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The ideas of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) are significant enough to be compared to a watershed in Western thought. In his mind were gathered up the major interests of the Enlightenment: science, epistemology, and ethics; and all of these were given a new direction which he himself described as another Copernican revolution. As Copernicus had shown that the earth revolved around the sun, rather than the sun around the earth, so Kant showed that the knowing subject played an active and creative role in the production of his world picture, rather than the static and passive role which the early Enlightenment had assigned him. This change of emphasis from object to subject can be seen in the appearance of the new word, Weltanschauung And the form which this change took was one type of idealism, although different from the idealism of Berkeley. [excerpt]

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* Reprinted from Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason and Other Writings in Moral Philosophy, trans. Lewis White Beck (Chicago: UniversiTy of Chicago Press, 1949), pp. 55-66. Used with permission of the University of Chicago Press.


This is a part of Section XII: The Post-Enlightenment Period. The Contemporary Civilization page lists all additional sections of Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, as well as the Table of Contents for both volumes.

More About Contemporary Civilization:

From 1947 through 1969, all first-year Gettysburg College students took a two-semester course called Contemporary Civilization. The course was developed at President Henry W.A. Hanson’s request with the goal of “introducing the student to the backgrounds of contemporary social problems through the major concepts, ideals, hopes and motivations of western culture since the Middle Ages.”

Gettysburg College professors from the history, philosophy, and religion departments developed a textbook for the course. The first edition, published in 1955, was called An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization and Its Problems. A second edition, retitled Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, was published in 1958 and 1960. It is this second edition that we include here. The copy we digitized is from the Gary T. Hawbaker ’66 Collection and the marginalia are his.