Neo-Kantianism and Anti-Kantianism: A Primer for Contemporary Philosophers.

By Robert Hanna

“Diogenes Sheltering in His Barrel,” by John William Waterhouse



#11: From Bertrand Russell to Brazilian carnaval: how to make the world as it could be made.

#10: The crisis in higher education–what is to be done?

#9: Philosophy and pseudonymy.

#8: A philosophy of the future is already here and now.

#7: You are identical to your life, for better or worse.

#6: Was Socrates an anarchist?

#5: Conceptual analysis from a non-conceptualist point of view.

#4: Further implications of non-conceptualism: sometimes, hell is other species.

#3: Implications of non-conceptualism: the existential counterpunch.

#2: The incoherence of public philosophy, and what can be done about it.

#1: What is “the debate about non-conceptual content,” and why does it matter so damned much?




#19: The incoherence and impossibility of personal immortality.

#18: A new argument against capital punishment.

#17: Fear, denial, and loathing in the philosophy of mind.

#16: The political aesthetics of outer space.

#15: The paradox of distributive social justice, and what is to be done?

#14: How a priori knowledge is really possible.

#13: Is a priori knowledge really possible? Yes; here’s proof.

#12: Is human free agency really possible? Yes; here’s how.

#11: What is democracy?

#10: Fear, loathing, and Pascal in Las Vegas: radical agnosticism.

#9: The philosophy of policing, crime, and punishment.

#8: The philosophy of borders, immigration, and refugees.

#7: The philosophy of old age.

#6: Faces, masks, personal identity, and Teshigahara.

#5: Processualism, organicism, and the two waves of the organicist revolution.

#4: Realistic idealism: ten theses about mind-dependence.

#3: Kant, universities, The Deep(er) State, and philosophy.

#2: When Merleau-Ponty Met The Whiteheadian Kripke Monster.

#1: Introductory; The rise and fall of Analytic philosophy; Cosmopolitanism and the real philosophy of the future; How to socialize the philosophy of mind.


93. Neo-Kantianism and anti-Kantianism: a primer for contemporary philosophers. More than a decade ago, I wrote this:

Alfred North Whitehead … 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.”[i] The same could be said, perhaps with even greater accuracy, of the twentieth-century Euro-American philosophical tradition and Immanuel Kant. 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, and the phenomenological tradition was all about consciousness and intentionality. 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. On the one hand the analytic tradition did so by abandoning its basic methodological conception of analysis as the process of logically decomposing propositions into conceptual or metaphysical “simples,” as the necessary preliminary to a logical reconstruction of the same propositions, and by also jettisoning the corresponding idea of a sharp, exhaustive, and significant “analytic-synthetic” distinction. The phenomenological tradition on the other hand abandoned its basic methodological conception of phenomenology as “seeing essences” with a priori certainty under a “transcendental-phenomenological reduction,” and also jettisoned the corresponding idea of a “transcendental ego” as the metaphysical ground of consciousness and intentionality.

One way of interpreting these sad facts is to say that just insofar as analytic philosophy and phenomenology alienated themselves from their Kantian origins, they stultified themselves. This is the first unifying thought behind this [essay], and it is a downbeat one. The second unifying thought, which however is contrastively upbeat, is that both the analytic and phenomenological traditions, now in conjunction instead of opposition, could rationally renew themselves in the twenty-first century by critically recovering their Kantian origins and by seriously re-thinking and re-building their foundations in the light of this critical recovery. Or in other words: Forward to Kant.[ii]

94. Now let’s provisionally suppose, for the purposes of my argument in the rest of this set of notes, that all of that is basically cogent — that is, basically intelligible, defensible, and true.

In 1982, Richard Rorty insightfully and wittily remarked that

[f]or … non-Kantian philosophers, there are no persistent problems — save perhaps the existence of Kantians.[iii]

This Rortyan remark, in turn, identifies something that is of great importance for the history of later modern philosophy — by which I mean the history of European and Anglo-American philosophy after 1780 and until this morning at 6am — namely, what I call anti-Kantianism.

