Key Points


Immanuel Kant was born in Königsberg, Germany in 1724. He had a strict Lutheran up-bringing: intense religious devotion, personal humility and a literal interpretation of the Bible. His education was strict, punitive and disciplinary. He did not enjoy the early years of his life, but was happier when he enrolled at University at 16.

Initially, Kant wrote on the sciences, later turning to philosophy. He was appointed Professor of Logic and Metaphysics when he was 45. After his inaugral dissertation in 1770, he published nothing for more than a decade, when the revolutionary Critique of Pure Reason emerged. At over 800 pages, it's hard to summarise briefly(!), however it showed that Kant believed we could have sure and certain knowledge, but this said more about the way we think than the world itself. For example, the way we structure our thoughts presupposes that time moves forwards and that when one event follows another there is a causal link.

His famous work on moral philosophy came in 1785 - Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. In much the same way as his earlier work, Kant looks at the presuppositions we make - if there is morality, there must be free will, God, an afterlife etc. Kant was a long way from arguing that morality PROVES God's existence (Kant offered no moral argument for the existence of God, whatever your textbook may say!)

Kant is well-known for being a creature of habit - stories of locals setting their watch by his early-morning walks. He never married, didn't travel - the picture is painted of a sparse, dull, austere life. It isn't clear to what degree this is true. However, what he wrote was exciting. His writing is long, dry and in German, but the ideas are powerful, visionary and important.

Kant died in 1804. His tomb reads (from Critique of Practical Reason): "Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me."

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