Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant ( Konigsberg , 22 April as as 1724 – Konigsberg , December as February as 1804 ). German philosopher. First and most important representative and founder of German classical idealism and considered one of the most influential thinkers in modern Europe of the last period of the Enlightenment and of universal philosophy. Today, Kant continues to have ample validity in various disciplines such as Philosophy , Law , Ethics , Aesthetics , Science andPolicy .


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  • 1 Biographical data
  • 2 Philosophy
    • 1 Criticism
    • 2 The critical problem
      • 2.1 The general problem of metaphysics
    • 3 The analysis of knowledge in the critique of pure reason
    • 4 The critique of metaphysics
    • 5 Kant’s formal ethics
    • 6 Kant’s political theory
    • 7 Affection
  • 3 Death
  • 4 Bibliography
  • 5 Sources

Biographical data

The son of a modest saddler, he was educated in Pietism. In 1740 he entered the University of Königsberg as a student of theology and was a student of Martin Knutzen, who introduced him to the rationalistic philosophy of Leibniz and Wolff, and also imbued him with an interest in natural science , in particular the mechanics of Newton .

His existence practically happened entirely in his hometown, from which he did not get away more than a hundred kilometers when he lived for a few months in Arnsdorf as tutor, activity to which he dedicated himself to earn a living after the death of his father, in 1746 . After obtaining his doctorate at the University of Königsberg at the age of thirty-one, he taught there and in 1770 , after failing twice to obtain a professorship and having rejected offers from other universities, he was finally appointed ordinary professor of logic and metaphysics .

The life he led has gone down in history as a paradigm of methodical and routine existence. His custom of taking an evening stroll is known, daily at the same time and with the same route, to the point that it became a kind of time signal for his fellow citizens; It is said that the only exception occurred on the day that reading Rousseau’s Émile absorbed him so much that he made him forget his walk, a fact that raised the alarm of his acquaintances.

In 1781 , the second period of Kantian work began, when the Critique of Pure Reason finally appeared , in which he tries to base human knowledge and establish its limits; The Copernican turn that it was intended to imprint on philosophy consisted of conceiving knowledge as transcendental, that is, structured on the basis of a series of a priori principles imposed by the subject that allow ordering experience from the senses; result of the intervention of the human understanding are the phenomena, while the thing itself (the number) is by definition unknowable.



Name that Kant gave his idealistic philosophy to understand that the main object of it was based on the criticism of the cognitive faculty of man. As a result of his criticism, Kant came to deny the possibility that human reason could know the essence of things. The name of criticism is also given to other subjective idealistic theories that limit human cognition and recognize experience as a source of it, understood only with an idealistic criterion. Objectively considered, criticism has been an attempt to overcome, from idealistic positions, the limitations of empiricism and rationalism .

The critical problem

The general problem of metaphysics

In the prologue to the first edition of the “Critique of Pure Reason”, after briefly explaining the vicissitudes suffered throughout history by metaphysics, which led her from being considered the queen of science to being the object of contempt , Kant exposes us the fundamental objective of his investigations: “It is, therefore, to decide the possibility or impossibility of a metaphysics in general and to point out both the sources and the extension and limits of it, all from principles” .

It is the so-called “critical problem”, which is raised again in the prologue of the second edition: while logic, mathematics, physics, and the natural sciences have been finding the safe path of science, metaphysics, the most old of all of them, it has not succeeded: “There is, therefore, no doubt that his way of proceeding has consisted, to date, in a mere groping and, what is worse, based on simple concepts. Why, then, has metaphysics not yet found the sure path of science? ”

Metaphysics, however, seems inevitable as a natural disposition, insofar as man feels inclined to seek the first causes and principles of reality; Despite this, given that after centuries of research in this field, metaphysics has not managed to enter the safe path of science, perhaps its efforts have been in vain because it seeks the impossible, so it is necessary to ask about its Possibility, a question that summarizes the “critical problem”: Is metaphysics as a science possible?

Unlike the other sciences, metaphysics has tried to transcend experience and offer us a knowledge of entities such as God, the soul and the world as a whole, from concepts ” a priori ” that is, independent of experience. It will be, therefore, to find out “what and how much the understanding and the reason can know apart from all experience”, therefore, it will be necessary, therefore, a critical investigation of the faculty of reasoning (not a psychological study that refers to the concrete, empirical conditions of said faculty, but a study of the conditions a priori, that is, transcendental). Having determined what these transcendental conditions are, we will be in a position to decide whether or not they allow the cognitive claims of metaphysics.

The problem of a priori knowledge.

