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Eighteenth-Century Studies 38.2 (2005) 329-332
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Immanuel Kant and the Anthropological Enlightenment
German eighteenth-century studies have shown an increasing interest in anthropological accounts of human reason and civilization. Interpretations of Enlightenment philosophers increasingly emphasize the historically contingent character of cultural development not only as a means of explaining the eighteenth century, but also as a distinct concern of its thinkers. Two of the works under review here, John Zammito's Kant, Herder, and the Birth of Anthropology and Ian Hunter's Rival Enlightenments: Civil and Metaphysical Philosophy in Early Modern Germany, both major intellectual histories of the Enlightenment, seek to re-establish the importance of those pragmatic philosophies of culture and politics that preceded the transcendental Critiques of Immanuel Kant. These superior works of scholarship approach earlier phases of the enlightenment while simultaneously engaging in a re-interpretation of Immanuel Kant's long career.
Both Zammito and Hunter reconsider the history of the German enlightenment by questioning the long-standing tendency to read eighteenth-century German philosophy as leading up to the critical philosophy of the mature Kant. The primacy of this teleological account of philosophical history has cast many who differed with Kant into a shadowy, secondary position. Most notably Gottfried Herder's anthropological writings have long been interpreted as having failed to satisfy the transcendental demands of Kantian thought. The rivalry between the two has been judged largely in Kant's favor. Zammito tries to undo this presumption by demonstrating that during the 1760s Kant was strongly drawn to writing in the essayistic manner of popular philosophers, and that he entertained a strong interest in anthropological forms of argumentation. The later, critical Kant may have eschewed Herder's Sturm und Drang engagement with moral and aesthetic culture, but Zammito shows that for a crucial period in the middle of his career, before he formulated the transcendental psychology of Critique of Pure Reason, Kant pursued the alternative path that anthropologically grounded philosophy offered.
The anthropological side of the Enlightenment arose at mid century as a result of several different discourses, such as medical psychology, biological accounts [End Page 329] of the soul, psychological novels, and ethnographic travelogues, converging in an eclectic and unsystematic manner. Zammito divides his book between Kant and Herder, yet his real interest lies in demonstrating how close Kant's early thinking was to these anthropological discourses. Having shown that Kant shared many of the pragmatic goals of popular philosophy, Zammito then seeks to resurrect scholarly interest in such writers, particularly Herder. Whereas Zammito actively re-interprets the early Kant, his chapters on Herder serve as sweeping summaries of Herder's many essays. Given the neglect of Herder in English language scholarship, no doubt aggravated by the fact that some of his key essays remain untranslated, Zammito's account of Herder will serve as an invaluable overview.
Ian Hunter shifts attention even earlier in the history of German philosophy but with a similar aim of escaping the gravitational pull of Kant's transcendental philosophy. Hunter objects to the tendency to read Kant as having overcome the failures of earlier metaphysical philosophy by combining its best features with the skepticism of English empiricism. Kantian historians have for too long, Hunter argues, dismissed Enlightenment thinkers such as Christian Thomasius and Samuel Pufendorf as mere forerunners to Kant's great synthesis of metaphysical rationality with empiricism. Hunter argues for the existence of two...