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2007. Idealistic Studies, Volume 37, Issue 2. ISSN 0046-8541. pp.

87104
REID, TETENS, AND KANT ON THE EXTERNAL WORLD
Scott Stapleford
Abstract: Building on the research of Manfred Kuehn, the author argues that,
whatever infuence the Scottish Common Sense Philosophy of Thomas Reid may
have had on the development of Immanuel Kants refutation of idealism, it was
fltered through the thinking of Kants largely forgotten German contemporary,
Johann Nicolaus Tetens. While the importance of Tetens for understanding Kant is
examined in connection with only one idea, the aim is to demonstrate that Tetens
is a fgure worthy of serious historical consideration.
Kant is rightly regarded as the great synthesiser of two philosophical traditions: British
Empiricismrepresented primarily by Locke, Berkeley, and Humeand Continental
Rationalismfathered by Descartes, and crystallized in the philosophies of Spinoza and
Leibniz. This tidy picture of the Early Modern erarefected in the curricula of most
undergraduate philosophy programmesis certainly correct, but it is also somewhat
blinkered. The approach to the history of philosophy that focuses exclusively on a few
luminaries tends to obscure the contributions that minor fgures and epigones make to the
development of thought. Kant was after all not an isolated academic, but a well-connected
and very sociable philosopher working on topical problems, reading widely and keeping
abreast of the latest innovations in the feld.
1
And so transcendental philosophy was not a
creation ex nihilo solely his own, but a new way of thinking that was made possible by the
preparatory speculative efforts of many. While Kant was certainly a cut or two above the
rest, his reputation has so eclipsed all other German philosophers of the period (roughly
the latter half of the eighteenth century) that the works of his many talented contemporaries
have all but faded from view. One formerly prominent thinker, Johann Nicolaus Tetens
(1736/381807), is of special importance for understanding the historical background to
Kants philosophy. In this paper I want to consider what possible infuence Tetens may
have had on Kants most famous argument against the sceptics and idealists.
2
Manfred Kuehn situates Kants proof of the external world in the context of three
distinct traditions for deposing idealism: Cartesian epistemology, the Enlightenment tradi-
tion of the philosophes, and Scottish Common Sense Philosophy.
3
Of the three traditions,
Kuehn argues that Kants own response to scepticism regarding our knowledge of the
existence of the external world most closely resembles that developed by Thomas Reid
and his followers.
4
I believe that Kuehn is right to identify certain similarities between
Reid and Kant on the external world, but I want to suggest that there is a further element
at work in Kants thinking that is not comprised by the rubric. My suspicion is that Kant
may have picked up this additional element from his close reading of Tetens. I will not
IDEALISTIC STUDIES 88
attempt to reconstruct Tetenss complicated argument for the objective existence of
things, as he calls it, but will only point to certain intriguing parallels that I hope to fesh
out in another paper.
5
That Kant did read Tetens carefully is certain. He complained in October 1780 that the
typeface in Tetenss Philosophical Essays (Tetens 1979) was really tiring on his eyes.
6

Kants friend, Hamann, reported to Herder in 1779 that Kant had Tetens always open
on his desk while working on the frst Critique, and in 1777 he remarked that Kant was
very full of . . . Tetens.
7
In a letter to Herz of 1778, Kant says that Tetens, in his diffuse
work on human nature, made some penetrating points, but blames him for exhausting
himself and his reader (Kant 1999: p. 167). Moreover, Kant said that he counted most
on Mendelssohn, Herz, and Tetens to expound his theory to the world (Kant 1999: p.
181), lamenting on another occasion that Garve, Mendelssohn, and Tetens are the only
men I know through whose cooperation this subject [Kants new science] could have
been brought to a successful conclusion before too long(Kant 1999: p. 199). Kant also
remarks in a note written between 1776 and 1778 that Tetenss analysis of the concepts
of pure reason is carried out merely subjectively, while he examines them objectively
(Kant 2005: p. 199),
8
and in another note made during the same term he says that he does
not concern himself with the evolution of concepts, like Tetens . . . but solely with their
objective validity(Kant 2005: p. 199).
These statements confrm beyond a reasonable doubt that Kant regarded Tetens as a
fgure of great philosophical interest. In what follows I hope to show that an important
feature of Kants Refutation of Idealism was adumbrated in Tetenss earlier polemic against
the idealists,
9
and that Kant could therefore have been stimulated by his ideas. I begin by
summarising Kuehns useful survey of the arguments on offer in the eighteenth century.
I then attempt to support and refne his contention that Kants strategy is very much like
Reids. I devote a brief section to explaining quite generally what Reids epistemological
strategy is in An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sesne, and
then compare the results with Kants own proof in its two versions. My aim is to show
that there is more in Kants argumentation than there is in Reids. Finally, I will reproduce
several passages from Tetenss work that appear to contain an additional insightalbeit
undevelopedthat may have helped Kant to clarify what he took to be the idealists
mistake and to formulate his counterargument.
1. Three Types of Refutation
According to Vaihinger, idealism began to be seen as a threat to sound philosophy in the
1760s, and the task of refuting it became a point of honour for all enlightened thinkers.
10

While Vaihinger delineates the history of the opposition to idealism only in connection
with the philosophy of Leibniz and Wolff, Kuehn regards this as an oversimplifcation
of the intellectual setting in which Kant developed his proof. The infux of ideas from
Britain and France had an immense impact on the German mind, loosening the iron grip
of Wolffs intellectualism. Most thinkers were, like Kant, trying to combine an empiricist
outlook with a theoretical system of rational principles. Taking all of this into account,
Kuehn distinguishes three traditions in the refutation of idealism with which Kant was
familiar, stemming above all from:
89
REID, TETENS, AND KANT ON THE EXTERNAL WORLD
a) Descartes, Leibniz, and Wolff
b) Condillac, Buffon, and Bonnet
c) Reid, Oswald, and Beattie
whose arguments can be characterized as deploying:
1) metaphysical/rationalistic
2) sensationalist
3) direct/realistic
methods of proof, respectively.
