Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804) MP

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Birthplace: Königsberg, Königsberg, Ostpreußen, Prussia
Death: Died in Königsberg, Königsberg, Ostpreußen, Prussia
Occupation: Philosopher
Managed by: Yigal Burstein / יגאל בורשטיין
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About Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant (German pronunciation: [ɪˈmaːnu̯eːl ˈkant]) (22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804) was an 18th-century German philosopher from the Prussian city of Königsberg. Kant was the last influential philosopher of modern Europe in the classic sequence of the theory of knowledge during the Enlightenment beginning with thinkers John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume.

Kant created a new perspective in philosophy which had widespread influences on philosophy continuing through to the 21st century. He published important works on epistemology, as well as works relevant to religion, law, and history. One of his most prominent works is the Critique of Pure Reason, an investigation into the limitations and structure of reason itself. It encompasses an attack on traditional metaphysics and epistemology, and highlights Kant's own contribution to these areas. The other main works of his maturity are the Critique of Practical Reason, which concentrates on ethics, and the Critique of Judgment, which investigates aesthetics and teleology.

Kant suggested that metaphysics can be reformed through epistemology. He suggested that by understanding the sources and limits of human knowledge we can ask fruitful metaphysical questions. He asked if an object can be known to have certain properties prior to the experience of that object. He concluded that all objects about which the mind can think must conform to its manner of thought. Therefore if the mind can think only in terms of causality – which he concluded that it does – then we can know prior to experiencing them that all objects we experience must either be a cause or an effect. However, it follows from this that it is possible that there are objects of such nature which the mind cannot think, and so the principle of causality, for instance, cannot be applied outside of experience: hence we cannot know, for example, whether the world always existed or if it had a cause. And so the grand questions of speculative metaphysics cannot be answered by the human mind, but the sciences are firmly grounded in laws of the mind.

Kant believed himself to be creating a compromise between the empiricists and the rationalists. The empiricists believed that knowledge is acquired through experience alone, but the rationalists maintained that such knowledge is open to Cartesian doubt and that reason alone provides us with knowledge. Kant argues, however, that using reason without applying it to experience will only lead to illusions, while experience will be purely subjective without first being subsumed under pure reason.

Kant’s thought was very influential in Germany during his lifetime, moving philosophy beyond the debate between the rationalists and empiricists. The philosophers Fichte, Schelling, Hegel and Schopenhauer each saw themselves as correcting and expanding the Kantian system, thus bringing about various forms of German idealism. Kant continues to be a major influence on philosophy, influencing both analytic and continental philosophy.


Immanuel Kant was born in 1724 in Königsberg, the capital of Prussia at that time, today the city of Kaliningrad in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast. He was the fourth of eleven children (four of them reached adulthood). Baptized 'Emanuel', he changed his name to 'Immanuel' after learning Hebrew. In his entire life, he never traveled more than a hundred miles from Königsberg. His father, Johann Georg Kant (1682–1746), was a German harnessmaker from Memel, at the time Prussia's most northeastern city (now Klaipėda, Lithuania). His mother, Regina Dorothea Reuter (1697–1737), was born in Nuremberg. Kant's grandfather had emigrated from Scotland to East Prussia, and his father still spelled their family name "Cant." In his youth, Kant was a solid, albeit unspectacular, student. He was reared in a Pietist household that stressed intense religious devotion, personal humility, and a literal interpretation of the Bible. Consequently, Kant received a stern education – strict, punitive, and disciplinary – that preferred Latin and religious instruction over mathematics and science. Of the common myths concerning Kant's personal mannerisms are enumerated, explained, and refuted in Goldthwait's introduction to his translation of Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime. It is often held that Kant lived a very strict and predictable life, leading to the oft-repeated story that neighbors would set their clocks by his daily walks. He never married, but didn't seem to lack a rewarding social life - he was a popular teacher and a modestly successful author even before starting on his major philosophical works.

The young scholar

Kant showed a great aptitude to study at an early age. He was first sent to Collegium Fredericianum and then enrolled at the University of Königsberg (where he would spend his entire career) in 1740, at the age of 16. He studied the philosophy of Leibniz and Wolff under Martin Knutzen, a rationalist who was also familiar with developments in British philosophy and science and who introduced Kant to the new mathematical physics of Newton. Knutzen dissuaded Kant from the theory of pre-established harmony, which he regarded as "the pillow for the lazy mind". He also dissuaded the young scholar from idealism, which was negatively regarded by most philosophers in the 18th century (The theory of transcendental idealism that Kant developed in the "Critique of Pure Reason" is not traditional idealism, i.e. the idea that reality is purely mental. In fact, Kant produced arguments against traditional idealism in the second part of the "Critique of Pure Reason"). His father's stroke and subsequent death in 1746 interrupted his studies. Kant became a private tutor in the smaller towns surrounding Königsberg, but continued his scholarly research. 1749 saw the publication of his first philosophical work, Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces.

Kant is best known for his transcendental idealist philosophy that time and space are not materially real but merely the ideal a priori condition of our internal intuition. Also, he made an important astronomical discovery, namely the discovery of the retardation of the rotation of the Earth, for which he won the Berlin Academy Prize in 1754. Even more importantly, from this Kant concluded that time is not a thing in itself determined from experience, objects, motion, and change, but rather an unavoidable framework of the human mind that preconditions possible experience.

