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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'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.


Kant writes on the 'The End of All Things' and seems to have seen this idea as necessary for people to think about cosmopolitan morality; where does eschatology fit in, Thomas? You talked about stadial development which in the West is very much linked to a Christian view of time.


On Ron's point, I would have thought Kant's notion of schema very clearly preempts Freud's ideas of an unknown/unknowable substrate in thought. He also talks about systems of thought taking shape as if through a 'generatio aequivoca' out of an 'idea that lies hidden in us'; which points to the view that construction of ways of thinking may be rational but the source ain't necessarily so.

Mindful of my promise, Thomas, I have diligently reread your paper four times in the hope of finding some textual reference as a basis for a comment. And I have failed. You have been very careful to hedge your claims and I can find no fault with them. I remain a great admirer of the piece which set off all sorts of thoughts running in my head, but, on inspection, they are mostly speculative by-products of my own imagination, fed by reading that long ago lost the scholarly rigour it once had.

Philip's concern that Kant's cosmopolitanism might be a legitimation for totalitarian genocide spawned by Christian millenarism was equally careful in citing chapter and verse. I can't count the number of times I have read denunciations of the liberal philosophers as misogynist racists, always with some specific text or action in mind (such as Hume's "I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the Whites" or Locke's writing the constitution for an American slave state). When it comes to the Enlightenment, I am reminded of Keynes' opinion that a writer depends on a lot of sympathy from his readers. I find these selective quotes to be usually anachronistic. So, although it is important to establish what Kant really thought and meant, we are back to asking why we should bother reading him now (which is what I take from Huon's line of argument), especially when the practitioners of a discipline he could be claimed to have founded routinely ignore him.

This is akin to asking what Kant's cosmopolitan approach to history is good for. So let us examine your conclusions:

...his views should be seen as responding to contemporary debates rather than internal problems of his own philosophy only...What this contextualization cannot explain (and, a fortiori, defend) are the strongly teleological claims of his views on human history, or their exact relation to his ethical theory. Even then, critics might either reject the very demand for a grand-scale model of human history, or at least claim that Kant’s sketch is useless for, say, current historical research.  But note that I have tried to reduce his claims about human social dynamics to their most simple, largely innocent basic points. Given this, and given the epistemological modesty of his claims about human development, perhaps things look better for a kind of reflection about the question of how we could give meaning to the fragmented masses of historical knowledge.

The first sentence says that he was socially engaged, not simply absorbed in the workings of his own mind. The rest seems to be backing off from features of his thinking that don't suit our taste, such as teleological history, while making a lowkey recommendation that he could help academic historians or their students escape from the maze of particulars they have created. So is that it, Kant as a historian without the intellectual politics that people like Philip impute to him? I want to branch out from this restricted claim, but, as I said, I can't do so by remaining within the parameters of your paper.

Dear Philip,

the points about the extension of Kant’s cosmopolitanism must be worrying to any anthropologist, and his remarks about non-whites do belong to the embarrassing features of his works. I have no intention to defend them.

Most interpreters argue for either of the following two positions: (1) Kant's universalist ethics is damaged by his racist views - i.e., when he speaks of humans, he means only whites (and more specifically white males). (2) The principles of that theory are formulated in non-racist terms, and his racist remarks are regrettable features of his own partly biased anthropology. We can discard them and stick to the "good" Kant.

I'm inclined towards (2). There is an important addendum to be made. Pauline Kleingeld has provided evidence that Kant changed his mind about non-whites. This probably happend after 1788 (the article in response to Forster) and before the middle of the 1790s (the essay on perpetual peace and the Metaphysics of Morals). Kant introduced here a "cosmopolitan law", defended on ethical grounds. He now claims that colonial conquests for instance of "America, the negro countries, the Spice islands, the Cape, etc." (Acad. ed., vol. 8, p. 358) are incompatible with this law. He rejects slave trade (Bernasconi overlooks this), views Native Americans and Africans capable of signing contracts, and so on. 

