42 Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

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.

The monumental Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason) (1781, 1787) Kantfully 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 knowledgegoverned by traditional notions of substance and causality by applying the pure concepts of the understanding to all possible experience. KantBut regulative principles of this sort hold only for the world as we know it, and since metaphysical propositions seek a truthbeyond all experience, they cannot be established within the bounds of reason.

Significant 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). KantFrom 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.

In later life, Kant drew art and science together under the concept of purpose in theKritik der Urteilskraft (Critique of Judgment) (1790), Konigsbergconsidered 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).


Recommended Reading:Primary sources:

  • Kants gessamelte Schriften, ed. by Der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (de Gruyter, 1902-1956)
  • Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, tr. by Werner S. Pluhar and Patricia Kitcher (Hackett, 1996)
  • Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Hackett, 2002)
  • Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, ed. by Werner S. Pluhar (Hackett, 1987)
  • Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to Come Forward As Science, tr. by Paul Carus (Hackett, 1977)
  • Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, tr. by James W. Ellington (Hackett, 1993)

Secondary sources:

  • Ernst Cassirer, Stephan Korner, and James Haden, Kant’s Life and Thought (Yale, 1986)
  • Roger Scruton, Kant (Oxford, 1983)
  • The Cambridge Companion to Kant, ed. by Paul Guyer (Cambridge, 1992)
  • Ralph C.S. Walker, Kant (Routledge, 1999)
  • Sebastian Gardner, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason (Routledge, 1999)
  • Norman Kemp Smith, Commentary to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (Humanity, 1991)
  • Paul Guyer, Kant and the Claims of Knowledge (Cambridge, 1987)
  • Paul Abela, Kant’s Empirical Realism (Oxford, 2002)
  • Jonathan Bennett, Kant’s Analytic (Cambridge, 1966)
  • Karl Ameriks, Kant’s Theory of Mind: An Analysis of the Paralogisms of Pure Reason (Oxford, 2000)
  • Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason: Critical Essays, ed. by Patricia Kitcher (Rowman & Littlefield, 1998)
  • Henry E. Allison, Kant’s Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense (Yale, 1986)
  • Martin Weatherston, Heidegger’s Interpretation of Kant: Categories, Imagination, and Temporality(Macmillan, 2002)
  • Daniel Warren, Reality and Impenetrability in Kant’s Philosophy of Nature (Routledge, 2001)
  • Rudolf A. Makkreel, Imagination and Interpretation in Kant: The Hermeneutical Import of the Critique of Judgment (Chicago, 1994)
  • Feminist Interpretations of Immanuel Kant, ed. by Robin May Schott (Penn. State, 1997)
  • Roger J. Sullivan, An Introduction to Kant’s Ethics (Cambridge, 1994)
  • Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals: Interpretative Essays, ed. by Mark Timmons (Oxford, 2002)
  • Phillip Stratton-Lake, Kant, Duty, and Moral Worth (Routledge, 2000)
  • Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals: Critical Essays, ed. by Paul Guyer (Rowman & Littlefield, 1997)
  • Christine M. Korsgaard, Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge, 1996)
  • Samuel J. Kerstein, Kant’s Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality (Cambridge, 2002)
  • Carol W. Voeller, The Metaphysics of the Moral Law (Garland, 2000)
  • Otfried Höffe, Categorical Principles of Law: A Counterpoint to Modernity, trans. by Mark Migotti (Penn State, 2002)
  • Rodolphe Gasché, The Idea of Form: Rethinking Kant’s Aesthetics (Stanford, 2003)
  • Henry E. Allison, Kant’s Theory of Taste, A Reading of the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment (Cambridge, 2001)
  • Mihaela C. Fistioc, The Beautiful Shape of the Good: Platonic and Pythagorean Themes in Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment (Routledge, 2002)

Additional on-line information about Kant includes:


The Philosophy Pages by Garth Kemerling are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.philosophypages.com/referral/contact.htm.

©1997, 2011 Garth Kemerling.
Last modified 22 November 2011.



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Philosophy-A Short History3 Copyright © by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book


Comments are closed.