Nevertheless, apart from Rorty’s insightful-&-witty remark, anti-Kantianism is almost entirely overlooked and unknown by most contemporary philosophers, and especially by most contemporary professional academic philosophers, even though most contemporary professional academic philosophers are in fact anti-Kantians.

Moreover anti-Kantianism, itself, can be understood only against the backdrop of neo-Kantianism, which is only slightly less overlooked and unknown by most contemporary philosophers.

95. So what is neo-Kantianism?

Here’s what Jeremy Heis says about it in the eponymous Stanford Encyclopedia article:

Neo-Kantianism was the dominant philosophical movement in Germany from roughly 1870 until the First World War. This movement drew inspiration from a diverse cast of philosophers — principally, Kuno Fischer…, Hermann von Helmholtz …, Friedrich Lange …, Otto Liebmann …, and Eduard Zeller … — who in the middle of the nineteenth century were calling for a return to Kant’s philosophy as an alternative to both speculative metaphysics and materialism…. During the 1870s, the movement formed into two schools, one based around Hermann Cohen at Marburg University and another based in southwest Germany (in the province of Baden) around Wilhelm Windelband. Later members of the Marburg School include Paul Natorp and Ernst Cassirer; later members of the Southwest School include Heinrich Rickert and Emil Lask.[iv]

Neo-Kantians[v] were not only intellectually influential, they were also great successes academically in Germany. They held prominent academic chairs, and were successful in placing their students, shaping curricula, and editing important journals and books. Most of the German philosophers who came to prominence in Germany after the First World War were educated by Neo-Kantians — an impressive and comprehensive list of students that includes Rudolf Carnap, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Martin Heidegger, and Hans Reichenbach[vi] But the reputation of Neo-Kantianism shifted dramatically in the decades after 1918. Neo-Kantians were associated with the old order, and so became the primary targets of the many philosophers (including their own students) wanting to make a completely fresh start. The subsequent geopolitical upheavals, not the least of which was Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, nearly erased the institutional memory of Neo-Kantianism within the emerging analytic and continental traditions. However, in the last few decades, historians of philosophy of all stripes have begun to re-discover both the historical and philosophical significance of Neo-Kantianism.[vii]

I generally agree with Heis; and Heis’s synopsis of neo-Kantianism, in turn, generally agrees with other recent mainstream Anglo-American professional academic scholarly treatments of the neo-Kantian tradition.[viii]

96. But there are also four crucially important further things to note here.

First, despite what most contemporary professional academic philosophers think when they hear the words “neo-Kantianism” — if they think about anything at all, that is, other than the sound of the words — nevertheless what Heis is describing, let’s call it classical neo-Kantianism, is categorically NOT a way of grouping together contemporary work being done by Robert Brandom, Christine Korsgaard, John McDowell, and Adrian Moore.

On the contrary, Brandom and McDowell are actually what I’ve called Pittsburgh/Chicago/Leipzig neo-Hegelians-with-a-serious-dash-of-neo-Aristotelianism,[ix] and therefore NOT correctly called “Kantians” at all.

Moreover, Korsgaard and Moore are most accurately called neo-neo-Kantians, whose work has in fact flowed from a critical Kantian response to the mainstream Analytic tradition–via John Rawls (Korsgaard’s PhD dissertation director) at Harvard, and via Peter Strawson, refracted through Michael Dummett’s linguistic philosophy (Dummett was Moore’s DPhil supervisor) at Oxford–a tradition whose emergence, in turn, was a critical anti-Kantian response to Kant’s philosophy and classical neo-Kantianism.[x]

Second, neo-neo-Kantianism is only ONE sub-species of what I’ve called contemporary Kantian philosophy:

Contemporary Kantian philosophy is a fusion of the classical 18th century philosophy of Immanuel Kant and the methods of contemporary philosophy, within an expressly cosmopolitan framework.

The range and scope of the problems and topics addressed by contemporary Kantian philosophy are as broad and as deep as the rational human condition itself.[xi]

Correspondingly, a sub-species of contemporary Kantian philosophy that is sharply distinct from neo-neo-Kantianism is what I call rational anthropology.[xii]

Later in these notes, I’ll spell out the three basic differences between classical neo-Kantianism and neo-neo-Kantianism on the one hand, and rational anthropology on the other.

