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Kantianism is the philosophy of Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Königsberg , researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment....

, a German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 philosopher born in Königsberg
Königsberg was the capital of East Prussia from the Late Middle Ages until 1945 as well as the northernmost and easternmost German city with 286,666 inhabitants . Due to the multicultural society in and around the city, there are several local names for it...

, Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

 (now Kaliningrad
Kaliningrad is a seaport and the administrative center of Kaliningrad Oblast, the Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea...

, Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

). The term Kantianism or Kantian is sometimes also used to describe contemporary positions in philosophy of mind
Philosophy of mind
Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of the mind, mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness and their relationship to the physical body, particularly the brain. The mind-body problem, i.e...

, epistemology, and ethics
Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc.Major branches of ethics include:...



Kantian ethics
Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc.Major branches of ethics include:...

 are deontological, revolving entirely around duty rather than emotions or end goals. All actions are performed in accordance with some underlying maxim
Maxim (philosophy)
A maxim is a ground rule or subjective principle of action; in that sense, a maxim is a thought that can motivate individuals.- Deontological ethics :...

 or principle, which are deeply different from each other; it is according to this that the moral worth of any action is judged. Kant's ethics are founded on his view of rationality as the ultimate good and his belief that all people are fundamentally rational beings. This led to the most important part of Kant's ethics, the formulation of the Categorical Imperative
Categorical imperative
The Categorical Imperative is the central philosophical concept in the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant, as well as modern deontological ethics...

, which is the criterion for whether a maxim is good or bad.

Simply put, this criterion amounts to a thought experiment
Thought experiment
A thought experiment or Gedankenexperiment considers some hypothesis, theory, or principle for the purpose of thinking through its consequences...

: to attempt to universalize the maxim (imagine a world where all people necessarily acted in this way in the relevant circumstances) and then see if the maxim and its associated action would still be conceivable in such a world. For instance, holding the maxim kill anyone who annoys you and applying it universally would result in a world which would soon be devoid of people and without anyone left to kill. Thus holding this maxim is irrational as it ends up being impossible to hold it.

Universalizing a maxim (statement) leads to it being valid, or to one of two contradictions — a contradiction in conception (where the maxim, when universalized, is no longer a viable means to the end) or a contradiction in will (where the will of a person contradicts what the universalization of the maxim implies). The first type leads to a "perfect duty", and the second leads to an "imperfect duty."

Kant's ethics focus then only on the maxim that underlies actions and judges these to be good or bad solely on how they conform to reason. Kant showed that many of our common sense views of what is good or bad conform to his system but denied that any action performed for reasons other than rational actions can be good (saving someone who is drowning simply out of a great pity for them is not a morally good act). Kant also denied that the consequences of an act in any way contribute to the moral worth of that act, his reasoning being (highly simplified for brevity) that the physical world is outside our full control and thus we cannot be held accountable for the events that occur in it.

The Formulation Rule of Kantianism:
  1. Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.
  2. Act so that you always treat others as an end, and never as a means to an end only.


In teleology
A teleology is any philosophical account which holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in the rest of nature. The word comes from the Greek τέλος, telos; root: τελε-, "end, purpose...

, Kant's positions were neglected for many years because in the minds of many scientists they were associated with vitalist
Vitalism, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is#a doctrine that the functions of a living organism are due to a vital principle distinct from biochemical reactions...

 views of evolution. Their gradual rehabilitation recently is evident in teleonomy
Teleonomy is the quality of apparent purposefulness and of goal-directedness of structures and functions in living organisms that derive from their evolutionary history, adaptation for reproductive success, or generally, due to the operation of a program....

 which bears a number of features, such as the description of organisms, that are reminiscent of the Kantian conception of final causes as essentially recursive in nature. The gist of Kant's position is that even though we cannot know whether there are final causes in nature, we are constrained by the peculiar nature of the human understanding to view organisms teleologically. Thus, teleology is a necessary principle for the study of organisms, but it is only a regulative principle, with no ontological implications.

Political philosophy

In political philosophy
Political philosophy
Political philosophy is the study of such topics as liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority: what they are, why they are needed, what, if anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it...

 Kant has had wide and increasing influence with the major political philosopher of the late twentieth century, John Rawls
John Rawls
John Bordley Rawls was an American philosopher and a leading figure in moral and political philosophy. He held the James Bryant Conant University Professorship at Harvard University....

 drawing heavily on his inspiration in setting out the basis for a liberal view of political institutions. The nature of Rawls' use of Kant has engendered serious controversy but has demonstrated the vitality of Kantian considerations across a wider range of questions than was once thought plausible.

See also

  • Neo-Kantianism
    Neo-Kantianism refers broadly to a revived type of philosophy along the lines of that laid down by Immanuel Kant in the 18th century, or more specifically by Schopenhauer's criticism of the Kantian philosophy in his work The World as Will and Representation , as well as by other post-Kantian...

  • Schopenhauer's criticism of the Kantian philosophy
    Schopenhauer's criticism of the Kantian philosophy
    Schopenhauer appended a criticism to the first volume of his The World as Will and Representation. He wanted to show Kant's errors so that Kant's merits would be appreciated and his achievements furthered....