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IMMANUEL KANT

Was Immanuel Kant an important figure of the Enlightenment?

Yes, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was more intellectually influential in the nineteenth century and beyond than any other Enlightenment philosopher because he constructed a system of reason from which empiricism and the sciences could be derived. Kant thereby, theoretically, ended any residual tensions between rationalism and empiricism because his rationalism allowed for empiricism. In that sense, he was the epitome of the Age of Reason. Of course, for those who ignored Kant, the business of philosophy remained empiricism, idealism, or rationalism, as usual.

What is known about Immanuel Kant's life?

Immanuel Kant was born in Königsberg in East Prussia. His father was a saddler, and his grandfather was a Scottish immigrant. After attending the local high school, he was taught by the philosopher Marin Knutzen at the University of Königsberg. He worked as a tutor and returned to take a master's degree, after which he was employed as a Pri

Immanuel Kant constructed a system of reason from which empiricism and the sciences could be derived (iStock).

Immanuel Kant constructed a system of reason from which empiricism and the sciences could be derived (iStock).

vatdozent (Private docent, or P.D.) to teach physics, mathematics, anthropology, geography, and some philosophy. (In his courses on anthropology and geology, he taught the prevailing view of European racial supremacy over Asians and Africans.) He was poor until 1770, when he secured the position of chair of logic and metaphysics at Königsberg.

Other European intellectuals, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), whom Kant greatly admired, constantly moved and traveled to secure their fame and livings, with amorous and political adventure, as a kind of byproduct of their intellectual careers. But that was not for Kant. He never left the area of East Prussia, and remained a bachelor in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) all his life. When the Prussian king asked him not to publish further about religion in 1794, he duly complied. Kant's health was fragile, but he took care of himself, living until he was 80. He relied on travelers and published works for information about the outside world and was content to dine with friends and fulfill his professorial duties, including a term as rector of the university.

Kant's early works were about natural science, the most notable being his General History of Nature and Theory of the Heavens (1755). His magnum opus was The Critique of Pure Reason, but when it finally appeared in 1781 few could understand it. He tried to make his ideas more accessible in his Prolegomena to Every Future Metaphysics (1783). This was followed by his 1790 Critique of Practical Reason and the Critique of Judgment. In 1793 and 1797, he published Religion within the Bounds of Mere Reason and the Metaphysic of Morals. Kant was by then famous, but younger thinkers undertook to explain his system better than he had. He was working on his response to them in his Opus Postumum when he died.

Why are Immanuel Kant's epistemology and metaphysics transcendental?

To this day, philosophers dispute whether Kant was providing a theory of how the mind in fact works or instead a critical theory of how we ought to view knowledge. In either case, Kant's epistemology and metaphysics are both transcendental. His epistemology is transcendental in that he reasons a priori from what is known to what must

Was Immanuel Kant only interested in the foundations for knowledge of the physical world?

No. In addition to what Kant held to be man's universal awe for "the starry heavens above," he addressed "the moral law within" as a subject of practical reason. He also had lasting things to say about the self and belief in God.

be the case in order to account for what is known. And his metaphysics is transcendental in that what ultimately exists exceeds and eludes both our direct knowledge and full understanding, even though we are justified in postulating it according to certain principles of reason.

 
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