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Immanuel Kant

Birthdate: 22. April 1724
Date of death: 12. February 1804

Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher who is a central figure in modern philosophy. Kant argued that the human mind creates the structure of human experience, that reason is the source of morality, that aesthetics arises from a faculty of disinterested judgment, that space and time are forms of our sensibility, and that the world as it is "in-itself" is independent of our concepts of it. Kant took himself to have effected a "Copernican revolution" in philosophy, akin to Copernicus' reversal of the age-old belief that the sun revolved around the earth. His beliefs continue to have a major influence on contemporary philosophy, especially the fields of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political theory, and aesthetics.

Politically, Kant was one of the earliest exponents of the idea that perpetual peace could be secured through universal democracy and international cooperation. He believed that this will be the eventual outcome of universal history, although it is not rationally planned. The exact nature of Kant's religious ideas continues to be the subject of especially heated philosophical dispute, as viewpoints are ranging from the idea that Kant was an early and radical exponent of atheism who finally exploded the ontological argument for God's existence, to more critical treatments epitomized by Nietzsche who claimed that Kant had "theologian blood" and that Kant was merely a sophisticated apologist for traditional Christian religious belief, writing that "Kant wanted to prove, in a way that would dumbfound the common man, that the common man was right: that was the secret joke of this soul."

In one of Kant's major works, the Critique of Pure Reason , he attempted to explain the relationship between reason and human experience and to move beyond the failures of traditional philosophy and metaphysics. Kant wanted to put an end to an era of futile and speculative theories of human experience, while resisting the skepticism of thinkers such as David Hume. Kant regarded himself as ending and showing the way beyond the impasse which modern philosophy had led to between rationalists and empiricists, and is widely held to have synthesized these two early modern traditions in his thought.

Kant argued that our experiences are structured by necessary features of our minds. In his view, the mind shapes and structures experience so that, on an abstract level, all human experience shares certain essential structural features. Among other things, Kant believed that the concepts of space and time are integral to all human experience, as are our concepts of cause and effect. One important consequence of this view is that our experience of things is always of the phenomenal world as conveyed by our senses: we do not have direct access to things in themselves, the so-called noumenal world. Kant published other important works on ethics, religion, law, aesthetics, astronomy, and history. These included the Critique of Practical Reason , the Metaphysics of Morals , which dealt with ethics, and the Critique of Judgment , which looks at aesthetics and teleology.

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Works

„There must be a seed of every good thing in the character of men, otherwise no one can bring it out.“

—  Immanuel Kant

Part III : Selection on Education from Kant's other Writings, Ch. I Pedagogical Fragments, # 13
Context: There must be a seed of every good thing in the character of men, otherwise no one can bring it out. Lacking that, analogous motives, honor, etc., are substituted. Parents are in the habit of looking out for the inclinations, for the talents and dexterity, perhaps for the disposition of their children, and not at all for their heart or character.

„We are not rich by what we possess but by what we can do without.“

—  Immanuel Kant

Variant: We are enriched not by what we possess, but by what we can do without.

„By a lie a man throws away and, as it were, annihilates his dignity as a man.“

—  Immanuel Kant

Context: By a lie a man throws away and, as it were, annihilates his dignity as a man. A man who himself does not believe what he tells another … has even less worth than if he were a mere thing. … makes himself a mere deceptive appearance of man, not man himself.

Doctrine of Virtue as translated by Mary J. Gregor (1964), p. 93

„I see them before me and connect them directly with the consciousness of my existence. The former begins from the place I occupy in the external world of sense, and enlarges my connection therein to an unbounded extent with worlds upon worlds and systems of systems, and moreover into limitless times of their periodic motion, its beginning and continuance. The second begins from my invisible self, my personality, and exhibits me in a world which has true infinity, but which is traceable only by the understanding, and with which I discern that I am not in a merely contingent but in a universal and necessary connection, as I am also thereby with all those visible worlds.“

