Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)

1. Brief Vita

The most important European philosopher of the last millennium, there is virtually no area of modern philosophy that has not been influenced by the work of Immanuel Kant.

Kant was born the son of a saddle-maker in 1724 in Königsberg, East Prussia, a city which, famously, he never left. After completing his schooling at the Pietist Collegium Fredericianum, Kant began his studies at the University of Königsberg, which was to be his base for all of his academic life. He became Privatdozent at the University, where he was obliged to lecture for long hours on a wide array of subjects, including physics, mathematics, anthropology and pedagogy, with no regular income beyond the money paid to him by lecture audiences. Both his studies and his teaching were dominated by Leibnizian-Wolffian philosophy and Newtonian mechanics, but during his time as Privatdozent Kant managed to publish a number of scientific and metaphysical pieces that established him as a rigorous philosophical thinker in his own right. The influence of Hume was instrumental, as Kant was later to remark, for interrupting his “dogmatic slumber” (Prolegomena, 260).

Kant finally received a professorship in philosophy in 1770 at the age of 46. After the publication of his Inaugural Dissertation, a work that remained tied to the rationalist interests of his early thought, Kant went through a “silent decade” in which he reassessed his philosophical position and began to formulate the problems and arguments that would dominate his “critical” period. In 1781, after a rush to assemble a manuscript, he finally published the Critique of Pure Reason. The second edition of the Critique, with substantial changes, was published in 1787; the difference between the two editions shows Kant actively developing his thought on the possibility of knowledge, the limits of metaphysics, and the formulation of a coherent philosophy of nature. Arguably, from 1781 Kant was in a continuous and active process of assessing and rethinking. The development of the ideas of the first Critique can be seen in the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786), Critique of Judgment (1791), and Opus Postumum (unpublished in his lifetime).

During this period Kant also published his major works of moral theory: the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) and the Critique of Practical Reason (1788). These were supplemented by practical moral and political works including The Metaphysics of Morals (1797), Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason (1793), and Perpetual Peace (1795). Kant also published influential essays on the sciences, the philosophy of history, and legal theory, and published his lectures on logic and anthropology.

It has passed into philosophical folklore that the people of Königsberg would set their watches by Kant’s daily walks. Yet while Kant’s life was undoubtedly disciplined, it was by no means ascetic or narrowly-focused. He enjoyed the company of men and women from cosmopolitan Königsberg society, and hosted frequent lunch parties at which politics, literature, fashion and food were as much discussed as metaphysics. Kant did not marry or have children, but seems to have been emotionally sustained by a number of close friendships through his adult life. He died in 1804, his reputation as a great philosopher firmly established.

2. Kant’s Critical Philosophy

2.1. Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Method

It is sometimes said of Kant that he reconciled rationalism and empiricism by keeping their best aspects and excising their worst. It is true that Kant found British empiricism an invigorating response to the metaphysical realist claims of Leibnizian-Wolffian rationalism. Kant inherited from the empiricists the separation of thought from absolute reality, restricting the former to human understanding and adopting humility about its application to the latter. If there is any metaphysical knowledge, it must be strictly limited to its application to objects of experience. But Kant believed that empiricism inevitably fell into skepticism when it failed to see that metaphysical knowledge must be taken to be a necessary constituent of experience. The key was to show that metaphysical knowledge is a transcendental formal condition of experience, but does not have the transcendent content that the rationalists ascribed to it.

Kant believes that answering the question “how is metaphysics possible?” will ground our understanding of the limits of knowledge. This question, which drives Kant’s critical philosophy, can also be phrased: “how is synthetic a priori knowledge possible?” Metaphysical knowledge purports to be necessary and a priori, but its claims go beyond what can be derived through analysis, i.e. by unfolding a predicate from what is already thought in the concept of a subject. Synthetic a priori knowledge involves the synthesis of a predicate with a subject in the concept of which it is not already contained. Including both metaphysical statements such as “every event has a cause” and mathematical propositions such as “7 + 5 = 12,” synthetic a priori knowledge can be derived neither from experience (as synthetic a posteriori knowledge is) nor from the analysis of concepts (as analytic a priori knowledge is). Answering the question “how is synthetic a priori knowledge possible?” will ground mathematics, the laws of nature, and the metaphysical statements we can legitimately make.

Kant’s answer is that the understanding has the structure of synthetic a priori concepts, and that these concepts are deployed in experience. Synthetic a priori knowledge, then, is possible only insofar as it arises in experiential knowledge, and can be legitimately applied only to experiential knowledge. To demonstrate this claim, Kant uses transcendental arguments which show that particular experiences are possible only if certain conceptual structures are in place as the condition of possibility of those experiences. Since we do have those experiences, it must be the case that those conceptual structures are in the understanding a priori, and that those conceptual structures universally determine our experience. Objects of experience always include the conceptual structures of the understanding, and cannot be known by us outside of those conceptual structures. This is Kant’s “Copernican revolution”: whereas previous philosophical systems have claimed that knowledge conforms to and reflects a realm of objects, Kant argues that objects conform to and reflect the structures of knowledge.

In the first half of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant explains how objects of experience are “produced” through interaction between the materiality of the world and the formal structures of understanding. Whitehead rightly calls this a process of construction (PR 151, 156). The process of knowledge-formation involves data taken up in sensibility by a being that is both receptive and spontaneous. Kant argues in the Transcendental Aesthetic that the world is experienced as spatio-temporal not because space and time are either self-subsistent entities or relations between substances, but rather because space and time are the universal subjective forms of intuition. Space and time are “transcendentally ideal but empirically real”; that is, their “absolute reality” outside of experience cannot be assumed, but they are a real and necessary aspect of objects of experience. The spatio-temporal manifold is then made objective by the understanding which “spontaneously” synthesizes and unifies what had been given in the “receptivity” of intuition. Objects of experience are formed through the deployment of twelve categories of understanding which determine objects as, for example, measurable, permanent, causal, and dynamical. The categories are the pure a priori concepts that apply universally and necessarily in our experience, such that our experience has common, regular, and necessary characteristics.

It is important to stress that experience involves both material and formal (categorial) conditions for Kant. The fact that experience involves magnitudes, intensities, substances and events is attributed neither to the absolute nature of the world, nor to the understanding alone, but rather to the understanding as it relates to the world. This relation that constitutes the “object” at the same time constitutes the “subject” as a unified centre of representations. Whitehead’s description of experience in his own philosophy, as a process “from the objectivity, whereby the external world is a datum, to the subjectivity, whereby there is one individual experience” (PR 156), applies equally to Kantian experience. For Kant, the understanding on its own is the mere form of thinking in general; it gets its identity as a subject from its process of synthesizing the outside world. Whitehead thus gives a one-sided characterization of Kantian experience when he describes it as “a process from subjectivity to apparent objectivity” (PR 156). For Kant, the process necessarily involves both materiality becoming objective, and understanding becoming subjective, through their interrelation.

Kant’s theory of knowledge leads to three important consequences. First, all possible knowledge is of objects of experience; we cannot know what things are in themselves, as they might be outside of the structures of human understanding, or as they might appear to an intellect different from our own. We can only know things as appearances or phenomena, never as things-in-themselves or noumena. This applies equally to knowledge of objects and knowledge of the self, meaning that we cannot assume the existence of a soul any more than we can assume the existence of monadic substances. Second, the conceptual structures of the understanding are limited to their use in experience. Without the material of intuition, concepts are mere empty forms without legitimate application. This is Kant’s transcendental idealism: knowledge is limited to appearances, whereas things-in-themselves can be thought but not known. Third, metaphysical knowledge in the traditional sense is impossible, because the objects of “absolute reality” such as God, the soul, and the cosmos are not objects of possible experience. Anyone claiming to have knowledge of such entities commits a fallacy of extending pure concepts of the understanding beyond their legitimate bounds. Kant says that we may, however, speculate about metaphysical entities, because the ideas of God, the soul, and the totality of reality turn out to be necessary conditions for systematic knowledge. In order to understand nature as a system that coheres with both science and moral action, we can and must regulate our thinking with ideas of metaphysical entities. These “regulative ideas” can be thought speculatively as transcendental grounds, but can never be posited constitutively as transcendent realities.

An example of how transcendental idealism solves a metaphysical problem can be found in Kant’s third Antinomy. In the Antinomies, Kant shows that both rationalism and empiricism fall into irresolvable contradictions based on their assumption that things-in-themselves can be known. The third Antinomy addresses the problem that freedom (as absolute origination of an effect) appears to be irreconcilable with causal determinism. Whereas the rationalist argues that free causality is necessary to explain the appearances of the world, the empiricist argues that everything takes place solely in accordance with causal determinism. Yet as Kant shows, both positions end up affirming their opposite, because both rest on faulty assumptions. The rationalist assumes that ultimate reality resides in fully determined concepts, and thus that an uncaused cause is necessary if the concept of a thing is not to be infinite: causal determinism, with its infinite causal series, violates the principle of sufficient reason. The empiricist, however, assumes that there is no ultimate reality outside of experience; since all experience is governed by causal determinism, free causality violates the law of nature.