Under a), Kuehn considers Wolff, not because his argument is superior to Descartess or
to Leibnizs, but because of the way in which he characterises his opponents position. The
rationalistic proofs under 1) above were meant to provide an answer to a metaphysical
problem about the nature of reality as a whole, and the epistemological assumption was
that the evidence of the senses could never establish the existence of an external world.
Wolffs refutation combines Cartesian appeals to the goodness and wisdom of God with
Leibnizs doctrine of the pre-established harmony.
11
What is interesting about Wolffs argu-
ment is that he represents the idealist as denying our ability to comprehend the connection
between mind and body, and he then resolves the issue by arguing for the intelligibility
(and, of course, truth) of Leibnizs metaphysical theory.
12
This strategy clearly belongs
to the school of dogmatic thinking that Kant was trying to tear down.
The sensationalist tradition, 2), to which Condillac belongs, maintains that all human
knowledge is based upon sensory perception and modifcations of the mind resulting
from impressions on the sense organs. Condillac relies more on sensation than on reason
to account for our knowledge of the existence of the external world. Through a psycho-
genetic explanation of the origin of our idea of exteriority, he tries to show the idealists
that their denial of the intelligibility of the thesis of external existence is mistaken.
13
Where
the rationalists discounted sensation as having any bearing on the problem, Condillac and
the sensationalists illustrate how the idea of the existence of external objects arises natu-
rally from simpler sensations (Kuehn 1988: p. 29). So while Kant would reject proofs of
type 1) as dogmatic, he would also reject naturalistic proofs of type 2), since naturalistic
argumentation is, to his mind, unscientifc (i.e., non-apodictic).
Having ruled out the rationalistic and sensationalist traditions as possible sources for
Kants Refutation of Idealism, Kuehn concludes that only 3), the direct or realistic proce-
dure of the Scottish School, infuenced Kant.
14
Agreeing with Condillac that the problem
of idealism is an epistemological one, Reid deems the project of drawing our idea of
exteriority out of sensation to be unnecessary and nonsensical (Kuehn 1988: p. 29), For
Reid, we immediately perceive external objects. We only have to analyze our perceptions
in order to discover this (Kuehn 1988: p. 29). As Kuehn interprets Reid, the belief in the
existence of the self is based on . . . an immediate and natural belief. . . . [A]ll Reid tries
to show is that our beliefs in the existence of the self and the external world are such that
they cannot be disbelieved (Kuehn 1988: p. 29). In repudiating the way of ideas, Reid
casts off the unnatural and unjustifed belief in the existence of mediating mental enti-
IDEALISTIC STUDIES 90
tiesideas or imagesthat block direct intercourse with objects in the world. The doctrine
of ideas as mental entities results from a confation of the objects of sensationexternal
bodieswith the acts of sensation. This is exactly what philosophers are doing when
they say that what we sense are not the objects but (ideal) sensations. And idealism can
be traced back to this confusion of language (Kuehn 1988: p. 30).
As far as I can make out, the parallels that Kuehn sees between Reid and Kant on the
problem of the external world are:
(1) A denial that the belief in the existence of external objects needs to be justifed
philosophically.
(2) A belief in the immediacy of our cognition of external objects (which makes
inference inappropriate).
(3) A denial that inner experience is prior to outer experience.
It is my contention that (2) can be found in both Reid and Kant, that (1) can be found in
Reid but not in Kant, and that some caution is required with respect to (3). It does seem
that Reid is committed to viewing experience of the inner and of the outer as equally
natural, and equally certain, so he defnitely repudiates the Wolffan assumption about the
logical relationship between inner and outer sensation (Kuehn 1988: p. 31)asserting
the priority of the inner to the outerbut it is not so clear that he turns [it] around, as
Kant does. He does not say that inner experience in general is possible only through
outer experience in general (Kuehn 1988: p. 31). Reids main thesis seems to be about the
immediacy of the perception of external objects, and thus the non-inferential character of
our belief in them, rather than about the dependence of inner experience on outer experi-
ence.
15
The cognitive dependence of inner on outer experience is thus not something that
Kant could have learned from Reid.
I now want to justify my claims by anchoring them in the text, after which I shall try
to locate the source of the second component at work in Kants refutationthe idea of
cognitive dependencein an argument from Tetens.
2. Reid and the Immediacy of Perception
Call the negative claim that inner experience enjoys no priority over outer experience:
(3a) Inner experience is not prior to outer experience (leaving the sense of priority
here undefnedwhether temporal, logical, epistemological or something else). Call the
stronger claim, asserting a relationship of dependence:
(3b) Inner experience in general depends on outer experience in general (leaving
undefned the type of dependence and leaving open the possibility of a relationship
of interdependence).
16
In this section I want to show that Reid accepts (1) and (2) from
above, as well as (3a), but does not explicitly subscribe to (3b). I shall only consider pas-
sages from Reids An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense
(1764), and not the later Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (1785), since only the
earlier work could have exerted an infuence on Kants writing of the frst Critique (frst
edition 1781, second edition 1787).
17
91
REID, TETENS, AND KANT ON THE EXTERNAL WORLD
Claims (1) and (2) are closely linked for Reid,
18
but some independent evidence for
his commitment to both can be easily found. That Reid sees no need to explain or justify
our belief in the existence of objects outside of us (claim (1)) is clear in the following
passage:
Let scholastic sophisters intangle themselves in their own cobwebs; I am resolved
to take my own existence, and the existence of other things, upon trust; and to
believe that snow is cold, and honey sweet, whatever they may say to the contrary.
