Philosophy25 Aug 2010 08:52 pm
“The life story of Immanuel Kant is hard to describe, for he had neither a life nor a story.” – The poet Heinrich Heine.
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant, author of the canonical work Critique of Pure Reason (1781), is considered one of the most influential thinkers in Western philosophy and modern times. However, the impressive leaps of intellectual fancy that he exhibits in his philosophical works seem to have drained all of the zest out of his real life. In a word, Kant didn’t really get out much. If anything, his life was remarkable for being so unremarkable.
Kant was largely silent about himself. He kept no journal; the details about his life are sparse and must be gleaned from what he accidentally let slip through. Most stories of Kant come only from people who knew him or observed him directly. Of the few daily activities Kant engaged in, his walks have been imbued with the most significance, if only because they were the only activity that people actually saw him engage in.
Kant seldom strayed more than a few miles from the town of his birth, Königsberg, and never left his hometown to see the world that he spent so much time trying to figure out. In fact, to call Kant a ‘creature of habit’ would be a gross understatement. It is said that the citizens of Königsberg set their clocks according to the position of the gray presence of Professor Kant on his daily walk down and back the same street every day. Legend has it that the only time he missed his daily walk was when he first discovered Rousseau’s book, Emile, and became so engrossed that he forgot his walk. The street he walked daily at 3:30 is still called the “Philosophengang” (The Philosopher’s Walk) in his memory.
The historic accounts regarding Kant’s daily walk are plentiful yet contradictory. Whether Kant had one, two or even more preferred routes is not clear. Furthermore one has to place two maps on top of each other, that of Königsberg and that of Kaliningrad, to find the locations today. Kant’s first major biographer, Thomas De Quincey, wrote that the brilliant recluse preferred to walk alone for a very particular reason: “he wished to breathe exclusively through his nostrils; which he could not do if he were obliged continually to open his mouth in conversation”, and by doing this he was better able to pursue his meditations.
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