Authors: Immanuel Kant

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

German philosopher

April 22, 1724

Königsberg, Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia)

February 12, 1804

Königsberg, Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia)


Immanuel Kant (kahnt), perhaps the most influential philosopher in the Western world since Aristotle, was born in 1724 in the East Prussian city of Königsberg, which remained his lifelong home. After graduating from the university there in 1746 he was a tutor for about nine years. In 1755 he began to teach at the university. He never traveled far from the city, nor, from 1755 on, did his interest extend beyond the precincts of his academic retreat. The external events of his life were consequently few and limited in their physical scope. The course of his existence was inward, the action that he was involved in taking place in the abstract fields of logic and illuminated by the nondiurnal light of reason.

Immanuel Kant

(Library of Congress)

Kant’s first enterprises were scientific and mathematical, resulting in a theory of the nebular origin of the solar system that anticipated the hypothesis later developed by the astronomer Pierre-Simon de Laplace. His natural bent, however, inclined him toward work in pure philosophy, and it was in that realm that his greatest accomplishments were made. He began as an adherent of the rationalist school of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Christian Freiherr von Wolff, but by 1763 he had reversed his position and come under the influence of David Hume after his writings became known in Germany. Unable to synthesize from the works of his predecessors a metaphysics he thought suitable, Kant set out to construct a system of his own; it was his hope to develop a metaphysics that would establish a basis of truth for the discoveries of science and at the same time allow for a belief in God and immortality. To do this Kant discovered that he would first have to examine the cognitive faculties of human beings, which was the impetus for his Critique of Pure Reason, which he began in 1770 as a preparatory study for a new system of metaphysics. By the time he had completed the work eleven years later, there was no need for a further metaphysical study, for the Critique of Pure Reason was a metaphysics in itself and in it Kant had, at least to his own satisfaction, achieved his two ends: He had demonstrated a system that asserts human beings’ a priori knowledge in matters pertaining to science yet, at the same time, removes all matters of God and immortality from the sphere of scientific reasoning, placing them in the realm of faith.

Kant went on to extend these principles in two of his later works, but although he had demonstrated his theories to his own satisfaction, he had not done so to the satisfaction of all those who came after him. Since its first appearance, his Critique of Pure Reason has been subjected to the severest criticism. Nevertheless, the work’s influence, particularly on the writers and poets of the Romantic era, has been tremendous, and any approach to the study of philosophy must deal with Kant’s assertions in one way or another. In particular it is Kant’s “Copernican Revolution” in philosophy, which locates the source of knowledge in the perceiver and not in the thing perceived, that has been highly influential.

Author Works Nonfiction: Gedanken von der wahren Schätzung der lebendigen Kräfte, 1749 (Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces, 2006) Allgemeine Naturgeschichte und Theorie des Himmels, 1755 (Universal Natural History and Theory of Heaven, 1900) Die falsche Spitzfindigkeit der vier syllogistischen Figuren, 1762 (The False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures, 1992) Der einzig mögliche Beweisgrund zu einer Demonstration des Daseyns Gottes, 1763 (The Only Possible Ground for Demonstration of the Existence of God, 1798) Beobachtungen über das Gefühl des Schönen und Erhabenen, 1764 (Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, 1799) Träume eines Geistersehers erläutert durch Träume der Metaphysik, 1766 (Dreams of a Spirit- Seer, Illustrated by Dreams of Metaphysics, 1900) Allgemeine Naturgeschichte und Theorie des Himmels, 1775 (The Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens, 1900) Kritik der reinen Vernunft, 1781 (Critique of Pure Reason, 1838) Prolegomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik, 1783 (Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, 1902) Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, 1785 (Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics, 1895; better known as Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, 1950) Die metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft, 1786 (Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, 1811) Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, 1788 (The Critique of Practical Reason, 1873) Kritik der Urteilskraft, 1790 (The Critique of Judgment, 1892) Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der blossen Vernunft, 1793 (Religion Within the Boundaries of Pure Reason, 1838) Die Metaphysik der Sitten, 1797 (The Metaphysics of Morals, 1991) Bibliography Allison, Henry E. Idealism and Freedom: Essays on Kant’s Theoretical and Practical Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. An important interpreter of Immanuel Kant explores relationships between Kant’s theory of knowledge and his moral philosophy. Cassirer, Ernst. Kant’s Life and Thought. Translated by James Hayden. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1981. Written by an important twentieth century philosopher, this book offers a readable intellectual biography of Kant. Caygill, Howard. A Kant Dictionary. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1995. A reliable reference guide that helps to clarify key concepts and ideas in Kant’s philosophy. Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Modern Philosophy. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964. Copleston devotes several lucid chapters to Kant and his significance in the history of philosophy. Guyer, Paul, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Kant. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Helpful essays by contemporary Kant scholars shed important light on key aspects of Kant’s theory of knowledge, metaphysics, ethics, and religious thought. Hare, John E. The Moral Gap: Kantian Ethics, Human Limits, and God’s Assistance. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. A study of the strengths and weakness of Kant’s influential moral philosophy. Hill, Thomas E., Jr. Dignity and Practical Reason in Kant’s Moral Theory. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992. A collection of eleven essays on Kant’s moral theory. Jones, W. T. A History of Western Philosophy: Kant to Wittgenstein and Sartre. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1969. Provides a good starting point for readers who want a clear and basic introduction to Kant’s philosophy. Kemp, John. The Philosophy of Kant. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. A brief, readable account of Kant’s theory of knowledge, moral philosophy, and aesthetics. Kuehn, Manfred. Kant: A Biography. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. The first major biography of the philosopher in fifty years. Includes extensive notes and a bibliography. Schönfeld, Martin. The Philosophy of the Young Kant: The Precritical Project. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. A study of the philosopher’s work before the Critique of Pure Reason. Schott, Robin May, ed. Feminist Interpretations of Immanuel Kant. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997. Essayists bring the perspectives of feminist scholarship to bear on Kant’s method and thought. Sullivan, Roger J. Immanuel Kant’s Moral Theory. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Presents a systematic commentary on Kant’s moral philosophy. Timmons, Mark, ed. Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals: Interpretative Essays. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Includes seventeen essays by leading contemporary Kant scholars. The work covers such topics as Kant’s views on rights, punishment, practical reasoning, freedom, virtue, happiness, moral judgement, love, duties to oneself, and motivation. Walker, Ralph. Kant. New York: Routledge, 1999. An excellent biographical introduction to the thoughts of the philosopher, clearly presented and requiring no special background. Bibliography. Wolff, Robert Paul, ed. Kant: A Collection of Critical Essays. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967. Important scholars contribute essays on a wide range of themes and issues in Kant’s philosophy. Yovel, Yirmiahu. Kant and the Philosophy of History. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980. Presents a study of the organization and aims of Kant’s entire philosophical outlook.

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