Philosophy Of Immanuel Kant Essay Research Paper

Philosophy Of Immanuel Kant Essay, Research Paper Philosophy of Immanuel Kant Kant’s philosophy is generally labeled a system of transcendental criticism, that is, he tries to explain which parts of knowledge precede experience, and which don t, or, what is and isn t a priori.

Philosophy Of Immanuel Kant Essay, Research Paper

Philosophy of Immanuel Kant

Kant’s philosophy is generally labeled a system of transcendental criticism, that is, he tries to explain which parts of knowledge precede experience, and which don t, or, what is and isn t a priori.

The first work of Kant in which he appears a proponent of transcendental criticism is the “Critique of Pure Reason , which appeared in 1781. A second edition was published in 1787. In 1785 appeared the “Foundation for the Metaphysics of Ethics”. Then came a succession of critical works, the most important of which are the “Critique of Practical Reason”, the “Critique of Judgment , and “Religion within the Limits of Mere Reason”.

During the period of his academic career, from 1747 to 1781, Kant, as has been said, taught the philosophy that was then prevalent in Germany, which was Wolff’s modified form of dogmatic rationalism . That is to say, he made experience out to be the basis of all truth, rejected skepticism, and judged all knowledge by the test of reason. Towards the end of that period, however, he began to question the solidity of the psychological basis of truth, and ended by losing all faith in metaphysical reasoning. The apparent contradictions which he found to exist in the physical sciences, and the conclusions which Hume had reached in his analysis of the principle of causation, “awoke Kant from his dogmatic slumber”. This brought home to him the necessity of reviewing or criticizing all human experience for the purpose of restoring the physical sciences to a state of certainty. His old mindset had, he now considered, laid too much emphasis on the a priori parts of knowledge. On the other hand, as he now for the first time realized, the philosophy of Hume had gone too far when it labeled all truth empirical or a posteriori. Kant proposes to pass all knowledge in review in order to determine how much of it is to be assigned to the a priori, and how much to the a posteriori factors of knowledge. As he himself says, his purpose is to “deduce” the transcendental forms of thought. Hence, his philosophy is essentially a “criticism”, because it is an examination of knowledge, and “transcendental”, because its purpose in examining knowledge is to determine the a priori, or transcendental, forms.

Kant himself has said that the business of philosophy is to answer three questions: What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope for? He considered, however, that the answer to the second and third depends on the answer to the first; our duty and our destiny can be determined only after a thorough study of human knowledge.

“Critique of Pure Reason”

Going along with his purpose to examine all knowledge in order to find what is and what is not a priori, or that which precedes experience, Kant proceeds in the “Critique of Pure Reason” to inquire into the a priori forms of sensation, judgment, and reasoning.


The first thing that Kant does in his study of knowledge is to distinguish between the content and the form of sensation. The content of our sense-knowledge comes from experience. The form, however, is not derived through the senses, but is imposed on the material by the mind, in order to render the material, or content, universal and necessary. The form is, therefore, a priori; it is independent of experience. The most important forms of the conditions of all sensation are space and time. Not only are space and time mental entities in the sense that they are filtered by experience into the mind; they are strictly subjective, purely mental, and have no objective entity, except that the mind applies them into an objective world.

Because of what is to follow, it is important to ask at this point: Do the transcendental forms of our senses extend our senses beyond the material and physical worlds? Kant holds that they do not. Now, the data of the senses represent only the appearances of things; therefore, all sensation is confined to knowledge of appearances. Sense-knowledge cannot penetrate to the noumenon, the reality of the thing (Ding-an-sich).


