Document Type

Journal Article


Department of Religion and Philosophy


It would be difficult to find a philosopher who has suffered more injustices at the hands of his commentators (friends and foes alike) than Immanuel Kant. This is particularly true when it comes to the many anecdotes that commentators are, for some reason, quite fond of reciting about Kant. The problem is that such tales are often used surreptitiously to twist Kant's own explicit claims about what he was attempting to accomplish, so that when his writings are read with these stories in mind, misunderstanding is almost inevitable. As an example, it is only necessary to think of the tale of the old ladies of Königsberg who became so familiar with Kant's rigid schedule that they used to set their clocks by his daily comings and goings. This may or may not be true; the point is that unless this anecdote is recounted with a certain skepticism, it is likely to encourage a prejudice whereby the reader of Kant assumes at the beginning that Kant's writings are filled with the unreasonably rigid and formalistic ravings of someone out of touch with the unpredictable passions that punctuate the life of an ordinary person. In other words, such stories are in danger of creating an image of Kant that may have little or no justification in the text. One could cite other examples, such as the story of how Kant used to lead the procession of university professors up to the cathedral each Sunday, only to desert it at the door, or Bertrand Russell's quip that Kant's response to being “awakened” by Hume was merely to invent a transcendental “soporific” to help him fall asleep again.

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Harvard Theological Review

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cambridge university press

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