Immanuel Kant was born in the East Prussian city of Königsberg, studied at its University, and worked there as a tutor and professor for more than forty years.
Kant’s most original contribution to philosophy is his “Copernican Revolution,” which according to him is the representation that makes the object possible rather than the object that makes the representation possible.
Kant had three “Ideas” of reason: God, freedom, and immortality. He always believed that the rational structure of the mind reflected the rational structure of the world, even of things- in-themselves that the “operating system” of the processor, by modern analogy, matched the operating system of reality.
His approach is also of comparative interest because of the similar ancient Buddhist philosophical distinction between conditioned realities, which mostly means the world of experience, and unconditioned realities which include, not only the sphere of salvation, Nirvana, but also space, which of course for Kant was a form imposed a priori on experience by the mind.
Kant also realized that “synthesis” would have to produce, not just a structure of thought, but the entire structure of consciousness within which perception also occurs. It is the structure of consciousness, through synthesis, that turns “appearances” into objects and perceptions, without which they would be nothing. Consequently Kant made synthesis a function of imagination rather than thought, as a bridge between thought and perception.
The path to resolving the paradoxes of Kant’s theory opens up with two basic realizations. He always believed that reason connected us directly to things-in-themselves, and Kant’s system is not a Cartesian theory of hidden, transcendent objects, but a version of empirical realism.
A striking thing about Kant’s life is how late he began his most significant work. He didn’t complete his doctoral thesis and “habilitation,” by which one qualified to teach in a German University, until 1755, when he was already thirty one years old, having previously made a living as a tutor — at such an age mathematicians and physicists are usually expected to have already burnt out. Kant’s position, however, was still only a Privatdozent, which meant he was only paid by the student. This difficult life only improved in 1770, when Kant finally was appointed to a regular chair of philosophy, at age forty six. Nevertheless, Kant had already made a name for himself with his often original ideas in physics and astronomy and with his growing critique of the widely accepted, at least in Germany, thought of Leibniz.
The “Inaurgural Dissertation” that commemorated his appointment was the first real step towards the characteristic doctrines of the Critical Philosophy. Working that out, and writing the Critique of Pure Reason, still hampered by heavy teaching obligations, then took more than ten years. That book’s publication in 1781 put Kant, at age fifty seven, on the doorstep of a vast philosophical project, whose details he had already planned, but whose completion with his age and health might well frustrate.
His concern that he might actually die before finishing his work, led him to concentrate his efforts with discipline. His previous custom of dining out and enjoying conversation with his friends was sacrificed in the race against death.