Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804)


Immanuel Kant was born and raised in Konigsberg, Prussia, now called Kaliningrad, Russia. He was a man of structure and lived an uneventful life. He was so structured that people in Konigsberg set their watches by when they saw Kant walk by each day on his daily walk. He didn't marry, wasn't ever ill, and never traveled, but was a great thinker.

Kant lived at a time when philosophy was divided. One group of philosophers believed that knowledge came from experience, called empiricism. The other group said that human reason made sense of the world, called rationalism. Kant tried to bring the two groups together. He decided to explore how the mind works and what reality actually is. The result of his thinking was called transcendental idealism, and was a revolution of thinking.

Kant believed that no one can say for certain what reality is. They can only be certain of what reality appears to be to them, because the human mind molds reality into a form that makes sense to it. Space and time are "irremovable goggles" and aren't "things" to be found out in the world. They are only part of the mind's organizing system.

Kant was a strict follower of Martin Luther, founder of the Lutheran Church. Kant believed that it was a moral necessity to believe in God, even though it was impossible to prove God's existence. He said that a universal moral law governed all people.

When Kant died at the age of 80, these words were inscribed on his tomb: "Two things fill my mind with increasing wonder and awe, the starry heaven above me and the moral law within me."

Classroom Discussion Questions:

How would Kant answer the question, "What is the meaning of life?"

How does Kant define knowledge?

According to Kant, what determines right and wrong?

How would Kant explain why many witnesses to the same crime have different accounts of the crime? Or how two people can describe the same situation and tell the story differently?

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