Cover image for Kant : a biography
Kant : a biography
Kuehn, Manfred.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
xxii, 544 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates ; 24 cm
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Material Type
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Central Library B2797 .K86 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Popular Materials-Biography
Central Library B2797 .K86 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This is the first full-length biography in more than fifty years of Immanuel Kant, one of the giants amongst the pantheon of Western philosophers as well as the one with the most powerful and broad influence on contemporary philosophy. It is well known that Kant spent his entire life in an isolated part of Prussia living the life of a typical university professor. This has given rise to the view that Kant was a pure thinker with no life of his own, or at least none worth considering seriously. In this biography, Manfred Kuehn debunks that myth once and for all. Taking account of the most recent scholarship Professor Kuehn allows the reader (whether interested in philosophy, history, politics, German culture, or religion) to follow the same journey that Kant himself took in emerging as a central figure in modern philosophy.

Author Notes

Manfred Kuehn is professor of philosophy at Philipps-Universitat Marburg.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Philosophers have devoted extensive attention to the ideas of Immanuel Kant for nearly 200 years, but biographers have largely ignored his life. Kuehn remedies that neglect with this first full biography in 50 years. By recognizing the biases in seminal sketches left by Kant's contemporaries and by drawing on the latest scholarship, Kuehn gives readers the most accurate and complete portrait yet. It deserves particular praise for two achievements. First, it sheds much-needed light on the philosopher's early manhood, when he resolved to write his landmark Critique of Pure Reason. Second, it traces the process through which Kant matured into a global thinker on morality and citizenship. Kuehn illuminates a brilliant mind at work interpreting the tempestuous political and cultural events in his country and the world. Though mercifully free of jargon, the philosophical analyses embedded in the narrative will prove a struggle for many casual readers. However, in his arguments for a just social order, Kant will continue to attract serious students in many disciplines--and so will his best biographer to date. --Bryce Christensen

Publisher's Weekly Review

For opposite reasons, Kant's life (1724-1804) and ideas are equally difficult to expound engagingly: the ideas, because of their philosophical complexity; the life, because of its uneventful simplicity. Acknowledging as much in his prologue to this earnest biographical effort, Kuehn (of Philipps University in Germany) largely succeeds at this daunting, two-fold task. Nonspecialist readers in philosophy will be intrigued by the lesser-known works of Kant summarized here, such as Dreams of a Spirit-Seer, on the mystical theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, or, more relevant to our own copyright-obsessed times, "On the Injustice of Counterfeiting Books." Seasoned students of Kant will appreciate Kuehn's attention to the genesis of Kant's enormously influential critical philosophy in specific events and epiphanies of his life. Most notably, he explains how a foundational tenet of Kantian thoughtÄthat sensation and intellect are discontinuous (propounded in defiance of the then commonly received philosophy of Christian Wolff)Äoriginates in a little-known Latin dissertation that Kant publicly defended in 1770, 11 years before the Critique of Pure Reason appeared. Or again, the categorical imperative, which defines Kantian ethics, owes in part, Kuehn suggests, to the influence on Kant of his long-time English friend, Joseph Green, who first lived the kind of principled life for which Kant then laid the theory. Kuehn's descriptions of Kant's richly inclusive social life, witty conversation and elegant dress will delight all who have wrongly identified the sage of K”nigsberg with dour dispassion. The biography, however, suffers from repetition, digression and excessive attention to characters of only passing general interest. Still, as the first biography of the great philosopher in more than 50 years, this is a welcome addition to the literature. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This book bills itself as "the first full-length biography of Kant in over fifty years," but it is more than that. Other biographies are available, after all, including neo-Kantian Ernst Cassirer's classic Kant's Life and Thought. But these dated biographies were written without access to the most recent scholarship, and even the Cassirer book is more of an "intellectual biography," devoting more time to an analysis of the major works than to the minutiae of Kant's life. The present work excels in both regards: the explication of Kant's thought (for example, in the seminal Critique of Pure Reason) is exemplary, and the details of Kant's life, time, and influences is rendered so thoroughly that the reader will finish the book knowing Kant and his thinking intimately. (This is not to say that Kant's thought is not difficult: it is.) Keuhn (philosophy, Philipps Univ., Marburg, Germany) has produced a work of the highest quality. For all academic collections and larger public libraries.DLeon H. Brody, U.S. Office of Personnel Management Lib., Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Its claim of being the first full-length biography of Kant in 50 years alone justifies this volume, and for students interested in any area of Kant studies it is invaluable. Kuehn (formerly Purdue Univ., now Philipps-Universitat Marburg) weaves discussions of Kant's philosophy into the story of his life, insuring that the book will be of interest to educated general readers as well as students and researchers needing a scholarly source of information not generally available. The influence of Kant's early environment is discussed without excess. Kuehn shows the effect of Kant's childhood in a Pietistic family without unwarranted extrapolation. He treats the precritical period as a time in which Kant was searching for his own philosophy; the writings from that period are treated in this light. Kant's relationship with Herder and Hamann began at this time, and the effect of his influence on them is developed throughout the text. The last half of the book treats Kant's critical writings, ending with his old age and death. In this section, Kuehn shows the influence of Hume's writings and the development of the ideas for which Kant is best known and presents early reactions to his philosophy. Extensive notes; a bibliography of works cited; index. D. Reynolds Brewton-Parker College

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Cast of Charactersp. xi
Chronology of Kant's Life and Worksp. xv
Prologuep. 1
1 Childhood and Early Youth (1724-1740)p. 24
2 Student and Private Teacher (1740-1755)p. 61
3 The Elegant Magister (1755-1764)p. 100
4 A Palingenesis and Its Consequences (1964-1769)p. 144
5 Silent Years (1770-1780)p. 188
6 "All-Crushing" Critic of Metaphysics (1780-1784)p. 238
7 Founder of a Metaphysics of Morals (1784-1787)p. 277
8 Problems with Religion and Politics (1788-1795)p. 329
9 The Old Man (1796-1804)p. 386
Notesp. 423
Works Citedp. 511
Indexp. 531

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