Immanuel Kant (German pronunciation: [ɪˈmaːnu̯eːl ˈkant]; 22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804) was a German philosopher from Königsberg in Prussia (today Kaliningrad, Russia) who researched, lectured and wrote on philosophy and anthropology during the Enlightenment at the end of the 18th century.
Kant’s major work, the Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft, 1781), aimed to unite reason with experience to move beyond what he took to be failures of traditional philosophy and metaphysics. He hoped to end an age of speculation where objects outside experience were used to support what he saw as futile theories, while opposing the skepticism of thinkers such as Berkeley and Hume.
“It always remains a scandal of philosophy and universal human reason that the existence of things outside us … should have to be assumed merely on faith, and that if it occurs to anyone to doubt it, we should be unable to answer him with a satisfactory proof.”
Kant proposed a “Copernican Revolution-in-reverse”, saying that:
“Up to now it has been assumed that all our cognition must conform to the objects; but … let us once try whether we do not get farther with the problems of metaphysics by assuming that the objects must conform to our cognition.”
Kant published other important works on ethics, religion, law, aesthetics, astronomy, and history. These included the Critique of Practical Reason (Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, 1788) and the Metaphysics of Morals (Die Metaphysik der Sitten, 1797), which dealt with ethics. And the Critique of Judgment (Kritik der Urteilskraft, 1790), which looks at aesthetics and teleology. He aimed to resolve disputes between empirical and rationalist approaches. The former asserted that all knowledge comes through experience; the latter maintained that reason and innate ideas were prior. Kant argued that experience is purely subjective without first being processed by pure reason. He also said that using reason without applying it to experience only leads to theoretical illusions. The free and proper exercise of reason by the individual was a theme both of the Enlightenment, and of Kant’s approaches to the various problems of philosophy.
His ideas influenced many thinkers in Germany during his lifetime. He settled and moved philosophy beyond the debate between the rationalists and empiricists. The philosophers Fichte, Schelling, Hegel and Schopenhauer amended and developed the Kantian system, thus bringing about various forms of German idealism. He is seen as a major figure in the history and development of philosophy. German and European thinking progressed after his time, and his influence still inspires philosophical work today.
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 nine 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 ten 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 paternal 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 brought up in a Pietist household that stressed intense religious devotion, personal humility, and a literal interpretation of the Bible. Kant received a stern education – strict, punitive, and disciplinary – that preferred Latin and religious instruction over mathematics and science. Despite being raised in a religious household and still maintaining a belief in God, he was skeptical of religion in later life and was an agnostic. 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. He never married, but did not seem to lack a rewarding social life – he was a popular teacher and a modestly successful author even before starting on his major philosophical works.