For the dedicated and persistent, this “first full-length biography of . . . philosopher Immanuel Kant in over 50 years,” attempts to humanize the man long pictured as having no life outside the mind.
Kuehn (Philosophy/Phillips Univ.) mines the relatively sparse and sometimes untrustworthy biographical material as best he can. We learn that Kant was a whiz at billiards as a young man (earning some of his living expenses at the table), that he was welcomed into the salons of high society in his hometown of Königsberg both for his learning and his conversational ability, that he was a bit of a clothes horse, and in other ways a social animal, enjoying the company of his friends, dining, and discoursing in restaurants and pubs for many hours a day. However gregarious Kant may have been, it is inescapable that it was his cerebral and not his gustatory adventures that made him the celebrated figure that he remains. So the biographical details are matched, if not overwhelmed, by discussions of the intellectual, religious, and political influences that surrounded Kant as he lived out his long life in Königsberg. These included the Pietistic beliefs of his parents as well as the rich and provocative writings of Enlightenment figures such as Rousseau and David Hume, but also German scientists, theologians, and thinkers (many of whom had been Kant’s students). As he rose from lowly lecturer to senior professor at the University of Königsberg, Kant honed his ideas about the opposition of reason to sense, ruminating through what Kuehn calls “The Silent Years” and finally beginning to publish extensively only in his late 50s. There are lengthy excerpts from arguments made for and against Kant’s ideas by friends and rivals during this productive period. Finally, Kant began a long mental and physical deterioration leading to his death two days before his 80th birthday.
A gathering and evaluation of some important data—but it's not for the casual reader.