—  Immanuel Kant, book Critique of Practical Reason

Critique of Practical Reason (1788)
Context: Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above and the moral law within. I have not to search for them and conjecture them as though they were veiled in darkness or were in the transcendent region beyond my horizon; I see them before me and connect them directly with the consciousness of my existence. The former begins from the place I occupy in the external world of sense, and enlarges my connection therein to an unbounded extent with worlds upon worlds and systems of systems, and moreover into limitless times of their periodic motion, its beginning and continuance. The second begins from my invisible self, my personality, and exhibits me in a world which has true infinity, but which is traceable only by the understanding, and with which I discern that I am not in a merely contingent but in a universal and necessary connection, as I am also thereby with all those visible worlds. The former view of a countless multitude of worlds annihilates as it were my importance as an animal creature, which after it has been for a short time provided with vital power, one knows not how, must again give back the matter of which it was formed to the planet it inhabits (a mere speck in the universe). The second, on the contrary, infinitely elevates my worth as an intelligence by my personality, in which the moral law reveals to me a life independent of animality and even of the whole sensible world, at least so far as may be inferred from the destination assigned to my existence by this law, a destination not restricted to conditions and limits of this life, but reaching into the infinite.

Translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott

„One cannot suppress a certain indignation when one sees men’s actions on the great world-stage and finds, beside the wisdom that appears here and there among individuals, everything in the large woven together from folly, childish vanity, even from childish malice and destructiveness.“

—  Immanuel Kant

Introduction
Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View (1784)
Context: Since men in their endeavors behave, on the whole, not just instinctively, like the brutes, nor yet like rational citizens of the world according to some agreed-on plan, no history of man conceived according to a plan seems to be possible, as it might be possible to have such a history of bees or beavers. One cannot suppress a certain indignation when one sees men’s actions on the great world-stage and finds, beside the wisdom that appears here and there among individuals, everything in the large woven together from folly, childish vanity, even from childish malice and destructiveness. In the end, one does not know what to think of the human race, so conceited in its gifts.

„Reason in a creature is a faculty of widening the rules and purposes of the use of all its powers far beyond natural instinct; it acknowledges no limits to its projects. Reason itself does not work instinctively, but requires trial, practice, and instruction in order gradually to progress from one level of insight to another.“

—  Immanuel Kant

Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View (1784)
Context: Reason in a creature is a faculty of widening the rules and purposes of the use of all its powers far beyond natural instinct; it acknowledges no limits to its projects. Reason itself does not work instinctively, but requires trial, practice, and instruction in order gradually to progress from one level of insight to another. Therefore a single man would have to live excessively long in order to learn to make full use of all his natural capacities. Since Nature has set only a short period for his life, she needs a perhaps unreckonable series of generations, each of which passes its own enlightenment to its successor in order finally to bring the seeds of enlightenment to that degree of development in our race which is completely suitable to Nature’s purpose. This point of time must be, at least as an ideal, the goal of man’s efforts, for otherwise his natural capacities would have to be counted as for the most part vain and aimless. This would destroy all practical principles, and Nature, whose wisdom must serve as the fundamental principle in judging all her other offspring, would thereby make man alone a contemptible plaything.

Second Thesis
Paraphrased variant: Reason does not work instinctively, but requires trial, practice, and instruction in order to gradually progress from one level of insight to another.

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„The question here is not, “How conscience ought to be guided? For Conscience is its own General and Leader; it is therefore enough that each man have one. What we want to know is, how conscience can be her own Ariadne“

—  Immanuel Kant

Book IV, Part 2, Section 4
Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (1793)
Context: The question here is not, “How conscience ought to be guided? For Conscience is its own General and Leader; it is therefore enough that each man have one. What we want to know is, how conscience can be her own Ariadne, and disentangle herself from the mazes even of the most raveled and complicated casuistical theology. Here is an ethical proposition that stands in need of no proof: No Action May At Any Time Be Hazarded On The Uncertainty That Perchance It May Not Be Wrong (Quod dubitas, ne feceris! Pliny - which you doubt, then neither do) Hence the Consciousness, that Any Action I am about to perform is Right, is in itself a most immediate and imperative duty. What actions are right, - what wrong – is a matter for the understanding, not for conscience. p. 251

