A masterful exploration of Kant's intellectual development, theory of knowledge, politics, and ethics. Edited by Hannah Arendt; Index. Translated by Ralph Manheim.


Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was the fourth child of a Königsberg saddler. Some of his ancestors had come to Germany from Scotland. He was raised in an atmosphere of Pietistic Christianity. Later, as tutor in the family of Count Keyserling, Kant often "thought with emotion of the incomparably finer training he had enjoyed in his own home, where he had never heard or seen anything wrong or immoral." Beginning in 1740, he studied philosophy, mathematics, and theology at Königsberg. From 1747 to 1755, compelled by his father's death to earn his own living, he served as tutor in various families. At the end of this period he was appointed lecturer at the university, which meant living on his lecture fees. He twice applied in vain for a professorship in philosophy at Königsberg in 1764 he declined a chair in poetry at Königsberg and offers from Erlangen and Jena. Finally, in 1770, he was appointed professor of logic and metaphysics at Königsberg. In 1778 he declined an appointment at Halle, which, like the previous calls, would have brought him considerably larger earnings. In 1796 he gave up his lectures for reasons of old age. In 1798 his health began to decline and in 1804 he died in a state of senile dementia.

Kant was unusually small, thin, flat-chested; his right shoulder was higher than his left. He was frail but fundamentally healthy. Hamann called him the "little schoolmaster." In the decade he spent working on the Critique of Pure Reason, he often spoke of his health. All his life he suffered from complaints of various sorts and was always worrying about his diet. It was from 1781 to 1791, when he was putting his other great works into final form, that he spoke least of his health.

2. Kant's World

In Kant's time, Königsberg was a lively commercial center, a city open to the world. Aristocrats and merchants, academicians and men of letters met freely. The Russian occupation from 1758 to 1762 introduced a new ease . . .

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