|A portrait of Gottlob Ernst Schulze|
As it is apparent from the title, the Aenesidemus was aimed at examining Karl Leonhard Reinhold’s book Philosophy of the Elements, but Schulze’s real target was Immanuel Kant’s critical philosophy. He wanted to prove that Kant had not refuted David Hume’s skepticism.
Schulze’s choice of the title Aenesidemus is appropriate because Aenesidemus (1st century BC) was a Greek Pyrrhonist (skeptic) philosopher. He was a member of Plato’s Academy but he rejected Platonism and adopted Pyrrhonism. His life and ideas have been described Sextus Empiricus, the ancient historian of skepticism. Schulze’s plan was to renew Pyrrhonism to combat the enemies of skepticism, the foremost of which was Kant’s critical philosophy.
In his essay, “Schulze's Skepticism,” ( Chapter 9; The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte), Frederick C. Beiser notes that “Schulze's meta-critical skepticism gives a new twist to modern skepticism since its inception in Descartes's and Hume's writings. While Descartes and Hume use epistemology as an instrument of their skepticism, examining the conditions of knowledge in order to expose unfounded claims to it, Schulze brings this very instrument into question. The skeptic is now forced to be self-reflective, self-critical of the tools of his trade.”
Like Johann Georg Hamann and Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Schulze saw Hume as a great destroyer of the pretensions of reason and the lofty claims of the Kantian critical theory. In Aenesidemus, Schulze argues that Kant never refuted Hume, he only begged the question against him. Here’s Beiser’s description of Schulze’s arguments against the notion that Kant has refuted Hume:
Kant's transcendental deduction does not refute Hume, but only presupposes what he brings into question: the principle of causality. The deduction proves that the categories apply to experience only by assuming that the transcendental subject is the lawgiver of nature. But to assume that this subject is the lawgiver of nature, that it creates the laws to which nature conforms, presupposes the application of the principle of causality, which only begs the question against Hume.
It is important to note that Schulze sees this as a general problem of all epistemology. In his view epistemology is caught in a vicious circle. It pretends to be the presuppositionless first philosophy; but it has to presuppose the principle of causality in order to investigate the origins of knowledge. Hence the whole enterprise of epistemology cannot get off the ground because of Hume's skepticism about causality.Kant’s critical theory and Schulze’s skepticism begin at the same point—that all our beliefs must submit to the free and open examination of reason. Schulze claims in Aenesidemus that he is a believer in reason, but he asserts that reason is not at odds with skepticism, rather it is its only consistent position. By coming together, Hamann, Jacobi, and Schulze—eventually Salomon Maimon jumped into their bandwagon—were able to revive interest in Hume’s skepticism.