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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.

Photo: Becker, Self-scanned / Public domain

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
The Educational Theory of Immanuel Kant (1904)
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.

„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.

„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
The Educational Theory of Immanuel Kant (1904)
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.

„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

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„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?

„As everybody likes to be honoured, so people imagine that God also wants to be honoured. They forget that the fulfilment of duty towards men is the only honour adequate to him.“

—  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: As everybody likes to be honoured, so people imagine that God also wants to be honoured. They forget that the fulfilment of duty towards men is the only honour adequate to him. Thus is formed the conception of a religion of worship, instead of a merely moral religion. … Apart from moral conduct, all that man thinks himself able to do in order to become acceptable to God is mere superstition and religious folly. If once a man has come to the idea of a service which is not purely moral, but is supposed to be agreeable to God himself, or capable of propitiating him, there is little difference between the several ways of serving him. For all these ways are of equal value. … Whether the devotee accomplishes his statutory walk to the church, or whether he undertakes a pilgrimage to the sanctuaries of Loretto and Palestine, whether he repeats his prayer-formulas with his lips, or like the Tibetan, uses a prayer-wheel … is quite indifferent. As the illusion of thinking that a man can justify himself before God in any way by acts of worship is religious superstition, so the illusion that he can obtain this justification by the so-called intercourse with God is religious mysticism (Schwärmerei). Such superstition leads inevitably to sacerdotalism (Pfaffenthum) which will always be found where the essence is sought not in principles of morality, but in statutory commandments, rules of faith and observances.

„It is difficult for the isolated individual to work himself out of the immaturity which has become almost natural for him.“

—  Immanuel Kant

What is Enlightenment? (1784)
Context: It is difficult for the isolated individual to work himself out of the immaturity which has become almost natural for him. He has even become fond of it and for the time being is incapable of employing his own intelligence, because he has never been allowed to make the attempt. Statutes and formulas, these mechanical tools of a serviceable use, or rather misuse, of his natural faculties, are the ankle-chains of a continuous immaturity. Whoever threw it off would make an uncertain jump over the smallest trench because he is not accustomed to such free movement. Therefore there are only a few who have pursued a firm path and have succeeded in escaping from immaturity by their own cultivation of the mind.

„The master is himself an animal, and needs a master.“

—  Immanuel Kant

Sixth Thesis
Variant translations:
Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.
Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made nothing entirely straight can be built.
From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned.
Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View (1784)
Context: The master is himself an animal, and needs a master. Let him begin it as he will, it is not to be seen how he can procure a magistracy which can maintain public justice and which is itself just, whether it be a single person or a group of several elected persons. For each of them will always abuse his freedom if he has none above him to exercise force in accord with the laws. The highest master should be just in himself, and yet a man. This task is therefore the hardest of all; indeed, its complete solution is impossible, for from such crooked wood as man is made of, nothing perfectly straight can be built. That it is the last problem to be solved follows also from this: it requires that there be a correct conception of a possible constitution, great experience gained in many paths of life, and — far beyond these — a good will ready to accept such a constitution. Three such things are very hard, and if they are ever to be found together, it will be very late and after many vain attempts.

„Too much discipline makes one narrow and kills proficiency. Politeness belongs, not to discipline, but to polish, and thus comes last.“

—  Immanuel Kant

Part III : Selection on Education from Kant's other Writings, Ch. I Pedagogical Fragments, # 9
The Educational Theory of Immanuel Kant (1904)
Context: Good and strong will. Mechanism must precede science (learning). Also in morals and religion? Too much discipline makes one narrow and kills proficiency. Politeness belongs, not to discipline, but to polish, and thus comes last.

„I am an investigator by inclination. I feel a great thirst for knowledge and an impatient eagerness to advance, also satisfaction at each progressive step.“

—  Immanuel Kant

Part III : Selection on Education from Kant's other Writings, Ch. I Pedagogical Fragments, # 55
The Educational Theory of Immanuel Kant (1904)
Context: I am an investigator by inclination. I feel a great thirst for knowledge and an impatient eagerness to advance, also satisfaction at each progressive step. There was a time when I thought that all this could constitute the honor of humanity, and I despised the mob, which knows nothing about it. Rousseau set me straight. This dazzling excellence vanishes; I learn to honor men, and would consider myself much less useful than common laborers if I did not believe that this consideration could give all the others a value, to establish the rights of humanity.

„A plant, an animal, the regular order of nature — probably also the disposition of the whole universe — give manifest evidence that they are possible only by means of and according to ideas“

—  Immanuel Kant, book Critique of Pure Reason

B 374
Critique of Pure Reason (1781; 1787)
Context: A plant, an animal, the regular order of nature — probably also the disposition of the whole universe — give manifest evidence that they are possible only by means of and according to ideas; that, indeed, no one creature, under the individual conditions of its existence, perfectly harmonizes with the idea of the most perfect of its kind — just as little as man with the idea of humanity, which nevertheless he bears in his soul as the archetypal standard of his actions; that, notwithstanding, these ideas are in the highest sense individually, unchangeably, and completely determined, and are the original causes of things; and that the totality of connected objects in the universe is alone fully adequate to that idea.

„When I treat a man contemptuously, I can inspire him with no practical desire to appreciate my grounds of truth. When I treat any one as worthless, I can inspire him with no desire to do right.“

—  Immanuel Kant

Part III : Selection on Education from Kant's other Writings, Ch. I Pedagogical Fragments, # 15
The Educational Theory of Immanuel Kant (1904)
Context: The more one presupposes that his own power will suffice him to realize what he desires the more practical is that desire. When I treat a man contemptuously, I can inspire him with no practical desire to appreciate my grounds of truth. When I treat any one as worthless, I can inspire him with no desire to do right.

„The wish to talk to God is absurd. We cannot talk to one we cannot comprehend — and we cannot comprehend God; we can only believe in Him.“

—  Immanuel Kant

A lecture at Königsberg (1775), as quoted in A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources (1946) by H. L. Mencken, p. 955
Context: The wish to talk to God is absurd. We cannot talk to one we cannot comprehend — and we cannot comprehend God; we can only believe in Him. The uses of prayer are thus only subjective.

„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

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

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