OAC Press Working Paper 12: Thomas Sturm on Kant's cosmopolitan point of view in history.

This forum post is to advertise an upcoming OAC online seminar by Thomas Sturm:

 

What Did Kant Mean by and Why Did He Adopt

a Cosmopolitan Point of View in History?


The paper can be viewed here (as html or in a downloadable pdf ) and the seminar itself will begin on the 19th of March.

 

Themes:

Currently in Anthropology, cosmopolitanism is a topic whose 'star continues to rise', as one commentator has recently put it. A number of international conferences, including the 2006 ASA meeting at Keele and a range of recent volumes, including a special issue of Social Anthropology in 2010, have highlighted the overlap between aspects of anthropological practice and central ideas in the philosophy of cosmopolitanism. At the OAC we have discussed Kant and cosmopolitanism in anthropological terms from the very inception of this web community; for example here.

Thomas Sturm's article contextualises elements of Kant's pragmatic and cosmopolitan viewpoint on history, placing it within discussions taking place in the late 18th Century. He points to tensions that existed during the enlightenment concerning the possibilities for a cosmopolitan history. Amongst these were central questions for historical inquiry such as: 'what is human nature?' and 'how malleable is it?' 'What constitutes a cause in history?' 'What part do human motives play in historical change?' Figures such as Herder came to the fore at this time to decry an enlightenment tendency to project current values onto the history of other peoples and epochs. Sturm proposes that Kant argued for a cosmopolitan viewpoint that simultaneously accepted human plasticity without relinquishing the claim for a universal human nature.

Our hope for this seminar is that it will create a target for fruitful cross-disciplinary dialogue around the idea of cosmopolitanism, help clarify Kant's role, and provide areas for future debate.

-------

Thomas Sturm has recently published two articles closely related to the theme of this seminar:

(2008) Why did Kant reject physiological explanations within his pragmatic anthropology? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 39, 495-505.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0039368108000836

(2011) Freedom and the human sciences: Hume’s science of man versus Kant’s pragmatic anthropology. Kant Yearbook, 3, 23-42.

http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/kantyb.2011.3.issue-1/9783110236545...

(preprint version of this one: http://uab.academia.edu/ThomasSturm/Papers/844478/Freedom_and_the_Human_Sciences_Humes_Science_of_Man_versus_Kants_Pragmatic_Anthropology)

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Thanks Thomas,

First of all, I should admit that my throw away remark about social sciences was just that. What I was mainly thinking of, apart from the multiplication of metaphysical premises in current social sciences, has to do with the weak predictive power in almost all social science when compared to techno-science. Hence, the kind of thing I have in mind is that in the case of, e.g. economics - the most positivistic of all the social sciences - economists entirely failed to predict the banking crash using their methods of analysis (as opposed to whatever hunches they had etc.). And in doing so they showed that much of what was described as an analytical method was simply a metaphysical 'worldview'.

However, I am sorry that I made the earlier comment because now we could easily be diverted into debating whether what I have just said about economics is true or not and I would rather discuss Kant's and Kantian views. However, my contention is that one aspect of the problem for posititivism in social science is and has been relatively weak powers of prediction. I am not talking about being able to collect data in fascinating new or standard ways.

I am interested also in the possibility that this lack of predictive power in social science may derive from an absence of a sense of cosmopolitan co-responsibility, by which I mean that there may be a problem whereby knowledge in the social sciences  follows the interests of particular not universal communities. Hence, for example in Britain, we are asked what our research contributes to a British 'Big Society' agenda or to British business. I hope it is possible to envisage how this particularising of social science research might distort inquiry.

All this possibly unhelpful contextualising of what I meant does connect to a question and this is what I would rather focus on. Because it does seem to me that Kant's anthropology of "free-acting" beings was not easily compatible in many ways with standard views of how to undertake positivist science during the Twentieth Century. For example, most mid-20th century anthropology, where it tried to take an approach similar to the natural sciences, tended to emphasise the extent to which social action is socially determined and to leave to one side the sense in which it is the result of spontaneous free decision making.

I hope I don't have to put too much evidence on the table for people to accept this broad brush description of anthropologists or sociologists such as Radcliffe-Brown or Talcott Parsons. So, one question for you, Thomas, might be in what ways do you think free-action in the sense meant by Kant can be explored positivistically? How might we approach that topic or test it out?