Since metaphysics aims to obtain a priori knowledge, independent of experience, the answer to the question about its possibility requires a prior answer to the question of whether a priori knowledge is possible. But how many forms of knowledge are there? Is knowledge a priori one of them, or is it not an illusion?

“There is no doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience,” Kant tells us in the first paragraph of the introduction to the “Critique of Pure Reason”, and immediately adds, in the second paragraph: “but, Although all our knowledge begins with experience, that does not mean that all of it comes from experience. ”

Unlike what the rationalists and empiricists had claimed, for whom there was only one source of knowledge, reason for some, and experience for the others, for Kant there will be two sources of knowledge: one, sensitivity, which will supply the matter of knowledge from experience; and another, the understanding, which will provide the form of knowledge, and which will be independent of experience.

We will be able to speak, therefore, of a priori knowledge and of a posteriori knowledge: “In what follows we will understand, therefore, a priori knowledge that which is absolutely independent of all experience, not that which is independent of this or that experience. Empirical knowledge opposes it, which is only possible a posteriori, that is, through experience. ”

Empirical knowledge does not contain any need, since the opposite of a phenomenon is always possible. The proposition “the sun will rise tomorrow”, for example, does not contain any need, as Hume had already said in “Research on human understanding”.

Nor do empirical propositions imply universality: being the result of an inductive generalization, they are subject to the data of observation, that is, this proposition will be valid as long as what we have observed so far remains stable according to this rule. The empirical knowledge, a posteriori, then, does not contain any need or universality.

However, we are sure that certain knowledge implies necessity and universality (mathematics, for example); if that necessity and universality cannot come from experience, it must be, a priori, independent of experience. “It is easy to demonstrate that such necessary and strictly universal judgments really exist in human knowledge, that is, pure a priori judgments.”

As examples Kant appeals to the sciences in general; to mathematics, physics, etc; we can even have an example of this a priori knowledge referring to “the most ordinary use of the understanding”, for which Kant chooses the following proposition: “every change must have a cause”. The choice of this proposition is not gratuitous, since it allows Kant to attack Hume’s interpretation of the principle of causality .

Unlike Hume, who made this principle of causality depend on experience, Kant, claiming that it is a universal and necessary principle, affirms that it cannot come from experience and proposes it as an example of a priori knowledge.

Considering thus demonstrated the existence of a priori knowledge, Kant will wonder about its foundation and its legitimacy. And since all knowledge is expressed in judgments, in which the relationship between a subject and a predicate is thought, it will ask about the different types of judgments that can be made.

Analysis of trials. Synthetic judgments a priori.

Following Leibniz’s distinction between truths of reason and truths of fact and Hume between knowledge of relations of ideas and knowledge of facts, Kant will distinguish two types of judgments: analytic judgments and synthetic judgments.

In analytical judgments the predicate is included in the notion of the subject and they are, therefore, explanatory judgments, that is, judgments that do not increase my knowledge, but rather explain a certain relationship between the subject and the predicate.

In this sense, analytical judgments are always true and, not depending on experience, are a priori. As an example of analytical judgment, Kant proposes the following: “All bodies are extensive”; In order to find the predicate of this judgment, Kant says, I need only decompose the concept of the subject, analyze it, since I do not have to go beyond the concept of the body to find that of extension.

Synthetic judgments, on the contrary, are those in which the predicate is not included in the notion of the subject, as when I say “all bodies are heavy”. As the relationship between subject and predicate adds something to the subject that is not included in its notion (the concept of body does not contain the idea of ​​weight), these kinds of judgments are extensive, since they expand my knowledge of the subject. Both Leibniz and Hume would agree that these types of judgments are all a posteriori, that is, they depend on experience.

However Kant distinguishes between two types of synthetic judgments: synthetic judgments a priori and synthetic judgments a posteriori. While the latter would be contingent and totally dependent on experience (and would coincide with Leibniz’s factual truths and Hume’s knowledge of facts), the former, a priori synthetic judgments, would contain, a priori, universal knowledge and necessary, and yet, being synthetic, they would increase my knowledge.

As an example of synthetic a priori judgments, he proposes the following: “everything that happens has a cause”, and also refers to the existence of other synthetic a priori judgments in the various sciences, such as, for example, proposition 7 + 5 = 12, in mathematics, (12 would not be included in the idea of ​​adding 7 + 5, so the judgment would be synthetic, it would increase my knowledge; and yet, that “seven and five add 12” is still a proposition universal and necessary, a priori, therefore).

Kant will dedicate the fifth chapter of the introduction to demonstrating that “all the theoretical sciences of reason contain synthetic a priori judgments as principles”. In other words, not only do such synthetic a priori judgments exist in the sciences, but they are their very foundation.

