Immanuel Kant


Immanuel Kant Essay, Research Paper

Immanuel Kant was born on April 22, 1724 in Konigsburg, East Prussia. At age 8, he entered the Collegium Fridiricianum, a pietistic Latin school, where he remained for 8 1/2 years and studied the classics. he then entered the University of Konigsburg in 1740 to study philosophy, mathematics, and physics. In 1756, he received a degree and was made a lecturer, and in 1770 he became a professor. The death of his father halted his university career so he became a private tutor. In 1755, he returned to Konigsburg where he spent the remainder of his life.

Kant was a very habitual man. He never left his native province in his entire life, he took daily walks whereas people could set their watches on, he loved company and was a very amusing and interesting person, while he never married. Kant lived a very routine and uneventful life. He later resumed his studies, received his doctorate, and taught for the next 15 years.

Kant was an amazing orator and was internationally famous for his lectures. He was appointed to a regular chair of philosophy at the University at the age of 46 in 1770. He was made the professor of logics and metaphysics. He was the first great philosopher to be a professional academic. He came into conflict with Prussia’s government due to his unorthodox religious teachings. In 1792, the king of Prussia, Frederick William II, forbade Kant to teach or write on religious teachings. He obeyed the king’s order until William II died. In 1798, the year following his retirement fromt the University, Kant published a summary of his religious views. He died on February 12, 1804.

During his lifetime, Kant produced many writings. Scholars usually divide his literary career into two periods: the Pre-critical period and the Critical period. During the Pre-critical period, 1747 to 1781, he wrote many non-fictional works and criticisms. Some of them were “Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces”, “On Fire”, “A New Explanation of the First Principles of Metaphysical Knowledge”, and “On the Forms and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World”. From 1770 to 1780, he mainly worked on preparing “The Critique of Pure Reason”.

The Critical period lasted from 1781 to 1794. During this period, he wrote “The Critique of Pure Reason” in 1781, and “Foundation for hte metaphysics of Ethics” in 1785. Following the critical works, Kant published “Critique of Practical Reason”, “Critique of Judgment”, and “Religion within the Limits of Mere Reason”.

Three main discussions of Kant are Duty, the Formula of the End, and the Kingdom of Ethics. Kant feels that we act morally when we do our duty, however it is important to distinguish between acting according to duty and acting from duty. Acting according to duty is when the duty has been imposed by someone else. This is an example of heteronymous will. An example of this is Adolf Eichmann, a German nazi general of WWII, who formulated the ‘final solution’. He said that according to Kant, he acted morally, since he was following orders, as it was his duty to do so. This is wrong because Kant says that we are only acting morally if we act from duty, as dictated by our innate reason. This is an example of autonomous will.

Along with duty is the difference between the Categorical Imperative and the Hypothetical Imperative. An example of this is two grocers in a town are John and Joe. John wants to keep his trade, so he insists on selling the best goods, giving the best service, being friendly and polite, and offering value for money. Joe does the same, not to keep his trade, but because it is what he should do. According to Kant, even though the actions are the same, John is acting immorally, according to the Hypothetical Imperative, while Joe is acting morally, according to the Categorical Imperative. For Kant, the act is not important. As long as you are acting from duty and the motive is right, the act must be right. However, the Principles of Universalisability puts a twist on this. It states that if an action is applied to everyone, and everybody did what you were about to do, it became immoral or hypocritical, then your act would be immoral.

The Formula of the End deals with ends and means. Kant states that you must not treat people as means to your own end, but as ends in themselves. It would be similar to Christianity’s ‘Golden Rule’ except for the Universalisability Principle. The example of this is suicide. The ‘Golden Rule’ does not apply in this case, because when a person commits suicide, he does not treat others in ways he would want to be treated. He does not treat them at all, because he only treats himself.

The Kingdom of Ethics states that human beings, because they are rational (use reason) possess inherent value. This menas that they are ends in themselves. Their value is intrinsic, not instrumental. Kant feels that no rule of conduct which applies to all human beings can sanction actions favoring one person over another or agree to conduct where one person treats another as a means to an end. To do so is to demean oneself and the entire human race. Kant’s ethics are founded in and based on respect for persons. In following a certain course of moral action, regardless of inclination, a person is enacting a Kingdom of Ethics, the third aspect of the Categorical Imperative.

Along with ethics is the idea of good will. Kant believes that it is wrong to intentionally break a promise that you have made with a person. He feels that good will is a pure duty outlook that disregards consequences entirely. He says that a good will is a wanting, which is informed by reason. It is a wanting which stems, not from inclination, but from duty.

Reason is not able to guide the will safely regarding its objects. Instincts get you closer to what you want to accomplish. Kant agrees with David Hume in believing passion brings man morality. He feels that reason is only the comoparing of ideas, and that reason will influence us away from our influences. The cultivation of reason is required for the purpose, and the purpose leads to happiness, therefore reason is compatible with happiness. Reason will bring the highest good that transcends all beauty, transcending even happiness.

Kant believed that reason connected us directly to things-in-themselves. His system was not a Cartesian theory of hidden, transcendent objects, but a version of empirical realism, that we are directly acquainted with real objects. He feels that we possess two sources of input that can serve as such datum. These are physical sensation and the sense of moral duty. Physical sensation starts an application of reason to experience, creating the perception of phenomenal objects. The supreme rational example of this is science. The sense of moral duty begins an application of reason that produces ethics and religion. The supreme rational example of this is the “Postulates of Practical Reason” the “Ideas” of God, freedom, and immorality, which to Kant, are required as conditions of the Moral Law.

