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Immanuel Kant


Immanuel Kant is perhaps the most important philosopher of the modern period. His Critique of Pure Reason was on the one hand the culmination of the tradition of empiricism and on the other hand the beginning of the tradition of German Idealism.

Immanuel Kant was born in Koenigsberg, East Prussia on April 22, 1724. He studied at Collegium Fredericianum and later at the University of Koenigsberg. However, due to lack of funds and failure to receive the post of under tutor, he became a family tutor. In 1755 Kant, with the help of a friend, received his degree and assumed the role of Privat-docent (lecturer). On his third attempt at a professorship at the University of Koenigsberg, he was awarded the chair of logic and metaphysics. From there he served as dean of the philosophy faculty and twice as rector.

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Kant wrote his Critique of Pure Reason in 1781. When it made its first debut it was not highly acclaimed due to the fact that it was an extremely difficult text to understand, especially for the average person. That as well as problems within the philosophy itself led Kant to rewrite the Critique of Pure Reason. Thus most versions have an A and a B notation.

The Critique of Pure Reason can be summarized through five major excerpts. First, "Reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer."[A vii]. Thus Kant argues that reason is pushed by its nature to ask questions but is also unable to answer those questions because of its limitations.

Second, "Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects. But all attempts to extend our knowledge of objects by establishing something in regard to them a priori, by means of concepts, have, on this assumption, ended in failure. We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge."[B xvi]. This is in response to Descartes. For Descartes claims that cognition must conform to objects however, Kant finds that the problem of metaphysics would be better served by changing it around, arguing that objects must conform to our reason.

The third quote is "I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith. The dogmatism of metaphysics that is the preconception that it is possible to make headway in metaphysics without a previous criticism of pure reason, is the source of all that unbelief, always very dogmatic, which wars against morality"[B xxx]. This shows that science must be limited and faith must prevail for without faith one is not moral, free, and thus God cannot exist nor can autonomy be achieved. When this doesn't happen metaphysics is plagued with dogmatism.

Next is "But though all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it all arises out of experience" [B 1]. This is in response to the empiricist's claim that one can only gain true knowledge through sense experience. Kant, however, sees that while cognition starts with experience, that does not mean that experience is the only way that knowledge is gained. "Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind. It is therefore just as necessary to make our concepts sensible that is to add the object to them in intuition as to make our intuitions intelligible, that is to bring them under confunctions." [B 76]. In order to make our intuitions understandable we need to bring the content of our intuitions, in the aesthetic, under the concepts of logic. For the understanding is our ability to produce presentations or appearances for ourselves based upon our cognitions. Without this understanding no object would be thought, thus our intuitions remain blind. Now, in order to make our concepts sensible, thoughts, under logic, must be linked to the intuition within the aesthetic. The sensibility is the mind's ability to receive presentations. Thus without this sensibility none of the objects would be given to us, and therefore our thoughts are empty. Ultimately, without content our thoughts do not contain an object of intuition, nor are our intuitions led by the light of the understanding without combining logic with the aesthetic or in other words making our concepts sensible and our intuitions understandable.


1781 Critique of Pure Reason.
1785 Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysical of Morals.
1788 Critique of Practical Reason.
1790 Critique of Judgment.
1792 On Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone.
1797 Retired from University after 42 years.
1804 Kant died on Feb. 12.


Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by Norman Kemp Smith. New York: St. Martins Press 1965.

Encyclopedia Britanica. Great Books. University of Chicago, Vol. Kant 1990.

Edited, Researched and Written by: Daniel Ryzner
December 17, 1998

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