. W. S. Pluhar, translator. 1996. Hackett.

——. 1783. Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics that Will Be Able to Come Forward as Science. G. Hatfield, translator. In Immanuel Kant – Theoretical Philosophy after 1781. Cambridge.

——. 1786. Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. In Wood and Di Giovanni 1996.

——. 1788. Critique of Practical Reason. In Gregor 1996.

——. 1792. Dohna-Wundlacken Logic. In Young 1992.

——. 1800. The Jäsche Logic. In Young 1992.

Meier, G. F. 1752. Excerpt from the Doctrine of Reason. A. Bunch, translator. 2016. Bloomsbury.

Rand, A. 1961. For the New Intellectual. Title essay. Signet.

——. 1964. The Virtue of Selfishness. Signet.

——. 1974. Selfishness without a Self. In Rand 1982.

——. 1982. Philosophy: Who Needs It. Signet.

Wood, A. W., and G. Di Giovanni, editors, 1996. Immanuel Kant – Religion and Rational Theology. Cambridge.

Young, J. M., trans. 1992. Immanuel Kant – Lectures on Logic. Cambridge.

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In 1973, while Peikoff was giving lectures on the history of philosophy, including Kant, Rand described writings that are “a mess of evasions, equivocations, obfuscations, circumlocutions, non sequiturs, endless sentences leading nowhere, irrelevant side issues, clauses, sub-clauses, and sub-sub-clauses, a meticulously lengthy proving of the obvious, and big chunks of the arbitrary thrown in as self-evident, . . . references to . . . the untraceable and the unprovable—all of it resting on a zero: the absence of definitions. [Such is] the Critique of Pure Reason.” Actually, she was just compiling the mishmash of errors and deceptions you get when you aggregate the host of illogical writings one can pick up from public writings in America at that time. And they still go.

Then she tacked on KrV as an example of such writing. It is not. There are no sentences in KrV leading nowhere. Then too, there are oodles of definitions in KrV, and Kant sticks with them uniformly throughout the work.

Mention of definitions, however, brings us to something serious and different in the philosophies of Kant and Rand. Kant’s interest was in what moderns would call real definitions—one’s stating natures of things—as distinct from nominal definitions, mere posits. Kant thought that we cannot know the essence of an empirical thing, strictly speaking, until we know all there is to know about the thing. That’s a bit odd. He was not saying a concept is not valid for knowledge unless it can be defined. An he was not saying we should not aim for definitions for empirical concepts. Still, it’s odd.

Rand had it that what is the essential characteristic of a thing, which can enable an ideal real definition, is some fact about the thing as presently known of it which distinguishes the thing and explains other of its distinguishing characteristics. Thus I select resistance to shearing stresses as essential characteristic of solids, and I define solids as material that is resistant to shearing stresses. That characteristic of solids explains many others distinctive of solids, such as why levers and cantilevers are only made of solids, why crankshafts are made of solids, and why the driveway is not a good place for rowing one’s canoe. Mine is a good choice of essence and a good definition in the present context of knowledge. The present context of knowledge is the ideal place for forming concepts and their definitions.

Kant was thinking that an essence and a definition incorporating it, if correct, are not subject to change. He thought that only concepts having nothing empirical in them, concepts whose source is free of the empirical, could be defined in that ideal way, and that was because, he thought, we make mathematical concepts and their essence ourselves, up front, without reliance on empirical input. He was wrong about that. The concept of a mathematical function, since the time of Kant, has changed more than once (and not due to empirical inputs). That is because of changes in the full context of mathematical knowledge. Similarly, the concept and definition of an acid has changed as chemical knowledge expanded.

Kant thought the absolute necessity in truths we derive from concepts in geometry and arithmetic is due to their formal character and that such character can come only from constitution of our minds. As I have said above, in my philosophy (RE), necessities in formal structure are due at root to my belonging-formalities attending concretes, specifically the belonging-formalities of situation for the case of necessities we are among in doing geometry. Without elementary mathematics, there is no higher mathematics. Elementary mathematics, like Rand’s conception of elementary logic, is an identification and rests on the axiom “Existence exists” (contra Kant’s basis). More specifically, in my system, elementary mathematics rests on belonging-formalities attending concrete existents.

