What is the historical background of philosophy

Immanuel Kant - life and historical background

Table of Contents:

1. Historical background

2. Youth, school and university years

3. Kant and Königsberg

4. Kant and the French Revolution

5. External living conditions

6. Koenigsberg - Kaliningrad

7. Bibliography

8. List of sources

1. Historical background

The 17th and 18th centuries were the age of absolutism in Europe. Absolutism was a form of government of the monarchy, which pursued a tighter administration, orderly financial relations and the creation of standing armies. This form of government did not restrict the regent by means of participation or control organs, but rather he had sole authority, i.e. H. stood above the law as the bearer of sovereignty.

In the second half of the 18th century, many European princes softened the arbitrariness of their absolutist rule to an enlightened absolutism, that is, among other things, the criminal law was softened (e.g. abolition of torture), serfdom was abolished, freedom of the press introduced, school - and the education system was improved, tolerance demanded. However, the people have not yet received any participation. Representatives of the enlightened absolutism in Germany were Friedrich Wilhelm I (also called "Soldier King") and Friedrich II. ("The Great") of Prussia.

In France, absolutism was brought about by the French Revolution of 1789; in the rest of Europe in the course of the 19th century, for example. Some serious constitutional struggles eliminated.

The Enlightenment movement emerged as a counterbalance to absolutism, an intellectual movement that dominated the 17th century, and even more so the 18th century. Almost all modern political movements, e.g. B. the democracies of the West and the socialism of the East, their origin. It originated in England and spread across Europe and North America and was mainly supported by the bourgeoisie. The focus of the Enlightenment was in large cities and universities.

The aim of this enlightenment movement was to strengthen the human ability to think for oneself and thus to free oneself from the prejudices that were spread and maintained by the traditional authorities, i.e. the church and the nobility. The Enlightenment leaders waged a bitter struggle against superstition, fanaticism, intolerance, deception and the dumbing down of the people.

The Enlightenment was most effective in France, where Charles de Montesquieu (1689 - 1755) advocated the separation of powers as a principle of internal state structure and Jean-Jaques Rousseau (1712 - 1778) popular sovereignty1and called for a departure from the constraints of feudal society (general goals of the Enlightenment movement).

Two important representatives of the German Enlightenment were Christian Wolff (1689 - 1754) (Introduction) and Immanuel Kant (Conclusion and overcoming of the Age of Enlightenment). Kant was also one of the leading figures in the European Enlightenment.

In his work "Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?" (1784) Kant defined this as "the exit of man from his self-inflicted immaturity".

2. Youth, school and university years

Immanuel Kant was one of the greatest thinkers of the West and shaped the modern age like no other. He was born on April 22nd, 1724 in Königsberg / East Prussia, the fourth of eleven children of a saddler. The family lived in modest circumstances. His mother, devout and open to higher education, was a powerful influence on him. She was a supporter of Pietism, a movement that - especially in Germany - emerged from Protestantism at the end of the 17th century. Pietism is derived from the Latin pietas and means piety. The relatives called for the spiritual renewal of the Church, i. H. an emotional piety based on the Bible, and were therefore mockingly referred to as pietists (bigots).

Kant's mother, in turn, became a Pietist from KönigsbergFranz Albert Schultzinfluences, which inter alia. Professor of theology and later director of the Collegium Fridericianum (Friedrich-Gymnasium) was. Schultz was very important for Kant's earliest development, because his mother succeeded in getting Schultz interested in her son's upbringing. It was also she who "opened his heart to the impressions of nature". Kant's mother died when he was 13 years old.

With Schultz's support, Kant came to the Collegium Fridericianum, which he attended for nine years, from 1732 to 1740. The school was strictly pietistic. Classes began daily with half an hour of morning prayer and another hour of catechism. There were also other compulsory religious events for the students, which change daily. Kant later stated that "horror and fear overwhelmed him when he thought back on that youthful slavery". His talent for philosophy, which undoubtedly already existed then, was not encouraged there. The collegium only taught general education (e.g. mathematics, geography, languages ​​- especially Latin - for up to 20 hours per week) and in preparation for university. Thanks to the very extensive Latin lessons, Kant had the ability to recite long passages of Roman classics well into old age.

