Dreaming that Sweet Dream
This study looks to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant to investigate the relationship between anthropology (i.e., an account of the human) and politics, and, in particular, to think through what sort of human being liberalism at its best (or most civic-minded) requires or seeks to form. Chapter II turns to Kant’s idea of historical progress to draw out the link between his account of the human and his liberal republican politics. The role of hope, as a necessary product of our reason, proves to be central both to Kant’s politics and to the question of human nature. For Kant, we are above all defined by our striving to remake the world.Focusing primarily on the A Preface of the 1781 edition, Chapter III argues that the Critique of Pure Reason can be understood to be advancing a “transcendental anthropology” (which is distinct from Kant’s later anthropology from a “pragmatic point of view”) in that it seeks to provide “the conditions of the possibility” of human experience. The tension between freedom (or morality) and nature (or self-interest) emerges as the defining characteristic of human life. Chapter IV takes up Kant’s attempt to bridge this “gulf” between freedom and nature in the third Critique, specifically by examining Kant’s aesthetic theory to understand how the human being might be represented indeterminately through a regulative principle of reflective judgment. It argues that employing his aesthetic theory, Kant offers throughout his late writings symbolic or even poetic images that depict the human being’s unity and the moral striving toward such unity. Chapters V and VI consider two such images. The former returns to the question of progressive history. Now integrated into Kant’s critical system through an “as if” postulation of reflective judgment, the idea of history encourages an “admiration” and gratitude for the natural order that counteracts the harmful moral and civic effects of reductive materialism. In Chapter V, however, we face Kant’s less sanguine notion of “radical evil,” an apparent obstacle to progress that emerges from within his own philosophy. And yet, I argue that one can understand radical evil as a symbol of Kant’s striving human being by reading it in light of the aesthetic framework provided in the CPJ. In this way, the symbol of radical evil helps us make sense of the strife inherent in our moral experience and provides a noble, or even heroic, image of the human. The conclusion raises the question of whether the idea of progress, and the anthropology underlying it, can still grip us today and, if not, whether liberalism can do without something like the sober hope Kant seeks to inspire. As Kant himself saw in 1789, hope, when unrestrained, becomes destructive of the world it aims to overcome. Even so, Kant reminds us of the inevitability of hope’s role in human life and politics. Nonetheless, in light of the ambivalence of hope, and in the spirit of Kant’s rational questioning, one might still wonder whether the end of reason is to remake the world.