Kant, Immanuel (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
Immanuel Kant shook the foundations of Western philosophy in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This author and professor did his most important writing between 1781 and 1790 while working at the University of Königsberg, where he spent most of his life. Kant's philosophical model not only swept aside the ideas of the so-called empiricists and rationalists who came before him, it also had a lasting effect outside of philosophy, especially in the areas of ethics and the law. Today, legal scholars still debate his ideasnd their sometimes startling implicationsn relation to contemporary issues.
Kant was born into a lower-middle-class family in East Prussia in 1724. A gifted student, he studied in a Latin school from age eight until age sixteen, when he entered the University of Königsberg to take up theology, natural science, and philosophy. The death of his father forced
him to abandon his studies in order to work as a private tutor, and he had to wait several years before returning to complete his education. By that time he was already writing serious books. From what is called Kant's precritical period, these early works are primarily...
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Kant, Immanuel (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion)
Immanuel Kant, it is said, never traveled more than fifty miles from his native city of Königsberg in East Prussia. Nevertheless, there are few thinkers who have had as wide an influence as Kant in the history of Western thought. His importance for discussions about science and religion stems from his reasoned defense of the position that religion and science should be kept clearly separated from one another.
Life and writings
Born in 1724, Kant was the son of humble pietistic parents who wished for him to have an education. At sixteen he entered the University of Königsberg, where he studied Christian Wolff's interpretation of Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz's (1646716) philosophy. Kant's encounter with Isaac Newton's (1642727) work during his student years encouraged in him an independent attitude toward Leibniz's thought, with the additional result that he developed a profound interest in the natural sciences. When his father died during his university training, Kant left the university and served as a tutor in private families near Königsberg between 1748 and 1754. After returning to the university he completed a thesis in June of 1755 and, on finishing a second thesis in September, was granted permission to lecture. Prior to the age of thirty-six, Kant's writings dealt primarily, although not exclusively, with the natural sciences. His most famous work from this period, the Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens, was published in 1755 and contained Kant's ideas on the how a cosmos subject to Newton's laws of motion might have formed.
After Kant received a professorship in logic and metaphysics at Königsberg in 1770 it took some time before his writings reflected the turn his appointment marked from a precritical stance to what he himself labeled critical philosophy. Once Kant began publishing, the works came thick and fast. The first edition of his most famous book, the Critique of Pure Reason, did not appear until 1781. When it did so it was largely misunderstood, moving Kant to restate its main arguments two years later in his Prolegomena to Every Future Metaphysics. He also expanded the Critique in a second edition in 1787, and in the following year he published the first of two new critiques, the Critique of Practical Reason. This second critique picked up on a concern with moral philosophy Kant had initially addressed in another work from the 1780s. The Critique of Judgment, which appeared in 1790, dealt with reasoning about the realms of the aesthetic and the purposeful. Earlier in 1786 Kant returned to his reflections on science and its methods in a work entitled The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Finally, his Religion Within the Boundaries of Pure Reason, which appeared in 1793, provoked King Frederick William II to forbid him from publishing anything more on religion, a mandate he honored until the king's death in 1797. Kant died February 12, 1804.
Impact on science and religion discussion
Kant's impact on the subject of natural science and religion is best understood in his relation to the Scottish thinker David Hume (1711776), whom Kant claimed awakened him from his dogmatic slumber. Exactly when this was to have occurred is unclear; however, among other things Hume represented for Kant the possibility that the use of reason in fact undermined the essential truths of religion, morality, and common sense. Kant faced squarely Hume's skepticism about causality and other conclusions of common sense that haunted the thinkers of the late eighteenth century. The fear was that if Hume's reasoning was correct about these matters, then how was one to retain one's belief in God? As Kant's contemporary Friedrich Jacobi (1743819) put it, "Nothing frightens man so much, nothing darkens his mind to such a degree as when God disappears from nature when purpose, wisdom, and goodness no longer seem to reign in nature, but only a blind necessity of dumb chance."
In Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779) Hume exposed the inadequacy where the relationship of God to nature was concerned of both classical metaphysical rationalism, in which one reasoned from principles accepted apart from or before experience (a priori), and empiricism, where reasoning was undertaken only after one experienced the world (a posteriori). In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant attempted to forge a new path between both rationalism and empiricism by introducing what he called in the preface to the second edition a "Copernican" viewpoint in philosophy. The astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1483543) had shown that the way to think about the relationship of the earth and the sun was to reverse their traditional roles. Kant demanded that to understand the relationship of the world of experience and the mind one must also reverse the way in which roles were traditionally assigned. It is not that the mind is shaped by experience of the world (empiricism); rather, the world of experience is shaped by "categories" associated with the mind's operation. But in shaping our experience of the world the categories themselves prescribe only the structure for objects of possible experience (not the content of actual experience, as in metaphysical rationalism). Human minds dictate in advance, for example, that experience can only be apprehended in accordance with causal relationships between events, but they cannot determine prior to a person's experiencing the world which specific causal relationships actually obtain. Without content supplied by sense experience, the mind, even equipped as it is by its categories, would still be blind. But without the ordering impact of the categories, experience would be chaos. This is why Kant said at the beginning of the introduction to the Critique that "although all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it all arises out of experience."