Kant argues that this problem is only apparently irresolvable, for it is based on the mistaken belief, held by both the rationalist and the empiricist, that knowledge of things-in-themselves is possible. Once that mistake is revealed, and once it is shown that the extension of pure concepts outside of experience is illegitimate, it can be seen that freedom can be reconciled with determinism. The empiricist is right to say that experience is necessarily governed by the law of cause and effect, but that does not preclude the possibility that free causality operates outside of possible experience. The rationalist is wrong to assume the existence of free causality, but right to assert the necessity of its idea for explaining certain appearances. Kant calls this the idea of “intelligible causality” and locates it speculatively in the noumenal realm. If there is any such causality, it might be thought to underlie and cause effects in the realm of appearances. While all events in the realm of appearances must be explained according to natural causality, some might also be explained through intelligible causality. This allows us to think of moral action as being freely caused, and also enables us to consider appearances as having their ultimate origin in something outside of the infinite series of natural causes. Kant’s solution to the third Antinomy does not imply that we can think of nature as including absolute novelty, creativity, or uncaused events, for all natural events must be explained through the laws of nature. But it does enable us to think that nature as a whole might be underpinned by intelligible causality outside of nature, which is the ultimate explanation for the possibility of appearances.

This is the speculative answer Kant gives to the problem of affection: the problem that transcendental idealism cannot account for the materiality that affects the senses prior to its formal determination. The suggestion is that an indeterminate “supersensible substrate” may be thought to underlie and cause the world of appearances. In passages like this, Kant appears to equate this substrate with a noumenal realm of things-in-themselves. At these times, the noumenal realm seems to be a concrete world that relates causally to a separate world of appearances. However, at other times Kant suggests that the distinction between appearances and things-in-themselves amounts to two different ways of thinking reality. This has led to intense debate over whether Kant believes the phenomenal-noumenal distinction to be ontological—in which case there are two causally connected worlds, real and apparent—or epistemic, in which case there are two ways of knowing the single real world, corresponding to human understanding and divine intellect.

Critics have been divided on this question for over two hundred years. Whatever he thought the status of the noumenal to be, Kant is clear that we cannot assume the existence of a noumenal realm or supersensible substrate. The thought of such a substrate, however, is logically possible and transcendentally necessary to account for the possibility of appearance in general, the possibility of freedom, and the possibility of nature as a system suitable for knowledge. The possibility of cognitive, moral, and scientific experience as a whole refers to something thinkable but unknowable as its inscrutable ground. Kant’s position is that this tells us more about thought than it does about ultimate reality.

2.2. Moral Philosophy

Kant’s moral philosophy, in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and Critique of Practical Reason, is grounded in his doctrine of rational freedom. As we have seen, Kant argued in the first Critique that all objects of possible experience, including the subject as appearance, are governed by causal determinism. So if the rational subject is capable of free, non-causally determined action—both in the sphere of knowledge-formation (as spontaneity) and in the sphere of moral action (as free will)—then that freedom must be noumenal. This has two important consequences: first, we can never have certainty about our subjective freedom. Second, while novelty and spontaneity in nature as appearance are ruled out, we are entitled to think of nature as having the same noumenal ground as the rational subject. On this basis we can think of nature as having an underlying coherence with freedom and our own moral action, even if we cannot know that it does.

Our lack of knowledge of the noumenal prevents our drawing “pure” conclusions about the rightness of our moral action in the world, but it does not prevent our drawing “practical” conclusions. This is the basis of Kant’s “practical” or moral philosophy. The absolute truth about our freedom is unattainable, but fortunately it is unnecessary for determining how we ought to act. The “practical” reality of morality rests on the assumption of our freedom, which makes possible our conception of ourselves as self-legislating or autonomous. That conception of autonomy grounds the possibility of a moral law given by reason alone. Only such a moral law can account for the moral worth we necessarily invest in actions motivated solely by duty, Kant’s test case for the morally good action.

