Introduction (to Kant's Lectures on Anthropology; A Critical Guide)

Alix Cohen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscript

Abstract / Description of output

Kant intended his lectures on anthropology to teach students how to apply what they learnt at university to their future profession as well as to the conduct of their life in general. As he writes to Markus Herz toward the end of 1773, his lecture course on Anthropologie…[will] disclose the sources of all the [practical] sciences, the scienceof morality, of skill, of human intercourse, of the way to educate and govern human beings, and thus of everything that pertains to the practical.(C 10:145) The pedagogical aim of this course was to help his students become citizens of the world by showing them how to make their knowledge relevant, applicable and useful. Famously, these lectures were popularnot only in terms of their style but also in terms of their audience. One of Kant’s amanuenses, Reinhold BernhardJachmann, reported that they were ‘an extremely pleasant instruction’ that commanded the most attendance of all of Kant’s lectures, including from outside the University of Königsberg. Their popularity led students to produce transcripts that were traded and handed down from year to year, and they eventually formed the basis of the published Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View in 1798.Yet their legacy was short-lived and since then they have been largely ignored. On the few occasions they have been mentioned, they were deemed a peculiar collection of more orless pointless remarks on a variety of random topics vaguely related to human beings– starting from Schleiermacher’s 1799 review, which describes the Anthropology as a ‘collection of trivialities’ (Schleiermacher (1998), 16). This disappointing reception can be partly accounted for by their often unexpected, at times odd, and occasionally incongruous character. Their subject matter ranges from entertainment to marriage, bodily functions, fashion, humour, sex, smoking and sleeping patterns– topics that seem a far cry from Kant’s more familiar transcendental concerns. Moreover, the most charitable interpretative tools have remained powerless in the face ofhis repeated discussions of human races, gender differences or national characteristics, where stereotyping, prejudice and bigotry abound. As a result, until recently, the Lectures on Anthropology have generally been viewed as peculiar, uncritical and possibly anomalous works that do not belong to the Kantian system as such.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKant's Lectures on Anthropology
Subtitle of host publicationA Critical Guide
EditorsAlix Cohen
PublisherCambridge University Press, Australia
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781139176170
ISBN (Print)9781107024915
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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