Kant: A Biography

572 Pages · 2006 · 9.07 MB · English

  • Kant: A Biography


    This is the first full-length biography in more than fifty years of Immanuel

    Kant, one of the giants among the pantheon of Western philosophers as

    well as the one with the most powerful and broad influence on contemporary


    It is well known that Kant spent his entire life in an isolated part of Prus¬

    sia, living the life of a typical university professor. This has given rise to the

    view that Kant was a pure thinker with no life of his own, or at least none worth

    considering seriously. Manfred Kuehn debunks that myth once and for all.

    Kant's life (1724-1804) spanned almost the entire eighteenth century, and

    the period of his adulthood coincided with some of the most significant changes

    in the Western world, many of which still reverberate in our lives today. This

    was the period in which the modern view of the world originated, and this

    biography reveals how Kant's philosophy was an expression of and response

    to this new conception of modernity. His intellectual life reflects the most

    significant intellectual, political, and scientific developments of the period,

    from the literary movement of Sturm und Drang to such distant events as the

    French and American Revolutions.

    Taking account of the most recent scholarship, Professor Kuehn allows the

    reader (whether interested in philosophy, history, politics, German culture, or

    religion) to follow the same journey that Kant himself took: from being a

    scholar narrowly focusing on the metaphysical foundations of Newtonian

    science to emerging as a great thinker expounding the defense of the morality

    of an enlightened citizen of the world.

    Manfred Kuehn was a professor of philosophy at Purdue University from 1983

    to 1999. He is now teaching at the Philipps-Universität Marburg. Kant

    A Biography

    Manfred Kuehn

    Philipps-Universität Marburg



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    © Cambridge University Press 2001

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    the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

    First published 2001

    First paperback edition 2002

    Printed in the United States of America

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    Margret Contents

    Acknowledgments page ix

    Cast of Characters xi

    Chronology of Kant's

    Life and Works xv

    Prologue i

    1 Childhood and Early Youth (1724-1740) 24

    2 Student and Private Teacher (1740-1755) 61

    3 The Elegant Magister (1755—1764) 100

    4 A Palingenesis and Its Consequences

    (1764-1769) 144

    5 Silent Years (1770-1780) 188

    6 "All-Crushing" Critic of Metaphysics

    (1780-1784) 238

    7 Founder of a Metaphysics of Morals

    (1784-1787) 277

    8 Problems with Religion and Politics

    (1788-1795) 329

    9 The Old Man (1796-1804) 386

    Notes 423

    Works Cited 511

    Index 531

    vii Acknowledgments

    THE FOUNDING of the North American Kant Society in 1986 was a sig¬

    nificant event not only for Kant scholarship in the United States but also

    for me personally. I have been lucky to be able to serve as the society's bib¬

    liographer since its inception, and I am glad to observe that Kant scholar¬

    ship has become a more cooperative enterprise since that time. Indeed, I

    have benefited greatly from the help of many friends and colleagues whom

    I might never have known without this institution. I cannot thank all of

    those who have had an influence on my work over the years, but I would like

    to give a special thanks to the late Lewis White Beck, who was the found¬

    ing father of the society. Like many, I owe him a great debt. I am sure this

    book would have been greatly improved if it could have benefited from his

    advice, but unfortunately that was not to be.

    I have, however, been fortunate to benefit from the help and advice of

    many others. I am very grateful to Terry Moore, who first encouraged me to

    think about the necessity for a new biography of Kant, and then suggested

    that I write it. Without him, this book would never have been written. It

    would have remained a dream. In writing the book, I have incurred many

    other debts. First among those are the ones to my friends in Marburg, who

    helped me greatly not only in the research, but also in the preparation of

    the first draft. Heiner Klemme's encouragement, help, and friendship were

    decisive from beginning to end. I cannot thank him enough. Werner Stark's

    expert advice improved the work a great deal and saved me from a num¬

    ber of serious errors. Werner Euler generously shared some of his unpub¬

    lished work with me. Reinhard Brandt, who rightfully pointed out to me

    early on that any biography of Kant could be written only in Marburg, was

    also helpful in a number of ways. His comments on the penultimate version

    were especially important.

