Rationality as

Pragmatic Worldly Prudence:

Kant’s Anthropology

and the Modern Social Sciences

DFG Project, May 2021 – April 2024

Goethe University Frankfurt, Institute of Philosophy

Chair of Modern Philosophy (Prof. Dr. Marcus Willaschek)

It is well-known that the foundations of the modern social sciences were laid during the Enlightenment, when the notion that it was possible to know the world through the application of reason and experience became widely held. Researchers have duly considered the fact that thinkers such as David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith and Johann Gottfried Herder contributed to the development of the social sciences. Much less studied, however, is the role of Immanuel Kant’s anthropology, even though his concept differed substantially from those of his contemporaries, thus presenting a unique and independent contribution to the emerging social sciences. The relevance of Kant’s pragmatic anthropology to the social sciences is already visible in the fact that Kant considered it an empirical academic discipline, as it was supposed to provide his students with “world cognition” necessary for their socialisation and integration into social life.


Against this background, the research group (Alexey Salikov, Alexey Zhavoronkov), in cooperation with Thomas Sturm (Mercator Fellow in the project), investigates the question of how the contemporary social sciences relate to the concepts and positions closely connected to Kant’s concept of pragmatic reason: Where were they adopted directly? Where have similar thoughts appeared in a different guise? And where can contemporary research still benefit from Kant? The project, funded by the German Research Foundation, aims at an interdisciplinary investigation in two core areas – political science and sociology. The main goal is to answer the question of the relevance of Kant’s anthropological concept of pragmatic rationality for current debates in sociology and political science and the question of Kant’s potential contribution to the future development of these sciences.


This goal presupposes two secondary aims of the project which are reflected in the first two parts of the project. In the first part, a comprehensive picture of the social and political layers of Kant’s anthropology will be presented, to address the question of whether Kant’s anthropology actually presents a serious methodological approach, as seen from the perspective of the modern social sciences. The second part will contain an analysis of the previous reception of Kant’s thought in sociology and political theory – primarily in the light of the anthropological questions. This analysis should establish whether several key Kantian ideas are present or absent in their development. Consequently, the third part of the project will outline the possible relevance of Kant’s anthropology – most notably of the concept of pragmatic reason in connection to Kant’s assumptions concerning the ‘unsocial sociability’ of human beings, their ability to develop themselves and the relations between self-consciousness, development of reason, education, social interaction and social structure – for the contemporary sociology and political theory. In the same context, we will search for a ‘Kantian’ answer to the question regarding the relationship between theoretical and empirical rationality in social and political contexts.

© Alexey Salikov, Thomas Sturm, Alexey Zhavoronkov 2022-2024