In the history of Philosophy, Immanuel Kant stands out as a leading thinker of 18th-century Europe. For his comprehensive and systematic works in epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics, he has been given such honorific titles as the “father of modern ethics,” “father of modern aesthetics,” and the “father of modern philosophy.”
The truth, however, is that many of his seminal ideas were taken, without attribution, from ancient Hindu scriptures, especially the Bhagwat Gita.
His standing as an intellectual is further called into question for being at the forefront of promulgating scientific racism for most of his life, although he did back away from it towards the end of his life.
Kant’s claim to fame
Kant’s towering reputation rests primarily on his trilogy of philosophical critiques:
- The Critique of Pure Reason: His first book posits that human cognition operates as a filter. Rather than accessing an unmediated version of reality, termed the noumenal realm, we perceive a processed version, referred to as the phenomenal realm. This framework is built upon the concept of “transcendental idealism,” wherein cognition categorizes and shapes our perception.
- The Critique of Practical Reason: In this book, he focuses on ethical considerations. In this context, Kant introduced the notion of the “Categorical Imperative,” which can be understood as a foundational moral principle.
- The Critique of Judgment: In his last book of the three critiques, he examines aesthetic evaluations, exploring the interplay between understanding and reason. Kant postulated that nature’s organization suggests a possible guiding principle or underlying order.
Propensity for borrowing without attribution
The 18th century witnessed significant interaction of cultures, with the Bhagwat Gita emerging as a foundational philosophical text in the Western world. Many philosophers, if not all, drew inspiration from the Gita to articulate their perspectives on transcendentalism and its related concepts.
Immanuel Kant was no exception, for he subtly incorporated elements from the Gita into his three critiques – without ever crediting the source. Even a cursory examination reveals strong echoes of the Bhagwat Gita in his foundational works:
- Transcendental Idealism: The Bhagwat Gita introduces a notion of a spiritual entity that remains unaffected by external sensory distractions. Kant’s transcendental idealism copies it, proposing that humans don’t perceive reality directly but through a filter.
- Categorical Imperative: Kant’s principle emphasized performing actions out of a sense of duty and not for potential rewards or outcomes. This is a direct copy of Gita’s teaching of Nishkama Karma, which underscores doing one’s duty without seeking materialistic benefits.
- Verstand (Understanding) and Vernunft (Reason): Kant employed these terms to represent different cognitive faculties in human beings. These are, again, direct copies of Gita’s concepts of Manas (mind) and Buddhi (intellect/intuition), respectively.
Pioneer of Scientific Racism
Kant, known for introducing the notion of race in scientific terms, articulated his views in a 1775 paper titled “Different Human Races.” In this work, he distinguished between “race” and “species” and proposed a classification based on skin color. He identified four categories: White, Negro, Hun, and Hindu. He attributed variations in skin color to environmental factors, particularly climate.
However, Kant did not merely categorize; he hierarchized these groups, placing white at the foremost rank. These classifications were rooted solely in skin color, giving a “scientific” footing to the rampant racism that Europe is known for.
Regurgitation of the Christian worldview on human origin
Kant notably favored the Monogenesis theory over the Polygenesis viewpoint. For clarity:
- Monogenesis posits a singular origin for all humans based on the Biblical narrative of creation.
- Polygenesis contends that humans emanate from several points of origin akin to different regional beginnings.
Kant, along with Blumenbach and a few contemporaries, predominantly supported the monogenesis perspective. Biblical texts, particularly the book of Genesis, influenced their stance.
In other words, despite his attempt to project impartiality, Kant’s scholarship is deeply rooted in Christian theology.
Bigoted description of Hinduism
Kant’s musings about Hindus and Hinduism offer a window into his racist worldview:
1.) To the Hindus, men are nothing but spirits (called devas) who are imprisoned in animal bodies in punishment for old offenses: Kant suggests that, according to Hindus, humans are essentially spirits (referred to as devas) who are trapped in animal bodies as a form of punishment for previous transgressions. This interpretation, however, does not align precisely with Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagwat Gita and the Upanishads, which describe the soul’s progression through various life forms before achieving human existence. This journey is not depicted as punitive but rather as stages leading to Moksha, the ultimate liberation.
2.) These Hindus, on the other hand, who under the name of gipsies are scattered far and wide, have not escaped a mixture with foreign faiths, for they came from the dregs of the people (the Pariahs) who are forbidden even to read in the sacred books of the Hindus: Kant describes certain groups, referred to as “gypsies,” suggesting that they were marginalized (the so-called Pariahs) and prohibited from accessing sacred Hindu texts. This assertion inaccurately represents the Vedic Varna system. While there were societal distinctions, it is erroneous to claim that certain groups were universally forbidden from reading religious texts.
3.) The religion of Zoroaster had these three divine persons, Ormazd, Mithra, and Ahriman; that of the Hindus had Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva – but with this difference, that Zoroastrians represent the third person as creator, not only of evil so far as it is punishment, but even of moral evil for which man is punished, whereas the Hindus represent him as merely judging and punishing: In comparing the Zoroastrian and Hindu pantheon, Kant compares Zoroastrian gods Ormazd, Mithra, and Ahriman and the Hindu trinity Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. He describes Bhagwan Shiva as primarily a figure of judgment and punishment. This characterization simplifies and misrepresents Bhagwan Shiva’s multifaceted role in Hindu cosmology, which involves both creation and destruction, symbolizing the cyclical nature of existence.
4.) The Hindu faith gives its adherents the character of pusillanimity for reasons which are directly opposed to those productive of the temper just mentioned: Kant posits that the practices of the Hindu faith, such as Yoga and Pranayama, instill a temperament of timidity in its adherents. This perspective reduces the multifaceted practices of Yoga and Pranayama to mere passive exercises, overlooking their profound philosophical and spiritual implications. Associating these practices with timidity reflects a misunderstanding of their holistic nature.
Failure to acknowledge Indian thought leaders
Immanuel Kant posited that Aristotle had comprehensively addressed all elements of logic. This view seemingly omitted acknowledgment of prominent Eastern thinkers. Notably absent from Kant’s considerations were Jaimini, known for his expertise in Mimamsa; Chanakya, an adept strategist, and economist; Gautama Buddha, who introduced transformative spiritual concepts; Kanada, an early proponent of atomic theory; and Panini, renowned for his contributions to grammar. One could surmise that had Kant been more welcoming about these Eastern contributions, his perspectives might have been more inclusive.
While Immanuel Kant remains a significant figure in Western philosophy, his work remains tainted with plagiarism of key concepts from Hindu texts without any acknowledgment of the source. He must also be held accountable for promulgating racist ideology. At the end of the day, Kant stands as a typical product of 18th-century Europe, fully marinated in the Western superiority complex.