The second question goes back to a theme in Ronald's statement. There does seem a problem of limits in Kant's notion of cosmopolitan responsibility. A reading of Kant might be something like 'people are ethical beings and the outer limit of ethical responsibility is toward everyone on the planet'. Each individual is just that, one individual, and the world is very large and complexly organised, so there is I suppose potentially a kind of masochism in trying to extend responsiblity to everything, which was perhaps what Ron was indicating. Is there any hint from Kant as to how individuals might go about becoming responsible in a cosmopoltan sense; and how this process of self-regulation might shape their ways of understanding the world?

So, the question is about how to figure the content/shape of personal cosmopolitan responsibility.

Another aspect that I found very intriguing in your account was the idea that a cosmopolitan inquiry might focus on societies or social settings that promote peace. Off the top of my head, it strikes me that David Graeber's writing on debt, where he notes that in many human societies debt is or was cancelled after a certain time in order that huge social inequailties do not develop, would count as an example of this. I do think that part of the impetus for anthropology has been in finding alternative social scenarios of this kind; Margaret Mead springs to mind too.

In an effort to get back to Kant before rushing off again into the thickets of anthropology, I have just been reading the article on Kant's transcendental arguments in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. There I read,

Among Immanuel Kant's (1724–1804) most influential contributions to philosophy is the notion of transcendental argument. In Kant's conception, an argument of this kind begins with an uncontroversial premise about our thought, experience, or knowledge, and then reasons to a substantive and unobvious necessary condition of this premise. Typically, this reasoning from uncontroversial premise to substantive conclusion is intended to be priori in some sense, either strict (Smit 1999) or more relaxed (Philip Kitcher 1981, Pereboom 1990). Often, but not always, the conclusion of the argument is directed against skepticism of some sort. Targets of Kant's transcendental arguments include skepticism about the applicability of concepts not derived from experience to the world of experience, and skepticism about the existence of objects external to us in space.

This, I realize, is the Kant I have in mind, the one for whom the Euclidian geometry of Newton's absolute space and time and its counterparts in bourgeois principles of absolute privacy (the ultimately inaccessible "I") and absolute freedom realized through  contracts freely entered into with an eye to the benefit of all are taken as absolute givens, established through transcendental arguments because they have no solid empirical grounding. 

This characterization is perhaps a caricature but is based, in the bits that deal with freedom, contract, and mutual benefit, on the further description in the article on Kant's social and political philosophy, which begins,

Kant wrote his social and political philosophy in order to champion the Enlightenment in general and the idea of freedom in particular.  His work came within both the natural law and the social contract traditions.  Kant held that every rational being had both a innate right to freedom and a duty to enter into a civil condition governed by a social contract in order to realize and preserve that freedom.

My next questions for Thomas are, then, whether he sees these descriptions as consistent with his own views of Kant.

Dear Thomas,

It is an aspect of scholarly transparency and integrity to 'drop names'. We try to avoid giving the impression that we are the authors of things that others have come up with. It wouldn't surprise me if analytical philosophers share the same sentiment.

In the social sciences, including anthropology and several genres of historiography, the Kant-Hegel division has all too easily been used as shorthand for the differences between methodological individualism and methodological holism, agency and structure or even liberalism and totalitarianism. One of the conclusions is that Kantian philosophy is humanist - in the sense of universalism both when it comes to human nature, ethics and rights - whereas Hegelian philosophy represents the last great system of everything, in which the individual is subordinate to historical evolution (for an excellent dismantling through close reading of this common prejudice, see Kaufmann, Walter. 1978. Hegel: a reinterpretation. U o Notre Dame Press). My remarks on Kant and Hegel were meant to question this simplistic dichotomy.

As for your comment that Kant’s ethics contains the important and reasonable principle of “Ought implies Can” – a moral theory should be livable - I'm inclined to side with Lacan and Žižek, who start from a psychological position. In the lifeless vacuum of concepts your comment may be a correct reproduction of Kant's intention. Lacan's and Žižek's point is that in real life, Kantian ethics - which he himself defines as something that must be hard to accomplish - will prove impossible to live up to and will create endless frustration. Here we enter the halls of Freud's philosophical anthropology: human beings are never really themselves, or, rather, they are much more than they figure. Neuroscience has confirmed that the unconscious - that which we are not conscious of but that nevertheless is us - exists (if we ever needed such proof). Kant cannot be blamed for lacking this type of complex understanding of human nature. We, however, need to accommodate this knowledge.

