Archive for the ‘Kant, Immanuel’ Category

Influence of Immanuel Kant

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Influence of Immanuel Kant

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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.

Some or all of these Kantian ideas can be seen in schools of thought as different from one another as German Idealism, Marxism, positivism, phenomenology, existentialism, critical theory, linguistic philosophy, structuralism, post-structuralism, and deconstructionism. Kant’s influence also has extended to the social and behavioral sciences, as in the sociology of Max Weber, the psychology of Jean Piaget, and the linguistics of Noam Chomsky. Because of the thoroughness of the Kantian paradigm shift, his influence extends even to thinkers who do not specifically refer to his work or use his terminology.

During his own life, there was a considerable amount of attention paid to his thought, much of it critical, though he did have a positive influence on Reinhold, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, and Novalis during the 1780s and 1790s. The philosophical movement known as German Idealism developed from Kant’s theoretical and practical writings. The German Idealists Fichte and Schelling, for example, attempted to bring traditionally “metaphysically” laden notions like “the Absolute,” “God,” or “Being” into the scope of Kant’s critical philosophy. In so doing, the German Idealists attempted to reverse Kant’s establishment of the unknowableness of unexperiencable ideas.

Hegel was one of the first major critics of Kant’s philosophy. Hegel thought Kant’s moral philosophy was too formal, abstract and ahistorical. In response to Kant’s abstract and formal account of morality, Hegel developed an ethics that considered the “ethical life” of the community.  But Hegel’s notion of “ethical life” is meant to subsume, rather than replace, Kantian “morality.” And Hegel’s philosophical work as a whole can be understood as attempting to defend Kant’s conception of freedom as going beyond finite “inclinations,” by means of reason. Thus, in contrast to later critics like Friedrich Nietzsche or Bertrand Russell, Hegel shares some of Kant’s most basic concerns.

Many British Roman Catholic writers, notably G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, seized on Kant and promoted his work, with a view to restoring the philosophical legitimacy of a belief in God. Reaction against this, and an attack on Kant’s use of language, is found in Ronald Englefield’s article, Kant as Defender of the Faith in Nineteenth-century England, reprinted in Critique of Pure Verbiage, Essays on Abuses of Language in Literary, Religious, and Philosophical Writings. These criticisms of Kant were common in the anti-idealistic arguments of the logical positivism school and its admirers.

Arthur Schopenhauer was strongly influenced by Kant’s transcendental idealism. He, like G. E. Schulze, Jacobi and Fichte before him, was critical of Kant’s theory of the thing in itself. Things in themselves, they argued, are neither the cause of our representations nor are they something completely beyond our access. For Schopenhauer things in themselves do not exist independently of the non-rational will. The world, as Schopenhauer would have it, is the striving and largely unconscious will.

With the success and wide influence of Hegel’s writings, Kant’s influence began to wane, though there was in Germany a brief movement that hailed a return to Kant in the 1860s, beginning with the publication of Kant und die Epigonen in 1865 by Otto Liebmann, whose motto was “Back to Kant”. During the turn of the 20th century there was an important revival of Kant’s theoretical philosophy, known as Marburg Neo-Kantianism, represented in the work of Hermann Cohen, Paul Natorp, Ernst Cassirer, and anti-Neo-Kantian Nicolai Hartmann.

Jurgen Habermas and John Rawls are two significant political and moral philosophers whose work is strongly influenced by Kant’s moral philosophy. They both, regardless of recent relativist trends in philosophy, have argued that universality is essential to any viable moral philosophy.
West German postage stamp, 1974, commemorating the 250th anniversary of Kant’s birth.

With his Perpetual Peace, Kant is considered to have foreshadowed many of the ideas that have come to form the democratic peace theory, one of the main controversies in political science.

Kant’s notion of “Critique” or criticism has been quite influential. The Early German Romantics, especially Friedrich Schlegel in his “Athenaeum Fragments”, used Kant’s self-reflexive conception of criticism in their Romantic theory of poetry. Also in Aesthetics, Clement Greenberg, in his classic essay “Modernist Painting”, uses Kantian criticism, what Greenberg refers to as “immanent criticism”, to justify the aims of Abstract painting, a movement Greenberg saw as aware of the key limitiaton—flatness—that makes up the medium of painting.

