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Summary Of Immanuel Kant's Life Essay

1463 words - 6 pages

Summary of Immanuel Kant's Life

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) spent all of his life in Königsberg, a
small German town on the Baltic Sea in East Prussia. (After World War II,
Germany's border was pushed west, so Königsberg is now called
Kaliningrad and is part of Russia.) At the age of fifty-five, Kant appeared to
be a washout. He had taught at Königsberg University for over twenty
years, yet had not published any works of significance.

During the last twenty-five years of his life, however, Kant left a
mark on the history of philosophy that is rivaled only by such towering
giants as Plato and Aristotle. Kant's three major works are often
considered to be the starting points for different branches of modern
philosophy: the Critique of Pure Reason (1781) for the philosophy of
mind; the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) for moral philosophy; and
the Critique of Judgment (1790) for aesthetics, the philosophy of art.

The Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals was published in
1785, just before the Critique of Practical Reason. It is essentially a short
introduction to the argument presented in the second Critique. In order to
understand what Kant is up to in this book, it is useful to know something
about Kant's other works and about the intellectual climate of his time.

Kant lived and wrote during a period in European intellectual history
called the "Enlightenment." Stretching from the mid-seventeenth century to
the early nineteenth, this period produced the ideas about human rights and
democracy that inspired the French and American revolutions. (Some other
major figures of the Enlightenment were Locke, Hume, Rousseau, and

The characteristic quality of the Enlightenment was an immense
confidence in "reason"--that is, in humanity's ability to solve problems
through logical analysis. The central metaphor of the Enlightenment was a
notion of the light of reason dispelling the darkness of mythology and
misunderstanding. Enlightenment thinkers like Kant felt that history had
placed them in the unique position of being able to provide clear reasons
and arguments for their beliefs. The ideas of earlier generations, they
thought, had been determined by myths and traditions; their own ideas were
based on reason. (According to this way of thinking, the French monarchy's
claims to power were based on tradition; reason prescribed a republican
government like that created by the revolution.)

Kant's philosophical goal was to use logical analysis to understand
reason itself. Before we go about analyzing our world, Kant argued, we
must understand the mental tools we will be using. In the Critique of Pure
Reason Kant set about developing a comprehensive picture of how our
mind--our "reason"-- receives and processes information.

Kant later said that the great Scottish philosopher David Hume
(1711-76) had inspired him to...

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