As anthropologists we kind of do anyway. One of our most precious research methods - some still argue that it's our defining method - is participant/direct observation as part of fieldwork. We usually don't rely on questionnaires and archival studies or secondary sources (at least not solely). Why? Because we are interested in what people do, not just in what people say they do. We like to hear what people have to say, but we are at least as curious to find out what people actually say and do, what they take for granted, what they do without being aware of it etc. In short, anthropologists are suckers for non-rationality.

So are philosophers of the so-called continental persuasion, which may explain why Deleuze, Foucault, Lacan, Butler etc., but not Saul Kripke and Ernst Tugendhat, are household names among anthropologists. In my view, Foucault's influence has reinvigorated anthropology's notorious anti-humanism. By anti-humanism I mean the premise that (a) there is no such thing as human nature and (b) there is no such thing as a human element that exists outside of cultural programming, social integration or relations of power asymmetry. The famous Foucault quote on humanism is: 'Man will be erased like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea'. We are reminded of Mauss' thesis that the category of self is a Western invention. From Foucault's remark we can surmise that this invention will disappear together with 'the West'. Don't get me wrong: I think Foucault is an extraordinary thinker and historian (of sorts). But as anthropologists (philosophical and otherwise) we can't be content with his prediction. We need to decide ourselves whether or not we need humanism in anthropology. This is our Kantian (and Nietzschean) task.

Since we are making discursive tactics explicit, I should reveal mine when I entered this discussion. I wanted to connect Thomas's arguments with material that anthropologists might be more familiar with, hence the name-dropping. I was also aware that some Kantian philosophers might be interested in participating and I wanted to offer them a bridge to those they might join. I always keep in mind that these discussions are posted permanently and that uncommitted visitors might need some background as an inducement to read the paper. In the end I just gave John a lead in and so far the philosophers have not arrived. I should say that I was originally a classicist, so I know the value of sticking closely to texts in a discussion. But I became an anthropologist partly to escape from that restriction and most of our customers never encountered it in the first place.

Since I brought it up -- and referring now just to the Wikipedia article -- "Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser coined the term "antihumanism." Antihumanism (or anti-humanism) is a term referring to a number of perspectives that are opposed to the project of philosophical anthropology. Central to antihumanism is the view that concepts of "human nature", and "man" or "humanity", should be rejected as historically relative or metaphysical, and the rejection of the view that humans are autonomous subjects, and should not be considered as individuals, but rather as parts of a society. Human rights and individual rights are rejected in favor of collectivism." Humanism "focuses on human values and concerns, attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters." This secular stance is related to a belief that knowledge should be made accessible to human beings and relevant to the conduct of their lives. I hold to such a view which is why Kant has been an important influence on my anthropology.

An antihumanist focus on impersonal collectives was a prominent feature of structuralism in the 1960s. Levi-Strauss went so far as to disparage the value not only of a focus on individual subjectivity, but even the empiricism of his Anglo-saxon contemporaries. In his world -- and his autobiographical memoir, Tristes tropiques (1955) celebrates this -- the only operative subjectivity is implicitly the author's. But then Roland Barthes killed off the author too at least explicitly. Structuralism gave way to post-structuralism and other currents, but for many practitioners of social science and even the humanities the individual subject is still treated as a creature of liberal ideology and needless to say that is not good.We now have a number of creeds that merge human beings with other living things, machines, objects and ideas, all in the name of transcending the limitations of categories that are held to be inscribed in the historical genes of capitalism.

Incidentally or not, several leading structuralists came to a sticky end -- Althusser killed his wife, Poulantzas jumped out of a window and Barthes was run over. But Levi-Strauss lived to be 100.

Forgive me for not giving chapter and verse, but this sketch is intended to show something of the cultural context that a Kantian anthropology confronts today. I felt that it might constitute the missing middle between a discussion by Kant experts and a wider audience interested in anthropology. With that off my chest, I will turn in future to the words of your text which a part of me is happier to deal with.

The thing is, it is important to keep in mind the predicament of humanity as a whole when we are rapidly making universal society for the first time. And I would like such a view to be anchored in what people do and think wherever they live. But linking up the two ends is problematic. One of Kant's methods of exegesis was to combine horizon thinking with vivid anecdotes closer to home. He also recommended reading world history, novels and plays.

John,

I think your points can be mostly disentangled from the issue of cosmopolitanism, so insofar as that's possible, I'll keep my answers short to the max.

1: Ok.

2: No, Kantian transcendental deductions do not (necessarily) have the form of proofs by contradiction. Kant has different versions of it (and, unfortunately, interpreters disagree).