Until then it had been accepted that analytical judgments, a priori, therefore, were the foundation of mathematics, and that synthetic judgments, a posteriori, were of the natural sciences, so the Kantian claim that there was a Third type of judgments, synthetic a priori, and which were the foundation of science, did not cease to surprise and lead to many controversies.

This Kantian affirmation that there are synthetic judgments a priori constitutes, then, a controversial novelty. How is it possible that there are judgments that broaden my knowledge and that, however, do not depend on experience? That is, how can we know something a priori about reality? It is necessary to justify this statement, so Kant will be forced to answer the question: How are synthetic judgments a priori possible?

This question, Kant tells us, we must divide in turn into these others:

  • How is pure mathematics possible? • How is pure natural science possible?

Once we have explained what are the conditions that make it possible (not if they are possible, which is evident) mathematics and the natural sciences we will be in a position to determine if metaphysics meets the same conditions that make scientific knowledge possible.

But, unlike mathematics and the natural sciences, which exist as sciences in an undeniable way, regarding metaphysics we have to ask ourselves about their possibility, given that, although their existence as a natural disposition is undeniable, their existence as science. The last question we should ask ourselves will therefore be:

  • Is metaphysics as a science possible?

To the first question, due to the conditions that make mathematics possible, Kant will answer in Transcendental Aesthetics. To the second, for the conditions that make the natural sciences possible, in Transcendental Analytics. To the third, on the possibility of metaphysics as science, in the Transcendental Dialectic, the three parts into which he divides the “criticism of pure reason”.

The analysis of knowledge in the critique of pure reason

Kant’s Copernican revolution

If the necessity and universality of our knowledge cannot come from experience, knowledge cannot be explained as an adaptation of the spirit, of the subject, to the objects, as the philosophers had supposed until then. On the contrary, we must suppose that it is the objects that have to adapt to our knowledge.

In this inversion of the role that the subject and the object play in knowledge lies Kant’s so-called “Copernican revolution”. The understanding is not a passive faculty, which is limited to collecting data from objects, but is pure activity, shaping reality. “Until now it has been assumed that all our knowledge must be governed by objects.

However, all the attempts made under such assumption with a view to establishing a priori, through concepts, something about these objects – something that would broaden our knowledge – led to failure. Let us try, then, for once, if we do not advance further in the tasks of metaphysics, supposing that objects must conform to our knowledge, something that agrees better with the desired possibility of a priori knowledge of these objects, a knowledge that establish something about these before they are given to us.

It occurs here as with Copernicus’s first thoughts . Seeing that he could not explain the celestial movements if he accepted that the entire army of stars revolved around the spectator, he tested whether he would not obtain better results by rotating the spectator and leaving the stars at rest. ”

If the understanding is subject to certain categories that determine objects, then we can know a priori that nothing will happen in the field of human experience that is not subject to such categories. Consequently, the subject acquires a role in shaping reality, instead of being the mere passive recipient of a supposed objective reality to which he must submit.

What are the conditions that make possible the determination of objects by the subject? Kant will study them in Transcendental Aesthetics and in Transcendental Analytics.

Sensitivity and understanding.

Contrary to what the rationalists and empiricists, who conceived a single source of knowledge, reason or experience, respectively, for Kant, knowledge is the result of collaboration between the two: by sensitivity we receive objects, by understanding we think. Quote from Kant “Objects come to us, therefore, given through sensitivity and it is the only one that provides us with intuitions. By means of understanding, objects are, instead, thought and from it come concepts.”

Now, as we will see below, Kant a will affirm that there are both transcendental forms in sensitivity and in understanding, that do not depend on experience, and that are a priori, therefore, that will act as a “mold” to that the data received by the sensitivity and the concepts formed by the understanding have to be submitted. Consequently, both sensitivity and understanding acquire, although at different levels, a role that shapes reality.

The sensibility. (transcendental aesthetics).

By sensitivity Kant understands the ability to receive representations, being the subject affected by objects. This ability is merely receptive.

The way by which knowledge immediately refers to an object is called by Kant intuition; and the effect that an object produces on our capacity of sensible representation is called by Kant sensation; in the case, then, of sensitivity, that immediate reference to an object is called sensible or empirical intuition. And the undetermined object of an empirical intuition, what is supposedly the cause, is called a phenomenon.

In the phenomenon we can distinguish a matter and a form. The matter of the phenomenon is what within it corresponds to sensation. And the form “that which makes the diverse of it can be ordered in certain relationships”. By this Kant means that sensations cannot be ordered by something that is, in turn, a sensation: and if the matter of sensation comes from experience, it is a posteriori, what orders sensations, the form, has to be something different, so it cannot come from experience, and must therefore be a priori.