Kant believed that mathematical truths were forms of synthetic a priori knowledge, which means they are necessary and universal, yet known through intuition. Kant’s often brief remarks about mathematics influenced the mathematical school known as intuitionism, a movement in philosophy of mathematics opposed to Hilbert’s formalism, and the logicism of Frege and Bertrand Russell.

Kant’s work on mathematics and synthetic a priori knowledge is also cited by theoretical physicist Albert Einstein as an early influence on his intellectual development.

Post-Kantian philosophy has yet to return to the style of thinking and arguing that characterized much of philosophy and metaphysics before Kant, although many British and American philosophers have preferred to trace their intellectual origins to Hume, thus bypassing Kant. The British philosopher P. F. Strawson is a notable exception, as is the American philosopher Wilfrid Sellars.

Due in part to the influence of Strawson and Sellars, among others, there has been a renewed interest in Kant’s view of the mind. Central to many debates in philosophy of psychology and cognitive science is Kant’s conception of the unity of consciousness.

The Emmanuel Kants, a drinking society at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, take their name from this eminent figure in Western philosophy. In a Monty Python sketch, Immanuel Kant is featured as part of the starting lineup of a German soccer team composed entirely of Philosophers.

Philosophy: Political Philosophy (Immanuel Kant)

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Philosophy: Political Philosophy (Immanuel Kant)

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Immanuel Kant favoured a classical republican approach to political philosophy. In Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795) Kant listed several conditions that he thought necessary for ending wars and creating a lasting peace. They included a world of constitutional republics by establishment of political community. His classical republican theory was extended in Science of Right (1790) included later as the first part of Metaphysics of Morals. Critics of the European Union assert that the Union’s relative inability to establish itself as an influential external policy entity in the international level stems from the fact that the EU’s institutions function on Kantian premises and are therefore ill-equipped to face the more primitive, non-Kantian world outside.

He opposed “democracy”, which, in that era, meant direct democracy, believing that majority rule posed a threat to individual liberty. He stated, “…democracy is, properly speaking, necessarily a despotism, because it establishes an executive power in which “all” decide for or even against one who does not agree; that is, “all”, who are not quite all, decide, and this is a contradiction of the general will with itself and with freedom.” As most writers at the time he distinguished three forms of government i.e. democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy with mixed government as the most ideal form of it.

A distinctive feature of Kant’s political philosophy is his conviction that the university should be a model of creative conflict: the philosopher’s role within the university should be to “police” the higher faculties (which in his day were theology, law and medicine), making sure their teaching conforms to the principles of reason; likewise, the goal of perpetual peace in society can be achieved only when the rulers consult with philosophers on a regular basis.

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Philosophy: Aesthetic philosophy (Immanuel Kant)

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Philosophy: Aesthetic philosophy (Immanuel Kant)

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Kant discusses the subjective nature of aesthetic qualities and experiences in Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, (1764). Kant’s contribution to aesthetic theory is developed in the Critique of Judgment (1790) where he investigates the possibility and logical status of “judgments of taste.” In the “Critique of Aesthetic Judgment,” the first major division of the Critique of Judgment, Kant used the term “aesthetic” in a manner that is, according to Kant scholar W.H. Walsh, its modern sense. Prior to this, in the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant had, in order to note the essential differences between judgments of taste, moral judgments, and scientific judgments, abandoned the use of the term “aesthetic” as “designating the critique of taste,” noting that judgments of taste could never be “directed” by “laws a priori”. After A. G. Baumgarten, who wrote Aesthetica (1750–58), Kant was one of the first philosophers to develop and integrate aesthetic theory into a unified and comprehensive philosophical system, utilizing ideas that played an integral role throughout his philosophy.

