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Kant: A Biography [Paperback]

Manfred Kuehn
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 19 2002 0521524067 978-0521524063 1
This is the first full-length biography in more than fifty years of Immanuel Kant, one of the giants among the pantheon of Western philosophers, and one of the most powerful and influential in contemporary philosophy. Taking account of the most recent scholarship, Manfred Kuehn allows the reader to follow the same journey that Kant himself took in emerging as a central figure in modern philosophy. Manfred Kuehn was formerly Professor of Philosophy at Purdue University. A specialist on German philosophy of the period, he is the author of numerous articles and papers on Immanuel Kant.

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From Publishers Weekly

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 thought--that sensation and intellect are discontinuous (propounded in defiance of the then commonly received philosophy of Christian Wolff)--originates 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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

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
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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THE YEAR 1724 was not one of the most significant years in the history of the human race, but it was not wholly insignificant either. Read the first page
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4.0 out of 5 stars This is modern, but it doesn't rock. Oct. 12 2002
This book is an interesting guide to what we now know about Kant's life, and a scholarly summary of what he might have meant in his own time and place. Kant was the philosopher selected by Nietzsche for section 193 of THE GAY SCIENCE: "Kant's joke. Kant wanted to prove in a way that would dumfound the common man that the common man was right: that was the secret joke of this soul. He wrote against the scholars in favor of the popular prejudice, but for scholars and not for popularity." (THE PORTABLE NIETZSCHE, p. 96). In TWILIGHT OF THE IDOLS, Nietzsche named Kant in his explanation of "How the `true world' finally became a fable:" (THE PORTABLE NIETZSCHE, pp. 485-6). "Any distinction between a `true' and an `apparent' world ~ whether in the Christian manner or in the manner of Kant (in the end, an underhanded Christian) ~ is only a suggestion of decadence, a symptom of the decline of life." (THE PORTABLE NIETZSCHE, p. 484). What set Nietzsche apart from the scholars of his own day, at least as long as he was considered sane, was his willingness to display a sly contempt for the kind of clarity which any functioning society demands, which suggests that Nietzsche had some different ideas. If anyone who wrote philosophically at the level of Kant could still be understood well enough to be called "an underhanded Christian," it is ironic that a more modern philosopher would consider Kant "an embodiment on a large scale of what is wrong with philosophy" for the opposite reason: "Suppose he had not insisted on certainty, necessity, and completeness!" (Walter Kaufmann, DISCOVERING THE MIND, VOLUME ONE, GOETHE, KANT, AND HEGEL, p. 195). Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Biography Oct. 5 2002
Kuehn has taken on a handful with this project, yet the outcome is superb. This is a careful and scholarly text. Contrary to what one of the reviewers commented here, I think the book was an interesting and entertaining read. I highly recommend this biography to anyone with even the slightest interest in Kant (or his contribution to Enlightenment Philosophy). And it would make a great text for an Introduction to Kant course (just as Monk's bio on Wittgenstein is often used in intro courses).
We sometimes think of Kant as having lived a boring and dull life--that he was in fact as mundane and interesting a person as the schedule he kept (shop owners in the marketplace would often set their clocks to his daily walks). But the picture of Kant that Kuehn provides us with here is radically different. Sure, Kant lead a regular and ordered life, but Kuehn breathes accurate life into pedestrian images of Kant that we may have learned in school (or in textbooks).
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Explore the life of a Prussian Genius Jan. 24 2008
By Flippy - Published on Amazon.com
I found this book engaging. It was recommended to me by a former philosophy professor. For anyone looking for a solid, accesible introduction to the life and mind of a great thinker, this is the place to start. Kuehn delves into Kant's family background, the society, his ideas, his relationships with women and the Prussian upper-classes. We learn about Kant's health, his weak digestion and the strained relationships he had with his siblings. He lived a quiet life but Kuehn illustrates how rich and human his daily life truly was.

Of all the biographies I have read over the past few years, this remains my favourite and the most memorable. Ideal for those interested in philosophy or the social history of Prussia in the 18th century.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A memorable biography of Kant Aug. 17 2011
By Philonous - Published on Amazon.com
This may sound awkward, but reading this book has made me felt that even though I wasn't born around the time Kant was alive, at least I am fortunate in living in the 21st century when the best of Kant's Biography finally emerged from a dedicated professor Kuehn. What makes me say is that as the previous reviewer said, there hasn't been a satisfying biography on Kant, and many have been fairly brief. It is until 2002 when a more detailed examination of Kant's life has finally been published for anyone, including those who admire Kant's works. What amazed me is that fact is much more livelier and enriching than fiction; Contrary to the myth that Kant is a stoic-like German professor with an asberger/autistic-like personality who sticks to a dry and boring routine everyday, living in a isolated town of Konisberg, Kant is actually a very gregarious man who loves to eat at the pub with his friends; koninsberg is not an isolated town but a cosmopolitan city where people from diverse backgrounds co-exist. Kuehn also mentioned that Kant was not only a reputable professor in Germany, but also a popular professor among his students in his early professional career. Kant was a lively lecturer in Anthropology and Geology, but a difficult professor in Metaphysics and Logic. Contrary to the popular assumption that Kant is continually influenced by lutheran pietism, Kant has actually rejected pietism because of its fanaticism, superstition, and ludicrous doctrine of atonement (e.g. He criticized pietism's contradictory dictum that one should repent for not being repentant). He also had many friends from different backgrounds, but the closest to him has been merchants, lawyers, scientists, poets, and especially philosophers. Famous philosophers such as Mendelssohn had an important relationship with Kant. Surprisingly, Kant was actually quite liberal for his time. One example of this is his adherent opposition to antisemitism because of his positive personal experience with intelligent and gifted Jewish students and philosophers.

Overall the depiction of Kant's personality is very much clear in this biography, and anyone who is curious about Kant's life should definitely read this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN EXCEPTIONALLY USEFUL BIOGRAPHY OF KANT'S LIFE AND THOUGHT Jan. 9 2013
By Steven H. Propp - Published on Amazon.com
Manfred Kuehn is professor of philosophy at Philipps-Universat Marburg; he has also written books such as Dictionary of Eighteenth-Century German Philosophers (3 Vol Set), Scottish Common Sense in Germany, 1768-1800: A Contribution to the History of Critical Philosophy (Mcgill-Queen's Studies in the History of Ideas), etc. He wrote in the Prologue of this 2001 book, "Immanuel Kant died... less than two months before his eightieth birthday. Though he was still famous, German thinkers were engaged in trying to get 'beyond' his critical philosophy. He had become almost irrelevant... years before Kant's death ... everything that had made him the genius that he was had disappeared... Especially during his last two years, no signs of his once-great mind could be observed." (Pg. 1-2)

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.
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit boring May 15 2013
By Joel Zela Casaverde - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
I bought this book because I like the series (Intellectual biography) but I got a bit bored by Immanuel's life.
4.0 out of 5 stars Buy this book, you will not be disappointing. Feb. 15 2013
By Halifax Student Account - Published on Amazon.com
Manfred Kuehn was written an accessible and highly readable biography of the sage of Konigsburg. I wanted to give it 5 stars, however, the writing out of history of Kant's major successor, Arthur Schopenhauer, is unforgivable. Imagine writing a history of quantum physics and leaving out Erwin Schrodinger. This is still an excellent biography.
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