Immanuel Kant was born in
the East Prussian city of Königsberg, studied at its university, and
worked there as a tutor and professor for more than forty years, never
travelling more than fifty miles from home. Although his outward life
was one of legendary calm and regularity, Kant's intellectual work easily
justified his own claim to have effected a Copernican revolution in
philosophy. Beginning with his Inaugural Dissertation (1770) on the
difference between right- and left-handed spatial orientations, Kant
patiently worked out the most comprehensive and influential philosophical
programme of the modern era. His central thesis—that the
possibility of human knowledge presupposes the active participation
of the human mind—is deceptively simple, but the details of its
application are notoriously complex.
monumental Kritik der reinen
of Pure Reason) (1781, 1787) fully spells out the conditions for
mathematical, scientific, and metaphysical knowledge in its "Transcendental
Aesthetic," "Transcendental Analytic," and "Transcendental
Dialectic," but Kant found it helpful to offer a less technical
exposition of the same themes in the Prolegomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik die als Wissenschaft
wird auftreten können (Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysic) (1783). Carefully distinguishing
judgments as analytic or synthetic
and as a priori
or a posteriori, Kant held that the most interesting and useful
varieties of human knowledge rely upon synthetic a priori judgments,
which are, in turn, possible only when the mind determines the conditions
of its own experience. Thus, it is we who impose the forms of space and time
upon all possible sensation
in mathematics, and it is we who render all experience coherent as scientific knowledge
governed by traditional notions of substance and causality
by applying the pure
concepts of the understanding to all possible experience. But regulative
principles of this sort hold only for the world as we know it,
and since metaphysical
propositions seek a truth beyond all experience,
they cannot be
established within the bounds of reason.
applications of these principles are expressed in Metaphysische
Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft (Metaphysical Foundations of
the Science of Nature) (1786) and Beantwortung
der Frage: Ist es eine Erfahrung, daß wir denken? (On Comprehension
and Transcendental Consciousness) (1788-1791).
Kant's moral philosophy is developed in the
Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten (Grounding
for the Metaphysics of Morals) (1785). From his analysis of the
operation of the human will,
Kant derived the necessity of a perfectly universalizable
moral law, expressed in a categorical imperative
that must be regarded as binding upon every agent. In the Third Section
of the Grounding and in the Kritik der practischen Vernunft (Critique of Practical Reason) (1788), Kant grounded this conception
of moral autonomy
upon our postulation of god,
freedom, and immortality.
later life, Kant drew art and science together under the concept of purpose
in the Kritik
der Urteilskraft (Critique of Judgment) (1790), considered the consequences of transcendental
criticism for theology in Die Religion innerhalb die Grenzen der blossen
Vernunft (Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone) (1793), stated the
fundamental principles for civil discourse in Beantwortung
der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung? ("What is Enlightenment?"
(1784), and made an eloquent plea for international cooperation
in Zum ewigen Frieden (Perpetual Peace) (1795).
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher who
began in the tradition of Continental rationalism (Descartes, Spinoza
and Leibniz), was awakened from his dogmatic slumber by Hume's attacks
on the rationalist account of causality, and ended by producing a critical
philosophy which in some ways synthesizes elements from both the empiricist
tradition (Gassendi, Locke, Berkeley and Hume) and the Continental rationalists.
At least, this is where Kant placed himself in the picture, whether
accurately or not is open to question.
sought to show that some basic principles of science and mathematics
which in fact tell us things about the world (and are therefore synthetic,
could be known a priori -- that is by intuition alone without experience.
While allowing that some synthetic a priori judgements are possible,
Kant holds that a good deal of metaphysics which claims to know about
the world by reasoning alone is illegitimate. The Kantian system has
been enormously influential over the last two centuries.
ethical works have also had an enormous influence. The distinction between
categorical and hypothetical imperatives, the concept of the good will
and the idea that ethical judgements should not be made on the basis
of the consequences of actions but on whether they are right or not
measured by the standard of the categorical imperative have made Kantianism
a great contender with Utilitarianism and other ethical systems.
in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia), April 22, 1724, Kant received
his education at the Collegium Fredericianum and the University of Königsberg.
At the college he studied chiefly the classics, and at the university
he studied physics and mathematics. After his father died, he was compelled
to halt his university career and earn his living as a private tutor.
In 1755, aided by a friend, he resumed his studies and obtained his
doctorate. Thereafter, for 15 years he taught at the university, lecturing
first on science and mathematics, but gradually enlarging his field
of concentration to cover almost all branches of philosophy. Although
Kant's lectures and works written during this period established his
reputation as an original philosopher, he did not receive a chair at
the university until 1770, when he was made professor of logic and metaphysics.
For the next 27 years he continued to teach and attracted large numbers
of students to Königsberg. Kant's unorthodox religious teachings, which
were based on rationalism rather than revelation, brought him into conflict
with the government of Prussia, and in 1792 he was forbidden by Frederick
William II, king of Prussia, to teach or write on religious subjects.
Kant obeyed this order for five years until the death of the king and
then felt released from his obligation. In 1798, the year following
his retirement from the university, he published a summary of his religious
views. He died February 12, 1804.