Kant- a veiled ‘Leib’- Philosopher? Home
Ordinarily, the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) would be categorized in Europe as an Idealist, who, with his principles and ideas of reason, did not have a good grip on the secular ways of life. He is known for his Prussian-German punctuality, and all that which is associated with it: duty, discipline, obedience, and hostility against feelings and sensuality. Based on today's national borders, he would be a Russian, for he lived and worked in what was then the East Prussian coastal trade city of Königsberg, today called Kaliningrad, a city he never left. His frail health caused him to avoid any strenuous coach and buggy travel over bumpy roads. But for lunch Kant used to gather, businessmen and other personalities from all over the world who told him of their travels. Kant saw himself as a descendant of Scottish ancestors. He came from a family of craftsmen and sought daily relaxation and worldly knowledge but not with ‘book-learned men’ and academics. Later, as a professor of philosophy, he supported the freedom and civil rights movements of craftsmen and businessmen, and understood himself to be a Republican under Friedrich the Great and Friedrich Wilhelm II.
Kant was steadfast in keeping his daily
ritual, planned to the minute. Only
once, and only for two days, is he said to have strayed from his routine:
when he was reading the novel Emilie, by the French philosopher
Jean-Jacques Rousseau and missed his afternoon naps.
Kant was moved by the opposing philosophies of the English empiricist
philosopher David Hume and the French idealist philosopher Jean-Jacques
Rousseau. He sought a third way
between these two, a new theory of knowledge.
Hume stated that all thought was based on sensory experience, and
Rousseau's thought rested on a belief in God.
Kant sought a middle path, a bridge between England and France, between
sensory experience and speculative reason.
The attempt to overcome the dispute between empiricism and rationalism, between materialism and idealism, is what determined Kant's philosophical work, a work which can still excite our minds today.
Unfortunately, it is not easy to read his works. Rather than writing in French or Latin, the languages more widely used in Europe among the educated classes, Kant wrote in German. He formulated philosophical terms in the vernacular which at the time seemed rustic to the educated European classes and provided little intellectual stimulation. He wrote his works with German words and Latin grammar, creating a huge thought structure which was to answer anew the question, What is a human being? In order to answer this, one must ask what one can know, what one should do, and for what one may hope. He made the distinction between the treasures of knowledge and faith, but combined both in the area of action. He argued that when we decide to take actions, we must often do so without full knowledge yet in good faith. This faith, however, should not be bound to God but rather to our moral conception of what an ideal person should be and do. Human ideals give us an orientation for our actions and should determine an ethical dimension to our daily lives. Faith in the moral development of human actions determined Kant’s ethical work, a concept which also held political dimensions later in the ideas of the League of Nations concerning world peace.
Those who read his work will not find anything that is normally associated with him. He neither followed the King nor the Church, duty was not a sacrifice for him, nor was his thought process disciplined, for he was always straying into new areas of questioning which even today seem modern to us. In fact the duty to obey those moral laws, which Kant says man has given to himself, can only be found in the freedom of our own intellectual powers.
He considered punctuality and discipline necessities in his daily routines, and his frail disposition motivated him to learn how to lead a particularly healthy life which lasted for 80 years. He became famous in Königsberg for his mustard sauces, which he mixed himself.
But what about the hostility against feelings and sensuality? Don't we label Kant as a rational philosopher, who ignores our feelings as unimportant and calls us to use only Math to find knowledge? Were the German Romantics right when they labeled him a 'cold' philosopher?
Didn't he maintain in his purely theoretical ethics that we cannot orient our moral behavior based on comfort, but rather on an ideal principle of how a man should be? The human body was for him, as it is for all philosophers, just an imperfect object to be conquered. But those who have not only read Kant's published works but also his underlying thoughts and his unfinished beginnings, would find another Kant, one who comes up against the 2000 year old dualism between spirit and body. Kant wanted to clarify anew how human beings could be citizens of both these worlds and not only the spiritual world. We are neither angels nor animals, said Kant, but simultaneously both.
'Leib-philosophy' is an emerging philosophy at the cutting edge of the third millennium, yet based on a philosophical tradition in the passed centuries. We know from current neurological research that feeling and thinking are not separate, mutually exclusive actions in our brain. We know that our body can react psychosomatically both to our own thoughts and to our cultural context. We know that our existence as humans is not fully understood. We know that, in our informed society, with every answer we raise new questions, and with all new knowledge our lack of knowledge becomes more manifest. Nevertheless, we live, we must take actions, and we must make decisions on a daily basis. Therefore we need an orientation, ideally one which we can impose ourselves, and not one merely picked up from leaders, Gods, or so-called experts. Here the ‘Leib’ plays a role in what we call intuition or wisdom.
Kant started from the presupposition that our feelings are differentiated from our thoughts and that both influence each other. The influence is sometimes problematic, for example when we are dependent on a passion or a mania. But feelings can also give us orientation for our actions. This is how he describes the feeling of 'respect' in his Ethics: Respect is a "selbstgewirktes Gefühl" (self-woven feeling), one that sensually binds us with our common-sense good judgement. When I feel respect for a person I meet, it is because I compare that person’s behaviour to my ideal of a moral human being. The image I have in mind of how I want to be as a human being meets that other person in reality. My feeling of respect emerges because in the instant I reflexively compare that person to my own moral desires that other person converges with me even though he is an other. This is often how best friends are found. Reciprocal acknowledgment and respect determine morally incontestable relationships.
The ‘Leib-dimension’ of thinking, feeling, observing, and perceiving are not isolated by Kant, as they are by most philosophers, but rather they are already thought of as mutual influences. I therefore consider him to be a 'Veiled Leib Philosopher' who has been unfairly deemed an idealist. This Leib-philosophy searches for bridges between extremes and thereby finds new connections in interpreting how we should be and could be as human beings.
So is there nothing to criticize about Kant? Yes, there are some points worth criticizing. For example, when he uses analytical concepts for concrete human ways of life. Here, as almost all male philosophers in history have done, he treats women as non-intellectual; he sees them as being of limited abilities, only able to handle the matters of daily life , and lacking the intellectual power to deal with ideas beyond the material world. Men are concerned with the question of whether the Universe is unending or not, and women with how to arrange a bouquet of flowers nicely. Here Kant fails – certainly not due to the freedom of his intellectual power – to overcome the historical biases concerning the roles of men and women, because he used only his “Verstand”. Yet he was no woman-hater, instead he always regretted that he had not found a woman who would marry him. To him, marriage belonged to an ideal life.
But despite his lack of freedom to treat some concrete human questions beyond the stereotype notions of his time, he created a philosophical work that continues to inspire and to stimulate autonomous thinking and responsible action.
Kant lived more than 200 years ago, a European thinker with regional consciousness, and therefore far ahead of his time.
 In German there are two words ‘Leib’ and ‘Körper’ for only one English word ‘body’. This creates a problem in translation. ‘Leib’ goes beyond the physical dimension of the body to include the subjective awareness and reflection of one’s own sensual experiences. To maintain the distinction ‘Leib’ is kept as the German word in the translated text.
 In German Kant used the word “Verstand” for what we described as “limited ability to handle the matters of daily life”.
 In German Kant used the word “Vernunft” for what we described as “intellectual power”.