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There is something that makes its own existence and likenesses of itself, its own essence and distinctive principles, its own kind of necessity and unity: life itself. Kant saw living things as not simply bringing all that on by natural, not-conscious processes. He would lodge the source of such things upstairs in a pure, drafting mind, like Plato had lodged pure forms upstairs; but Kant saw that if acts of the Creator were free, then the architectural plans implemented in organisms would be there only contingently, which would not do for sourcing the sort of norms he was after. Kant wanted something in us, in ourselves, that was not maker of all existence, as would be God, but that had the self-sufficiency and self-ruling character found (differently) in the mind of God and in living things of earth. He wanted it to be provider of absolute necessity in knowledge and morals. Such a thing he found in us in our faculty he called reason.

Kant drew an analogy between systematic organization by reason and organization of animate nature (KrV B860–61 A832–33; cf. B425). Kant knew that living things grow, that they are self-generating in individual development and in species reproduction, that they are self-preserving, and that in their essence they are purposive, or of-functions, in their structure and action (KU 366–71). He knew they are that way naturally, without artifice of intelligence. He did not see the natural purposive organizations that are organisms as ends in themselves. Life is not an end in itself.

“Rational nature is distinguished from the rest of nature by this, that it sets itself an end” (G 4:437). An end that can be the end of a will that is unconditionally good would have to be not some particular end to be effected, but an independently existing end. This end “can be nothing other than the subject {rational agent} of all possible ends itself, because this subject is also the subject of a possible absolutely good will; for such a will cannot without contradiction be subordinated to any other object” (G 4:437). Only rational nature is an end in itself without further qualification.

The internal purposive characteristic of organisms is a matter of objective fact, but for Kant it is an analogical objective fact. The anatomist and the embryologist are rewarded by proceeding under the general hypothesis that the parts and behaviors of organisms have specific functions analogous to our own conscious, rational purposes. Kant does not see it the other way around, the way Rand and I and many contemporary thinkers see it: conscious purpose is a species of natural animal behavior. This is one reason Kant did not see that life of the organism is an end in itself.

Kant had things backwards. General necessities and unities such as are manifest in physics, chemistry, or geology are simply in their objects and their relations, and they do not arise by our grasp of those subjects. Then too, the teleological character and its special sort of necessities and the self-making and self-maintaining of live things is from them and not from the side of the comprehending consciousness (or as Kant would have it more specifically, from an as-if-devised-by-purposeful-minds-in-the-organism, that is, from helpful tinted glasses the human intellect puts on).

No. Rand and I take the organic structure of human cognitive faculties to be from the organism of which they are organically a part.

In our legal system, we have a big distinction between issues of fact and issues of law. That is not only a feature in Anglo-American law, but in as well the legal system of Kant’s place and time. He used that distinction pervasively in The Critique of Pure Reason as an analogy for distinction of knowledge empirical, contingent, and descriptive from knowledge of principles absolute and normative for any human cognition or action, which is to say, knowledge-form of and authored by our pure reason. To the contrary, Rand’s grand insight is that the source of all norms is life itself.

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  • 5 weeks later...



In 1975 Rand composed an essay she titled “From the Horse’s Mouth.” She had been reading a book by Friedrich Paulsen (1846–1908) titled Immanuel Kant: His Life and Doctrines, published in 1898 and translated from German to English in 1902.

The horse Rand was referring to was Immanuel Kant. She took Paulsen to be “a devoted Kantian” giving a fair reflection of Kant in this book, a modest commentator in comparison to the stature of the originator of the system that is transcendental idealism, but a philosopher parlaying Kant’s ideas in an exceptionally honest way. She took Paulsen’s Kantian views at late nineteenth century to illustrate what she took to be the fundamental cause—philosophic influence of Kant—of twentieth-century progress being, in her estimation, second-rate in comparison to what had been accomplished in the nineteenth century. Indeed, she took the Kant influence to be the reason one could no longer go to the theater and expect to find a great new play such as Cyrano de Bergerac (1897), rather, productions such as Hair or Grease.

