It has been said that Kant's critical philosophy made it impossible to pursue either the Cartesian rationalist or the Lockean empiricist program of providing a foundation for the sciences (e.g., Guyer 1992). This claim does not hold true for much of nineteenth century French philosophy, especially the eclectic spiritualist tradition that begins with Victor Cousin (1792–1867) and Pierre Maine de Biran (1766–1824) and continues through Paul Janet (1823–99). This tradition assimilated Kant's transcendental apperception of the unity of experience to Descartes's cogito. They then took this to be the method of a philosophical psychology that reveals the active self as substance or cause and thus provides the epistemological grounding for these categories. However, to dismiss these philosophers as simply confused or mistaken would be to overlook the historical role that their interpretations of Kant played in the subsequent development of philosophy and the social sciences in France. Specifically, Émile Durkheim's (1858–1917) sociological theory of the categories was deeply influenced by the eclectic spiritualist tradition and yet at the same time developed in reaction to it, as he thought that its psychological account of the categories failed to bring out their shared or universal character and the extent to which our conceptions of the categories are cultural products.

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