- Kant’s Lectures on Anthropology: A Critical Guide ed. by Alix Cohen
For over two decades, Immanuel Kant offered a lecture course on the subject of anthropology. In 1997, a German critical edition of several different sets of student notes from this course was published, and a large selection of these notes was translated into English in 2012. The collection of thirteen new essays under review is a significant contribution to the growing literature that makes use of this lecture material to understand Kant’s anthropology in particular and to flesh out other parts of Kant’s system. Scholars interested in a variety of particular issues in Kant’s philosophy are likely to find at least several chapters very worthwhile, and scholars interested in better understanding the nature and development of Kant’s anthropology will benefit from reading this whole collection because of its high-quality contributions and the wide range of different approaches taken to this rich and complicated lecture material.
Four chapters focus on Kant’s account of the faculty of cognition. Rudolf Makreel argues that (at least within Kant’s anthropology) self-cognition should be focused on self-assessment. Gary Hatfield argues that Kant’s account of the senses combines claims about the ordinary phenomenology of touch and vision with some standard theoretical accounts of perceptual illusion and the processes of vision: some theoretical understanding of these processes and illusions is useful for avoiding and correcting errors. Tim Jankowiak and Eric Watkins explain how Kant’s accounts of the various sensory modalities indicate some important empirical conditions for the possibility of experience that supplement his account of a priori conditions of experience in the first Critique. Touch, for example, provides [End Page 339] something that vision itself cannot provide and that is necessary for the representation of material objects as substances. These two chapters go very nicely together. Hatfield’s emphasis on the kinds of materials Kant deploys, and his primary, “pragmatic” goal help make sense of how and why Kant presents this “meat on the bones” of cognition in the particular way that he does. Alix Cohen emphasizes how Kant’s account of the variations of cognitive strengths and weaknesses among human beings are supposed to contribute to the cognitive progress of the human species and to be of “pragmatic” use, enabling us to correct for and improve upon our weaknesses. While some of the features of our individual cognitive abilities are determined by nature and lie beyond our direct voluntary control, our exercise and development of those abilities, especially our deployment of those abilities autonomously, and along with others, is up to us.
The three chapters that focus on Kant’s account of the faculty of desire also complement each other well. Patrick Frierson carefully traces the development of Kant’s motivational psychology of the affects and passions and explains why this implies that the passions are “properly evil.” Allen Wood catalogues Kant’s complicated account of “empirical desire,” emphasizing that, for Kant, “social competitiveness . . . is the deepest source of all human vice” (139). Paul Guyer sketches Kant’s account of the human inclination for our own freedom and argues that, over time, Kant came to include a morally significant inclination for the freedom of all, as well.
At least six chapters focus, in different ways, on Kant’s approach to anthropology as a discipline and the forces he takes to shape the history and destiny of the human species. Werner Stark places Kant’s conception of humanity in its eighteenth-century context, as closer to Jean-Jacques Rousseau than to Alexander Pope. Catherine Wilson argues, with a particular emphasis on the 1775–76 Friedländer notes, that Kant advances a secular rather than a theological anthropology and highlights how Kant grappled, alongside his contemporaries, with the idea of human beings as animals while attempting to mitigate the pessimism often associated with “animalism.” Susan Shell also focuses on the Friedländer notes, where Kant explored the “principle of life” as a possible source of harmony between the “higher” and...