In 1740, at the age of 16, Kant began studying at the Albertina, the Königsberg University founded in 1544. First he turned to theology (not certain), but then turned around and attended the philosophical faculty, which offered a cross-section of numerous fields of knowledge: ancient language subjects, mathematics, logic and metaphysics, practical philosophy, natural science, poetry, eloquence and History. Also in this phase of life there was a person who had a strong influence on the personality of Immanuel Kant. It wasMartin Knutzen, Associate Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, who was a student of the EnlightenmentChristian Wolffwas. Kant owes almost all of his philosophical and mathematical knowledge to him. The relationship between teacher and student was personal and friendly. Through Knutzen, Kant came into contact with Newton's theory of nature. His relationship with Knutzen was so close that Kant was allowed to use his teacher's library without restrictions. Knutzen showed Kant the way on which he could not only be a follower but also a self-thinker.

Immanuel Kant gave the University of Königsberg its best reputation. His later work there drew the progressive-minded youth to Königsberg. B. Herder and Fichte.

Kant finished his university studies in 1746 without exams, which was quite common at the time. However, at this time he submitted his first philosophical work to the dean of the Philosophical Faculty, which the"Thoughts of the True Appreciation of Living Forces"treated. His father also died in 1746, so that no financial or material support was to be expected from the family. Since Kant, like many academics of his time, had no economic wealth from the start, after completing his studies he worked for nine years as a tutor for three different wealthy families in the immediate vicinity of Königsberg in order to earn a living.

In 1755 Kant received his doctorate with a Latin treatise "On Fire" as a "Magister" (doctor of philosophy). In order to receive the license to teach at a university, he still had to submit a habilitation thesis, also in Latin. With this writing he then became a private lecturer in philosophy at the University of Königsberg in the same year. Kant received no state salary. He financed himself only through the tuition fees of the students as well as through private lessons, which he also gave, and the fees for his publications, which did not appear regularly.

He gave lectures a.o. in mathematics, natural science, anthropology, logic, metaphysics, moral philosophy, theology, philosophical encyclopedia, pedagogy and physical geography2. He gained his knowledge of foreign countries exclusively from studying books without ever having visited the countries. Through Kant's lectures in physical geography, geography was elevated to a science and left the soil of travelogues.

All of his lectures were always well attended. To illustrate: In 1775 45 students heard his readings on logic, five years later, in 1780, there were already 100. The more difficult subject of metaphysics also saw such an increase: from 30 listeners in the winter of 1775/76 to 70 in the year 1780/81. Its increasing popularity can be seen from these numbers, especially since only around 200 students were enrolled at the university during this period.

Kant said to his students: "You will not learn philosophy from me, but -philosophize, not just thoughts to repeat, butthinkThe reason for this comment was that he did not like mere prayer. He saw the education for independent thinking as his main task. Here he continued the work of his teacher Martin Knutzen. Furthermore, he did not like it when the students in his lectures because it bothered him that unimportant things were put on paper and important things overlooked.

He remained a Magister for 15 years. In 1756 he applied for a professorship for the first time. It was about the extraordinary professorship for mathematics and philosophy, which was to be filled after the death of his teacher Knutzen. This application was unsuccessful, however, because the Prussian government decided that the extraordinary professorships shortly before the beginning of the Seven Years' War (1756 - 1763) were not to be filled until further notice. Two years later he made the next attempt. This time it was about the full professorship for logic and metaphysics at the Königsberg University. This position had to be filled again despite the war. The Russians, who at that time were occupying the province of Prussia, had to decide on this. Although he met all the requirements for a professorship3, he came away empty-handed again this time. A competitor who had been a private lecturer for a long time was preferred to him. He turned down a third professorship that was offered to him in 1764. because the holder of this professorship for poetry was given the task of writing all sorts of occasional poems, which had to be kept quite numerous. Finally, at the age of 42, Kant accepted a position as sub-librarian at the Royal Palace Library, which guaranteed him a permanent and modest income.