3: the sentence is somehow garbled, but you're probably appealing to the following widespread argument: (i) Kant believed in Euclidean geometry (and Newtonian physics) as permanent, and claimed that his categories/forms of intuition provide the only possible explanation of the possibility of E.g. (and N.p.) - and that is the justification (deduction) of those categories/forms of intuition. (ii) We no longer believe in E.g. & N.p. (iii) Therefore, we no longer should take it that Kant's categories/forms of intuition are justified. - Problem lies in premise (i) - in the part that assumes that by means of his categories/forms of intuition Kant only wanted to explain the possibility of E.g. & N.p. - that's wrong. He wanted to explain the possibility of any kind of experience.

4. I do not wish to deny (or propose) here that there is a multiplicity of transc. categories. You're appealing to what Kuhn has called "Kantianism on wheels". But all this depends on what one is really talking about. I don't think, for instance, that any notion of basic experience could be formulated that does not involve causality. But this is quite a different matter than talking about the presuppositions of beauty or moral judgments or, for that matter, of the presuppositions of various branches of empirical science, of course.


John McCreery said:

Thomas,

Sorry to have wandered so far away from the focus of your paper. The truth is I know of Kant, not at all the same thing as actually knowing Kant. My impressions are along the following lines.

1. Kant responded to Hume's empiricism by insisting that inferences (causal, moral, aesthetic) require premises not given in sense data themselves. This seems entirely valid. Computers require programs to process incoming data; brains require neurological structures to process sensory input. Should human minds be any different? I shouldn't think so.

2. Kant found those necessary premises in transcendental categories, presumed to be inherent in the structure of mind. Since, however, they were not inherent in sense data, they could not be inferred by the usual forms of induction and deduction. They could only be discovered by transcendental deductions—which I take to be logically equivalent to what mathematicians call proof by contradiction. 

3. It would appear, however, that Kant mistook proofs that transcendental categories are necessary for proofs that particular forms of such categories, the axioms of Euclidean geometry, for example, were inherent in all minds. We now know that this is not true. There are, continuing the example, a variety of non-Euclidean geometries. 

4. Given the multiplicity of possible transcendental categories, it is possible to conceive of a history in which human beings shift from one set to another. Here time is a good example, with the gradual evolution of time from definition in terms of rudimentary repetitive motions (sun rises, sun sets, for instance) to the abstract linear time of Newtonian mechanics, to the flexible time of General Relativity. Self, moral horizon and the nature of the good and the beautiful may also be good examples, or so it would appear in such works as Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self. And, then, of course, there is


5. Durkheim, who argued that both the categories and the differences we find in them from one people and place to another are rooted in the organization of society—a third set of social facts distinct from both mind and sense data. The virtue of Durkheim's proposal, when seen as a springboard for ethnographic investigation and anthropological theory, is that it offers a possible explanation for the variations documented by Taylor and others.

This, then, is the sum and substance of what I think I know about Kant, which I'm sure to a proper Kant scholar is nothing short of pitiful. I look forward to learning where I have erred and what I am missing.

Huon,

there is indeed a problem about prediction in the social sciences. There are various explanations for it, human (free agency) just being one possible candidate. Others are, as you may know, the difficulty of controlling parameters, and the oftentimes unforeseeable sideeffects of intentional actions.

What I describe as Kant's anthropological cosmopolitanism is related to the problem of prediction. Look in the seminar paper again at what I say about Kant's views on the constancy of human nature (sec. 5(I)). Points (1)-(6) is individually probably more or less innocent factual remarks about human beings, but taken together they produce a kind of critical mass which creates the novelty of his conception of pragmatic anthropology: agents as beings who produce part of their nature themselves (though always in connection to given social needs and demands).

The further question of how to study free actions empirically (perhaps we can avoid the negatively loaded term "positivistically") I deal with in the paper on Hume and Kant on free action and the human sciences. In a nutshell: in 18th century terms, both authors integrate freedom into empirical science by means of the notion of "character" - but Kant has a more complex notion, and one which current psychologists tell me is much more adequate. It contains more realistic psychological assumptions about our ability to rationally reflect and correct our own mental states, from feelings and beliefs up to intentions and rules for action. 

