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200th Anniversary of the Birth of Immanuel Kant

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Authored by Alice Broome
Published on 22nd April, 2024 2 min read

200th Anniversary of the Birth of Immanuel Kant

Today (22/04/2024) marks 200 years since the birth of the philosopher Immanuel Kant. Born in Königsberg, East Prussia, Kant is widely regarded as one of the most influential philosophers of the Enlightenment. He began his scholarly career as a student at the University of Königsberg, where he studied theology. After graduating, Kant worked as a private tutor, teaching subjects such as history, mathematics, and the natural sciences. In 1770, he secured a professorship in logic and metaphysics at the University of Königsberg, a position he held for 26 years.

Kant is best known for his three critiques—the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), the Critique of Practical Reason (1788), and the Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790)—which set out his system of philosophical thought. His main contribution to the ideological ferment of the Enlightenment was his criticism of empiricism—the theory that all knowledge is based on experience derived from the senses. Associated with British philosophers such as Francis Bacon (1561–1626) and John Locke (1632–1704), empiricism had hitherto dominated philosophical debate in Western Europe.

This critique of empiricism had profound implications for Kant’s ethical framework. He argued that the morality of an action is based on its intentions, rather than the outcomes. Good intentions result from our sense of moral duty, which is derived from reason. Thus, regardless of the consequences of an action, if the intentions are good, then the person has acted morally. Kant also believed that because ethical decisions are made a priori (from theoretical deduction, rather than from observation or experience), then some rules should be regarded as maxims that should always be followed. He called these “categorical imperatives”. According to Kant, rules become categorical imperatives when we consider if they should be universal, i.e. that everyone should follow them. He also believed that ethical decisions should be based on the principle that people should never be treated as a means to an end, but, rather, as an end in themselves.

Authored by Alice Broome

Alice Broome

Alice Broome is an Editor at British Online Archives. She is a Philosophy, Politics, and Economics graduate from the University of York.

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