Kant, Immanuel

, a German writer, who has lately attained extraordinary fame in his own country as the inventor of a new system of philosophical opinions, which, however, are not very likely to reach posterity, was born April 22, 1724, in the suburbs of Konigsberg, in Prussia. His father, John George Kant, was a sadler, born at Memel, but originally descended from a Scotch family, who spelt their name with a C; but the philosopher, the subject of this article, in early life converted the C into a K, as being more conformable to German orthography. Immanuel, the second of six children, was indebted to his father for an example of the strictest integrity and the greatest industry; but he had neither time nor talent to be his instructor. From his mother, a woman of sound sense and ardent piety, he imbibed sentiments of warm and animated devotion, which left to the latest 'periods of his life the strongest and most reverential impressions of her memory on his mind. He received his first instructions in reading and writing at the charity-school in his parish; but soon gave such indications of ability and inclination to learn, as induced his uncle, a wealthy shoe- maker, to defray the expence of his farther education and studies. From school he proceeded to the college of Fridericianum. This was in 1740; and his first teacher was Martin Kautzen, to whom Kant was strongly attached, and who devoted himself with no less zeal to the instruction of his pupil, and contributed very greatly to the unfolding of his talents. His favourite study at the university was that of mathematics, and the branches of natural philosophy connected with them. On the completion of his studies, he accepted a situation as tutor in a clergyman’s family. In this, and in two other similar situations, he was not able to satisfy his mind that he did his duty so well as he ought; he was, according to his own account, too much occupied with acquiring knowledge to be able to communicate the rudiments of it to others. Having, however, acted as a tutor for nine years, he returned to Konigsberg, and maintained himself by private instruction. In 1746, when twenty-two years of age, he began his literary career with a small work, entitled “Thoughts on the estimation of the animal powers, with strictures on the proofs advanced by Leibnitz and other mathematicians on this point,” &c. In 1754 he acquired great reputation by a prize essay on the revolution of the earth round its axis; and the following | year was admitted.to his degree of master of arts, and entered immediately upon the task of lecturing, which he performed for many years to crowded audiences, and published several works, the titles of which are now of little importance, compared to his new metaphysical system, the first traces of which are to be found in his inaugural dissertation, written in 1770, when he was appointed to a professor’s chair in the university of Konigsberg; the subject was, “De mundi sensibilis atque intelligibilis forma et principiis.” Seated now in the chair of metaphysics, his subsequent publications were almost entirely of this nature. He pursued this study with unremitting ardour, and entered into all the depths of metaphysical subtlety, in order, as we are told, “to unfold the rational powers of man, and deduce from thence his moral duties.” It was not till 178 J, that the full principles of his system appeared in his “Review of pure reason;” and the system it contains is commonly known under the name of the “Critical Philosophy.” As this work had been variously misrepresented, he published a second part in 1783, entitled “Prolegomena for future Metaphysics, which are to be considered as a science.” In 1786 he was appointed rector of the university, and was a second time called to the same office, in 1788; and in a few months he was advanced to be senior of the philosophical faculty. About 1798, he took leave of the public as an author, and soon after gave up all his official situations. During his latter years, his faculties were visibly decayed, in which state he died Feb. 12, 1804. The character of Kant is said to have been contemplated with universal respect and admiration, and during his life he received from the learned throughout Germany, marks of esteem bordering upon adoration. How far he deserved all this, is very questionable. His language is equally obscure, and his reasonings equally subtle with those of the commentators of Aristotle in the fifteenth century. The truth of this assertion will be denied by none who have endeavoured to make themselves masters of the works of Willich and Nitsch, two of his pupils; and the source of this obscurity seems to be sufficiently obvious. Besides employing a vast number of words of his own invention, derived from the Greek language, Kant uses expressions which have long been familiar to metaphysicians, in a sense different from that in which they are generally received; and we have no | doubt that the difficulty of comprehending his philosophy has contributed, far more than any thing really valuaBle in it, to bring it into vogue, and raise the fame of the author. For the following analysis of his system we are indebted to one of our authorities, and we might perhaps deserve blame for the length of the article, if it did not appear necessary that some record should remain of a set of opinions that once threatened to usurp the place of all true philosophy as well as religion. The reader who studies for the practical improvement of his mind, will perceive at once, that it is the object of all such metaphysical projectors to render the world independent of revealed religion.

