Immanuel Kant

Start Free Trial

Student Question

Discuss Immanuel Kant's views on human values and choices.

Quick answer:

Kant's views on human values and choices are based on what he calls the Categorical Imperative. This implies that people's actions are based on rationality and should be governed by it regardless of incidental wishes or feelings. As with his philosophy in general, this aspect of Kant can be considered an "answer" to the uncertainty grounded in the philosophical questions posed by other thinkers over the centuries and especially of his own time.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Kant's philosophy is both an essential part of the Enlightenment and, perhaps paradoxically, a reaction against elements of that movement. Much of his ethical thinking is an attempt to create an absolute construct of human behavior in the face of an age when absolutism in religion and in philosophy had become outdated and superseded by more practical modes of thought.

Kant consciously tries to "answer" the philosophy of Hume in the realm of epistemology—the branch of philosophy dealing with the question of what is "knowable." Hume's conclusions are that ultimately, nothing is known to the human mind except what is directly perceptible, thus excluding the principle of cause and effect, which he regards as a fiction. By extension, in Hume's thinking, nothing is knowable—neither the possibility of a Divinity or any sort of "first cause" that accounts for the cosmos as a whole is determined. Though Hume does believe in, and states, his ethical principles, these, like everything else in his philosophy, are totally subjective. Kant tries to reverse the basis of Hume's philosophy at the same time that he has used it as a starting point, and his own thinking would have been impossible without the antecedent of Hume.

The principal question to ask is as follows: in what way is Kant's categorical imperative a response not just to any sort of moral relativism, but to the epistemology (theory of knowledge) of a skeptic such as Hume? Kant wishes people to act according to fixed moral principles that are not dependent on what one "wishes," but are according to an undeviating imperative.

In a universe where religion no longer held its previous dominant place, at least in the intellectual world, one might ask if Kant was creating a religion of his own in formulating this principle.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial