Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. By Immanuel Kant. Translated and edited by Robert B. Louden


Pp. xxxix, 246 , Cambridge University Press , 2006 , £35.00/$65.00; £13.99/$22.99.

By the time Kant published this book in 1798, he had already lectured on the topic of anthropology for over twenty-five years. Kant was among the first thinkers to present the fledgling discipline of anthropology as a proper field of intellectual inquiry, long before it became a distinct social science. For this reason this text counts as an important step in the development of the field (pp. vii-viii). It has also played an important role in the work of subsequent philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, Paul Ricoeur, and Jean Greisch, and has received significant attention from the perspective of critical race theory and gender studies, which – not surprisingly – make Kant's anthropology the object of considerable criticism.

Of course, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View is primarily significant for understanding Kant's thought. In the preface Kant distinguishes between two types of anthropology: The physiological approach investigates ‘what nature makes of the human being,’ while the pragmatic approach investigates what the freely-acting human being ‘can and should make of himself’ (p. 3). As its title indicates, this text takes the pragmatic approach, addressing what Kant sees as the fourth fundamental philosophical question: While metaphysics takes up the question, What can I know?, morality takes up the question, What ought I to do?, and religion takes up the question, What may I hope for?, anthropology takes up the question, What is the human being? The pragmatic focus of Kant's anthropology also influenced his decision to make these lectures popular in subject matter and tone, since he hoped they would benefit his students later in their lives (pp. viii-ix).

For the reader whose exposure to Kant has been limited to most prominent works, this text is surprisingly vibrant and enjoyable to read. At times Kant's observations are even quite humorous. But the text is also impressive in its ability to draw together the fundamental concerns from Kant's critical philosophy, providing helpful insights into his thinking on cognition (Book I), moral duty (p. 132), taste and art (pp. 136–48), and religion (pp. 85, 94, 233). These themes retain their distinctly Kantian features, while informing Kant's reflections on a remarkably wide array of anthropological phenomena. For instance, Kant opines on the dangers of reading novels (p. 102), as well as the dangers of philosophers eating meals alone (pp.180–81); he expounds on the nature of wit (pp.116–18), boredom (pp.128–31), and the difference between luxury and debauchery (the former being excess with taste, the latter being excess without taste) (p. 147); and he outlines, in detail, the proper features of a dinner party, making a particularly bold pronouncement: ‘Dinner music at a festive banquet of fine gentlemen is the most tasteless absurdity that revelry has ever contrived’ (p. 181). No doubt Kant's students were grateful to be saved from such barbarism.

This is the third complete English translation of Kant's Anthropology. Mary Gregor first translated the work in 1974, and Frederick P. Van De Pitte followed with another translation in 1978. The merit of the present translation is not so much to correct any shortcomings in the previous translations, as it is to provide a translation that conforms to the standards and guidelines of The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. (Louden's translation will actually appear in that series, in the volume entitled Anthropology, History, and Education). The purpose of the present edition, however, is to provide a student-friendly edition, which does not contain the abundant supplementary notes that Kant scholars will find important in the critical edition. All in all, this edition provides an ideal opportunity to delve into Kant's Anthropology– a text that is worth reading because of its place in Kant's authorship, because of its historical significance, but also because it is interesting in its own right.