Kant, Immanuel

(redirected from Neo-Kantianism)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

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 ?
Too often, however, the legacy of neo-Kantianism is confined to the Marburg and Southwest schools--or to some of their more notable ideas, for instance, the critique of psychologism, the Naturwissenschaften-Geisteswissenschaften distinction.
The principles of multiplicity and localization, of change and transformation, of exteriority and rarity must be untangled from the traces of neo-Kantianism and Heideggerianism, and fully restored to their vitalist force.
Friedman has presented the first thorough historical study of the relationship between Carnap and Heidegger, in which he attempts to show how, by dealing with the same basic ideas of Neo-Kantianism, two traditions of philosophy were able to develop which have led to the current opposition of analytic and continental philosophy (Friedman 1996).
As Tom Rockmore acknowledges, "Lukacs's early interest in German neo-Kantianism influenced his entire later development, specifically including his aesthetic views.
Opposing the reigning Neo-Kantianism, rationalism or scientism, Heschel preferred to draw upon Hasidic sources, that is, fervent attachment to God.
Schwarzschild, z"1, who was for many years Professor of Philosophy and Jewish Studies at Washington University and a lonely academic voice proclaiming the continued relevance of Cohen's Marburg neo-Kantianism.
He also explains that Perojo was active when the definition of the term "progressive" changed from its identification with Krausism to new associations with positivism, neo-Kantianism, Spencerianism, and a commitment to natural sciences (100).
According to Safranski, the young Heidegger, Heidegger before he became Heidegger, confronted the neo-Kantianism which dominated the philosophical scene by seeking a metaphysical ground in the possibility of an objective spirit: "Such a spirit he finds in the evident 'treasure of truth' of the [Catholic] Church, but this does not satisfy the philosopher.
This accommodating movement maintained a place for the less scientistic psychology which was emerging with the work of Karl Buhler and the Berlin Gestalt psychologists, it gathered in younger philosophers and ousted from power the various strains of neo-Kantianism which had been prevalent before the war.
He devotes more space to a digression on the Marburg School of Neo-Kantianism than to Whately.
The two most relevant aspects of Marburg Neo-Kantianism that help shape the concepts of "dialogue" and "essay" in the writings of Bakhtin and Musil, are its desire to unite new discoveries in the sciences with the study of philosophy, and its emphasis on unity and oneness.
He diverged from neo-Kantianism in such works as Adan en el Paraiso (1910; "Adam in Paradise"), Meditaciones del Quijote (1914; Meditations on Quixote), and El tema de nuestro tiempo (1923; The Modern Theme).