Immanuel Kant 1724-1804

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Immanuel Kant 1724-1804

Immanuel Kant was born on April 22, 1724 in Konigsberg, East Prussia. He was the son of a saddler. At age 8, he entered the Collegium Fredericianum, a Latin school, where he remained for 8 1/2 years and studied the classics. He then entered the University of Konigsberg in 1740 to study philosophy, mathematics, and physics. The death of his father halted his university career so he became a private tutor. In 1755, he returned to Konigsburg where he later resumed his studies. In 1756, he received a degree and was made a lecturer, and in 1770 he became a professor.

Kant felt he had to adhere to a very strict schedule during his years as a professor. He would get up shortly before five in the morning and spent an hour drinking tea, smoking a pipe, and thinking over his day’s work. From six to seven he prepared his lecture, which would begin at seven or eight and lasted until nine or ten. After his lecture he would devote himself to writing until the midday meal. He always had company for his midday meal and it would always last several hours because he enjoyed conversation.

After the meal he would take a walk for an hour or so and his evenings were devoted to reading and reflection. He would go to bed at ten o’clock. Besides his writings, he became famous for his schedule. Kant’s most striking character trait was probably his moral earnestness and his devotion to the idea of duty. He was a sociable man and was also kindly and benevolent. He was never rich but he was careful in money matters. He regularly assisted a number of poor people. He was a sincere and loyal friend and his conduct was marked by courtesy and respect for others.

For 15 years after completing his doctorate he taught at the university where he lectured on science and math, but eventually he expanded his field to cover almost all branches of philosophy. Kant was an amazing orator and was internationally famous for his lectures. His main goal in philosophical courses was to stimulate his listeners to “stand on their own feet” as he put it. He was appointed to a regular chair of philosophy at the University at the age of 46 in 1770. He was made the professor of logics and metaphysics.

He came into conflict with Prussia’s government due to his unorthodox religious teachings. In 1792, the King of Prussia, Frederick William II, forbade Kant to teach or write on religious teachings. He obeyed the king’s order until William II died. In 1798, the year following his retirement from the University, Kant published a summary of his religious views. He died on February 12, 1804. During his lifetime, Kant produced many writings. Scholars usually divide his literary career into two periods: the Pre-critical period and the Critical period.

During the Pre-critical period, 1747 to 1781, he wrote many non-fictional works and criticisms. Some of them were “Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces”, “On Fire”, “A New Explanation of the First Principles of Metaphysical Knowledge”, and “On the Forms and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World”. From 1770 to 1780, he mainly worked on preparing “The Critique of Pure Reason”. The Critical period lasted from 1781 to 1794. During this period, he wrote “The Critique of Pure Reason” in 1781, and “Foundation for the Metaphysics of Ethics” in 1785.

Following the critical works, Kant published “Critique of Practical Reason”, “Critique of Judgment”, and “Religion within the Limits of Mere Reason”. Three main discussions of Kant are Duty, the Formula of the End, and the Kingdom of Ethics. Kant feels that we act morally when we do our duty, however it is important to distinguish between acting according to duty and acting from duty. Acting according to duty is when someone else has imposed the duty. This is an example of heteronymous will. An example of this is Adolf Eichmann, a German nazi general of WWII, who formulated the ‘final solution’.

He said that according to Kant, he acted morally, since he was following orders, as it was his duty to do so. This is wrong because Kant says that we are only acting morally if we act from duty, as dictated by our innate reason. This is an example of autonomous will. Along with duty is the difference between the Categorical Imperative and the Hypothetical Imperative. Imperatives in general are commands that dictate a particular course of action, such as “you shall clean your room. ” Hypothetical Imperatives are commands that depend on my preference for a particular end, and are stated in conditional form.

The Categorical Imperative, Kant argues, are moral actions based on a “supreme principle of morality” which is objective, rational, freely chosen, and it is not conditional upon one’s preferences. Therefore the Categorical Imperative can be the only possible standard of moral obligation. An example of this is two grocers in a town are John and Joe. John wants to keep his trade, so he insists on selling the best goods, giving the best service, being friendly and polite, and offering value for money. Joe does the same, not to keep his trade, but because it is what he should do.

According to Kant, even though the actions are the same, John is acting immorally, according to the Hypothetical Imperative, while Joe is acting morally, according to the Categorical Imperative. For Kant, the act is not important. As long as you are acting from duty and the motive is right, the act must be right. However, the Principles of Universalisability puts a twist on this. It states that if an action is applied to everyone, and everybody did what you were about to do, it became immoral or hypocritical, and then your act would be immoral. The Formula of the End deals with ends and means.

