1724 Born April 22 in Königsburg, Prussia
1748 Begins studies at University of Königsburg
1770 Chair of Metaphysics at University of Königsburg
1804 Dies in Königsburg on February 12
Kant never traveled more than 40 miles outside Königsburg, yet from reading he had an extremely detailed knowledge of other places around the world, to the point that he could fool people who had visited some place into thinking that he had visited there too. Moreover, he held to such a routine that the housewives of Königsburg are said to have been able to set their clocks by his appearance while on his daily walk.
1781 Critique of Pure Reason
1783 Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics that can Come forth as a Science
1788 Critique of Practical Reason
1790 Critique of Judgment
1793 Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone
1797 Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
1. What is philosophy?
Philosophy is the search for self-knowledge. It answers the question: What am I? (It answers this question for every human because Kant assumes that every human is like him in the relevant respects.)
2. Why ought we do philosophy?
Because self-knowledge defines the goal of human life, which is to be a free, autonomous individual-in-community. The formulation of this goal is very much conditioned by the enlightenments striving to be free from external authorities; Kant took such heteronomy to be a form of self-imposed tutelage, or slavery, of humans to their own delusions. Autonomy rather than heteronomy is the goal of life. But there is another form of heteronomy. Can the goal of human life be realized as an individual? To some extent, but only imperfectly, for rationality requires the recognition of value in the other even as recognition of my value makes the goal of my autonomy sensible. If every individual matters, then autonomy for everyone is important, so we must all strive toward it together. To make oneself an exception is to be governed as "other" than everything else, and so is heteronomous.
3. What, specifically, are the tasks of the philosophic quest for self knowledge?
We should aim for answers to three questions: what can I know? (metaphysics); what ought I do? (morals); what might I hope? (religion).
4. What kind of knowledge of ourselves should we settle for?
We should seek a certain foundation for knowledge (general debt to Rationalism) that includes knowledge of the limits of knowledge (general debt to Empiricism).
5. How should we proceed to get the knowledge we need and desire?
We must first analyze the faculty of knowing and thinking itself (reason turned upon reason) in order to determine precisely what are the limits and capacities of reason. This will have two stages: a critique of pure reason (which is what we use when we think and experience), and a critique of practical reason (which is what we use when we make and do). Kant also offers a critique of judgment, because to know for him always involves making judgements.
1. David Hume and Kants Awakening from his Dogmatic Slumber
Hume gave an analysis of causality that made the application of the concept of causality to reality extremely problematic. Because of his empirical insistence that we know through experience, it was natural for Hume to notice that what we call causal relationships were nothing other than constant conjunctions of events: one thing after another in regular fashion. Like the frames of a movie film, we see one thing and then another, but we never get to see what happened in between; there is a natural limitation on what we can know about causality. We cannot know from experience that there is a causal relationship actually present.
This encounter with Hume stunned Kant out of what he later described as his "dogmatic slumber." In practice, this means comfortable engagement with the thought world of continental rationalism (especially Leibniz and Wolff). But why? What was at stake in Humes analysis that so alarmed Kant?
Kants solution to these problems can be thought of as two-fold.
The first step in both parts of Kants answer to Hume was a theory of judgments.
2. Theory of Judgments
Thinking of all kinds involves making judgments. That is, an implicit "I think" accompanies every act of thought, from which it follows that every kind of rational discursive knowledge presupposes judgment at a fundamental level. Kant's theory of judgments is crucial to his theory of human knowledge, accordingly. It will turn out that rational discursive knowledge about certain matters, such as the self, derives from concepts whose source is not experience, but whose only legitimate application is to experience. This conclusion conveys the color of Kant's theory of pure reason. But to understand that conclusion, it is necessary to say what kinds of judgments there are. The appropriate grammar of judgments and knowledge is summarized as follows:
(synthetic, analytic) judgments resulting in (a priori, a posteriori) knowledge
The clarity of Kant's distinction between synthetic and analytic judgments has been challenged, perhaps most famously in W.V.O. Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism." In any event, the terms are to be defined as follows.
Synthetic judgment: an informational judgment that presents new information (expressible in a sentence whose predicate adds to the conceptual content of its subject, e.g. some bachelors live in Königsburg)
These judgments and kinds of knowledge can occur in various combinations, and the kinds of things to be known can be assigned to the various resulting boxes.
