I just finished reading Bertrand Russell's 'A History of Western Philosophy', and while I thoroughly enjoyed the book and find Russell's own work quite interesting, his overview of Kant seemed a bit unfair and at odds with what I understand about Kant's philosophic views.

Is there anywhere where Russell expands upon his issues with Kant? From what I know about both of them it seems like they would have agreed on a great many things.

  • 5
    Look at his Principles of Mathematics, Chapter LII on "Kant's Theory of Space." The very first section (432) is titled: "The present work is diametrically opposed to Kant". My understanding of Kant is very limited, but I've talked to people who do understand him a little and they say that things are pretty complicated, so take what Russell says with a grain of salt. Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 2:18

3 Answers 3


In History of Western Philosophy (1946) Russell focused mainly on two problems that relate to Kant's view that perception links our minds with "things in themselves". It is those problems, according to Russell, that caused Kant's successors to stray from his theoretical philosophy.

The first problem concerns the causal link that Kant posited between our perception and the "things in themselves". That is, Kant held that the "things in themselves" are those which cause our perceptions. However, this view starkly contradicts another basic view of Kant's: that causality is a subjective category, and as such does not pertain at all to "things in themselves". This is perhaps the most famous problem of Kant's theoretical philosophy, and all of Kant's successors responded to it.

The second problem relates to Kant's view that the real causes of perception, the "things in themselves", are not in physical space. And that it is our mind, our subjectivity, which "orders" the perceptions in physical space. The problem is that Kant did not provide a plausible explanation, on what basis we "order" the perceptions in space, by ourselves. A similar problem pertains to the ordering of perceptual events in time. The second problem influenced the more realist- minded of Kant's successors, such as Schopenhauer.

Russell summarized:

The ‘thing -in-itself’ was an awkward element in Kant's philosophy, and was abandoned by his immediate successors, who accordingly fell into something very like solipsism. Kant's inconsistencies were such as to make it inevitable that philosophers who were influenced by him should develop rapidly either in the empirical or in the absolutist direction ; it was, in fact, in the latter direction that German philosophy moved until after the death of Hegel. (p.650)


This in no way attempt to minimize things or take lightly; however, many believe that Kant was a Christian theologian (while most evidence points to just believing an abstract god helping him live a moral life) and Russell was a hardcore atheist (although he suspended judgement about god and was both agnostic and atheist at times) so this must be the reason he didn't like him or criticized him.

Personally, I believe that philosophy is rarely so black and white or simple that someone hates another just for the sake of differing religious views. Any philosopher worth his soul keeps an open mind to every perspective, regardless of how they might oppose his own beliefs. There is at least professional courtesy to consider the full merit of an argument and judge it on its eloquence and thoughtfulness rather than dismiss with prejudice. Of course I am not naive, I accept that it probably happens more often than not.

I think most of Russell's dislike of Kant stemmed from the way Kant proposed ethics guided his position, while Russell felt it was "pompous" for lack of a better word. Also perhaps the different century during which each was a philosopher also lends itself to unfair equalization. For example, consider Russell's "Problems of Philosophy" and his claim to refute transcendental idealism and how Kant's premise is wrong. You might think he is missing Kant's point or a misrepresentation at least. For example temporal succession of phenomena according to Kant is the law of causality as the subjective time order is insufficient but has been assumed before by Hume. Popper came to the same conclusions as Russell for the same reasons, but unlike Russell who saw this as refuting Kant, Popper believed that Kant's error was unavoidable for his time and needs only slight modification. (Popper's conjectures and refutations p 190-192) "Kant ... was in error about one important point. But his error ... detracts in no way from his magnificent achievement".


I understand Russell's antipathy as resulting from his roots in empiricism. His acquisition of the concepts of space and time result from the postulates he proposes of events "A" and "B' occurring (1) in physical proximity of one another as the empirical basis for our experiencing space and (2) one after the other as the empirical basis for our experiencing time. This gets rid of the idea of space and time being contributed by minds which is awfully close to Locke's nemesis of the Idealist's innate ideas.

I'm still studying this question. That's what led me to this site. But this is where I am now.

  • Hi. Did you read Russell himself saying that about space and time? If so, where? Russell's roots were not empiricist, as far as I know. Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 18:27

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .