Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)

Critique of Pure Reason (1781)

Now, it is easy to show that there are actually in our knowledge such necessary and, in the strictest sense, universal (consequently pure a priori) judgments. Would we have an example from science, we have only to turn to any proposition in mathematics; while, as for the most ordinary common sense, there is obviously to hand, by way of instance, the proposition that every change must have a cause, where the very notion cause so manifestly implies necessity (of connexion with an effect) and strict universality (of rule), that it would be altogether lost did we derive it, like Hume, from our conjoining what simply follows with what simply precedes, through the mere habit of experience, and the consequent simple custom of connecting ideas (where the necessity could only be subjective). Besides demonstrating the actual existence in our knowledge or principles a prioi by a reference to fact, we might even a priori prove as much. We might demonstrate, that is, the indispensable necessity of such principles to the very possibility of experience. For how should there be any certainty of experience, were all the rules in it only empirical and (consequently) contingent? It was hardly possible, evidently, to allow any such rules the name of first principles. But it may suffice here to have demonstrated the fact of the possession of the pure cognition on our part, together with the signs of the latter. Nay, not merely judgments, but even certain ideas, may claim for themselves a priori origin (Critique of Pure Reason)

Immanuel Kant exploded with intellectual vigor on reading David Hume’s Inquiry Concerning Human Nature, in which Hume appeared to destroy metaphysics as having no basis in reality or experience. Kant awoke from his “dogmatic slumbers” to write a rebuttal that took up the major part of his productive life. Kant criticized Hume’s radical skepticism in which the latter said he did not even believe in causality in general. That left a world of pure contingency, in which events happened randomly without reason. Kant effected a revolution in philosophy, in which moral reason (noumenon) incorporates the object world (phenomenon) into one comprehensive system. This system was absolute in that he said the nature of Mind and Being-in-the-world is indivisible. The philosopher could not logically or empirically divide them.

Kant said that all experience comes from knowledge. That was his Copernican revolution in philosophy to redeem it from the junkyard to which Hume had apparently relegated it. He said that there are phenomena, known by the scientific method, and noumena. Phenomena are the product of the categories of mind that are a priori or synthetically a posteriori, in which things like time and space can be intuited. Concepts like God (unknowable!—THERE SIMPLY HOLD NO PROOFS OF GOD THAT ARE TENABLE THROUGH LOGIC), free will, causality are noumena in that they have to exist in the mind to organize reality. Metaphysics means “beyond physics” in reality. Noumena are things-in-themselves that can be never known, such as the nature of reason and reasoning itself. Nonetheless there are inherent artifacts of pure reason that can be known by rational self-examination.

Concerning morality, Kant was seeking the grounds of morality rather than the content itself. For instance, he fashioned the Categorical Imperative: act as if the maxim of your action should be made into universal law. This notion became the basis of his Critique of Practical Reason (1788).

That is a general abstraction that has no content, making the imperative problematical. For instance, he dictated never telling a lie regardless of the consequences. Following that logic, he would have turned over Jews to the Nazis, which in reality he never would have done because of his favorable view of Jews; his emotional life was deeply repressed and affected his judgments on action. He loved women; yet he died a virgin. Hs bride was the pursuit of wisdom.

In his third magnum opus, the Critique of Judgment (1790), Kant talks of the sublime and the beautiful that the mind apprehends without thinking. For instance, he thought that nature was a unity and consistent so as to make science possible. This springs forth from his concepts of the sublime and beautiful. Yet we know from quantum theory that nature is chaos at the subatomic level. Again, he writes problematically to save metaphysics, the study of the grounds of the knowable.

Let us review three critical texts.

1. In The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant deals with the concept of thinking. Thinking, in his exposition, is reifying of experience. The categories of reason are a prioi. Reason is embedded in the psyche to organize sensory perception into a story, which are synthetic a priori in nature in that the mind englobes the object world.

2. In The Critique of Practical Reason, there are analytic a prioi categories of understanding that are given to man in his free will. Also he is given an intuitive grasp of cause and effect, space and time, and so forth. These categories of the understanding result in an ethos of duty in which the individual, by his actions, legislates morality for mankind and the world in the Kingdom of Ends. The individual is to treat his fellow man as an end, never as a reified means, for that exemplifies bad will. His goal is a world republic with just conduct and civic virtue the defining terms. He does emphasize the importance of property as a natural right that signifies the good citizen and good man.

3. In The Critique of Judgment, Kant studies the field of beauty and the sublime, ultimately climaxing in the experience of reason and perception in harmony. The world is the unity of the diverse. Harmony thus is an important concept to peruse in the work.


Goodness can found the worthy autonomous human being who is a dialectical blend of man, citizen, and state. There is no state of nature. The moral human being is the definition of the authentic individual. The person creates her own self through a sublimation of thinking, willing, and judging that are inseparable from action simultaneously. Intuition and feeling let us have insight into what objects are of value in pursuing as an end, including property ownership and education through a lifetime. There is a hierarchy of values writ large into nature and reason.

Kant's most famous maxim is the absolute command: Never lie! Of course, that injunction can lead to personal crises in which the particular situation dictates actions different from a universal abstraction. After all, individuals do live in the here and now, not in some philosophical utopia. Absolute values are always vulnerable to abuse and can lead to atrocious deeds that contradict the ideal of the good will. In summary, moral maxims engender an assumption of legislating ethical commands to mankind that are in harmony with the laws of nature and reason's nature. Kant demonstrates a rationalism that is ahistorical, a lacking in theory engendering that both Hegel and Marx took on the critical task of reconstructing

Kant's views on the right to revolution are highly constrained. He believed that the state embodied the rule of law. To be lawless, or to be in a state of anarchy, would be worse than suffering the tyrant. However, if freedom itself as expressed through the rule of law broke down into a war of all against all, then individuals could revolt to put his Enlightenment ideal into effect, namely, the just ruler.