Kant was very attached to his homeland. Appointments with substantial fee offers to foreign universities, which were submitted to him several times (e.g. Erlangen [12/1769] and Jena [01/1770), were rejected by him because "the aim of his academic work is at the same time the goal of his life" , d. H. he did not want to leave his East Prussian homeland, but to be cared for in his "fatherland". He wrote this down in a letter in 17704known to Frederick the Great. At the same time he also wrote to the Prussian War and Budget Minister von Fürst und Kupferberg, in which he asked him to support his application for the professorship in philosophy. On March 31, 1770, the king appointed him by cabinet order to "Professor Logices et Metaphysices Ordinarius" (Full Professor of Logic5and metaphysics6). It was the same professorship for which he had not been considered twelve years earlier. But this was not due to the fact that one had not recognized its importance. The professorships were filled according to rank and age. But he kept this chair for 34 years until his death. Since the salary for the professorship was not excessively high (only 166 thalers and 60 groschen / year), he worked for two more years in the royal palace library and did not give up this position until 1772. His actual philosophical creative period began with his appointment as full professor. led to its three "reviews". Up to this point he published mainly scientific writings and smaller philosophical treatises.

In later years he was a. several times dean of the philosophy faculty, twice (1786 and 1788) rector of the University of Königsberg and from 1792 senior of the philosophy faculty and the entire academy, which was connected with a further improvement in his income. In 1786 Kant was also appointed a member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences.

3. Kant and Königsberg

Kant and Königsberg are the same age. In 1724, when Kant was born, the three sub-towns of Königsberg (old town), Löbenicht and Kneiphof were combined to form the town of Königsberg for administrative reasons. Königsberg was the capital of East Prussia, which had been a sovereign part of the Electorate of Brandenburg since 1660. The town on the Pregelmündler experienced a rapid economic boom through trade and shipping. Above all, English and Dutch ships called at the Hanseatic city. Königsberg had its own stock exchange, large shipyards, cloth factories, sawmills, mills and breweries. Kant's friends and acquaintances came mainly from the Königsberg merchants. It is a little surprising that they did not come from the sphere of influence of the university, since this was his primary living environment.

During the Seven Years' War (1756 - 1763), which Frederick the Great waged as a preventive war to protect Silesia allegedly stolen from Austria, Königsberg was under the rule of the Russian Tsars in St. Petersburg. As a result of the war, the city suffered great economic damage.

Immanuel Kant was never a "full citizen of his city" because the oldest surviving "Citizen Book of the City of Königsberg" (1746-1809) does not list him as such. However, this is only of legal significance. In addition to the members of the university, z. B. clergy, lawyers, doctors, teachers, booksellers and pharmacists, even members of the hairdressing trade and other people7the jurisdiction8assigned to the university and not to that of the magistrate9. For this reason none of them counted as citizens of Königsberg. They acquired civil rights only through the acquisition of civil property or the operation of a civil trade - as a rule, they achieved this through marriage or inheritance. However, through his matriculation in 1740 and his house acquired in 1783/84, Kant remained an academic citizen in Königsberg throughout his life.

4. Kant and the French Revolution

Karl Marx called the Kantian philosophy "the German theory of the French revolution". The philosophy of Kant, who is understood as the founder of classical German philosophy, was essentially influenced by the ideological preparatory phase of the French Revolution from 1789-1795, but also by the German situation. During this time his three great works were created: in 1781 the"Critique of Pure Reason"(1st edition). After ten or twelve years of preliminary intellectual work, Kant put them on paper in just a few months. It includes the logic and epistemology of Kant. Then followed in 1788"Critique of Practical Reason"(Ethics) and in 1790 - during the French Revolution - the"Critique of Judgement"(Aesthetics). Kant was the first German philosopher to write his great works in German rather than French or Latin.

Even Heinrich Heine wrote a few decades later that the "Critique of Pure Reason" initiated the intellectual revolution in Germany and showed great parallels with the events in France.

Kant felt on the one hand as a citizen of the world, as a cosmopolitan with regard to his philosophy, and on the other hand as a Prussian subject with regard to his way of life. He is considered a pioneer of German idealism, which in turn is to be seen as one of the sources of Marxism-Leninism.

The revolution in France awakened among the progressives10The German bourgeoisie had considerable hopes of overcoming absolutist feudal rule, which is why important German poets (e.g. Goethe, Schiller, Klopstock, Wieland) supported the ideas of the French Revolution, namely freedom, equality and brotherhood. However, some of them did not understand the necessity of class differentiation (proletariat and bourgeoisie) in the course of events, as well as the radicalization of the movement that occurred at the beginning, and soon turned away from it.