Now, if we analyze the content of any knowledge, stripping it of all elements coming from the understanding, in order to remain only with sensible knowledge; and once this is done we analyze that sensitive knowledge, stripping it of all elements belonging to sensation, we will be left with only the form of sensible knowledge. We will then have the pure form of sensitivity.

In the case of objects that we represent ourselves as external to ourselves, such as a table or a house, for example, we can do without any sensible representation (size, shape, color) but we cannot do without representing it as something in space. Similarly, as regards the intuition of the internal states of the subject, we can dispense with all their characteristics except representing them in time relationships. What are space and time?

Space cannot be a thing, since things exist in space; If we consider it as a thing, we would have to conceive another space that would contain it, and thus indefinitely, which is absurd. Space cannot be an empirical concept either, since to represent an object I must presuppose space beforehand; therefore space cannot come from experience, but precedes it. If it does not come from experience, it must be an a priori representation, independent of experience.

Nor can it be a discursive concept, since it is unique: there is not a multiplicity of spaces that can be represented by a concept, in the same way that we represent the multiplicity of tables under the table concept. If it is not a thing, neither an empirical nor a discursive concept, space can only be a pure intuition, an a priori form of sensitivity, a condition of possibility of phenomena, that of all phenomena of the external senses.

The same happens with time: it cannot be an empirical or discursive concept, and it precedes any experience of the internal sense, so it must necessarily be a pure a priori intuition, the condition of possibility of all the representations that can be given internally.

Space and time are, therefore, pure a priori forms of sensibility. By affirming that they are pure forms, pure intuitions, Kant means that they are not concepts and that they have no empirical content. By affirming that they are a priori, he means that they are independent of experience and, in a certain sense, precede it, make it possible. They are the transcendental conditions of sensitivity.

We are therefore in a position to explain how synthetic judgments are possible a priori in mathematics. Mathematics, Kant tells us, deal with the determinations of space and time, in geometry and in arithmetic, respectively. What geometry does is analyze the properties of space, which is what arithmetic does with respect to time.

Now, since space and time are the conditions in which all phenomena must occur, the properties of space and time must necessarily be transmitted to every phenomenon that can occur in them, (in the same way that the mold of the cupcake prints its shape on the dough poured into it, using a crude comparison).

In this way, all knowledge of mathematics must be universal and necessary, since all phenomena must necessarily occur in space and time. In this way synthetic a priori judgments are possible in mathematics, that is, judgments that increase my knowledge and that are nevertheless independent of experience and, therefore, universal and necessary.

The Understanding. (The transcendental analytics).

As we have seen previously, sensitivity is the source of all our intuitions. If we disregard sensitivity, says Kant, we cannot have any intuition. The understanding is not a faculty that allows us to intuit, that is, to establish a direct relationship with an object; and since there is no other way of knowing, outside of intuition, than conceptual, it turns out that understanding is conceptual, discursive knowledge. Sensitivity supplies the intuitions of knowledge; the understanding will supply the concepts.

Sensitive intuitions, if not thought through a concept, (subsumed in a concept, says Kant), would not offer us any knowledge: they would be equivalent to a disjointed torrent of sensations. The concepts, on the other hand, if they do not refer to a sensible intuition, would offer us an empty knowledge of content. “Intuitions, without concepts, are blind; concepts, without intuitions, are empty.”

The understanding is the faculty of thinking and, as such, pure activity, against the receptivity of sensitivity. This activity is identified with the formation of concepts, that is, with the creation of forms under which various representations can be ordered under a single common to all of them. Thus, while sensitivity supplies sensible intuitions, the understanding thinks under those intuitions, unifying under the concept the diversity offered by sensitivity.

When we say that this is a house, or a table, what happens is that under the concept “house” or “table” the understanding has unified a plurality of elements coming from sensitivity under these concepts, and that conjunction of sensible elements and the conceptual ones is what produces the knowledge.

If we perform the same operation with understanding that we have performed with sensitivity, that is, separating matter from form, we can distinguish two types of concepts: empirical concepts and pure concepts or categories. The former are the result of generalizations taken from experience, such as those already quoted from “home” or “table.”

The latter do not depend at all on experience: they are a priori, and are placed directly by the understanding, in the manner of space and time in sensitivity. They are the structures from which empirical concepts are generated and we can, therefore, formulate judgments.

How can we determine which are those categories or pure concepts of the understanding? Thinking is equivalent to formulating judgments, so all acts of the understanding can therefore be reduced to judgments. Now, if we determine which are the forms of judgment, we will be able to identify which are the functions of unity that operate in them, which will be none other than the categories. Kant will call this operation a transcendental deduction of the categories.