He must either be a fool, or want to make a fool of me, that would reason me out
of my reason and senses. (Reid 1997: chap. I, viii)
Reid accepts the existence of other things as a matter of trust rather than reasoning,
and is unprepared to countenance (foolish) sceptical arguments to the contrary. If a
sceptic could reason him out of this belief, there [would be] no truth in the human facul-
ties, and then why should we reason? (Reid 1997: chap. I, viii). To the same sceptical
philosophers he says:
It is a bold philosophy that rejects . . . principles which irresistibly govern the belief
and the conduct of all mankind in the common concerns of life; and to which the
philosopher himself must yield, after he imagines he hath confuted them. Such
principles are older, and of more authority, than Philosophy: she rests upon them
as her basis, not they upon her. (Reid 1997: chap. I, v)
Principles of common sense, such as the belief that there are objects existing outside of
us, cannot be doubted (they irresistibly govern belief), and since they precede philo-
sophical explanation, both temporally and epistemically (being older and of more
authority), they neither spring from it nor require it. They are pre-philosophical beliefs.
19

It makes as little sense to try to underpin them with philosophical argumentation as to
try to undermine them.
20
Reid also believes that our cognition
21
of external objects is immediate, and that all
talk of inferring them is therefore misguided (claim (2)). In chapter six of the Inquiry,
he compares the relation that simple perceptions of external objects bear to rational
inferences from them, with the relation that axioms in mathematics bear to derivable
propositions:
I cannot demonstrate, that two quantities which are equal to the same quantity,
are equal to each other; neither can I demonstrate, that the tree which I perceive,
exists. But, by the constitution of my nature, my belief is irresistibly carried along
by my apprehension of the axiom; and, by the constitution of my nature, my belief
is no less irresistibly carried along by my perception of the tree. (Reid 1997: chap.
VI, xx)
The belief arises naturally and immediately from the perception in the manner of an
instinct. And so reasoned inference to the existence of external objects is unnecessary.
My belief is carried along by the perception, as irresistibly as my body by the earth
(Reid 1997: chap. VI, xx).
The above passages are taken from Reids analysis of seeing. The same opinions are
expressed in connection with the sensations of touch:
IDEALISTIC STUDIES 92
Let a man press his hand against the table: he feels it hard. But what is the mean-
ing of this? The meaning undoubtedly is, that he hath a certain feeling of touch,
from which he concludes, without any reasoning, or comparing ideas, that there is
something external really existing, whose parts stick so frmly together, that they
cannot be displaced without considerable force. (Reid 1997: chap. V, v)
The existence of solid or frm objects outside of the mind is suggested to us (to use
Reids term) by sensations of touch. And no logician, he tells us, could fnd the connection
between the two, or explain why the feeling causes the belief. The easy transition of the
mind from the one to the other is natural and direct, and there is neither room nor need
for rational inference to come between them.
I have some doubts about how snugly this conception of immediacy fts with Kants,
and therefore about how close the relationship Kuehn sees between Reid and Kant really
is, but as a comment on the context of discovery, Kuehns view is plausible enough: Surely
Kant could have hit upon the idea that the cognition of external objects is immediate
through reading Reid, or discussing him with friends.
22
The next question concerns the sense in which Reid revokes the Cartesian priority
of the inner over the outer. Descartes took experience of the inner mental world and the
existence of a subject underlying it to be immediately evident to introspection, and tried
to reason from this indubitable starting point out to the world of material objects. By
contrast, Reid does not recognise any priority of the inner over the outer in the order of
knowing (claim (3a)). Inferring external objects is as hopeless and absurd as inferring the
existence of our own minds:
Bishop Berkeley hath proved, beyond the possibility of reply, that we cannot by
reasoning infer the existence of matter from our sensations: and the author of the
Treatise of human nature [Hume] hath proved no less clearly, that we cannot by
reasoning infer the existence of our own or other minds from our sensations. But
are we to admit nothing but what can be proved by reasoning? Then we must be
sceptics indeed, and believe nothing at all. (Reid 1997: chap. V, vii)
If we dont accept the existence of both minds and material objects as immediate data of
consciousness, then we are lost in absolute scepticism. And it would be inconsistent to
raise doubts about the one and not the other.
23
Reid puts both these principles of common
sense on exactly the same doxastic footing:
That our thoughts and sensations must have a subject, which we call ourself, is not
. . . an opinion got by reasoning, but a natural principle. That our sensations of touch
indicate something external, extended, fgured, hard or soft, is not a deduction of
reason, but a natural principle. The belief of it, and the very conception of it, are
equally parts of our constitution. If we are deceived in it, we are deceived by Him
that made us, and there is no remedy. (Reid 1997: chap. V, vii)
So Reid has clearly not inherited the solipsistic tradition inaugurated by Descartes that
confers epistemic privilege upon inner experience.
24
This much is beyond controversy. But
what I have not been able to fnd in Reid is any claim to the effect that inner experience
depends in some way upon outer experience, or that they condition each other recipro-
93
REID, TETENS, AND KANT ON THE EXTERNAL WORLD
cally. If Kants argument against the idealists trades on such a viewand well see that
it doesthen its pedigree is not Scottish.
3. Immediacy and Dependence in Kant
In this section I aim to show that the analogy Kuehn sees between Reid and Kant on the
question of idealism is not in fact as close as he takes it to be. And I think this can be
done without much ceremony.
To start with claim (1)the denial that our belief in the existence of external objects
needs to be justifed philosophicallywe need only consider Kants notorious statement
about the apodictic certainty of every proposition put forth in the Critique: [I]n this kind
of investigation it is in no wise permissible to hold opinions. Everything, therefore, which
bears any manner of resemblance to an hypothesis is to be treated as contraband (Kant
1929: A, p. xv).
