Immanuel Kant

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Prof. Dr. phil. habil.[1] Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant (originally Emanuel; b. 22 April 1724 in Königsberg, East Prussia, Kingdom of Prussia, Holy Roman Empire; d. 12 February 1804 ibid), the "Sage of Königsberg", was one of the most famous German philosophers of Europe, and the last philosopher of the "Age of Enlightenment."


Kant's tomb enclosure
Kant as a Genosse Walhallas (de)

Immanuel Kant was born on 22 April 1724 in the morning around 5 o'clock as the fourth of nine children of the saddler and harness-maker Johann Georg Kant (1683-1746) and his wife Regina, née Reuter (1697-1737), who had married on 13 November 1715 in Königsberg. The father had moved from the Memel Territory of the Kingdom of Prussia (German: Memelland or Memelgebiet) to Königsberg as a young man and the mother's family, also saddlers and harness-makers, came from Nuremberg and Tübingen. Of his siblings, the older sister Regina and the three younger sisters Anna Luise, Maria Elisabeth and Katharina Barbara reached a higher age. They all married craftsmen. His brother Heinrich, who was 11 years his junior, became a country pastor in Altrahden. Throughout his life he had a good but certainly not intimate relationship with his siblings.[2]

Immanuel's great-grandfather, Richard Cant, came not from Scotland, as is sometimes claimed, but from the Curonian Spit (German: Kurische Nehrung), where he was a well-known publican (innkeeper) in Werden near Heidekrug.[3] In both families the professions of the leather trade are strongly represented: dyers, tanners, saddlers, furriers, shoemakers. Richard's son Hans (d. 1715), the philosopher's grandfather, was a who lived in Memel, where he married (firstly) in 1694 and had a house and workshop on the so-called "castle liberties", and by this wife another house in the Old Town, together with some fields on the Common. The philosopher's father, Johann Georg was christened at Memel in 1682 and it is thought he may have died of the Black Plague. The 73-year-old philosopher Kant explains in the draft of a letter of reply to the Swedish bishop Lindblom:

"Both my parents (from the trades) were exemplary in terms of integrity, moral decency and order … gave me an upbringing that, from the moral point of view, no better could be and for which I … find myself touched with the most grateful feelings".


Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) is the central figure in modern philosophy. He synthesized early modern rationalism and empiricism, set the terms for much of nineteenth and twentieth century philosophy, and continues to exercise a significant influence today in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics, and other fields. The fundamental idea of Kant’s “critical philosophy” – especially in his three Critiques: the Critique of Pure Reason (1781, 1787), the Critique of Practical Reason (1788), and the Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790) – is human autonomy. He argues that the human understanding is the source of the general laws of nature that structure all our experience; and that human reason gives itself the moral law, which is our basis for belief in God, freedom, and immortality. Therefore, scientific knowledge, morality, and religious belief are mutually consistent and secure because they all rest on the same foundation of human autonomy, which is also the final end of nature according to the teleological worldview of reflecting judgment that Kant introduces to unify the theoretical and practical parts of his philosophical system.[4]


Kant was enrolled at the Albertina. Later, until around 1753, he was a private tutor on the estate of Major Bernhard Friedrich von Huelsen in Groß-Arnsdorf near Mohrungen. He found his third job near Königsberg at Waldburg-Capustigall Castle (Schloß Waldburg-Capustigall) with the von Keyserlingk family, which also gave him access to Königsberg's higher society. He taught the two stepsons of Caroline Charlotte Amalie Gräfin von Keyserlingk (daughter of Genenalmajor Karl Ludwig Truchseß von Waldburg and wife of Gebhardt Johann Graf von Keyserlingk), with whom he shared mutual admiration throughout his life. The philosopher spent all of his life in Königsberg, where he lectured in the now destroyed Old University Albertina (founded 1544) which stood near the north side of the recently restored cathedral.