In the Preface of the second edition (1899) of Immanuel Kant: His Life and Doctrine, Paulsen lamented that belief in ideas, such belief in ideas as Kant and Lessing had exhibited and imparted to the nineteenth century at its beginning, had “gradually given way to belief in the external  forces and material goods that now dominate our life. Nevertheless, as in families the grandson may resemble the grandfather, so it may perhaps happen in history; perhaps the twentieth century will be more like the eighteenth than the nineteenth.” Not that Paulsen hoped for a revival of the intuitionistic formalism in ethical theory (Kant) of the eighteenth century.

Alongside being a philosopher (metaphysics, knowledge, ethics) and historian of philosophy, Paulsen was a famous conservative educator and commentator on current affairs in Germany. He saw at the turn into the new century a “general breakdown of traditional patterns of authority and respect” (Aschheim 1992, 37). That was why, according to Paulsen, the youth were so attracted to Nietzsche.

Rand was correct in her essay when she described Paulsen as an admirer of Kant, but she erred in taking Paulsen to be a Kantian. Neither was he a post-Kantian, which anyway is too revisionary of Kant to pass off as genuinely Kantian. No, the correct classification of Paulsen would be post-idealist, meaning following on the entire load of German Idealism. Paulsen had been a grad student under Trendelenburg, a major late German-Idealist.

A few months after Paulsen’s death, Frank Thilly, composed a review essay titled “Friedrich Paulsen’s Ethical Work and Influence” (1907). Thilly had been the graduate student of Kuno Fischer and Friedrich Paulsen. Thilly had translated Paulsen’s most important philosophical work A System of Ethics (1889) into English in 1899

That is, Thilly translated the first three of the four books constituting that work. Those three books come to over 700 pages. Paulsen’s critique of Kant’s duty-consumed and a-prioristic-intuitionalistic ethics runs to 13 pages; it is not different than the critique Rand and others would make across the decades since then. The ethical views that Paulsen himself espouses are not Kantian.

In her essay, Rand did not seem aware that in Paulsen’s view it is the effects of an act that make it right or wrong, contra Kant. Then too, Paulsen rejected hedonism. It is life, not pleasure that is the ultimate good. The proper end of the will is action, not feeling. The highest good of human life is its objective content, including perfection of psychical powers and including pleasure (Thilly 1909, 146). “The highest good for man, that upon which his will is finally directed, is a complete human life; that is, a life that leads to the full development and exercise of all capacities and endowments, particularly the highest, the mental and moral capacities of the rational personality” (quoted in Thilly 1909, 146–47).

The highest good “consists in the perfect development and exercise of life” (Paulsen 1889, 251).  “In the moral sphere, every excellence or virtue [positive ones, not absences of wrong] is an organ of the whole, and at the same time forms a part of life; it is therefore, like the whole, an end in itself” (Paulsen 1889, 276). This is like Rand in seeing the individual whole life as an end in itself, but differs from Rand in giving virtue (the positive ones) not only a means-value, but an end-in-itself-value on account of being not only in a relation of service to the living whole, but in a relation of part in the constitution of the living whole. Similarly, Paulsen takes the individual life as part of the sphere of civilization and nonetheless as an end in itself.

Paulsen recasts certain aspects of the ethics of Kant, Hegel, and Schopenhauer partly from variance with them on ordinary manifest human nature, but also by explaining those aspects in terms of the modern theory of evolution, which was not available for assimilation into those systems of metaphysics or ethics. The metaphysics on which Paulsen rests his ethical theory contains a teleological element, expansive in the way of Aristotle, not rightly confined to the realm of life, which was the confinement Rand gave to teleology in her golden insight. The take of Paulsen and many other intellectuals in the late nineteenth century was that the process of evolutions was teleological, rather than rightly understanding that novel generation and natural selection explained the appearance of teleology at work in biological nature—apart from intentionality in we higher animals.

In his book on Kant, the book about which Rand wrote, Paulsen devotes pages 324–33 to criticism of Kant’s ethics. The portions of this book of about 400 pages that Rand made use of in her essay were pages 1–6. Rand’s marginalia in Paulsen’s book, the marginalia published in Mayhew 1995 (40–46), span the first 143 pages of Paulsen’s book. It is only after that point of the book that Paulsen digs into the Critique of Pure Reason; the Prolegomena; Kant on traditional issues in metaphysics; Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science; Kant’s moral philosophy; and Kant’s theory of the law, the state, and religion.

