How do I analyze Kant's philosophy?

To analyze something means to break it down into manageable pieces and then put those pieces together in a way that gives a good idea of how it works or what it means. In other words, doing analysis is kind of like putting together the pieces of a puzzle so you can see the bigger picture.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) was probably the most influential thinker of the modern era. His best-known writings are really difficult for non-philosophers to understand. For example, one of his main arguments is that all human knowledge comes from experience, but at the same time, it's possible to have knowledge of things prior to having experience of them. (Talk about a puzzle!)

Here are some tips for doing basic analysis to help you figure out Kant's philosophical ideas:

  • Determine your focus: Decide exactly what you want to know. Ask yourself questions about the subject. For example, "What are Kant's basic philosophical ideas?" "What do other philosophers say about Kant's philosophy?" "Are Kant's ideas still relevant today?"
  • Research: After determining your focus, search libraries and the Internet for books, articles, and other media resources on the subject. Talk to teachers or others who have information about the topic. Look to a variety of sources to provide different perspectives.
  • Organize your information: Organize your research materials so that you can study the information in a logical and consistent way. Consider compiling your research by timelines or important dates, or by level of complexity (from basic ideas to more involved theories).
  • Study and take notes: Read your research materials, keeping your focus question in mind. When the most basic ideas begin to make sense to you, move on to the more complex theories. Pay attention to connections in the information. Make note of how the ideas relate to your own experience or what you understand about human nature.
  • Write: Write an outline. Be specific. Use main subject headings and break them down into sub-headings. Your outline should show the progression of your understanding of the topic, and how each section in the outline is connected to the others.
  • Expand and analyze: Think about the topic from your point of view. What does it mean to you? How do the ideas relate to history? Politics? Everyday life? At this point, the pieces of your understanding should start to fit together.
"Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play."
—Immanuel Kant