On race

Among the deviations,that is, among the hereditary dissimilarities that we find in animals that belong to a single line of descent, are those called races. Races are deviations that are constantly preserved over many generations and come about as a consequence of migration (dislocation to other regions) or through interbreeding with other deviations of the same line of descent, which always produces half-breed off-spring. Those deviate forms that always preserve the distinction of their deviation are called variations. Variations resemble each other, but they do not necessarily produce half-breeds when they mix with others. Those deviations which often, but not always, resemble one another may, on the other hand, be called varieties. Conversely, the deviation which produces half-breed off-spring with others, but which gradually dies out through migration, may be called a special stock. Proceeding in this way, Negroes and whites are clearly not different species of human beings (since they presumably belong to one line of descent), but they do comprise two different races. This is because each of them perpetuate themselves in all regions of the earth and because they both, when they interbreed, necessarily produce half-breed children, or blends (Mulattoes). Blondes and brunettes are not, by contrast different races of whites, because a blond man who is the child of a brunette woman can also have distinctly blond children, although each of these deviations is always preserved, even when migration occurs frequently over many generations. For this reason, they are only variations of whites. At long last, then, the condition of the earth (dampness or dryness), along with the food that people commonly eat, eventually produces one hereditary distinction or stock among animals of a single line of descent and race, especially with regard to their size, the proportion of their limbs (plump or slim), and their natural disposition. This stock will surely produce half-breed resemblances when it mixes with hereditary stocks foreign to it. Such half-breed resemblances disappear, however, in only a few generations when members of the stock live in other places and change their diet (even when there is no change in climate). We take pleasure in becoming aware of how we can account for the origin of the different stock of human beings according to the variety of causes that account for these differences. Thus someone from the same region is recognizable simply according to the features characteristic of any one from that province. [...]
I believe that we only need to assume four races in order to be able to derive all of the enduring distinctions immediately recognizable within the human genus. They are: (1) the white race; (2) the Negro race; (3) the Hun race (Mongol or Kalmuck); and (4) the Hindu or Hindustani race. I also count among the first of these, which we find primarily in Europe, the Moors (Mauritanians from Africa), the Arabs (following Niebuhr), the Turkish-Tatars, and the Persians, including all the other peoples of Asia who are not specifically excepted from them in the other divisions. The Negro race of the northern hemisphere is native (indigenous) only in Africa; that of the southern hemisphere (except Africa) is native only to New Guinea and is to be found on several neighboring islands only because of migration. The Kalmuck race seems to be purest among the Khoshuts, to be mixed a little with Tatar blood among the Torguts, and to be mixed more with Tatar blood among the Zingari. This is the same race which in the oldest times carried the name Huns, later that of Mongols (in the wider sense), and currently that of Olitus. The Hindustani race is, in the land of the same name, very pure and ancient, but is to be distinguished from the people who live on the other half of the Indian peninsula. I believe that it is possible to derive all of the other hereditary characters of peoples from these four races either as mixed races or as races that originate from them. The first of these two alternatives occurs when different races interbreed; the second occurs when a people has not yet lived long enough in a specific climate to take on fully the character of the race peculiar to that climate. [...]
We have identified four human races. We can understand all the diversity of the genus on the basis of these four races. However, all deviations surely require a lineal root genus. We must either conclude that this lineal root genus is already extinct or that we can find evidence of it among the existing stock, from which we can generally construct a comparative account of the lineal root genus. To be sure, we cannot hope now to find anywhere in the world an unchanged example of the original human form. However, it is only because of this natural propensity to take on the characteristics of any natural setting over many successive generations that the human form must now everywhere be subject to local modifications. The only part of the earth that we can justifiably think to have the most fortunate combination of influences of both the cold and hot regions is the area between 31 and 52 degrees latitude in the old world (which also seems to deserve the name old world because of the people that inhabit it). The greatest riches of earth’s creation are found in this region and this is also where human beings must diverge least from their original form, since the human beings living in this region were already well-prepared to be transplanted into every other region of the earth. We certainly find in this region white, indeed, brunette inhabitants. We want, therefore, to assume that this form is that of a lineal root genus. The nearest northern deviation to develop from this original form appears to be the noble blond form. This form is characterized by its tender white skin, reddish hair, and pale blue eyes. This form inhabited the northern regions of Germany and, if we believe other available evidence, the region that stretches further to the east up to the Altai mountains, a cold region filled with vast wooded areas. At this time the influence of cold and humid air, which drew the bodily juices toward a tendency for scurvy, produced a certain stock of human beings. This stock would have gotten on well enough to persist as a race if the further development of this deviation had not been so frequently interrupted by interbreeding with alien stock. We can, therefore, at least take all this tentative account of the origins of the real races. If so, the four presently existing races and the natural causes that account for their origins can be illustrated by means of the following summary:
First race: Noble blond (northern Europe) from humid cold
Second race: Copper red (America) from dry cold
Third race: Black (Senegambia) from humid heat
Fourth race: Olive-yellow (Asian-Indians) from dry heat[5]


Kant died in 1804. His grave is under a stone on the north side of the choir of the cathedral. On the wall behind his tomb is a copy of Raphael's School of Athens, painted in grisaille by Neide. On the opposite wall are words "Der bestirnte Himmel uber mire, das moralische Gesetz in mir" ("The Starry Heavens above me, the Moral Law within me"), from his "Kritik der praktischen Vernunft" (1788).[6]


  • "By a lie, a man... annihilates his dignity as a man."
  • "Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life."
  • "Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play."
  • "Metaphysics is a dark ocean without shores or lighthouse, strewn with many a philosophic wreck."
  • "Morality is not the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness."
  • "All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason."
  • "Seek not the favor of the multitude; it is seldom got by honest and lawful means. But seek the testimony of few; and number not voices, but weigh them."
  • "The only objects of practical reason are therefore those of good and evil. For by the former is meant an object necessarily desired according to a principle of reason; by the latter one necessarily shunned, also according to a principle of reason."
  • “Humanity have achieved its greatest perfection in the white race. The yellow Indians already have lesser talent. The Negroes stand far lower, and the peoples of America are lowest.” – A passage from Kant’s Physical Geography, but it must be pointed out that the passage in question is an excerpt, in which Kant is citing the French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon.

