Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Biography of Immanuel Kant

The canons of scientific evidence justify us neither in accepting nor rejecting the ideas upon which morality and religion repose. Both parties to the dispute beat the air; they worry their own shadow; for they pass from Nature into the domain of speculation, where their dogmatic grips find nothing to lay hold upon. The shadows which they hew to pieces grow together in a moment like the heroes in Valhalla, to rejoice again in bloodless battles. Metaphysics can no longer claim to be the cornerstone of religion and morality. But if she can not be the Atlas that bears the moral world she can furnish a magic defense. Around the ideas of religion she throws her bulwark of invisibility; and the sword of the skeptic and the battering-ram of the materialist fall harmless on vacuity.

--Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant was born in Seventeen Hundred Twenty-four at the City of Konigsberg, in the northeastern corner of Prussia. There he received his education; there he was a teacher for nearly half a century; and there, in his eightieth year, he died. He was never out of East Prussia and never journeyed sixty miles from his birthplace during his whole life. 

Professor Josiah Royce of Harvard, himself in the sage business, and perhaps the best example that America has produced of the pure type of philosopher, says, "Kant is the only modern thinker who in point of originality is worthy to be ranked with Plato and Aristotle." Like Emerson, Kant regarded traveling as a fool's paradise; only Emerson had to travel much before he found it out, while Kant gained the truth by staying at home. Once a lady took him for a carriage ride, and on learning from the footman that they were seven miles from home he was so displeased that he refused to utter a single orphic on the way back; and further, the story is that he never after entered a vehicle, and living for thirty years was never again so far from the lodging he called home.

In his lectures on physical geography Kant would often describe mountains, rivers, waterfalls, volcanoes, with great animation and accuracy, yet he had never seen any of these. Once a friend offered to take him to Switzerland, so he could actually see the mountains; but he warmly declined, declaring that the man who was not satisfied until he could touch, taste and see was small, mean and quibbling as was Thomas, the doubting disciple. Moreover, he had samples of the strata of the Alps, and this was enough, which reminds us of the man who had a house for sale and offered to send a prospective purchaser a sample brick.

Mind was the great miracle to Kant--the ability to know all about a thing by seeing it with your inward eye. "The Imagination hath a stage within the brain upon which all scenes are played," and the play to Kant was greater than the reality. Or, to use his own words: "Time and Space have no existence apart from Mind. There is no such thing as Sound unless there be an ear to receive the vibrations. Things and places, matter and substance come under the same law, and exist only as mind creates them."
The parents of Kant were very lowly people. His father was a day laborer--a leather-cutter who never achieved even to the honors and emoluments of a saddler. There were seven children in the family, and never a servant crossed the threshold. One daughter survived Immanuel, and in her eighty-fourth year she expressed regrets that her brother had proved so recreant to the teachings of his parents as practically to alienate him from all his relatives. One brother became a Lutheran minister and lived out an honored career; the others vanish and fade away into the mist of forgetfulness.

So far as we know, all the children were strong and well except this one. At birth he weighed but five pounds, and his weakness was pitiable. He was the kind of child the Spartans used to make way with quickly, for the good of the State. He had a big, bulging head, thin legs, a weak chest, and one shoulder was so much higher than the other that it amounted almost to a deformity.

As the years went by, the parents saw he was not big enough to work, but hope was not dead--they would make a preacher of him! To this end he was sent to the "Fredericianium," a graded school of no mean quality. The master of this school was a worthy clergyman by the name of Schultz, who was attracted to the Kant boy, it seems, on account of his insignificant size. It was the affection of the shepherd for the friendless ewe lamb. A little later the teacher began to love the boy for his big head and the thoughts he worked out of it. Brawn is bought with a price--young men who bank on it get it as legal tender. Those who have no brawn have to rely on brain or go without honors. Immanuel Kant began to ask his school-teacher questions that made the good man laugh.
At sixteen Kant entered Albertina University. And there he was to remain his entire life--student, tutor, teacher, professor.