25
Of course, Reid also holds that our belief in the existence of the exter-
nal world is as certain as any other belief we could possibly have, and that its status as a
frst principle implies knowledge rather than opinion. But Kant thinks that philosophical
certainty is to be attained only through the scientifc method of a priori deduction or
argumentation: This critique is not opposed to the dogmatic procedure of reason in its
pure knowledge, as science, for that must always be dogmatic, that is, yield strict proof
from sure principles a priori (Kant 1929: B, p. xxxv). Kants procedure, like Wolffs,
involves clear determination of concepts and insistence upon strictness of proof(Kant
1929: B, p. xxxvi). He follows, as he says, the strict method of the celebrated Wolff
(Kant 1929: B, p. xxxvi). And Kant makes it clear that this method was also followed
in the Refutation of Idealism: The immediate consciousness of the existence of outer
things is, in the preceding thesis, not presupposed, but proved, be the possibility of this
consciousness understood by us or not (Kant 1929: B, p. 276, note). So philosophical
argumentation is needed to ground our belief in the external worldat least in the context
of a philosophical treatise. That marks one important difference between Kants approach
to idealism and Reids. Kant is willing to engage the idealist at the level of serious intel-
lectual debate, whereas Reid would sooner seize his estate (Reid 1997: chap. II, vi)
and clap him in a madhouse (Reid 1997: chap. VI, xx).
The last passage also demonstrates Kants commitment to the immediacy of our cog-
nition of external objects (claim (2)). Descartess position (or better, his methodological
starting point), which Kant characterises as idealistic, denies the immediacy of the
outward perception of objects:
I am not, therefore [according to Descartes], in a position to perceive external
things, but can only infer their existence from my inner perception, taking the in-
ner perception as the effect of which something external is the proximate cause.
(Kant 1929: A, p. 368)
Idealist, in the pejorative sense, applies only to those who do not admit that their [exter-
nal objects] existence is known through immediate perception (Kant 1929: A, p. 368).
The transcendental idealist, however, may admit the existence of matter without
going outside his mere self-consciousness (Kant 1929: A, p. 370). [E]xternal things
exist, Kant tells us, as well as I myself, and both, indeed, upon the immediate witness
IDEALISTIC STUDIES 94
of my self-consciousness (Kant 1929: A, p. 371). So for Kant the objects of outer ex-
perience do not need to be inferred from sense-data, since they are immediately present
to consciousnesses:
In our system, on the other hand, these external things, namely matter, are in all their
confgurations and alterations nothing but mere appearances, that is, representa-
tions in us, of the reality of which we are immediately conscious. (Kant 1929: A,
pp. 372373, emphasis added)
In order to arrive at the reality of outer objects I have just as little need to resort to
inference as I have in regard to the reality of the object of my inner sense, that is,
in regard to the reality of my thoughts. (Kant 1929: A, p. 371)
On this point, Reid and Kant are at one.
It is additionally clear from the above that Kant rejects Cartesian assumptions about
the epistemic priority of the inner(3a). But as I mentioned earlier, he in fact adopts the
stronger thesis(3b)according to which inner experience in general depends on outer
experience in general (or, in the original version of the argument, that inner and outer
experience are mutually dependent). To start with the later version, Kant characterises
his method of proof as follows:
The required proof must, therefore, show that we have experience, and not merely
imagination of outer things; and this, it would seem, cannot be achieved save by
proof that even our inner experience, which for Descartes is indubitable, is possible
only on the assumption of outer experience. (Kant 1929: B, p. 275)
And again: But in the above proof it has been shown that outer experience is really im-
mediate, and that only by means of it is inner experience . . . possible (Kant 1929: B,
pp. 276277).
Some elementary cognitive mechanism ties inner experience to outer experience, but
the exact nature of the relationship is very obscure. It is safe to say that the correlation
Kant wants to establish is between temporal experience of the self and the cognition of
objects in space.
26
So at one level the link is intuitive: Intuition of the self as the subject
of its coexisting and successive states depends upon the intuition of relatively permanent
spatial objects outside of the mind. I have argued elsewherethough I cannot support
the interpretation herethat insofar as the proof is meant to be transcendental, it must
include an element of conceptual dependence.
27
Fixing the logical thought I thinka
sort of meta-concept, for Kantin the temporal fow of experience, requires the applica-
tion of a priori concepts of objects to outer intuitions. Its not just that I perceive objects
directlythough it is partly thatbut that the very cognition of myself as an existing thing,
and the identifcation of certain representations as inner states of me, depends upon my
having a concept of an object outside of me, and synthesising sensory data in accordance
with it. This sketch may be relevant to my argument regarding historical antecedents, since
I want to suggest that Tetens, too, discerns a sort of conceptual dependence between inner
and outer experience, albeit from a completely different standpoint than Kant.
Before turning to Tetens, however, I just want to fag a couple of passages preceding
the 1787 overhaul of the proof, in which Kant seems to assert a relationship of interdepen-
95
REID, TETENS, AND KANT ON THE EXTERNAL WORLD
dence, rather than the one-way dependence he defends later.
28
In the fourth Paralogism,
Kant never says that inner experience depends upon outer experience. His statements
suggest something closer to interdependence:
[I]n the connection of experience matter, as substance in the [feld of] appearance,
is really given to outer sense, just as the thinking I, also as substance in the [feld
of] appearance, is given to inner sense. Further, appearances in both felds must be
connected with each other according to the rules which this category [substance]
introduces into that connection of our outer as well as of our inner perceptions
whereby they constitute one experience. (Kant 1929: A, p. 379)
In the process of synthesising appearances under the category of substance, the feld of
experience is divided into the inner and the outer in the same cognitive act. Consciousness
depends uponis constituted bythe dynamic relation between inner and outer experi-
ence. Kants unpublished notes provide further evidence that he conceived of inner and
outer experience as standing in a relationship of interdependence. For instance, he says:
The conditions of outer and inner intuition determine each other reciprocally (commer-
cium of soul and body) (Kant 2005: p. 232).