In contrast, Kant was one of those who, despite initial skepticism regarding the violent methods of the revolution, recognized the enormous historical significance of this upheaval. He saw the revolutionary events as an attempt to create a bourgeois society and understood them as the herald of a new age. In 1793, however, he was also very disappointed with the revolutionary movement after he had heard of the execution of Louis XVI.and his wife Marie Antoinette found out, but even then he did not deny his admiration for the revolution.

Kant politically advocated the republican idea; By this he understood, like Montesquieu, the separation of the executive from the legislative power. In this sense he approved on the one hand certain demands of the French Revolution, on the other hand he rejected future revolutions and wars as "the highest and most punishable crimes in the common being, because they destroy its foundations". His teachings became so important for the philosophical justification of the rule of law in Germany that in retrospect he is widely regarded as the spiritual father of the rule of law ideal.

After the storming of the Bastille (1789), the following events followed, among other things. the abolition of all feudal rights and the proclamation of human and civil rights. The French Revolution created the prerequisites for civil society in the 19th century and helped the idea of ​​the nation state to break through.

5. External living conditions

Kant was short in stature, only 157 cm. His bone structure was deformed. His nerves were also fragile and he was so sensitive overall that even a freshly printed newspaper was enough to trigger a cold in him. So he was careful not to get sick.

Over the years, Kant often changed his apartments because, among other things, he the noise of his fellow men disturbed or even just nature noises irritated his sensitive eardrums and impaired his thinking. He was looking for absolute tranquility and only found it in the house he bought in 1783/84, which he moved into with the cook and servant. Kant was a wealthy man in his old age and by no means stingy, but he hated waste.("One is not rich through what one has, but even more through what one knows how to do without with dignity"). It was very spartan. He had little furniture. In his younger years, when he didn't have a household of his own, his belongings were quickly stowed away. The only wall decoration in his study was a picture of the French philosopher and enlightener Jean-Jaques Rousseau, whose work "Emile" (1762), an educational novel, was downright "devoured" by Kant, he even, as they say, the time for his Forgot walks about it.

In his master’s years, Kant liked to go to the coffee house after lectures. He drank tea and played billiards there. He also ate his lunchtime meals in an inn where, among other things, high military personnel and merchants frequented, who often only came because of him. Sometimes he was there in the evenings, chatting or playing cards. Visiting the theater was also part of his life.

Kant remained a bachelor, although he was not an avowed enemy of women. Twice he even considered marriage, but his hesitation made the women choose differently. Kant later said, when asked about his celibacy: "Since I could use a woman, I could not support one; and since I could support one, I could no longer need one". His reluctance to marry, however, did not mean that he avoided the company of women. Countess Keyserling, a spirited and educated woman, also from a philosophical point of view, described Kant as an ornament of her sex and sincerely adored her.

At an advanced age, Kant then adopted a strictly regulated daily routine: he got up at 5 a.m., whatever the season. Then getting dressed, a cup of tea and a pipe (the only one of the day). Then the lectures began at 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. and lasted about 2 to 3 hours. These now took place in Kant's own house, which was quite common at the time. Then he devoted himself to reading. Lunch, which was the only meal of the day, was always eaten by Kant at 1 o'clock with selected friends. It could drag on for several hours. At these meetings, however, Kant declined to discuss philosophy, preferring to talk about general topics, e.g. B. the political situation, news in the city, etc. Then he went for a walk. Sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. It is said that the times when he took his walk were so regular that the citizens of Königsberg could set their clocks accordingly. Kant ended the day with work and reflection and then went to bed at 10 o'clock.

In 1794 Kant came into contact with the Prussian censorship authority for the first and only time in his life. The successor to Frederick the Great, King Frederick William II, only continued the development towards an enlightened constitutional state to a limited extent, among other things. with the enactment of the "Prussian General Land Law" (ALR). It comprised more than 19,000 individual paragraphs that represented a compromise between enlightened freedom and old-fashioned society. The ALR remained largely unchanged until the adoption of today's BGB in 1900. At the same time, however, he put an end to the enlightened tolerance of his predecessors with the religious edict. In a decree, King Friedrich Wilhelm II expressed his displeasure with Kant, because in his writing"Religion within the Limits of Mere Reason"some major doctrines of Scripture and Christianity would be vilified. In order to avoid this conflict, Kant assured in a counter letter that he would remain silent on this subject in the future. This promise was limited, however, and after the monarch's death, Kant resumed his thoughts on criticism of religion.

