Kant and Anthropology
Kant and Anthropology
- Naveeda KhanNaveeda KhanJohns Hopkins University
Actual, possible, and potential relations between Kant and anthropology in early-21st-century scholarship are worth exploring. Within the realm of actual relations, classical figures within anthropology took up Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Practical Reason to understand the nature of thinking and morality within so-called primitive societies. They sought to put society before mind within Kant’s architectonic of thought and to posit classification, or relational thinking, as equally important as cognition. Within possible relations, contemporary anthropologists engaged Kant’s anthropology or Kant as a possible anthropologist in his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View or “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” or set apart their enterprise of studying ethics from his on morality. A very central question that Kant’s writings posed for them was whether the figure of the human was knowable, to which anthropology added its own nuance by asking whether we can assume it is the same human or reason across all contexts. Within potential relations, writings on the history and method of anthropology both critiqued and celebrated the inheritance of German romanticism, understood as an intellectual trend, a methodology, a sensibility, a mystical orientation, and a celebration of individual singularity and genius within anthropology. In contrast to this mode of inheriting romanticism, a more Kantian-inflected understanding of the romantic movement, mediated by different figures, suggested itself as a productive point of entry for anthropology to understand the philosophical underpinnings of its preferred methods (e.g., fieldwork), its engagement with philosophy beyond that of agonism and possible arrogation, and its re-engagement with the question of the human in relation to itself, other humans and nonhumans, and nature. The fragment, one of romanticism’s greatest creations and a complex response to Kant’s two world metaphysics, appears to anthropology through both trajectories and, in keeping with anthropology’s evolving relation to philosophy, anthropology provides its own spin on the importance of the fragment for inhabiting the world.
- Sociocultural Anthropology