Born April 22, 1724 in Königsberg, Prussia, the founder of criticism and “transcendental idealism” is the fourth in a family of eleven children, of modest means. His father, Johann Georg Kant, of Scottish origin, was a saddler. Of great intelligence, his mother, Anna Regina, pietist (1) and devout Protestant, profoundly influenced his mind. Thanks to a wealthy shoemaker uncle, he was able to complete his studies in theology, philosophy and science at the University of Königsberg. It was there that he discovered Newton and physics, proof, according to him, that an “a priori” science of nature (that is to say mathematics and physics) was possible.
From 1755, Kant taught logic, metaphysics and sciences at the University of Königsberg (he was one of the first philosophers to hold a university chair) where he settled permanently, after a few years of tutoring. The German philosopher lived almost his entire life in his hometown, alone, according to an unchanging schedule, until his death on February 12, 1804. Königsberg was also an anthropological laboratory for him. Kant thus regularly asks his servant Lampe to invite a passer-by, taken at random in the street, to have lunch with him, probably to test his thoughts.
The Enlightenment and the French Revolution
“Have the courage to use your own understanding! This is the motto of the Enlightenment. » “What is Enlightenment?” », 1784
After 1794, he devoted himself entirely to his philosophical research. His entire life, marked by austerity and extreme regularity, was focused on meditation, study and teaching. Kant, a thinker of the German Enlightenment (Aufklärung), was enthusiastic about seeing the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau materialize in the French Revolution, of which he was a fervent admirer. Conversely, the Kantian thought immediately interested French revolutionary circlesespecially the book “Towards perpetual peace”: they find in him a doctrine which can found reason and therefore legitimize 1789, this unprecedented and unprecedented historical event.
“Despotism is the government where the head of state arbitrarily executes the laws he has given to himself, and where, consequently, he substitutes his private will for the public will. » Of perpetual peace, 1795
Knowledge, morality (questions of action and duty), religion (God and belief), anthropology (the nature of the human being), freedom, sociability, free choice, despotism , the beautiful, the pleasant, harmony between men, peace… Countless are the questions that preoccupy Kant. In all his work, the philosopher strives to make them intelligible, through very concrete situations, and thanks to an excellent sense of pedagogy.
“If understanding can be defined as the power to bring phenomena back to unity by means of rules, reason is the power to bring the rules of the understanding back to unity under principles. It therefore never relates immediately to experience or to any object whatsoever, but to the understanding, to give the diversity of the latter’s knowledge an a priori unity thanks to concepts; this unity can be called unity of reason and differs essentially from that which can be derived from the understanding. » “Critique of Pure Reason”, 1781
In his most famous work, “Critique of Pure Reason” (1781) ( “Kritik der reinen Vernunft” in German), Kant transposes into the philosophical order the Copernican revolution experienced by the physical sciences. Just as the Earth rotates on itself and not the sky around the Earth, Kant, considering that it is the subject who constructs the object of his knowledge and not the objects which define knowledge, defines “pure reason” as the faculty of knowing a priori (without recourse to experience) the nature of objects, through sensitivity and understanding.
The illusion of metaphysics
“The senses without reason are empty, but reason without the senses is blind. » Immanuel Kant
This first part of the Kantian critical project also shows why metaphysics cannot constitute true knowledge. God is therefore not necessary to found morality, he does not determine good and evil, but ensures the synthesis of virtue and happiness in a judgment: God is a moral being. Man’s knowledge being that of phenomena, it is therefore not possible for him, from “pure reason”, to know God, the immortality of the soul, the world, freedom, the self… which are only concepts and do not belong to the sensitive domain. Metaphysics is therefore an illusion.
“Act in such a way that the maxim of your will can be established as a universal moral law. » “Critique of practical reason”, 1788
A few years later, Kant published “Critique of practical reason” (1788), where he maintains that an action is morally good if it is performed out of pure respect for duty, without consideration for an interest or hoped-for satisfaction. It is the moral law which avoids ignorance and prejudice, which lead to misunderstandings, hatred, violence and other conspiracy theories, and moral reason which leads to its universality. It is through moral action and the “categorical imperative” that we are led to act out of duty, by appealing to our conscience. Kant’s morality, however, is not based on religion but on the autonomy of the will.
Fashion, religion and prejudices
“Fashion is therefore not really a matter of taste (it can be to an extreme point contrary to taste), but simply of the vain desire to show off, and of emulation to surpass oneself in this way. each other. » “Anthropology from the pragmatic point of view”, 1798
Kant’s work touches on eminently current questions. This is evidenced by the philosopher’s reflections on fashion (quote above), religion and thought. By placing reason as the limit of religion, and as a prerequisite, Kant thus gives man the means to try to avoid religious wars, “religious madness”, with their share of abuses: religion cannot must not be a means of holding power over people. Likewise, the three maxims of Kantian thought invite us to free ourselves from prejudices: think for ourselves, think by putting ourselves in the place of everyone else (respect for ourselves and others) and always think in agreement with yourself.