- Ueber das Fundament des philosophischen Wissens nebst einigen Erläuterungen über die Theorie des Vorstellungsvermögens
Though the seminal importance of Karl Leonhard Reinhold for the development of German philosophy in the immediate aftermath of the Kantian revolution has never been in question, his actual writings have generally remained out of print and unread. Recently, however, this situation has begun to change dramatically, first, with the publication of new Felix Meiner “Philosphische Bibliothek” editions of the first and second volumes of Beiträge zur Berichtigung bisheriger Mißverständnisse der Philosophen (1790/1794), expertly edited by Faustino Fabianelli, and then with the first installment of a new multi-volume edition of Versuch einer neuen Theorie des menschlichen Vorstellungsvermögens (1789),edited and with a monograph-length introduction by Ernst Otto Onnash.
Even more welcome is the launch of a new twelve-volume scholarly edition of Reinhold’s complete works by the Swiss publisher Schwabe, under the general editorship of another leading contemporary Reinhold scholar, Martin Bondeli. The first of these volumes to appear (2008) was volume 2, which contained both the first and second volumes of the Briefe über die Kantische Philosophie (1790/1792), the influence of which upon the early popular reception of Kant’s thought can hardly be overemphasized. The second volume (volume 4) has now appeared, and it contains another of Reinhold’s most influential writings, namely his relatively brief (for the famously prolix Reinhold) tract of 1791, On the Foundation of Philosophical Knowledge, including some Clarifications of the Theory of the Faculty of Representation (the latter being one of Reinhold’s several names for his own, systematically recast version of Kantianism, more commonly known as “elementary philosophy” or sometimes as “philosophy without a nickname”).
This is one of four texts that belong to the period of Reinhold’s greatest direct philosophical influence upon his contemporaries, a period that began with the publication of the Versuch in 1789 and continued through the two volumes of the Beiträge (1790 and 1794, though the second volume already contains clear signs of movement beyond the standpoint of the elementary philosophy). Whereas the Versuch contained a preliminary sketch of Reinhold’s new system and the Beiträge offered more detailed expositions and revisions of specific portions of the same, Ueber das Fundament is entirely devoted to explaining, restating, and defending Reinhold’s ambitious new project.To be sure, both previous presentations of his new standpoint had emphasized that philosophy could become truly “scientific” only by becoming rigorously systematic and that it could achieve this goal only by starting from a single, self-evident Grundsatz or “first principle” (namely, “the principle of consciousness”), but Ueber das Fundament provides a much clearer and more extensive explication and defense of these two central claims, as well as detailed responses to various criticisms and misunderstandings of the same (many of which are still current among contemporary “anti-foundationalists”).
Ueber das Fundament is therefore best understood as a ringing manifesto for Reinhold’s new systematic program. As such, it contains his clearest (and in many ways most influential) explication of his conception of a philosophical system and of the need for the same. It presents a seminal defense of what is today widely described (and reviled) as the project of “philosophical foundationalism.” For this reason alone it merits the attention of contemporary philosophers. But it also deserves the careful attention of any serious student of the history of German idealism, inasmuch as Reinhold’s program was a direct inspiration and/or critical foil for the subsequent systematic efforts of Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and a host of others.
In addition to its main text (the foundationalist manifesto), the original edition of Ueber das Fundament also included detailed replies by two of Reinhold’s philosophical allies to publish criticisms of the elementary philosophy: one, by J.B. Ehrhard, responding to a harsh...