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Kant Intro Lect - Introductory Notes on Kantian Ethics...

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Introductory Notes on Kantian Ethics Philosophy 115 Don Habibi Biographical Background : Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is the greatest of the German philosophers. He wrote on numerous subjects (his Collected Works fill 23 volumes) but made his biggest impact in philosophy (metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics). He was born, and lived his entire life, in the town of Königsberg in East Prussia. This is now the city of Kaliningrad in Russia. His father’s ancestors immigrated from Scotland in the 17 th century, and Kant came from a lower-middle class background. His father was a saddler, and the Kant family were devout Pietists (a German Protestant sect that resembles Puritanism or a very strict Methodist Christianity). The Pietists renounced much of the external side of religion and kept away from formal religious observances, such as attending church and displays of emotion. Kant remained a strict Pietist throughout his life. He was trained for the Pietist ministry, but as a stellar student at the University of Königsberg he became interested in natural science and philosophy. He supported himself as a private tutor for wealthy families and by hustling billiards. In 1755 he became an instructor at the University in mathematical physics and then philosophy. In 1770 he was promoted to professor of logic and metaphysics. Interestingly, he did not publish until his landmark Critique of Pure Reason in 1781 at the age of 57. By today’s standards, he never would have received tenure. He was one of the first philosophers to make his living teaching philosophy. Before him, philosophy was the pastime of the gifted, highly educated, wealthy few. Since Kant, virtually all philosophers make a living in a college or university. Kant never married, never traveled, and followed a strict routine every day. Major Influences : many thinkers influenced Kant. From Isaac Newton and Voltaire he developed faith in science and reason; from Richard Price and Thomas Reid (who reacted to Hobbes’ egoism) he believed in the importance of motives and duty; from Rousseau he gained the idea of the General Will, the Good Will, the dignity of ordinary human nature, and, he was impressed by this thinker who fought the materialism and atheism of the Enlightenment and who defended the superiority of feeling over the intellect. From Bishop Joseph Butler he developed the belief that the conscience is the supreme authority. Finally, from his contemporary David Hume he found an opponent who ‘woke him from his dogmatic slumber.’ Hume’s dismissive view of reason was a direct challenge to Kant. The great quote from Hume: “reason is, and only ought to be, a slave of the passions.” Kant has influenced every Western philosopher since his time. Kantian Ethics
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Kant’s major works in moral philosophy are: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785); Critique of Practical Reason (1788); and, The Metaphysics of Morals (1797).
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