„Whatever concept one may hold, from a metaphysical point of view, concerning the freedom of the will, certainly its appearances, which are human actions, like every other natural event are determined by universal laws.“

—  Immanuel Kant

Introduction
Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View (1784)
Context: Whatever concept one may hold, from a metaphysical point of view, concerning the freedom of the will, certainly its appearances, which are human actions, like every other natural event are determined by universal laws. However obscure their causes, history, which is concerned with narrating these appearances, permits us to hope that if we attend to the play of freedom of the human will in the large, we may be able to discern a regular movement in it, and that what seems complex and chaotic in the single individual may be seen from the standpoint of the human race as a whole to be a steady and progressive though slow evolution of its original endowment.

„We see that scattered through space out to infinite distances, there exist similar systems of stars“

—  Immanuel Kant

Free translation, as quoted by Edwin Powell Hubble, The Realm of the Nebulae (1936)
An Original Theory or New Hypothesis of the Universe (1750)
Context: I come now to another part of my system, and because it suggests a lofty idea of the plan of creation, it appears to me as the most seductive. The sequence of ideas that led us to it is very simple and natural. They are as follows: let us imagine a system of stars gathered together in a common plane, like those of the Milky Way, but situated so far away from us that even with the telescope we cannot distinguish the stars composing it; let us assume that its distance, compared to that separating us from the stars of the Milky Way, is the same proportion as the Milky Way is to the distance from the earth to the sun; such a stellar world will appear to the observer, who contemplates it at so enormous a distance, only as a little spot feebly illumined and subtending a very small angle; its shape will be circular, if its plane is perpendicular to the line of sight, elliptical, if it is seen obliquely. The faintness of its light, its form, and its appreciable diameter will obviously distinguish such a phenomenon from the isolated stars around it.
We do not need to seek far in the observations of astronomers to meet with such phenomena. They have been seen by various observers, who have wondered at their strange appearance, have speculated about them, and have suggested some times the most amazing explanations, sometimes theories which were more rational, but which had no more foundation than the former. We refer to the nebulæ, or, more precisely, to a particular kind of celestial body which M. de Maupertius describes as follows:
"These are small luminous patches, only slightly more brilliant than the dark background of the sky; they have this in common, that their shapes are more or less open elipses; and their light is far more feeble than that of any other objects to be perceived in the heavens."
... It is much more natural and reasonable to assume that a nebula is not a unique and solitary sun, but a system of numerous suns, which appear crowded, because of their distance, into a space so limited that their light, which would be imperceptible were each of them isolated, suffices, owing to their enormous numbers, to give a pale and uniform luster. Their analogy with our own system of stars; their form, which is precisely what it should be according to our theory; the faintness of their light, which denotes an infinite distance; all are in admirable accord and lead us to consider these elliptical spots as systems of the same order as our own—in a word, to be Milky Ways similar to the one whose constitution we have explained. And if these hypotheses, in which analogy and observation consistently lend mutual support, have the same merit as formal demonstrations, we must consider the existence of such systems as demonstrated...
We see that scattered through space out to infinite distances, there exist similar systems of stars [nebulous stars, nebulæ], and that creation, in the whole extent of its infinite grandeur, is everywhere organized into systems whose members are in relation with one another.... A vast field lies open to discoveries, and observations alone will give the key.

„The humiliating difference between laymen and clergymen must disappear, and equality spring from true liberty.“

—  Immanuel Kant

As quoted in German Thought, From The Seven Years' War To Goethe's Death : Six Lectures (1880) by Karl Hillebrand, p. 208
Context: [Religion should be].... successively freed from all statutes based on history, and one purely moral religion rule over all, in order that God might be all in all. The veil must fall. The leading-string of sacred tradition with all its appendices becomes by degrees useless, and at last a fetter … The humiliating difference between laymen and clergymen must disappear, and equality spring from true liberty. All this, however, must not be expected from an exterior revolution, which acts violently, and depends upon fortune In the principle of pure moral religion, which is a sort of divine revelation constantly taking place in the soul of man, must be sought the ground for a passage to the new order of things, which will be accomplished by slow and successive reforms.

