Kant on Epigenesis, Monogenesis and Human Nature: The Biological Premises of Anthropology

Authors
Alix Cohen
University of Edinburgh
Abstract
The aim of this paper is to show that for Kant, a combination of epigenesis and monogenesis is the condition of possibility of anthropology as he conceives of it and that moreover, this has crucial implications for the biological dimension of his account of human nature. More precisely, I begin by arguing that Kant’s conception of mankind as a natural species is based on two premises: firstly the biological unity of the human species (monogenesis of the human races); and secondly the existence of ‘seeds’ which may or may not develop depending on the environment (epigenesis of human natural predispositions). I then turn to Kant’s account of man’s natural predispositions and show that far from being limited to the issue of races, it encompasses unexpected human features such as gender, temperaments and nations. These predispositions, I argue, are means to the realisation of Nature’s overall purpose for the human species. This allows me to conclude that man’s biological determinism leads to the species’ preservation, cultivation and civilisation.
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