Following the Aristotelian logic, Kant, abstracting from the content of a judgment and attending only to its form, believes that all judgments can be reduced to the following four types, each with three possibilities:

Attending to the quantity: universal, particular and singular. Attending to the quality: affirmative, negative and infinite. Attending to the relationship: categorical, hypothetical and disjunctive. Attending to the modality: problematic, assertive and apodictic.

If the categories represent a priori or transcendental functions of unity in judgments, each category of judgment must have a category.

There are, then, twelve categories that correspond to as many forms of judgment. Such categories, insofar as they are the a priori or transcendental forms of the understanding, the “molds” through which empirical concepts are formed, only have validity applied to the intuitions supplied by sensitivity.

In themselves they do not provide any knowledge, but simply the transcendental, a priori, form of all knowledge. If the understanding limited its action to the production of concepts from the categories, without applying those concepts to the contents that sensitivity provides, such concepts would be empty and would not provide us with any knowledge.

But, in addition, that supposes that there is no possibility of knowing any object if it is not subjected to the action of the categories, so, in the same way that sensitivity imposes on the object the transcendental structures of space and time, understanding imposes to the object the transcendental forms of the understanding or categories. Consequently, we will never be able to know objects as they are in themselves, that is, as noumena, but only as they are presented to us through these transcendental structures of sensitivity and understanding, that is, as phenomena.

We are now in a position, then, to understand how synthetic a priori judgments are possible in the natural sciences. Let us remember the example that Kant gave us: “every change must have a cause”. It is a synthetic judgment, since the notion of change does not include that of cause; and it is an a priori judgment, independent of experience, and therefore universal and necessary, because it is based on the category of causality and dependency (cause and effect).

Since categories ultimately unify all the diversity of “phenomenal” reality, there is nothing in it that does not depend directly on the categories. When we discover in reality a universal law or rule, we look for that reality in its cause, without realizing that this regularity is found in reality because we have put it, when configuring reality through categories.

The critique of metaphysics

The possibility of metaphysics. (The transcendental dialectic) .

We have seen that mathematics and physics can formulate synthetic judgments a priori and, therefore, achieve universal and necessary knowledge, scientific knowledge. Can metaphysics formulate such types of synthetic judgments a priori, and thereby become a science?

In the transcendental dialectic Kant, in the light of the results obtained, will analyze this question, studying the characteristics of the reason that, in its pure activity, is what seeks to achieve such knowledge. “All our knowledge begins with the senses, passes from the senses to the understanding and ends in reason. There is nothing in us superior to reason to elaborate the matter of intuition and subject it to the supreme unity of thinking.”

Understanding is the ability to judge, that is, to attribute a predicate to a subject by formulating a judgment. Taking as a reference the forms of judgment Kant deduced the twelve categories or transcendental forms a priori of the understanding. Reason is the supreme ability to think and as such elaborates reasoning, that is, inferences or syllogisms relating judgments.

If we analyze the forms of the syllogism we will be able to deduce the a priori concepts of the reason: “The form of the judgments (turned into a concept of the synthesis of the intuitions) originated categories that direct all use of understanding in the experience.

Likewise, we can expect that, if we apply the form of syllogisms to the synthetic unity of intuitions, under the guidance of the categories, such form will contain the origin of special a priori concepts that we can call pure concepts of reason or transcendental ideas, which will determine, in accordance with principles, the use of understanding in the experience taken as a whole. ”

The reasoning, then, consists in linking judgments by formulating syllogisms. With these syllogisms reason seeks the construction of increasingly general judgments, in search of principles or laws that cover the greatest possible number of phenomena.

This search for the ultimate principles under which all reality can be understood is called by Kant the search for the unconditioned, since that ultimate principle is supposed to be the condition of all phenomena and, in turn, does not depend on any another cause, that is, of no other condition. These pure a priori concepts of reason, Kant will call transcendental ideas.

Analyzing, then, the forms of the syllogisms, he concludes that there are three transcendental ideas: soul, world and God. Through the idea of ​​soul, says Kant, we unify all the phenomena of the psyche; it is the unconditioned condition of all psychic phenomena (that is, all phenomena that take place in my psyche have to be referred to a self).

Through the idea of ​​the world we unify all the phenomena of experience; the idea of ​​the world is the unconditioned condition of all phenomena of experience (that is, all phenomena of experience take place in the world). Through the idea of ​​God we unify the totality of psychic phenomena and experience in a single cause on which they depend and for which they are explained (God is the unconditional condition of the existence of the soul and the world, its ultimate cause).

