Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804)
Author of Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785).
"The Enlightenment was a desire for human affairs to be guided by rationality than by faith, superstition, or revelation; a belief in the power of human reason to change society and liberate the individual from the restraints of custom or arbitrary authority; all backed up by a world view increasingly validated by science rather than by religion or tradition." (Outram 1995)
In the eighteenth century, people started questioning the authority and knowledge of the church. New ideas placing human reason over faith and blind obedience began arising. This period in history is known as the Enlightenment. It is a movement, still in progress, for individual people to reach and hopefully grasp their highest potential. It began with the writings of philosophers such as Voltaire (1694-1778) and Charles-Louis Montesquieu (1689-1755). The second wave included Denis Diderot (1713-78), d'Alembert (1714-80), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), and the final stretch came from thinkers such as Lessing and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). All three eras emphasized intellectual reason over faith and put more reliance on scientific discoveries and revelations. However, the people in the third part, especially Immanuel Kant, having the benefit of hindsight, are able to encompass the movement from faith to reason in their writings.
The basic details of Kant's biographic life take very little space. He was born in 1724 in Konigsberg, the capital of East Prussia and one of Frederick the Great's garrison towns. Kant knew what it was like to live as a peasant, since he came from a peasant family. His father was a harness maker. From an early age, Kant showed much intellectual potential and his local fame gained him admittance into a school called the Collegium Fredericianum, an institution run by Pietists. "Pietism was an eighteenth century fundamentalist movement within German Protestantism", also followed by his parents, "that minimized the authority of the church and stressed individual moral conduct (Sullivan 1994)." Then, he attended the University of Konigsberg, also staffed mainly by Pietists. The influence of this religious background is reflected in Kant's beliefs in the existence of God, in the dignity of each person, and in a universal moral code.
Kant spent most of his adult life on the faculty of the University of Konigsberg. He lectured on a wide range of topics, including mathematics, physics, cosmology, anthropology (today it is called psychology), physical geography, education, and not frequently about different aspects of philosophy. His lectures were "witty and learned," and people went to Konigsberg from all over Germany in order to hear them. Also, his many writings provided a profound climax and closure to the period we know today as the Enlightenment.
In an essay for the Berlinische Monatsschrift, Kant writes "Sapere aude,...