All around the world, Immanuel Kant is lauded as one of the most important philosophical figures in history. While there is no denying the historical significance of his work (notably his Critique of Pure Reason), it might seem as if Kant’s day in the sun is over. His strong emphasis on a duty-based worldview and objective standards of morality seem to clash with today’s existential zeitgeist.
Not to mention, much of Kant’s metaphysics has now been replaced by physics – his views on time, space, and causality have all been ousted.
So, the question you might be wondering is why should we bother studying Kant in the 21st century?
I have been studying Kant for two years now, and I believe that Kant’s philosophy is more pertinent than ever. Below I have listed three brilliant reasons to study Kant in the 21st century.
The Sciences vs The Arts
Kant’s understanding of science was that it could never quite satisfy human inquisitiveness. This is because of what the umbrella of science covers. At the beginning of his Critique, Kant says, “human reason has this peculiarity: it is driven by its very nature to pose questions that it is incapable of answering”.
Such questions concern the nature of beauty and the ability to make rational, moral choices. These things are not scientifically knowable; however, they are by no means meaningless. Kant thought that the danger of science is its power and grace – we cannot let science undervalue the things that aren’t a part of it.
This is one of the central debates swelling today – the battle between the arts and the sciences. The Guardian released an interesting article earlier this year investigating the ‘call to arms’ for the defence of the arts subjects in schools, which you can see here. Kant would have opposed the preoccupation that the education system has placed on the core academic subjects, and offers compelling arguments in his favour.
The Filtered Nature of Experience
Kant thought that every part of our experience is mediated by the way we all think and perceive. Our perceptual faculties are both receptive and active, and as such are susceptible to human error. Theories based around this idea are now mainstream in modern philosophy, politics, psychology, and linguistics. What we think of as factual is actually steeped in theoretical and conceptual understanding.
An example of how modern philosophers have developed this concept can be seen in Bertrand Russell’s work, where he develops his theory of indirect realism. Kant’s conclusions in this respect are still being reverberated around the world today.
The Importance Of Empirical Investigation
Far ahead his time, Kant identified that the basis for all scientific discovery, and therefore all scientific knowledge, rested upon empirical investigation. Anything that is not founded in empirical methodology is either pseudo-science (like Feng Shui) or speculation (like Religion).
Kant moved on to claim that our understanding of everyday life, as well as scientific knowledge, is based on certain assumptions that cannot be fully evidenced empirically. Whether you agree with this second point or not, Kant’s approach to knowledge and understanding is fundamentally pragmatic and unites with what we consider as knowledge in the 21st century.
There you have it – my top reasons for thinking that Kant remains one of the most influential philosophers of all time, whose ideas can still be observed in society today.
Do you think I missed something? Do you disagree with any of the points raised? Leave a comment below as I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Share this article using the social media buttons below!