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In the chapter “Analytic of the Beautiful” of the Critique of Judgment, Kant states that beauty is not a property of an artwork or natural phenomenon, but is instead a consciousness of the pleasure which attends the ‘free play’ of the imagination and the understanding. Even though it appears that we are using reason to decide that which is beautiful, the judgment is not a cognitive judgment, “and is consequently not logical, but aesthetical” . A pure judgment of taste is in fact subjective insofar as it refers to the emotional response of the subject and is based upon nothing but esteem for an object itself: it is a disinterested pleasure, and we feel that pure judgments of taste, i.e. judgments of beauty, lay claim to universal validity. It is important to note that this universal validity is not derived from a determinate concept of beauty but from common sense. Kant also believed that a judgment of taste shares characteristics engaged in a moral judgment: both are disinterested, and we hold them to be universal. In the chapter “Analytic of the Sublime” Kant identifies the sublime as an aesthetic quality which, like beauty, is subjective, but unlike beauty refers to an indeterminate relationship between the faculties of the imagination and of reason, and shares the character of moral judgments in the use of reason. The feeling of the sublime, itself divided into two distinct modes (the mathematical sublime and the dynamical sublime), describe two subjective moments both of which concern the relationship of the faculty of the imagination to reason. The mathematical sublime is situated in the failure of the imagination to comprehend natural objects which appear boundless and formless, or which appear “absolutely great” . This imaginative failure is then recuperated through the pleasure taken in reason’s assertion of the concept of infinity. In this move the faculty of reason proves itself superior to our fallible sensible self. In the dynamical sublime there is the sense of annihilation of the sensible self as the imagination tries to comprehend a vast might. This power of nature threatens us but through the resistance of reason to such sensible annihilation, the subject feels a pleasure and a sense of the human moral vocation. This appreciation of moral feeling through exposure to the sublime helps to develop moral character.

Kant had developed the distinction between an object of art as a material value subject to the conventions of society and the transcendental condition of the judgment of taste as a “refined” value in the propositions of his Idea of A Universal History (1784). In the Fourth and Fifth Theses of that work he identified all art as the “fruits of unsociableness” due to men’s “antagonism in society”, and in the Seventh Thesis asserted that while such material property is indicative of a civilized state, only the ideal of morality and the universalization of refined value through the improvement of the mind of man “belongs to culture”.

Philosophy: Moral Philosophy (Immanuel Kant)

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Philosophy: Moral Philosophy (Immanuel Kant)

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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) .

In the Groundwork, Kant’s method involves trying to convert our everyday, obvious, rational knowledge of morality into philosophical knowledge. The latter two works followed a method of using “practical reason”, which is based only upon things about which reason can tell us, and not deriving any principles from experience, to reach conclusions which are able to be applied to the world of experience (in the second part of The Metaphysic of Morals).

Kant is known for his theory that there is a single moral obligation, which he called the “Categorical Imperative”, and is derived from the concept of duty. Kant defines the demands of the moral law as “categorical imperatives.” Categorical imperatives are principles that are intrinsically valid; they are good in and of themselves; they must be obeyed in all situations and circumstances if our behavior is to observe the moral law. It is from the Categorical Imperative that all other moral obligations are generated, and by which all moral obligations can be tested. Kant also stated that the moral means and ends can be applied to the categorical imperative, that rational beings can pursue certain “ends” using the appropriate “means.” Ends that are based on physical needs or wants will always give for merely hypothetical imperatives. The categorical imperative, however, may be based only on something that is an “end in itself”. That is, an end that is a means only to itself and not to some other need, desire, or purpose. He believed that the moral law is a principle of reason itself, and is not based on contingent facts about the world, such as what would make us happy, but to act upon the moral law which has no other motive than “worthiness of being happy”. Accordingly, he believed that moral obligation applies to all and only rational agents.

A categorical imperative is an unconditional obligation; that is, it has the force of an obligation regardless of our will or desires (Contrast this with hypothetical imperative) In Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (1785) Kant enumerated three formulations of the categorical imperative which he believed to be roughly equivalent:

Kant believed that if an action is not done with the motive of duty, then it is without moral value. He thought that every action should have pure intention behind it; otherwise it was meaningless. He did not necessarily believe that the final result was the most important aspect of an action, but that how the person felt while carrying out the action was the time at which value was set to the result.

In Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, Kant also posited the “counter-utilitarian idea that there is a difference between preferences and values and that considerations of individual rights temper calculations of aggregate utility”, a concept that is an axiom in economics:

Everything has either a price or a dignity. Whatever has a price can be replaced by something else as its equivalent; on the other hand, whatever is above all price, and therefore admits of no equivalent, has a dignity. But that which constitutes the condition under which alone something can be an end in itself does not have mere relative worth, i.e., price, but an intrinsic worth, i.e., a dignity.