Taking up now the knowledge which we acquire by means of the understanding, Kant finds that thought in the strict sense begins with judgment. As in the case of knowledge from the senses, he distinguishes here the content and the form. The content of judgment, or in other words, that which the understanding joins together in the act of judgment, can be nothing but the sense-intuitions, which take place, as has been said, by the imposition of the forms of space and time on the content of sensation. Sometimes the sense-intuitions are joined together in a manner that implies particularity. An example would be the judgment, “This table is square.” With judgments of this kind, Kant is not really concerned. He is interested rather in judgments such as “All the sides of a square are equal”, in which the relation said to exist between the subject and the predicate is consistant and universal. With regard to these, Kant’s first remark is that their necessity and universality must be a priori. That nothing that is universal and can come from experience is assumed with Kant. There must be forms of judgment, as there are forms of sensation, which are imposed by the understanding, which do not come from experience at all, but are a priori. These forms of judgment are the categories. It is not necessary to call attention to the contrast between the Kantian categories and the Aristotelean categories. The difference is fundamental, a difference in nature, purpose, function, and effect. The important point is to determine the function of the categories. They serve to create universality and necessity on our judgments. They serve to unify complicated moral intuitions. But they do not extend our knowledge. For while intuitions without the categories would be blind, the categories without real intuitions behind them would be meaningless. We are still within the narrow circle of knowledge covered by our senses. Space and time do not widen that circle; neither do the categories. The knowledge, therefore, which we acquire by the understanding is confined to the appearances of things, and does not extend to the noumenal reality, the Ding-an-Sich.


In the third place, Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” is occupied with the reasoning faculty. Here “ideas” play a role similar to that played in sensation and judgment by space and time and the categories, respectively. Examining the reasoning faculty, Kant finds that it has three distinct operations, namely, categorical, hypothetical, and disjunctive reasoning. To these, he says, correspond the three “ideas”, the idea of the soul as thinking subject (psychological idea), the idea of matter as the totality of phenomena (cosmological idea), and the idea of God as the supreme creator of reality (theological idea). He first takes up the idea of the soul, and, examining the course of reasoning of the psychologist who teaches the substantiality, immateriality, and immortality of the human soul, he pronounces that line of philosophical thought to be veering towards error. He points out how rational psychology makes a wrong start, he claims it is way is full of contradictions and he also claims that it does not conclusively establish the immortality of the soul.

Next, Kant subjects the cosmological idea to a similar analysis. He finds that as soon as we begin to predicate anything concerning the ultimate nature of matter we fall into a whole series of contradictions, which he calls “antinomies”. Thus, the statements, “Matter has a beginning”, “The world was created”, are apparently no more true than their contradicting statements, “Matter is eternal”, “The world is uncreated.” To every thesis regarding the ultimate nature of the material universe, an equally possible antithesis exists. The conclusion is that by pure reason alone we cannot attain knowledge of the nature of the material universe. Finally, Kant takes up the theological idea, the idea of God, and criticizes the methods and arguments of rational theology. The speculative basis of our belief in the existence of God is unsound, he says, because the proofs brought forward to support it are not conclusive.

Kant does not deny the existence of God, or the other two ideas. His aim is to show that the three ideas, or, in other words, speculative reasoning concerning the soul, the universe, and God, do not add to our knowledge. But, although the ideas do not extend our experience, they regulate it. The best way to think about our conscious states is to represent them as inhering in a substantial subject, about which, however, we can know nothing. The best way to think of the external world is to represent it as a multiplicity of appearances, the ground of which is an unknowable material something; and the best way to organize and systematize all our knowledge of reality is to represent everything as springing from one source, governed by one law, and tending towards one end, the law, the source, and the end being an unknown and (speculatively) unknowable God. It is very easy to see how this negative phase of Kant’s philosophy affected the subsequent course of philosophic thought in Europe. The conclusions of the first “Critique” are the premises of contemporary Agnosticism. We can know nothing except the appearances of things; the senses reach only phenomena; judgment does not go any deeper than the senses, so far as the external world is concerned; science and philosophy fail utterly in the effort to reach a knowledge of substance (noumenon), or essence, and the attempts of metaphysics to teach us what the soul is, what matter is, what God is, have failed and are doomed to inevitable failure. These are the conclusions which Kant reaches in the “Critique of Pure Reason”; they are the assumptions of the Agnostic.