This moral law, given by reason to itself, is Kant’s categorical imperative: act only on those maxims that have the form of universal law. That is, the maxim (subjective principle) on which we act must be consistent with our willing it in a possible world in which that maxim is objective, universal law. Permissible maxims are those that any rational being could give to itself as law, and are thus consistent with the rationality, autonomy, and freedom of all subjects. Thus rationality as such has a moral worth: that is, it ought to be treated always as an end in itself, never merely as a means to another end. This grounds Kant’s vision for the ideal society or “kingdom of ends,” in which autonomous subjects rule themselves in conformity with the law given to them by their rational nature. Moral agents in such a kingdom would aim universally at the “highest good,” the perfect union of virtue and happiness, which can be thought only with reference to God as a noumenal guarantor. As in the first Critique, God’s existence cannot be assumed, but may and must be thought as the condition of possibility of the full realization of the goals of morality. For Kant it is rational to have faith in God, as long as faith recognizes the limits of possible knowledge.

2.3. Philosophy of Nature

All Kant’s critical philosophy is, in some sense, a philosophy of nature, since “nature” in general, for Kant, is equivalent to possible experience. The categories of the first Critique, in functioning as the necessary structures of objects of possible experience, have the status of laws of nature. These include the principle of permanence of substance, the principle of causality, and the principle of reciprocity. In line with transcendental idealism, Kant does not argue that nature is composed of permanent substances that relate to each other through causal and reciprocal interaction: indeed, he argues explicitly against that position. Rather, Kant claims that our experience of persistence, events, and coexistence makes it necessary for us to employ pure concepts of substantiality, causality, and reciprocity as principles of experience.

The positivist school of Kant-interpretation has long argued that in the first Critique Kant was seeking metaphysical foundations for Newtonian physics. In fact, Kant spent considerable effort, both there and in the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, explaining his disagreement with the Newtonian system. Kant holds an anti-corpuscular view of nature, in which matter (as appearance) must be understood to be a dynamical continuum without empty spaces, reducible to fundamental forces of attraction and repulsion. The absolute character of nature outside of experience is, of course, unknowable, though its character must be such that it can generate experience in general. Kant’s work towards the end of his life (now published as his Opus Postumum) was in part dedicated to finding a new solution to this problem through the concept of ether. He attempts to argue there for a dynamical whole of all existence—equivalent to a dynamical whole of all experience—that makes individuated bodies and experiences possible. Kant’s ether is not Newton’s speculative material ether, but is precisely Whitehead’s “ether of events” (CN 78).

In showing that nature in experience necessarily conforms to certain universal principles of understanding in the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant did not show how nature can be understood scientifically through specific principles, nor how nature can be understood as a coherent system. Both concerns are addressed in the Critique of Judgment, in which Kant looks for a principle of reflective, rather than determinative, judgment. Reflective judgment seeks concepts and laws for natural particulars by which they might be ordered. This activity is possible, however, only on the assumption that nature is ordered in a way that conforms to our understanding, for nature might be so heterogeneous that it exceeds our ability to cognize it. Thus the Critique of Judgment is evidence against Whitehead’s assertion that Kant holds to “the subjectivist principle” that experiential data “can be adequately analyzed purely in terms of universals” (PR 157). The underlying concern of the third Critique is precisely that nature cannot be adequately analyzed in terms of universals, evinced in experiences of beauty, sublimity, and organization in nature. In order to make sense of these experiences, reflective judgment must employ a principle of its own—a principle of the purposiveness of nature for judgment. We must assume that nature is purposively ordered for the sake of cognition.

This principle comes into play in judgments of taste, where a beautiful or sublime natural object, through sensibility alone, prompts a feeling of pleasure or pain that is subjective but demands universal assent. Whitehead’s remark that “a critique of pure feeling” focusing on sensation is missing in Kant’s philosophy (PR 113) is effectively answered by Kant’s provision of just such a critique here. The judgment of taste has a claim to universality because the object’s form seems to respond to the purposiveness sought by all reflective judgment. Teleological judgments about the system and purpose of nature as a whole are also made possible by the principle of purposiveness. While the ideas of God and an intelligently designed teleological universe cannot be assumed to exist for Kant, they can and must be assumed in order to construct systems of science, morality, theology, and history.

