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I am impressed by Kant's moral or nominative laws- hypothetical imperative and categorical imperative as well as the three versions of the categorical imperative.

I want to grasp whatever Kant wrote. Could someone please refer some illustrative books which explain Kant's work in an easy to understand manner?

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  • It seems to me English is not your native language. Are you looking for books in English, or in another language?
    – user2953
    Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 9:19
  • in english but explanation should be easy to follow.
    – ketan
    Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 10:56
  • do you want the books to merely be commentaries on the text or do you want them to be more substantive interpretations? Also are you coming at this from the perspective of law (as in the academic discipline of law)? This seems implied in your first sentence. Also, where are you getting the number three about versions? All of this would help in knowing what sort of resources you want.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 13:46
  • 1. i want books such that they are complete in letting me understand kant. 2. This is not due to any academic reasons, but a mere urge to understand kant.
    – ketan
    Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 14:46
  • A classics is "H.J.Paton: The Categorial Imperative. A Study in Kant's Moral Philosophy (1947)". It starts with the basics and advances to rather subtle aspects of its topics.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 19:19

3 Answers 3

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You're looking for a book that explains Kant entirely? Then you should read Kant's work itself. But then it won't be easy to understand. If you want to have something easy to understand, you'll have to accept it won't be complete. You have to make a compromise somewhere.

Anyway...

You may find this video and the others in the same series interesting: http://youtu.be/kLwiBg4sCaE - of course they oversimplify things.

For more, Roger Scruton wrote a 135-pages introduction to Kant. Also this is not enough to explain everything, but what Scruton does very neatly, besides giving a basic introduction, is showing the modern relevance of Kant's work.

If you're going to read a primary text, I would advise to read an opponent alongside. It always helps to get a better idea of the context and the issues they're dealing with. When I read Kant's Critique of Practical Reason, I read Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra alongside.

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  • i appreciate your answer. is there a book that extensively makes use of examples and counter examples to explain what kant wants to say ? i dont mean that book should cover whole of kant's work.
    – ketan
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 10:54
  • @ketan the book I mentioned uses some examples, not more than other books though. I don't know of any book that does - but on this site we have some questions about examples of Kantian theory, and you can also ask yourself of course.
    – user2953
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 11:11
  • Scruton isn't a very good Kant scholar. I mean... he's not really a Kant scholar. Don't read him. Commented yesterday
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I will recommend a reading plan of the primary texts, so as to give an alternative to the answer and comments already here that suggest a more guided approach via secondary resources.

The reading list is in order: To understand where the philosophical discourse is at today, you must understand Kant. To understand Kant, I believe it is necessary to familiarize yourself with these 10 pre Kantian works of modern philosophy. After you have read these, and hopefully analyzed them with friends or through the help of very useful YouTube channels who have provided extensive and accessible commentary and analysis on these works, you can begin to read, understand, and enjoy the significance of Kant. I will end my list with Kant’s first critique because once you reach this point, you are more than ready to go on venturing to whatever paths in philosophy you want by yourself.

