Immanuel Kant, (born April 22, 1724, Konigsberg, Prussia [now Kaliningrad, Russia]—died February 12, 1804, Konigsberg), German philosopher whose comprehensive and systematic work in epistemology (the theory of knowledge), ethics, and aesthetics greatly influenced all subsequent philosophy, especially the various schools of Kantianism and idealism. Kant was one of the foremost thinkers of the Enlightenment and arguably one of the greatest philosophers of all time. In him were subsumed new trends that had begun with the rationalism (stressing reason) of Rene Descartes and the empiricism (stressing experience) of Francis Bacon.
He thus inaugurated a new era in the development of philosophical thought. BACKGROUND AND EARLY YEARS Kant lived in the remote province where he was born for his entire life. His father, a saddler, was, according to Kant, a descendant of a Scottish immigrant, although scholars have found no basis for this claim; his mother, an uneducated German woman, was remarkable for her character and natural intelligence. Both parents were devoted followers of the Pietist branch of the Lutheran church, which taught that religion belongs to the inner life expressed in simplicity and obedience to moral law.
The influence of their pastor made it possible for Kant—the fourth of nine children but the eldest surviving child—to obtain an education. At the age of eight Kant entered the Pietist school that his pastor directed. This was a Latin school, and it was presumably during the eight and a half years he was there that Kant acquired his lifelong love for the Latin classics, especially for the naturalistic poet Lucretius. In 1740 he enrolled in the University of Konigsberg as a theological student. But, although he attended courses in theology and even preached on a few occasions, he was
principally attracted to mathematics and physics. Aided by a young professor who had studied Christian Wolff, a systematizer of rationalist philosophy, and who was also an enthusiast for the science of Sir Isaac Newton, Kant began reading the work of the English physicist and, in 1744, started his first book, Gedanken von der wahren Schatzung der lebendigen Krafte (1746; Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces), dealing with a problem concerning kinetic forces.
Though by that time he had decided to pursue an academic career, the death of his father in 1746 and his failure to obtain the post of undertutor in one of the schools attached to the university compelled him to withdraw and seek a means of supporting himself.
Tutor and Privatdozent He found employment as a family tutor and, during the nine years that he gave to it, worked for three different families. With them he was introduced to the influential society of the city, acquired social grace, and made his farthest travels from his native city—some 60 miles (96 km) away to the town of Arnsdorf. In 1755, aided by the kindness of a friend, he was able to complete his degree at the university and take up the position of Privatdozent, or lecturer.
Period of the three Critiques In 1781 the Kritik der reinen Vernunft (spelled Critik in the first edition; Critique of Pure Reason) was published, followed for the next nine years by great and original works that in a short time brought a revolution in philosophical thought and established the new direction in which it was to go in the years to come. The Critique of Pure Reason The Critique of Pure Reason was the result of some 10 years of thinking and meditation. Yet, even so, Kant published the first edition only reluctantly after many postponements; although convinced of the truth of its doctrine, he was uncertain and doubtful about its exposition.
His misgivings proved well founded, and Kant complained that interpreters and critics of the work were badly misunderstanding it. To correct these wrong interpretations of his thought, he wrote the Prolegomena zu einer jeden kunftigen Metaphysik die als Wissenschaft wird auftreten konnen (1783; Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will be Able to Come Forward as Science) and brought out a second and revised edition of the first Critique in 1787.
Controversy still continues regarding the merits of the two editions: readers with a preference for an idealistic interpretation usually prefer the first edition, whereas those with a realistic view adhere to the second. But with regard to difficulty and ease of reading and understanding, it is generally agreed that there is little to choose between them. Anyone on first opening either book finds it overwhelmingly difficult and impenetrably obscure.
The Critique of Practical Reason Because of his insistence on the need for an empirical component in knowledge and his antipathy to speculative metaphysics, Kant is sometimes presented as a positivist before his time, and his attack upon metaphysics was held by many in his own day to bring both religion and morality down with it. Such, however, was certainly far from Kant’s intention.
Not only did he propose to put metaphysics “on the sure path of science,” he was prepared also to say that he “inevitably” believed in the existence of God and in a future life. It is also true that his original conception of his critical philosophy anticipated the preparation of a critique of moral philosophy. The Kritik der praktischen Vernunft (1788, spelled Critik and practischen; Critique of Practical Reason), the result of this intention, is the standard sourcebook for his ethical doctrines.
The earlier Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten (1785; Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals) is a shorter and, despite its title, more readily comprehensible treatment of the same general topic. Both differ from Die Metaphysik der Sitten (1797; The Metaphysics of Morals) in that they deal with pure ethics and try to elucidate basic principles; the later work, in contrast, is concerned with applying these principles in the concrete, a process that involved the consideration of virtues and vices and the foundations of law and politics.
