The causes which we have named, religious and aesthetic, as well as purely speculative, led to such a revision of philosophical principles in Germany as took place in no other land. The new idealistic philosophy, as it took shape primarily at the hands of Kant, completed the dissolution of the old rationalism. It laid the foundation for the speculative thought of the western world for the century which was to come. The answers which aestheticism and pietism gave to rationalism were incomplete. They consisted largely in calling attention to that which rationalism had overlooked. Kant’s idealism, however, met the intellectual movement on its own grounds. It triumphed over it with its own weapons. The others set feeling over against thought. He taught men a new method in thinking. The others put emotion over against reason. He criticised in drastic fashion the use which had been made of reason. He inquired into the nature of reason. He vindicated the reasonableness of some truths which men had indeed felt to be indefeasibly true, but which they had not been able to establish by reasoning.
Immanuel Kant was born in 1724 in Koenigsberg, possibly of remoter Scottish ancestry. His father was a saddler, as Melanchthon’s had been an armourer and Wolff’s a tanner. His native city with its university was the scene of his whole life and labour. He was never outside of Prussia except for a brief interval when Koenigsberg belonged to Russia. He was a German professor of the old style. Studying, teaching, writing books, these were his whole existence. He was the fourth of nine children of a devoted pietist household. Two of his sisters served in the houses of friends. The consistorial-rath opened the way to the university. An uncle aided him to publish his first books. His earlier interest was in the natural sciences. He was slow in coming to promotion. Only after 1770 was he full professor of logic and metaphysics. In 1781 he published the first of the books upon which rests his world-wide fame. Nevertheless, he lived to see the triumph of his philosophy in most of the German universities. His subjects are abstruse, his style involved. It never occurred to him to make the treatment of his themes easier by use of the imagination. He had but a modicum of that quality. He was hostile to the pride of intellect often manifested by petty rationalists. He was almost equally hostile to excessive enthusiasm in religion. The note of his life, apart from his intellectual power, was his ethical seriousness. He was in conflict with ecclesiastical personages and out of sympathy with much of institutional religion. None the less, he was in his own way one of the most religious of men. His brief conflict with Woellner’s government was the only instance in which his peace and public honour were disturbed. He never married. He died in Koenigsberg in 1804. He had been for ten years so much enfeebled that his death was a merciful release.