He must have been an efficient youth, for before he was eighteen he realized that the best way to learn is to teach. The idea of becoming a clergyman was at first strong upon him; and Pastor Schultz occasionally sent the youth out to preach, or lead religious services in rural districts. This embryo preacher had a habit of placing a box behind the pulpit and standing on it while preaching. Then we find him reasoning the matter out in this way: "I stand on a box to preach so as to impress the people by my height or to conceal my insignificant size. This is pretense and a desire to carry out the idea that the preacher is bigger every way than common people. I talk with God in pretended prayer, and this looks as if I were on easy and familiar terms with Deity. Is it like those folks who claim to be on friendly terms with princes: If I do not know anything about God, why should I pretend I do?"

This desire to be absolutely honest with himself gradually grew until he informed the Pastor that he had better secure young men for preachers who could impress people without standing on a box. As for himself, he would impress people by the size of his head, if he impressed them at all. Let it here be noted that Kant then weighed exactly one hundred pounds, and was less than five feet high. His head measured twenty-four inches around, and fifteen and one-half inches over "firmness" from the opening of the ears. To put it another way, he wore a seven-and-a-half hat.

It is a great thing for a man to pride himself on what he is and make the best of it. The pride of craftsman betokens a valuable man. We exaggerate our worth, and this is Nature's plan to get the thing done.
Kant's pride of intellect, in degree, came from his insignificant form, and thus do all things work together for good. But this bony little form was often full of pain, and he had headaches, which led a wit to say, "If a head like yours aches, it must be worse than to be a giraffe and have a sore throat."

Young Kant began to realize that to have a big head, and get the right use from it, one must have vital power enough to feed it.

The brain is the engine--the lungs and digestive apparatus the boiler. Thought is combustion.

Young Kant, the uncouth, became possessed of an idea that made him the butt of many gibes and jeers. He thought that if he could breathe enough, he would be able to think clearly, and headaches would be gone. Life, he said, was a matter of breathing, and all men died from one cause--a shortness of breath. In order to think clearly, you must breathe.

We believe things first and prove them later; our belief is usually right, when derived from experience, but the reasons we give are often wrong. For instance, Kant cured his physical ills by going out of doors, and breathing deeply and slowly with closed mouth. Gradually his health began to improve. But the young man, not knowing at that time much about physiology, wrote a paper proving that the benefit came from the fresh air that circulated through his brain. And of course in one sense he was right. He related the incident of this thesis many years after in a lecture, to show the result of right action and wrong reasoning.

The doctors had advised Kant he must quit study, but when he took up his breathing fad, he renounced the doctors, and later denounced them. If he were going to die, he would die without the benefit of either the clergy or the physicians.

He denied that he was sick, and at night would roll himself in his blankets and repeat half-aloud, "How comfortable I am, how comfortable I am," until he fell asleep.

Near his house ran a narrow street, just a half-mile long. He walked this street up and back, with closed mouth, breathing deeply, waving a rattan cane to ward away talkative neighbors, and to keep up the circulation in his arms. Once and back--in a month he had increased this to twice and back. In a year he had come to the conclusion that to walk the length of that street eight times was the right and proper thing--that is to say, four miles in all. In other words, he had found out how much exercise he required--not too much or too little. At exactly half-past three he came out of his lodging, wearing his cocked hat and long, snuff-colored coat, and walked. The neighbors used to set their clocks by him. He walked and breathed with closed mouth, and no one dare accost him or walk with him. The hour was sacred and must not be broken in upon: it was his holy time--his time of breathing.

The little street is there now--one of the sights of Konigsberg, and the cab-drivers point it out as the Philosopher's Walk. And Kant walked that little street eight times every afternoon from the day he was twenty to within a year of his death, when eighty years old.

This walking and breathing habit physiologists now recognize as eminently scientific, and there is no sensible physician but will endorse Kant's wisdom in renouncing doctors and adopting a regimen of his own. The thing you believe in will probably benefit you--faith is hygienic.

The persistency of the little man's character is shown in the breathing habit--he believed in himself, relied on himself, and that which experience commended, he did.

This firmness in following his own ideas saved his life. When we think of one born in obscurity, living in poverty, handicapped by pain, weakness and deformity; never traveling; and then by sheer persistency and force of will rising to the first place among thinking men of his time, one is almost willing to accept Kant's dictum, "Mind is supreme, and the Universe is but the reflected thought of God."

Kant's health, long poor, took a turn for the worse and he died at Königsberg on 12 February 1804, uttering "Es ist gut" ("It is good") before expiring. His unfinished final work, the fragmentaryOpus Postumum, was, as its title suggests, published posthumously.

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