Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant and the critique of reason

18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant single handedly put Germany on the map as an intellectual power (and lent it the pedantic tone for which it soon became notorious). British philosopher the late Sir Geoffrey Warnock gives us a glimpse into the mind and manner of the man who made sweeping revisions in nearly all branches of philosophy, thereby inspiring other philosophers to stop bickering among themselves and get serious about thinking again. Certainly effected what Kant called a “second Copernican revolution”: The origin of the world as we know it, he insisted, is the human mind itself, which, far from being tabula rasa (“a clean slate”), has an inherent structure through which we filter all experience and which imposes its own order on the world of phenomena (though not on the real/ideal world of “things-in-themselves – German Dinge-an-sich,” which is unknowable). Likewise, humans have an innate awareness of moral law, in the form of the categorical (i.e., unconditional) imperative (i.e., command), a sort of bottom-line ethical “ought.” In attempting to make the world safe for both god and science, Kant managed to restore some dignity to the idea of the human mind; also to destroy the credibility of traditional metaphysics (since we can’t “know” any external reality that isn’t colored by our own “knowing”), to make modern philosophy more subjective than objective (and to prefigure such radically man-centered movements as existentialism), and to widen the rift between philosophy and the physical sciences.

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