But although transcendental ideas help us to unify in thought the totality of phenomena, be they psychic or external experience, nevertheless, since none of the realities to which the unity of phenomena (God, soul, world) these transcendental ideas will not offer us any knowledge. They are pure concepts, without any content, which only serve to unify the knowledge of the understanding, but which provide us with some knowledge themselves.

Reason, however, excited by the advancement of reasoning, believes that it is capable of achieving knowledge of these ultimate, unconditioned principles of everything real; and it falls into all kinds of contradictions: they are the antinomies and paralogisms of pure reason, which Kant will analyze later, dismantling all the metaphysical illusions conceived by reason about the possibility of its knowledge.

Metaphysics, then, although possible as a natural disposition, is impossible as a science: for there to be knowledge, an empirical content has to be subsumed under a category; but of the objects of metaphysics (God, world, and soul) we have no empirical content. They are pure concepts of reason, transcendental ideas.

As a result of Transcendental Aesthetics and Transcendental Analytics, the distinction of all objects into phenomena and nomena follows. By phenomenon Kant understands the object as it is perceived by us once the contents of sensation have been subjected to the transcendental forms of space and time, as regards sensitivity, and to categories as regards understanding. .

The only possible form of knowledge, for us, is the knowledge of reality as a phenomenon. Whatever that reality is considered “in itself”, as a noumenon, that is, regardless of our way of knowing it, is something that is beyond our reach. The categories of understanding can only be applied to content derived from sensible intuition, (since there is no possible type of intellectual intuition), they can only be applied to objects of a possible experience.

What happens, then, with those supposed realities that are beyond the possible experience? What happens with God, with the soul, with the world as a whole, realities on which metaphysics has always tried to have a certain and sure knowledge? The concepts of pure reason, insofar as they cannot be applied to any empirical intuition, are empty. They contain only the unifying function that is proper to the concepts of reason, but cannot offer us any knowledge.

The same thing happens with them that happened with the categories: insofar as they try to do without any possible experience, then, they are incapable of offering us any knowledge, since all their elaborations take place in a vacuum. Therefore, they have no cognitive value. What do you mean by that?

Transcendental ideas offer us no knowledge. But this does not mean that Kant does not value them. They do not have a cognitive use, but they do have a regulatory use: they unify the knowledge of the understanding. In their regulatory use, transcendental ideas point out, negatively, the limits that knowledge cannot cross. And positively they encourage the human being to continue investigating, trying to find a greater unification and coherence among all their knowledge.

Kant’s formal ethics

Formal Ethics

Moral knowledge is not a knowledge of being, of what is, but a knowledge of what must be; not a knowledge of the actual and effective behavior of men, but a knowledge of the behavior that men should observe. In this sense, said knowledge cannot be verified; When we say that men should behave in this or that way, we are affirming that such behavior is necessary and universal, and those are the characteristics of the a priori.

And we have already seen how Kant explained the impossibility of deriving from experience something that was necessary and universal: the first objective of moral knowledge, therefore, will be to identify which are the a priori elements of morality.

Kant distinguishes a theoretical use and a practical use of reason. In his theoretical use, which Kant studies in the “Critique of Pure Reason”, reason constitutes or configures the object that occurs in intuition, through the application of categories; in its practical use, which it will study in the “Foundation of the metaphysics of customs” and in the “Critique of practical reason”, reason is the source of its objects: the production of moral choices or decisions according to the law that comes from herself.

All previous ethical systems had started from a certain conception of the good, as the object of morality, believing that this good determined morality, what it should be. However, just as theoretical knowledge is not determined by the object, but it is determined by the a priori conditions of sensitivity and understanding, moral knowledge will not be determined by the object, but rather the object. of morality determined by certain a priori conditions of morality.

In the same way that Kant had caused a “Copernican revolution” in the field of the theoretical use of reason, he will provoke another similar revolution in the field of the practical use of reason. These conditions, being a priori, cannot contain anything empirical: they must only contain the pure form of morality. Consequently, the laws of morality must have a universal and necessary character.

The basis of obligation, of duty to be, cannot be based on anything empirical, because: although it must refer to man, as a rational being, it cannot be based on human nature or human circumstances, but must be a priori . Hence Kant’s criticism of moral systems founded on empirical content, which we will call material ethics.

In the first place, all of them are a posteriori: somehow they all identify the good with happiness, and consider good the object towards which human nature tends empirically considered, accepting the determination of the will by objects offered to desire.