Rand used only those first few pages of Paulsen’s Immanuel Kant: His Life and Doctrine. She was struck by his opening picture in which religion, philosophy, and science all bear truths of reality, that “the history of philosophy shows that its task consists simply in mediating between science and religion,” and that Kant had created a peace pact between science and religion. She was rightly appalled that science and religion or reason and feeling should be regarded as each having rightful claims to truth. She took Paulsen to be claiming, at the end of the nineteenth century, that philosophy is the handmaiden of theology. Well, as a matter of fact, that was what I was learning from my Thomist philosophy professor in my first course in philosophy in 1967. It is nothing foreign to America or Europe to this day, pretty sure.

Paulsen was certainly wrong in saying that the task of philosophy is “simply” mediating between science and religion, in his day, Kant’s, or ours, if the translation “simply” is intended to imply that that is the only function served by philosophy.

Rand paints a picture in this essay (and in FNI) in which men were getting over the ancient split between mind and body and between morality and the physical world until Kant “revived” and steadied the split. Rand overcame the latter split by her theory of value in general and moral value in particular. She overcame, or anyway attempted to overcome, the former split by her metaphysics.

The Kantian division of reason and faith, she alleges, “allows man’s reason to conquer the material world, but eliminates reason from the choice of the goals for which material achievement are used. Man’s goals, actions, choices and values—according to Kant—are to be determined irrationally, i.e., by faith” (79). Well, no, that is not Kant, and differently, not Paulsen either.

Rand thought that the Kantian picture painted by Paulsen at the outset of this book, if typical of intellectuals at the end of the nineteenth century, surely would doom the twentieth century (to 1975) to what she saw as its declining achievements and to the century’s totalitarian states and the Holocaust. The outset-picture of Paulsen was not untypical among philosophers of Idealist stripe, though we should keep in mind that German Idealism (and its posts) was not the only major philosophy on the scene and the season of German Idealism was coming to an end. The conflict of faith and reason tearing apart integrated life and the award to faith the province of values continues to this day, as it did in the age of Copernicus. It did not and does not require the thoughts of Kant on it for its continuation. The Baptist University across town does not require Kant for continuing their faith-based rejection of the scientific account of the formation of the earth or of the biological evolution of our kind or of the separability of body and soul or of the other-worldly source of morals and home of the righteous.



Aschheim, S. E. 1992. The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany 1890–1990. California.

Mayhew, R., editor, 1995. Ayn Rand’s Marginalia. Ayn Rand Institute Press.

Paulsen, F. 1889. A System of Ethics. F. Thilly, translator. 1899. Charles Scribner’s Sons.

——. 1898. Immanuel Kant: His Life and Doctrine. J. E. Creighton and A. Lefevre, translators. 1902. Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Rand, A. 1975. From the Horse’s Mouth. In Philosophy: Who Needs It. 1982. Signet.

Thilly, F. 1909. Friedrich Paulsen’s Ethical Work and Influence. The International Journal of Ethics V19N2:10–55.

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Follow-on Note for ~J~

A good overview of the varied German takes on Kant after the era of Hegel is given in the online article Nineteenth-Century Neo-Kantianism 

This is the philosophic milieu in which Paulsen was writing, and one can search his name in this article. A full account of the same period of Kant revival, bifurcations, revisions, and new embedments is given in The Rise of Neo-Kantianism – German Academic Philosophy between Idealism and Positivism (1991) by Klaus Christian Köhnke, points of contact by Paulsen included.

But the main thing for getting Paulsen’s own philosophy, determining whether an extract is his view or Kant's, and the plusses and minuses he gives to Kant is to read Paulsen. That is, read extracts from Paulsen at least in the context of the full book, and more ambitiously, his body of works. And to repeat: It is false that Paulsen was "a devoted Kantian", and reading his every saying as though it were Kant saying or Kant-more-honestly-than-usual is incorrect. 

There is only one "horse's mouth" for Kant, and that is Kant. And I can Kant.

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