While Kant arguably manages to show in section 65 of the Critique of Pure Reason (“Refutation of Idealism”) that the concept of a self existing through time cannot be reconciled with skepticism of the external world, does this really refute Cartesian epistemology?

The problem is that the existence of one’s consciousness in the immediate present seems to evade Kant’s criticism. Here no appeal to an objective order in time of inner states is necessary. Isn’t this enough for Descartes to reach his further conclusions?


1 Answer 1


I'd suggest Kant's argument is against a permanent self and subjective idealism, not against all forms of idealism.

Awareness in the immediate present is not in time and does not imply a permanent self so this does not seem to be useful as a counter-argument.

Kant seems to say that Descartes 'I think' does not establish a permanent or persistent self and this is a common observation. I can't see why this is an argument against skepticism but Kant might have thought it one since he identifies consciousness with self.

But in the end external world skepticism is unfalsifiable and no counter-argument works. Kant does not refute Cartesian epistemology but may rule out certain interpretations of 'cogito', namely those that assume it refers to a permanent self.

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