“Critique of Practical Reason”

Kant tore down in order to build up. What he took away in the first “Critique” he gave back in the second. In the “Critique of Pure Reason” he showed that the truths which have always been considered the most important in the whole range of human knowledge have no real logical foundation. In the “Critique of Practical Reasoning” he aims at showing that these truths rest on a solid moral basis, and are thus placed above all logic and the clamour of dispute. He overthrows philosophies built on the foundation “I think”; he now sets about the task of rebuilding truth on the foundation “I ought.” The moral law is supreme. Kant explains that we are more certain of I ought then of I am cold. This is the one unshakable foundation of all moral, spiritual, and higher intellectual truth. The first characteristic of the moral law is that it is universal. When conscience sends out the message that it is wrong to tell a lie, the voice is not merely intended for here and now, not for “just this once”, but for all time. It is valid always and everywhere. This quality of universality shows at once that the moral law has no foundation in pleasure, happiness, the perfection of self, or a so-called moral sense. It is its own foundation. Its voice reaches conscience immediately, commands unconditionally, and gives no reason. It exacts unconditional obedience. Hence the “hollow voice” of the moral law is called by Kant the categorical imperitive

We know the moral law by immediate intuition. It takes the place of Descartes’ primary intuition of his own thought. From it all the important truths of philosophy are deduced, the freedom of the will, the immortality of the soul, and the existence of God. The freedom of the will follows from the existence of the moral law, because the fact that “I ought” implies the fact that “I can.” I know that I ought to do a certain thing, and from this I infer that I can. In the order of things, of course, freedom precedes obligation. In the order of knowledge, I infer freedom from the fact of obligation. Similarly, the immortality of the soul is implied in the moral law. The moral law demands complete fulfillment of itself in absolute human perfection. But the highest perfection that man can attain in this life is only partial or incomplete perfection, because, so long as the soul is united with the body, there is always in our nature a mixture of the corporeal with the spiritual; the striving towards holiness is accompanied by an inclination towards unholiness, and virtue implies a struggle. There must, therefore, be a life beyond the grave in which this “endless progress”, as Kant calls it, will be continued. Finally, the moral law implies the existence of God. And that in two ways. The authoritative “voice” of the law implies a lawgiver. Moreover, the nature of the moral law implies that there be somewhere a good which is not only supreme, but complete, which embodies all the conditions which the moral law implies.

“Critique of the Faculty of Judgment”

Between logic and action, is what Kant calls judgment. This is the part of you that enables you to appreciate beauty or quality. The truth is the object of logic, the good is the object of action, and the beautiful is the object of judgement. By this peculiar use of the word judgment Kant places himself outside the ranks of the sensists, who claim that beauty has to do only with the material senses. He is an intellectualist in aesthetics, reducing the beautiful to elements of intellectuality. The beautiful, he teaches, is that which universally gives pleasure, without the concept of definite design. Kant is careful to remark that the enjoyment of the beautiful is not purely intellectual. Something which is perfect appeals to the intellect alone, while the beautiful appeals also to the emotions and to the faculty of judgement. The highest use of the faculty of judgement is the realization of the beautiful as symbols of moral good.

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant was born at K nigsberg in East Prussia, 22 April 1724; died there, 12 February 1804. From his sixteenth to his twenty-first year, he studied at the University of his Native City, having for his teacher Martin Knutzen, under whom he acquired knowledge of the philosophy of Wolff and of Newton’s physics. After the death of his father in 1746, he spent nine years as tutor in various families. In 1755, he returned to K nigsberg, and there he spent the remainder of his life. From 1755 to 1770, he was Privatdozent (unsalaried professor) at the University of K nigsberg. In 1770, he was appointed professor of philosophy, a position that he held until 1797.

Kant considered himself to be a revolutionary thinker. He believed that he brought to philosophy a new method that he called criticism. Other philosophers had brought forth their systems without having examined beforehand the power of human reason to think objects a priori. Criticism reveals the inherent limitations of reason in its practical employment. Nevertheless, it also reveals the power of reason over its own domain of objects, objects of experience. It further reveals that reason dictates to itself the moral law.

Kant’s influence on modern philosophy has continued to the present day. His work started the development of German idealism by Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. The Neo-Kantianism of the late 19th century applied his insights to the study of the physical sciences (Hermann Cohen, Ernst Cassirer). His ideas were also applied to the historical and cultural sciences (Heinrich Rickert); his influence is also seen in the thought of Dilthey; as well as in the pragmatism of John Dewey and William James.