In philosophical circles, there is a list of "proofs that p" (http://consc.net/misc/proofs.html). Each philosopher has his own mode of demonstrating his favorite propositions. One entry is a bit nasty, about Adolf Grünbaum: "As I have asserted again and again in previous publications, ." I hope - but am not overly optimistic - that my remarks do not occasionally look like that as well. ;-)


Huon Wardle said:

Thanks Thomas,

First of all, I should admit that my throw away remark about social sciences was just that. What I was mainly thinking of, apart from the multiplication of metaphysical premises in current social sciences, has to do with the weak predictive power in almost all social science when compared to techno-science. Hence, the kind of thing I have in mind is that in the case of, e.g. economics - the most positivistic of all the social sciences - economists entirely failed to predict the banking crash using their methods of analysis (as opposed to whatever hunches they had etc.). And in doing so they showed that much of what was described as an analytical method was simply a metaphysical 'worldview'.

However, I am sorry that I made the earlier comment because now we could easily be diverted into debating whether what I have just said about economics is true or not and I would rather discuss Kant's and Kantian views. However, my contention is that one aspect of the problem for posititivism in social science is and has been relatively weak powers of prediction. I am not talking about being able to collect data in fascinating new or standard ways.

I am interested also in the possibility that this lack of predictive power in social science may derive from an absence of a sense of cosmopolitan co-responsibility, by which I mean that there may be a problem whereby knowledge in the social sciences  follows the interests of particular not universal communities. Hence, for example in Britain, we are asked what our research contributes to a British 'Big Society' agenda or to British business. I hope it is possible to envisage how this particularising of social science research might distort inquiry.

All this possibly unhelpful contextualising of what I meant does connect to a question and this is what I would rather focus on. Because it does seem to me that Kant's anthropology of "free-acting" beings was not easily compatible in many ways with standard views of how to undertake positivist science during the Twentieth Century. For example, most mid-20th century anthropology, where it tried to take an approach similar to the natural sciences, tended to emphasise the extent to which social action is socially determined and to leave to one side the sense in which it is the result of spontaneous free decision making.

I hope I don't have to put too much evidence on the table for people to accept this broad brush description of anthropologists or sociologists such as Radcliffe-Brown or Talcott Parsons. So, one question for you, Thomas, might be in what ways do you think free-action in the sense meant by Kant can be explored positivistically? How might we approach that topic or test it out?

The second question goes back to a theme in Ronald's statement. There does seem a problem of limits in Kant's notion of cosmopolitan responsibility. A reading of Kant might be something like 'people are ethical beings and the outer limit of ethical responsibility is toward everyone on the planet'. Each individual is just that, one individual, and the world is very large and complexly organised, so there is I suppose potentially a kind of masochism in trying to extend responsiblity to everything, which was perhaps what Ron was indicating. Is there any hint from Kant as to how individuals might go about becoming responsible in a cosmopoltan sense; and how this process of self-regulation might shape their ways of understanding the world?

So, the question is about how to figure the content/shape of personal cosmopolitan responsibility.

Another aspect that I found very intriguing in your account was the idea that a cosmopolitan inquiry might focus on societies or social settings that promote peace. Off the top of my head, it strikes me that David Graeber's writing on debt, where he notes that in many human societies debt is or was cancelled after a certain time in order that huge social inequailties do not develop, would count as an example of this. I do think that part of the impetus for anthropology has been in finding alternative social scenarios of this kind; Margaret Mead springs to mind too.

John,

the author of the first quote is mistaken about Kant's interest in external world (or Cartesian) skepticism. This is a topic very low on his agenda.

I see no reason to introduce problematically loaded language of "bourgeois principles"; and, more soberly, it's doubtful (simply for textual reasons) to place Kant fully in the social contract tradition. He's not against contracts, but they're not very central to his theories.



John McCreery said:

In an effort to get back to Kant before rushing off again into the thickets of anthropology, I have just been reading the article on Kant's transcendental arguments in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. There I read,

Among Immanuel Kant's (1724–1804) most influential contributions to philosophy is the notion of transcendental argument. In Kant's conception, an argument of this kind begins with an uncontroversial premise about our thought, experience, or knowledge, and then reasons to a substantive and unobvious necessary condition of this premise. Typically, this reasoning from uncontroversial premise to substantive conclusion is intended to be priori in some sense, either strict (Smit 1999) or more relaxed (Philip Kitcher 1981, Pereboom 1990). Often, but not always, the conclusion of the argument is directed against skepticism of some sort. Targets of Kant's transcendental arguments include skepticism about the applicability of concepts not derived from experience to the world of experience, and skepticism about the existence of objects external to us in space.