A phrase quoted by Kant, which is used to summarize the counter-utilitarian nature of his moral philosophy, is Fiat justitia, pereat mundus, (”Let justice be done, though the world perish”), which he translates loosely as “Let justice reign even if all the rascals in the world should perish from it”. This appears in his 1795 Perpetual Peace (Zum ewigen Frieden. Ein philosophischer Entwurf.),

The first formulation

The first formulation (Formula of Universal Law) of the moral imperative “requires that the maxims be chosen as though they should hold as universal laws of nature”. This formulation in principle has as its supreme law the creed “Always act according to that maxim whose universality as a law you can at the same time will” and is the “only condition under which a will can never come into conflict with itself “

One interpretation of the first formulation is called the “universalisability test”. An agent’s maxim, according to Kant, is his “subjective principle of human actions”: that is, what the agent believes is his reason to act. The universalisability test has five steps:

1. Find the agent’s maxim (i.e., an action paired with its motivation). Take for example the declaration “I will lie for personal benefit.” Lying is the action; the motivation is to fulfill some sort of desire. Paired together, they form the maxim.
2. Imagine a possible world in which everyone in a similar position to the real-world agent followed that maxim.
3. Decide whether any contradictions or irrationalities arise in the possible world as a result of following the maxim.
4. If a contradiction or irrationality arises, acting on that maxim is not allowed in the real world.
5. If there is no contradiction, then acting on that maxim is permissible, and in some instances required.

(For a modern parallel, see John Rawls’ hypothetical situation, the original position.)

The second formulation

The second formulation (or Formula of the End in Itself) holds that “the rational being, as by its nature an end and thus as an end in itself, must serve in every maxim as the condition restricting all merely relative and arbitrary ends.” The principle dictates that you “[a]ct with reference to every rational being (whether yourself or another) so that it is an end in itself in your maxim”, meaning that the rational being is “the basis of all maxims of action” and “must be treated never as a mere means but as the supreme limiting condition in the use of all means, i.e., as an end at the same time.”

The third formulation

The third formulation (Formula of Autonomy) is a synthesis of the first two and is the basis for the “complete determination of all maxims”. It says “that all maxims which stem from autonomous legislation ought to harmonize with a possible realm of ends as with a realm of nature.” In principle, “So act as if your maxims should serve at the same time as the universal law (of all rational beings)”, meaning that we should so act that we may think of ourselves as “a member in the universal realm of ends”, legislating universal laws through our maxims (Code of Conduct), in a “possible realm of ends.” (See also Kingdom of Ends)

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).

Along with this idea over reason and God, Kant places thought over religion and nature, i.e. the idea of religion being natural or naturalistic. Kant saw reason as natural, and as some part of Christianity is based on reason and morality, as Kant points out this is major in the scriptures, it is inevitable that Christianity is ‘natural’. However, it is not ‘naturalistic’ in the sense that the religion does include supernatural or transcendent belief. Aside from this, a key point is that Kant saw that the Bible should be seen as a source of natural morality no matter whether there is/was any truth behind the supernatural factor. Meaning that it is not necessary to know whether the supernatural part of Christianity has any truth to abide by and use the core Christian moral code.

Kant articulates in Book Four some of his strongest criticisms of the organization and practices of Christianity that encourage what he sees as a religion of counterfeit service to God. Among the major targets of his criticism are external ritual, superstition and a hierarchical church order. He sees all of these as efforts to make oneself pleasing to God in ways other than conscientious adherence to the principle of moral rightness in the choice of one’s actions. The severity of Kant’s criticisms on these matters, along with his rejection of the possibility of theoretical proofs for the existence of God and his philosophical re-interpretation of some basic Christian doctrines, have provided the basis for interpretations that see Kant as thoroughly hostile to religion in general and Christianity in particular (e.g., Walsh 1967).

Idea of freedom

In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant distinguishes between the transcendental idea of freedom, which as a psychological concept is “mainly empirical” and refers to “the question whether we must admit a power of spontaneously beginning a series of successive things or states” as a real ground of necessity in regard to causality, and the practical concept of freedom as the independence of our will from the “coercion” or “necessitation through sensuous impulses.” Kant finds it a source of difficulty that the practical concept of freedom is founded on the transcendental idea of freedom, but for the sake of practical interests uses the practical meaning, taking “no account of… its transcendental meaning”, which he feels was properly “disposed of” in the Third Antinomy, and as an element in the question of the freedom of the will is for philosophy “a real stumbling-block” that has “embarrassed speculative reason”.

Kant calls practical “everything that is possible through freedom”, and the pure practical laws that are never given through sensuous conditions but are held analogously with the universal law of causality are moral laws. Reason can give us only the “pragmatic laws of free action through the senses”, but pure practical laws given by reason a priori dictate “what ought to be done”.