Kant divides all our knowledge into that which is “a priori,” and that which is “a posteriori.” Knowledge “a priori” is conferred upon us by our nature; and knowledge “a posteriori” is derived from our sensations, or from experience; and it is in this system denominated “empyric.” Kant does not, as this division would seem to imply, intend to revive the doctrine of innate ideas. He considers all knowledge as acquired; he maintains that experience is the productrice of all knowledge, and that without it we could not have had a single idea. Our ideas “a priori,” he says, are produced with experience, but not by it, or do not proceed from it. They exist in, and are forms of the mind. They are distinguished from other ideas by two marks, which are easily discerned; they are universal and necessary; they admit of no exception, and their converse is impossible. Ideas which we derive from experience have no such characters. We can imagine that what we have seen, or felt, or heard once, we may see, or feel, or hear again; but we do not perceive any impossibility in its being otherwise. Thus, if I see a building on fire, I am certain of this individual fact; but it affords no general knowledge. But if I take twice two small balls, and learn to call twice two four, I shall immediately be convinced that any two bodies whatever, when added to any other two bodies, will constantly make the sum of bodies four. Experience affords the opportunity of acquiring this knowledge, but it has not given it; for how could experience prove that this truth should never vary Experience must be limited, and cannot teach what is universal and necessary. It is not experience which discovers to us that we shall always have the surface of a whole | pyramid, by multiplying its base by the third part of its height; or, that two parallel lines extended “in infinitum” shall never meet.

All mathematical truths, according to Kant, are “a priori” thus, that a straight line is the shortest of all possible lines between two given points that the three angles in any plane triangle are always equal to two right angles, are propositions which are true “a priori.” Pure knowledge “a priori,” is that which is without any mixture of experience. Two and two make four, is a truth of which the knowledge is “a priori;” but it is not pure knowledge, because the truth is particular. The ideas of substance, and of cause and effect, are “a priori;” and when they are separated from the objects to which they refer, they form, according to this system, “void ideas.” It is our knowledge “a priori,” that is, the knowledge which precedes experience, as to its origin, which renders experience possible. Our faculty of knowledge has an effect on our ideas of sensation, analogous to that of a vessel which gives its own form to the liquor with which it is fi lied. Thus, in all knowledge “a posteriori,” there is something “a priori,” derived from our faculty of knowledge. All the operations of our minds, all the impressions which our senses receive and retain, are brought into effect by the conditions, the forms, which exist in us by the pure ideas “a priori,” which alone render all our other knowledge certain. Time and space are the two essential forms of the, mind: the first, for impressions received by the internal sense; the second, for those received by our external senses. It is by means of the form space, that we are enabled, “a priori,” to attribute to external objects impenetrability, divisibility, &c. and it is by means of the form time, that we attribute to any thing duration, succession, &c. Arithmetic is derived from the internal sense, and geometry from that of our external. Our understanding collects the ideas received by the impressions made on our organs of sense, confers on those ideas unity by a particular energy “a priori,” and thereby forms the representation of each object. Thus a person is successively struck with the impressions of all the parts which form a particular garden. His understanding unites these impressions, or the ideas resulting from them; and in the unity produced by the act, it acquires the idea of the whole garden. If the objects which produce the impressions afford also the | matter of the ideas, then the ideas are “empyric;” but if the objects only unfold the forms of the thought, the ideas are “a priori.

Judgments are divided into two species; analytic and synthetic. An analytic judgment is that in which the attribute is the mere developement of the subject, and is found by the simple analysis of the perception; as, a triangle has three sides. A synthetical judgment is that in which the attribute is connected with the subject by a cause or basis taken from the faculty of knowledge, which renders this connection necessary as, iron is heavy wood is combustible the three angles of a plane triangle are equal to two right angles.

The forms of the understanding are, in this system, quantity, quality, relation, modality. Quantity is distinguished into general, particular, and individual quality, into affirmation, negation, infinite relation, into categoric, hypothetic, and disjunctive; and modality, into problematic, certain, and necessary. M. Kant adds likewise to the properties of the four principal forms of the understanding a table of categories, or fundamental ideas, “a priori.