Though there is a controversy over whether mathematical statements (like 18+34=52) represent analytic (definitional) or synthetic (informational) judgments, the main point of interest here concerns the synthetic a priori box. A story can be told about this that recapitulates Kants reaction to Hume.
Proponents of metaphysics always believed that their knowledge of the world and God was informational rather than definitional (i.e. synthetic rather than analytic). There never was much disagreement about whether informational knowledge could be known from experience (synthetic a posteriori) though there were lots of debates about how this knowledge was obtained and what it was knowledge of. The problem of possibility arises sharply, however, with regard to informational judgments producing knowledge without the aid of experience (synthetic a priori).
Take Descartes, for examplejust about the archetypal rationalist metaphysician. His clear and distinct ideas were synthetic a priori: informational judgments leading to knowledge that was logically prior to experience (e.g. "vacuums are impossible" or "I think therefore I am"). For Descartes, there was no problem with the synthetic a priori category.
Step 1: Descartes' view of metaphysics
Locke, howeveran empiricistargued that there could be no knowledge apart from experience, so that the synthetic a priori category had to be empty. You simply could not get information from judgments made logically prior to experience. The only thing you could get that way was definitions.
Well, no problem, we might think. Well simply justify our knowledge of all the things we care about by assigning them to the category of synthetic a posteriori, if we agree with Locke that Descartes is far too optimistic about his rationalism. We will, for example, think of our knowledge of the self, of the world, of God, of freedom, of immortality, of causality as derived from experience. Thats what Locke did, after all, relying on revelation to help him out with some of the trickier items, and deriving the "simpler" ones such as causality more or less directly from sensation.
Step 2: Locke's view of metaphysics
Thats a feasible strategy for Locke, but Hume didnt think it worked. With his argument about causality (summarized above) Hume showed that the reality of causality can never be known through experience. If the empiricist Locke emptied the synthetic a priori category and moved its precious contents into the synthetic a posteriori category, therefore, then the empiricist Hume showed that those precious contents couldnt be known under the category to which Locke assigned them. (Note that with his argument against miracles, Hume also undermined Lockes argument for revelatory knowledge of such metaphysical favorites as God and freedom.)
Step 3: Hume's view of metaphysics
Kant saw all of this when he read Hume and was rightly alarmed. His strategy was to undo what Locke had done by returning knowledge of self, world, God, freedom, immortality, causality, etc. to the synthetic a priori category from where Locke had dislodged it, and then totally reinterpreting the synthetic a priori category to make it immune from Lockes and Humes arguments against it.
Step 4: Kant's view of metaphysics
The key to Kants making the synthetic a priori category immune from criticism was a pair of distinctions.
Kant then argued that nothing could be known in itself, because the noumenal realm can never be the object of knowledge. Thus, self, world, God, freedom, immortality, causality, etc. could not be objects of theoretical knowledge (against Descartes and rationalists). But Kant also argued that the precious items in the synthetic a priori category could be discussed in this strange, second way, as the conditions for the possibility of experience. This is certainly not theoretical knowledge such as that which our experience permits us to have, but rather reflexive knowledge of what we have to assume is the case if our experience is to make sense, even though we can never know it directly.
Thus, Lockes arguments against the synthetic a priori category are refuted; and Humes arguments against the knowability of the precious items that Kant places there is partly accepted (we cant say we know them in the usual way) and partly rejected (we can speak about them indirectly by reflexively noting that they correspond to the conditions for the possibility of experience).
This is typical of Kants thought, which he sometimes described as transcendental philosophy. Transcendental philosophy can never be affirmed by Kant with its traditional meaning, however, because theoretical knowledge of those things that transcend our experience is impossible. If it can be affirmed at all, and so if metaphysics can be done at all, transcendental philosophy can be no more than a kind of exploration of the structure of understanding. Thus the full title of the Prolegomena. Because of potential misunderstandings based on his use of the word "transcendental," he sometimes used the phrase "critical philosophy" to describe his project.
4. Kants Map of the Knowing Self (Conceptual Scheme)
Summary: The self knows its own experience. Experience is sensibility made available through the imagination to the categorial structure of the understanding. In other words, knowledge of experience presupposes a three-part structure to the human person: sensibility (perception caused by a noumenal world of things-in-themselves), imagination, understanding.
