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Immanuel Kant 1724 - 1804

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Immanuel Kant 1724-1804

Immanuel Kant was born on April 22, 1724 in Konigsberg, East Prussia. He was the son of a saddler. At age 8, he entered the Collegium Fredericianum, a Latin school, where he remained for 8 1/2 years and studied the classics. He then entered the University of Konigsberg in 1740 to study philosophy, mathematics, and physics. The death of his father halted his university career so he became a private tutor. In 1755, he returned to Konigsburg where he later resumed his studies. In 1756, he received a degree and was made a lecturer, and in 1770 he became a professor.

Kant felt he had to adhere to a very strict schedule during his years as a professor. He would get up shortly before five in the morning and spent an hour drinking tea, smoking a pipe, and thinking over his day's work. From six to seven he prepared his lecture, which would begin at seven or eight and lasted until nine or ten. After his lecture he would devote himself to writing until the midday meal. He always had company for his midday meal and it would always last several hours because he enjoyed conversation. After the meal he would take a walk for an hour or so and his evenings were devoted to reading and reflection. He would go to bed at ten o'clock. Besides his writings, he became famous for his schedule.

Kant's most striking character trait was probably his moral earnestness and his devotion to the idea of duty. He was a sociable man and was also kindly and benevolent. He was never rich but he was careful in money matters. He regularly assisted a number of poor people. He was a sincere and loyal friend and his conduct was marked by courtesy and respect for others.

For 15 years after completing his doctorate he taught at the university where he lectured on science and math, but eventually he expanded his field to cover almost all branches of philosophy. Kant was an amazing orator and was internationally famous for his lectures. His main goal in philosophical courses was to stimulate his listeners to "stand on their own feet" as he put it. He was appointed to a regular chair of philosophy at the University at the age of 46 in 1770. He was made the professor of logics and metaphysics.

He came into conflict with Prussia's government due to his unorthodox religious teachings. In 1792, the King of Prussia, Frederick William II, forbade Kant to teach or write on religious teachings. He obeyed the king's order until William II died. In 1798, the year following his retirement from the University, Kant published a summary of his religious views. He died on February 12, 1804.

During his lifetime, Kant produced many writings. Scholars usually divide his literary career into two periods: the Pre-critical period and the Critical period. During the Pre-critical period, 1747 to 1781, he wrote many non-fictional works and criticisms. Some of them were "Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces", "On Fire", "A New Explanation of the First Principles of Metaphysical Knowledge", and "On the Forms and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World". From 1770 to 1780, he mainly worked on preparing "The Critique of Pure Reason".

The Critical period lasted from 1781 to 1794. During this period, he wrote "The Critique of Pure Reason" in 1781, and "Foundation for the Metaphysics of Ethics" in 1785. Following the critical works, Kant published "Critique of Practical Reason", "Critique of Judgment", and "Religion within the Limits of Mere Reason".

Three main discussions of Kant are Duty, the Formula of the End, and the Kingdom of Ethics. Kant feels that we act morally when we do our duty, however it is important to distinguish between acting according to duty and acting from duty. Acting according to duty is when someone else has imposed the duty. This is an example of heteronymous will. An example of this is Adolf Eichmann, a German nazi general of WWII, who formulated the 'final solution'. He said that according to Kant, he acted morally, since he was following orders, as it was his duty to do so. This is wrong because Kant says that we are only acting morally if we act from duty, as dictated by our innate reason. This is an example of autonomous will.

Along with duty is the difference between the Categorical Imperative and the Hypothetical Imperative. Imperatives in general are commands that dictate a particular course of action, such as "you shall clean your room." Hypothetical Imperatives are commands that depend on my preference for a particular end, and are stated in conditional form. The Categorical Imperative, Kant argues, are moral actions based on a "supreme principle of morality" which is objective, rational, freely chosen, and it is not conditional upon one's preferences. Therefore the Categorical Imperative can be the only possible standard of moral obligation. An example of this is two grocers in a town are John and Joe. John wants to keep his trade, so he insists on selling the best goods, giving the best service, being friendly and polite, and offering value for money. Joe does the same, not to keep his trade, but because it is what he should do. According to Kant, even though the actions are the same, John is acting immorally, according to the Hypothetical Imperative, while Joe is acting morally, according to the Categorical Imperative. For Kant, the act is not important. As long as you are acting from duty and the motive is right, the act must be right. However, the Principles of Universalisability puts a twist on this. It states that if an action is applied to everyone, and everybody did what you were about to do, it became immoral or hypocritical, and then your act would be immoral.

The Formula of the End deals with ends and means. Kant states that you must not treat people as means to your own end, but as ends in themselves. It would be similar to Christianity's 'Golden Rule' except for the Universalisability Principle. The example of this is suicide. The 'Golden Rule' does not apply in this case, because when a person commits suicide, he does not treat others in ways he would want to be treated. He does not treat them at all, because he only treats himself.

The Kingdom of Ethics states that human beings, because they are rational (use reason), possess inherent value. This means that they are ends in themselves. Their value is intrinsic, not instrumental. Kant feels that no rule of conduct, which applies to all human beings, can sanction actions favoring one person over another or agree to conduct where one person treats another as a means to an end. To do so is to demean oneself and the entire



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