Pure reason is the faculty of tracing our knowledge “a priori,” to subject it to principles, to trace it from its necessary conditions, till it be entirely without condition, and in complete unity. The great work of Kant is divided into several parts, under the titles, “Of Esthetic transcendental” “Of transcendental Logic” “Of the pure Ideas of the Understanding” “Of the transcendental Judgment” “Of the Paralogism of pure Reason,” &c. We cannot, from the nature of our work, discuss all the parts of the system; but may observe, that the author contends that we know objects only by the manner in which they affect us; and as the impressions which they make upon us are only certain apparitions or phenomena, it is impossible for us to know what an object is in itself. Hence the system of Kant has been compared with that of Berkeley, which maintains that sensations are only appearances, and that there is no truth, only in our reason. But Kant does not go to this length. According to his theory, the understanding, when it considers the apparitions or phenomena, acknowledges the existence of the objects themselves, inasmuch as they serve for the bases of those apparitions; though we know nothing of their reality, and though we can have no certainty but in experience. | Truth, according to our author, consists in the agreement of our notions with the objects, in such a manner as that all men are obliged to form the same judgment: belief consists in holding a thing to be true, in consequence of a persuasion which is entirely personal, and has not its basis in an object submitted to experience. There is a belief of doctrine, as, that “there are inhabitants in the planets,” which is not the same as moral belief; because in moral belief there is something necessary. The ordinary mode of teaching the existence of God belongs to the belief of doctrine and it is the same with regard to the immortality of the soul nevertheless, the author was a firm believer in the existence of God, and a future state because, said he, “this persuasion renders immovable my moral principles principles which I cannot reject, without rendering myself contemptible in my own eyes. I wish for happiness, but I do not wish for it without morality; and as it depends on nature, I cannot wish it with this condition, except by believing that nature depends on a Being who causes this connection between morality and happiness. This supposition is founded on the want or necessity of my reason, and not on my duty. We have, however,” says Kant, “no certainty in our knowledge of God; because certainty cannot exist, except when it is founded on an object of experience. The philosopher acknowledges that pure reason is too weak to prove the existence of a being beyond the reach of our senses. The necessity of believing in God is, therefore, only subjective, although necessary and general for all those beings who conform to their duty. The proofs of natural theology, taken from the order and beauty of the universe, are proofs only in appearance. They resolve themselves into a bias of our reason to suppose an infinite Intelligence, the author of all that is possible; but from this bias it does not follow that there really is such an author. To say, that whatever exists must have a cause, is a maxim” a priori;“but it is a maxim applicable only to experience: for we know not how to subject to the laws of our perceptions that which is absolutely independent of them. It is impossible to know that God exists; but we can comprehend how it is possible to act morally on the supposition of the existence of an intelligent Creator, an existence which practical reason forces theoretical reason to adopt. This proof not only persuades, but even acts on the | conviction, in proportion as the motives of our actions are conformable to the law of morality. Religion ought to be the means of virtue, and not its object. Man has not in himself the idea of religion, as he has that of virtue. The latter has its principle in the mind it exists in itself, and not as the means of happiness and it may be taught without the idea of God, for the pure law of morality is” a priori.“He who does good by inclination, does not act morally. There are compassionate minds, which feel an internal pleasure in communicating joy around them, and who thus enjoy the satisfaction of others; but their actions, however just, however good, have no moral merit, and may be compared to other inclinations; to that of honour, for example, which, while it meets with that which is just and useful, is worthy of praise and encouragement, but not of any high degree of esteem. According to Kant, we ought not even to do good, either for the pleasure which we feel in doing it, or in order to be happy, or to render others happy; for any one of these motives would be empiric, and injure the purity of our morals. We ought to act after the maxims derived” a priori;" from the faculty of knowledge, which carry with them the idea of necessity, and are independent of all experience; after the maxims which, it is to be wished, could be erected into general laws for all beings endowed with reason.

If this, says a judicious writer, be a correct view of the object and the results of the Critical Philosophy, we confess ourselves unable to discover any motive which should induce our countrymen, in their researches after truth, to prefer the dark lantern of Kant to the luminous torch of Bacon. The metaphysical reader will perceive, that, in this abstract, there is little which is new except the phraseology, that what is new is either unintelligible or untenable, and that his opinions on the existence of the Supreme Being have a manifest tendency to atheism. With these sentiments of Kant’s philosophy, we hear without surprize or regret that it is already much neglected in Germany, and will probably soon fall into utter oblivion. 1


Dr. Gleig’s Supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a very elaborate and valuable article.—Rees’s Cyclopedia.