Immanuel Kant, Germany, 1724 – 1804

On this page are excerpts and quotes from Kant that are relevant to main themes of the site.

Ideas as a cause of human action.

“What to us is an ideal was in Plato’s view an idea of the divine understanding, an individual object of its pure
intuition, the most perfect of every kind of possible being, and the archetype of all copies in the [field of] appearance. Without soaring so high, we are yet bound to confess that human reason contains not only ideas, but ideals also, which although they do not have, like the Platonic ideas, creative power, yet have practical power (as regulative principles), and form the basis of the possible perfection of certain actions.” (CPR, P. 486, Kemp Smith)

Increase in theoretical knowledge does not support us morally.

β€œIn general, if we limited our judgement to regulative principles, which content themselves with their own possible application to the moral life, instead of aiming at constitutive principles of a knowledge of supersensible objects, insight into which, after all, is forever impossible to us, human wisdom would be better off in a great many ways, and there would be no breeding of a presumptive knowledge of that about which, in the last analysis, we know nothing at all – a groundless sophistry that glitters for a time but only, as in the end becomes apparent, to the detriment of morality.” (Rel., Green, 65)

Why it is possible to conceive free will as having efficacy.

“Among the causes in the [field of] appearance there certainly cannot be anything which could begin a series absolutely and of itself. Every action, [viewed] as appearance, in so far as it gives rise to an event, is itself an event or happening, and presupposes another state wherein its cause is to be found. Thus everything which happens is merely a continuation of the series, and nothing that begins of itself is a possible
member of the series. The actions of natural causes in the time sequence are thus themselves effects; they presuppose causes antecedent to them in the temporal series. An original act, such as can by itself bring about what did not exist before, is not to be looked for in the causally connected appearances.

“Now granting that effects are appearances and that their cause is likewise appearance, is it necessary that the causality of their cause should be exclusively empirical? May it not rather be, that while for every effect in the [field of] appearance a connection with its cause in accordance with the laws of empirical causality is indeed required, this empirical causality, without the least violation of its connection with natural causes, is itself an effect of a causality that is not empirical but intelligible? This latter causality would be the action of a cause which, in respect of appearances, is original, and therefore, as pertaining to this faculty, not appearance but intelligible; although it must otherwise, in so far as it is a link in the chain of nature, be regarded as entirely belonging to the world of sense.” (CPR, P. 470, Kemp Smith)

The inner life and the will as the basis of goodness.

“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and the more steadily
we reflect on them: the starry heavens above and the moral law within. I have not to search for them and conjecture them as though they were veiled in darkness or were in the transcendent region beyond my horizon; I see them before me and connect them directly with the consciousness of my existence. The former begins from the place I occupy in the external world of sense, and enlarges my connection therein to an unbounded extent with worlds upon worlds and systems of systems, and moreover into limitless times of their periodic motion, its beginning and continuance. The second begins from my invisible self, my personality, and exhibits me in a world which has true infinity, but which is traceable only by the understanding, and with which I discern that I am not in a merely contingent but in a universal and necessary connection, as I am also thereby with all those visible worlds. The former view of a countless multitude of worlds annihilates as it were my importance as an animal creature, which after it has been for a short time provided with vital power, one knows not how, must again give back the matter of which it was formed to the planet it inhabits (a mere speck in the universe). The second, on the contrary, infinitely elevates my worth as an intelligence by my personality, in which the moral law reveals to me a life independent of animality and even of the whole sensible world, at least so far as may be inferred from the destination assigned to my existence by this law, a destination not restricted to conditions and limits of this life, but reaching into the infinite.” (Critique of Practical Reason, Conclusion, Abbott)

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