Early German Philosophy: Kant and His Predecessors

Beck, Lewis White, Early German Philosophy. Kant and His Predecessors, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969.

From review:

“It is not very fashionable to write general “national” histories of philosophy. In 1946 H. W. Schneider published his history of American philosophy, while E. Garin’s history of Italian philosophy appeared in 1947; A. Levi’s history of Roman philosophy, B. Tatakis’ history of Byzantine philosophy, and W. H. Warkmeister’s history of philo- sophical ideas in America all saw publication in 1949. F. Sassen’s history of Dutch philosophy appeared in 1969; the enormous — and splendid history of Spanish phi- losophy, the product of several authors, advances very slowly (the latest volume was published in 1957), and even now, does not reach beyond the Renaissance. The number of general national histories of philosophy published prior to these years is small and, with the exception of McCosh’s history of Scottish philosophy (1875), the previous works are, and probably always have been, of little use (of course, I do not refer to the histories of ancient Greek, Arabic, Jewish, and oriental philosophy, which are obviously exceptional cases). In fact, on the whole, the universal histories of (western) philosophy prevailed in number and in reputation. History of philosophy was “universal” from its modern origins, as was the history of science, and that of music. History of literature and history of art, meanwhile, are “national,” as are political and social history, and history of law.

Economic history developed in both directions. While it is not easy to frame hypotheses as to the origination of this state of affairs, it is even more difficult to decide whether or not it is satisfactory. On the one hand, the character of the history of music, and that of history of literature, are easy to explain. Music does not know any frontiers of language, and its composers and performers can exercise an almost complete mobility; thus, its international vocation is clear. Literature, to the contrary, is confined by linguistic borders which cannot be crossed without a certain amount of effort, and an objective loss. The language of science, for a long time Latin, is comparatively easy to translate in any case and, in general, does not suffer in the process; moreover, the old delusion as to the linear progress of science led to the elimination of all sidetracks, and to the view that each of the sciences is “one” in the western world. The original character of political history is more difficult to explain; in modern times it was motivated, in general, by the need for dynasties and bodies politic to record a certain version of their res gestae for obvious purposes of internal and foreign propaganda, or by the needs of certain groups as they exerted ideological pressure in internal contests for power. This is not to mention the nineteenth-century “national” ideals. Social history, at its inception, naturally followed the same path.”

Review by Giorgio Tonelli in the Journal of the History of Philosophy, Vol. 11, No. 4