The differences between reality as seen in science, and reality as seen in morality and religion show that there are points to existence that are not revelaed by either one alone. The two aspects are unequal. Magnitude and religion have a much more limited rational content, returning to many of the same questions over and over again. These include the ultimate questions about the meaning of life and existence, as well as the questions on how to live.

Kant was led to characterize his system as transcendental idealism, so that we have a questioned representation of things, since our moral datum does not lead to direct knowledge of things that we are able to conceive, like God. This is because we do not have the real intuition that we have of physical objects. The reality shown by morality is a matter of faith for Kant. This is an inference from the Moral Law. This way, “transcendental idealism” is different form “subjective idealism” and “objective idealism”, since they both show certainties about the ultimate nature of things, while Kant does not. The nature of things that we cannot know about concretely is revealed in science. This way, Kant’s transcendental idealism is equal to empirical realism.

Kant’s theory of empirical realism stresses that henomena are undoubtedly mental contents. He feels that it is natural and easy to infer from this a “transcendental realism” where “real” objects, which are not mental objects, are things we do not experience.

Metaphysics is what he means by “trasncendental idealism.” Using strict definitions, however, it means something else. Transcendental idealism means epistemically, or pertaining to the knowledge or the conditions for acquiring it. Concluding that “transcendental” means in the sense pertaining to knowledge, “independent of experience.” In opposition idealism refers to dependent on subjective existence then “transcendental” idealism would be based on the knowledge of objects that are dependent on subjective existence, rather than free of my experience. This seems to be a huge contradiction.

Kant combines two entirely different theories in this book. The first theory is the the fundamental activity of the mind, “synthesis”, is an activity of thought that applies certain concepts to previouly given perception from experience. This explains the division between the “Transcendental Aesthetic” about the conditions of perception and the “Transcendental Logic” about the conditions of thought. “What is given to us is appearance. When combined with consciousness, it is called perception.” It is the structure of consciousness that turns appearances into objects and perception. Without it, they would be nothing. Therefore, he made synthesis a function of imagination rather than thought. This was sort of a bridge between thought and perception.

A priori judgments are made outside of experience. “The sky is blue” is an a posteriori judgment (made on the basis of sensory experience). “I exist” is an a priori truth, which remains unchanged even if all of our senses are deceived.

Analytic statements are true based only on the meanings of words. The only thing needed to determine truth is a dictionary. Synthetic statements cannot be judged like analytic statements. “My dog has black spots” is a synthetic statement. The truth cannot be determined since my dog is not known. The truth is not dependant on word meanings, but on if it corresponds with the world.

Causality is applied to perception, and concepts which are applicable to perception, Kant calls Categories. There are a total of twelve Categories. Synthetic a priori judgments consist in applying the Categories to sensory infomation in space and time, or the “perceptual manifold.” Application of the Categories allows people to realize physical objects as capable ofo casual relations and interactions with other objects. Categories cannot be applied to knowledge or tings that exist apart from space and time like things-in-themselves.

Kant derives the Ideas fromt he possible forms of logical inference. When we assume that this potentially infinite series is given in its whole, an Idea is formed. Kant recognized three Ideas. The first is of the absolute unity of the thinking subject. The second is of the absolute unity of the order of the conditions of appearance. The third is of the absolute unity of the conditions of thought in general.

The first Idea provides a subject matter of speculative psychology. THe second is one of speculative cosmology, while the third is one of speculative theology. These are all metaphysical knowledge of matters of fact from synthetic a priori principles. Kant’s Ideas are really all about metaphysical paradoxes (Antimony of space and time) in its entirety, an unconditioned whole. Kant believes that all these matters are open to clarification and development. He also believes that the mind produces the world it knows. He believes that there are three “Ideas” of reason: God, freedom, and immorality.

To understand “The Critique”, Kant’s logical system must be understood. He divides all judgments into analytic or synthethic judgments and a priori or a posteriori judgments. Judgments about empirical matters are synthetic, which can be denied without any contradiction. A priori judgments are free from experience. All analytic judgments are a priori. Therefore judgments are split up into three classes: analytic a priori, synthetic a posteriori, and synthetic a priori. One of his points made in “The Critique” is to show how synthetic a priori judgments occur in pure mathetmatics and natural science.

Kant distinguished between perceiving and thinking, which are from two distinct faculties of the mind, sense and understanding. There are three types of concepts. A posteriori concepts are taken from sense perception and are applicable to it, while Ideas are free of all sense perception.

“The Critique of Pure Reason”, published in 1781, is a synthesis of rationalism and empiricism. Both of these in themselves, he beleived, gave a one-sided view of knowledge.

Many philosophers were influenced by prior philosophers. Berkeley was, for Kant, the characteristic “idealist” and an empiricist. Descartes, on the other hand, was a “realist” believing that objects exist separately from us. He also thought that we could only know their essences through “clear and distinct” innate ideas. This made him a “transcendental” realist. Kant’s thoughts were mainly influenced by the rationalism of Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, Christian Wolff, and the empiricism of David Hume.

Since Kant’s thought is truly the basis of modern philosopy, it is still the main point of departure for the 21st century.

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