Philosophy: Theory of perception (Immanuel Kant)

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Philosophy: Theory of perception (Immanuel Kant)
Main article: The Critique of Pure Reason

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Kant defines his theory of perception in his influential 1781 work The Critique of Pure Reason, which has often been cited as the most significant volume of metaphysics and epistemology in modern philosophy. Kant maintains that our understanding of the external world had its foundations not merely in experience, but in both experience and a priori concepts, thus offering a non-empiricist critique of rationalist philosophy, which is what he and others referred to as his “Copernican revolution.”[25]

Before discussing his theory, it is necessary to explain Kant’s distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions.

  1. Analytic proposition: a proposition whose predicate concept is contained in its subject concept; e.g., “All bachelors are unmarried,” or, “All bodies take up space.”

  2. Synthetic proposition: a proposition whose predicate concept is not contained in its subject concept ; e.g., “All bachelors are happy,” or, “All bodies have weight.”

Analytic propositions are true by nature of the meaning of the words involved in the sentence—we require no further knowledge than a grasp of the language to understand this proposition. On the other hand, synthetic statements are those that tell us something about the world. The truth or falsehood of synthetic statements derives from something outside of their linguistic content. In this instance, weight is not a necessary predicate of the body; until we are told the heaviness of the body we do not know that it has weight. In this case, experience of the body is required before its heaviness becomes clear. Before Kant’s first Critique, empiricists (cf. Hume) and rationalists (cf. Leibniz) assumed that all synthetic statements required experience in order to be known.
For more details on this topic, see Analytic-synthetic distinction.

Kant, however, contests this: he claims that elementary mathematics, like arithmetic, is synthetic a priori, in that its statements provide new knowledge, but knowledge that is not derived from experience. This becomes part of his over-all argument for transcendental idealism. That is, he argues that the possibility of experience depends on certain necessary conditions—which he calls a priori forms—and that these conditions structure and hold true of the world of experience. In so doing, his main claims in the “Transcendental Aesthetic” are that mathematic judgments are synthetic a priori and in addition, that Space and Time are not derived from experience but rather are its preconditions.
For more details on this topic, see A priori and a posteriori (philosophy).

Once we have grasped the concepts of addition, subtraction or the functions of basic arithmetic, we do not need any empirical experience to know that 100 + 100 = 200, and in this way it would appear that arithmetic is in fact analytic. However, that it is analytic can be disproved thus: if the numbers five and seven in the calculation 5 + 7 = 12 are examined, there is nothing to be found in them by which the number 12 can be inferred. Such it is that “5 + 7″ and “the cube root of 1,728″ or “12″ are not analytic because their reference is the same but their sense is not—that the mathematic judgment “5 + 7 = 12″ tells us something new about the world. It is self-evident, and undeniably a priori, but at the same time it is synthetic. And so Kant proves a proposition can be synthetic and known a priori.
For more details on this topic, see Sense and Reference.

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Kant asserts that experience is based both upon the perception of external objects and a priori knowledge. The external world, he writes, provides those things which we sense. It is our mind, though, that processes this information about the world and gives it order, allowing us to comprehend it. Our mind supplies the conditions of space and time to experienced objects. According to the “transcendental unity of apperception”, the concepts of the mind (Understanding) and the perceptions or intuitions that garner information from phenomena (Sensibility) are synthesized by comprehension. Without the concepts, intuitions are nondescript; without the intuitions, concepts are meaningless—thus the famous quotation, “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.”

Philosophy: Introduction (Immanuel Kant)

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Philosophy: Introduction (Immanuel Kant)

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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. He explained:

“ All the preparations of reason, therefore, in what may be called pure philosophy, are in reality directed to those three problems only [God, the soul, and freedom]. However, these three elements in themselves still hold independent, proportional, objective weight individually. Moreover, in a collective relational context; namely, to know what ought to be done: if the will is free, if there is a God, and if there is a future world. As this concerns our actions with reference to the highest aims of life, we see that the ultimate intention of nature in her wise provision was really, in the constitution of our reason, directed to moral interests only. ”

The sense of an enlightened approach and the critical method required that “If one cannot prove that a thing is, he may try to prove that it is not. And if he succeeds in doing neither (as often occurs), he may still ask whether it is in his interest to accept one or the other of the alternatives hypothetically, from the theoretical or the practical point of view. Hence the question no longer is as to whether perpetual peace is a real thing or not a real thing, or as to whether we may not be deceiving ourselves when we adopt the former alternative, but we must act on the supposition of its being real.” The presupposition of God, soul, and freedom was then a practical concern, for “Morality, by itself, constitutes a system, but happiness does not, unless it is distributed in exact proportion to morality. This, however, is possible in an intelligible world only under a wise author and ruler. Reason compels us to admit such a ruler, together with life in such a world, which we must consider as future life, or else all moral laws are to be considered as idle dreams… .”

