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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By the way, sorry for my misspelling in here:  It would very much interest me!  and IF Anthropologists.  Have a great day!

Holly L Wilson said:

Dear Thomas,

To bring the Anthropologists into it I have to say that I have been fascinated by their dialogue and the points they have raised.  And it would very much interested me to know what you all think about this issue:  Would a theory of a fixed human nature be more conducive to anthropological research or rather a theory of a malleable human nature?  Would for instance it make a difference to research in anthropology is Anthropologists accepted Kant's theory of human nature as the Four Natural Predispositions:  animal, technical, pragmatic, and moral?  Would such a theory be helpful in discovering new truths about other cultures for instance?  Would it be conducive to discovering new truths about human beings?

animal, technical, pragmatic, and moral

I am fascinated by the sound of those and many anthropological studies might already be weighted implicitly in the direction of one of the last three - i.e. by a tendency to see people as distinctly technical or pragmatic or moral. What about 'rational' and 'aesthetic', though?

Anthropologists would vary a great deal in how malleable they see human nature as being. 'Malleability' is a 'piece of string' quotient after all. Another issue is that animals have been shown to have many more of what were once thought singularly human characteristics like tool use, planning and Machiavellian intelligence - I wonder if Kant would have phrased his ideas in the way he did if he had known that many animals are capable of what he seems to have thought were distinctly human capacities.

I think one can still make the distinctions Kant makes because at the very least the latter three predispositions are guided by reason. It is true that animals can develop a certain amount of technical skill but the ends to which they apply these skills are almost always toward essential ends that meet their needs for existence. Human beings develop skills for ends that are arbitrary and non-essential (playing piano, the arts and sciences). It is also true that animals develop pragmatic skills in learning how to get along with other members of their species, but do they aim at happiness? I certainly would question whether animals are capable of happiness and civilization which are the ends for the pragmatic predisposition (by the way Thomas, the pragmatic predisposition includes the end of civilization and cosmopolitanism, but is just not limited to it). Then I sincerely doubt that animals are capable of acting on moral principles. Just looking at neuroscience we can know the reason for that - our brains have parts that animals don't, namely a large neo-cortex. I am wondering if we were to embrace this idea that we would be able to see the humanity in all other people more clearly. Kant does make many clear arguments for why human beings are different from animals and I think that is right. Human beings are ends in themselves whereas animals are not. This does not say that animals should not be treated kindly (I have argued so in my articles on Kant and animals).

Holly,

why must it be either-or? I know that this sounds perhaps boring, but in my view a serious part of our nature is pretty stable - in the sense that we cannot change it through our intentional actions, our innovations in modes of conduct, and the like, and perhaps doesn't change over most of our history either (further distinctions can and need to be made here) - and much is flexible in these ways. Plus, clearly our ability to change parts of only apparently hard-wired behaviors (our  "other nature", in Kant's interestingly irritating words) in turn presupposes that something's fixed.

About your specific questions about the 4 predispositions, these might be food for another seminar - and, as I confess, too broad to be answered here, at least not by me.

Holly L Wilson said:

Dear Thomas,

To bring the Anthropologists into it I have to say that I have been fascinated by their dialogue and the points they have raised.  And it would very much interested me to know what you all think about this issue:  Would a theory of a fixed human nature be more conducive to anthropological research or rather a theory of a malleable human nature?  Would for instance it make a difference to research in anthropology is Anthropologists accepted Kant's theory of human nature as the Four Natural Predispositions:  animal, technical, pragmatic, and moral?  Would such a theory be helpful in discovering new truths about other cultures for instance?  Would it be conducive to discovering new truths about human beings?

Huon,

I think it's an empirical claim in the following senses:

(1) It is viewed by Kant as empirical, since it comes out of his anthropology, which he viewed as an empirical discipline (and don't be fooled by those interpreters who treat it as a "philosophical anthropology"!). It doesn't really matter much how he came up with the idea. (From the fact that it's synthetic it doesn't follow that it's non-empirical.)

(2) It can be supported but also refuted by empirical statements. However, for this it surely needs further refinement: stuff that's nowadays for instance done in developmental psychology under the heading of "action perspectives on human development". (For a broad survey, see Brandtstädter, J. (1998): „Action Perspectives on Human Development.“ In: Theoretical Models of Human Development. Ed. R. M. Lerner. New York, 807-863.) Another line has to do with psychological research on how we develop various kinds of self-control and so on. You find a few references in an article I've written on a related issue: 

http://uab.academia.edu/ThomasSturm/Papers/122897/The_Self_between_...


Huon Wardle said:

...

we are all producers of part of our modes of conduct

I have called this in our discussions  - though not in the paper, which I realize I should have – “anthropological cosmopolitanism”. Its content is explained by the Kantian (empirical!) claim that we are all producers of part of our modes of conduct, a claim which is rooted in the steps (1)-(6) outlined in section 5(I) of the essay.

This is certainly, as Keith said, one of the ideas I will be taking away from this seminar. Probably too late to develop this line of discussion, but is this just an empirical claim - isn't this directly related also to how human beings produce knowledge synthetically according to Kant?


I would like to proceed further and in fact it would be perfectly possible to do so through another thread on this site, but it is now time to allow Thomas to go back to his day job. 

I think that I can fairly say that this has been an extremely worthwhile departure for the OAC and for the everyone involved. I doubt that any public discussion between anthropologists and philosophers about Kant's anthropology and cosmopolitan view has been held for at least a century, though I could be wrong.

It remains to thank Thomas very much and, given the unusual circumstances involved, to thank all the philosophers and anthropologists who have participated in a trans-disciplinary spirit. I very much hope that the new initiatives that Keith talked about will take this venture further in the future.

Dear all,

1. These have been fascinating two weeks. I enjoyed the format of the seminar, the comments and discussions a lot, and can only hope I could tease out of all those Kantian texts a few bits of interest to current anthropologists. I hope there will be further occasions for discussions.

2. I promise to reply to those who felt that their queries were not properly via email; feel free to write me. I promise especially Allen to respond on his remarks on Kant on freedom (a complex issue) and on Herder.

3. Keith is right that at points I asked back instead of directly responding. That's due to my philosophical habits: Ask until you somewhat clearly understand what the other side says before responding; otherwise confusion might grow too easily. I have seen such growth especially in other interdisciplinary events, and saw the parties walking away with melancholy in their eyes (to put it mildly).  Still, this seminar format should be used for many interdisciplinary debates: because it gives people a bit more time to think.

4. Kant is perhaps less interesting for current anthropologists for partly the reasons Philip outlines. But perhaps also because anthropology is a bit too exclusively invested into the study of local customs. (Needless to say, this is a tendency which those who aim for a cosmopolitan reorientation of this discipline try to overcome.) It is perhaps a bit too separated from psychology, a discipline which - very roughly stated - tries to balance the permanent and flexible aspects of human mind and behavior. I'm inclined to see some reason for Kant's claim that empirical psychology should be integrated into a broader anthropology.

5. A great thanks to Huon and Keith for organizing all this! 

Dear Thomas, of course it is not either or.  We do form our own character.  But it is hard to have a social science of something that can always change.  It is also difficult to make generalizations about something that is just unique to one or two people.  But yes I agree with you that we construct our reality with rules that are common to many people and we can come to understand truths that way.  Still my question is only if Kant's theory of human nature could make a difference in the world of anthropology.  I am very sympathetic with  your work!

I have opened another thread in case anyone wishes to continue the lively discussion here:

http://openanthcoop.ning.com/group/philosophicalanthropologyanthrop...

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