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Relatedly, is the above argument not a kind of Kantian heresy? For is Kant not supposed to offer a theory of rights that is not reliant on a thesis about empirical human nature? The Anthropology is simply an extension of those arguments, and it explains in greater detail the psychological bases for them.

The concept of race in Kant’s Lectures on Anthropology

As for the second argument, it makes a familiar mistake that students often fall into. Nothing could be further from the truth. Alas, we arrive at the central theme of this piece. Kant intended moral anthropology and the metaphysics of morals to be separate. But note that it also helps to define those contours. That, of course, is important in itself, and for understanding the different sides to the Kantian enterprise. And evidently there is a political dimension to this, too.

The justificatory shift away from autonomy and metaphysics engendered by it also helps to take some of the pressure off rights in modern contexts. As Beck makes plain, Kant was not a liberal universalist, and so those who wish to export liberal democracy around the world cannot rely on Kantian ethics to do so. But I think there is also a uniting reason here. Your email address will not be published. Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Introduction to Kant's Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view

He believed in the many but not the many in the one unless you count God as the unifier. Cultures were similar in the sense that all human beings resemble each other and behave in fundamentally similar ways, at the level of having babies, cooking food, showing emotions, and so on. This allowed members of different cultures to empathize and communicate more or less with one another. But the fact that they had their own world views, their own universes of experience, and were each unique to the others, situated in their own histories, led Herder to exaggerate their individuations.

Truth was not universal. It was uncompromisingly plural, scattered, made by cultures themselves in a bed of nationalism and divine immanence. Pursuing those patterns in the history of individual groups, Herder saw historical writing more as an art than a science but not one lacking in the need for empirical inquiry and rigor. He put achievement over ascription in the process of becoming conscious, value-laden, and human. Analogies between cultures did reflect the nature of the divine but did not indicate substantive connections, even while the forms and cultural particulars of those substances were communicable through language.

He did help to develop the now incontestable anthropological proposition that human nature is rooted in the physical human body and thus in the sensuous but is appropriated and molded by culture.


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This was his context for exalting aesthetics and for denying that reason and reflection were transcendental properties of mind. However, Kant's attentions to the wellsprings of organic evolution together with Herder's on language, history, and the irreducible pluralities of diverse human groups helped to establish comparative methodology, the sine qua non of anthropological work.

Of the two, Herder moved most directly along the path of what anthropology has become today.

Kant as Philosophical Anthropologist | SpringerLink

Much of Kant's work has proved to be too abstract for anthropological inquiry because of its ultimate dedication to the transcendentalism of a priori reasoning. Both scholars tried to reconcile the existence of and belief in God as essential parts of their theories. Neither can withstand much present-day scrutiny of their views of Others, including Blacks and Chinese, although Kant's blindness was grounded in biology and Herder's in culture.

Either way, their conclusions about Others were plainly racist and muddle-headed by today's standards — rubbing the wrong way especially against the argument pioneered by the twentieth century anthropologist Franz Boas and his students at Columbia that there is no necessary or fixed relationship between race, language, and culture.

Studied fairly in his own milieu, Herder was a pathbreaker in historiography, sociology, comparative literature, linguistics, and hermeneutics. Under the early stimulus of Kant and the umbrella of Herder's own passionate work and his influence on others around him, anthropology was becoming deeply eclectic, drawing insights from literature, medicine, philosophy, history, travel, and their perceived interrelationships.

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