Sensibility or perception is the buzzing, blooming confusion of appearances (James). But everything sensible only shows up in the buzzing, blooming confusion at all if it is intuitable, if the human sensory apparatus is such that it can pick up what is out there (like a radio has to be tuned to pick up the right frequency of radio waves). There are two pure forms of sensibility: space and time; any possible perception is intuited spatio-temporally. This, therefore, is the most basic condition of the possibility of something being an object of experience: it must be a spatio-temporal object (remember, objects of experience are perceptions, not things in themselves).
Imagination produces and bears schemata. A schema is a rule that specifies production of images and picks out categories as being applicable to perceptions (appearances). Imagination can be thought of as the mediator between sensibility and understanding.
Understanding is categorial: imagination synthesizes the manifold of appearances into categorial objects of experience, which is how they can be understood. We cannot know without categories, because to know is to judge, and judgment is imaginative synthesis in which categories are applied to appearances.
The categories are analytic concepts that constitute the form of the understanding. There are four basic kinds, and because judging is a matter of applying categories to appearances, there are four kinds of corresponding judgments. Within each of the four categories, there are three kinds, constituted by an opposed pair (thesis and antithesis) and a synthesis of the opposition. More precisely, the three-fold distinction involves categorial, hypothetical, and disjunctive judgments. This makes twelve categories of the understanding and twelve judgments in all.
5. The Three Parts of the Critique of Pure Reason
The transcendental aesthetic deals with the foundations of mathematics. The argument is that spatial ordering of mental representations, is made possible by the pure form of sensibility we call "space," and that when this pure form of sensibility is systematically reflected on, geometry is the result. Geometry is one kind of exploration of the way we know.
Similarly, the temporal ordering of mental representations (i.e. according to "before" and "after") is made possible of the pure form of sensibility we call "time," and the systematic reflection upon this pure form of sensibility leads to other aspects of mathematics (e.g. arithmetic).
"Transcendental aesthetic" is actually a good name for this. "Transcendental" refers to the concern to justify something above and beyond sense data. "Aesthetic" refers to the kind of visual representation that is the bread and butter of the pure forms of sensibility.
The transcendental analytic deals with the foundations of pure natural science. The argument is that universal laws of nature are analyses of the form of the understanding (i.e. the a priori concepts called the categories of the understanding).
The reason we can be sure that these universal laws work, therefore, is not because our experience confirms that they literally apply to noumenal reality (for we can know nothing about that), but because experience is understood, it is constructed out of the categories of the understanding. The universal laws of pure natural science are secure, therefore, because they are more basic to the process of human knowing than experience itself.
The transcendental dialectic deals with the possibility of metaphysical knowledge. The argument is that knowledge of essences of things is impossible, so traditional metaphysics is also impossible. The best that can be done is to inquire as to the conditions for the possibility of our experience, in the course of which inquiry certain of the essential ideas of traditional speculative metaphysics are reconstituted as regulative ideas for inquiry. In particular, we can never be justified in making knowledge claims about reality, including a world of objects, a unified world, a unified self, God, freedom and immortality.
Metaphysics in this impossible sense results when we apply our conceptual scheme transcendentally, beyond the realm of phenomena to noumena. We have a natural disposition to apply our conceptual scheme transcendentally, because this would allow us to achieve an overarching unified interpretation of reality, and to give a firm foundation to morals and religion. But it is a mistake; an analysis of the human person shows that we cannot know things in themselves. Moreover, when you try to break down the phenomenal/noumenal distinction, you get antinomies (contradictions), in the sense that contradictory knowledge claims seem to be equally certain. This is the notorious problem of the "arbitrariness of metaphysics" and has more than anything else served to create a mood of skepticism surrounding metaphysics. Preserving the distinction, and keeping knowledge to the phenomenal world, avoids the antinomies of pure reason altogether.
Examples of the problems we get into when applying our categories transcendentally are Kants four antinomies:
Though we can never have knowledge of things-in-themselves, and must never apply categories to the transcendent realm, transcendental ideas can still be useful for regulating and motivating phenomenal inquiry. Thus it is that they are called "regulative ideas." The three big regulative ideas all derive from the rational drive to complete a series of principles and thus to render the intelligibility of the whole thinkable, even if not an object of knowledge. Each kind of completion relates to one of the three kinds of judgment that Kant uses to generate the Table of Judgments.
