- Series: Biography
- Paperback: 576 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Revised ed. edition (August 19, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521524067
- ISBN-13: 978-0521524063
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #514,542 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Kant: A Biography Revised ed. Edition
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"Kuehn has written a solid biography.... The book reads well." The Complete Review
"This is an excellent book..." Review of Metaphysics
"In this first full-length biography in English, Manfred Kuehn's prodigious research dispels the idea of Kant as a colorless, and, by interveaving his life and thought, gives us a Kant we have never known before." Washington Post Book World
"This book bills itself as 'the first full-length biography of Kant in over fifty years,' but it is more than that... Kuehn has produced a work of the highest quality." Library Journal
"This book is ideally suited for a reader who already has some acquaintance with Kant's major ideas and wants a biographical, social and intellectual context in which to understand them more deeply. It is an impressive work with both historical and philosophical dimensions." Catholic Library World
"...an impressive work with both historical and philosophical dimensions." Catholic Library World
"This book bills itself as "the first full-length biography of Kant in over fifty years," but it is more than that... the present book excels...Kuehn has produced a work of the highest quality...For all academic collections and larger public libraries." Library Journal
"[An] excellent new biography. Manfred Kuehn's new book, with its scrupulous combination of archival accuracy and philosophical senstivity, therefore sets an entirely new standard, opening up fresh approaches not only to Kant's life but also to the meaning of his work. Kuehn's fine and rather touching biography reveals a philosophical life lived with pathos, courage, and good humor, as well as a terrible and merciless intelligence." Lingua Franca
"The best biography in English, and indeed in any language." J.B. Schneewind, author of The Invention of Autonomy
"The best biography of Kant now available." Philosophy in Review
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.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.
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Kuehn, Professor of Philosophy at Marburg, Germany, begins by outlining a history of Kant Biographies, starting with the three biographers who knew Kant personally, Borowski, Jachmann and Wasianski. He concludes with Stuckenberg (1882) and Vorländer (1924), the last true biographers of Kant, making an excellent case that a full length Biography was much needed. He is correct in the assessment that Kant's correspondence is one of the best, yet underutilized sources. His thesis is to prove how Kant's intellectual path is more closely connected with biographical details of his life as has been previously assumed, and how Kant's life was much more diverse and more full of human contact. In this Kuehn succeeds well.
In nine remarkably even Chapters, both in paginal and chronological length, Kant's Life and work are discussed together. This is very difficult to do, and requires someone who is knowledgable in Philosophy and whi is also a good writer, which Kuehn obviously is. He makes a series of excellent observations, documenting them amply with the 1,656 Footnotes. I will only mention a few here because of space limitations: Kuehn writes correctly that though Kant was much influenced by the values of his parents, his Philosophy was not influenced by Pietism. Also correct is the contention that Königsberg was by no means the out of the way provincial town it has been portrayed to be. On the contrary, Kant had much contact with persons of many cultural backgrounds and social standing, and the University of Königsberg was more advanced than other German Universities of the time. Of great interest are the descriptions of University life, of Kant's lecturing style, and his relationships with students. It seems that Kant was also gregarious and sought after in society. He was witty, well mannered and by all accounts an excellent conversationalist. He was not a recluse at all. Not having a house of his own until the age of fifty-nine, he ate in pubs for over thirty years. Of great interest is also the variety of friendships he had, with students, with the English Merchants Green and Motherby, and with the Novelist von Hippel, to name a few. Especially Kant's early life was far from methodical.
Interspresed with all of this biographical information are carefully written discussions of all of Kant's writings, and his philosophical development. By putting these into the context with Kant the man, they are much easier to understand. The discussion of the writing of the "Critique of Pure Reason" and the desciption of the book itself, its Philosophy, is the most readable and easiest to understand account I have ever read. Truly well done, as this can also serve as a useful introduction to Kant's Philosophy. The thesis here is that Kant's Critical Philosophy was not the result of a sudden inspiration, as has been pointed out elsewhere, but the result of many years of methodical work. Kuehn also correctly identifies some of Kant's misguided work, for example, "Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime".
The criticisms I have of this book are errors in quotations, for example of Kant's correspondence and citations from the Critique of Pure Reason and of the misuse of apostrophies in German. These seem to be proofreading errors. In addition, there are many excellent illustrations of Kant, his contemporaries and of Königsberg available (see Uwe Schultz "Immanuel Kant in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten"), thus the choice of the eleven mostly second rate illustrations by Cambridge University Press seems unfortunate. It would also have been most helpful to see fascimiles of Kant's handwriting which are fascinating to see. Finally, the Bibliography is one only of "Works Cited". It could have been more complete.
These criticisms aside, the Biography is very well done. It is surely accessible to persons not having a background in Philosophy. I believe that most readers will be pleasantly surprised that the life of Kant was not boring at all, especially in the way it is presented by Manfred Kuehn. I recommend this book very highly. Anyone wanting further biographical information on Kant is welcome to contact me.
As a student, "Kant had a serious appearance. He did not laugh often. Though he had a sense of humor, it did not show itself in ways to which other students were accustomed... Even late in life his humor was dry, and his jokes were subtle and delivered with a serious demeanor. Already as a student Kant seemed to favor self-control as one of the highest virtues." (Pg. 64) Kuehn quotes another writer, "Playing billiards was his only recreation." (Pg. 64) But Kuehn later notes, "Kant, who never married, and who---as far as we know---never had sex, is often thought to have had little to do with women, but this false. In addition to being the darling of the Countess Keyserlingk, Kant also socialized with a number of other women, who remembered him long after they separated." (Pg. 116)
Kant turned down an offer to become professor of philosophy at Halle, which "was larger and much more prestigious... Neither the opportunity to teach many more students... nor even the good name of the university there, were sufficient to make him move. The reason was his belief that he had been given only a 'comparatively small dose of the force of life." (Pg. 215) Kuehn notes, "After getting up, Kant would drink one or two cups of tea---weak tea. With that, he smoked a pipe of tobacco... Apparently, Kant had formulated the maxim for himself that he would smoke only one pipe, but it is reported that the bowls of his pipes increased considerably in size as the years went on." (Pg. 222) He records, "This was... a life that was not untypical of professors in Konigsberg and elsewhere in Germany. The only thing that was perhaps not typical about Kant's life was the great role that socializing with his friends assumed in it. Kant was a very gregarious and social being---not so much the solitary, isolated, and somewhat comical figure that many have some to see in him." (Pg. 273)
Kuehn notes, "Kant did not use any theological principles to explain nature. Teleological considerations based on God's plans or on the principle of sufficient reason had no place in physics for him. Kant's mechanistic explanation of the world dispensed with them. All that he needed was matter and force." (Pg. 105)
He observes, "Kant openly confessed that [reading David] Hume had interrupted his dogmatic slumber and that in the Critique [of Pure Reason] he was pursuing 'a well-founded, but undeveloped, thought' of Hume. Indeed, he referred to his first Critique as 'the working out of Hume's problem in its greatest possible extension.'" (Pg. 256) Kuehn notes, "When Kant said he wrote the Critique in 'four to five months' he was referring... only to the last stage of writing and copying the manuscript for the printer. The final general outline went back at least a year earlier, and some of the first drafts dated from the early seventies." (Pg. 241)
Kuehn has a real grasp of Kant's philosophy, which makes this biography of even more use to anyone interested in Kant.