The two interconnected foundations of what Kant called his “critical philosophy” that created the “Copernican revolution” that he claimed to have wrought in philosophy were his epistemology of Transcendental Idealism and his moral philosophy of the autonomy of practical reason. These teachings placed the active, rational human subject at the center of the cognitive and moral worlds. With regard to knowledge, Kant argued that the rational order of the world as known by science could never be accounted for merely by the fortuitous accumulation of sense perceptions. It was instead the product of the rule-based activity of “synthesis.” This activity consisted of conceptual unification and integration carried out by the mind through concepts or the “categories of the understanding” operating on the perceptual manifold within space and time, which are not concepts, but are forms of sensibility that are a priori necessary conditions for any possible experience. Thus the objective order of nature and the causal necessity that operates within it are dependent upon the mind. There is wide disagreement among Kant scholars on the correct interpretation of this train of thought. The ‘two-world’ interpretation regards Kant’s position as a statement of epistemological limitation, that we are never able to transcend the bounds of our own mind, meaning that we cannot access the “thing-in-itself”. Kant, however, also speaks of the thing in itself or transcendental object as a product of the (human) understanding as it attempts to conceive of objects in abstraction from the conditions of sensibility. Following this line of thought, some interpreters have argued that the thing in itself does not represent a separate ontological domain but simply a way of considering objects by means of the understanding alone – this is known as the two-aspect view. With regard to morality, Kant argued that the source of the good lies not in anything outside the human subject, either in nature or given by God, but rather is only the good will itself. A good will is one that acts from duty in accordance with the universal moral law that the autonomous human being freely gives itself. This law obliges one to treat humanity – understood as rational agency, and represented through oneself as well as others – as an end in itself rather than (merely) as means to other ends the individual might hold.

These ideas have largely framed or influenced all subsequent philosophical discussion and analysis. The specifics of Kant’s account generated immediate and lasting controversy. Nevertheless, his theses – that the mind itself necessarily makes a constitutive contribution to its knowledge, that this contribution is transcendental rather than psychological, that philosophy involves self-critical activity, that morality is rooted in human freedom, and that to act autonomously is to act according to rational moral principles – have all had a lasting effect on subsequent philosophy.

Immanuel Kant: Biography

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Immanuel Kant: Biography

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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 raised 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.

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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.

According to Lord Kelvin

Kant pointed out in the middle of last century, what had not previously been discovered by mathematicians or physical astronomers, that the frictional resistance against tidal currents on the earth’s surface must cause a diminution of the earth’s rotational speed. This immense discovery in Natural Philosophy seems to have attracted little attention,–indeed to have passed quite unnoticed, –among mathematicians, and astronomers, and naturalists, until about 1840, when the doctrine of energy began to be taken to heart. —Lord Kelvin, physicist, 1897

He became a university lecturer in 1755. The subject on which he lectured was “Metaphysics”; the course textbook was written by A.G. Baumgarten.

According to Thomas Huxley

“The sort of geological speculation to which I am now referring (geological aetiology, in short) was created as a science by that famous philosopher, Immanuel Kant, when, in 1775 [1755], he wrote his General Natural History and Theory of the Celestial Bodies; or, an Attempt to Account for the Constitutional and Mechanical Origin of the Universe, upon Newtonian Principles.” — —Thomas H. Huxley, 1869

In the General History of Nature and Theory of the Heavens (Allgemeine Naturgeschichte und Theorie des Himmels) (1755), Kant laid out the Nebular hypothesis, in which he deduced that the Solar System formed from a large cloud of gas, a nebula. He thus attempted to explain the order of the solar system, seen previously by Newton as being imposed from the beginning by God. Kant also correctly deduced that the Milky Way was a large disk of stars, which he theorized also formed from a (much larger) spinning cloud of gas. He further suggested the possibility that other nebulae might also be similarly large and distant disks of stars. These postulations opened new horizons for astronomy: for the first time extending astronomy beyond the solar system to galactic and extragalactic realms.

