Kant, Immanuel

(redirected from Kantians)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Encyclopedia.

Kant, Immanuel

Immanuel Kant.

Immanuel Kant shook the foundations of Western philosophy in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This author and professor did his most important writing between 1781 and 1790 while working at the University of Königsberg, where he spent most of his life. Kant's philosophical model not only swept aside the ideas of the so-called empiricists and rationalists who came before him, it also had a lasting effect outside of philosophy, especially in the areas of ethics and the law. Today, legal scholars still debate his ideas—and their sometimes startling implications—in relation to contemporary issues.

Kant was born into a lower-middle-class family in East Prussia in 1724. A gifted student, he studied in a Latin school from age eight until age sixteen, when he entered the University of Königsberg to take up theology, natural science, and philosophy. The death of his father forced him to abandon his studies in order to work as a private tutor, and he had to wait several years before returning to complete his education. By that time he was already writing serious books. From what is called Kant's precritical period, these early works are primarily scientific. In recognition of his talents, the university made him a lecturer and eventually a professor. He taught logic and metaphysics.

Twenty years later Kant attacked the reigning schools of thought. In this so-called critical period, he wrote his most famous book, The Critique of Pure Reason (1781). Kant's work examined the relation of experience and perception: he was concerned with how people know what they know, and just as important, the proper uses of the powers of reasoning. He argued that reality can be perceived only to the extent that it complies with the aptitude of the mind that is doing the perceiving. This places one kind of limitation on what can be known. Kant saw another limitation, too: only phenomena—things that can be experienced—are capable of being understood; everything else is unknown. The human senses, therefore, take supreme precedence in determining what is real.

These theories have implications for conventional morality. Kant viewed God, freedom, and immortality as incomprehensible: they can only be contemplated; their existence can never be proved. Nonetheless, he argued, all three of them are important as the basis for morality. Kant believed that reason is insufficient to justify moral behavior. The justification for behaving morally has to come from people's sense of duty, which he called the categorical imperative.

Kant continued to develop his philosophy in subsequent books including Critique of Judgment (1790) and Religion within the Limits of Reasons Alone (1793). The latter enraged the government, resulting in its Censorship and an official order to Kant to write no more books about religion.

"The greatest problem for the human species, the solution of which nature compels him to seek, is that of attaining a civil society which can administer justice universally."
—Immanuel Kant

Philosophers have studied Kant's work for over two centuries, but legal thinkers outside of Europe have only widely treated it in recent years. In the late twentieth century, when many U.S. scholars of law turned to interdisciplinary studies that involved the fields of economics and textual analysis, Kant provided another model for argument. Kant's ideas cover the foundation of law while specifically addressing property, contracts, and criminal punishment. Kant proposed that punishment should be meted out strictly without exception—because of society's duty to seek retribution. "[I]f justice goes," Kant wrote in 1797, "there is no longer any value in men's living on the earth."

Further readings

Fletcher, George P. 1987. "Why Kant." Columbia Law Review 87 (April).

Gillroy, John Martin. 2000. Justice & Nature: Kantian Philosophy, Environmental Policy & the Law. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Univ. Press.

Goodrich, Peter. 2001. "Barron's Complaint: A Response to "Feminism, Aestheticism and the Limits of Law." Feminist Legal Studies 9 (August): 149–70.

Kant, Immanuel. 1991. "Metaphysical First Principles of the Doctrine of Right." In The Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by Mary Gregor. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Tunick, Mark. 1998. Practices and Principles: Approaches to Ethical and Legal Judgment. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press.

Waldron, Jeremy. 1996. "Kant's Legal Positivism." Harvard Law Review 109 (May).

Wright, R. George. 2002. "Treating Persons as Ends in Themselves; the Legal Implications of a Kantian Principle. University of Richmond Law Review 36, (March): 271–326.


Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Jurisprudence.

References in periodicals archive ?
According to them, liberalism as it is described by Kantian and Neo-Kantian moral philosophers violates the plurality condition with reference to universality of the rationality, values, higher-order principles, and impartiality.
For example, commenting on personalism, he says, "by making separate existence something that is willed and claimed as a right that must be recognized by others, personhood moves outside the sphere of Thomism and even of Christian charity into the realm of Kantian liberalism.
The New Kantians render this test procedurally, and have come to call it the CI-procedure.
The Kantian lineage I have in mind begins with the thought that what is important about political principles is how they apply to persons in terms of what is most important about persons.
We shall later refer to this compromise as Kantian liberalism.
How plausible is her general thesis that we should replace the sort of empiricism embodied in deconstruction with a version of Kantian formalism?
The first three chapters in this section clarify various aspects of Kantian virtue.
Even with this new definition of Kantianism, however, Professor Kraynak creates considerable confusion about what it means to be a Kantian personalist.
Now, few Kantians would maintain that we ought always to assess proposed actions in either of these ways, yet most Kantians would follow Kant in insisting that we are always capable of engaging in either kind of assessment, and hence that we must always be capable of formulating the maxim of any proposed action.
The Interconnection between Willing and Believing for Kant's and Kantian Ethics, SAMUEL KAHN
For this is a book that indeed offers a single history of moral philosophy, according to which all moral philosophers have been attempting to solve the same core set of problems, which is what allows Kantian moral autonomy to define Schneewind's "present.
It is only by understanding and partially overcoming the Kantian legacy that a wider appreciation for Whitehead's philosophy can occur.