“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe the more often and the more steadily they are reflected upon: the starry heaven above me, and the moral law within me. The first, begins at the place which I occupy in the external world of sense. The second, begins at my invisible self, my personality and depicts me in a world which has true infinity. The first view of a countless multitude of worlds annihilates, as it were, my importance as that of an ‘animal creature’ which must give back to the planet (a mere speck in the universe) the matter of which it was formed after it has been provided for a short time, we know not how, with vital power. The second, on the other hand, infinitely raises my worth as that of an ‘intelligence’ by my personality in which the moral law assigns a destination to my existence, a destination which is not restricted to the conditions and limits of this life, but reaches into the infinite.”
Taken from A History of the Infinite by Adrian Moore produced for radio in episodes by Juniper for the BBC Radio 4, first broadcast in September 2016.
Above image by NASA. Below image: anonymous portrait circa 1790, in anonymous collection.
The following is a fuller version of Kant’s words.
“Two things fill the mind with every new and increasing wonder and awe, the oftener and the more steadily I reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not merely conjecture them and seek them as if they were obscured in darkness or in the transcendent region beyond my horizon: I see them before me, and I connect them directly with the consciousness of my own existence. The starry heavens begin at the place I occupy in the external world of sense, and they broaden the connection in which I stand into an unbounded magnitude of worlds beyond worlds and systems of systems and into the limitless times of their periodic motion, their beginning and duration. The latter begins at my invisible self, my personality, and exhibits me in a world which has true infinity but which only the understanding can trace – a world in which I recognise myself as existing in a universal and necessary ( and not, as in the first case, only contingent) connection, and thereby also in connection with all those visible worlds. The former view of a countless multitude of worlds annihilates, as it were, my importance as an ‘animal creature’ which must give back to the planet (a mere speck in the universe) the matter from which it came, matter which is for a little time endowed with vital force, we know not how. The latter, on the contrary, infinitely raises my worth as that of an ‘intelligence’ by my being a person in whom the moral law reveals to me a life independent of all animality and even of the whole world of sense, at least so far as it may be inferred from the final destination assigned to my existence by this law, a destination which is not restricted to the conditions and boundaries of this life but reaches into the infinite.”