Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)
Kant is one of the central figures of modern philosophy and set the terms by which all subsequent thinkers have had to grapple. He argued that human perception structures natural laws and that reason is the source of morality. His thought continues to hold a major influence in contemporary thought, especially in fields such as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and aesthetics.
Kant named his brand of epistemology “Transcendental Idealism”, and he first laid out these views in his famous work The Critique of Pure Reason. In it, he argued that there were fundamental problems with both rationalist and empiricist dogma. To the rationalists he argued, broadly, that pure reason is flawed when it goes beyond its limits and claims to know those things that are necessarily beyond the realm of all possible experience: the existence of God, free will, and the immortality of the human soul. Kant referred to these objects as “The Thing in Itself” and goes on to argue that their status as objects beyond all possible experience by definition means we cannot know them. To the empiricist, he argued that while it is correct that experience is fundamentally necessary for human knowledge, reason is necessary for processing that experience into a coherent thought. He, therefore, concludes that both reason and experience are necessary for human knowledge. In the same way, Kant also argued that it was wrong to regard thought as mere analysis. In Kant’s views, “a priori concepts” do exist, but if they are to lead to the amplification of knowledge, they must be brought into relation with empirical data”.