This, I realize, is the Kant I have in mind, the one for whom the Euclidian geometry of Newton's absolute space and time and its counterparts in bourgeois principles of absolute privacy (the ultimately inaccessible "I") and absolute freedom realized through  contracts freely entered into with an eye to the benefit of all are taken as absolute givens, established through transcendental arguments because they have no solid empirical grounding. 

This characterization is perhaps a caricature but is based, in the bits that deal with freedom, contract, and mutual benefit, on the further description in the article on Kant's social and political philosophy, which begins,

Kant wrote his social and political philosophy in order to champion the Enlightenment in general and the idea of freedom in particular.  His work came within both the natural law and the social contract traditions.  Kant held that every rational being had both a innate right to freedom and a duty to enter into a civil condition governed by a social contract in order to realize and preserve that freedom.

My next questions for Thomas are, then, whether he sees these descriptions as consistent with his own views of Kant.

Keith,

many thanks for describing humanism/anti-humanism more clearly! I'm learning a lot here, and while my very first reaction was to say "Kant's a humanist, and of course I'm too", I do think you have good reasons to see Kant as actually pointing beyond this overly simplistic divide. He was also deeply aware how important it is for us as human beings that we are social animals too. In the Anthropology, he nicely puts it as the dilemma that the human being is an animal that has to be educated, but who educates him as a human being too. While anthropological cosmopolitanism (points (1)-(6) in section 5(I) of my paper) is the factual starting point, moral and political cosmopolitanism are there to help us overcome the dilemma insofar as humanly possible.


Keith Hart said:

Since we are making discursive tactics explicit, I should reveal mine when I entered this discussion. I wanted to connect Thomas's arguments with material that anthropologists might be more familiar with, hence the name-dropping. I was also aware that some Kantian philosophers might be interested in participating and I wanted to offer them a bridge to those they might join. I always keep in mind that these discussions are posted permanently and that uncommitted visitors might need some background as an inducement to read the paper. In the end I just gave John a lead in and so far the philosophers have not arrived. I should say that I was originally a classicist, so I know the value of sticking closely to texts in a discussion. But I became an anthropologist partly to escape from that restriction and most of our customers never encountered it in the first place.

Since I brought it up -- and referring now just to the Wikipedia article -- "Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser coined the term "antihumanism." Antihumanism (or anti-humanism) is a term referring to a number of perspectives that are opposed to the project of philosophical anthropology. Central to antihumanism is the view that concepts of "human nature", and "man" or "humanity", should be rejected as historically relative or metaphysical, and the rejection of the view that humans are autonomous subjects, and should not be considered as individuals, but rather as parts of a society. Human rights and individual rights are rejected in favor of collectivism." Humanism "focuses on human values and concerns, attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters." This secular stance is related to a belief that knowledge should be made accessible to human beings and relevant to the conduct of their lives. I hold to such a view which is why Kant has been an important influence on my anthropology.

An antihumanist focus on impersonal collectives was a prominent feature of structuralism in the 1960s. Levi-Strauss went so far as to disparage the value not only of a focus on individual subjectivity, but even the empiricism of his Anglo-saxon contemporaries. In his world -- and his autobiographical memoir, Tristes tropiques (1955) celebrates this -- the only operative subjectivity is implicitly the author's. But then Roland Barthes killed off the author too at least explicitly. Structuralism gave way to post-structuralism and other currents, but for many practitioners of social science and even the humanities the individual subject is still treated as a creature of liberal ideology and needless to say that is not good.We now have a number of creeds that merge human beings with other living things, machines, objects and ideas, all in the name of transcending the limitations of categories that are held to be inscribed in the historical genes of capitalism.

Incidentally or not, several leading structuralists came to a sticky end -- Althusser killed his wife, Poulantzas jumped out of a window and Barthes was run over. But Levi-Strauss lived to be 100.

Forgive me for not giving chapter and verse, but this sketch is intended to show something of the cultural context that a Kantian anthropology confronts today. I felt that it might constitute the missing middle between a discussion by Kant experts and a wider audience interested in anthropology. With that off my chest, I will turn in future to the words of your text which a part of me is happier to deal with.

The thing is, it is important to keep in mind the predicament of humanity as a whole when we are rapidly making universal society for the first time. And I would like such a view to be anchored in what people do and think wherever they live. But linking up the two ends is problematic. One of Kant's methods of exegesis was to combine horizon thinking with vivid anecdotes closer to home. He also recommended reading world history, novels and plays.

