Monday, March 19, 2007


Immanuel Kant may have had an "uneventful" life, but he certainly did not "renounce" the pleasures of it, Yusef. It is true that his servant woke him up every day at 5 o'clock with the same words "Es ist Zeit!" But after having finished his morning studies and later his lectures, he enjoyed a hearty lunch with wine and friends before taking his walk and nap.

"In his early years Kant spent almost every midday and evening outside his house in social activities, frequently taking part also in a card party and only getting home around midnight. If he was not busy at meals, he ate in the inn at a table sought out by a number of cultured people." Kant gave himself to this mode of life in such an easy and relaxed way that even the most meticulous psychological observer among his intimates was occasionally puzzled about him; in 1764 Johann Georg Hamann says that Kant carries in his head a host of greater and lesser works, which he however probably will never finish in the "whirl of social distraction" in which he is now tossed. (Kant's Life and Thought, translated by James Haden, Yale University Press, 1981).

And his students adored him. Here's one of them, Johann Gottfried Herder:

"I have enjoyed the good fortune to know a philosopher, who was my teacher. In the prime of life he had the happy cheerfulness of a youth, which, so I believe, accompanied him even in grey old age. His forehead, formed for thinking, was the seat of indestructible serenity and peace, the most thought-filled speech flowed from his lips, merriment and wit and humor were at his command, and his lecturing was discourse at its most entertaining.

In precisely the spirit with which he examined Leibniz, Wolff, Baumgarten, and Hume and perused the natural laws of the physicists Kepler and Newton, he took up those works of Rousseau which were then appearing, Émile and Héloïse, just as he did every natural discovery known to him, evaluated them and always came back to unprejudiced knowledge of Nature and the moral worth of mankind. The history of nations and peoples, natural science, mathematics, and experience, were the sources from which he enlivened his lecture and converse; nothing worth knowing was indifferent to him; no cabal, no sect, no prejudice, no ambition for fame had the least seductiveness for him in comparison with furthering and elucidating truth.

He encouraged and engagingly fostered thinking for oneself; despotism was foreign to his mind. This man, whom I name with the utmost thankfulness, and respect, was Immanuel Kant; his image stands before me to my delight. (Johann Gottfried Herder, Letters on the Advancement of Humanity)


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