I've checked the anthropology lectures too. Until the early 1780s, Kant connects his biological analysis of the races with the nasty claims concerning their different intellectual and moral qualities. In the mid 1780s, the section on race disappears, though it again shows up in an (unpublished) lecture named Anthropologie-Reichel, dated 1793/94 (dating issues are sometimes a bit difficult here). In the 1798 Anthropologie, however, Kant is clear that considerations about the races have no place in pragmatic anthropology - they belong into physical geography (Ac.ed., vol. 7, pp. 120, 299).

Both the American and the French Revolution may have impressed him not only verbally, but have led to changes in parts of his political theory and, consequently, have led him to reconsider the anthropological, moral, and legal statuses of non-whites.

See P. Kleingeld, Kant's second thoughts on race, in: Philosophical Quarterly 57 (2007), 573-592, available at

https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/handle/1887/13887/Kant%2...

Curiously, his views about women did not undergo such a change.


Philip Swift said:

...

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 port

Short answer: Eschatology plays no role in Kant's philosophy of history. It's popular to ascribe this to him as well as to other philosophers of history in the 18th century, but the actual evidence is scarce or nonexistent. Most philosophies of history then were concerned more with turning history into a science, and tried to provide a theoretical framework for that. A pretty remarkable text that summarized the views of the time was:

Koester, H. M. G. (1775): Über die Philosophie der Historie. Giessen.

More in ch. 6 of my book (sorry, but just in case you're interested).

Huon Wardle said:

'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.


Kant writes on the 'The End of All Things' and seems to have seen this idea as necessary for people to think about cosmopolitan morality; where does eschatology fit in, Thomas? You talked about stadial development which in the West is very much linked to a Christian view of time.


On Ron's point, I would have thought Kant's notion of schema very clearly preempts Freud's ideas of an unknown/unknowable substrate in thought. He also talks about systems of thought taking shape as if through a 'generatio aequivoca' out of an 'idea that lies hidden in us'; which points to the view that construction of ways of thinking may be rational but the source ain't necessarily so.

Thanks Thomas, for your thorough and enlightening reply. 

I ought to say - partly in answer to Keith - that I didn't mean my point to be that, because Kant might have held some dubious views, it would invalidate his whole philosophy. I completely agree that we absolutely ought to be reading Kant. But, since we are considering his idea of cosmopolitanism, I think it is valid to ask just how open his notion was. 

Short answer: Eschatology plays no role in Kant's philosophy of history. It's popular to ascribe this to him as well as to other philosophers of history in the 18th century, but the actual evidence is scarce or nonexistent.


My reading of Kant's ideas of the End of All Things is that he sees in the idea of a collective judgement a possibly necessary psychological component of rational thought:

'Why do men expect an end of the world after all? And why, if this is granted to them, do they expect an end that is terrible (for the greatest part of the human race)?... The basis for the first expectation appears to lie in this, that reason tells them that the duration of the world has a worth only insofar as the ultimate ends of existence of rational beings can be met within it; but if these should not be attainable, creation itself would appear... to be... purposelessy at play ... [having] no upshot whatever and... no rational design'

(The End of All Things)

In other words he seems to have seen that teleology/eschatology was necessary for rational morality at some level; not so?

(Of course it is interesting that something we might take as being irrational (creationist eshatology) is taken by him as somehow rational from a perspective outside itself - very anthropological.)

(1) Kant’s racist provincialism invalidates his anthropology and cosmopolitanism.

(2) Kant’s remarks on intuitus and schema validate his standing as a pre-emptor of Freud.

I think neither statement is true. In today’s language, Kant’s Urteilskraft (schema) explains cognition. It does not posit the existence of an id. Even Külpe and those following in his footsteps did not make such a claim. Lacan’s point is that, with actual human beings, Kant’s imperatives are frustrating and will inevitably be frustrated. More importantly, however, whatever scattered remarks one finds in a philosopher’s collected (and uncollected) writings, they have to be judged in relation to the topic at hand.

We began by talking about Kant’s cosmopolitanism and its connection to pragmatic historiography. My comment: the connection to Kant's natural history may be stronger. We then moved on to Kant’s Menschenbild (anthropos logos). My comment: Kant was no Freud. When Kant writes about cosmopolitanism, his anthropology is unambiguously Hobbesian: ‘Der Friedenszustand unter Menschen, die nebeneinander leben, ist kein Naturstand (status naturalis), der vielmehr ein Zustand des Krieges ist’ (first sentence, second section in Perpetual peace). The natural state of human beings living in proximity to one another is war. No qualification. Not an ounce of doubt or vagueness. Published in 1795, when Kant was 71. What now? Which of Kant's statements shall we ignore and which shall we build on? A matter of Urteilskraft? 

 think neither statement is true. In today’s language, Kant’s Urteilskraft (schema) explains cognition. It does not posit the existence of an id.


