Immanuel Kant life and biography

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Immanuel Kant biography

Date of birth : 1724-04-22
Date of death : 1804-02-12
Birthplace : Königsberg, Prussia
Nationality : German
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-05-12
Credited as : Prussian philosopher, Immanuel Kant State University of Russia, Christian moral code

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Immanuel Kant (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.

Known by many in the field as the father of modern philosophy, Immanuel Kant questioned many of the assumptions held in his day. He focused much of his work on the realm of human thought, understanding, and potential. His ideas about observation, learning, and experientialism set the precedent for all philosophers who followed him.


Born in the early 1720s, Kant lived in what was known as East Prussia (now a part of Kaliningrad, Russia). There, he was able to secure a teaching position for nearly ten years when he began working at Konigsberg University. He would remain a part of their staff for nearly five decades contributing to the rise and popularity of philosophy of the day.


Not much more is known about Kant’s earlier life. He did go on to having several of his pieces published, although none were an exact autobiography. In his Critique of Pure Reason, he discussed and raised interesting points about human knowledge. Instrumental on Kant’s own ideas was the work of philosopher David Hume, who agreed that human experience could be used for understanding, but that it should not be used to explain every phenomena we encounter in nature or in the real world.


Kant built upon this idea. He stated that new experiences could be formulated based on past experiences because it our past that helps us learn about our future. He believed that the human mind organized events and ideas into categories that could be accessed later to determine how we might react in a certain experience. He came up with the word to describe the paradox of understanding: noumena.


Kant’s own arguments about the existence of God were also not well accepted at his time. He believed that man could not rationalize God because it was not something that we had experienced before. In other words, we might be able to attribute certain characteristics to Him, but it is ultimately limited by our own human understanding of the universe. In essence, we could never come close to truly understanding who God is and predict what He is going to do.



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".

Kant's tomb is today in a mausoleum adjoining the northeast corner of Königsberg Cathedral in what is now known as Kaliningrad, Russia. The mausoleum was constructed by the architect Friedrich Lahrs and was finished in 1924 in time for the bicentenary of Kant's birth. Originally, Kant was buried inside the cathedral, but in 1880 his remains were moved outside and placed in a neo-Gothic chapel adjoining the northeast corner of the cathedral. Over the years, the chapel became dilapidated before it was demolished to make way for the mausoleum, which was built on the same spot, where it is today.

The tomb and its mausoleum are some of the few artifacts of German times preserved by the Soviets after they conquered and annexed the city. Today, many newlyweds bring flowers to the mausoleum.

A replica of the statue of Kant that stood in German times in front of the main University of Königsberg building was donated by a German entity in the early 1990s and placed in the same grounds.

After the expulsion of Königsberg's German population at the end of World War II, the historical University of Königsberg where Kant taught was replaced by the Russian-speaking "Kaliningrad State University", which took up the campus and surviving buildings of the historic German university. In 2005, that Russian-speaking university was renamed Immanuel Kant State University of Russia in honour of Kant. The change of name was announced at a ceremony attended by President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany, and the university further formed a Kant Society, dedicated to the study of Kantianism.

List of works

* (1746) Thoughts on the True Estimation of Vital Forces (Gedanken von der wahren Schätzung der lebendigen Kräfte)
* (1755) A New Explanation of the First Principles of Metaphysical Knowledge (Neue Erhellung der ersten Grundsätze metaphysischer Erkenntnisse; Doctoral Thesis: Principiorum primorum cognitionis metaphysicae nova dilucidatio)
* (1755) Universal Natural History and Theory of Heaven (Allgemeine Naturgeschichte und Theorie des Himmels)
* (1756) Monadologia Physica
* (1762) The False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures (Die falsche Spitzfindigkeit der vier syllogistischen Figuren)
* (1763) The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God (Der einzig mögliche Beweisgrund zu einer Demonstration des Daseins Gottes)
* (1763) Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Magnitudes into Philosophy (Versuch den Begriff der negativen Größen in die Weltweisheit einzuführen)
* (1764) Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (Beobachtungen über das Gefühl des Schönen und Erhabenen)
* (1764) Essay on the Illness of the Head (Über die Krankheit des Kopfes)
* (1764) Inquiry Concerning the Distinctness of the Principles of Natural Theology and Morality (the Prize Essay) (Untersuchungen über die Deutlichkeit der Grundsätze der natürlichen Theologie und der Moral)
* (1766) Dreams of a Spirit Seer (On Emmanuel Swedenborg) (Träume eines Geistersehers)
* (1770) Inaugural Dissertation (De mundi sensibilis atque intelligibilis forma et principiis)
* (1775) On the Different Races of Man (Über die verschiedenen Rassen der Menschen)
* (1781) First edition of the Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft )
* (1783) "Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics" (Prolegomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik)
* (1784) "An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?" (Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung? )
* (1784) "Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose" (Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher Absicht)
* (1785) Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten)
* (1786) Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft)
* (1786) Conjectural Beginning of Human History
* (1787) Second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason(Kritik der reinen Vernunft )
* (1788) Critique of Practical Reason (Kritik der praktischen Vernunft )
* (1790) Critique of Judgement (Kritik der Urteilskraft )
* (1790) The Science of Right
* (1793) Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloßen Vernunft)
* (1793) On the Old Saw: That may be right in theory, but it won`t work in practice (Über den Gemeinspruch: Das mag in der Theorie richtig sein, taugt aber nicht für die Praxis)
* (1795) Perpetual Peace (Zum ewigen Frieden)
* (1797) Metaphysics of Morals (Metaphysik der Sitten)
* (1798) Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht)
* (1798) The Contest of Faculties (Der Streit der Fakultäten)
* (1800) Logic (Logik)
* (1803) On Pedagogy (Über Pädagogik )
* (1804) Opus Postumum

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