Academic journal article German Quarterly

Late Kant: Towards Another Law of the Earth

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Late Kant: Towards Another Law of the Earth

Article excerpt

Fenves, Peter. Late Kant: Towards Another Law of the Earth. New York: Routledge, 2003. 224 pp. $36.95 hardcover.

Peter Fenves critically engages Immanuel Kant through an original and intriguing reading of the latter's post-critical writings. Fenves's account of the late Kant displays an in-depth knowledge of Kant's writings and the author 's creative bent with regard to articulating the philosophical and political content of Kant's texts through a literary lens and presenting an altogether new interpretation of this philosopher of the Enlightenment.

The thesis that Fenves is ultimately out to support is that the late Kant "made way" in his late writings for a species (race) of human beings for whom present humanity was a mere transitional means for Nature to attain, a perhaps provocative notion for those familiar only with the more "standard" writings of the philosopher. Inconsistent, on its face, with Kant's principle that humanity is an end unto itself, this thesis is, in the broader context of Fenves's book, only one of many inconsistencies of Kant's "system" of thought. The author discusses, in fact, such (alleged) internal conflicts and selfcontradictions in Kant's writings at length throughout the volume. At times only loosely connected with the overarching thesis of the book, these excurses, while interesting and compelling in their own right, often detract from the persuasiveness of the overall argument by their fragmentary nature. Fenves's concluding chapter, while intriguing in the consequences that it postulates for an understanding of late Kant and the latter 's theory of a global federation of republican states under the banner of perpetual peace, comes as something of jolt in its sudden return to the thesis from the book's introduction. The intervening chapters, such as and especially the one on the nature of friendship, are tied in to the book's conclusion only briefly and without persuading us that they are truly an integral part of the book's general thesis.

While demonstrating a sovereign familiarity with and understanding of Kant's philosophical and political writings, Late Kant is, at times, a telling example of what can go wrong when philosophy is read as literature. Admittedly, the genre-distinction between philosophy and literature is itself contentious, especially since Derrida, yet it is problematic, for instance, when Kant's Toward Perpetual Peace is accused of failure, as it is in Fenves, and this thesis is then supported predominantly with a literary reading of the text's introductory paragraph to the effective exclusion of an engagement with the political-philosophical content of the text proper. …

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