It could be that Kant originally thought of inner and outer experience as determining
each other reciprocally and that he later realised that it was a better dialectical tack to
stress the dependence of the inner on the outer (perhaps in light of the Garve-Feder review
in which he was charged with unmitigated idealism).
29
But these interpretative questions
do not need to be settled here. I just want to stress as a matter of historical interest that
one central feature of Kants argument against the idealists (conceivably its linchpin)
was not clearly anticipated by Reid. The exegetical value of thus carefully distinguishing
the features of Kants argument that could have been derived from Scottish sources from
those that could not is that it might help to forestall analogical interpretations that gloss
over differences.
4. Tetens and the Objective Existence of Things
I have suggested that the philosophy of Johann Nicolaus Tetensa thinker much admired
by Kantprovides a likelier model for the Refutation of Idealism than does the common
sense approach of Reid.
30
An analysis of several key passages will make this clear.
Like Kant, Tetens thinks that philosophical argumentation is needed to prop up knowl-
edge claims about the existence of an external world (contrary to claim (1)). While the
main task of the ffth Philosophical Essay
31
is to account for the origin of the concept of
an object in general rather than to prove the reliability or correctness of the judgements
we make about objects, Tetens nevertheless believes that his psychological investigation
has some justifcatory force.
32
Judgements regarding the objective existence of things
are legitimate insofar as they arise naturally and necessarily in the course of normal
cognitive development. This is meant to serve as an answer to the sceptical idealists,
Berkeley and Hume.
Tetens explicitly contrasts his solution to the problem of the external world with that
of Reid:
IDEALISTIC STUDIES 96
In our ordinary ideas of sensation, the thought that we represent other objects is
so interwoven, and we are so little aware of any preceding act of refection, that
one does not have to blame Reid, Home [Lord Kames], Reimarus, and others, if
they took the thought of the objective and subjective existence of things for an im-
mediate effect of instinct. In a certain respect they didnt say anything incorrect.
The expressions of the power of thinking are expressions of a fundamental faculty
(Grundvermgen), which in the end is resolved into certain general, naturally neces-
sary kinds of effects (Wirkungsarten), about which we can . . . do nothing further
than merely notice that they are there, without deriving them from yet remoter
principles. (Tetens 1979: chap. v, p. 375)
The judgement that something exists in the external world independently of the perceiver
is an expression of the power of thinking (Denkkraft), and it cannot be traced back to
any more basic faculty or principle. So to a certain extent Reid was right that this sort
of judgement resembles an instinct.
33
But as far as Tetens is concerned he abandoned
the investigation too quickly: [I]t is a mistake to appeal immediately to instinct in the
case of certain special effects (Tetens 1979: chap. v, p. 375). The special effects here
are judgements of the power of thinking regarding the existence of external objects, and
invoking instinct to explain them will satisfy the philosophical psychologist as little
as it would satisfy a natural scientist if one were to tell him that it is an instinct of the
magnet that it attracts iron (Tetens 1979: chap. v, pp. 375376). This is as much as to
resurrect occult qualities.
Of course, Tetens recognises that explanation must stop somewhere: Where one
cannot get on further one must of course stand still. But philosophical analysis is not
necessarily paralysed by the identifcation of a basic faculty:
It is always to be investigated whether the peculiar and particular expressions of
power cannot be analysed into other, simpler [ones], and then reduced to known,
general types of effects, and consequently whether their origin cannot be explained
at least in part. (Tetens 1979: chap. v, p. 376)
Reid and the other common sense philosophers failed to relate judgements regarding
the existence of external objects to other kinds of judgement issuing from the power of
thinking, and to explain them as instances of a certain type of effect that is understood
on independent grounds. In Tetenss view, such an analysis would serve to validate these
judgements in a way that merely classifying them as instinctual would not.
34
And Tetens
undertakes to provide the analysis.
Philosophy must attack the system of sceptics and of idealists in its frst foundations
and . . . expose it to the view of thinking reason as completely empty chicanery (Tetens
1979: chap. v, p. 402). Reid and Beattie did not fulfl this intention, because they brought
common sense (gemeinen Menschenverstand) . . . to bear in . . . an indeterminate manner
(Tetens 1979: chap. v, p. 402). So while Tetens is not primarily interested in proving the
correctness or incorrectness of our judgements regarding the objective existence of things,
he does share Kants commitment to disabling the sceptical position through the scrupulous
use of philosophical explanation. Here Kant clearly aligns himself with the more rigid
tradition of his closest Prussian contemporaries, a tradition bearing little methodological
97
REID, TETENS, AND KANT ON THE EXTERNAL WORLD
affnity to the new Scottish school, where tough theoretical labourso agreeable to the
Germansis circumvented by appeals to instinct and common sense.
I am not going to say much about claim (2) in connection with Tetens, as it would take
us too far afeld and raise a host of diffcult textual problems that cannot be adequately
dealt with here. The following refections will have to suffce. Reid thinks that cognition of
external objects is immediate insofar as certain sensations naturally suggest them to us,
and as a result the belief in their existence arises without inference. Additionally, his rejec-
tion of the way of ideasa theory that posits mediating mental entities between perceivers
and material objectsimplies a direct theory of perception that is not easy to articulate.
35

For Kant as well, inference to the external world is unnecessary since objects are given
to us in space immediately, and it is spatial objectsnot things in themselvesthat are
alone relevant to everyday knowledge claims and science. On very idealistic interpretations
of Kant, these objects are directly present to us in sensation insofar as they are merely
representational constructs within the subject. That conception of immediacy differs
fundamentally from Reids. But on very realistic accounts of Kant, the way of ideas is
rejected and spatial objectsontologically distinct from the subjectare perceived without
the interposition of ideas as mental correlates. In that case, Kants theory of perception
would overlap in certain respects with Reids. Tetenss view is something different again.
