[lit-ideas] Yes, We Kant

  • From: John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Lit-Ideas <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 17 Dec 2010 23:52:22 +0900

The subject line is the title of a blog post on the Open Anthropological
Cooperative, a Ning network to which I belong. Some here might find it


Keith Hart has, several times since I joined OAC, urged us to look deeper
into anthropology's history and consider the anthropology of Immanuel Kant.
I must confess that I have resisted this suggestion, anticipating a
head-banging encounter with Kantian critical philosophy. Today, however,
having a bit of time on my hands and procrastinating from getting to work on
other tasks, I turned to Questia to see what I would find if I searched for
"Kant anthropology." At the top of the list of works that popped up was

Jacobs, Brian and Patrick Kain (2003) *Essays on Kant's Anthropology.*
Cambridge University Press.

Reading the introduction, I came across the following paragraphs, which do,
indeed, offer some provocative suggestions about what anthropology, as Kant
conceived it, might be.

First, it would be a pragmatic discipline, pursued with an eye to utility as
well as intellectual knowledge or pleasure per se.

*Rather than offer a merely theoretical account of human affairs, useful
only for theorizing in the schools, Kant intended to provide a ʻdoctrine of
prudenceʻ (**Lehre der Klugheit)  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.* (Jacobs and
Kain 3) <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=113398789>

Second, it would draw upon ethnography but not be confined to it.

*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
i**nclude 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.*(Jacobs
and Kain 3) <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=113398789>


It was startling to read that Anthropology was Kant's most popular course
and one he taught for more than 20 years (1772-1794). This was due,  at
least in part, in the way it was taught, using lively humorous language and
vivid anecdotes, in a style that contrasted sharply with the high
abstraction and labored theorizing of the great Critiques.

*Kant's anthropology is important, however, not only because of the
questions it raises about Kant's philosophical system or the history of the
human sciences. It is also important as an unambiguous counterpoint to the
still prevalent view that, in Wilhelm Dilthey's words, ʻin the veins of the
knowing subject, such as ... Kant [has] construed him, flows not real blood
but rather the thinned fluid of reason as pure thought activity.ʻ* *Kant's
anthropology lectures present the acting and knowing subject as fully
constituted in human flesh and blood, with the specific virtues and foibles
that make it properly human. This is an account that can and should be taken
seriously in its own right.* (Jacobs and Kain

John McCreery
The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
Tel. +81-45-314-9324

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