Essays on Kant's Anthropology

By Brian Jacobs; Patrick Kain | Go to book overview

anthropology as a unified science of theology and physiology.7 Kant was explicit about giving up “the subtle and … eternally futile investigation into the manner in which the organs of the body are connected to thought,” in favor of a doctrine of empirical observation (Beobachtungslehre) without any admixture of metaphysics.8 Kant also stressed that, as an alternative to this tradition, his version of anthropology would have a pragmatic orientation. As he would later explain in the preface to his own textbook,

A systematic treatise comprising our knowledge of human beings (anthropol-
ogy) can adopt either a physiological or a pragmatic perspective. – Physiological
knowledge of the human being investigates what nature makes of him; prag-
matic, what the human being as a free agent makes, or can and should make, of
himself.9

Rather than offer a merely theoretical account of human affairs, useful only for theorizingin the schools, Kant intended to provide a “doctrine of prudence” (Lehre der Klugheit)10 toward which future citizens of the world could orient themselves. Following the lead of works such as Rousseau's Emile, Kant aimed to provide observations of peoples and cultures useful for his auditors to get on in the world, to conduct commerce and politics with a greater understanding of human beings and of human relations.

For Kant, “anthropology” is not a study of other cultures in the sense of comparative “ethnography,” although as a pragmatic inquiry into the nature of human beings in general it does draw in part upon such works. Kant's “sources” include not only travel accounts of distant regions, but also plays, poetry, histories, novels, physiology, and philosophical works. In the lectures on anthropology, one is as likely to encounter a reference to Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy as to Lucretius' De rerum natura. Kant draws upon these sources to provide an empirical and useful account of the powers of the human mind in general and the vocation of the human race. Given these interests, one might refer to Kant's anthropology as a “philosophical anthropology” were it not that such a phrase would strike Kant as an oxymoron, given his critical view that philosophy is an entirely rational and nonempirical enterprise, while anthropology is completely empirical.

Kant's lectures on anthropology were his most popular academic offering, in terms of attendance, interest, and accessibility.11 As Kant

-3-

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