„Character means that the person derives his rules of conduct from himself and from the dignity of humanity.“

—  Immanuel Kant

Part III : Selection on Education from Kant's other Writings, Ch. I Pedagogical Fragments, # 14
Context: Character means that the person derives his rules of conduct from himself and from the dignity of humanity. Character is the common ruling principle in man in the use of his talents and attributes. Thus it is the nature of his will, and is good or bad. A man who acts without settled principles, with no uniformity, has no character. A man may have a good heart and yet no character, because he is dependent upon impulses and does not act according to maxims. Firmness and unity of principle are essential to character.

„Freedom is the alone unoriginated birthright of man, and belongs to him by force of his humanity“

—  Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Ethics by Immanuel Kant, trans. J.W. Semple, ed. with Iintroduction by Rev. Henry Calderwood (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1886) (3rd edition). Chapter: GENERAL DIVISION OF JURISPRUDENCE. http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1443&chapter=56215&layout=html&Itemid=27
Context: Freedom is the alone unoriginated birthright of man, and belongs to him by force of his humanity; and is independence on the will and co-action of every other in so far as this consists with every other person’s freedom.

„Their analogy with our own system of stars“

—  Immanuel Kant

Free translation, as quoted by Edwin Powell Hubble, The Realm of the Nebulae (1936)
An Original Theory or New Hypothesis of the Universe (1750)
Context: I come now to another part of my system, and because it suggests a lofty idea of the plan of creation, it appears to me as the most seductive. The sequence of ideas that led us to it is very simple and natural. They are as follows: let us imagine a system of stars gathered together in a common plane, like those of the Milky Way, but situated so far away from us that even with the telescope we cannot distinguish the stars composing it; let us assume that its distance, compared to that separating us from the stars of the Milky Way, is the same proportion as the Milky Way is to the distance from the earth to the sun; such a stellar world will appear to the observer, who contemplates it at so enormous a distance, only as a little spot feebly illumined and subtending a very small angle; its shape will be circular, if its plane is perpendicular to the line of sight, elliptical, if it is seen obliquely. The faintness of its light, its form, and its appreciable diameter will obviously distinguish such a phenomenon from the isolated stars around it.
We do not need to seek far in the observations of astronomers to meet with such phenomena. They have been seen by various observers, who have wondered at their strange appearance, have speculated about them, and have suggested some times the most amazing explanations, sometimes theories which were more rational, but which had no more foundation than the former. We refer to the nebulæ, or, more precisely, to a particular kind of celestial body which M. de Maupertius describes as follows:
"These are small luminous patches, only slightly more brilliant than the dark background of the sky; they have this in common, that their shapes are more or less open elipses; and their light is far more feeble than that of any other objects to be perceived in the heavens."
... It is much more natural and reasonable to assume that a nebula is not a unique and solitary sun, but a system of numerous suns, which appear crowded, because of their distance, into a space so limited that their light, which would be imperceptible were each of them isolated, suffices, owing to their enormous numbers, to give a pale and uniform luster. Their analogy with our own system of stars; their form, which is precisely what it should be according to our theory; the faintness of their light, which denotes an infinite distance; all are in admirable accord and lead us to consider these elliptical spots as systems of the same order as our own—in a word, to be Milky Ways similar to the one whose constitution we have explained. And if these hypotheses, in which analogy and observation consistently lend mutual support, have the same merit as formal demonstrations, we must consider the existence of such systems as demonstrated...
We see that scattered through space out to infinite distances, there exist similar systems of stars [nebulous stars, nebulæ], and that creation, in the whole extent of its infinite grandeur, is everywhere organized into systems whose members are in relation with one another.... A vast field lies open to discoveries, and observations alone will give the key.

