Immanuel Kant was a famous Prussian philosopher. He was a professor of philosophy at Königsberg, in Prussia and spent his life in researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy. His most famous work was the “Critique of Pure Reason”, which he wrote to combine reason with experience to move beyond the failures of traditional philosophy and metaphysics. With his philosophical views, he gave reasoned arguments against the scepticism and idealism of thinkers like Descartes, Berkeley and Hume. He also wrote important works in other areas such as religion, law, aesthetics, astronomy and history. His ideas and works influenced many German thinkers of his times. Kant had settled, and taken philosophy beyond, the argument between the rationalists and empiricists. His philosophy was amended and developed by future philosophers like Fichte, Schelling, Hegel and Schopenhauer. Kant had made for himself an important place in the history of philosophy. His important works include “The False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures”, “Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals”, “Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science”, “Critique of Practical Reason” and “Critique of Judgment”.
Immanuel Kant Childhood & Early Life
Immanuel Kant was born on April 22, 1724 in Konigsberg, the capital of Prussia, today it is the city of Kaliningrad in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast. His father, Johann Georg Kant (1682–1746), was a German harnessmaker from Memel whereas his mother, Regina Dorothea Reuter was born in Nuremberg. He was the fourth child of the couple. Only three siblings of Kant could reach into adulthood. He was baptized with the name ‘Emanuel’ but after learning Hebrew, he changed his name to “Immanuel”. Kant spent his whole life in the city of Konigsberg. He received strict, punitive, and disciplinary education. He showed a great ability for studies at an early age. Kant first attended the Collegium Fredericianum and later, in 1740, joined the University of Königsberg. Kant learned the philosophy of Leibniz and Wolff under Martin Knutzen. Knutzen was a rationalist, familiar with the developments in British philosophy and science. He introduced Kant with the new mathematical physics of Newton. He deterred Kant from idealism, which was negatively regarded by most philosophers in the 18th century. His father suffered a stroke and subsequently died in 1746. This interrupted his studies and Kant had to become a private tutor in the smaller towns surrounding Königsberg. In 1749, he published his first philosophical work, “Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces”.
Career and Literary Works
Kant is prominently known for his transcendental idealist philosophy, which stated that time and space are not materially real but merely the ideal a priori condition of our internal intuition. He made a significant astronomical discovery when he discovered the retardation of the rotation of the Earth. For this discovery, he won the Berlin Academy Prize in 1754. Referring to this discovery, he said that time is not a thing in itself determined from experience, objects, motion, and change, but it is an unavoidable framework of the human mind that preconditions possible experience. In 1755, Kant became a university lecturer on “Metaphysics”. In his work, “General History of Nature and Theory of the Heavens” (1755), Kant proposed the Nebular hypothesis, which states that the solar system formed from a large cloud of gas, a nebula. He also said that the Milky Way was a large disk of stars, formed from a larger spinning cloud of gas. His predications opened new horizons in the field of astronomy and made the earliest step in extending astronomy beyond the solar system to galactic and extragalactic realms.
From this point, Karl gradually turned towards philosophical issues but he continued to write on science throughout his life. In early 1760s, he produced a number of important philosophical works, starting with “The False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures”, published in 1762. In the following year, he published two more philosophical works; “Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Magnitudes into Philosophy” and “The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God”. Later, in 1764, he wrote “Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime”. At the age of 45, in 1770, Kant was appointed Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Königsberg. By the age of 46, he had become an established scholar and an increasingly influential philosopher. A cordial and social person, Kant took an unexpected step and isolated himself. Despite the frequent attempts of his friends to bring him out of isolation, he remained aloof.
In 1781, Kant finally broke his silence and came out with his publication, “Critique of Pure Reason”. This massive 800 page book was originally published in German. Its initial publication was largely ignored and received very few reviews. Disappointed with the Critique's reception, Kant wrote “the Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics” in 1783 to clarify the original treatise by presenting the summary of his main views. His reputation grew substantially in 1780s with the publication of his other important works such as, the 1784 essay, “Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” his first moral philosophical work, “Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals” (1785) and 1786s “Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science”. In 1787, Kant published the second edition of the “Critique of Pure Reason” (Kritik der reinen Vernunft). The next year in 1788, he wrote another moral philosophical book, “Critique of Practical Reason”. In his book “Critique of Judgment” published in 1790, he applied the Kantian system to aesthetics and teleology.
In the year 1792, Kant made an attempt to publish the second of the four “Pieces of Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason”, in the journal Berlinische Monatsschrift, but he was opposed by the king's censorship commission. Kant, then, arranged the four pieces into a book and published it through the philosophy department at University of Jena. Kant was openly reprimanded by the king for this action; however he published the second edition of the book in 1794. It fumed censor and brought a royal order for Kant to never publish or even speak publicly about religion. Apart from writing about philosophy, Kant also wrote on a number of topics such as semi-popular essays on history, religion, and politics. These works were well received by his contemporaries and helped in establishing his preeminent status in eighteenth century philosophy.
Immanuel Kant died at Königsberg on February 12, 1804.