KANT, IMMANUEL (1724–1804), German philosopher. He was born and died at Königsberg in E. Prussia and never went beyond the confines of the province. In early life he was attracted to the study of mathematics and physics, and retained interest in the natural sciences throughout his life. After some years as a private tutor, he became a Privatdozent at Königsberg University in 1755, and in 1770 Professor of Logic, holding the post until his death. His dissertation De Mundi Sensibilis et Intelligibilis Forma et Principiis (1770) marks an important stage in his development, but it was not until after another eleven years (during which Kant wrote practically nothing) that he expounded his epoch-making ‘Critical Philosophy’ in Der Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1781). Its treatment of the problems of speculative philosophy was carried further in his Prolegomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik (1783), and esp. in the second (and in essentials final) edition of the Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1787). The Kritik der praktischen Vernunft (1788) and the Kritik der Urtheilskraft (1790) applied the principles of the earlier Kritiken to the problems of morals and to those of teleology and aesthetics respectively. In 1792 the divergence of Kant’s teaching from orthodox Lutheranism brought him into difficulties with the Prussian government. He was not prevented, however, from completing the publication of his Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der blossen Vernunft in 1793, the last of his large-scale works. His later writings include a monograph, Zum ewigen Frieden (1795). In his last years, as shown by his MSS (pub. in their fullest form by E. Adickes as Kant’s Opus Postumum, 1920), Kant moved towards a position more akin to that of B. Spinoza.
It would seem that Kant’s main object was to discover a definitive rationale for the admitted validity of mathematics and natural science (esp. the Newtonian physics). This meant finding a way out of the deadlock arising from the co-existence, on the one hand, of Continental ‘rationalism’ (R. Descartes, B. Spinoza, G. W. Leibniz, and C. Wolff), and, on the other, of British empiricism (J. Locke, G. Berkeley, D. Hume). He felt that there could be only one solution, namely that it was the understanding (Verstand) which prescribed to nature her laws. The validity of the causal law (‘every event has a cause’) rests not on some constraining principle in the external world of nature, but in the fact that consciousness is so constituted that it cannot but so interpret the empirical data which it receives. Knowledge is thus the result of a synthesis between an intellectual act (through the twelve ‘categories’) and what is presented to the mind from without. The latter is received by the understanding under the two ‘forms of perception’ (Anschauungsformen) of space and time.
In holding that all knowledge required an ingredient derived from nature, Kant cut at the root of traditional metaphysics, with its claim to provide knowledge of subjects which wholly transcended nature. For being thus constituted the human mind could have no knowledge of the three central ‘Ideas’ (Ideen) of Metaphysics: God, Freedom, and Immortality. The three traditional proofs of God’s existence (Ontological, Cosmological, and Teleological) were all invalidated.
But while insisting that Natural Theology was an illusion, Kant believed that the validity of the Ideas could be established in another way. The stern voice of conscience in man assures him of truths which reason is impotent to establish. Kant summarized this belief in his dictum: ‘I had to remove knowledge to make room for faith.’ The sense of duty assures us of Freedom. And correlative with this belief in Freedom are those in Immortality and in a Divine Being, since the maladjustment of virtue and happiness in the present world requires a righteous God who will vindicate the claims of justice, and another world for His operation.
In his treatise on Religion (1793) Kant elaborated his ethical doctrines in relation to the traditional theology of Lutheranism. Its four sections treat of: (1) the existence of radical evil in human nature; (2) the conflict of the good and evil principles; (3) the victory of the good principle and the foundation of a Kingdom of God on earth; and (4) religion and priestcraft. Despite his constant use of accustomed theological terminology, his presentation of religion did not transcend the limits of morality, and he expressly defined religion as the recognition of all our duties as Divine commands. The moral law had no purpose beyond itself. There was no place for mystical experience, no need for a personal redeemer and no place (as in traditional Christianity) for the historical as such. Kant once expressed the view that as a man advanced in moral perception he found the practice of prayer increasingly unprofitable. Miracles, if they ever happened, could have no religious significance.
Kant made no attempt to round off his beliefs into a system. This task was soon undertaken by others, who constructed on a Kantian basis a series of grandly conceived systems. J. G. Fichte, F. W. J. von Schelling, and G. W. F. Hegel (Absolute Idealism) were all directly inspired by and looked back to Kant. In the latter part of the 19th cent. there arose in Germany a widespread and diversified philosophical movement seeking inspiration in a more literal interpretation of Kant. In Great Britain a similar, but independent, movement drew its inspiration from Kant and Hegel conjointly, its leading members being T. H. Green, F. H. Bradley, and B. Bosanquet, and this in turn had a marked influence on Anglican theology (C. C. J. Webb, W. Temple, A. E. Taylor). The moralism of Kant and his critique of metaphysics have made him congenial to some Protestant theologians. RC philosophical theologians tend to see in Kant esp. the critic of the (scholastic) proofs of God’s existence and hence to be very critical of him.
Collected edn. of Kant’s Werke by G. Hartenstein (1867–9). The best crit. edn. is that of the Berlin Academy (1910 ff.; still unfinished). Most of the individual writings are obtainable in convenient form, with introds. and notes, in the Philosophische Bibliothek (pub. F. Meiner, Leipzig). His more important writings exist in Eng. tr. The best version of the Critique of Pure Reason is by N. K. Smith (1929). From the vast lit., the following is a small selection: E. Caird, The Critical Philosophy of Immanuel Kant (2 vols., 1889); H. A. Prichard, Kant’s Theory of Knowledge (1909); E. Cassirer, Kants Leben und Lehre (1918; Eng. tr., New Haven, Conn., and London ); N. K. Smith, A Commentary to Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ (1918); C. C. J. Webb, Kant’s Philosophy of Religion (1926); F. E. England, Kant’s Conception of God, with a translation of the ‘Nova Dilucidatio’ (1929); A. D. Lindsay, Kant (1934); H. J. de Vleeschauer, La Déduction transcendentale dans l’œuvre de Kant (3 vols., 1934–7); id., L’Évolution de la pensée kantienne (1939; Eng. tr., 1962); H. J. Paton, The Categorical Imperative: A Study in Kant’s Moral Philosophy ; S. Körner, Kant (Harmondsworth, 1955); L. W. Beck, A Commentary on Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason (Chicago, 1960); G. Rabel, Kant (Oxford, 1963); J. [F.] Bennett, Kant’s Analytic (Cambridge, 1966); id., Kant’s Dialectic (ibid., 1974); K. Ward, The Development of Kant’s View of Ethics (Oxford, 1972); R. S. C. Walker, Kant (The Arguments of the Philosophers, 1978); B. M. G. Reardon, Kant as Philosophical Theologian (1988); G. Buchdahl, Kant and the Dynamics of Reason: Essays on the Structure of Kant’s Philosophy (Oxford, 1992); S. R. Palmquist, Kant’s Critical Religion (Aldershot ); M. Kuehn, Kant: A Biography (Cambridge, 2001); P. Abela, Kant’s Empirical Religion (Oxford, 2002); K. Ameriks, Interpreting Kant’s Critiques (ibid., 2003). Überweg, 3, pp. 488–620, with bibl. pp. 709–58; F. Copleston, SJ, A History of Philosophy, 6 (1960), pp. 180–439, with bibl., pp. 466–71. E. Troeltsch in HERE 7 (1914), pp. 653–9, s.v.; P. Charles, SJ, in DTC 8 (pt. 2; 1925), cols. 2297–331, s.v. ‘Kant et le kantisme’ (on theological aspects of Kant’s writings); W. H. Walsh in P. Edwards (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 4 (1967), pp. 305–24, s.v.
From the Catholic Encyclopedia:
Kant, as is well known, reduces religion to a system of conduct. He defines religion as "the acknowledgement that our duties are God's commandments". He describes the essence of religion as consisting in morality. Christianity is a religion and is true only in so far as it conforms to this definition. The ideal Church should be an "ethical republic"; it should discard all dogmatic definitions, accept "rational faith" as its guide in all intellectual matters, and establish the kingdom of God on earth by bringing about the reign of duty. Even the Christian law of charity must take second place to the supreme exigencies of duty. In fact, it has been remarked that Kant's idea of religion, in so far as it is at all Scriptural, is inspired more by the Old than by the New Testament. He maintains that those dogmas which Christianity holds sacred, such as the mystery of the Trinity, should be given an ethical interpretation, should, so to speak, be regarded as symbols of moral concepts and values. Thus "historical faith", he says, is the "vehicle of rational faith". For the person and character of Christ he professes the greatest admiration. Christ, he declares, was the exemplification of the highest moral perfection.
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