The Quiet Man: Immanuel Kant

Like all people given to the life of the mind, Kant was in need of the discipline which he imposed on himself. Far from crippling his moral nature, his routine enable him to flower in the ways best suited to his genius.—Roger Scruton

I’m not going to discuss the merits of Kant’s philosophy. Most conservative thinkers are critical of his metaphysics, though few will deny his intellectual mastery.

Immanuel Kant was born in Königsberg in 1724, the fourth of nine children of a poor craftsman. He received a rather joyless but competent education at the hands of Lutheran pietists. They were the equivalent of the New England puritans and imparted many of the same stern but sturdy virtues to generations of Germans. In the life of Kant and many of his fellow countrymen a rigorous sense of duty would outlast the faith that originally inspired the pietist moral outlook.

The two qualities about the Prussian thinker that are most striking to us moderns (though they would have been much more common in his epoch) are his local patriotism and love of quiet. While Kant’s mind busily circumnavigated the universe, he seems to have hardly traveled at all. He could have had academic posts in other cities just for the asking. Instead he patiently held out for the university of his native Königsberg when at age 45 he became professor of logic and metaphysics. Until that time he earned a living as a private tutor and penned numerous treatises and essays.

In his volume on Kant for the Oxford “Past Masters” series, Scuton notes the philosopher’s “highly disciplined” life. Every day began at five, when he was woken by his manservant, followed by work and study until seven. Kant only had one meal a day, which was at one. This was followed “irrespective of weather” by a solitary walk. Scruton says “He was averse to noise, twice changing lodgings in order to avoid the sound of other people.” He had only one painting in his house (a portrait of Rousseau that was a gift) and little taste for music, other than military bands, which seems comically stereotypical of a Prussian. Scruton adds that Kant was not a misanthrope. He always had lunchtime guests, who were liberally provided with a bottle of wine apiece, and enjoyed many lasting friendships. The German scholar nevertheless insisted on periods of rest so that he could refresh himself for the work ahead. His quiet routine is not without its charms for some of us living in a much busier and noisier society.

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