Early work

It is often held that Kant was a late bloomer, that he only became an important philosopher in his mid-50s after rejecting his earlier views. While it is true that Kant wrote his greatest works relatively late in life, there is a tendency to underestimate the value of his earlier works. Recent Kant scholarship has devoted more attention to these "pre-critical" writings and has recognized a degree of continuity with his mature work.


In Kant's essay "Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?", Kant defined the Enlightenment as an age shaped by the Latin motto Sapere aude ("Dare to Know"). Kant maintained that one ought to think autonomously, free of the dictates of external authority. His work reconciled many of the differences between the rationalist and empiricist traditions of the 18th century. He had a decisive impact on the Romantic and German Idealist philosophies of the 19th century. His work has also been a starting point for many 20th century philosophers.

Kant asserted that, because of the limitations of argumentation in the absence of irrefutable evidence, no one could really know whether there is a God and an afterlife or not. For the sake of society and morality, Kant asserted, people are reasonably justified in believing in them, even though they could never know for sure whether they are real or not.


Kant ran into a problem with his theory that the mind plays a part in producing objective knowledge. Intuitions and categories are entirely disparate, so how can they interact? Kant’s solution is the schema: a priori principles by which the transcendental imagination connects concepts with intuitions through time. All the principles are temporally bound, for if a concept is purely a priori, as the categories are, then they must apply for all times. Hence there are principles such as substance is that which endures through time, and the cause must always be prior to the effect.

Moral philosophy

Kant developed his moral philosophy in three works: Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (1785), Critique of Practical Reason (1788), and Metaphysics of Morals (1797).

Idea of God

Kant stated the practical necessity for a belief in God in his Critique of Practical Reason. As an idea of pure reason, "we do not have the slightest ground to assume in an absolute manner… the object of this idea…", but adds that the idea of God cannot be separated from the relation of happiness with morality as the "ideal of the supreme good." The foundation of this connection is an intelligible moral world, and "is necessary from the practical point of view"; compare Voltaire: "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." In the Jäsche Logic (1800) he wrote "One cannot provide objective reality for any theoretical idea, or prove it, except for the idea of freedom, because this is the condition of the moral law, whose reality is an axiom. The reality of the idea of God can only be proved by means of this idea, and hence only with a practical purpose, i.e., to act as though (als ob) there is a God, and hence only for this purpose" (9:93, trans. J. Michael Young, Lectures on Logic, p. 590-91).


Kant lectured on anthropology for over 25 years. His Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View was published in 1798. (This was the subject of Michel Foucault's doctoral dissertation.) Kant's Lectures on Anthropology were published for the first time in 1997 in German. The former was translated into English and published by the Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy series in 2006.


The vastness of Kant's influence on Western thought is immeasurable. Over and above his specific influence on specific thinkers, Kant changed the framework within which philosophical inquiry has been carried out from his day through the present in ways that have been irreversible. In other words, he accomplished a paradigm shift: very little philosophy since Kant has been carried out as an extension of pre-Kantian philosophy or in the mode of thought and discourse of pre-Kantian philosophy. This shift consists in several closely related innovations that have become axiomatic to post-Kantian thought, both in philosophy itself and in the social sciences and humanities generally:

   * Kant's "Copernican revolution", that placed the role of the human subject or knower at the center of inquiry into our knowledge, such that it is impossible to philosophize about things as they are independently of us or of how they are for us;
   * his invention of critical philosophy, that is of the notion of being able to discover and systematically explore possible inherent limits to our ability to know through philosophical reasoning;
   * his creation of the concept of "conditions of possibility", as in his notion of "the conditions of possible experience" – that is that things, knowledge, and forms of consciousness rest on prior conditions that make them possible, so that to understand or know them we have to first understand these conditions;
   * his theory that objective experience is actively constituted or constructed by the functioning of the human mind;
   * his notion of moral autonomy as central to humanity;
   * his assertion of the principle that human beings should be treated as ends rather than as means.

Tomb and statue

Kant's tomb is today in a mausoleum adjoining the northeast corner of Königsberg Cathedral in what is now known as Kaliningrad, Russia. The mausoleum was constructed by the architect Friedrich Lahrs and was finished in 1924 in time for the bicentenary of Kant's birth. Originally, Kant was buried inside the cathedral, but in 1880 his remains were moved outside and placed in a neo-Gothic chapel adjoining the northeast corner of the cathedral. Over the years, the chapel became dilapidated before it was demolished to make way for the mausoleum, which was built on the same spot, where it is today.

The tomb and its mausoleum are some of the few artifacts of German times preserved by the Soviets after they conquered and annexed the city. Today, many newlyweds bring flowers to the mausoleum.

A replica of the statue of Kant that stood in German times in front of the main University of Königsberg building was donated by a German entity in the early 1990s and placed in the same grounds.

After the expulsion of Königsberg's German population at the end of World War II, the historical University of Königsberg where Kant taught was replaced by the Russian-speaking "Kaliningrad State University", which took up the campus and surviving buildings of the historic German university. In 2005, that Russian-speaking university was renamed Immanuel Kant State University of Russia in honor of Kant. The change of name was announced at a ceremony attended by President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany, and the university further formed a Kant Society, dedicated to the study of Kantianism.

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Immanuel Kant's Timeline

April 22, 1724
Königsberg, Königsberg, Ostpreußen, Prussia
February 12, 1804
Age 79
Königsberg, Königsberg, Ostpreußen, Prussia
Age 79
Kaliningrad, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia