Immanuel Kant

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Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a German philosopher. Kant was among the last of the major Enlightenment thinkers, and was one of the most influential intellectuals in world history. His ideas are still studied in depth.

Born in Konigsberg, the starting point for Kant's life work in philosophy was the works of David Hume who awakened Kant from his "dogmatic slumber" and led him to make his "Copernican revolution in philosophy"[1]

Pure reason

In his A Critique of Pure Reason Kant examined pure reason as a basis of knowledge. The problem Hume had left Kant was a sharp divide between the a priori (things that can be known without experience) and the a posteori (things that could only be known with experience) together with a devastating critique of induction. Hume insisted that a priori knowledge was entirely analytic (did not speak of the world) and that the sense data of our experience could never support a proposition that went beyond that experience. Such a position leads to a radical and absolute skepticism about even the possibility of knowledge. "A Critique of Pure Reason" seeks to counteract that skepticism by establishing the existence of synthetic a priori truths, truths that speak of the world but that are known logically prior to looking at the world. To establish those truths Kant looked at the way reason picture the world. No reasoning being can have an experience other than one that involves time and space. In common language in order to see something it has to be somewhere (i.e. in space) and it has to be there at sometime (i.e. in time). Time and space are necessary conditions of all experience and, thus, we can know of their existence logically prior to any particular experience.

Having established time and space as necessary preconditions of experience Kant proceeded to question how reason must operate on the experiences presented to it. In this part of the work Kant establishes several "categories" through which reason operates, categories that effect the conclusions that reason must come to.

Kant also suggested a material origin for the solar system (prior to Kant, the origin of the solar system was considered to be immaterial and possibly even a priori). Kant's own suggestion for a moral daily life was the categorical imperative: Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. It does not mean that an act is moral only if it works as a rule for everyone as that is consequentialist. Kant uses the example of suicide out of self-love being wrong in that it is contradictory to love oneself and want to commit suicide. Thus, the maxim is contradictory and cannot be a universal law. A problem does exist regarding the potential situation where duties would conflict. If a murderer asks you where someone is hiding, one is bound by duty to both tell them where the other is hiding, and to not tell them as the other would surely die. In this instance, not lying is a maxim as is not doing harm to others. The Categorical Imperative gives no instruction on what to do in this situation. One must look to the freedom of the will Kant predicates upon all rational creatures. The freedom of the will is key to possessing the ability to understand and act in accord with the moral law that Kant offers a secondary rule--never act in a way that would abridge or disrespect the freedom of the will in the other. To solve the dilemma above, one would lie to the murderer, as to not would be both to violate the freedom of the will in the other, and the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative can be contrasted with the hypothetical imperative, which says that you should act according to any maxim which might possibly be willed. He remained single throughout his life, though he said, toward the end of it, that he could not afford a wife in his youth and did not need one in his old age. Kant's aim was to make philosophy truly scientific.

Alfred Nobel however found Kant's metaphysics hard to digest: "Kant's style is so heavy that after his pure reason the reader longs for unreasonableness."[2]

Philosopher of Protestantism vs. of Evolutionary thought

Kant was raised and died a Lutheran but questioned and analyzed his own faith. Kant transformed Protestantism from a dependence on a literal interpretation of the Bible into a dependence on each person’s own mind as the ultimate religious authority. He shifted the faith away from the Bible and towards a dogmatic voluntarism and sentimentalism. Phenomena "are nothing but ideas, and cannot exist at all beyond our minds." He concluded that revelation and churches can at best be "adventitious aids."

Protestant Lutheran theologians such as a Slovak Jozef Rohacek however regarded Kant for a strong anti-Christian personality that significantly helped extremist Evolutionism [note 1] towards undreamed-of expansion. Rohacek argues that although Kant's evolutionary philosophy (expressed in such evolutionary ideas such as, for example, cursory speculations on human evolution[4][note 2][6][7] and contribution to the Kant-Laplace nebular hypothesis) was in many aspects nothing pioneering as the general idea of Evolution is as old as philosophy itself[note 3], yet his ideas gained unparallelled popularity and he achieved with his powerful spirit and categorical imperative to undermine the faith of many people or even of scholars who were not well-versed in Bible and its truths. Kant's ethic is based on so called autonomism, i.e. on view that the ultimate goal of a man's moral behavior is the man itself. Kant for whom the God was only an idea is perceived as a forerunner for later Darwin's evolutionary thought.[3]

Kant and Judaism

In her book Hitler’s Philosophers Y.Sherratt points out that Kant “decreed in fact that pure morality sought ‘the euthanasia of Judaism.’”[8]

The Theory of Island Universes

Edwin Hubble maintained that five years after Thomas Wright published his views on the stellar system in 1750, Kant developed his speculations further into a form that was immediately accepted and which persisted unchanged as conception of eventually so called theory of island of universes until "recent years" (from perspective of 1936).[9]



  • Critique of Pure Reason (1781, 1787)
  • Metaphysic of Morals
  • Critique of Practical Reason (1788)
  • Metaphysical Elements of Ethics
  • General Intro to Metaphysic of Morals
  • Science of Right
  • Critique of Judgement (1790)

"Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me." Critique of Practical Reason, 1799.

