Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - Introduction to the critical project



Immanuel Kant was one of the greatest thinkers in the history of philosophy. Unfortunately, he was not a good writer, and his works are very difficult to read. Not only did Kant write on most major philosophical problems – concerning knowledge, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, religion, law, and government – he also developed views of extreme depth and subtlety. Especially impressive is the way Kant unified his theories into a larger system, called an “architectonic.” Although he sometimes appears to stretch his ideas to fit them into his system, generally the unity in his views is not forced, and rests on philosophical principles.

Kant lived from 1724 to 1804, during a period of enormous change in science, philosophy, and mathematics. Kant himself was neither a scientist nor a mathematician (although he did make a contribution to cosmology). Nonetheless he shared the hopes of predecessors such as Descartes and Locke to provide a philosophical foundation for the new physics. The scientific revolution, initiated by Copernicus's On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres in 1543, put an end to the Aristotelian worldview that had reigned for almost 2000 years. The French philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650), a contemporary of Galileo (1564–1642), was the first to attempt a systematic theory of knowledge to support the Copernican astronomy. Descartes not only invented analytic geometry, he also developed his own physics and made important discoveries in optics, among them the sine law of refraction.