Empiricism and Rationalism: How Immanuel Kant Changed History

Empiricism and Rationalism
Born22nd of April, 1724
Died12 of February, 1804
Famous Quote“To be is to do”
Known ForGerman philosopher and enlightenment thinker
Region of WorldGermany, 18th century

Immanuel Kant was a prominent 19th century German philosopher who was known to combine two schools of philosophical thought; Empiricism and Rationalism.

Immanuel Kant would forever change history when in the 19th century he would combine the emerging rationalist philosophy of the enlightenment with the old empiricist philosophy of the middle ages. Because of this Immanuel Kant changed history by bridging two great minds in two time periods in history.

Because of this Kant is remembered today as one of the greatest minds of the modern era. His teachings and knowledge. As a result he remains one of the most influential philosophers of all time.

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Without further ado, here is how Immanuel Kant forever changed history by combining empiricism and rationalism.

The Differing Philosophies of Empiricism and Rationalism

Before we can discuss exactly how Immanual Kant forever changed history by combining empiricism and rationalism we must first define these differing philosophies.

Each of these philosophies dated far before the birth of Immanuel Kant. Kant just took the best of each philosophy and combined them into his own version.


Before Immanuel Kant the predominant theory surrounding the theory on nature and spread of knowledge was called Empiricism.

Empiricism is the belief that human beings are born into the world with a blank slate of knowledge. That if everyone in the world was turned into children then all knowledge would be lost.

Because of this the philosophy of empiricism states that all knowledge is gathered through experience. That it is through experiments that knowledge is gathered.

A practitioner of the philosophy of empiricism would engage in scientific experiments to determine to gather new knowledge of how the world works.

Some of the most iconic philosophers of all time are empiricists. For example the world famous philosopher Aristotle believed that all human beings started with a clean mind with no innate knowledge called a tabula rasa.

Simply put, empiricists believe that humans start off life with absolutely no knowledge. That these humans would gather knowledge overtime through their life events. This differs drastically from the rationalism philosophy discussed next.


Immanuel Kant would also draw heavy inspiration from the other primary epistemological school of thought, rationalism.

Empiricism believed that all human knowledge was brought about by experimentation and reflection. Rationalism on the other hand believed that there existed some certain universal truths that any intelligent person would instantly know.

An example of this might be the concept of self at birth. Empiricism philosophers would state that a baby would see a reflection while rationalism philosophers state the baby is born with the concept of self.

This deeper level of thinking is what jump started the Age of Enlightenment. Rationalism believed that there were certain universal truths such as free will and pursuit of happiness.

This concept of universal truths was a bold viewpoint during the 18th century. During this time the world was ruled by authoritarian governments that sought to eliminate individual rule.

Simply put, the philosophy of rationalism believes that there are universal truths to the world that all people are born understanding. This indicates that all knowledge would stem from these truths instead of experimentation and reflection.

How Immanuel Kant Merged Empiricism and Rationalism

Immanuel Kant forever changed history by merging the best of both the empiricist and rationalism school of thoughts.

Kant agreed with rationalism by stating that there existed some universal truths in the world that all people would understand. That these universal truths made the backbone of knowledge. However this is where his views on rationalism stop

Rationalism according to Kant was broken when it went beyond the concepts of universal truths. For example, a baby was not born with the knowledge on how to ride a horse.

Regarding empiricism, Kant believed that all knowledge past the universal truths would be generated using the empirical methodology. This would later be called the scientific method that we use today.

This profoundly impacted the world’s intellectual development for one major reason. According to Kant things such as morals, identity, and language were all human constructs that were brought about by lived experiences.

This would forever change history.

How Immanuel Kant’s New Philosophy Changed History

Immanuel Kant changed history through his views on the development of human morality.

Morality, argued Kant, was not inherent and rational. Rather it was instilled by a society which shared its concept of morality.

Kant believed that differing societies had their own right to their own set of morals. That inherent to the human condition was a need to not only further the development of the sciences but also the development of society as a whole through moral purification.

The only way to achieve this moral purification was through discussion and shared experiences. This built upon his empirical view that human morality was developed from experience.

From this Immanuel Kant would go on to publish several books and pamphlets in the mid 18th century that presented the argument that the world should transition from authoritarian governments to democratic/republican ones.

That these democratic governments should work together to solve differences. That by doing this eventually the world will begin to form one moral code, which in theory should eventually unite the people of the world.

We can see this viewpoint in his publication of his 1795 essay Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. Today, modern institutions such as the United Nations represent Immanuel Kant’s vision and life’s work towards pushing people towards peace and prosperity.

Because of this viewpoint on world government and the spread of religion Immanuel Kant has forever changed history. This was done in the 18th century when Kant fused the two main schools of thought, empiricism and rationalism.


There you have it; an entire article on how Immanuel Kant changed history by fusing empiricism and rationalism into one school of modern thought.

Immanuel Kant remains today a widely studied subject for his philosophical school of thought. Potential students of history will find substantial articles surrounding this man’s relatively unknown impact.

Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you liked this article then consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing around.

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