Ronald,

may I point you to Kant's views about the ways in which human beings are not transparent about their own desires and intentions, even about their own personal character, and the ways in which we - due to our ubiquitous egoism - overrationalize our own motives? You find them most centrally in the section on "Of legitimate moral semblance" ("Vom erlaubten moralischen Schein") in his Anthropology, but also scattered time and again throughout his ethical and anthropological work as a whole. Also, the workings of the unconscious weren't totally alien to Kant, contrary what countless popular images of him maintain. (Literally: He even connects the workings of the unconscious with our sexual desires, though he admittedly doesn't provide a closer analysis of this. See the section on conscious and unconscious representations in the Anthropology.) But neither did he think that we are in no control at all in our own homes.

Clearly, I completely agree with your view that Foucault and other anti-humanists were throwing the baby out with the bathwater. 


Ronald Stade said:

Dear Thomas,

It is an aspect of scholarly transparency and integrity to 'drop names'. We try to avoid giving the impression that we are the authors of things that others have come up with. It wouldn't surprise me if analytical philosophers share the same sentiment.

In the social sciences, including anthropology and several genres of historiography, the Kant-Hegel division has all too easily been used as shorthand for the differences between methodological individualism and methodological holism, agency and structure or even liberalism and totalitarianism. One of the conclusions is that Kantian philosophy is humanist - in the sense of universalism both when it comes to human nature, ethics and rights - whereas Hegelian philosophy represents the last great system of everything, in which the individual is subordinate to historical evolution (for an excellent dismantling through close reading of this common prejudice, see Kaufmann, Walter. 1978. Hegel: a reinterpretation. U o Notre Dame Press). My remarks on Kant and Hegel were meant to question this simplistic dichotomy.

As for your comment that Kant’s ethics contains the important and reasonable principle of “Ought implies Can” – a moral theory should be livable - I'm inclined to side with Lacan and Žižek, who start from a psychological position. In the lifeless vacuum of concepts your comment may be a correct reproduction of Kant's intention. Lacan's and Žižek's point is that in real life, Kantian ethics - which he himself defines as something that must be hard to accomplish - will prove impossible to live up to and will create endless frustration. Here we enter the halls of Freud's philosophical anthropology: human beings are never really themselves, or, rather, they are much more than they figure. Neuroscience has confirmed that the unconscious - that which we are not conscious of but that nevertheless is us - exists (if we ever needed such proof). Kant cannot be blamed for lacking this type of complex understanding of human nature. We, however, need to accommodate this knowledge.

As anthropologists we kind of do anyway. One of our most precious research methods - some still argue that it's our defining method - is participant/direct observation as part of fieldwork. We usually don't rely on questionnaires and archival studies or secondary sources (at least not solely). Why? Because we are interested in what people do, not just in what people say they do. We like to hear what people have to say, but we are at least as curious to find out what people actually say and do, what they take for granted, what they do without being aware of it etc. In short, anthropologists are suckers for non-rationality.

So are philosophers of the so-called continental persuasion, which may explain why Deleuze, Foucault, Lacan, Butler etc., but not Saul Kripke and Ernst Tugendhat, are household names among anthropologists. In my view, Foucault's influence has reinvigorated anthropology's notorious anti-humanism. By anti-humanism I mean the premise that (a) there is no such thing as human nature and (b) there is no such thing as a human element that exists outside of cultural programming, social integration or relations of power asymmetry. The famous Foucault quote on humanism is: 'Man will be erased like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea'. We are reminded of Mauss' thesis that the category of self is a Western invention. From Foucault's remark we can surmise that this invention will disappear together with 'the West'. Don't get me wrong: I think Foucault is an extraordinary thinker and historian (of sorts). But as anthropologists (philosophical and otherwise) we can't be content with his prediction. We need to decide ourselves whether or not we need humanism in anthropology. This is our Kantian (and Nietzschean) task.

Thank you, Thomas, for your excellent and fine-grained paper. 

I fear I don't know as much about Kant as I wish I did, which probably makes what I want to say dubious. But, regarding Kant's notion of cosmopolitanism, what I would like to ask you about is the question of its extension.

I happen to be reading a book at the moment about the Elizabethan magician and political spin-doctor, John Dee, in which it is mentioned that the terms 'cosmopolite', 'cosmopolitical', etc, were at the time understood to refer to an apocalyptical, universal and transnational empire which was associated with the imminent second coming of Christ. (Guillaume Postel, a contemporary of Dee's, who apparently coined the word 'cosmopolite' in French, took the view that the 'harmony of the earth' would be achieved when everyone had been converted to Christianity.) 

