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  • Kant, Heidegger, and the In/Finitude of Human Reason
  • J. Colin McQuillan (bio)

I. The French Reception of Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics

In this paper, I would like to address a problem that has interested me since I reviewed a translation of Michel Foucault's Introduction to Kant's Anthropology (2008). Foucault's Introduction was submitted with his translation of Kant's Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (1798) as a complementary thesis for the French doctorat dès lettres in 1961. While his principle thesis was published the same year as History of Madness (1961), and his translation was published three years later (Anthropologie du point de vue pragmatique, 1964), Foucault's Introduction was not published until 2008. I discuss the reasons for this delay in my review (McQuillan 2013, 579–80), but here I would like to focus on two remarks by Daniel Defert in his introduction to Foucault's Introduction. According to Defert, Foucault began reading Kant, in 1952, "through [End Page 81] Nietzsche, and, from 1953, Kant and Nietzsche through Heidegger" (Foucault 2008, 10). Defert also suggests that Foucault's Introduction is "bound up with what, for him, had been a key question since the 1950s, one already denounced by Husserl: the growing anthropologization of philosophy, from which the Heideggerian thinking that is never cited here, but which is nevertheless very much present, perhaps does not emerge unscathed" (Foucault 2008, 10).

After reviewing Foucault's Introduction, I found that I agreed with Defert's assessment. Heidegger's Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (1929) was translated into French in 1953, more than 30 years before the publication of a French translation of Being and Time. There is substantial evidence that Foucault follows Heidegger's analysis closely in his Introduction.1 At the same time, Foucault is deeply critical of the conclusions Heidegger reaches about the relationship between Kant's critical philosophy and his anthropology, particularly Heidegger's claim that Kant failed to grasp "the innermost essence of finitude" because the conception of "the subjectivity of the subject" that Kant employs in his Critique "continues to be guided by the constitution and the characterization offered to him through traditional Anthropology and Psychology" (Heidegger 1997a, 117/§ 31). In other words, Heidegger thinks Kant's critical philosophy simply "repeats" the empirical conception of "man" that Kant found in Baumgarten's empirical psychology and explored in his own Anthropology (Heidegger 1997a, 144–53/§§ 36–39). Foucault maintains, on the contrary, that Kant's Anthropology "repeats the general articulations of the Critique," even though the Critique of Pure Reason (1781/1787) "has no foundational value with regard to the Anthropology" (Foucault 2008, 87). The result is a less reductive account of the complex relationship between Kant's critical philosophy and his anthropology, which paved the way for Foucault's more searching examination, in The Order of Things (1966), of the way the human sciences treat "man" as both the subject of transcendental philosophy and the object of anthropology as an empirical science (Foucault 1970, 307–43).

When my review was published, I began to wonder whether there were other French philosophers reading Kant through Heidegger during the postwar period. My suspicion, that Foucault was not alone, turned out to be correct. Subsequent research has confirmed that Heidegger's Kantbuch was [End Page 82] and remains more influential in France than in the scholarly literature of other countries.2 This should not be surprising, because Heidegger's influence is, in general, more pronounced in France than in Germany, Britain, or the United States, where Heidegger's politics, his manner of philosophizing, and his style of writing have discouraged many philosophers from studying him.3 However, it was surprising to find that a number of French philosophers attribute to Kant the discovery of "transcendental" finitude, a finitude so "radical" that it shook the foundations of traditional metaphysics.4 I take this claim as evidence of the influence of Heidegger's Kantbuch, which treats "the humanness of reason, i.e., its finitude" (die Menschlichkeit der Vernunft, d.h. ihre Endlichkeit) as the "origin in the seed that makes it possible" (ihres Ursprungs aus den sie...


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