In 1796 Kant stopped teaching because of increasing old age. Five years later (1801) he resigned from the academic senate. The last years of Kant's life were marked by physical and mental decline. He withdrew and received no more guests. He himself felt useless because he was no longer able to collect his thoughts and put them in writing. During the last two years of his life, Kant never left his own house. His friend and later biographer Jachmann looked after him and cared for him, together with Kant's youngest sister. Kant died on February 12, 1804 in his hometown of Königsberg and was buried 14 days later in the professors' vault of the Königsberg Cathedral. Citizens from Königsberg put a plaque above the grave with a saying from Kant's "Critique of Practical Reason", which had the following wording:

"Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe the more often and more persistently the thought is occupied with it:

The starry sky above me and the moral law in me ".

Kant's tomb in Kaliningrad is now a listed building.

6. Koenigsberg - Kaliningrad

Northern East Prussia with Kant's birthplace Königsberg was annexed in 1945 and incorporated into the RSFSR (Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic) as the Kaliningrad region. The Kaliningrad region was a Russian enclave between the Soviet Union Republic of Lithuania and Poland from 1946 to 1991. Since the independence of Lithuania in 1991, Kaliningrad is now a Russian exclave, i. H. it can only be reached via foreign national territory. Kaliningrad is now, after decades of being a Soviet military restricted area, open to visitors again and invites you to research in Kant's footsteps.

7. Bibliography

Kant's works can be divided into three broad phases:

1. into the pre-critical phase

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2. in the critical phase

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3. in the post-critical phase

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Kant's last, unfinished manuscript has been in the possession of the manuscript collection of the Berlin State Library - Prussian Cultural Heritage since last year (1999). The original script, comprising 290 pages, is known under the name "Opus postumum". It was purchased from a private collector for a well-established seven-figure sum.

8. List of sources

- Apel / Ludz, Philosophical Dictionary, 6th Edition, 1976 Anzenbacher, Introduction to Philosophy Thresher,Siegfrid,Who Was Kant?
- Borowski, L. E., Jachmann, R. B. and Wasianski, E. A. Ch., Three contemporary biographies
- Gause, Fritz / Lebuhn, Jürgen, Kant and Königsberg until today, 1989 Gulyga, Arseniy,Immanuel Kant, 6th ed. 1990
- Kant, Immanuel, Correspondence, 2nd expanded ed. 1972,
- Schultz, Uwe, Rowohlt's monographs - Kant, 23rd ed. 1997
- Star Yearbook, Germany - your thinkers, 1st ed. 1979
- Störig, Hans Joachim, Small world history of philosophy, 1998 Thom, Martina, Immanuel Kant, 1978 edition
- Vorländer, Karl,Immanuel Kant's Life, 3rd edition, 1974
- Weber-Fas, Prof. Dr. Rudolf, Spiritual father of the rule of law, ZRP 1999, issue 11, p. 461 ff.
- Zeeden, Ernst Walter, Europe in the age of absolutism and the enlightenment
- Bertelsmann InfoRom 98/99
- German Legal Lexicon, Vol. 1, 2nd ed. 1992 · Meyer's large pocket dictionary
- Student Dude Philosophy · Internet research:
- Werner Stark, Kant in Königsberg [University of Marburg] o Wilfried Krauss, Kant pages
- Lexicon of quotations


1 All governmental power comes from the people.

2 Geography = Greek description of the earth, physical geography (physiogeography) is a main branch of general geography and includes geomorphology, climatology, hydrography and biogeography (plant and animal geography).

3 To dispute three times over a printed treatise ==> Disputation: scientific debate with opponent (opponent in a speech dispute; oppose: counter, contradict, oppose, confront) and respondent (respond: from the Latin outdated for answer, correspond, refute).

4 Different view: Fritz Gause / Jürgen Lebuhn, Kant and Königsberg, according to which there is generally no correspondence between Mrs. Great and Kant gave. Quote: "... never exchanged letters. The philosopher among kings ignored the king of philosophers" (p. 116).

5 Doctrine of consistent thinking, the basis and prerequisite for all correct thinking.

6 Branch of philosophy that deals with things that are behind nature.

7 All soldiers and families, members of the French colony, residents of privileged houses.

8 Power to judge.

9 City administration

10 Gradually advancing, evolving, progressive.