Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant

Born: 1724. Died: 1804.


- Although all knowledge begins with experience, it does not all arise out of experience.

- Knowledge of an orderly world is made possible through the complementary activities of the senses and the mind.

- The matter of our experience is due to our senses and its form is contributed by the mind.

- The world we know is a phenomenal world; we have no knowledge of things-in-themselves.

- The only thing good without qualification is a good will.

- One ought to act only according to a principle of action that can be universalized.

- One ought to treat all rational beings as ends in themselves and never merely as means.

- The categorical imperative must be distinguished from hypothetical imperatives; the commands of the former are unexceptionable, but those of the latter are exceptionable.

- The autonomy of the self-legislating will is the basis of human dignity.

- Belief in God is a postulate of practical reason.


Born in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia), April 22, 1724, Immanuel 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.

Immanuel Kant is one of the most influential philosophers in the history of Western philosophy. His contributions to metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics have had a profound impact on almost every philosophical movement that followed him. This portion of the Encyclopedia entry will focus on his metaphysics and epistemology in one of his most important works, The Critique of Pure Reason. (All references will be to the A (1781) and B(1787) edition pages in Werner Pluhar's translation. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996.) A large part of Kant's work addresses the question "What can we know?" The answer, if it can be stated simply, is that our knowledge is constrained to mathematics and the science of the natural, empirical world. It is impossible, Kant argues, to extend knowledge to the supersensible realm of speculative metaphysics. The reason that knowledge has these constraints, Kant argues, is that the mind plays an active role in constituting the features of experience and limiting the mind's access to the empirical realm of space and time.

In order to understand Kant's position, the philosophical background that he was reacting to must be understood first. There are two major historical movements in the early modern period of philosophy that had a significant impact on Kant: Empiricism and Rationalism.

Kant argues that both the method and the content of these philosophers' arguments contain serious flaws. A central epistemological 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 own thoughts to acquire knowledge of the world outside of us.

The Empiricists sought to accomplish this through the senses and a posteriori reasoning. The Rationalists attempted to use a priori reasoning to build the necessary bridge. A posteriori reasoning depends upon experience or contingent events in the world to provide us with information. That "Bill Clinton is president of the United States in 1999," for example, is something that I can know only through experience; I cannot determine this to be true through an analysis of the concepts of "president" or "Bill Clinton." A priori reasoning, in contrast, does not depend upon experience to inform it. The concept "bachelor" logically entails the ideas of an unmarried, adult, human male without my needing to conduct a survey of bachelors and men who are unmarried.

Kant believed that this twofold distinction in kinds of knowledge was inadequate to the task of understanding metaphysics.

Major Works of Immanuel Kant

- Allgemeine Naturgeschichte und Theorie des Himmels (Universal Natural History and Theory of Heaven), 1755
- Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht (Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View), 1798
- Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklarung? (An Answer to the Question: 'What Is Enlightenment?'), 1784
- Beobachtungen über das Gefuhl des Schonen und Erhabenen (Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime), 1764
- Der einzig mogliche Beweisgrund zu einer Demonstration des Daseins Gottes (The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God), 1763
- Die falsche Spitzfindigkeit der vier syllogistischen Figuren (The False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures), 1762
- Gedanken von der wahren Schatzung der lebendigen Krafte (Thoughts on the True Estimation of Vital Forces), 1746
- Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, (Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals), 1785
- Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher Absicht (Idea For A Universal History With A Cosmopolitan Purpose), 1784
- Kritik der praktischen Vernunft (Critique of Practical Reason), 1788
- Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason), 1781
- Kritik der Urteilskraft, (Critique of Judgment), 1790
- Lectures on Ethics, 1775-1780
- Logik (Logic), 1800
- Monadologia Physica, 1756
- De mundi sensibilis atque intelligibilis forma et principiis (Inaugural Dissertation), 1770
- Neue Erhellung der ersten Grundsatze metaphysischer Erkenntnisse; Doctoral Thesis: Principiorum primorum cognitionis metaphysicae nova dilucidatio (A New Explanation of the First Principles of Metaphysical Knowledge), 1755
- Metaphysische Anfangsgrunde der Naturwissenschaft (Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science), 1786
- Metaphysik der Sitten (Metaphysics of Morals), 1797
- Opus Postumum, 1804
- Prolegomena zu einer jeden kunftigen Metaphysik (Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics), 1783
- Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloßen Vernunft (Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone), 1793
- The Science of Right, 1790
- Der Streit der Fakultaten (The Contest of Faculties), 1798
- Traume eines Geistersehers (Dreams of a Spirit Seer (On Emmanuel Swedenborg)), 1766
- Uber die Krankheit des Kopfes (Essay on the Illness of the Head), 1764
- Uber die verschiedenen Rassen der Menschen (On the Different Races of Man), 1775
- Uber Padagogik (On Pedagogy), 1803
- Untersuchungen uber die Deutlichkeit der Grundsatze der naturlichen Theologie und der Moral (Inquiry Concerning the Distinctness of the Principles of Natural Theology and Morality (the Prize Essay)), 1764
- Versuch den Begriff der negativen Großen in die Weltweisheit einzufuhren (Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Magnitudes into Philosophy), 1763
- Zum ewigen Frieden (Perpetual Peace), 1795

Quotes from Immanuel Kant

- "Thanks be to Nature ... for the incompatibility, for heartless competitive vanity, for the insatiable desire to possess and to rule! Without them, all the excellent natural capacities of humanity would forever sleep, undeveloped." (from "Idea for a Universal Histoiy from a Cosmopolitan Point of View", 1784)

- "Through war, through the taxing and never-ending accumulation of armament, through the want which any state, even in peacetime, must suffer internally, Nature forces [societies] to make at first inadequate and tentative attempts; finally, after devastations, revolutions, and even complete exhaustion, she brings them to that which reason could have told them at the beginning and with far less sad experience, to wit, to step from the lawless condition of savages into a league of nations." (from "Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View", 1784)

- "Morality is not properly the doctrine [of] how we should make ourselves happy, but how we should make ourselves worthy of happiness." (from "Critique of Practical Reason", 1788)

- "Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within [me]." (from "Critique of Practical Reason", 1788)

- "Honesty is better than any policy." (from "Perpetual Peace", 1795)

- "The state of peace among men living side by side is not the natural state; the natural state is one of war." (from "Perpetual Peace", 1795)

- "That kings should philosophize or philosophers become kings is not to be expected. Nor is it to be wished, since the possession of power inevitably corrupts the untrammeled judgment of reason." (from "Perpetual Peace", 1795)

- "A free will and a will [subject to] moral laws are identical." (from "Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals", 1797)

- "Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only." (from "Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals", 1797)

- "There is ... only one categorical imperative. It is: Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." (from "Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals", 1797)

- "Nobody can compel me to be happy in his own way. Paternalism is the greatest despotism imaginable." (from "Two Concepts of Liberty" by Isaiah Berlin)

- "Every man is to be respected as an absolute end in himself; and it is a crime against the dignity that belongs to him to use him as mere means to some external purpose." (from "The Unquiet Grave: A Word Cycle by Palinurus" by Cyril Connolly)


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