Immanuel Kant

Kant

Modern philosophy

Kant was an 18th century German philosopher (1724-1804). A thinker of the German Enlightenment (the Aufklärung), he is known primarily for his work The Critique of Pure Reason, but also for his thoughts on morality, aesthetics, and politics. The fourth of eleven children, he was born and died in Könisberg, never leaving his native region. He lived by an immutable timetable. A teacher at the University of Königsberg, he was one of the first philosophers to hold a university chair.


Kant's works summarised on this site

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Critique of Pure Reason

The first part of the Kantian critical project, this work shows why metaphysics cannot constitute true knowledge



coming soon

Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim

Does history have a meaning? Or do events unfold randomly? Kant shows that there is an overarching design of Nature that men follow blindly.


Anecdotes

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The reception of Kant in France Kant

How did a thought as complex as Kant's manage to cross borders? From Königsberg, his birthplace, to Paris, it's a long way...

Bibliography

Here are the essential books if you wish to gain a better understanding of this author's thought:

Guyer, Paul (2014). Kant. Routledge.
Caygill, Howard (1995). A Kant Dictionary. Blackwell Publishing.
Watkins, Erik (2009). Kant's Critique of Pure Reason: Background Source Materials. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
di Giovanni, George (2005). Freedom and Religion in Kant and His Immediate Successors. Cambridge University Press.
Wood, Allen (1999). Kant's Ethical Thought. Cambridge University Press.

Recommended videos

Conferences, symposia, radio broadcasts... here are 10 videos that will help you better understand Kant's thought.

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Biography: life of Kant

Youth

Kant was born in 1724 in Königsberg, Germany, into a modest background. He was the fourth child in a large family, with ten brothers and sisters. His father, a saddler, worked with leather.

He studied at the Collegium Fridericianum, then entered the University of Königsberg at the age of sixteen. He wanted to study theology, but also took courses in mathematics and philosophy, which introduced him to the thought of Leibniz.

He discovered the thought of Newton, and became interested in physics and astronomy.

At the age of twenty-six, he had to interrupt his studies, following the death of his father, to earn a living. As a tutor, he gave lessons to wealthy families. This phase of his life lasted nine years, and he wrote his first Dissertation: Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces.

His thinking was then turned towards the natural sciences and mathematics. From this period dates, for example, a Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens, or a reflection on earthquakes.

The teacher: the pre-critical period

In 1755, he became a teacher at the University of Königsberg; he was not paid by the state, but by his pupils. He was therefore a private tutor teaching in a public structure (a Privatdozent).

This is because he did not win a public competition, but was appointed following the publication of his second dissertation A new exposition of the first principles of metaphysical knowledge.



statue of Kant in Königsberg
The statue of Kant in Königsberg

Kant is the first historical example of a great philosopher providing university teaching. He taught a variety of subjects, from moral philosophy to mathematics, from the art of fireworks to the science of fortifications.


He lives by an immutable timetable, set like a metronome: he starts work at 5am, eats dinner at 12.45pm, and on his daily walk, he always takes the same route, reaching this or that street at the same time every day, so that some of the city's inhabitants set their watches at the sight of him. Finally, he goes to bed at ten o'clock every night.

He never left his native region, but in his own way he was open to the world, as he followed political news every day, particularly the unrest linked to the French Revolution, and entertained many friends for dinner, as well as strangers.


Only twice did he alter his daily routine, once to procure a copy of Rousseau's Social Contract, and again when he received news of the early successes of the French Revolution.

It was in 1762 that he first heard of Rousseau's works. Having read Emile, or On Education and Julie or the New Heloise, he was immediately seduced by his thought, and the bust of the French philosopher was the only ornament on his desk until the end.

His thinking then took an important turn: he moved away from physical questions to focus instead on moral philosophy. While he was strongly influenced by Rousseau, he was also influenced by Hume.


In 1764 he refused a professorship in poetic art.

In 1766, he obtained an additional post, that of sub-librarian at the Court library, a job he would hold for six years.

In 1770, he was made a full professor following the publication of his third Dissertation: Of the Sensible and Intelligible Form and Principles of the World.


He then began writing the Critique of Pure Reason, his most famous work.

The philosopher: the critical period

Eleven years later, in 1781, the Critique was published.

This masterpiece, which revolutionised the theory of knowledge and put an end to the supremacy of metaphysics, initially met with little interest. This led Kant to rework it and propose a second version in 1787.

From this point onwards, his thought took a third and final, fundamental turn: this was the critical period.


Professionally, he was appointed a member of the Royal Academy of Science and Letters in Berlin. He also became rector of the University of Königsberg.

Philosophically, he was already immersed in a new project: writing the Critique of Practical Reason, then the Critique of the Power of Judgment.

These two works appeared respectively in 1788, then in 1790. They would have a profound influence on moral philosophy and aesthetics.


This was a very prolific period, as he also wrote other major works such as Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795), or the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (in 1797).

He reduced his teaching, due to censorship by the Prussian government, and then ended it for good, for health reasons.


Kant, small and puny, was obsessed with his health. He went so far as to invent a fastening system for his silk stockings, so that they would not impede the circulation of blood in his legs.

He cherished the idea of living as long as possible. He kept a register of people he knew who died before him. He believed that his well-regulated lifestyle was the secret of his longevity; and in fact, it was rare in his day to live to be eighty, as he did.

From the point of view of health, diet was also important; for all that Kant was a gourmet, loved to feast, and did not follow any particular diet (apart from the fact that he refused to drink beer). He even considered writing a Critique of the Culinary Arts for a while, before abandoning the project.


He died in 1804 in Königsberg and was buried in the city's cathedral. His last words were Es ist gut ("It is well so").

Main works

Dissertation on the Form and Principles of the Sensible and the Intelligible World
Critique of Pure Reason
Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
Critique of Practical Reason
Critique of the Power of Judgment
Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason