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IMMANUEL KANT (1724-1804)

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Originally appearing in Volume V15, Page 664 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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IMMANUEL KANT (1724-1804), German philosopher, was born at Konigsberg on the and of April 1724. His grandfather was an emigrant from Scotland, and the name Cant is not uncommon in the north of Scotland, whence the family is said to have come. His father was a saddler in Konigsberg, then a stronghold of Pietism, to the strong influence of which Kant was subjected in his early years. In his tenth year he was entered at the Collegium Fredericianum with the definite view of studying theology. His inclination at this time was towards classics, and he was recognized, with his school-fellow, David Ruhnken, as among the most promising classical scholars of the college. His taste for the greater Latin authors, particularly Lucretius, was never lost, and he acquired at school an unusual facility in Latin composition. With Greek authors he does not appear to have been equally familiar. During his university course, which began in 1740, Kant was principally attracted towards mathematics and physics. The lectures on classics do not seem to have satisfied him, and, though he attended courses on theology, and even preached on one or two occasions, he appears finally to have given up the intention of entering the Church. The last years of his university studies were much disturbed by poverty. His father died in 1746, and for nine years he was compelled to earn his own living as a private tutor. Although he disliked the life and was not specially qualified for it—as he used to say regarding the excellent precepts of his Pddagogik, he was never able to apply them—yet he added to his other accomplishments a grace and polish which he displayed ever afterwards to a degree somewhat unusual in a philosopher by profession. In 1755 Kant became tutor in the family of Count Kayserling. By the kindness of a friend named Richter, he was enabled to resume his university career, and in the autumn of that year he graduated as doctor and qualified as privatdocent. For fifteen years he continued to labour in this position, his fame as writer and lecturer steadily increasing. Though twice he failed to obtain a professorship at Konigsberg, he steadily refused appointments elsewhere. The only academic preferment received by him during the lengthy probation was the post of under-librarian (1766). His lectures, at first mainly upon physics, gradually expanded until nearly all descriptions of philosophy were included under them. In 1770 he obtained the chair of logic and metaphysics at Konigsberg, and delivered as his inaugural address the dissertation De mundi sensibilis et intelligibilis forma et principiis. Eleven years later appeared the Kritik of Pure Reason, the work towards which he had been steadily advancing, and of which all his later writings are developments. In 1783 he published the Prolegomena, intended as an introduction to the Kritik, which had been found to stand in need of some explanatory comment. A second edition of the Kritik, with some modifications, appeared in 1787, after which it remained unaltered. In spite of its frequent obscurity, its novel terminology, and its declared opposition to prevailing systems, the Kantian philosophy made rapid progress in Germany. In the course of ten or twelve years from the publication of the Kritik of Pure Reason; it was expounded in all the leading universities, and it even penetrated into the schools of the Church of Rome. Such men as J. Schulz in Konigsberg, J. G. Kiesewetter in Berlin, Jakob in Halle, Born and A. L. Heydenreich in Leipzig, K. L. Reinhold and E. Schmid in Jena, Buhle in Gottingen, Tennemann in Marburg, and Snell in Giessen, with many others, made it the basis of their philosophical teaching, while theologians like Tieftrunk, Staudlin, and Ammon eagerly applied it to Christian doctrine and morality. Young men flocked to Konigsberg as to a shrine of philosophy. The Prussian Government even under-took the exPense of their support. Kant was hailed by some as a second Messiah. He was consulted as an oracle on all questions of casuistry—as, for example, on the lawfulness of inoculation for the small-pox. This universal homage for a long time left Kant unaffected; it was only in his later years that he spoke of his system as the limit of philosophy, and resented all further progress. He still pursued his quiet round of lecturing and authorship, and contributed from time to time papers to the literary journals. Of these, among the most remarkable was his review of Herder's Philosophy of History, which greatly exasperated that author, and led to a violent act of retaliation some years after in his Metakritik of Pure Reason. Schiller at this period in vain sought to engage Kant upon his Horen. He remained true to the Berlin Journal, in which most of his criticisms appeared. In 1792 Kant, in the full height of his reputation, was involved in a collision with the Government on the question of his religious doctrines. Naturally his philosophy had excited the declared opposition of all adherents of historical Christianity, since its plain tendency was towards a moral rationalism, and it could not be reconciled to the literal doctrines of the Lutheran Church. It would have been much better to permit his exposition of the philosophy of religion to enjoy the same literary rights as his earlier works, since Kant could not be interdicted without first silencing a multitude of theologians who were at least equally separated from positive Christianity. The Government, how-ever, judged otherwise; and after the first part of his book, On Religion within the Limits of Reason alone, had appeared in the Berlin Journal, the publication of the remainder, which treats in a more rationalizing style of the peculiarities of Christianity, was forbidden. Kant, thus shut out from Berlin, availed himself of his local privilege, and, with the sanction of the theological faculty of his own university, published the full work in Konigsberg. The Government, probably influenced as much by hatred and fear of the French Revolution, of which Kant was supposed to be a partisan, as by love of orthodoxy, resented the act; and a secret cabinet order was received by him intimating the displeasure of the king, Frederick William II., and exacting a pledge not to lecture or write at all on religious subjects in future. With this mandate Kant, after a struggle, complied, and kept his engagement till 1797, when the death of the king, according to his construction of his promise, set him free. This incident, how-ever, produced a very unfavourable effect on his spirits. He withdrew in 1794 from society; next year he gave up all his classes but one public lecture cn logic or metaphysics; and in 1797, before the removal of the interdict on his theological teaching, he ceased altogether his public labours, after an academic course of forty-two years. He previously, in the same year, finished his treatises on the Metaphysics of Ethics, which, with his Anthropology, completed in 1798, were the last considerable works that he revised with his own hand. His Lectures on Logic, on Physical Geography, on Paedagogics, were edited during his lifetime by his friends and pupils. By way of asserting his right to resume theological disquisition, he also issued in 1798 his Strife of the Faculties, in which all the strongest points of his work on religion were urged afresh, and the correspondence that had passed between himself and his censors was given to the world. From the date of his retirement from the chair Kant declined in strength, and gave tokens of intellectual decay. His memory began to fail, and a large work at which he wrought night and day, on the connexion between physics and metaphysics, was found to be only a repetition of his already published doctrines. After 18os, finding himself attacked with a weakness in the limbs attended with frequent fits of falling, he mitigated the Spartan severity of his life, and consented to receive medical advice. A constant restlessness oppressed him; his sight gave way; his conversation became an extraordinary mixture of metaphors; and it was only at intervals that gleams of his former power broke out, especially when some old chord of association was struck in natural science or physical geography. A few days before his decease, with a great effort he thanked his medical attendant for his visits in the words, " I have not yet lost my feeling for humanity." On the 12th of February 1804 he died, having almost completed his eightieth year. His stature was small, and his appearance feeble. He was little more than five feet high; his breast was almost concave, and, like Schleiermacher, he was deformed in the right shoulder. His senses werequick and delicate; and, though of weak constitution, he escaped by strict regimen all serious illness. His life was arranged with mechanical regularity; and, as he never married, he kept the habits of his studious youth to old age. His man-servant, who awoke him summer and winter at five o'clock, testified that he had not once failed in thirty years to respond to the call. After rising he studied for two hours, then lectured other two, and spent the rest of the forenoon, till one, at his desk. He then dined at a restaurant, which he frequently changed, to avoid the influx of strangers, who crowded to see and hear him. This was his only regular meal; and he often prolonged the conversation till late in the afternoon. He then walked out for at least an hour in all weathers, and spent the evening in lighter reading, except an hour or two devoted to the preparation of his next day's lectures, after which he retired between nine and ten to rest. In his earlier years he often spent his evenings in general society, where his knowledge and conversational talents made him the life of every party. He was especially intimate with the families of two English merchants of the name of Green and Motherby, where he found many opportunities of meeting ship-captains, and other travelled persons, and thus gratifying his passion for physical geography. This social circle included also the celebrated J. G. Hamann, the friend of Herder and Jacobi, who was thus a mediator between Kant and these philosophical adversaries. Kant's reading was of the most extensive and miscellaneous kind. He cared comparatively little for the history of speculation, but his acquaintance with books of science, general history, travels and belles lettres was boundless. He was well versed in English literature, chiefly of the age of Queen Anne, and had read English philosophy from Locke to Hume, and the Scottish school. He was at home in Voltaire and Rousseau, but had little or no acquaintance with the French sensational philosophy. He was familiar with all German literature up to the date of his Kritik, but ceased to follow it in its great development by Goethe and Schiller. It was his habit to obtain books in sheets from his publishers Kanter and Nicolovius; and he read over for many years all the new works in their catalogue, in order to keep abreast of universal knowledge. He was fond of newspapers and works on politics; and this was the only kind of reading that could interrupt his studies in philosophy. As a lecturer, Kant avoided altogether that rigid style in which his books were written. He sat behind a low desk, with a few jottings on slips of paper, or textbooks marked on the margin, before him, and delivered an extemporaneous address, opening up the subject by partial glimpses, and with many anecdotes or familiar illustrations, till a complete idea of it was presented. His voice was extremely weak, but sometimes rose into eloquence, and always commanded perfect silence. Though kind to his students, he refused to remit their fees, as this, he thought, would discourage independence. It was another principle that his chief exertions should be bestowed on the intermediate class of talent, as the geniuses would help themselves, and the dunces were beyond remedy. Simple, honourable, truthful, kind-hearted and high-minded as Kant was in all moral respects, he was somewhat deficient in the region of sentiment. He had little enthusiasm for the beauties of nature, and indeed never sailed out into the Baltic, or travelled more than 40 miles from Konigsberg. Music he disregarded, and all poetry that was more than sententious prose. His ethics have been reproached with some justice as setting up too low an ideal for the female sex. Though faithful in a high degree to the duties of friendship, he could not bear to visit his friends in sickness, and after their death he repressed all allusion to their memory. His engrossing intellectual labours no doubt tended somewhat to harden his character; and in his zeal for rectitude of purpose he forgot the part which affection and sentiment must ever play in the human constitution. On the 12th of February 1904, the hundredth anniversary of Kant's death, a Kantian society (Kantgesellschaft) was formed at Halle under the leadership of Professor H. Vaihinger to promote Kantian studies. In 1909 it had an annual membership of 191; it supports the periodical Kantstudien (founded 1896; see BIBLIOGRAPHY, ad init.).
End of Article: IMMANUEL KANT (1724-1804)
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