In addition to proposing different goods, between which there is no possibility of agreeing, which shows their lack of universality, being based on experience they lack the necessity and necessary universality that moral laws must enjoy. Secondly, the rules they propose have a hypothetical, conditional nature: if you want to achieve happiness (something different for each system) you have to behave according to this rule.

As the norm is subject to a condition, it only has value if the condition is accepted, which, in addition to meaning that it is acted on by an interest, implies that the validity of the norm to achieve the proposed purpose can only be verified experimentally, therefore it cannot be universal and necessary either.

Furthermore, and thirdly, these ethical systems are heteronomous: man receives the moral law from outside reason, so he is not really acting freely, losing the capacity for self-determination of his conduct, the autonomy of Will. What value can have a moral norm that is not universal and necessary, whose fulfillment is subject to the achievement of an objective, an interest, and which proposes to man to renounce freedom, the autonomy of his will?

Morality cannot be founded on anything empirical. A moral norm has to be universal, it has to be valid for all men in all circumstances, and it has to be necessary, it has to be fulfilled and fulfilled by itself. It must, therefore, be of a formal nature; it cannot establish any good or end of conduct, nor can it tell us how we have to act: it must contain only the form of morality. “It is impossible to imagine anything in the world or outside it that can be called absolutely good, except goodwill.”

With this phrase begins the “Foundation of metaphysics customs”. What does Kant understand by a good will ?. A will that works out of duty, that is, not out of interest, or out of inclination, or out of desire. And what is acting out of duty ?: Acting out of reverence or respect for the moral law that the will gives itself. Kant distinguishes here between acting “by duty” and acting “according to duty”: it may happen that he acts for some particular interest and that action coincides with the moral law; in that case I am acting “according to duty”.

I operate “out of duty”, however, when my performance is not pursued in any particular interest, nor is it the result of an inclination or desire, but is motivated solely by reverence or respect for the moral law, regardless of whether my performance may have positive or negative consequences for me. The moral law is based on the notion of duty; and insofar as the moral law intends to regulate our conduct, it must contain some order or mandate.

But since the moral law is universal and necessary, the order or mandate they contain must be categorical, that is, it cannot be subject to any condition (it cannot be hypothetical). The formula in which this command or order of the moral law is expressed will be called Kant categorical imperative.

Now, since the moral law cannot contain anything empirical, the categorical imperative in which it is expressed cannot have any empirical content, but only the pure form of morality. In the “Foundation” Kant gives us three different definitions of the categorical imperative:

– “Work only according to a maxim such that you can want at the same time that it becomes universal law.” – “Work as if the maxim of action was to become by your will the universal law of nature.” – “Work in such a way that you use humanity, both in your person and in the person of any other, always as an end and never as a means.”

None of these formulations contains anything empirical, but only the form of morality. It does not tell us how we have to behave concretely, nor does it give us any norm, nor does it propose any interested end. At the same time, it contains a requirement of universality and necessity, but guaranteeing the self-determination of the will, its autonomy, its freedom.

The will, in fact, is not determined by any empirical element, so it is free, and the imperative by which it is regulated does not contain any specific norm of conduct, so the will will have to give itself the norm of conduct, so it is autonomous. The postulates of practical reason.

But is freedom of the will possible? The results of the “Critique of Pure Reason” led us to the general distinction of all objects into phenomena and nomena. As phenomena all objects are subject to the laws of nature, which are deterministic laws, therefore excluding freedom. As a phenomenon, then, man is not free.

On the other hand, the possibility of knowing the noumena, the things in themselves, was rejected in the transcendental dialectic before the impossibility of constituting metaphysics as science, so the possibility of knowing something about the soul and its freedom and immortality was eliminated. However, without the freedom of the will, morals would be ruined.

On the other hand, we observe that the progress of virtue is slow in the world, and we reasonably hope that the virtuous man can be happy; but it is seen that this does not happen, which would make a man’s life absurd if it could not happen. Therefore, although none of the objects of metaphysics (God, the soul, and the world as a whole) can be the object of theoretical demonstration, practical reason demands their existence.

Man must be free in order to put morality into practice; there must be an immortal soul because, if man cannot reach his end in this life, he must have a future life as a guarantee of the achievement of moral perfection; and there must be a God who guarantees all this. What theoretical reason has failed to demonstrate, practical reason must necessarily postulate. In this way Kant was forced, as he says in the introduction to the “Critique of Pure Reason”, to suppress knowledge to make way for faith.

