Go to the Index of 120 Philosophers Squared
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was born in Prussia and is known as a German philosopher. He was an idealist seeking reality as mediated by the mind and had an impact on ethics, metaphysics and astronomy.
“To be is to do.”
“There is, therefore, only one categorical imperative. It is: Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” alt “Live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law.”
“Do not feel forced to act, as you’re only willing to act according to your own universal laws. And that’s good. For only willful acts are universal. And that’s your maxim.”
“In the kingdom of ends everything has either a price or a dignity. What has a price can be replaced by something else as its equivalent; what on the other hand is raised above all price and therefore admits of no equivalent has a dignity.”
“All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding,” alt “All human knowledge begins with intuitions, proceeds from thence to concepts, and ends with ideas.” alt “and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.”
“It is beyond a doubt that all our knowledge that begins with experience.”
“But although all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it arises from experience.”
“What can I know? What ought I to do? What can I hope?”
“Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.”
“I have no knowledge of myself as I am, but merely as I appear to myself.”
“The inscrutable wisdom through which we exist is not less worthy of veneration in respect to what it denies us than in respect to what it has granted.”
“Ours is an age of criticism, to which everything must be subjected. The sacredness of religion, and the authority of legislation, are by many regarded as grounds for exemption from the examination by this tribunal; But, if they are exempted, and cannot lay claim to sincere respect, which reason accords only to that which has stood the test of a free and public examination.”
“All thought must, directly or indirectly, by way of certain characters, relate ultimately to intuitions, and therefore, with us, to sensibility, because in no other way can an object be given to us.”
“From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned.”
“By a lie a man throws away and, as it were, annihilates his dignity as a man. A man who himself does not believe what he tells another … has even less worth than if he were a mere thing. … makes himself a mere deceptive appearance of man, not man himself.”
“Two things fill me with constantly increasing admiration and awe, the longer and more earnestly I reflect on them: the starry heavens without and the moral law within.”
“It is not God’s will merely that we should be happy, but that we should make ourselves happy” alt “Morality is not the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.”
“It is not necessary that whilst I live I live happily; but it is necessary that so long as I live I should live honorably.”
“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.”
“In law a man is guilty when he violates the rights of others. In ethics he is guilty if he only thinks of doing so.”
“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.”
“Religion is too important a matter to its devotees to be a subject of ridicule. If they indulge in absurdities, they are to be pitied rather than ridiculed.”
“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”
“Apart from moral conduct, all that man thinks himself able to do in order to become acceptable to God is mere superstition and religious folly.”
“It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me.”
“There will always be some people who think for themselves, even among the self-appointed guardians of the great mass who, after having thrown off the yoke of immaturity themselves, will spread about them the spirit of a reasonable estimate of their own value and of the need for every man to think for himself.” alt “Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another.”
“The guardians who have kindly undertaken the supervision will see to it that by far the largest part of mankind, including the entire “beautiful sex,” should consider the step into maturity, not only as difficult but as very dangerous.”
“There are only a few who have pursued a firm path and have succeeded in escaping from immaturity by their own cultivation of the mind.”
“After having made their domestic animals dumb and having carefully prevented these quiet creatures from daring to take any step beyond the lead-strings to which they have fastened them, these guardians then show them the danger which threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone.”
“Human freedom is realized in the adoption of humanity as an end in itself, for the one thing that no-one can be compelled to do by another is to adopt a particular end.”
“Man has his own inclinations and a natural will which, in his actions, by means of his free choice, he follows and directs. There can be nothing more dreadful than that the actions of one man should be subject to the will of another; hence no abhorrence can be more natural than that which a man has for slavery. And it is for this reason that a child cries and becomes embittered when he must do what others wish, when no one has taken the trouble to make it agreeable to him. He wants to be a man soon, so that he can do as he himself likes.”
“There must be a seed of every good thing in the character of men, otherwise no one can bring it out. Lacking that, analogous motives, honor, etc., are substituted. Parents are in the habit of looking out for the inclinations, for the talents and dexterity, perhaps for the disposition of their children, and not at all for their heart or character.”
Kant demands far more of humans than they are capable of delivering. Even the most intelligent and perfectly educated person can’t even for a moment obey him. Humans are individually too slow to learn and cultural transmission of wisdom is too piecemeal for his dictums to function.
Kant’s ideas function only as a fantasy inside of human minds. Outside of the mind, in human physical reality, his fantasy reality fails. It feels good, like the idea of a perfect life after death, but it is too complex for living people to apply. People need maxims they can apply and to cultivate habits that improve their lives.
It would appear that Kant’s most famous maxim is flawed. “There is, therefore, only one categorical imperative. It is: Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” 1. It is impossible to have agreement on what that universal law would be, even for sophisticated philosophers. 2. It is impossible for normal humans to remember to apply such a complex idea when involved in the complexities of their lives. 3. It is replacing God and society’s laws with their own thoughts of the moment, which is condemned in both cases. 4. It means nothing beyond: do what you need to survive as a living being, and for your species’ living DNA to survive. In this view Kant’s morality predates Darwinian morality.
“But although all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it arises from experience.” Sometimes, actually usually, we see but we do not perceive. And this is generally true with every step of human thinking. Thus, to perceive doesn’t mean to understand, and to understand doesn’t mean to apply that understanding and that understanding applied to a single case doesn’t necessarily develop into guiding principles, and those principles don’t necessarily grow into wisdom, and that wisdom doesn’t necessarily transmit to humanity at large. We humans need more easily applied maxims like the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or alternately the Silver Rule – Don’t do to others as you would not have them do unto you. Or if you can rise to what Jesus actually said, KJV “All things what so ever ye would that men should do unto you, do so even unto them, for this is the law and the prophets.” That word “should” becomes the difficult thought, but Jesus defines it as, “Help others to live, and to live more abundantly.”
“The greatest problem for the human race, to the solution of which Nature drives man, is the achievement of a universal civic society which administers law among men.” This requires a universal government, a single Legal Sovereign Power which has only a few powers, but chief among them is the power to limit population to the carrying capacity of the environment via peaceful means.
“Human freedom is realized in the adoption of humanity as an end in itself.” When one considers this an absolute then humanity must include all the people who will come into life in the future. Thus the living individual’s ultimate responsibility to humanity and to those future people is to create a society in balance with Nature, so that there will be a decent future world and the necessities available to humanity such that it may thrive.