Whitehead seems to have been unaware that Kant developed a philosophy of organism in the Critique of Judgment. Kant’s theory of organic nature is less convincing than his theory of inorganic nature, due partly to his restrictive definition of “life.” Kant is strongly opposed to endowing matter either with life (hylozoism) or with a soul; organic nature, like all nature, is, for him, mechanistic and causally determined. Only the free and self-active subject has “life.” Yet the causality displayed by organized beings is inexplicable according to the laws of nature. Organic beings or “natural purposes” seem to have an immanent creative force that organizes them according to a purpose. An organized being appears to organize itself, giving itself organic unity through the purposive relation between its parts and its whole. Organic beings are inexplicable according to the categories of the understanding (i.e. the laws of nature), yet they must be understood as part of a system of nature. Kant’s answer to this problem is to say that we must treat organized nature as if it were purposively designed to be part of a coherent totality of final causes, but continue to investigate it solely in terms of the mechanism of efficient causes. Mechanism will never adequately explain organic nature, but teleology may only be treated as a heuristic explanation. The principle of purposiveness and the idea of a system of final causes hold for reflective judgment, helping to expand scientific thought and to think of nature and morality as coherent. The principle can regulate our systematic understanding of nature and our position in it, but can never be thought to constitute nature.

3. Whitehead’s Relation to Kant

Whitehead has a complex, conflicted, and ultimately irresolvable relation to Kant. On the one hand, Whitehead states that “the philosophy of organism is the inversion of Kant’s philosophy” (PR 88; cf. 20, 156). On the other, he says that his own thinking is the extension of Kant’s (RM 104; PR 113, 156). The “inversion” claim relates to Whitehead’s repudiation of Kantian subjectivity: “For Kant, the world emerges from the subject; for the philosophy of organism, the subject emerges from the world” (PR 88). This suggests a rejection of transcendental idealism, yet Whitehead’s claim that Process and Reality has the purpose of explicating the “generic notions inevitably presupposed in our reflective experience” (PR 18) reveals that he is, at least to some extent, a transcendental philosopher. The “extension” claim has thus been taken as evidence of Whitehead’s impulse to continue and broaden the transcendental turn (Van der Veken 1992). Other commentators have noted the structural similarities between Kant’s Analytic and Whitehead’s categoreal scheme (Lucas 1990, Bradley 1994, Ford 1998). Whitehead seems to be caught between his commitment to pre-Kantian modes of thought (PR xi) and the inescapably post-Kantian nature of his thinking.

Whitehead’s ambivalent relation to Kant seems to be the product of intensive attention to a very narrow selection of Kant’s work, filtered through “a peculiar Anglo-Saxon Kant hermeneutic common to the positivist philosophy of Whitehead’s time” (Lucas 1990, 17). Whitehead clearly knew some parts of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and claimed that he had committed certain passages to memory (before his “early disenchantment” made him forget them).[1] His knowledge of the first Critique seems to have been restricted to its first half, and while he was familiar with some of the argument of the Critique of Practical Reason, he seems to have been entirely unaware of the content of the Critique of Judgment. His selective reading of the first Critique focuses on the process of knowledge-formation in the Transcendental Analytic, and largely ignores the later sections on totality, systematic coherence, speculative metaphysical knowledge, and regulative ideas that, as Lucas points out, would have been most relevant to his own thinking (1990, 17). Thus Whitehead unjustly characterizes Kant as a subjectivist interested primarily in experiential knowledge. His criticism of Kant is generally based on an incomplete understanding of Kant’s position.

Two of Whitehead’s claims about Kant deserve attention here. First, Whitehead claims that Kant accepted Hume’s “subjectivist principle” that experiential data can be adequately analyzed purely in terms of universals, but that he rejected Hume’s “sensationalist principle” that experiential data are initially encountered through bare sensation, devoid of formal subjective input (PR 157). That is, Whitehead claims that for Kant, experiential data are always already conceptualized and can be adequately analyzed through concepts alone. The implication is that what Kant takes to be primary for experience is identity in the concept rather than the “togetherness” of the actual entities involved in an experiential occasion (PR 189-90; cf. 248). It is true that for Kant, identity in the concept is necessary for experience, and also that no experiential data can be free of formal structures. But it is false that Kant takes conceptual identity already to be deployed in sense perception, and that conceptual identity is the only component of knowledge (as Whitehead suggests at PR 156). Whitehead seems to take Kant’s concepts to be equivalent to Leibniz’s, failing to see that for Kant, concepts are rules that develop through their consistent application to sense data. Thus for Kant, pre-conceptual sensation is the condition not only of the deployment of concepts, but also of the formation of conceptual identity. Conceptual identity can come about only insofar as experiential occasions bring it into action. Without sense data, the concept is present as a mere empty form, as Kant famously states (“Thoughts without content are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind” [CPR A51/B75]). Experience and conceptual identity are possible only when the empty conceptual forms are “filled” with the data of the world. There must be pre-conceptual content, and knowledge must involve more than mere concepts. On Kant’s view what is primary for experience is, in fact, the “togetherness” of empty conceptual form and non-conceptual material that makes both concepts and experience possible.

