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The Death of PhilosophyReference and Self-reference in Contemporary Thought$
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Isabelle Thomas-Fogiel

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780231147781

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231147781.001.0001

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Helmholtz’s Choice as a Choice for Reference

Helmholtz’s Choice as a Choice for Reference

The Naturalization of Critique

(p.217) 11 Helmholtz’s Choice as a Choice for Reference
The Death of Philosophy

Isabelle Thomas-Fogiel

, Richard A. Lynch
Columbia University Press

This chapter examines Hermann von Helmholtz’s positivist reading of Immanuel Kant that tended to “naturalize” the critical project—a resolute naturalism that reflected his scientific training. Helmholtz’s fundamental approach consists in applying strictly mechanistic and quantitative models to all phenomena, including biological phenomena. In doing so, he disagreed with his era’s physiologists’ vitalism. In his eyes, a Newtonian mechanism could account for the totality of natural phenomena. What is of interest here is the way that he thought Kant could justify this entirely Newtonian conception of science. His decisive reinterpretation of Kantian concepts is always carried out along the same axis: a concealment of the reflexive dimension and a naturalization of Kantianism. This chapter first considers Helmholtz’s views on knowledge in comparison to those of Kant before discussing his psychophysiological interpretation of the a priori, along with the physiological future of the distinction between things in themselves and phenomena. It concludes that Helmholtz quite well embodies a positivist reading of critique, which he specifies as a naturalization of critique (psychophysiology).

Keywords:   positivism, Hermann von Helmholtz, Immanuel Kant, naturalism, natural phenomena, science, naturalization, Kantianism, knowledge, a priori

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