When I was studying for my Master’s degree, I would constantly search the internet for resources on various philosophers. In particular, I was always on the lookout for audio resources, like lectures and audiobooks. Perhaps it is not for everyone, but I personally like to diversify my methods of study: for example, I will read primary sources, read secondary sources, listen to audiobooks of the primary sources, listen to lectures, watch video presentations, etc. So, over the years, I have collected a not-insubstantial list of various philosophical resources, and many of these concern the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.
Immanuel Kant was an 18th century German philosopher who wrote prolifically on everything from science and mathematics to metaphysics and ethics. His most famous works are his three critiques, The Critique of Pure Reason, The Critique of Practical Reason, and The Critique of Judgment. In these texts, Kant initiated what is often referred to as his “Copernican revolution,” the philosophical equivalent of what Nicolaus Copernicus did in the natural sciences. Just as Copernicus turned the current science on its head by suggesting that the earth orbits the sun, so Kant overturned the rationalism and empiricism of modern philosophy by maintaining that order of priority between subject and object should be reversed. As he writes, “Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects. But all attempts to extend our knowledge of objects by establishing something in regard to them a priori, by means of concepts, have, on this assumption, ended in failure. We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge.”1 Further on in the first Critique, after arguing that we only know appearances and that these appearances are subject to the conditions of the possibility of cognition, Kant concludes, “Thus the order and regularity in the appearances, which we entitle nature, we ourselves introduce.”2 Truly, a revolutionary statement!
In his personal life Kant was far less controversial than were his ideas. He lived in his home-city of Königsberg, Prussia (present day Kaliningrad, Russia), for his entire life, and he was known for his orderly, methodical routines. Indeed, according to legend, his neighbors would set their clocks by his daily walks. Although he was a lifelong bachelor, he was well known for hosting dinner parties at his house, events which always featured lively intellectual discussion. The painting below (“Kant and his table mates” by Emil Doerstling) depicts one such gathering. He died in 1804 at the age of 79.
Immanuel Kant influenced in some manner nearly every subsequent philosopher, including Edmund Husserl. In his Ideas I, Husserl describes the history of modern philosophy in relation to phenomenology. He writes that Kant is “the first to truly perceive” the region of phenomenological investigation, explaining that Kant’s “greatest intuitions first become quite clear to us after we have brought the distinctive features of the phenomenological field into the focus of full consciousness. It then becomes evident to us that Kant’s mental gaze rested on this field, although he was not yet able to appropriate it and recognize it as the centre from which to work up on his own line a rigorous science of Essential Being.”3 Thus, Husserl does adopt many terms and ideas from Kant, and he sees phenomenology as clarifying and correcting Kant’s central insights. However, Husserl is not a Kantian. Husserl rejects Kant’s notion of the “thing in itself” and his allegedly psychologistic account of consciousness. Nevertheless, in order to understand Husserl it is absolutely necessary to understand Kant.
Thus, after this rather lengthy introduction, allow me to list several important resources for the study of Immanuel Kant’s philosophy.
First and most importantly, I strongly recommend the Norman Kemp Smith translation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Kemp Smith was a philosopher in his own right and a lecturer at Princeton and the University of Edinburgh in the early 20th century. His translation of Kant is widely considered to be the best available English version of the Critique.
Second, if you are like me and enjoy well-read philosophical audiobooks, then you should check out Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason narrated by renowned actor Michael Lunts. This audiobook is of the Kemp Smith translation.
Third, the best series of lectures on Kant that I have been able to find are given by J.M. Bernstein, a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. Bernstein is clear and engaging, and he examines Kant’s philosophy in depth. You can find lectures on the first and third Critiques (as well as lectures on Hegel) at https://bernsteintapes.com/
Finally, if you are interested in a brief but insightful and enjoyable overview of Kant’s thought in the first Critique, then I would recommend this series of video lectures by Dr. Dan Robinson.
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. Please understand that I have personally used all of these resources, and I recommend them because they are of high-quality, not because of the small commission I make if you decide to buy them through my links. Please do not spend any money on my recommended products unless you find them interesting or feel that they will help you achieve your goals.
1 Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason, preface to second edition, xvi, trans. by Norman Kemp Smith, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 22.
2 Kant, Critique, I, 2, first division, book I, chapter 2, section 2, A 125, trans. by Norman Kemp Smith, 147.
3 Edmund Husserl, Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, II, 4, §62, trans. W.R. Boyce Gibson (Eastford, CT: Martino Fine Books, 2017), 183.