kant

From this point on, Kant turned increasingly to philosophical issues, although he continued to write on the sciences throughout his life. In the early 1760s, Kant produced a series of important works in philosophy. The False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures, a work in logic, was published in 1762. Two more works appeared the following year: Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Magnitudes into Philosophy and The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God. In 1764, Kant wrote Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime and then was second to Moses Mendelssohn in a Berlin Academy prize competition with his Inquiry Concerning the Distinctness of the Principles of Natural Theology and Morality (often referred to as “the Prize Essay”). In 1770, at the age of 45, Kant was finally appointed Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Königsberg. Kant wrote his Inaugural Dissertation in defence of this appointment. This work saw the emergence of several central themes of his mature work, including the distinction between the faculties of intellectual thought and sensible receptivity. Not to observe this distinction would mean to commit the error of subreption, and, as he says in the last chapter of the dissertation, only in avoidance of this error will metaphysics flourish.

The issue that vexed Kant was central to what twentieth century scholars termed “the philosophy of mind.” The flowering of the natural sciences had led to an understanding of how data reaches the brain. Sunlight may fall upon a distant object, whereupon light is reflected from various parts of the object in a way that maps the surface features (color, texture, etc.) of the object. The light reaches the eye of a human observer, passes through the cornea, is focused by the lens upon the retina where it forms an image similar to that formed by light passing through a pinhole into a camera obscura. The retinal cells next send impulses through the optic nerve and thereafter they form a mapping in the brain of the visual features of the distant object. The interior mapping is not the exterior thing being mapped, and our belief that there is a meaningful relationship between the exterior object and the mapping in the brain depends on a chain of reasoning that is not fully grounded. But the uncertainty aroused by these considerations, the uncertainties raised by optical illusions, misperceptions, delusions, etc., are not the end of the problems.

Plaque on a wall in Kaliningrad, in German and Russian, with the words taken from the conclusion of Kant's Critique of Practical Reason: Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. (The wall is next to where the southwest part of Königsberg Castle used to be.)

Plaque on a wall in Kaliningrad, in German and Russian, with the words taken from the conclusion of Kant's Critique of Practical Reason: Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. (The wall is next to where the southwest part of Königsberg Castle used to be.)

Kant saw the mind could not function as an empty container that simply receives data from the outside. Something had to be giving order to the incoming data. Images of external objects have to be kept in the same sequence in which they were received. This ordering occurs through the mind’s intuition of time. The same considerations apply to the mind’s function of constituting space for ordering mappings of visual and tactile signals arriving via the already described chains of physical causation.

The silent decade

At the age of 46, Kant was an established scholar and an increasingly influential philosopher. Much was expected of him. In response to a letter from his student, Markus Herz, Kant came to recognize that in the Inaugural Dissertation, he had failed to account for the relation and connection between our sensible and intellectual faculties, i.e., he needed to explain both how humans acquire data and how they process data—related but very different processes. He also credited David Hume with awakening him from “dogmatic slumber” (circa 1770). Kant did not publish any work in philosophy for the next eleven years.

Immanuel Kant

Kant spent his silent decade working on a solution to the problem mentioned above. Although fond of company and conversation with others, Kant isolated himself. He resisted friends’ attempts to bring him out of his isolation. In 1778, in response to one of these offers by a former pupil, Kant wrote “Any change makes me apprehensive, even if it offers the greatest promise of improving my condition, and I am persuaded by this natural instinct of mine that I must take heed if I wish that the threads which the Fates spin so thin and weak in my case to be spun to any length. My great thanks, to my well-wishers and friends, who think so kindly of me as to undertake my welfare, but at the same time a most humble request to protect me in my current condition from any disturbance.”

When Kant emerged from his silence in 1781, the result was the Critique of Pure Reason. Although now uniformly recognized as one of the greatest works in the history of philosophy, this Critique was largely ignored upon its initial publication. The book was long, over 800 pages in the original German edition, and written in what some considered a convoluted style. It received few reviews, and these granted no significance to the work. Its density made it, as Johann Gottfried Herder put it in a letter to Johann Georg Hamann, a “tough nut to crack,” obscured by “…all this heavy gossamer.” Its reception stood in stark contrast to the praise Kant had received for earlier works such as his “Prize Essay” and other shorter works that precede the first Critique. These well-received and readable tracts include one on the earthquake in Lisbon which was so popular that it was sold by the page. Prior to the change in course documented in the first Critique, his books sold well, and by the time he published Observations On the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime in 1764 he had become a popular author of some note. Kant was disappointed with the first Critique’s reception. Recognizing the need to clarify the original treatise, Kant wrote the Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics in 1783 as a summary of its main views. He also encouraged his friend, Johann Schultz, to publish a brief commentary on the Critique of Pure Reason.

