Kant's Revolution

11.1 The Small-Town Genius

Even though Kant never left his hometown of Königsberg, the impact of his philosophical contributions has been felt worldwide. He is also known for his consistently punctual schedule, which included daily walks in town by which anyone could set their watch. But he was also an apparently charming and sociable man, the proverbial life of the party.

11.2 The Knowledge Revolution

Hume’s skepticism concerning knowledge of causation inspired Kant to rethink his epistemology. Kant concludes that it is mistaken to think all knowledge arises from experience. To be sure, he claims, knowledge begins with experience, but the contribution made by our cognitive apparatus is essential to the knowledge-making process—hence the forms of intuition and the categories of the understanding.

Kant gets at these significant ideas by way of the so-called Copernican turn as applied in an analysis of judgments: analytic, synthetic, a priori, and a posteriori. The synthetic a priori judgment, which does great work in the sciences, is the one that, if applicable in metaphysics, will secure the boundaries of our knowledge.

11.3 The Moral Law

Ethics and Morality

Ethics, as the study of morality, focuses on the sorts of normative claims made by moral theories. These claims are prescriptive—they tell us what the standards of conduct are, how things should be.

The two main categories of moral theory are consequentialist and deontological. Of the former, utilitarianism is arguably the best known, while Kantian ethics is the exemplar of the latter.

Kant’s Theory

Kant’s major contribution in ethics, which is an extension of the results of his metaphysical and epistemological inquiries, is the claim that morality is a feature of our rationality. The moral law is a purely rational law, the supreme expression of which is the categorical imperative.

Back to top