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Immanuel Kant (1724-1806)

 

Explanations > Social Research > Theorists > Immanuel Kant (1724-1806)

Key points | Discussion | See also

Key points

We create metaphysical theories first that we empirically test later.

Key text: the Kritik der reinen Vernunft (The Critique of Pure Reason) (1781)

Key philosophies: Idealism

Discussion

Immanuel Kant, a key philosopher of The Age of Enlightenment, sought to steer between the two positions of Rationalism and Empiricism (i.e. between knowledge through thought and knowledge through observation).

He published three versions of the Critique, the first being more Idealist and the second more Realist, perhaps as a response to criticisms.

He criticized the 'pure reason' metaphysics, for assuming that the human mind can arrive, by pure thought, at truths about concepts and things, which can never be experienced, such as God or 'freedom').

He broke through Empiricist principles by arguing that you needed to preconstruct a theory in order to test it. Thus a priori knowledge is essential. We need to rationalise our experiences before we can devise experiments to provide empirical verification or otherwise of these ideas.

He thus allowed the transcendental question 'What can be known?' in contrast to the Positivism limit of 'What is experienced?'

Things exist in themselves (noumena) but all we can report is our experience of them, building concepts and models of the external things. The mind is thus a creative agent in the development of meaning and knowledge.

 

Neo-Kantianism seeks to accommodate both objective truth and subjective values. It also considers cultural values in the development of knowledge. Windelband and Rickert both criticized Positivism as inadequate for studying social life.

Highlights how we first use mental constructs to organise experience - thus reason and observation work together.

Windelband differentiated between the study of natural things and studying people and their institutions. In natural studies, nomothetic methods allow for the discovery of generalized laws, whilst cultural studies may be more idiographic.

Rickert noted that in social science, the objects of analysis are value-laden and culturally meaningful.

 

See also

Idealism, Empiricism, Positivism, The Age of Enlightenment

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