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Kant, Immanuel

Page history last edited by jen 15 years, 7 months ago

Immanuel Kant was a social theorist during the Enlightenment era, which was characterized as a period highlighting the importance of reason in intellectual thought. From this basis, Kant began his framework of society during his time.

 

Kant outlines two forms of knowledge, noumena and phenomena.  Noumena is a natural reality that exists external to humans and which is essentially ultimate reality.  Phenomena are what we perceive.  According to Kant, humans are only capable of seeing phenomena, which are always filtered through A priori categories.  A Priori categories are those that are at the basis of all human existance and cannot be escaped no matter how objective one thinks they are being. Kant reveals the limits of empiricist epistemology by criticizing humans’ tendency to base behavioral laws on noumena.  He argues that in doing so, we are premising our behavior on what we can never know for sure.  Instead, behavioral laws must be based on phenomena, i.e. reality as we perceive it. A priori categories shape and give meaning to all phenomena experienced, and as the meaning is rooted in the experience, institutions ought to reflect the experience instead of the external, unknowable truth. Kant seeks to disassociate the agent from knowledge, arguing that agency of the knower is crucial because it is only the knower that can choose when to begin exercising his/her reason to interpret phenomena. 

 

Kant believed that all knowledge begins in experience but is not limited to experience. He admired both Rousseau and Newton for expressing the depth of human feeling as well as science and the laws. Kant belieed that in the sciences, you could lay out specific laws, but that it was diametrically opposed to freedom. Kant believed that the "ought" could never be derived from the "is," as everything was altered in the mind to allow us to comprehend. He believed that absolute freedom meant acting against the direction in which everything pushes us. He believed that actor should recognize that a moral judgement is being made, but refuse to base it in behavioral theory or the "is". He argued that when humans followed only their desires, it would result in total anarchy; and real freedom meant doing what made you unhappy. 

 

Empiricism is also limited in the sense that knowledge does not just come from experience and scientific reasoning. A priori categories help give meaning to the empirical facts collected by the senses and help the mind give meaning to what is being experienced. There has to be more to gaining knowledge than just the physical perceiving of sensical material because that has little to do with making connections and claims on what is going on in the world. The a priori categories allow for causality to be implied because they synthesize the empirical notions gathered. Kant says it is only the combination of the two that allows for realistic thoughts and conclusions to be drawn.

 

Kant also outlines idea of a society as an immature being. An individual is immature when he/she listens the the voices of others without applying thier own notions of reason. He says that "laziness and cowardice" are the reasons why so many people "remain in lifelong immaturity" and that the proccess of true freedom and enlightenment will come slowly. Kant talks about restrictions of freedom that keep people from realizing the true enlightenment that comes from maturity and that public reason must always be free so that enlightement is not hindered. Public reason, as opposed to private reason, is defined by Kant as the reason that one uses in a public sphere where other individuals can by privy to it. This means that when an individual is expressing his reason in public, s/he has to be careful that they are not expressing their own personal views. Kant forsaw a society where change was a result of discourse based on this type of public reason, out of which could emerge a group consensus and understanding. As far as everyone else went, Kant questioned man’s capacity to reason free from the pressures of others who sought to control reality through preaching, teaching, etc., and encouraged men to exercise their own reason.

 

 

Comments (1)

Maile said

at 11:46 am on Dec 9, 2008

(One small note) Kant actually critiqued the Enlightenment

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