The Critique of Judgment The Kritik der Urteilskraft (1790, spelled Critik; Critique of Judgment)—one of the most original and instructive of all of Kant’s writings—was not foreseen in his original conception of the critical philosophy. Thus it is perhaps best regarded as a series of appendixes to the other two Critiques. The work falls into two main parts, called respectively Critique of Aesthetic Judgment and Critique of Teleological Judgment. In the first of these, after an introduction in which he discussed “logical purposiveness,” he analyzed the notion of “aesthetic purposiveness” in judgments that ascribe beauty to something.
Such a judgment, according to him, unlike a mere expression of taste, lays claim to general validity, yet it cannot be said to be cognitive because it rests on feeling, not on argument. The explanation lies in the fact that, when a person contemplates an object and finds it beautiful, there is a certain harmony between his imagination and his understanding, of which he is aware from the immediate delight that he takes in the object. Imagination grasps the object and yet is not restricted to any definite concept, whereas a person imputes the delight that he feels to others because it springs from the free play of his cognitive faculties, which are the same in all humans.
LAST YEARS The critical philosophy was soon being taught in every important German-speaking university, and young men flocked to Konigsberg as a shrine of philosophy. In some cases the Prussian government even undertook the expense of their support. Kant came to be consulted as an oracle on all kinds of questions, including such subjects as the lawfulness of vaccination. Such homage did not interrupt Kant’s regular habits. Scarcely five feet tall, with a deformed chest, and suffering from weak health, he maintained throughout his life a severe regimen.
It was arranged with such regularity that people set their clocks according to his daily walk along the street named for him, “The Philosopher’s Walk. ” Until old age prevented him, he is said to have missed this regular appearance only on the occasion when Rousseau’s Emile so engrossed him that for several days he stayed at home. From 1790 Kant’s health began to decline seriously. He still had many literary projects but found it impossible to write more than a few hours a day. The writings that he then completed consist partly of an elaboration of subjects not previously treated in any detail, partly of replies to criticisms and to the clarification of misunderstandings.
With the publication in 1793 of his work Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der blossen Vernunft (Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone), Kant became involved in a dispute with Prussian authorities on the right to express religious opinions. The book was found to be altogether too rationalistic for orthodox taste. He was charged with misusing his philosophy to the “distortion and depreciation of many leading and fundamental doctrines of sacred Scripture and Christianity” and was required by the government not to lecture or write anything further on religious subjects.
Kant agreed but privately interpreted the ban as a personal promise to the king, Frederick William II, from which he felt himself to be released on the latter’s death in 1797. At any rate, he returned to the forbidden subject in his last major essay, “Der Streit der Fakultaten” (1798; “The Conflict of the Faculties”). In 1797 Kant published Die Metaphysik der Sitten (The Metaphysics of Morals), comprising Metaphysische Anfangsgrunde der Rechtslehre (The Philosophy of Law) and Metaphysische Anfangsgrunde der Tugendlehre (The Doctrine of Virtue).
The former was the major statement of his political philosophy, which he also discussed in Zum ewigen Frieden (1795; Project for a Perpetual Peace) and in the essay “Uber den Gemeinspruch: Das mag in der Theorie richtig sein, taugt aber nicht fur die Praxis” (1793; “On the Old Saw: That May Be Right In Theory, But It Won’t Work in Practice”). The large work at which he laboured until his death—the fragments of which fill the two final volumes of the great Berlin edition of his works—was evidently intended to be a major contribution to his critical philosophy.
What remains, however, is not so much an unfinished work as a series of notes for a work that was never written. Known as the Opus postumum, its original title was Ubergang von den metaphysische Anfangsgrunde der Naturwissenschaft zur Physik (“Transition from the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science to Physics”). It may have been Kant’s intention in this work to carry further the argument advanced in the Metaphysische Anfangsgrunde der Naturwissenschaft (1786; Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science) by showing that it is possible to construct a priori not merely the general outline of a science of nature but a good many of its details as well.
But judging from the extant fragments, however numerous they are, it remains conjectural whether its completion would have constituted a major addition to his philosophy and its reputation. After a gradual decline that was painful to his friends as well as to himself, Kant died in Konigsberg on February 12, 1804. His last words were “Es ist gut” (“It is good”).
His tomb in the cathedral was inscribed with the words (in German) “The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me,” the two things that he declared in the conclusion of the second Critique “fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on. ” IMMANUEL KANT Prepared by: Cherry B. Ordonez Alliona Gem S. Tolentino N- 201.