I only introduce this odd, historical example because it demonstrates how different the term 'cosmopolitan' once was - that is, that it then referred to citizenship in an impending Christian new world order. Of course, I'm not suggesting that Kant's idea of the cosmopolitan was the same as this 16th century notion. But I do wonder about the extent to which Kant's idea was also, in some sense, exclusive. That is to say, I mean the extent to which Kant's conception of cosmopolitanism seems to privilege some people over others.

From the little I know about Kant, the issue of the kind of cosmopolitanism which he espoused seems to show itself especially clearly in his debates with Herder. (Incidentally, your comments regarding mistaken interpretations of Herder - e.g., the silly notion that he was somehow responsible for cultural nationalism - were very welcome.) But, anyway, Michael Forster, a scholar of Herder, suggests that Kant's notion of cosmopolitanism was 'homogenizing' in so far as it purported to extend 'equal ethical considerations to all human beings on the basis of an illusion that they all share a great deal in common mentally, and particularly, in values'. On the other hand, he credits Herder with the idea of what he calls 'pluralist cosmopolitanism', by which he means that Herder was committed to 'the equal value of all peoples, despite, and indeed in part because of, the diversity of their mental outlooks and in particular their values.' 

 

To develop the point which Forster is making, Kant was a proponent of the doctrine of hereditary races - he condemned Herder's disapproval of the idea of race in his review of the latter's Ideas on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind. I worry that Kant's cosmopolitanism, is for these reasons, fairly exclusive. In the same review of Herder, Kant asks the question why 'the happy inhabitants' of Tahiti could not be replaced with 'happy sheep and cattle', since, so far as I understand Kant, the former are happily, and uselessly animalistic.

In other words, my anthropological worry is about the extent to which Kant's cosmopolitanism - as well as his understanding of history - is prepared to cut certain populations out of the picture. As Robert Bernasconi has argued,

'the fact that Kant was against whites killing Native Americans should not distract us from the fact that he needed the latter to kill each other - or for them to suffer some other disaster - if cosmopolitanism was to embrace all of humanity, that is to say, all that remained of humanity after the constitutionally less talented had been purged in one way or another.'

So, I'd like to ask what you would make of this portrayal of Kant's cosmopolitan concept. 

      

Thomas,

You cite the passage 'Of legitimate moral semblance' ('Von dem erlaubten moralischen Schein') in Kant's Anthropology as proof of something, I don't know what. That people are able to lie? Because that is what the passage is about. And that lying after all may be a good thing, because so many lies are about presenting oneself as more civil (ethical) than one is and people begin to believe in their own lies. That's why he quotes J Swift's remark that honesty is a pair of shoes worn out in dirt. Claiming that Kant's anthropology somehow already was Freudian is disingenuous.

In his contribution to our seminar, Philip Swift asks about one of Kantian philosophizing's dark sides. There are many. As you write yourself, Kant didn't hold human beings in high esteem. Most often he describes them as selfish and ignorant. The image that comes to mind is an Immanuel who walks the streets in broad daylight, lit lantern in his hand, crying, 'I'm looking for a rational being'. Is self-governance - i.e. overcoming our base nature - the only salvation?

Saying that another person's claim is disingenuous is perhaps a point where one should stop conversation, but I will try one more time.

Read for instance Anthropology, pp. 135ff. in the Academy edition (http://korpora.org/Kant/aa07/135.html). Kant argues that the field of unconscious representations immense and takes up the largest part of our representations. On p. 136 he explicitly says that we are "a play" of our obscure representations, and points to our sealing with sexual desires as example. I did not say his anthropology is Freudian as a whole; that's an overinterpretation of my remark.

As to moral semblance, the passage is not merely about lying. It's basically about role-playing in society, where out of often unconscious motives we try to make ourselves look better than we are. The lectures on anthropology give further examples (if you want them in digested form, I've analyzed them more closely in Kant und die Wissenschaften vom Menschen, pp, 448ff.). Now, read these passages in connection to his views about human egoism and the plasticity of human characters - up to the point that people, if they practice too much role-playing out of their wish to hide or dissemble their true motives in front of others and themselves, may fail to know their own characters, or even not possess a character at all (Anthropology, p. 292; again, with more passages from the lectures: Kant und die Wissenschaften vom Menschen, pp. 425f.). These are again points where I think Kant has a somewhat more complex psychology than is widely assumed, without however overstating the point by making the more radical claim that "human beings are never truly themselves".

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