Third, not only Heis, but also the other recent mainstream Anglo-American professional academic scholars who work on the neo-Kantian tradition, almost entirely avoid or ignore a THIRD stream of classical neo-Kantianism, namely the neo-Friesian school of neo-Kantianism, named after the post-Kantian philosopher Jakob Friedrich Fries, most prominently defended by Leonard Nelson, who, not altogether coincidentally, was a radical socialist.

Fourth, indeed, correspondingly, not only Heis but also but also the other recent mainstream Anglo-American professional academic scholars who work on the neo-Kantian tradition, almost entirely avoid or ignore the intimately close theoretical and practical connections between classical neo-Kantianism and SOCIALISM.

By sharp contrast, the Wikipedia article on neo-Kantianism says this:

the ethical aspects of neo-Kantian thought often drew them within the orbit of socialism, and they had an important influence on Austromarxism and the revisionism of Eduard Bernstein. Lange and Cohen in particular were keen on this connection between Kantian thought and socialism.[xiii]

97. Now we’re in a position to understand anti-Kantianism.

By anti-Kantianism, I mean the regularly recurring waves of widespread critical rejections of and visceral antipathy towards Kant’s (and by implication, towards Kantian and/or neo-Kantian) philosophy in the history of later modern philosophy.

By my count, so far, there have been at least six waves of anti-Kantianism:

first, during the early absolute idealist and in particular Hegelian period in the early- to mid-19th century, when Kant was pejoratively labeled a subjective idealist;[xiv]

second, during the Marxist socialist period prior to the rise of neo-Kantianism, in the mid-19th century, and again during the Russian Marxist-Leninist socialist period, after 1917,[xv] when Kant was pejoratively labeled a petit-bourgeois liberal;

third, during the early period of classical Analytic philosophy in the 20th century, when Kant was pejoratively labeled a logical psychologicist and again a subjective idealist;[xvi]

fourth, during and in the immediate wake of World War I, when Kant, along with post-Kantian German idealism, and Nietzsche, was blamed for initiating the rise of German militarism culminating in the cult-of-the-Kaiser and World War I;[xvii]

fifth, during and in the immediate wake of World War II, building on and elaborating the post-World War I tradition of anti-Kantianism, when Kant, again along with post-Kantian German idealism, and Nietzsche, was blamed for initiating the rise of the Nazis, culminating in the cult-of-Hitler, World War II, and the Holocaust, even though Kantians and neo-Kantians, especially those who had been students of Nelson, had been specifically identified by the Nazis as liberal, socialist, and/or Jewish threats to Nazism, and purged;[xviii]

sixth, and most recently, during the early 21st century, with the rise of Analytic metaphysics and multi-culturalist philosophy, when Kant, along with all so-called “Continental” philosophers is not only pejoratively labeled, yet again, a subjective idealist, but also, on his own, and quite specifically, is bitterly and name-callingly labeled a racist, sexist, and xenophobe.[xix]

98. So, what the hell is going on with anti-Kantianism?

I think it’s self-evidently obvious that each and every wave of anti-Kantianism after the first or Hegelian wave, is a contextually-&-historically specific deployment of a moral-&-political-taint-by-association strategy for expelling Kant, Kantianism, and/or neo-Kantianism from mainstream intellectual and practical culture in general, and from the canonical professional academic history of modern philosophy in particular, and, even more deviously, for manipulating intellectual and practical culture in general, and canonical professional academic history in particular, for its own self-interested or utilitarian purposes.

In other words, anti-Kantianism is all about brute cultural, moral, and political power; or as Humpty Dumpty says:

The question is, which is to be master — that’s all.

99. Now back to contemporary Kantian philosophy.

In #96 above, I promised to spell out the three basic differences between classical neo-Kantianism and neo-neo-Kantianism on the one hand, and rational anthropology on the other.

First, rational anthropology features, as an essential part of its metaphilosophy, a serious critique of professional academic philosophy,[xx] whereas the classical neo-Kantians and neo-neo-Kantians alike, are “card-carrying” professional academic philosophers par excellence.