Kant’s reputation gradually rose through the 1780s, sparked by a series of important works: the 1784 essay, “Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?”; 1785s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (his first work on moral philosophy); and, from 1786, Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. But Kant’s fame ultimately arrived from an unexpected source. In 1786, Karl Reinhold began to publish a series of public letters on the Kantian philosophy. In these letters, Reinhold framed Kant’s philosophy as a response to the central intellectual controversy of the era: the Pantheism Dispute. Friedrich Jacobi had accused the recently deceased G. E. Lessing (a distinguished dramatist and philosophical essayist) of Spinozism. Such a charge, tantamount to atheism, was vigorously denied by Lessing’s friend Moses Mendelssohn, and a bitter public dispute arose among partisans. The controversy gradually escalated into a general debate over the values of the Enlightenment and the value of reason itself. Reinhold maintained in his letters that Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason could settle this dispute by defending the authority and bounds of reason. Reinhold’s letters were widely read and made Kant the most famous philosopher of his era.

Early work

A variety of popular beliefs have arisen concerning Kant’s life. It is often held, for instance, 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.

Many 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.

Immanuel Kant's tomb today

Immanuel Kant's tomb today

Later work

Kant published a second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft) in 1787, heavily revising the first parts of the book. Most of his subsequent work focused on other areas of philosophy. He continued to develop his moral philosophy, notably in 1788’s Critique of Practical Reason (known as the second Critique) and 1797’s Metaphysics of Morals. The 1790 Critique of Judgment (the third Critique) applied the Kantian system to aesthetics and teleology. He also wrote a number of semi-popular essays on history, religion, politics and other topics. These works were well received by Kant’s contemporaries and confirmed his preeminent status in eighteenth century philosophy. There were several journals devoted solely to defending and criticizing the Kantian philosophy. But despite his success, philosophical trends were moving in another direction. Many of Kant’s most important disciples (including Reinhold, Beck and Fichte) transformed the Kantian position into increasingly radical forms of idealism. The progressive stages of revision of Kant’s teachings marked the emergence of German Idealism. Kant opposed these developments and publicly denounced Fichte in an open letter in 1799. It was one of his final acts expounding a stance on philosophical questions. In 1800, a student of Kant, named Gottlob Benjamin Jäsche, published a manual of logic for teachers called Logik, which he had prepared at the request of Kant. Jäsche prepared the Logik using a copy of a text book in logic by Georg Freidrich Meier entitled Auszug aus der Vernunftlehre, in which Kant had written copious notes and annotations. The Logik has been considered to be of fundamental importance to Kant’s philosophy, and the understanding of it. For, the great nineteenth century logician Charles Sanders Peirce remarked, in an incomplete review of Thomas Kingsmill Abbott’s English translation of the introduction to the Logik, that “Kant’s whole philosophy turns upon his logic.” Also, Robert Schirokauer Hartman and Wolfgang Schwarz, wrote in the translators’ introduction to their English translation of the Logik, “Its importance lies not only in its significance for the Critique of Pure Reason, the second part of which is a restatement of fundamental tenets of the Logic, but in its position within the whole of Kant’s work.” Kant’s health, long poor, took a turn for the worse and he died at Königsberg on 12 February 1804 uttering “Genug” [enough] before expiring. His unfinished final work, the fragmentary Opus Postumum, was (as its title suggests) published posthumously.

Kant never concluded that one could form a coherent account of the universe and of human experience without grounding such an account in the “thing in itself.” Many of those who followed him argued that since the “thing in itself” was unknowable its existence could not simply be assumed. Rather than arbitrarily switching to an account that was ungrounded in anything supposed to be the “real,” as did the German Idealists, another group arose to ask how our (generally reliable) accounts of a coherent and rule-abiding universe were actually grounded. This new kind of philosophy became known as Phenomenology, and its preeminent spokesman was Edmund Husserl.

Immanuel Kant: Introduction

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Immanuel Kant: Introduction

Immanuel Kant: Introduction

Immanuel Kant (German pronunciation: (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.

Immanuel Kant Signature

Immanuel Kant Signature

Kant created a new widespread perspective in philosophy which has continued to influence philosophy 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.