Kant in the Twentieth Century

Abstract
Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) quotably wrote in 1929 that “the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”1 The same could be said, perhaps with even greater accuracy, of the twentieth-century Euro-American philosophical tradition and Immanuel Kant (1724–1804).2 In this sense the twentieth century was the post-Kantian century. Twentieth-century philosophy in Europe and the USA was dominated by two distinctive and (after 1945) officially opposed traditions: the analytic tradition and the phenomenological tradition. Very simply put, the analytic tradition was all about logic and analyticity,3 and the phenomenological tradition was all about consciousness and intentionality.4 (See also “The birth of analytic philosophy,” Chapter 1; “The development of analytic philosophy: Wittgenstein and after,” Chapter 2; “American philosophy in the twentieth century,” Chapter 5; and “Phenomenology,” Chapter 15.) Ironically enough however, despite their official Great Divide, both the analytic and the phenomenological traditions were essentially continuous and parallel critical developments from an earlier dominant neo-Kantian tradition. This, by the end of the nineteenth century had vigorously reasserted the claims of Kant’s transcendental idealism against Hegel’s absolute idealism and the other major systems of post-Kantian German Idealism, under the unifying slogan “Back to Kant!” So again ironically enough, both the analytic and phenomenological traditions were alike founded on, and natural outgrowths from, Kant’s Critical Philosophy. By the end of the twentieth century however, and this time sadly rather than ironically, both the analytic and phenomenological traditions had not only explicitly rejected their own Kantian foundations and roots but also had effectively undermined themselves philosophically, even if by no means institutionally..
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