Clearly the point would have to be broader than that; something to the effect that Freud's way of looking at the problem of how the mind workds isn't really conceivable without Kant having set up the idea of the unconscious work of the imagination as a structural problem in the first place. Personally, I think that this is true and that of course - Freud, well, Freud is Freud. 

A general point in our discussion, which Keith indicated, is that Thomas is really working very closely with the detail of what Kant said on these topics and seeing how it fits together in quite a tight analytic way.

Thomas is right to suggest that he cannot extent that out into every different possible area of debate with regard to a whole multitude of thinkers all of whom have their own agendas and so on. In contrast, as anthropologists we are interested in (1) seeing what Kant said reasonably clearly, and the context in which he said it, but, to be honest, perhaps more we are interested in (2) seeing which of his ideas we can put to use in a way that is particular to our intellectual/experiential interests.

So, there is a conflict just there which makes translation and communication difficult in this dialogue.

Dear Philip,

there is no doubt that these questions are legitimate, don't worry. Let me ask back: Assuming that Kleingeld is correct, do you think there is anything wrong with Kant's notion of (a) moral/political cosmopolitanism and (b) anthropological cosmopolitanism?


Philip Swift said:

Thanks Thomas, for your thorough and enlightening reply. 

I ought to say - partly in answer to Keith - that I didn't mean my point to be that, because Kant might have held some dubious views, it would invalidate his whole philosophy. I completely agree that we absolutely ought to be reading Kant. But, since we are considering his idea of cosmopolitanism, I think it is valid to ask just how open his notion was. 

Dear Huon,

I wholehartedly agree. And I would ultimately always come back to question (2). I have been asked a number of question to be subsumed under (1), and tried to explain Kant's views - actually, restricting myself mostly to what's absolutely necessary. Kant scholarship is a huge industry, and you will find to every interpretation at least a few others.

Now let me ask back everyone: Given what I've explained so far, what are the judgments about his (a) moral/political cosmopolitanism and (b) anthropological cosmopolitanism? And, moreover, do you anthropologists see any use in them for your own research? Does it guide your questions, and if so, how? Can you give me concrete questions? I'm absolutely curious about this.

Huon Wardle said:

 think neither statement is true. In today’s language, Kant’s Urteilskraft (schema) explains cognition. It does not posit the existence of an id.


Clearly the point would have to be broader than that; something to the effect that Freud's way of looking at the problem of how the mind workds isn't really conceivable without Kant having set up the idea of the unconscious work of the imagination as a structural problem in the first place. Personally, I think that this is true and that of course - Freud, well, Freud is Freud. 

A general point in our discussion, which Keith indicated, is that Thomas is really working very closely with the detail of what Kant said on these topics and seeing how it fits together in quite a tight analytic way.

Thomas is right to suggest that he cannot extent that out into every different possible area of debate with regard to a whole multitude of thinkers all of whom have their own agendas and so on. In contrast, as anthropologists we are interested in (1) seeing what Kant said reasonably clearly, and the context in which he said it, but, to be honest, perhaps more we are interested in (2) seeing which of his ideas we can put to use in a way that is particular to our intellectual/experiential interests.

So, there is a conflict just there which makes translation and communication difficult in this dialogue.

Would it help to clarify then discussion to distinguish three reasons for reading Kant?

  1. To understand Kant. warts and all, an historical and biographical approach. If Kant were Newton, we would be including the astrology as well as the physics.
  2. To evaluate Kant's theories versus plausible competitors, the classic philosophical approach. If Kant were Copernicus, we'd want to assess how his theory stands up compared to Ptolemy's and Kepler's. In Kant's own case, Hume and Hegel come to mind.
  3. To take from Kant's theories ideas that might still be useful as insights or premises even if the rest of Kant were discarded. We might call this one the anthropological bricoleur  approach. In this case, we get to pick and choose, and the idea of a cosmopolitan anthropology grounded in seeing all human beings as moral agents deserving of the same rights and respect that we demand for ourselves? That sounds pretty good. Associating it with Kant adds a certain cachet, but whether we should see it as a moral imperative is a judgment independent of where the idea came from or who had it first. 