So in that respect, rational anthropology is very much in the radically alternative, Kantian anti-professional-academic tradition of Schopenhauer’s “On University Philosophy.”[xxi]

Second, from a practical and political point of view, rational anthropology explicitly entails cosmopolitan anarcho-socialism,[xxii] aka Left Kantianism,[xxiii] which puts it solidly in the radical socialist tradition of early Marx, Kropotkin, and Frankfurt School critical theory, whereas virtually all of the classical neo-Kantians (with the exceptions of Cohen, Lange, and especially Nelson) and neo-neo-Kantians (with the exception of Robert Paul Wolff,[xxiv] who’s closely associated with the New Left of the 1970s) are bourgeois liberals.

Third, from a metaphysical point of view, rational anthropology is committed to an essential embodiment theory of the mind-body relation and mental causation,[xxv] which puts it solidly within the non-intellectualist tradition of existential phenomenology, and, from a cognitive-epistemic point of view, also to essentialist content non-conceptualism,[xxvi] whereas all the classical Kantians and neo-neo-Kantians alike are committed to conceptualism and intellectualism.

Moreover and finally, again from a metaphysical and cognitive-epistemic point of view, in the face of all the anti-Kantians who have foisted the subjective idealist label on Kant, Kantianism, and/or neo-Kantianism, rational anthropology is explicitly committed to a robustly realistic version of idealism called manifest realism.[xxvii]

100. All in all then, now that the nature of neo-Kantianism and anti-Kantianism have been sufficiently unpacked and clarified, it should be pretty much self-evident that not only are there NO good reasons to be an anti-Kantian, but also there are MANY good reasons to be a rational anthropologist.[xxviii]

Leonard Nelson, whose philosophical lifework is a bridge between classical neo-Kantianism and contemporary Kantian rational anthropology


[i] A.N. Whitehead, Process and Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1929), p. 39.

[ii] R. Hanna, “Kant in the Twentieth Century,” in D. Moran (ed.), Routledge Companion to Twentieth-Century Philosophy (London: Routledge, 2008), pp. 149–203, at pp. 149–150.

[iii] R. Rorty, “Philosophy as a Kind of Writing: An Essay on Derrida,” in Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, pp. 90–109, at p. 93.

[iv] Heis’s note: “There were, of course, other members of the two schools. For reasons of space, this article covers only Cohen, Natorp, Cassirer, Windelband, Rickert, and Lask.”

[v] Heis’s note: “Please note that this article concerns what might be called ‘classical’ Neo-Kantianism: the self-identified philosophical schools of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Germany centered around Marburg and southwestern Germany. Many philosophers are ‘neo-Kantian’ in the broader sense that they draw significant inspiration from aspects of Kant’s philosophy: for instance, earlier nineteenth century philosophers such as Herbart or Schopenhauer were neo-Kantian in this broad sense, as were other philosophers contemporary with the classical Neo-Kantians — for instance, Hans Vaihinger or Wilhelm Dilthey in Germany, Alois Riehl in Austria, Émile Boutroux or Léon Brunschvicg in France, and Robert Adamson or T.H. Green in Britain. There are principled reasons, articulated in section 1 of this article, for distinguishing the classical Neo-Kantians of the Marburg and SW schools from ‘neo-Kantians’ in this broader sense. An article on neo-Kantianism in this broad sense would almost constitute a complete history of philosophy from Kant up into the twentieth century.”

[vi] Heis’s note: “Indeed, as Friedman … argues, Neo-Kantianism is the common root out of which both the so-called ‘analytic’ and ‘continental’ traditions grew.”

[vii] J. Heis, “Neo-Kantianism,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), (ed.) E.N. Zalta, available online at URL = <>.

[viii] See, e.g., F. Beiser, The Genesis of Neo-Kantianism, 1796–1880 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2014); M. Friedman, A Parting of the Ways: Carnap, Cassirer, and Heidegger (Chicago/La Salle: Open Court, 2000); and S. Luft, “Editor’s Introduction,” The Neo-Kantian Reader (Oxford: Routledge, 2015), pp. xx–xxxi.

[ix] See R. Hanna, “On Irad Kimhi’s Thinking and Being, Or, It’s The End Of Analytic Philosophy As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” Critique (2018), available online at URL = <>.

[x] See, e.g., R. Hanna, Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon/Oxford Univ. Press, 2001).