Kant also provides transcendental critiques in his rejection of the three kinds of proof for the existence of God (he argues that there are only three). The key in all three cases follows directly from his arguments about what the understanding can and cannot know.
The regulative use of a transcendental idea is to promote the work of reason in the disciplines that correspond to the idea, particularly by encouraging synthesis and unity of a discipline, stimulating the mind to new ideas, holding up the ideal of goal/purpose.
6. Summary of the Results of the Critique of Pure Reason
Positively: There are two kinds of informative knowing: knowledge from experience (synthetic judgments a posteriori) and knowledge of the conditions of possibility of experience (synthetic judgments a priori).
Negatively: There is no other kind of informative knowledge. In particular, knowledge of things in themselves is impossible. Kant believes that our experience is caused by a world of things (he argues this in the first Critique), but that we can have no knowledge of this noumenal realm. We know only phenomena, or appearances, as they are processed by our categorial conceptual structure. Thus, if there is a noumenal realm that causes experience, we may not be perceiving all of it, since our experience is synthesized into categorial intelligibility prior to consciousness.
Categorical Imperative: Humans immediately sense an immediate obligation to be autonomous creatures, to be good, to be free; this immediate sense is a condition for the possibility of our acting at all. That is, the very possibility of our moving from knowing to acting presupposes this universal moral law. Just as we must suppose, to make sense of our experience, that the noumenal realm is full of objects that cause our experience, so must we suppose that it is moral in character, to make sense of our ability to act in it. Reality being moral in character entails God as moral judge, freedom for responsibility, and immortality to have time to perfect oneself in accord with the moral law. These three are called posulates of practical reason.
Rational Moral Law: The categorical imperative has this immediate aspect to it, but it also can be given rational formulation as follows: We should act in such a way that we could wish everyone to act like us. In other words, we should act in conformity with the supposition that actions are governed by universal moral laws.
Religion: has a moral tone for Kant. This will be exploited explicitly later by the Protestant Liberals.
This is basically a way of responding to a problem: although we know we ought to do what is right, good people arent always rewarded in this world. So we have to assume that there is some other guarantee for moralitysomething powerful enough to support belief in an ultimate good and happiness.
Postulates are akin to transcendental (or regulative) ideas; what the latter achieve for pure reason, the former accomplish for practical reason. The three main postulates are God, freedom, and immortality. Together they make moral life more than sentiment (action out of projected desires) or desperation (action out of ignorant hope), and they encourage people to want to obey the inward moral law.
Mike: "I give up. I put my money in and punched in the code for God, just like I always do. But this dumb machine just gave me something called an RI. Not a very big package, either. So I thought to myself, Im not stupid, Ill try the next one instead. Whatd I get this time? A postulate. I dont know what that is, but I can tell you this--it isnt the God of our fathers. "
Robert: "My pastor always says ancestors now. Its more inclusive."
Mike: "Yeah, well. . . what about my money?"
Robert: "I dont think you can get it back. You got what you paid for."
Mike: "Thats just it! I didnt get my moneys worth at all!"
Robert: "You just didnt get what you want."
Mike: "I wonder why I didnt get what I was expecting. I put in the usual amount of money."
Robert: "But you put it in the wrong machines."
Mike: "These two machines look just like all the others to me. They all sell ideas."
Robert: "Look again."
Mike: "Hey! Youre right! This one says it critiques ideas and sells conditions. Same goes for the other one! Is that what Ive got, I wonder, conditions?"
Robert: "Yup. Some people dont like them, dont find them very satisfying, but theyll keep you honest."
Mike: "This ones called RI."
Robert: "God as Regulative Idea. Helps you to think of the world as unified, if you hypothesize God as supreme cause. And that will push you to try to figure nature out, scientifically, to try to understand its purpose."
Mike: "Now that supreme cause business sounds more like what Im used to. You know, the alpha and the omega."
Robert: "Except you cant say that there really is a God that corresponds with the RI. Its just an idea you put out there because our minds are pretty compulsive -- always wanting to go further, to complete, to unify, to make things perfect, even though we know things arent perfect in this world."