Like Reid, he thinks that judgements about the existence of external objects are natural
and necessary, so to that extent our cognition of them is immediate, or justifed without
inference. But unlike Reid, and like or unlike Kant (depending on ones interpretation),
he accepts the way of ideas as a settled philosophical truth.
36
Furthermore, according to
his metaphysics, the basically real objects are material things existing behind the rep-
resentations, as it were, on the model of Locke, rather than Reid or Kant.
37
Given these
complexities, a great deal of interpretative work would be required to attain any clarity
on the question of immediacy, so I want to leave it as a topic for another paper.
For now I just want to suggest that Tetenss critique of the Cartesian starting point
is in one important respect intermediate between Reids and Kants. Tetens defends an
associative theory of cognition according to which the division between the inner and
the outer frst arises when the power of thinking learns to assign clusters of relevantly
similar sensations (and the corresponding representations) to one of three groups: those
belonging to the soul, those belonging to the body, or those pertaining to external objects.
The theory straightforwardly implies that Tetens allows no priority of the inner over the
outer in the order of knowingpoint (3a). This anti-Cartesian stance may well have been
recommended to Tetens through his careful study of Reid.
38
But as we shall see, Tetens
comes closer than Reid to anticipating Kants reversal of the sceptical posture assumed
by Descartes, inasmuch as he asserts a dependence relation between inner and outer
cognition(3b).
The reason that the inner has no priority over the outer for Tetens is that judgements
about the existence of external objects are just as natural and necessary as are judgements
about the existence of the self as a subject of mental states, and both arise simultaneously
during cognitive development:
[I]t is just as natural, just as necessary, and follows in accordance with the same
causal laws (Wirkungsgesetzen),
39
when I think: My body is a really existing ob-
IDEALISTIC STUDIES 98
ject, and is not my Ego; the tree which I see and touch is a really existing object
for itself, and neither my soul nor my body. These judgements are just as natural,
so near the frst activities of refection, as when I think: I, as a soul, am a really
existing thing. This conclusion is contrary to Hume and Berkeley. (Tetens 1979:
chap. v, p. 411)
40
The same cognitive laws that govern judgements about the existence of ones own mind
apply equally to judgements regarding the existence of objects outside of the mind. Issuing
from the understanding, or the power of thinking, in the manner of an instinctperhaps
we could call it an intellectual instinctthey play a fundamental role in constituting
conscious experience. In that sense, both types of judgement are epistemically basic.
41

And the analysis that illustrates this is tendered as an answer to Berkeley and Hume, both
sceptical idealists, as far as Tetens is concerned.
The view that neither type of judgement has temporal priority over the other is couched
as a rhetorical question:
Was the progress of the understanding in its self-development such that at frst all
sensations were taken for properties of our Ego, and the correct knowledge could
only be attained afterwards through a certain process of reasoning? Or was the
latter even so natural, and in just that sense [an] instinct, as the judgements about
our existing self, and about what is [contained] in it? (Tetens 1979: chap. v, pp.
403404)
The capacity to sort sensations on the basis of certain qualitative features that they exhibit
and to assign them accordingly to one of the three groups listed above is an essential part
of our cognitive make-up. We make sense of the sensory input by hiving off one set of
representations that naturally associate with each other from another set that have their
own qualitative feel. To take just one example, Tetens believes that qualities experienced
visually are invariably attributed to external objects, so long as their intensity is not so great
as to cause pain in the organ itselfsay if the light source is too brightwhich changes
the internal quality of the sensation, and forces us to regard it as merely a modifcation
of the eye, rather than a property of the external object causing it.
42
If Tetens is right, it
is just not plausible to suppose that our frst conscious experiences were solipsistic, and
that cognition of external objects was only attained at a later stage by means of inference
from the immediately given. Judgements about the inner and the outer arise concurrently
in the process of organizing sense-data.
But not only is the sceptical idealists scenario an implausible account of anyones
actual psychological history (its not clear that it was ever meant to be that anyway), the
position is incoherent, since it overlooks the interdependence of inner and outer cogni-
tion. Tetens thinks that we could not even have the concept of an inner, mental world,
much less apply it to our own experience, if we did not also have the concept of an object
existing outside of us. In a striking passage, Tetens envisions Adam stepping into Eden
with his understanding intact, but having no previous experience of objects or the vari-
ous impressions they make on his sense organs. Upon hearing the song of a bird, Adam
could not have attributed the sensation to his own mind, since judging that something
belongs to ones conscious experience presupposes other judgements, which a Cartesian
99
REID, TETENS, AND KANT ON THE EXTERNAL WORLD
solipsist, lacking the relevant concepts, would not be in a position to make. Tetens puts
the following questions to the sceptical idealist:
Is it not rather just as natural, and just as easy to expect, when refection has come
so far as it must come before it can posit something in itself, and can regard it as a
part of its own existence, that it must have already attained to the idea of external
existence, and ascribed it to some of its sensations? Could the representation and the
concept of subjective existence be set apart, without also the concept of objective
external existence being so? Could the person know his I, and learn to distinguish
it, without at the same time sustaining a concept of an actual object that is not his
I? (Tetens 1979: chap. v, pp. 378379)
The concept of the ego, or equivalently, the ITetenss terms for the empirically conscious
selfis the correlate of the concept of an object, since the former cannot be acquired
independently of the latter. It follows, according to Tetens, that one cannot make accurate
judgements about the existence of ones own mind and its states, without also making
judgements about the existence of objects outside of the mind. I cannot assert that my mind
is a real thing, currently undergoing tree-like sensations, for example, without regarding
the tree as a real thing existing outside of me: [I]t is just as necessary to think: The tree
is a real object, as it is to think: I myself am something real (Tetens 1979: chap. v, p.
