Publication Type:


Tom Rockmore
Peking University
Issue number: 
No. 2 (Vol. 48)

The cognitive problem, which is a main modern theme, arises early in the Greek tradition. Parmenides, who formulates one of the first identifiably “modern” approaches to epistemology, points toward identity as the only acceptable cognitive standard.

The paper, which leaves epistemic skepticism for another occasion, reviews versions of metaphysical realism identified with Plato in ancient philosophy and Descartes in the modern tradition in suggesting that for different reasons both fail.

The paper reviews German idealist versions of epistemic constructivism formulated by Kant, Fichte and Hegel. The critical philosophy provides a widely known, complex a priori account of cognitive constructivism. This account is amplified, corrected, and reformulated in different ways by such post-Kantian German idealists as Fichte and Hegel. A key element concerns the restatement of the abstract Kantian view of the subject as finite human being by Fichte and Hegel.

Early in the Greek tradition, in equating thinking and being, Parmenides points to three approaches to knowledge as epistemic skepticism, metaphysical realism or epistemic constructivism. If epistemic skepticism is unacceptable and, metaphysical realism is implausible, then epistemic constructivism appears to be the most promising approach to cognition.


Brandom  R. Articulating Reasons: An Introduction to Inferentialism.   Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001. 230p.

Brunyeat  M. F. Explorations in Ancient and Modern Philosophy.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2012. 408p.

Clemenson D. Descartes' Theory of Ideas. New York: Continuum. 2007. 173p.

Davidson  D. Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. 569p.

Descartes R. Third Meditation.  In: The Philosophical Works of Descartes, translated by Elizabeth Haldane and G. R. T. Ross, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1970, 2 vols., I, p. 159.

Fichte J. G. First Introduction to the Science of Knowledge. In: J. G. Fichte, The Science of Knowledge, ed. and transl. by P. Heath and J. Lachs, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1982.  324p.

Hegel G. W. F., Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller, New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. 658p.

Hobbes  Six Lessons to the Professors of the Mathematics. In: The English Works of Thomas Hobbes, edited by Sir William Molesworth, Long: Jules Bohn, 1839-1845. cited in: Arthur Child, Making and Knowing in Hobbes, Vico and Dewey, Berkeley: University of California Press. 1953. 837p.

Kant I. Critique of Pure Reason, trans. by Paul Guyer and A. W. Wood, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 796p.

Leibniz, G. W. Philosophische Schriften [Philosophical Papers], edited by C. I. Gerhardt, Berlin: Weidmann, IV. 1875-1890.  pp. 559-560.

Locke J. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, edited  by A. C. Fraser, New York, Dover. 1959, 2 vols., I, p. 32.

Lukács G. History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, transl.by R.Livingstone, Cambridge: MIT Press. 1971. 463p.

Parmenides (n. d.), DK 28 B 3, Clem. Alex. strom. 440, 12; Plot. Enn. 5, 1, 8.

Plato: The Complete Works.  Ed. John M. Cooper, Cambridge: Hacket. 1997. 1808p.

Rescher N. Communicative Pragmatism and Other Philosophical Essays on Language.  Lahnham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc. 1998. 215p.

Thomas-Fogiel  I. Le Lieu de l’universel. Impasses du realisme dans la philosophie contemporaine [The place of the universal. Impasses of realism in contemporary philosophy], Paris: Le Seuil, 2015. 464p.

Vico G. On the Most Ancient Wisdom of the Italians, trans. by J. Taylor, with an introduction by Robert Miner, New Haven: Yale University Press. 2010. 263p. 

Vico G. The New Science of Giambattista Vico, trans. by T. G. Bergin and M. H. Fisch, Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1970. 423p.

Full Text: