Immanuel Kant was born on April 22, 1724 in Königsberg, Prussia, or what is now Kaliningrad, Russia. He was the fourth of nine children born to Johann Georg Cant, a harness maker, and Anna Regina Reuter. Immanuel later changed the spelling of his name to Kantto, to conform to German spelling practices.
Both parents were devout followers of Pietism, an 18th century branch of the Lutheran Church. Seeing young Kant’s potential, a local pastor took charge of his education. During his time at school, Kant developed a deep appreciation for the Latin classics.
In 1740 he enrolled at the University of Königsberg as a theology student, but was soon drawn to mathematics and physics. In 1746, his father died and he was forced to leave the university to help his family. For a decade, he worked as a private tutor to wealthy individuals. During this time, he published several articles addressing scientific questions that explored the middle ground between rationalism and empiricism.
In 1755, Immanuel Kant returned to the University of Königsberg to continue his education. That same year he received his doctorate in philosophy. For the next 15 years, he worked as a teacher and tutor and wrote important works on philosophy. In 1770 he was appointed full professor at the University of Königsberg, where he taught metaphysics and logic.
In 1781, Immanuel Kant published the «Critique of Pure Reason», a huge work and one of the most important works of Western thought. He attempted to explain how reason and experiences interact with thought and understanding. This revolutionary proposal explains how an individual’s mind organizes experiences to understand how the world works.
Kant focused on ethics, the philosophical study of moral actions. He proposed a moral law called the «categorical imperative», which states that morality is derived from rationality and that all moral judgments have rational support. What is right is right and what is wrong is wrong; there are no gray areas. Human beings are obliged to follow this imperative unconditionally if they claim to be moral.Although the «Critique of Pure Reason» received little attention at the time, Kant continued to refine his theories in a series of essays comprising the «Critique of Practical Reason» and the «Critique of Judgment». Kant continued to write about philosophy until shortly before his death. In his later years, he became embittered due to his memory loss. He died in 1804 at the age of 80.
1) Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals
Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals is the first inquiry of Immanuel Kant's mature period in the field of moral philosophy, and remains one of the most influential in the field.
Kant conceives his inquiry as a work of fundamental ethics, which clears the ground for further research by explaining the basic concepts and principles of moral theory and demonstrating that they are normative for rational agents. Kant aspires to nothing less than this: to lay bare the fundamental principle of morality and show that it applies to us.
In the text, Kant offers an innovative argument that the rightness of an action is determined by the character of the principle by which a person chooses to act.
2) The Critique of Practical Reason
The Critique of Practical Reason was published in 1788 and is Kant's second critique, being a continuation of the Critique of Pure Reason. It deals with moral philosophy and had a great influence on its development and also on the development of the field of ethics, becoming, during the 20th century, the main point of reference of deontological moral philosophy.
According to Immanuel Kant, the second Critique was more accessible than the first, and to the readers who accused him of writing incomprehensible jargon, he challenged them to find a more adequate language for his ideas or to demonstrate that his writings were really meaningless.
Moreover, the German philosopher claimed that many of the flaws critics found in his arguments were actually in their own brains, since they were too lazy to understand his ethical system as a whole.
3) The Critique of Practical Reason II
The Critique of Practical Reason II consists of book II of Kant's second critique. This book is called Dialectic of Pure Practical Reason; it is composed of two chapters, the first one Of a Dialectic of Pure Practical Reason Generally and the second one Of the Dialectic of Pure Reason in defining the Conception of the "Summum Bonum".
Its first paragraph already presents serious difficulties of interpretation for any reader familiar with the Critique of Pure Reason. The statement that pure reason "always has its dialectic", not only in its theoretical use, but also in its practical use, directly contradicts the first Critique.
If you are an enthusiast of philosophy, ethics and moral sciences and wish to enrich your knowledge of the concepts of right and wrong behavior, you cannot miss this work by Immanuel Kant.
4) The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics
The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics is a classic philosophy text written by one of the most influential thinkers of the Enlightenment. In it, Kant addresses some of the most complex ideas about how human beings can discern the right way to live.
In addition, the author explains how each of us can be happy and at the same time follow an inner sense of duty, as he considered that the greatest moral perfection is to do our duty.
We can consider this work as an important contribution to the philosophy of living life to do what is right for everyone. Although it is a very technically advanced book and with a reading that could be considered heavy, we recommend it for those interested in this area of ethics and for anyone interested in broadening their intellectual horizons.
5) The Science of Right
The Science of Right is the first part of Immanuel Kant's work of political and moral philosophy, The Metaphysics of Morals. It presents a lucid and straightforward discussion of society, dealing specifically with the rights that people have or can acquire.
Published separately in February 1797, it is one of the last examples of classical republicanism in political philosophy. It also contains the most mature of Kant's statements on the project of peace and a system of law guaranteeing individual rights.
This work was also translated into English as Doctrine of Right or the Metaphysical Elements of Justice. As can be the case with other works by Kant, the text can be difficult to read and understand to some people - even in German - but it is worth giving it a chance if one wishes to broaden one's knowledge of political and moral philosophy.