Whitehead’s inattention to the importance of materiality in Kant’s work leads to his second claim: that the objective world, for Kant, emerges from the subject and only from the subject (PR 88; cf. 156, AI 336-7). This ascribes to Kant precisely the kind of idealism that he was at great pains to refute (see CPR B69-71; B274-9). Whitehead takes Kant to be an absolute idealist for whom objectivity is a purely subjective construct. On this account, objective content is “mere appearance” opposed to a world of “ultimate substantial fact” (PR 152). But Whitehead misunderstands the nature of transcendental idealism here. Kant’s world of appearance is not subjective—nor is it an illusion spun purely out of concepts. A subjective world would be private and imaginary; a world built out of concepts alone would be empty, as discussed above. We have already seen that “objects” are constructed through the interaction of material data and conceptual structures inherent to human understanding. Kantian appearances are public, objective and real; they are facts, that is, actual states of affairs. Kant’s transcendental idealism simply states that we cannot know whether those facts obtain outside of our experience. Furthermore, it states that the application of pure concepts to things-in-themselves is illegitimate. Things-in-themselves are not facts, but mere thought-objects.

Whitehead’s selective reading of Kant also reveals points of similarity between the two thinkers. In line with many Kant critics, Whitehead believes that Kant’s world of “merely apparent objectivity” is underwritten and caused by a real noumenal world (PR 152); he subscribes to the ontological interpretation of Kant’s phenomenal-noumenal distinction. In attributing this view to Kant, Whitehead makes him an implicit target of his critique of the bifurcation of nature—of systems that assume a distinction between nature as apprehended in awareness and nature as the cause of that awareness (CN 30). Had Whitehead read Kant more carefully, he might have considered the epistemic interpretation of the phenomenal-noumenal distinction, which takes these terms to designate two “levels of abstraction” of reality, one taken by experience, the other by pure thought (see, e.g., Allison 1983 and Buchdahl 1991). Understood in this way, Kant’s phenomenal-noumenal distinction has striking similarities to Whitehead’s distinction in The Concept of Nature between the “termini” of sense-awareness and thought: “factors in the fact of nature” and “bare entities” (CN 12-13). Whitehead’s critique of scientific concepts of space, time and matter as relying upon the illegitimate extension of the bare entity, “which is simply an abstraction necessary for the method of thought,” into a metaphysical substratum (CN 20-1) directly recalls Kant’s critique of the Leibnizian-Newtonian doctrine of substances and the mistaken theories of space and time based on it. Whitehead genuinely “extends” Kant’s philosophy here, perhaps without awareness that he is doing so.

Ultimately, Whitehead’s “inversion” of Kant’s philosophy might be thought a response to Kant’s “Copernican revolution.” Where revolution implies a progressive transformation of the status quo, inversion implies turning it inside-out, revealing what was immanent in it all along. Whitehead’s return to pre-Kantian thinking can be seen as an attempt not to reverse the Copernican revolution and to regain a Cartesian model of knowledge, but to invert it, showing that what Kant took to be on the inside of thought is actually the character of the outside. Whereas Kant understood that process is the nature of experience, the philosophy of organism shows that process is the nature of the actual world. Yet as we have seen, Kant’s understanding of the process of thought necessarily involves the outside world. Reason, for Kant, looks for evidence that the processes of thinking and moral action are coherent with the processes of nature, as two sides of a single process comprising the totality of reality. Kant’s late work suggests that just before his death he had begun to think of reality as the process of nature, as an ether of events. Reading Kant illuminates little of Whitehead’s thought; but reading Whitehead can transform one’s reading of Kant.


[1] “Autobiographical Remarks” in Paul A. Schlipp (ed.), The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1941), p. 7.

Works Cited and Further Readings

Major Works by Immanuel Kant

Gesammelte Schriften, 29 Volumes (Berlin, Walter de Gruyter).

