Immanuel Kant: Philosopher

Kant tried to find a middle ground between rationalism, i.e. using human reason and reasoning to gain knowledge, and empiricism, i.e. using experiences to gain knowledge. Kant caused a revolution with his philosophy, before Kant philosophers talked about either objects or our perception of them. Kant said that it is precisely the point where these two meet that is important.


Immanuel Kant was born on April 22, 1724 in Königsberg, Prussia during the Enlightenment. The family from which Kant emerged adhered to strict Lutheran pietism, a faith that prescribed a simple life with a strong belief in morality. At the age of sixteen he went to university there, where he first studied theology and then philosophy and mathematics and physics.

After graduating, he earned a living as a home teacher in his hometown. Nine years later he became a private lecturer at the University of Koningsbergen and in this position gave public lectures in logic, metaphysics, ethics, mathematics and physical geography until 1770. During this period he published a large number of books and articles that focused on the rationalist way of thinking of the Enlightenment. He also published a work in which he assumed that a rationalistic proof of God was possible. In 1770 Kant became professor of metaphysics and logic at the philosophical faculty of the University of K√∂nigsberg. The period of Kant’s publishing up to 1781 is called the Precritical period.

The period from 1781 onwards is called the Critical period. In that year his most famous work Kritik der reinen Vernunft was published, the first of a series of extremely important publications. The difference between the two periods is that in the pre-critical period he claims that rationalist metaphysics was possible, but in the critical period he distances himself from that idea. In his first critical work he criticized the philosophy of the Enlightenment. In doing so, he addresses both rationalism (of Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz) and empiricism (of Locke and Hume). The Critical period is also characterized by Kant’s search for the limits of human knowledge. The year 1781 is taken as the beginning of the Critical period, but in reality the two periods flow smoothly into each other.

In 1796 he resigned due to the onset of dementia. Kant remained unmarried, mainly due to lack of time and money. He took a walk with his servant on time every day and is said to have only skipped this walk once because he was so engrossed in reading Rousseau’s ‘Emile’ that he lost track of time. He had great admiration for the enlightened King Frederick the Great of Prussia, but in 1794 his religious philosophy brought him into conflict with Frederick the Great’s successor. He then defends the right of scholars to think freely and publish for colleagues. He died in 1804.

Kant’s teaching

Since Plato, thinking has been the alternative to the lack of sensory perception. It was said that we can think through parts of reality (such as souls, the nature of God, and the universe as a whole) that we would never know if we used only our senses. Kant rejected such thinking as mystifying and put a new doctrine in its place. According to him, we can perceive objects through the senses, but we are mistaken if we think that our senses represent all this as they really are. Everything we perceive and therefore understand is processed by our senses as soon as we perceive it. Their intervention ensures that everything one observes is colored by previous experience and knowledge. As a result, man will never be able to get a clear picture of what true reality is, so the mind is held back by the senses. Kant said: There is reality and there is our experience of reality. The intervention of our senses therefore means that we can never know objects as they really are before they are perceived, but only as humanized versions of them.

Kant claimed that there were twelve different ways in which the mind organizes experience. The most important is the assumption of cause and effect, which means that we think that everything that happens is the result of an event that precedes it and determines its character.

According to Kant, the attempt to apply general modes of perception to objects outside our experience makes traditional metaphysics so insignificant. An example is the inability and explanation of a God, because he would have come into being first and therefore has no cause. The existence of a God can never be proven, but the opposite can never be proven either.

According to Kan t, due to all human limitations, all knowledge obtained through observations must be doubted. The fact that we have capabilities to process knowledge makes that knowledge known, but every sense is accompanied by processing of information. This does not mean that our ability to understand the world has fallen out of favor, but only that all knowledge is partly formed through the intervention of cognitive abilities. Even if there were another system, it would just as likely have these problems. The essential point Kant makes is: Pure knowledge is only pure human knowledge, and in order to investigate the nature of things it is at least as important to try to study our senses as the world itself.

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