List of major works

  • (1749) Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces (Gedanken von der wahren Schätzung der lebendigen Kräfte)
  • (March 1755) Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens (Allgemeine Naturgeschichte und Theorie des Himmels)
  • (April 1755) Brief Outline of Certain Meditations on Fire [Meditationum quarundam de igne succinta delineatio (master's thesis under Johann Gottfried Teske)]
  • (September 1755) A New Elucidation of the First Principles of Metaphysical Cognition [Principiorum primorum cognitionis metaphysicae nova dilucidatio (doctoral thesis)]
  • (1756) The Use in Natural Philosophy of Metaphysics Combined with Geometry, Part I: Physical Monadology [Metaphysicae cum geometrica iunctae usus in philosophin naturali, cuius specimen I. continet monadologiam physicam, abbreviated as Monadologia Physica (thesis as a prerequisite of associate professorship)]
  • (1762) The False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures (Die falsche Spitzfindigkeit der vier syllogistischen Figuren)
  • (1763) The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God (Der einzig mögliche Beweisgrund zu einer Demonstration des Daseins Gottes)
  • (1763) Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Magnitudes into Philosophy (Versuch den Begriff der negativen Größen in die Weltweisheit einzuführen)
  • (1764) Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (Beobachtungen über das Gefühl des Schönen und Erhabenen)
  • (1764) Essay on the Illness of the Head (Über die Krankheit des Kopfes)
  • (1764) Inquiry Concerning the Distinctness of the Principles of Natural Theology and Morality [the Prize Essay] (Untersuchungen über die Deutlichkeit der Grundsätze der natürlichen Theologie und der Moral)
  • (1766) Dreams of a Spirit-Seer (Träume eines Geistersehers)
  • (1768) On the Ultimate Ground of the Differentiation of Regions in Space (Von dem ersten Grunde des Unterschiedes der Gegenden im Raume)
  • (August 1770) Dissertation on the Form and Principles of the Sensible and the Intelligible World [De mundi sensibilis atque intelligibilis forma et principiis (doctoral thesis)]
  • (1775) On the Different Races of Man (Über die verschiedenen Rassen der Menschen)
  • (1781) First edition of the Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft)
  • (1783) Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Prolegomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik)
  • (1784) "An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?" ("Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?")
  • (1784) "Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose" ("Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher Absicht")
  • (1785) Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten)
  • (1786) Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft)
  • (1786) "What does it mean to orient oneself in thinking?" ("Was heißt: sich im Denken orientieren?")
  • (1786) Conjectural Beginning of Human History (Mutmaßlicher Anfang der Menschengeschichte)
  • (1787) Second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft)
  • (1788) Critique of Practical Reason (Kritik der praktischen Vernunft)
  • (1790) Critique of Judgment (Kritik der Urteilskraft)
  • (1793) Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason (Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloßen Vernunft)
  • (1793) On the Old Saw: That May be Right in Theory But It Won't Work in Practice (Über den Gemeinspruch: Das mag in der Theorie richtig sein, taugt aber nicht für die Praxis)
  • (1795) Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch ("Zum ewigen Frieden")
  • (1797) Metaphysics of Morals (Metaphysik der Sitten). First part is The Doctrine of Right, which has often been published separately as The Science of Right.
  • (1798) Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht)
  • (1798) The Contest of Faculties[228] (Der Streit der Fakultäten)
  • (1800) Logic (Logik)
  • (1803) On Pedagogy (Über Pädagogik)
  • (1804) Opus Postumum
  • (1817) Lectures on Philosophical Theology (Immanuel Kants Vorlesungen über die philosophische Religionslehre edited by K.H.L. Pölitz) [The English edition of A.W. Wood & G.M. Clark (Cornell, 1978) is based on Pölitz' second edition, 1830, of these lectures.]

Further reading

  • Chamberlain, Houston Stewart: Immanuel Kant, translated from the German with an 'Introduction' by Lord Redesdale, G.C.V.O., K.C.B., London, 1914, 2 volumes
  • Kleingeld, Pauline: Kant’s second thoughts on race, in: "Philosophical Quarterly" 57 (2007), 573–592
  • Kant, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, eds. Patrick Frierson and Paul Guyer, Cambridge University Press, 2011

External links


  1. Biografie, Immanuel Kant
  2. Immanuel Kant
  3. Kant, Immanuel, in: "Neue Deutsche Biographie" 11 (1977), pp. 110-125
  4. Immanuel Kant, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  5. Kant on the different human races (1777) (archive)
  6. Baedeker, Karl, Northern Germany, Leipsic & London, 1904, p.176-7.