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)

Interview with Professor Robert Louden

TeamSocialRationality: Could you describe the impact of Kant’s philosophy on your research?

Robert Louden: My earliest publications focused on different topics in normative ethics, metaethics, and the history of moral philosophy. But Kant – particularly his anthropology and its relation to this practical philosophy – has gradually came to occupy center stage in my research.



TeamSocialRationality: What kind of orientational knowledge can we gain from Kant’s answer to the question “What is man?”

Robert Louden: Although I think Kant went overboard in claiming that an answer to the question, “What is the human being?” will provide an answer to all philosophical questions (see Log 9: 25), and while I also believe that – surprisingly – he himself does not fully answer this question, I do think that humans can gain a great deal of orientational knowledge from an answer to this question. (However, a definitive answer to the question, “What is the human being?” is not going to help the “rational creatures that inhabit Jupiter or Saturn” (NTH 1: 359) or any other non-terrestrial place in the universe in their own philosophical investigations. Philosophy is bigger than the merely human.) Kantian anthropology provides humans with norms that structure and guide their action and thinking – a moral map for humanity’s future.



TeamSocialRationality: Do you consider Kant´s anthropology a necessary part of his critical philosophy or would you characterize it as a separate project?

Robert Louden: The relationship between Kant’s anthropology and his critical philosophy is a topic that has puzzled me for many years. At first I thought they were separate projects – on the surface, they certainly seem very different. But in recent years I have tried to develop Kant’s claim that anthropology is “the eye of true philosophy” (Anth 7: 227; cf. Log 9: 45). Without this anthropological grounding, philosophy remains a mere intellectual parlor game or what Kant calls “only a scholastic concept” (nur ein Schulbegriff) (KrV A 838/B 866) – something from which we “cannot obtain any enlightenment for common life” (V-Anth/Mensch 25: 853). At least for humans, philosophy without anthropology lacks dignity and inner worth (cf. V-Met-L2/Pölitz 28: 532, Log 9: 23-24).



TeamSocialRationality: In your view, how do Kant’s anthropology and his political philosophy relate to one another?

Robert Louden: The relationship between Kant’s anthropology and his political philosophy, as I see it, is part of the ‘map-making’ side of his anthropological project referred to earlier. One key aim of Kant’s philosophical anthropology is to offer the human species a moral map of their collective destiny. This destiny entails intergenerational and international cooperation, and includes a number of fundamental transformations in our present political and legal institutions.



TeamSocialRationality: How would you define the ‘pragmatic’ element in Kant´s anthropology? Do you see historical parallels to the old American pragmatism?

Robert Louden: ‘Pragmatic’ is the key marker that Kant uses to describe his approach to anthropology. In calling his anthropology ‘pragmatic,’ he is trying first of all to differentiate his project from the ‘physiological’ anthropology of Platner and others, an approach which he felt was merely scholastic and speculative, in addition to taking insufficient account of human freedom. Pragmatic anthropology, by contrast, emphasizes the acquisition of skill in choosing appropriate means to human happiness. “A doctrine is pragmatic insofar as it makes us prudent and useful in public matters, where we need to have not merely theory but also practice” (V-Anth/Mensch 25: 856). American pragmatism owes deep (but not always acknowledged) debts to Kantian anthropology. The classic American pragmatists – Peirce, James, Dewey, Royce (Peirce especially) – all had serious interests in Kant and post-Kantian German philosophy, and several (but not all) aspects of the pragmatic side of Kant’s philosophy did influence the subsequent development of American pragmatism.



TeamSocialRationality: Would you say that Kant´s philosophy can contribute to the future development of the Enlightenment project? Has the original meaning behind the ideas of the Enlightenment remained the same to this day?

Robert Louden: Yes, I believe that Kant’s philosophy can contribute a great deal to the future development of the Enlightenment project. Although humanity now faces new threats (e.g., climate change, bioterrorism, AI), that were not explicitly referenced by Kant’s league of nations, a league focused exclusively on ending all wars forever (cf. ZeF 8: 356, V-MS/Vigil 27: 591), the core meaning behind the ideas of the Enlightenment remains the same to this day. And contrary to what you may have heard from certain postmodernists, the core meaning is not about European white males ushering in an administered world, but rather about expanding human freedom and improving the human condition by peaceful and open means.



TeamSocialRationality: In your opinion, how relevant is Kant’s cosmopolitanism from today’s perspective?

Robert Louden: At present, Kant’s cosmopolitanism is still an ideal rather than a reality, but I do believe in its continued relevance. Kantian cosmopolitanism rejects the world-state (nations “are not to be fused into a single state”, ZeF 8: 354) and is not anti-nationalist, but it does call for a greater degree of international cooperation than we have at present. However, all of the new threats to humanity’s future referred to above in q. 6, not to mention the ever-present of war – in Kant’s view, “the source of all evil” (SF 7: 86) – will require extensive collective action and international cooperation if humanity is to have a future.



TeamSocialRationality: Do you think that Kant’s anthropological, empirically oriented ideas are also relevant to contemporary social and political practices?


Robert Louden: Yes, Kant’s anthropology, which I call “empirical (mostly),” remains relevant to contemporary social and political practices, including the social or human sciences. His conviction that anthropology can and should enlist the help of history, drama, fiction, travel books, and everyday conversation in its quest to uncover universal truths about the human condition, while clearly at odds with the relativist bent in recent anthropology, brings a much-needed humanistic perspective to contemporary social science.

Robert Louden is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern Maine (USA). He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1981 with a Dissertation entitled The Elements of Ethics: Toward a Topography of the Moral Field. His areas of interest in philosophy are Ethical Theory, History of Ethics, and the History of Philosophy. A past president of the North American Kant Society (2009-2014), Louden is also editor and translator of two volumes in the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. His publications include: Johann Bernhard Basedow and the Transformation of Modern Education (Bloomsbury, 2021), Anthropology from a Kantian Point of View (Cambridge University Press, 2021), Kant’s Human Being: Essays on His Theory of Human Nature (Oxford University Press, 2011), The World We Want: How and Why the Ideals of Enlightenment Still Elude Us (OUP, 2007), Kant’s Impure Ethics: From Rational Beings to Human Beings (OUP, 2000), and Morality and Moral Theory (OUP 1992).

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