Kant states that you must not treat people as means to your own end, but as ends in themselves. It would be similar to Christianity’s ‘Golden Rule’ except for the Universalisability Principle. The example of this is suicide. The ‘Golden Rule’ does not apply in this case, because when a person commits suicide, he does not treat others in ways he would want to be treated. He does not treat them at all, because he only treats himself. The Kingdom of Ethics states that human beings, because they are rational (use reason), possess inherent value. This means that they are ends in themselves.

Their value is intrinsic, not instrumental. Kant feels that no rule of conduct, which applies to all human beings, can sanction actions favoring one person over another or agree to conduct where one person treats another as a means to an end. To do so is to demean oneself and the entire human race. Kant’s ethics are founded in and based on respect for persons. In following a certain course of moral action, regardless of inclination, a person is enacting a Kingdom of Ethics. Along with ethics is the idea of good will. Kant believes that it is wrong to intentionally break a promise that you have made with a person.

He feels that good will is a pure duty outlook that disregards consequences entirely. He says that a good will is a wanting, which is informed by reason. It is a wanting which stems, not from inclination, but from duty. Kant says space and time are not concepts but that they are forms of intuition. He spends a lot of time showing the fallacies that arise from applying space and time to things that are not experienced. Kant agrees with David Hume in believing passion brings man morality. He feels that reason is only the comparing of ideas, and that reason will influence us away from our influences.

The cultivation of reason is required for the purpose, and the purpose leads to happiness, therefore reason is compatible with happiness. Kant believed that reason connected us directly to things-in-themselves. He feels that we possess two sources of input that can serve as such datum. These are physical sensation and the sense of moral duty. Physical sensation starts an application of reason to experience, creating the perception of phenomenal objects. The supreme rational example of this is science. The sense of moral duty begins an application of reason that produces ethics and religion.

The supreme rational example of this is the “Postulates of Practical Reason” the “Ideas” of God, freedom, and immortality, which to Kant are required as conditions of the Moral Law. Kant tries to demolish all the purely intellectual proofs of the existence of God. He makes it clear that he has other reasons for believing in God that he talks about later. God, freedom, and immortality are the three ideas of reason according to Kant. The differences between reality as seen in science, and reality as seen in morality and religion show that there are points to existence that are not revealed by either one alone.

The two aspects are unequal. Magnitude and religion have a much more limited rational content, returning to many of the same questions over and over again. These include the ultimate questions about the meaning of life and existence, as well as the questions on how to live. Kant was led to characterize his system as transcendental idealism, so that we have a questioned representation of things, since our moral datum does not lead to direct knowledge of things that we are able to conceive, like God. This is because we do not have the real intuition that we have of physical objects.

The reality shown by morality is a matter of faith for Kant. This is an inference from the Moral Law. This way, “transcendental idealism” is different form “subjective idealism” and “objective idealism”, since they both show certainties about the ultimate nature of things. The nature of things that we cannot know about concretely is revealed in science. Kant’s theory of empirical realism stresses that phenomena are undoubtedly mental contents. He feels that it is natural and easy to infer from this a “transcendental realism where “real” objects, which are not mental objects, are things we do not experience.

At the age of 69, Kant wrote an essay on religion that is considered the boldest of all his writings. He said that churches have value only in that they assist the moral development of the race. He went on to say that when mere ceremonies usurp priority over moral excellence as a test of religion, religion has disappeared. He believed that the real church is a community of people, however scattered and divided, who are united by devotion to the common moral law. He thought the creed and ritual had replaced the good life and that instead of men being bound together by religion, they are divided into a thousand sects.

He went on to say that a perversion is reached when the church becomes an instrument of the government and the clergy, whose function is to console and guide a harassed humanity with religious faith and hope and charity, are made the tools of political oppression. He said that miracles cannot prove a religion because we can never rely on the testimony which supports them, and that prayer is useless as it aims at a suspension of the natural laws that hold for all experience. A priori judgments are made outside of experience. “The sky is blue” is an a posteriori judgment (made on the basis of sensory experience).

“I exist” is an a priori truth, which remains unchanged even if all of our senses are deceived. Analytic statements are true based only on the meanings of words. The only thing needed to determine truth is a dictionary. Synthetic statements cannot be judged like analytic statements. “My dog has black spots” is a synthetic statement. The truth cannot be determined since my dog is not known. The truth is not dependent on word meanings, but on if it corresponds with the world. Causality is applied to perception and concepts which are applicable to perception, Kant calls Categories. There are a total of twelve Categories.

Kant says that the categories are patterns of understanding by which we examine structure and understand the things that we experience. Synthetic a priori judgments consist in applying the Categories to sensory information in space and time, or the “perceptual manifold. ” Application of the Categories allows people to realize physical objects as capable of casual relations and interactions with other objects. Categories cannot be applied to knowledge or things that exist apart from space and time like things-in-themselves. Kant derives the Ideas from the possible forms of logical inference.

