“Reason” in German Enlightenment Philosophy

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No. 1, 2022


“Reason” in German Enlightenment Philosophy



Zhang Renzhi


Under the influence of English philosophy, the second stage of German Enlightenment philosophy was pluralistic, and this intellectual setting constituted the intellectual realm in which Kant’s critical philosophy emerged and developed. At this stage, resort to “common sense reason” was the major consensus of German Enlightenment philosophers, and it was through the critique and review of such “common sense reason” that Kant developed his critical philosophy; at the same time, it constituted the self-reflection of the German Enlightenment. Clarification of the relationship between “common sense reason” and “critical reason” was not only a core issue at this stage of German Enlightenment philosophy, but also the intellectual source of the development of Kant’s critical philosophy. The central questions of Kant’s critical philosophy were answered in his successive debates with the English and German empiricists (the Scottish School of Common Sense and the German Populrphilosophie). In German Enlightenment philosophy, reason was both (or primarily) a Probirstein (a touchstone, or common sense reason), and (or more importantly) a Kompaβ (a compass, or critical reason).