Kant’s political theory

Kant’s political philosophy

Kant never wrote a great work on political philosophy, in the style of the Three Criticisms, but what has always been considered “minor works” in which, frequently, one did not want to see a political philosophy, such as Ideas for a History universal in a cosmopolitan key (from 1784 ), Perpetual Peace, a philosophical sketch (from 1795 ), and Metaphysics of customs (from 1797 ), among others. And all this despite the fact that with his 1784 writing What is the Enlightenment ?, he has been strongly associated with the political and emancipatory ideals of the Enlightenment, already familiar with the declaration of Independence of the United States of 1776, and to whom he frequently presents himself, as a firm defender of the ideals of the French Revolution of 1789 , following the opinions of Heine, first, and of Marx and Engels , later.

Kant’s political thought is dominated, in effect, by the ideals of freedom, equality and appreciation of the individual, typical of an Enlightenment to which Kant joins and defends in his political writings. As in ethics, -where the individual is granted, as a moral subject, the ability to become a legislator of the moral, from his autonomy-, in politics the individual will also be considered, as a citizen, the subject creator of the field of common public activity.

The legislative capacity of the human being is based on the formal character with which Kant conceives ethics, and which is expressed in the categorical imperative. This imperative, as a formal principle of practical reason, will extend to all its fields of application, including political activity. Thus, it is not surprising that Kant has proposed three definitions of the categorical imperative, already underlining the universal character of the moral norm, and the intrinsic value of the individual as an end in itself, given its rational nature and autonomy.

Politics, as a public space for the exercise of freedom, is linked to the notion of law, making it possible. In keeping with the formal character of morality, law is not conceived as a normative system of regulation of coexistence, but as the formal framework in which the conditions and limits of action are established in the field of coexistence, of the exercise of freedom. Legal law must therefore have, like morality, a universal and a priori character; however, while the moral law is self-imposed on the individual, the legal law is imposed on him by external coercion.

The legal law, following the categorical imperative, must adhere to the rational nature of the human being, for which Kant will affirm the existence of natural rights (characteristic of such a rational nature), which will be the limit of the State’s action. The relationships between individuals and, therefore, the organization of coexistence, has a rational nature, so the legal law cannot act against that nature.

Kant’s political philosophy thus connects with the modern political philosophy of the natural state and of contract theories. There is a nature, prior to the political organization of human beings, which is the source of universal rights against which it is not possible to legislate, and which act by themselves as principles of organization of political life, which should aim at a Republic universal. In addition to natural rights, the legislator, depending on historical needs, may develop laws (positive law) that correspond to the development of civil society.

In a state of nature, human beings are in a situation of constant insecurity, due to threats from others who, by natural right, follow their own will without taking into account the will of others. Living in family or in small communities, human beings find themselves at the mercy of the violence of other human beings outside their community. Inside the group there are rules of coexistence and an authority that sanctions their non-compliance.

But there is no authority that is imposed on all dispersed groups, so there is no security. The civil state, established through the contract, involves submission to a common authority, so it becomes the domain of security and law. In this transition from the natural state to the civil state, there is no break, for Kant, but continuity: through the imposition of a common authority, natural rights, which were already owned in the natural state, can really be exercised with security.

Kant conceives of the social contract as the condition that makes possible the establishment of public law, by which natural rights are guaranteed. In reality, Kant admits a single natural right: that of freedom, from which all others derive, the civil rights of equality and autonomy.

The right to freedom, while guaranteed, is limited by the rights of others, according to the agreement made by the public will. The idea of ​​public will is clearly Rousseauian, but in Rousseau the general will represents the common interest, while in Kant it represents the guarantee of individual freedom, that is, it is established as a formal legal link between citizens, in the that the State is founded. For the rest, for Kant the contract never took place, it is not a historical fact, but a rational category or principle that operates as a reference axis in the construction of the political and the State.

It can be seen, therefore, how Kant tries to reduce to a single synthesis the two foundational elements derived from 1) of liberal theories (individual rights of freedom) and 2) of democratic theories (the sovereignty of the collective will), which still follows currently inspiring authors such as J. Rawls and J. Habermas, in their attempts to support their respective theories of consensus.


(from Latin «afficere» : to cause). Kant’s term that designates the property (of the object) of influencing the sense organs. The materialistic element of Kantianism was expressed in the concept of “affection” : Kant recognized that clear sensory representations are obtained as a result of the action that “things in themselves” exert on the sense organs. This concept is opposed, in the Kantian system, to the concept of transcendental apperception. According to Kant, despite the “affection” things remain unknowable. The concept of “affection” has been criticized by neo-Kantians and by all those who have transformed Kantianism into consistent idealism .


On 12 February as as 1804 he died in his hometown, having being rendered the last honors in a big funeral. By then Kant’s philosophy had already reached great diffusion and acceptance in the main cultural circles of Germany and a considerable echo in the rest of Europe .


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