405; cf. also pp. 413414).
While Tetenss psychological analysis would not satisfy Kants transcendental
requirements, it is meant to have anti-idealistic implications and to provide some sort
of justifcation for judgements about the existence of external objects. Whether or not it
succeeds in doing so is another question.
43
Like Kant, Tetens thinks that inner experience
is not possible without outer experience.
44
If Kant was infuenced by this novel insight in
Tetenss psychological investigation, recasting it along transcendental lines, then perhaps
this is the axis of an important development in the history of thinking about the problem
of the external world.
5. Conclusion
My purpose has not been to question the relevance that the giants of Early Modern phi-
losophy have for understanding Kant. I have only wanted to draw attention to the thinking
of a largely forgotten fgure who is historically much closer to Kant than Locke, Hume
or even Leibniz. Perhaps the systematic connections I have traced between Reid, Tetens
and Kant will shed some fresh light on the historical background to one of Kants most
famous proofs. Kant regarded Tetens as a serious and important philosopher, and Tetens
expressed the hope that his preliminary work on the problem of idealism would be taken
up and carried further by a thinker of Kants ability. He called for a book to be written
in which the false chicanery of Hume would be pursued . . . in all its intricacy, and
dragged into the light. Such a work would have few readers, and in order to gain accep-
tance it would need to match Humes discernment as well as his style (Tetens 1979: chap.
v, p. 403). Want of elegance and style notwithstanding, I suggest that Tetenss appeal was
answeredjust four year laterby Kant.
University of the Witwatersrand
IDEALISTIC STUDIES 100
Notes
I am grateful to Murray Miles and Jonathan Westphal for their helpful comments on an earlier
version of this paper.
1. The extent of Kants involvement with his contemporaries and the diversity of the philo-
sophical landscape in eighteenth-century Prussia are meticulously documented in Kuehn 2001. Also
of great use in this connection are Beck 1969, Kuehn 1987, and Wundt 1992.
2. I have argued elsewhere that the Refutation of Idealism in the second edition of the Critique
of Pure Reason and the argument in the Fourth Paralogism in the frst are essentially the same. I will
not cover the same ground again here, but I will assume that the two arguments are indeed the same.
See Stapleford Forthcoming.
3. See Kuehn 1988: pp. 2535.
4. The possibilityindeed likelihoodof this historical infuence is demonstrated in Kuehns
1987 monograph on the ubiquity of Scottish Common Sense Philosophy in Prussia. The work also
establishes the infuence of Tetens on Kant in general. I am indebted to both Manfred Kuehn and
Lorne Falkenstein for encouraging me to investigate the systematic connections between Tetens
and Kant.
5. Detailed analysis of the arguments offered by these three thinkers is not possible in a single
paper. For my own views on the point of Kants Refutation of Idealism, see Stapleford Forthcoming.
Discussions of Reid abound. A good introduction is Lehrer 1989. Reids attack upon the sceptic is
analysed closely in Wolterstorff 2001.
6. Quoted in Kuehn 1989: pp. 365375, 366.
7. Both quoted in Kuehn 1989: p. 366. Kuehn also draws attention to a preliminary manuscript
to the Prolegomena, where Kant suggested that Tetens could have given people occasion to think
about the very problem of the Critique (Kuehn 1989: p. 366).
8. For a very lucid analysis of the contrast between a subjective and an objective analysis of
the concepts of pure reason, see Carl 1989: pp. 119126.
9. Tetenss Philosophical Essays appeared in 1777, four years prior to the publication of
Kants frst Critique. Natterer calls it a German standard work in epistemology and psychology,
and claims that it was considered systematically (systematisch bercksichtigt wurde) by Kant in
writing the Critique of Pure Reason. Natterer 2003: p. 128.
10. See Kuehn 1988: p. 25.
11. See Kuehn 1988: p. 27.
12. For Wolffs defence of the pre-established harmony, see Wolff 2003: 760782.
13. See Kuehn 1988: pp. 2829.
14. See Kuehn 1988: p. 34, n. 10.
15. I am not suggesting that Kuehn attributes the claim about dependence to Reid. The fact that
Reid sees belief in the inner and belief in the outer as equally natural and non-inferential, does not
imply that he regards inner experience in general as depending in some way on outer experience in
general. Kuehn does not distinguish between the two claims clearly.
16. The senses of priority and dependence must be left imprecise, since there are various
subtle differences between the views of all three philosophers under consideration, even where they
basically agree. The question is one of philosophical etiology, and similarity between two views
might be enough to suggest a possible historical infuence of the earlier thinker on the later.
101
REID, TETENS, AND KANT ON THE EXTERNAL WORLD
17. If Kant read Reid, it would have been in the French translation of 1768. (The received view
is that Kant did not read English, though Rolf George questions this assumption in an unpublished
paper.) See Redekop 2004: pp. 313339, 319. Reids 1785 work was not available in translation
before 1787. Redekop argues (p. 321ff.), against Kuehn, that Reids work did not have a signifcant
impact on Kants thinking. If Redekop is right, it supports my contention that Tetenss refections
on idealism were at least as important to Kant as was Reids common-sense approach to the prob-
lem. It needs to be stressed that I am not defending Kuehns view that Reid was a direct infuence
on Kant (nor Redekops rebuttal). In spite of the mass of historical evidence compiled by Kuehn
(1987), Kants few published statements on Reid suggest that he didnt regard him as a philosopher
worth serious consideration. See Kants remark in his Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics at
4:258Kant 2002: p. 56.
