Immanuel Kant
A depth discussion of Kantian philosophy.

Immanuel Kant Metaphysics
A detailed summary of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason

Immanuel Kant
From Wikipedia


Immanuel Kant

Trying to summarize Kant's influence on philosophy is like trying to summarize Newton's influence on science. The most accurate summation in either case may be: after Newton/Kant the entire approach in all of science/philosophy had changed. We cannot capture those changes in a clear summary, but we can identify some of the parts. Newton (along with Leibniz) introduced calculus without which the modern scientific revolution could not have turned. Kant introduced a way of thinking about the relation of the human mind to the objective world and established a powerful method of moral reasoning. Kant changed the entire world by providing a new way of thinking about how the human mind relates to the world.

A Copernican Revolution
Kant's theory of mind radically revised the way that we all think about human knowledge of the world. Really. You do not need to have read (or even heard of ) Kant to be influenced by his ideas, any more than you need to have read Newton in order to be effected by science.

According to the Rationalist and Empiricist traditions, the mind is passive either because it finds itself possessing innate, well-formed ideas ready for analysis, or because it receives ideas of objects into a kind of empty theater, or blank slate. Kant's crucial insight here is to argue that experience of a world as we have it is only possible if the mind provides a systematic structuring of its representations.

So what is this amazing idea of Kant's? In a nutshell, it is the idea that the structure of the human mind shapes all sensory experience and thought. The mind has an Copernicus' heliocentric system from "On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres"active role in producing our conception of reality by acting as a filter, an organizer, and an enhancer. Kant's ideas is that objective reality is made possible by the form of its representation. This ideas is called Kant's Copernican Revolution, because like Nicolaus Copernicus' (1473-1543) who turned astronomy inside-out by hypothesizing that the earth moved around the sun (instead of the other way round), Kant turned epistemology inside-out by theorizing that objective reality depends on the mind (instead of the other way round).

If I have communicated this idea effectively (and please understand that this is a barely adequate summary compared to Kant's rigorous analysis), then you may be saying at this point "So what?" The idea that the mind filters out parts of the world and participates in the construction of our understanding is quite ordinary. But that ordinariness just shows the success for Kant's influence. Before him the battle over epistemology (theory of knowledge) was between the Rationalists who held that the mind was composed of innate ideas to which experience conformed and the Empiricists who held that all ideas, hence the entire mind, came from experience. On either view, the mind is pictures as a passive receiver of ideas and perceptions.

Kant showed a way in which the mind can be understood as an active player in the construction of reality. Not by making things up or inventing ideas, but by providing the structure into which perception and thought must conform in order to be representations. This structure includes space, time, and causation. Before Kant the debate over the concept of space was whether it was an idea already in the mind at birth and added to perceptions allowed a mental representation of three-dimensional objects; or whether space were an idea that formed in the mind as the senses perceived objects in the three dimensions. After Kant this debate was no longer tenable, since he had so powerfully shown that space is a precondition of perception. For instance, there cannot be a perception of color that does not already have some location in space. The perception of a color may be presented in many different locations, but there is no perception of color which has no location at all. Even with your eyes closed, you see the color patches and specks as having a location in the visual field (which, after all, has fairly clear spatial boundaries). Thus, we cannot make sense of the attempt to separate the color-perception from the space-perception. Space is a condition of (requirement for) color perception, just as time is a condition of (requirement for) the observation of an event. So space, time, and causality are conditions of experience (representation of reality). This is the same as saying that space, time, and causation belong to the structure of the mind. Note that we are speaking here of the human mind, not just individual personalities. All humans share some structural properties. Most animals probably do as well. Perhaps a very alien type of creature may have a completely different conceptual structure from that of the human world, but Kant is on firm ground in positing that space, time, and causation are fundamental conditions for human experience.

Kant draws many remarkable consequences from his central insight. He seeks to map the structure of the mind, he considers what kinds of knowledge are possible, he explores what free-will would have to be in such a system, and very importantly, his analysis of the human conceptual structure leads to a powerful idea about morality as the freedom to act in accordance with our own structures of value.



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