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All or Nothing

All or Nothing

Systematicity, Transcendental Arguments, and Skepticism in German Idealism

Paul W. Franks

ISBN 9780674018884

Publication date: 10/30/2005

Interest in German Idealism--not just Kant, but Fichte and Hegel as well--has recently developed within analytic philosophy, which traditionally defined itself in opposition to the Idealist tradition. Yet one obstacle remains especially intractable: the Idealists' longstanding claim that philosophy must be systematic. In this work, the first overview of the German Idealism that is both conceptual and methodological, Paul W. Franks offers a philosophical reconstruction that is true to the movement's own times and resources and, at the same time, deeply relevant to contemporary thought.

At the center of the book are some neglected but critical questions about German Idealism: Why do Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel think that philosophy's main task is the construction of a system? Why do they think that every part of this system must derive from a single, immanent and absolute principle? Why, in short, must it be all or nothing? Through close examination of the major Idealists as well as the overlooked figures who influenced their reading of Kant, Franks explores the common ground and divergences between the philosophical problems that motivated Kant and those that, in turn, motivated the Idealists. The result is a characterization of German Idealism that reveals its sources as well as its pertinence--and its challenge--to contemporary philosophical naturalism.


  • A notable feature in recent Anglo-American professional philosophy is the mounting return of attention to the post-Kantian development of German Idealism—that development, or outburst, of philosophical activity that became largely off limits in the analytical pedagogy adopted in virtually all of the dominant English-speaking departments of philosophy over most of the twentieth century. The unfailing historical sophistication and the persistent illumination of philosophical questioning that characterize Paul Franks’s All or Nothing, as well as its narrative scope, make it an early culmination of this revived attention. Franks’s presentation demonstrates that a massively influential era and register of Western philosophical heritage need no longer remain strange to those who have not yet found their way to it—or, to put the matter positively, and more accurately, that this register may now become pertinently strange, in a way such that it itself, as Franks insists, recognizes its own unavoidable strangeness. It is part of the pedagogical generosity of his book that Franks includes references and quotations marking various moments from that tradition which help, in their differences as well as their similarities, in articulating the progress of the tradition he has remarkably set in motion.

    —Stanley Cavell, Harvard University


  • Paul W. Franks is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto and the University of Notre Dame.

Book Details

  • 452 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press