18. It might be thought that 2 implies 1, since immediate perception of the external world would
surely render pointless any philosophical explanation of our belief in it. Reid probably thinks so.
But Kant doesnt, since he takes perception of outer objects to be immediate, and yet offers a philo-
sophical proof of their existenceis even compelled to do so based on architectonic considerations.
I will say more on this shortly.
19. In more contemporary terms, the principles of common sense are properly basic: All
reasoning must be from frst principles; and for frst principles no other reason can be given but
this, that, by the constitution of our nature, we are under a necessity of assenting to them. Such
principles are parts of our constitution, no less than the power of thinking: reason can neither make
nor destroy them; nor can it do any thing without them (Reid 1997: chap. V, vii).
20. A much subtler argument against the sceptic, wholly consistent with Reid, has been de-
veloped by John Greco. See Greco 2004. But even if Kant did read Reid closely, I doubt if he was
aware of any such subtlety in Reids position, and he would hardly have been sympathetic to the
broad foundationalism described by Greco.
21. By cognition of external objects, I mean simply our perception of and belief in the existence
of the objects of (outer) experience. I do not want to spell out the actual mechanism of perception
for either Kant or Reid here (Im not sure that I could), nor to specify what exactly each thinker
takes the object of experience to be.
22. See Kuehn 1987 on the scope of his friends familiarity with, and interest in, Scottish Com-
mon Sense Philosophy. But again, I do not want to defend Kuehns conclusion. In the context of
the Refutation of Idealism (at least), I think that Tetens meant more to Kant than Reid.
23. See Greco 2004: p. 152 on this point.
24. Again, there is no need to defne exactly the sort of privilege at issue here, though its clear
that it will be in some sense epistemic.
25. I cite the frst and second editions as A and B, respectively, followed by the page number.
26. See Kant 1929: B, pp. 275276.
27. That transcendental arguments involve conceptual dependencies is the main thesis of Staple-
ford Forthcoming. Some evidence that the Refutation of Idealism is meant to be a transcendental
argument is presented there as well.
28. I suspect that in 1787, Kants view is still that inner and outer experience are interdependent,
and that he only stresses the dependence of the former on the latter because his opponent grants the
existence of a thinking thing.
29. The review appeared on January 19, 1782, in the Zugabe zu den Gttingischen Anzeigen
von gelehrten Sachen. See Sassen 2000: 53.
IDEALISTIC STUDIES 102
30. Where Kant admired Tetens, he had only contempt for Reid. See, again, Kant 2002: p. 56.
31. On the Origin of our Knowledge of the Objective Existence of Things. All translations
from Tetens are my own.
32. Wilhelm Uebele also reads Tetens this way (Uebele 1912: p. 129). One wonders whether
Tetens really delivers on justifcation, but as Kuehn observes, he does return to this question in his
analysis of the objective laws of thought. See Kuehn 1987: pp. 130, 135ff.
33. See Tetens 1979: chap. v, p. 382: Reid, in his Inquiry into the Human Mind, along with
his successors, Beattie, Oswald and others, regards these judgments about the objective reality of
things as instinct-like effects of the understanding, of which, further no ground can be given.
34. At Tetens 1979: chap. v, p. 393, Tetens says that Reids answer to Hume is not incorrect,
just unphilosophical.
35. For a lucid presentation of Reids direct theory of perception, see Van Cleve 2004: pp.
101133. For critical discussion of the theory, see Buras 2003: pp. 4464.
36. See Tetens 1979: chap. v, p. 403.
37. Reid, too, thinks that there are material things, but they are not occluded by the veil of
perception, as they are for Tetens and Locke (on one standard reading of Locke).
38. Tetenss many references to Reids Inquiry (1764) suggest that he knew it well, but the Essays
(1785) appeared too late to have much infuence on his mature philosophy. The highpoint of Tetenss
philosophical thinking was reached in 1777, when he published the Philosophical Essays.
39. Kuehn also translates this passage in the 1987 monograph, butcuriouslyhe omits both
occurrences of the phrase just as (eben so) as well as the words the same (denselbigen): It is
natural, necessary, and in accordance with the laws of the faculty of thought (Kuehn 1987: p. 129).
So rendered, the passage squares well with Kuehns general thesis that Tetenss philosophy in many
ways fails to go beyond Reids, but it also cloaks the interesting analogy between Tetens and Kant
on the question of idealism. Kuehn does not consider the passages I produce below to illustrate the
points of agreement.
40. Its not obvious that this answer really is contrary to Hume, since Hume placed great
emphasis upon the natural sources of our belief in the existence of the external world. Tetens knew
Humes philosophy well, so the comment is puzzling. Presumably, Tetens thinks that his own analysis
provides some justifcation for the belief that is lacking in Hume.
41. This part of Tetenss analysis is of course very similar to Reids. But as we shall see, Tetens
goes further than Reid in setting up a dependence relation between inner and outer experience.
42. The example occurs at Tetens 1979: chap. v, p. 420.
43. Beck says that Tetens does not have an answer to the demand for justifcation of objective
knowledge-claims, regarded as a question of metaphysics. He does, however, supply a criterion
of objectivity that captures the empirical and methodological . . . meaning of objective. Beck
also recognises that Tetens regards his account of the origin of our belief in the existence of exter-
nal objects as an improvement on the accounts of Hume and Reid. Unfortunately, these intriguing
suggestions are not developed, and Beck does not examine the argument that concerns us here. See
Beck 2003: pp. 2728.
44. Brenke (1901: p. 25) and Ziegler (1888: p. 46) see a clear connection here between Tetens
and Kant, whereas Uebele (1912: p. 135) questions it. I suspect that Ziegler might exaggerate the
similarity, but I cannot discuss it now.
103
REID, TETENS, AND KANT ON THE EXTERNAL WORLD
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