Kant Lexicon


Intellectualism is a metaphysical doctrine concerning “the object of all our rational cognitions” (A853-4/B881-2). Specifically, it holds that the only actual or existing objects are objects of the pure intellect. Alleged objects of the senses are, on this view, illusory. Kant considered Plato to be “the foremost philosopher” of “the intellectual” (A853/B881).

The effect of the use of the senses, for the intellectualist, is to confuse the understanding.

Intellectualism is a metaphysical doctrine compatible with one version of the epistemological doctrine of noologism, which holds that pure rational cognitions have their origin in reason. Kant held that intellectualism requires “that there is an intuition through a pure understanding unaccompanied by any senses” (A854/B882). This inutition is often referred to as “intellectual intuition.”

In the Prolegomena, Kant used the expression ‘idealism’ in place of ‘intellectualism.’ He attributed it not only to Plato, but to the Eleatics (Parmenides and Zeno) and to Berkeley.

The dictim of all genuine idealists, from the Eleatic school to Bishop Berkeley, is contained in this formula: “All cognition through the senses and experience is nothing but sheer illusion, and only in the ideas of the pure understanding and reason is there truth.” (Ak 4:374)
As in the Critique, Kant describes this metaphysical view as resting on the postulation of an intellectual intuition. The resulting ontology is described by Kant as being “mystical and visionary” (Ak 4: 293, cf. Ak 4:375, footnote). The common error of the intellectualist is to infer the existence of intellectual intuition because of the lack of any alternative explanation of our a priori cognition.

Classically opposed to intellectualism is sensualism, according to which the objects of our rational cognitions are sensible only. Kant’s critical or transcendental philosophy also rejects intellectualism, in that denies the existence in humans of the requisite intellectual intuition. It also denies the view that objects of the senses are illusory. On the contrary, it is the intellectualist who is the victim of a kind of illusion in trying to extend pure rational cognitions beyond the objects of the senses.

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