1997 [1781, 1787]. Critique of Pure Reason, translated and edited by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

1997 [1788]. Critique of Practical Reason, translated and edited by Mary Gregor (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

1987 [1791]. Critique of Judgment, translated by Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis, Hackett).

1985 [1786]. Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, translated by James W. Ellington, in Philosophy of Material Nature, edited by James W. Ellington (Indianapolis, Hackett).

1985 [1783]. Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics that will be able to come forward as a science, translated by Paul Carus, in Philosophy of Material Nature, edited by James W. Ellington (Indianapolis, Hackett).

1997 [1785]. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, translated and edited by Mary Gregor (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

1993. Opus Postumum, translated by Eckart Förster and Michael Rosen, edited by Eckart Förster (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

1992. Theoretical Philosophy 1755-1770, translated and edited by David Walford and Ralf Meerbote (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

1991. Political Writings, translated by H. B. Nisbet, edited by Hans Reiss (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

1998. Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason and other writings, translated and edited by Allen Wood and George Di Giovanni (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

Selected Books on Kant’s philosophy

Allison, Henry E. 1983. Kant’s Transcendental Idealism (New Haven, Yale University Press).

Allison, Henry E. 1990. Kant’s Theory of Freedom (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

Buchdahl, Gerd. 1992. Kant and the Dynamics of Reason (Oxford, Blackwell).

Caygill, Howard. 1989. Art of Judgement (Oxford, Blackwell).

Chadwick, Ruth (ed.). 1992. Immanuel Kant: Critical Assessments, 4 Vols. (London, Routledge).

Edwards, Jeffrey. 2000. Substance, Force and the Possibility of Knowledge (Berkeley, University of California Press).

Gardner, Sebastian. 1999. Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason (London, Routledge).

Guyer, Paul (ed.). 1992. The Cambridge Companion to Kant (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

Rescher, Nicholas. 2000. Kant and the Reach of Reason (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

Sullivan, Roger J. 1994. An Introduction to Kant’s Ethics (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

Wood, Allen W. 2005. Kant (Oxford, Blackwell).

Selected Articles and Books addressing Whitehead’s Relation to Kant

Ballard, Edward G. 1961. “Kant and Whitehead, and the Philosophy of Mathematics,” Tulane Studies in Philosophy 10, 3-30.

Bradley, James. 1994. “Transcendentalism and Speculative Realism in Whitehead,” Process Studies 23, 155-91.

Coolidge, Mary L. 1943. “Purposiveness without Purpose in a New Context,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 4, 85-93.

Ford, Lewis S. 1998. “Structural Affinities between Kant and Whitehead,” International Philosophical Quarterly 38, 3, 234-44.

Leclerc, Ivor. 1966. “Kant’s Second Antinomy, Leibniz, and Whitehead,” Review of Metaphysics 20, 25-41.

Lotter, Maria-Sibylla. 1990. “Whiteheads Kant-Kritik und Kants Kritik am Panpsychismus,” in Natur, Subjektivität, Gott: zur Prozessphilosophie Alfred N. Whiteheads, edited by Helmut Holzhey, Alois Rust and Reiner Wiehl (Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp).

Lucas, George R., Jr. 1990. “The Interpretation of Kant in Whitehead’s Philosophy,” in Whitehead and German Idealism, edited by George R. Lucas Jr. and Antoon Braeckman (Bern, Peter Lang), 13-32.

Lucas, George R., Jr. 1989. The Rehabilitation of Whitehead: An Analytic and Historical Assessment of Process Philosophy (Albany, SUNY Press).

Platt, David. 1975. “Does Whitehead’s God Possess a Moral Will?” Process Studies 5, 114-22.

Treash, Gordon. 1992. “Purposive Organization: Whitehead and Kant,” Process Studies 21, 4, 246-58.

Van der Veken, Jan. 1992. “Whitehead and Kant on Presuppositions of Meaning,” Ultimate Reality and Meaning 15, 4, 275-85.

Wein, Hermann. 1961. “In Defence of the Humanism of Science: Kant and Whitehead,” in The Relevance of Whitehead, edited by Ivor Leclerc (London, George Allen & Unwin), 289-318.

Author Information

Beth Lord
Philosophy Department
University of Dundee, Dundee DD1 4HN, UK

How to Cite this Article

Lord, Beth, “Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)”, last modified 2008, The Whitehead Encyclopedia, Brian G. Henning and Joseph Petek (eds.), originally edited by Michel Weber and Will Desmond, URL = <>.