Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Kant’s Journey from the External World to the Inner World

Kant & Friends at Table
Painting by Emil Doerstling (1892-3)
When Immanuel Kant began his academic career his interest was mainly in the external world—his lectures and writings were directed towards mathematics, geography, and natural science. In his book Kant: His Life and Doctrine, Friedrich Paulsen says:
As the literary fruit of his cosmological investigations and studies of the natural sciences, he published, in addition to some small essays on physical geography, in the year 1755, a work entitled Universal History of Nature and Theory of the Heavens, or an Attempt to Treat of the Formation and Origin of the Entire Structure of the World according to Newtonian Principles. This work is of great significance, standing as it does at the beginning of Kant’s activity as an author. It was dedicated to Frederick II., but appeared originally without the name of the author. It was not until later that it received the recognition which it deserved; at first, through the failure of the publisher, it remained almost unnoticed. That Kant attached great importance to it appears from the fact that he twice called attention to its main content by giving summaries of it (1763, 1791). The problem which he set for himself in this work was to explain genetically the structure of the cosmos, and especially of our planetary system, entirely in accordance with physical principles. 
Paulsen notes that Kant was a firm believer in the Newtonian principles of gravitation and the results of modern astronomy. His attitude was more scientific than that of Newton, because he tried to explain the origin of the universe in terms of purely physical forces. “Newton had regarded the first arrangement of the world system as the direct work of God. But Kant begins where Newton had left off, and shows how through the immanent activity of physical forces, cosmic systems arise and perish in never-ending rotation. The direct interposition of God is here neither necessary nor applicable.”

In the 1760s there was a shift in Kant’s philosophical priorities. The concerns of the inner world, the realm of man and his moral nature, became the most important subject for him. He realized that science and mathematics are not the absolute ends, rather they are the means to a higher end whose purpose is to serve the moral destiny of mankind. Paulsen writes: “The primacy of the moral over the intellectual, in the evaluation of the individual and in the determination of the purposes of the race, remains hereafter a constant feature of Kant’s thought.”

Kant has credited Rousseau for making him aware that philosophy must begin with an investigation into the inner world. In his book, Paulsen offers the following quote from Kant:
I am by inclination an investigator. I feel an absolute thirst for knowledge, and a longing unrest for further information. There was a time when I thought that all this constituted the real worth of mankind, and I despised the rabble who knew nothing. Rousseau has shown me my error. This dazzling advantage vanishes, and I should regard myself as of much less use than the common laborers if I did not believe that this speculation (that of the Socratic-critical philosophy) can give a value to everything else to restore the rights of humanity.

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