„The genuine safety-principle of true religion is contrariwise as follows. Whatever is a mean or condition of future bliss, unknown to naked reason, and promulgated singly by revelation, can strike root in my conviction, just like any other history; and so far forth as it does not militate against morality, cannot be absolutely false. Besides leaving this point totally undecided, I may unquestionably trust, that whatever of salutary there may lie in a document, will stand me in good stead, provided I do not by my moral short-coming make myself unworthy of it. In this maxim, there is a real moral safety, viz. That conscience be not violated; and more cannot be demanded from mankind. There is, moreover, an utmost danger and insecurity in that lauded stratagem of expediency, whereby we think astutely to evade any disadvantageous sequents that may spring from unbelieving nonconformity. Thus tampering with either party, we destroy our credit with both.“

—  Immanuel Kant

Book IV, Part 2, Section 4
Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the Boundary of Pure Reason 1793 translated by James W Semple, Advocate ,Edinburgh 1838 p. 255-257
Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (1793)
Context: Although individuals who have begun to awake to freedom of cogitation, after having long unconsciously slumbered under the yoke of a belief (e. g. Protestants), do straightway deem themselves ennobled, in proportion to their articles of belief are scanty; yet, singularly enough, they whose understandings still lie dormant, cling to a very different principle of safety. “Better Believe Too Much Than Believe Too Little,” is here the adage; for whatever is done beyond and above what is duty, cannot in any event harm, but may perchance to good. Upon this delusive dream, which would make dishonesty the very spirit and soul of religious confession, is based on the well-known argumentum a tuto, which obtains a more easy and extended currency, because religion compensates for every fault, and hence also for dishonesty in adopting it. If, says the sciolist https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/sciolist, what I profess to believe concerning the Godhead is correct, then I have precisely hit the very truth. Should, on the other hand, the articles contain an error, still, as there is nothing in them morally improper, then have I merely assented to something superfluous and unnecessary, by all which I have no doubt molested, but certainly not incriminated myself. The peril arising out of the improbity of his profession – The Lesson of Conscience-necessarily undergone, when what is declared in the presence of God to be certain, which mankind must nevertheless know not to be so constituted as to admit of being affirmed with unconditioned certainty, are all overlooked by this dishonest maxim, And Indeed Pass With The Hypocrite For Nothing. The genuine safety-principle of true religion is contrariwise as follows. Whatever is a mean or condition of future bliss, unknown to naked reason, and promulgated singly by revelation, can strike root in my conviction, just like any other history; and so far forth as it does not militate against morality, cannot be absolutely false. Besides leaving this point totally undecided, I may unquestionably trust, that whatever of salutary there may lie in a document, will stand me in good stead, provided I do not by my moral short-coming make myself unworthy of it. In this maxim, there is a real moral safety, viz. That conscience be not violated; and more cannot be demanded from mankind. There is, moreover, an utmost danger and insecurity in that lauded stratagem of expediency, whereby we think astutely to evade any disadvantageous sequents that may spring from unbelieving nonconformity. Thus tampering with either party, we destroy our credit with both.

„Nature does nothing in vain, and in the use of means to her goals she is not prodigal.“

—  Immanuel Kant

Third Thesis
Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View (1784)
Context: Nature does nothing in vain, and in the use of means to her goals she is not prodigal. Her giving to man reason and the freedom of the will which depends upon it is clear indication of her purpose. Man accordingly was not to be guided by instinct, not nurtured and instructed with ready-made knowledge; rather, he should bring forth everything out of his own resources.

„I ask myself only: can you also will that your maxim become a universal law?“

—  Immanuel Kant

Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785)
Context: I do not, therefore, need any penetrating acuteness to see what I have to do in order that my volition be morally good. Inexperienced in the course of the world, incapable of being prepared for whatever might come to pass in it, I ask myself only: can you also will that your maxim become a universal law?

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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