Mike: "And this postulate?"
Robert: "God as Postulate of morality. Now some people like that one better. Gives you a bit more to chew on. Basically a way of responding to a problem: although we know we ought to do what is right, good people arent always rewarded in this world. So we have to assume that there is some other guarantee for morality. Something powerful enough to support belief in an ultimate good and happiness."
Mike: "You say its powerful? Will I like it?"
Robert: "I dont know if I would use the term "like." The point is that when you accept the postulate, it encourages you to want to do what is right. To do your duty."
Mike: "Not very comforting, really. I dont think its really what Im looking for."
Robert: "But its probably all you need. . . and I have a feeling its all youll get. The other machines are all out of order."
1. What happened after Kant in Philosophy?
Many philosophical movements have been influenced by Kant's philosophy. Consider the following examples.
Absolute idealism: since we never perceive noumena, since they have no explanatory function, since they are never experienced, why do we believe in them at all? Why not get rid of them? Berkeleys subjective idealism (before Kant) does this, and the absolute idealists do this more thoroughly. They say: why suppose that the world is divided into pieces that cause our sensations at all? why not give that up entirely and suppose that only we divide the world up into pieces, so that the world in itself is not a bunch of particular things but, say, just mind.
Phenomenology, hermeneutics, deconstruction: playing around in the map of the self, either at the border between world and self (phenomenologys "what appears to me?"), or within the knowing process (hermeneutics "how do I understand?"), or in the reality depicted in the map (deconstructions frustrated "All I ever do is impose myself on the world!").
Existentialism: focus on self as object of knowledge, made possible by Kants "turn to subject" and making all of philosophy turn around the knowing, judging self; playing around with the relation between the "I" and the goals of life: how does an "I" live? what is it like to live like "I" do? How ought "I" live strung out between the reality of life and my grandiose expectations for it?
Linguistic philosophy: questions Kants assumption that this analysis of the human act of knowing is categorially identical among all people. Instead, taking the lead from anthropologys observation that people in different cultures have different conceptual schemes, linguistic philosophy supposes that linguistic difference is the sign of categorial difference. Philosophy, therefore, must be concerned first and foremost with language, for our categorial schemes derive from linguistic habits. Their motto is: "Ontology models language."
Pragmatism: transcendental ideas should be believed in as true precisely because they are useful. Kant thought that we can never have a good reason for affirming the truth of the transcendental ideas, and kept their evident usefulness separate from truth questions; this was a foundationalist bias. The pragmatists blur right over this distinction arguing that, when there is nothing else to go by, usefulness is itself a kind of evidence for truth. Therefore, speculative metaphysics is resuscitated at the hands of the pragmatists, though in a fallibilist mode, for all speculative proposals must always be advanced on the understanding that they could be mistaken, and thus the aim is to find ways to correct metaphysical hypotheses. This is, they argue, scientific metaphysics, for it follows the same general path that the methods of the natural sciences do.
2. What happened after Kant in Theology?
In theology, as in philosophy, people found they could not ignore Kant, but they also discovered that there were ways to get around, under, over, or even through, Kants critical philosophy. Here are some of the more famous of them.
Intensifying (Out-Kanting!) Kant: This is the approach that tries to do what Kant did only more thoroughly and consistently. This involves making reference to the contradiction inherent in the self-referentiality of Kants project: reason cannot identify its own limits without taking a transcendent position. Thus, it is a matter of intensifying Kants achievement in the sense of increasing its consistency. But the results of this intensification can in some cases crucially undo the system.
Defying ("Thumbing the Nose" at) Kant: In this strategy, theologians agreed with Kant that reason had been forced in his arguments to recognize the limits of its own competence, but then concluded from this that reason was not in a position to define the methodological starting point for theology. Rather, the starting point had to be solely in revelation. Understood thus, theology could be seen to be methodologically independent of philosophical considerations.
Extending Kant: In this strategy, theology accepts Kants argument that reason is limited, but rejects his arguments about the extent of the limitation. These people try to locate other "categories" of the understanding or mental capacities by which God could be experienced.
Accepting Kant: In this strategy, theologians simply accepted Kants analysis of the limits of reason, together with his moral style of religion, and worked out of that. This has happened in several ways.
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