This middle way contained important implications for the understanding of scientific knowledge. If the mind contributes in a formative way to the manner in which people experience the world, then they can no longer claim that the world they experience is necessarily the world that exists apart from the mind. Regularities in one's experience of the world, even those so repetitious as to earn the label of scientific laws, cannot be known as regularities in nature that one discovers; rather, they bear the touch of one's mind. People are, as Kant says in his Prolegomena to Every Future Metaphysics, "lawgivers of reason." Scientific knowledge, then, refers to the world of experience, the world of phenomena apprehended with the senses, not to a reality lying behind human experience. Gone is the possibility of conceiving truth as the correspondence of one's ideas to the way things are, a common conception of many scientists. One cannot be sure of the way things are, so there is no possibility of checking that against one's ideas.
If Kant's critique of reason introduced a radical limitation of what could be known, he was adamant that there was a realm that lay beyond cognition. "I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith," he wrote in the preface to the second edition of the Critique. The object of faith, however, could not by definition be articulated or expressed in terms of knowledge. Religion for Kant did not and could not have to do with cognitive propositions about nature. In his 1793 book, Religion within the Boundaries of Reason Alone, he made clear that he accepted Hume's negative conclusions about the so-called argument from design, according to which one reasoned from evidence of design in the world to the existence of a designer. Religion did not commence with nor have to do with one's knowledge of the world. Religion had to do with the purity of one's heart. To be religious is to view one's duties as if they are divine commands. It should be noted that Kant's religious stance was purely intellectual. In spite of the fact that his philosophy made room for the possibility of eternal life, it was clear to those close to him that he scoffed at prayer and other religious practices and that he had no faith in a personal God.
Kant's position, then, radically separated science from religion, as if the two subjects contained no common ground. It took some time for this position to gain a hearing since in the Romantic period, which dominated in the first decades of the nineteenth century, there was great dissatisfaction with Kant's severe restriction of reason's scope to the realm of phenomena. Even one of the earliest neo-Kantian thinkers from this era, Jakob Fries (1773843), added Ahndung (aesthetic sense) to knowledge and faith as a third possible way in which people may relate to that which exists outside of them. Fries believed that through aesthetic sense people could intimate the infinite that was present in the finite.
It was not until the neo-Kantian revival of the late nineteenth century that Kant's radical separation of science from religion emerged in earnest. In the works of the Marburg theologian Wilhelm Herrmann (1846922), composed during the heyday of debates about biological evolution, one recognizes the attempt to cede to natural science the freedom to investigate natural phenomena without restriction while at the same time stressing religion's right to address questions of value and right. If religion must surrender nature to natural science, natural science, in turn, must along with religion renounce any claim to have arrived at metaphysical reality. Religion becomes morality while science becomes Naturbeherrschung, mastery of the world.
In the twentieth century the separation of natural science and religion continued to mark much of German theology, especially the works of well-known existential theologians who wrote in the decades following World War I. Most recently something of a Kantian position on the relationship between science and religion has been advocated by the noted American paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941000) who, without ever naming Kant, introduced the notion of non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) as a means of dealing with the realities of science, which is concerned with the factual construction of nature, and religion, which concerns itself with moral issues about the value and meaning of life. Gould acknowledge more than classical neo-Kantians, however, that while magisteria do not overlap, they are everywhere interlaced in a complex manner that often makes it extremely challenging to keep the two separate. Critics of the Kantian position maintain that in practice it is impossible to retain a rigid separation of science and religion.
See also METAPHYSICS; MORALITY; NATURAL THEOLOGY
Beiser, Frederick. The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 1987.
Fries, Jakob. Knowledge, Belief, and Aesthetic Sense (1805), trans. Kent Richter, ed. Frederick Gregory. Cologne, Germany: Dinter Verlag, 1989.
Gould, Stephen Jay. Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life. New York: Ballantine, 1999.
Gregory, Frederick. Nature Lost? Natural Science and the German Theological Traditions of the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992.
Kant, Immanuel. Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant, eds. Paul Guyer et al. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992-2001.
Kuehn, Manfred. Kant: A Biography. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.