[xi] See R. Hanna, “The Contemporary Kantian Philosophy Project: What It is, Its History, Its Journal, Its Workshops, and Its Books” (April 2019), available online at URL = <>.

[xii] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “A Philosophy Of The Future Is Already Here And Now,” Against Professional Philosophy (8 April 2019), available online at URL = <>.

[xiii] Wikipedia, “Neo-Kantianism” (2019), available online at URL = <>.

[xiv] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Forward to Idealism: On Eckart Förster’s The Twenty-Five Years of Philosophy,” Kantian Review 18 (2013): 301–315.

[xv] See, e.g., V. Chaly, “Kantianism and Anti-Kantianism in Russian Revolutionary Thought,” Con-Textos Kantianos 8 (2018): 218–241, available online at URL = <>.

[xvi] See, e.g., Hanna, Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy, esp. chs. 1–2.

[xvii] See, e.g., G. Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy (London: J.M. Dent & Sons/New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1915), available online at URL = <>.

[xviii] See, e.g., H. Sluga, Heidegger’s Crisis: Philosophy and Politics in Nazi Germany (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1993). See also, e.g., B. Blanshard, “Forward,” in L. Nelson, Socratic Method and Critical Philosophy (New York: Dover, 1949), p. vi: “One of [Nelson’s] students writes: ‘All Nelson’s pupils who remained in Germany were engaged, as long as they were not imprisoned, in underground or other illegal work against Nazism’,” and also J. Kraft, “Introduction,” in Nelson, Socratic Method and Critical Philosophy, pp. ix-x: “A future political history of Germany will have to record how, out of [Nelson’s] Academy and the youth groups connected to it, came a number of heoric men and women who fought against the National Socialist regime, and who, since the downfall of that regime, have borne with equal courage their share in the struggle for a new and better order in Germany.”

[xix] Z, “Multi-Culti Is Anti-Kanti,” Against Professional Philosophy (23 November 2017), available online at URL = <>.

[xx] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Thinking Inside and Outside the Fly-Bottle: The New Poverty of Philosophy and its Second Copernican Revolution,” in R. Hanna, Preface and General Introduction, Supplementary Essays, and General Bibliography (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 1) (New York: Nova Science, 2018), PREVIEW, essay 2.4, pp. 147–168.

[xxi] See A. Schopenhauer, “On University Philosophy,” in A. Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena: Short Philosophical Essays. trans. S. Roehr and C. Janaway (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014), pp. 125–176.

[xxii] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Radical Enlightenment: Existential Kantian Cosmopolitan Anarchism, With a Concluding Quasi-Federalist Postscript,” in D. Heidemann and K. Stoppenbrink (eds.), Join, Or Die: Philosophical Foundations of Federalism (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016), pp. 63–90; and R. Hanna, Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 4) (New York: Nova Science, 2018), PREVIEW, esp. parts 2 and 3.

[xxiii] See R. Hanna, “Kant, Adorno, and Autonomy,” Critique (2017), available online at URL = <>.

[xxiv] R.P. Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 1970/1998), also available online at URL = <>.

[xxv] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “When Merleau-Ponty Met The Whiteheadian Kripke Monster,” Against Professional Philosophy (28 May 2018), available online at URL = <>; and R. Hanna and M. Maiese, Embodied Minds in Action (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2009).

[xxvi] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “What Is ‘The Debate About Non-Conceptual Content,’ And Why Does It Matter So Damned Much?,” Against Professional Philosophy (18 February 2019), available online at URL = <>; and R. Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, VOL. 5) (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2015), PREVIEW, esp. ch 2.

[xxvii] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Realistic Idealism: Ten Theses About Mind-Dependence,” Against Professional Philosophy (9 July 2018), available online at URL = <>; R. Hanna, “Preface and General Introduction to THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION,” in R. Hanna, Preface and General Introduction, Supplementary Essays, and General Bibliography, PREVIEW, section 1.3; and Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, PREVIEW, esp. ch 3 and section 7.3.

[xxviii] I’m very grateful to Elisabeth Widmer for extremely helpful correspondence about the topics covered by these notes.


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Thursday 16 May 2019

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Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

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