As I see it, if our purpose is 1., then I shouldn't be involved in this conversation. I simply don't know enough about Kant or his time and place in history to have anything meaningful to contribute. If our purpose is 2, I am only in slightly better shape. It has been a long time since I did a B.A. in philosophy, which given its time and place was heavily biased toward British Empiricism and twentieth century analytic philosophy, mostly logical positivism. That isn't where I am now, but that's a different story. I can follow the conversation as a semi-informed American fan might follow a cricket test match, offering a bit of applause at a good round at bat or groaning when someone misses the ball. Finally, then, there is purpose 3. Here is where I would place Keith's enthusiasm for Kant. One does not have to have a deep knowledge of Kant's biography or have read the texts as closely as a serious Kant scholar does to applaud the idea that an anthropology guided by the moral vision embodied, so we are told, in Kant's anthropology would be a seriously good idea, if for no other reason than substituting Robbie Burns' "A man's a man, for all that" or Luther's "Hate the sin and love the sinner" for the moral paralysis and analytic dead ends that now seem to dominate so much of anthropological discourse.

These conclusions are, of course, a highly personal take. Others will have their own positions. Still the three questions might be worth asking of any and all positions.

Thomas, I have learned so much from your meticulous answers to our questions. To launch into an explanation of what Kant means for me is rather demanding, but I can indicate some of the contours. I believe that anthropology was invented by the liberal philosophers as an aid to a democratic revolution which sought to replace the Old Regime. For me, the masterwork from which so much followed was Rousseau's second discourse on the origins of inequality (which is the logical antithesis of democracy). Kant took this movement as far as it could go then and his late cosmopolitan politics, moral philosophy and anthropology were partly inspired by a world revolution which included America, France,the anti-slavery movement and the first stirrings of the industrial revolution. He knew that governments were forming coalitions for war, but still tried to envisage a world society that transcended existing state boundaries.I find his 1784 essay "Idea for a universal history with cosmopolitan intent" mind-blowing for its vision of the future of reason lying with the species, not just individuals and of conflict as a catalyst for the formation of a lawful world order.

I believe that we are living through a similar period of world revolution in which the development of universal means of communication adequate to the transmisson of universal ideas has the potential to transform society more radically than any event since the invention of agriculture. We are the primitive digging stick operators triggering off a revolution whose consequences we could not possibly understand, but with the ability to jeopardise the future of humanity through our ignorant backwardness. After a century of wars and nationalism, our urgent need is to extend democracy and justice to the global level. Anthropology is indispensable to that project, as it was in the eighteenth century, but social science has been hi-jacked by the imperatives of national capitalism, Hegel's brainchild in The Philosophy of Right, and academic anthropology has lost its way as a result. Hence the need to revisit Kant and Rousseau since they knew how to create an anthropology for a world that was becoming something new.

I have drawn on Kant's cosmopolitan ideal to examine the irrationality of controls over international migration, his notion of a universal cosmopolitan right of strangers which underpins Perpetual Peace. As I hinted earlier, what attracts me to his anthropology is the idea that it is pragmatic more than cosmopolitan. Huon has suggested how that might transform what we think anthropology is for and what the point of our research, writing and teaching is. I believe that there is a powerful hunger in our world for a politics that is moral. Well, not much point in looking further than Kant for where to begin that project. His third Critique of Judgment is indispensable to any attempt to move beyond the self-limitation of a positivist approach to knowledge. This is linked to the future of the universities and whether normal academic practice is sustainable. Kant pioneered thinking about the academic division of labour.

I once likened academic anthropologists to passengers in a driverless bus heading for the edge of a precipice while they stared fixedly out of the back window. I would like to instal a revived Kant at the wheel since at least he conceived of anthropology as a way of moving forward.

PS I know that Kant preferred republicanism to democracy, but I gloss over that here.

 

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