Pennsylvania State University
Teleology and Race in Kant’s Biological Philosophy of History
In this talk I am going to lay out the textual materials surrounding the birth of physical anthropology as a racial science in the eighteenth century with a special focus on the development of Kant's own contributions to the new field. Kant’s contributions to natural history demonstrated his commitment to a physical, mental, and moral hierarchy among the races and I will spend some time describing both the advantages he drew from this hierarchy for making sense of the social and political history of inequality between peoples, and the obviously problematic relationship that such views would entail for Kant’s universalism as he began to formulate his ethical program in the 1780s. While there is continued scholarly debate regarding the purported moral “turn” made by Kant once he dropped his commitment to a racial hierarchy in the 1790s, what the narrative as a whole reveals is not only the manner by which questions of racial difference defined physical anthropology from its outset, but the easy and uncomplicated manner by which whole member groups of the population could be excluded from lofty pronouncements regarding the rights of man—a fact that was as true for Kant in Königsberg, as it was for Jefferson and Hamilton in Philadelphia.
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