  1. Descartes** - Discourse on the Method (1637)
  2. Descartes** - Meditations on First Philosophy (1641)
  3. Descartes** - Principles of Philosophy (1644)
  4. Spinoza** - Ethics (1677, published posthumously)
  5. Locke** - An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689)
  6. Berkeley** - A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710)
  7. Leibniz** - Monadology (1714, first published in 1720)
  8. Hume** - A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1740)
  9. Hume** - An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748)
  10. Rousseau** - The Social Contract (1762)
  11. Kant - Critique of Pure Reason (!!)
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  • It's very doubtful whether Kant even read all of these works. He probably didn't read Berkeley before being compared to him (unjustly), if he did even then. He also didn't read Hume's Treatise until after writing the Critique, I believe, since it wasn't translated into German (Kant didn't speak English) yet. These aren't the works you should read to understand Kant. Sure, Rousseau, Leibniz, Locke and Hume are significant influences on Kant. Spinoza, Descartes or Berkeley - not very much, if at all. You don't mention Newton who is probably the most important influence on Kant. [1/2] Commented yesterday
  • Kant makes references to Newton even in his work on practical philosophy (Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason). Among non-philosophers, Euler is a major influence. Kant's philosophy of mathematics is essentially Eulerian. [2/2] Commented yesterday
  • @abracadabra About Berkeley not being needed: (1) One reason that Kant introduces noumena explicitly is that he is unhappy to write off the objective world as a mental construct a la Berkeley even if he is beyond naivete in doubting the phenomenal (a la Descartes). More fundamentally (2) He calls his philosophy transcendental idealism precisely to distinguish it from Berkeley's (in Kant's words) empirical idealism. My objection to this answer is from the other side: it's very post medieval European. Seriously? Phenomena and noumena without Plato's cave?? Categories without Aristotle?
    – Rushi
    Commented yesterday
  • @Rushi (1) The phenomena aren't 'mental constructs' either. They're the world as shaped by the forms of intuition, i.e. space and time. Kant argues these forms are purely subjective (fallaciously, due to the Trendelenburg gap, but I still think he has a point in considering them subjective in some sense). (2) He does so only after being compared to Berkeley in a critical review. Also, importantly, Berkeley never called his philosophy 'idealism', so Kant doesn't call his philosophy 'idealism' in reference to Berkeley (you didn't say that but it's a common misconception). [1/2] Commented yesterday
  • @Rushi (3) "Ideality of space and time" is also not a thesis introduced by Kant. It's a Leibnizian thesis than Kant simply happens to agree with. Kant introduces his own word "transcendental" to say in what way space and time are ideal (empirical ideality would mean that the objects themselves are mere illusions, whereas transcendental ideality means that they're perceived as spatio-temporal, but aren't intrinsically spatio-temporal). (4) Kant himself explains how and where his views align with Plato (ideas of reason) so I don't think you need to read Plato to have an idea about that. [2/2] Commented yesterday
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It depends on whether you're interested only in Kant's practical philosophy or in his theoretical philosophy aswell. The former depends on the latter for justification, but deontology as such, or Kantian deontology in particular, can be formulated without appealing to Kant's theoretical apparatus (although it is, of course, used in Kant's own writings).

Whatever the answer, you should definitely read the Transcendental Dialectic chapter from the Critique of Pure Reason before reading Kant's works on practical philosophy, religion and aesthetics (Critique of Judgement). The reasons are twofold:

  1. Kant himself initially intended the Critique of Practical Reaosn to be an appendix to this part of the Critique of Pure Reason, as he simply wanted to clarify how the ideas of reason (which are discussed in the Transcendental Dialectic) can be justifiably employed in practical reasoning (since they don't have a constitutive role in theoretical reasoning). He finally settled on publishing a separate book, but the Critique of Practical Reason is still merely an elaboration of themes present in the Transcendental Dialectic of the first Critique.
  2. The dichotomy between finite and infinite (and thus schematizable and unschematizable, i.e. given in experience and experience-transcendent) plays a crucial role in Kant's Critique of Judgement which also elaborates on many themes from his practical philosophy. The distinction is also implicitly present in the very idea of 'postulates of reason' and explains why Kant considers belief in God, immortal soul etc. (which correspond to one horn of the dialectic, i.e. the infinite, the experience-transcendent) to be justifiable on practical grounds (even though, contrary to popular belief, he was not religious at all and didn't himself believe in the afterlife).

The key work of Kant's moral philosophy is of course the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. It was the only work on practical philosophy that Kant initially intended to write. The Critique of Practical Reason was meant as a clarification of the relation between the first Critique and the Groundwork. The Metaphysics of Morals is an application of the Groundwork to concrete issues of, e.g. philosophy of right. Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason discusses how religion is related to morality among other issues from philosophy of religion. The Critique of Judgement is explicitly concerned with bridging the gap between the 'realm of nature' (Critique of Pure Reason, Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science) and the 'realm of freedom' (Groundwork, Critique of Practical Reason, Metaphysics of Morals) and it discusses how the ideas can be sensibly represented via symbolism. It's not an obligatory read if you're interested solely in Kant's practical philosophy, but it might be useful to get a fuller picture of it. There are, of course, also minor papers on various topics related to moral philosophy written by Kant, which you can find in various compilations.

As for Kant-scholars, you should probably read Onora O'Neil and Allen W. Wood to understand Kantian moral philosophy (which was, just like utilitarian moral philosophy, developed by multiple authors other than Kant). Both have also written on Kant's philosophy more specifically too, of course. Paul Guyer is an universally great Kant scholar, although you shouldn't rely on him if you're interested in very subtle distinctions or Kant's philosophy of natural science. But you can be sure he has written on anything Kant-related and can help clarify some misconceptions, even if he isn't sufficiently precise to demystify all issues. There are also more specific issues related to Kant's treatment of normativity and teleology, but I don't know of any one author which has written extensively on these problems. Good luck!

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