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Immanuel Kant
by [?]

Kant was sixty years old before he was known to any extent beyond his native town; but so fast then did his fame travel that at his death it was recognized that the greatest thinker of the world had passed away. Kant founded no school; but Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Herde and Schopenhauer were all his children–and all but Schopenhauer showed their humanity by denouncing him, for men are prone to revile that which has benefited them most. Kant marks an epoch and all thinkers who came after him are his debtors. His philosophy has passed into the current coin of knowledge.

Kant’s lifelong researches revolve around four propositions:

1. Who am I?
2. What am I?
3. What can I do?
4. What can I know?

The answer to Number Four is that I can not know anything. That is to say, the wise man is the man who knows that he does not know. And this disposes of Number One and Number Two, leaving only Number Three for our consideration. It took, however, a good many years and a vast amount of study and writing for Kant to thus simplify. For years he toiled with algebraic formulas and syllogistic theorems before he concluded that the best wisdom of life lies in simplification, not complexity.

“What can I do?” resolves itself into, “What must I do?” And the answer is: You must do four things in order to retain your place as a normal being upon this earth: eat, work, associate with your kind, rest. Just four things we must do, and outside of this everything is incidental, accidental, irrelevant and inconsequential. Then how to eat, work, associate and rest wisely and best constitutes life. Every man should be free to work out these four equations for himself, his freedom ending where another man’s rights begin. To these four questions we should bring our highest reason, our ripest experience and our best endeavor. As for himself we know that Kant made a schedule of life which evolved a sickly boy into a reasonably strong man who banished pain, sorrow and regret from his existence and lived a long life of deep, quiet satisfaction, sane to the end, watching every symptom of approaching dissolution with keen interest, and at the last passing into quiet sleep, his spirit gliding peacefully away, perhaps to answer those two great questions which he said were unanswerable here: “Who am I?” “What am I?”

* * * * *

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.