Jean-Jacques Rousseau - Freedom and Happiness

Immanuel Kant - 1724-1804AD

"By a lie, a man... annihilates his dignity as a man."

Kant was unadventurous, spending almost all of his life in his birthplace in Prussia, showing little interest in music or the arts, but showing a passionate interest in philosophy, particularly mathematics, logic and science.

His masterpiece was Critique of Pure Reason, which is acknowledged as one of the most influential books in the history of philosophy. Kant was the first to realize that the mind plays an active role and impacts on the world that we see. He followed it with two further critiques, the Critique of Practical Reason and the Critique of Judgement.

"All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason."1

Kant argued that human beings had to impose certain structures on the information that their minds received in order to interpret the world. The mind is active in its interpretation of what it sees or experiences; this is necessary in order to make sense of it.

In his Critique of Practical Reason, Kant argued for the existence of an absolute moral law, which placed moral duty above the pursuit of happiness. Moral law was an obligation that could not be ignored if convenient, for example Kant reasoned that it could never be right to tell a lie. He called our duty to obey this moral law the "categorical imperative".

In his third critique, the Critique of Judgement, Kant looked at aesthetics.

Critique of Judgement

He argued that there was an objective basis for aesthetic judgments. Aesthetic judgment was not the same as taste, it was not contingent. Something that is truly beautiful is beautiful in an objective sense and this could be recognised by everyone.

Kant defines happiness in several different ways. For example, 'Getting what one wants', and 'Happiness is the satisfaction of all our desires, extensively, in respect of their manifoldness, intensively, in respect of their degree, and protensively, in respect of their duration', and 'Happiness is not an ideal of reason, but of imagination'.2

Unlike most other great philosophers, he does not connect happiness with living a moral life. Plato identified the need to clearly define a concept before attempting to understand it; perhaps this is what Kant found problematical. He admits that, "the concept of happiness is such an indeterminate one that even though everyone wishes to attain happiness, yet he can never say definitely and consistently what it is that he really wishes and wills."

For more information about the great philosophers and their views on narcissism and happiness, read Finding Happiness.

1 Immanuel Kant
2 Pomerleau, Wayne P. (1997), Twelve Great Philosophers: A Historical Introduction to Human Nature, Rowman and Littlefield, Washington.