Douglas J. Soccio
The Universalist: Immanuel Kant
On completion of this chapter, you should be able to answer the following questions:
What is the difference between
“nonmoral” and “immoral”?
What is Kantian formalism?
What is Critical Philosophy?
What are phenomenal and noumenal reality?
What are practical reason and theoretical reason?
What is a maxim? What makes a maxim moral?
What is a hypothetical imperative? What is the “practical imperative”? What is a thought experiment?
What is the original position, and how is it related to the “veil of ignorance”? The Professor
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was born in Königsberg in what was then known as East Prussia (now Kaliningrad in the former Soviet Union).
His parents were poor but devout members of a fundamentalist Protestant sect known as Pietism, living severe, puritanical lives.
At the age of sixteen, Kant entered the University of
In 1755, he received the equivalent of today’s doctoral degree. He became a popular lecturer, and in 1770, the university hired him as a professor of logic and mathematics.
The Solitary Writer
Kant’s life is noteworthy for not being noteworthy, never traveling more than sixty miles from his birthplace, and living with a regularity that people in his town could “set their watches by.”
But Kant was a prolific writer. His works include:
The Critique of Pure Reason (1781)
Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785)
Critique of Practical Reason (1788)
Critique of Judgment (1790)
Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone (1793)
A Scandal in Philosophy
Kant was one of the first thinkers to fully realize the consequences of Hume’s relentless attack on the scope of reason. However, the seeds of what Kant referred to as a “scandal” in philosophy were planted when Descartes doubted his own existence and divided everything into two completely distinct substances – minds and bodies.
Kant felt something was drastically wrong if the two major schools (rationalism and empiricism) denied knowledge of cause and effect, denied existence of the external world, and rendered reason impotent in human affairs – while the science of the day clearly showed otherwise.
In response to this “scandal,” Kant turned to an analysis
(or critique) of how knowledge is possible.
In the process, he posited an underlying structure imposed by the mind on the sensations and perceptions it encounters. The theory he developed, transcendental idealism, claims that knowledge is the result of the interaction between the mind and sensation.
Experience is shaped, or structured, by special regulative ideas called categories.
Kant’s Copernican Revolution
What Kant was proposing challenged assumptions about thought, in the same way Copernicus challenged assumptions about the universe.
Kant suggested that instead of mind having to conform to what can be known, what can be known must conform to the mind.
Phenomena and Noumena
For Kant, our knowledge is formed by two things: our actual experiences and the mind’s faculties of judgment.
This means that we cannot know reality as it is, but only as it is organized by human reason.
Kant’s term for the world as we perceive it is phenomenal reality. His term for reality as it is independent of our perceptions – what we commonly call “objective reality” – is noumenal reality.
Although we never experience pure reality, we can know that our minds do not just invent the world.
Our minds impose order on the world, and that order is what
Kant is trying to make explicit.
Though we cannot directly experience noumena, a class of transcendental ideas bridges the gap between things as we experience them and things as they are in themselves.
Kant identified three transcendental ideas:
These ideas create the unity and objectivity of your experience of yourself as “you” (in a world of sensation created by some