Aenesidemus is a German book published anonymously by Professor Gottlob Ernst Schulze of Helmstedt in 1792. Schulze attempted to refute the principles that Karl Leonhard Reinhold established in support of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781). The title is a reference to Aenesidemus, an ancient Greek skeptical philosopher. Its complete title, in English translation, was Aenesidemus or Concerning the Foundations of the Philosophy of the Elements Issued by Professor Reinhold in Jena Together with a Defense of Skepticism against the Pretensions of the Critique of Reason (German: Aenesidemus oder über die Fundamente der von dem Herrn Professor Reinhold in Jena gelieferten Elementar-Philosophie. Nebst einer Vertheidigung des Skepticismus gegen die Anmassungen der Vernunftkritik).
The book was supposed to be a written correspondence between Hermias (Greek: "a follower of Hermes"), who believes in the Kantian critical philosophy, and Aenesidemus (Greek: "he who praises the people"), who is skeptical about that philosophy. The skepticism of David Hume's skepticism about induction, according to this book, was not disproved by Kant. As Hume had asserted, the existence of causality, the soul, or the thing-in-itself cannot be proved.
Philosophy cannot establish the existence or non-existence of the thing-in-itself. By establishing general principles, we can't know the limits of our ability to know. Progressive development, however, can approach complete knowledge.
No skeptic can doubt the reality and certainty of mental representations and mental events that are immediately given through consciousness.
Skepticism does not claim that metaphysical questions cannot be answered.
Skepticism doubts the possibility of knowledge about the existence or non-existence of the thing-in-itself. Kant, however, was guilty of begging the question in that he presupposed that the thing-in-itself exists and causally interacts with observing subjects.
Kant and Reinhold claimed that the reality of objects can be known from the representations in the mind of the observing subject. This is inferring objective reality from subjective thought. Such an inference is the fallacy of drawing existential conclusions from logical premises.
Kant's critical philosophy is self-contradictory. He said that things-in-themselves cause sensations in an observer's mind. Kant applied causality to noumena. But, in his critique, he had claimed that causality is a category of the understanding that can only be applied to phenomena.
If we were to take critical philosophy seriously, we would commit ourselves to resolving experiences into two parts — a system of universal subjective forms on one side, and a mass of amorphous, meaningless objective matter on the other.
How can we be sure that Kant's obligation to be moral is the result of freedom? It might be the result of some irrational natural force.
Kant's response was indicated in his letter to Jakob Sigismund Beck, December 4, 1792:
- "Under the assumed name of Aenesidemus, an even wider skepticism has been advanced, namely, that we cannot know at all whether our representations correspond to anything else (as object), which is as much as to say: whether a representation is a representation (stands for anything). For 'representation' means a determination in us that we relate to something else (whose place the representation takes in us)..."
Reinhold wrote that true skepticism rested on the fact that only the observing subject felt what was in its consciousness. The only truth is the subject's notion that there is an object that agrees with its internal mental representation.
Johann Fichte agreed with Reinhold's subjectivity. He based his own idealism on the observing subject's internal forms of knowledge. Arthur Schopenhauer's voluntarism claimed that Kant's thing-in-itself is an irrational force that relates to morality because of its identity with the human will.
- Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 7, New York: Macmillan, 1972
- Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-521-48328-X
- Between Kant and Hegel, trans. and ed. George Di Giovanni and H. S. Harris, Indianapolis, Hackett, 2000, ISBN 0-87220-504-5
- Di Giovanni and Harris 2000, p. 25
- The World as Will and Representation, Volume I, Book 2