    I am also grateful to the staffs of the University Library and the Library

    ix Acknowledgments


    of the Institute of Philosophy at the Philipps-Universität Marburg, and of

    the Herder Institute in Marburg. I spent many enjoyable hours there in the

    summers of 1995 and 1997, as well as a few days in 1996 and 1998. Some of

    the preparatory work was done with the support of a summer grant from

    the National Endowment for the Humanities in the summer of 1988 and

    a fellowship at the Center for Humanistic Studies at Purdue University

    during the fall of 1990. This support was originally for a study of Kant's

    philosophical development, parts of which have been incorporated into

    this book. Much of the first draft was written with the support of another

    fellowship at the Center for Humanistic Studies during the fall of 1995.1

    am also thankful to Rod Bertolet, the chair of the department of philosophy

    at Purdue University, who made various arrangements that made it possi¬

    ble for me to return to Marburg in 1997.

    Some of my other colleagues at Purdue, namely Cal Schräg, William

    McBride, and Jacqueline Marina, graciously commented on an early draft

    of the first three chapters, and the comments and suggestions of Mary

    Norton and Rolf George significantly improved the final version of those

    chapters. Martin Curd read various parts and left his mark on them (I have

    indicated some in the text).

    Karl Ameriks, Michael Gill, Steve Naragon, Konstantin Pollok, and

    Frederick Rauscher read the entire manuscript and made many helpful

    comments for which I am most grateful. Karl Ameriks and Michael Gill,

    especially, took such an active interest in the project that their influence is

    everywhere. I wish that the final product could more adequately express

    what I have learned from them.

    Finally, I would like to thank Margret Kuehn for her support during the

    writing of this book and my other quixotic travails. Cast of Characters

    Boromski, Ludwig Ernst (1740-1832), one of Kant's first students; he remained friendly

    with Kant throughout his life. During his later years, Borowski was a high official in

    the Lutheran Church of Prussia. He was a frequent dinner guest during Kant's last

    years. He wrote one of the three "official" biographies of Kant, but did not attend his


    Baczko, Adolph Franz Joseph von (1756-1823), a student of Kant's during the sev¬

    enties (and a friend of Kraus). Although he lost his eyesight, he was a capable historian.

    A professorship at the University of Königsberg was denied him because he was a


    Beck, Jacob Sigismund (1761-1840), one of Kant's most famous early followers. He

    studied in Königsberg, where he was as much influenced by Kraus as by Kant. He pub¬

    lished between 1793 and 1796 a volume of explanations of Kant's critical philosophy.

    Early on, he was an orthodox follower of Kant's; in his last book, The Only Possible

    Point of View from which Critical Philosophy Must Be Judged, Beck went his own way,

    much to Kant's chagrin.

    Fichte, Johann Gottlieb (1762-1814), famous idealist philosopher. He came to Königs¬

    berg, where he wrote the Critique of All Revelation (1792). Kant used his influence

    to see that it was published. This work, which appeared anonymously, was first viewed

    as Kant's own. Kant's revelation of Fichte's authorship made him famous. Later,

    Fichte went "beyond" Kant. He severely criticized Kantian philosophy and thus drew

    Kant's ire.

    Funk, Johann Daniel (1721-1764), a very popular professor of law in Königsberg and

    a close friend of the young Kant. He led a loose life, and he had a decisive influence

    on Hippel.

    Goeschen, Johann Julius (1736-1798), came to Königsberg in 1760, where he soon

    became a friend of Kant and the Jacobis. He was first the master and then the director

    of the mint in Königsberg. He and Maria Charlotta Jacobi became lovers and married

    after she got a divorce. After the marriage Kant remained friendly with Goeschen, even

    though he never entered their house.

    Green, Joseph (1727-1786), British merchant in Königsberg and the closest friend of

    Kant. Hippel is said to have used Green as a model for his Man of the Clock, a char-


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