When we assume that this potentially infinite series is given in its whole, an Idea is formed. Kant recognized three Ideas. The first is of the absolute unity of the thinking subject. The second is of the absolute unity of the order of the conditions of appearance. The third is of the absolute unity of the conditions of thought in general. The first Idea provides a subject matter of speculative psychology. The second is one of speculative cosmology, while the third is one of speculative theology. These are all metaphysical knowledge of matters of fact from synthetic a priori principles.

Kant’s Ideas are really all about metaphysical paradoxes (Antimony of space and time) in its entirety, an unconditioned whole. Kant believes that all these matters are open to clarification and development. He also believes that the mind produces the world it knows. To understand “The Critique”, Kant’s logical system must be understood. He divides all judgments into analytic or synthetic judgments and a priori or a posteriori judgments. Judgments about empirical matters are synthetic, which can be denied without any contradiction. A priori judgments are free from experience. All analytic judgments are a priori.

Therefore judgments are split up into three classes: analytic a priori, synthetic a posteriori, and synthetic a priori. One of his points made in “The Critique” is to show how synthetic a priori judgments occur in pure mathematics and natural science. Critique is not really a criticism, but a critical analysis where Kant is not attacking “pure reason” except to show its limitations. Rather he hopes to show its possibility and to exalt it above the impure knowledge which comes to us through the distorting channels of sense. He is trying to show that knowledge is not all derived from the senses.

Kant distinguished between perceiving and thinking, which are from two distinct faculties of the mind, sense and understanding. There are three types of concepts. A posteriori concepts are taken from sense perception and are applicable to it, while Ideas are free of all sense perception. From Kant we know that every event must have a cause. This is possible only on the condition that objects must be subjected to the concepts of human understanding. He said that not all knowledge is gained through experience. It is possible to gain knowledge from sense-experience.

That is that you can learn by seeing things that are not experienced but rather come from logic. “The Critique of Pure Reason”, published in 1781, is a synthesis of rationalism and empiricism. In order to understand Kant’s position and orthodox teachings, we must first understand the philosophical background that he was reacting to. There were two major historical movements in the early modern period of philosophy that had a significant impact on Kant: Empiricism and Rationalism. Kant argued that both the content and method of these philosophies contained serious flaws.

A central problem for philosophers in both movements was determining how we can escape from within the confines of the human mind and the immediately knowable content of our thoughts to acquire knowledge of the world outside of us. The Empiricists sought to accomplish this through the senses and a posteriori reasoning. Empiricists such as John Locke argued that human knowledge originates in our sensations or experiences. Locke argued that the mind was a blank slate, or a “Tabula Rasa”, upon which our experiences writes and that experience teaches us everything.

The Rationalists attempted to use a prori reasoning to build the necessary bridge. The Rationalists, principally Descartes, approached the problems of human knowledge from another angle. The Rationalists believed that the mind was the source of knowledge and that sense-data from our experiences only trigger the knowledge already in the mind. Kant’s answer to the two positions changed the face of philosophy. Both of these in themselves, he believed, gave a one-sided view of knowledge. Kant believed that there was more to knowledge then just experience. He believed that the mind gave us knowledge through the “categories”.

That experience is going to trigger the knowledge or categories that are innate to all of us. So he would say that there is nothing that we could not know or learn because we already have the categories in the mind. Kant believed that nations would not really be civilized until all standing armies are abolished. He stated that standing armies cause states to try to outdo each other with the number of armed men each has. Because of the expense of the armies, peace becomes in the long run more oppressive than a short war; and standing armies are the cause of aggressive wars undertaken in order to get rid of this burden.

Kant felt that much militarism was due to the expansion of Europe into America and Africa and Asia. He believed that if democracy was established and that everyone shared in political power, the spoils of international robbery would have to be subdivided as to constitute a resistible temptation. Kant said when those who must do the fighting have the right to decide between war and peace, history will no longer be written in blood. Many philosophers were influenced by prior philosophers. Berkeley was, for Kant, the characteristic “idealist” and an empiricist.

Descartes, on the other hand, was a “realist” believing that objects exist separately from us. He also thought that we could only know their essences through “clear and distinct” innate ideas. This made him a “transcendental” realist. Kant’s thoughts were mainly influenced by the rationalism of Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, Christian Wolff, and the empiricism of David Hume. The reason I chose Immanuel Kant to research is because not only of his philosophical views but also because of his interests in scientific issues. He was interested in virtually every aspect of human experience.

While researching him I became impressed with his views on war, especially that if we allowed the people who have to do the fighting to make the decision about war, we would have peace. I agree that sometimes the government makes the decisions that doesn’t represent what the people want. I was also impressed with his views on religion, how the churches become instruments in the hands of the government and the clergy become tools of politics. Since Kant’s thought is truly the basis of modern philosophy, it is still a main point of departure for the 21st century.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 14 November 2016

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