Although many would believe that French or Japanese are languages that lend themselves much to the ancient and wise art of philosophizing (thanks both to the deep cultural presence of Zen, haikus, Existentialism and also largely due to the way the French and Japanese behave) it is German that can claim for itself the Philosophy crown- if there ever was such a competition.German philosophy is rich and diverse and gave birth to several currents of thought that have deeply influenced modern science and philosophy.In this series we will try to discover some of these great philosophers and their ideas. So let’s start with one of the founding fathers of German Philosophy: Emmanuel Kant
What goes around comes around!
Kant was a great philosopher of rationality and championed the cause of the mind and its ability to soar theoretical heights without being inhibited by the existence of a physical proof.
So one of his important ideas could be summarized as
“How do you know that the earth goes around the sun if you had to depend on only objective proof?”
For Kant, the fact that Copernicus could come up with his model, exhibits the capacity of our intellect to build on knowledge and not on the objects that determine it.(Remember that there were no fancy telescopes, satellites or rockets during Kant’s time)
A priori…a la carte!
Another main component of Kant’s philosophy is the idea of “a priori“- a term that stood for all knowledge that is independent of experience.So, asks Kant, does this mean that our idea of space and time is something a priori, given that we seem to understand it intuitively even before experiencing them?
Organize Your World!
For Kant, this intuition gives us an ability to order and organize things within and without us. And this ability leads us to organize them into conceptual levels that for Kant were “pure”
Categories of Quantity (singular, plural and totality)
-Categories of Quality (Limitation, reality and negation)
-Categories of Relation (Causality and dependence, substance and accident)
– Categories of Modality ( Possibility and impossibility, existence and non-existence)
Transcend It Bro!
Kant proposed a transcendental point of view on things- built on the idea of a priori.
Transcendental analysis goes beyond the object itself -it focuses on the idea of it and the knowledge that is there to be seized about it. Our intuitive idea of time, space and categories are hence the building blocks of this analysis (i.e the a priori elements which make the transcendence possible)
God is not a man (or a woman) God is a Noumène
So now that we have to depend purely on our senses and our intuition to apprehend things- most things that we perceive due to our a priori knowledge are what Kant calls Phenomena. Things that can be comprehended and sensed.
There are of course other things that the intellect can raise itself to contemplate but remain as Noumène- hidden from our senses and intuition of time and space- for example, God.
Reasoning, hence for Kant, is the result of the nature of mankind to utilize the categories and the a priori elements to lift himself, in thought, above the realm of phenomena. This idea of Reasoning, makes us contemplate concepts such as God that are beyond our senses but accessible to our thoughts. But of course, this contemplation of the Noumène is always bound by the domain of the empirical and the phenomenon.
I Say You Kant!
Given these building blocks, Kant builds his theory of a Moral philosophy in which he says that one must always do one’s duty and cannot be constrained by only what can be sensed (the phenomenal world). The key is to transcend this.
One’s duty defines one obligation and it goes beyond what is perceivable. Hence,the idea of a Categorical Imperative- in which one follows a Universal Law.
So what Can you and what Kant you?
What you can is your duty-an autonomous moral obligation (that follows your moral code of what is good and bad) paired with the necessity to accomplish something by respecting the universal code and the imperative ruling us without condition.
You do your duty not to reach happiness but to become someone who deserves happiness.