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Summary of Critique of Pure Reason

The Enlightenment

For centuries, throughout the Middle Ages, tradition (scriptures, traditions, authorities) was used to decide whether something was right or wrong. What had to apply, that is, the "authority of the past", was a mixture of biblical interpretation and the traditions of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. This mixture was called scholasticism. What did not correspond to this scholastic tradition was suspect or simply invalid. Humanism and the Renaissance (in the 14th to 16th centuries) weakened scholasticism before it was completely crushed by the Enlightenment in the 18th century.

Immanuel Kant was one of the main exponents of the Enlightenment and he also provided its most famous definition: "Enlightenment is the exit of man from his self-inflicted immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use his mind without the help of another." This is how Kant wrote in his programmatic work What is Enlightenment? In 1784. At this point in time, this movement had already gripped large parts of Europe. Philosophers like René Descartes, State theorists like Thomas Hobbes and scientists like Isaac Newton laid the foundations for an attitude of mind that lifted human reason (= reason) and softened the mystical and religious epistemological theories of the past. Science, nature observation, experiments: these were the new methods with which the world could be understood.

With the Enlightenment it was believed that reality could be completely deciphered. Discoveries were made - in astronomy (laws of the planets), in physics (gravitation, mechanics), in seafaring (discovery of new countries) - and in fact one seemed to be getting closer to the mystery of the world little by little. Kant put a damper on this optimism. Knowledge, according to Kant, is always influenced by our thinking apparatus. And because we cannot perceive or judge anything without this thinking apparatus, we will never get at the true reality. Our thinking does not depict reality, it actually creates (constructs) it.


Kant's first work in his "Critical Writings" (which also includes the Critique of Practical Reason and the Critique of Judgment) was put on paper within a few months. The fast writer Kant, who wrote his doctorate and habilitation in the same year, had taken almost ten years to perfect his ideas and think his thoughts through to the end. In 1770 he received the chair for metaphysics and logic at the Königsberg University, which he had long wanted. In May 1781 he finally published the Critique of Pure Reason. But the public's reaction was sobering: the book was dismissed as being too high-handed and incomprehensible. Two years later, Kant tried again with a simplified and abridged version. But this "Prolegomena" (a kind of abstract of his work) earned just as much astonishment. Even more: Because of the abbreviations, the work turned out to be even more incomprehensible than the original. So in 1787 Kant started a completely revised second edition. It was not yet printed, so the mood of his readers changed: The penny had fallen and Kant suddenly became a star of philosophy. The Weimar Circle around Johann Gottfried Herder and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was passionately interested in his philosophy. Herder even attended Kant's lectures.

Impact history

Kant is one of the most important philosophers of all time. His effect extends not only to philosophical circles: Many writers and artists of his time occupied themselves with his work. That also included Heinrich von Kleistin which reading Kant even triggered a life crisis. Friedrich Schiller particularly dealt with Kant's explanations of aesthetics and built his own aesthetic theory on this foundation. Kant's critical philosophy had the greatest impact on the representatives of German idealism: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling tried to fill in the empty spaces in Kant's philosophy, in particular to delimit the "thing in itself" or the "unconditional" or "absolute" from Kant's philosophy more sharply. Arthur Schopenhauer wrote: "Kant's style consistently bears the stamp of a superior spirit, an honest, firm peculiarity and a very unusual power of thought"; According to Schopenhauer, Kant has "a brilliant dryness, able to grasp and pick out the terms with great certainty, because he is able to throw them back and forth with the greatest freedom, to the astonishment of the reader". Between 1860 and 1945 two schools of Neo-Kantianism were formed, the radical "Back to Kant!" demanded.