Articles (published in the 1780s and 1790s)

  • An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?
  • What Does It Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?
  • On the Miscarriage of All Philosophical Trials in Theodicy
  • Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason

“What can I know? What ought I do? For what may I hope?”

See also

External Links


  1. In this respect, Rohacek defines Radical Evolutionism as naturalistic worldview based on speculative way of thinking, on fabricated apparent evidence incapable to withstand thorough investigation and on reluctance to any meaningful critical exposition.[3]
  2. cf.German philosopher Immanuel Kant even went as far as to suggest that: "It is possible for a chimpanzee or an orangutan, by perfecting its organs, to change at some future date into a human being. Radical alterations in natural conditions may force the ape to walk upright, accustom its hands to the use of tools, and learn to talk."[5]
  3. "Neither Kant nor Laplace, let alone Darwin were first who presented the idea of evolution of the universe and biological organisms. Long before Christ, around 600 B.C., in the era of Jeremiah and destruction of Jerusalem by Babylonians, Anaximander of Miletus claimed that an Apeiron (i.e. something indefinite, undefinable, eternal and inexhaustible) principle gives rise to all things. From this primordial matter rose by bursting the Earth, and then Sun, Moon and stars which are surrounding it in symmetrical distance. In his hypothesis, Anaximander lets more complex animals to be evolved from more simple ones, exactly as stated by later Darwinian evolutionary theory. Evolution of a man took in his view the longest process."[3]


  1. The New American Desk Encyclopedia, Penguin Group, 1989
  2. Åke Erlandsson (23 July 1997). Alfred Nobel and His Interest in Literature.; The Official Web Site of the Nobel Prize. “However, like the empiricist he was, he found Kant's metaphysics harder to digest: "Kant's style is so heavy that after his pure reason the reader longs for unreasonableness."”
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Jozef Rohacek (1936). Evolucionizmus vo svetle pravdy alebo čo má každý vzdelaný človek vedieť o evolucionizme (Evolutionism in the light of truth or what should every literate person know about evolutionism). Bratislava, now Slovakia: Svetlo, Library of Blue Cross, 6-11, 48-50. 
  4. Keith Ansell-Pearson et al. (2002). Nietzsche and Modern German Thought. London, New York: Routledge, 320. ISBN 0-415-04442-1. “...he was familiar with Kant's rudimentary speculations on is surprising to hear Kant say that "man is an animal endowed with the capacity for reason, can make of himself a rational animal -and as such he first preserves himself and his species." Elsewhere reason is referred to as a "weapon" in the service of survival. ...And in the same context he further assumes that the Orang-Utang or the Chimpanzee would develop the organs for walking, manipulating objects and speaking until it had a human form.” 
  5. Irina Gray (2009). Orangutan: The Man of the Forest.
  6. Emanuel Kant (1798). Anthropology (in German). “"da ein Orang-Utang oder ein Schimpanse die Organe, die zum Gehen, zum Befühlen der Gegenstände und zum Sprechen dienen, sich zum Gliederbau eines Menschen ausbildete, deren Innerstes ein Organ für den Gebrauch des Verstandes enthielte und durch gesellschaftliche Kultur sich allmählich entwickelte"” 
  7. Lance Workman, Will Reader (2004). Evolutionary Psychology: An Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80532-5. “ 1798 the German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote in his work Anthropology that "An Orang-Utang or a chimpanzee may develop the organs which serve for walking, grasping objects, and speaking - in short, that he may evolve the structure of man, with an organ for the use of reason." ...Notice also that Kant does not merely refer to the physical change: "an organ for the use of reason" is a physical faculty. In this way Kant presaged evolutionary psychology by two centuries.” 
  8. George J. Marlin (June 12, 2013). Retrieved on June 21, 2013. “Hitler embraced Kant because he concluded “the greatest service Kant has rendered to us. . .[was] the complete refutation of the teachings which were the heritage of the middle ages and of the dogmatic philosophy of the [Catholic] church.” Hitler was also attracted to Kant’s view that Judaism was superstitious and irrational: “the Jewish religion is not really a religion at all, but merely a community of a mass of men of one tribe.” Sherratt points out that Kant “decreed in fact that pure morality sought ‘the euthanasia of Judaism.’””
  9. Edwin Hubble (1937). The Observational Approach to Cosmology. Oxford University Press.