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Kant, Immanuel

(1724–1804). 1. B. Königsberg, E. Prussia, in a pietistic home; educ. at the Collegium Fredericianum in Königsberg and the U. of Königsberg; prof. logic and metaphysics Königsberg 1770; never married; academic life rigorously disciplined.

2. Kant concerned himself esp. with the problem of knowledge. He tried to overcome the limitations and contradictions of empiricism* and rationalism.*

3. Kant detected in the “new” physical science: a scientist is active, not passive or “discovering” laws in nature; he (a) thrusts laws upon nature (b) in accord with characteristics of the human mind. The clue for Kant came in an analysis of the concept of causality. The notion of cause is not deduced by reason or gained inductively or disposed by mere mental habit of associated ideas (D. Hume*), but springs a priori from pure understanding. This led Kant to affirm: (a) reason has insight into that only which it produces after a plan of its own; accidental observations can never be made to yield necessary laws, which reason alone is concerned to discover; (b) using its own principles and experiments, reason must approach nature to learn from it not as a pupil, passively, but as an appointed judge who compels the witness to answer questions which the judge himself formulates.

4. Kant affirmed that space and time are subjective, a priori forms of possible perception and that judgment (the fundamental unit of thought) must conform to basic, a priori categories of understanding (i. e., connective concepts which are basic forms of the elaboration in thought of the material of cognition, e.g., unity, multiplicity, substance, causality, possibility). Experience is the product of the joint operation of forms of perception and categories of understanding, which the mind uses spontaneously in accord with the inherent laws of its being, in the very act of experiencing, as essential preconditions of significant experience.

5. The upshot is that all significant experience is in part a mental construction, for there is no significant experience unless the mind itself is at work in it, decisively determining what it is as assimilated to the laws of its own nature. The categories are applicable only to phenomena within our consciousness, hence we prescribe laws to nature. Our constructive understanding builds up the world from the sum total of impressions, acc. to its own laws of thought. Our world picture is not an image of reality mirroring the “original.” In fact, we can never learn the nature of the world in itself, but only as it appears to us. But neither is it purely a subjective fiction, for that there is a connection of our sensibility and understanding with the “outer” world is verified by experimentation in science.

6. Human beings, then, can never transcend the limits of possible experience, hence there can be no rational metaphysics of being as it is “in itself” (beyond experience), but only knowledge of appearances as constituted in the mind. A priori knowledge has to do only with the appearances (phenonmena) in our experience; the thing-in-itself (noumenon; see also Ding an sich) is always beyond our forms of perception and categories of understanding. Causality, e.g., applies only to phenomenal objects, hence the will in its invisible, phenomenal acts cannot appear free, but in itself (as noumenal) is not bound by our category of understanding and hence is free. The attempt to “prove” the existence of God, human freedom, and immortality is doomed to failure as beyond the scope of pure reason, but such beliefs (regulative ideals) are necessarily postulated in faith by practical reason as essential conditions of the possibility of our moral experience of duty and obligation.

7. Kant's formalistic ethic centered in the notion of moral autonomy: man as giving moral laws to himself. The only thing intrinsically good is “good will.” Kant's test of the morality of an act: Can the maxim of the act be universalized? Religion is the recognition of our duties as enjoined by divine commands; the clue to the purpose of the world is thus found in moral experience, the realm of the “ought.” See also Categorical Imperative.

8. Kant's influence was tremendous. (a) His notion that all experience is a mental construction, riddled with reason, had led him to postulate the unknown thing-in-itself (see par. 6). Absolute idealism* (see also Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich) rejected noumena (see par. 6). Experienced phenomena are reality. The real is the rational. All reality is theoretically knowable. (b) Because reason is a tool for interpreting phenomena only, its range coincides with physical science; metaphysics and theol. are cognitively meaningless, beyond our mental powers. Not only categories of thought but also human language is inadequate for expressing anything meaningful about the transempirical. Conscious of the limitations of reason, we must concentrate on natural science, renouncing more ambitious but unattainable intellectual projects. (c) Reason can deal only with phenomena, but in intense moral experience we approach ultimate being,-not in thought about being, but in the act of being, of self-consciousness; for self-consciousness implies, paradoxically, both self-transcendence and an abiding self. Rational metaphysics is impossible, but it is by being ourselves and discovering within ourselves that which transcends the world of phenomena that we grasp our kinship with Ultimate Being. The proper task of philos. is plumbing man as he knows and experiences himself in the depths of his personality, and how he apprehends God, freedom, and human destiny. (d) Laws and theories of physics are not “laws of nature” but laws of the physicists; such laws are not “discovered” in nature but are imposed on nature. The aim of physics is to forge a practical instrument for coordinating and predicting phenomena. Modern atomic theory is not of “the real nature of things” but belongs to the categorical and conventional order. (e) The necessity, authority, and certainty of propositions of logic and mathematics reside in language, not in the constitution of the world. Logical propositions, like categories, are imposed on the world by the mind, arising from customary and conventional categories of language. The world lying behind the logico-lingual categorical frame is beyond our intellectual reach, hence metaphysics, ethics, theol., and other nonempirical enterprises are not cognitively but only emotively meaningful. (f) Theol. assertions about the Godhead and divine Persons are not to be taken as metaphysical statements but as value judgments of the believing community. Thus ethical rather than metaphysical categories are the foundation of theol. discourse. The hist. Jesus is taken as (has the value of) God because of His moral perfection. The goal of Christianity is establishment of the morally ideal “kingdom of God.” The essence of religion is the human feeling of absolute dependence. The essence of theol. is the phenomenology of religious experience of “the holy.”

See also Aesthetics; Lutheran Theology After 1580, 9; Philosophy; Simmel, Georg.

Works include Kritik der reinen Vernunft; Kritik der praktischen Vernunft; Kritik der Urtheilskraft; Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten; Prolegomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik die als Wissenschaft wird auftreten können. RVS

H. J. Paton, The Categorical Imperative (London, 1936) and Kant's Metaphysic of Experience (London, 1936); S. Körner, Kant (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Eng., 1955); E. Hirsch, “Luthers Rechtfertigungslehre bei Kant,” Lutherstudien, II (Gütersloh, 1954), 104–121; W. Pannenberg, “Theologische Motive im Denken Immanuel Kants,” Theologische Literaturzeitung, LXXXIX, No. 12 (December 1964), cols. 897–906.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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