As the problems of logic grew increasingly more complicated, philosophers became eager to discover a method of resolving these complications. If man was to live by reason, reason needed to be freed from the metaphysical web that entangled it.

Immanuel Kant was such a philosopher. He was born in Germany in 1724, three years before Isaac Newton died, and lived in the 18th century, the century of reason. As a philosopher he taught a Wolffian brand of philosophy which was a modified version of Leibnitz (the German counterpart of Isaac Newton). Kant was also influenced by arguments of David Hume and Rousseau. Kant gave the philosophy of reason a new turn and laid the ground work for a new ideological meaning of the term dialectic. Philosophers are virtually unanimous in agreeing that Kant profoundly influenced subsequent philosophy. In Makers of the Modern Mind, Thomas Neill says,

“Thus Kant acts, historically, like the waistline of an hourglass. Everything salvaged from this eighteenth century philosophy and religion passes through him. Whatever the nineteenth century possesses in this regard it gets from him. Perhaps one can be a good philosopher without knowing Kant, but one cannot understand how the modern mind came to be what it is without knowing this engineer of philosophy’s last great revolution, from which stem all subsequent little philosophical uprisings.”[21]

Karl Jaspers, one of the leading existential philosophers of modern times, says Kant is revolutionary.

“Kant’s work is unique in the history of philosophy. Since Plato no one has created such a revolution in Western thought . . . We are not dealing with a mathematical idea, which can be captured by complicated operations, but with a revolution in thinking itself.”[22] (my underlining)

Kant divided logic into two kinds: general logic and particular logic. He again divided general logic into two kinds: analytic and dialectic. To Kant, general analytical logic was valid, at least as a negative test of truth, but general dialectical logic, which he defined as general logic considered as an organon, was a logic of illusion.

Kant’s thought, like most philosophers, cannot be summarized and still do him justice, but some understanding of what he meant by dialectic can be achieved by quoting a few of his remarks on the subject.

Now general logic in its assumed character of organon, is called dialectic. Different as are the signification in which the ancients used this term for a science or an art, we may safely infer, from their actual employment of it, that with them it was nothing else than a logic of illusion a sophistical art for giving ignorance the colouring of truth, in which the thoroughness of procedure which logic requires was imitated, and their topic employed to cloak the empty pretensions.[23]

Here Kant says that dialectic is the art of giving ignorance the coloring of truth, a sophistical art of empty pretensions. Aristotle conceived dialectic as a means of exposing the empty pretension of the ignorant and the sophistical. Kant sees dialectic as a pretentious and sophistical illusion in itself. Plato understood dialectic as the way to eternal being. Kant believed he had exposed dialectic as a path to “mere prating”.

Now it may be taken as a safe and useful warning, that general logic, considered as an organon, must always be a logic of illusion, that is, be dialectical, for, as it teaches us nothing whatever respecting the content of our cognitions, but merely the formal conditions of their accordance with the understanding, which do not relate to and are quite indifferent in respect of objects,  any attempt to employ it as an instrument (organon) in order to extend and enlarge the range of our knowledge must end in mere prating  any one being able to maintain or oppose, with some appearance of truth, any single assertion whatever.

Such instruction is quite unbecoming the dignity of philosophy. For these reasons we have chosen to denominate this part of logic dialectic, in the sense of a critique of dialectical illusion, and we wish the term to be so understood in this place.[24]

Exactly what Kant means by an “organon of general logic” is not clear from this quote, but it is clear that by dialectic he means a misuse of logic. Dialectic, to Kant, is a logic of illusion, and one aspect of his revolution in thinking is to expose dialectic as an illusion. Roughly speaking, it can be put this way: Reason is the faculty that seeks reasons. For every generalization, reason looks for a reason why, which is a broader generalization.[25]  In the process of searching out reasons for reasons one inevitably reaches antinomies. (Antinomies are two contradictory principles, each possibly true.) For  example, a reason is a cause, and if you look for a cause of a cause of a cause etc. you come to the question whether there is a first cause or whether this process of seeking for a cause can go on without end. He maintains that equally good arguments can be presented for both opinions. Reason in this manner inevitably ends in contradictions. This type of reason that ends inevitably in contradictions Kant calls dialectical and he believes he has proven this type of dialectical logic to be an illusion.

Kant was essentially a practical and a pious man. He worked out his theories in an attempt to rescue reason, common sense, and science from the onslaught of the cynicism and irrationalism of his day which he recognized as a threat to the scientific spirit. To achieve this, he believed it was necessary to revise epistemology. Instead of recognizing basic concepts, notions, and ideas as ideas humans abstract from sensations and images, he posited basic concepts as a priori principles of the mind. Time and Space, he insisted, are not abstractions from experience, but are pure a priori forms of sensible intuition. In Kant’s categories are found what he says are the concepts which contain the pure thought involved in every experience.[26]  According to Kant, these concepts, notions, and ideas are not abstracted from experience, but are a priori, before experience. They are on one hand the conditions of experience, and yet, on the other hand, they do not come to consciousness without experience. This is a radical reversal of older epistemological theories that assumed humans abstracted intellectual concepts from experience. Kant felt this reversal was necessary to preserve reason from dialectical illusion.

Kant’s philosophical switch, carried out in elaborate style, bore fruit Kant had not anticipated. If concepts were not abstractions from experience, it opened numerous ideological possibilities. Germany had several brilliant, well educated young men who soon recognized these possibilities and in the course of their lives built impressive philosophical systems of their own. The most intriguing and influential of these men was Georg Hegel.