Not Those Who "all speak with pictures": Kant on Linguistic Abilities and Human Progress

In Luigi Filieri & Konstantin Pollok (eds.), Kant on Language. Cambridge University Press (forthcoming)
  Copy   BIBTEX


Kant ascribes two radically different kinds of language—symbolic or pictorial (qua intuitive) and discursive languages—to the “Oriental” and “Occidental” peoples respectively. By his analysis, having a merely symbolic language suggests that the “Orientals” lack understanding—and hence the ability to form concepts and think in abstracto—as well as genius and spirit. Meanwhile, he establishes discursive language as a sine qua non of the continued progress of humanity, primarily because only by means of words—as opposed to symbols—can one think (not just intuit), signify one’s thoughts exactly, and make them universally communicable. Without such a language, one would not be able to make one’s feelings moral or develop a true moral character. In short, humanity would not be able to obtain its cultural or moral ends without discursive language. These points add up to an exclusionary view of progress according to which the Occidental whites alone are equipped with the requisite discursive skills and other talents (including genius and spirit) to accomplish advanced culture and pursue humanity’s moral destiny. The “Orient,” with its “childish language,” is consigned to the childhood of humanity. In holding this view, Kant has departed from some of his predecessors—such as Leibniz, whose vision of the future of humanity includes an East-West harmony facilitated by a “universal symbolism,” and Rousseau, who exalts a livelier connection with the world mediated by a pictorial language. The contrast with Leibniz and Rousseau also suggests that we cannot chalk up Kant’s exclusionary view of progress to mere personal prejudices. His philosophy is what gives meaning to his statements about the nature of the “Oriental” language. That is, the exclusionary view of progress emerges only when we take into account his anti-Leibnizian conceptualization of symbolic language as merely intuitive, his view that humanity is teleologically oriented toward the unique sort of moralization that he envisioned in the Groundwork, and his view that reason must lead the way in humanity’s progress toward this supposed moral end, wherefore only discursive language can facilitate such progress.



External links

  • This entry has no external links. Add one.
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Kant on Lazy Savagery, Racialized.Huaping Lu-Adler - 2022 - Journal of History of Philosophy 60:253-75.
Progress and Spiritual Values.Sarvepalli Radhakrisnan - 1937 - Philosophy 12 (47):259 - 275.
Kant's Political Legacy: Human Rights, Peace, Progress by Luigi Caranti.Frederick Rauscher - 2019 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 57 (2):352-353.
Race, Difference, and Anthropology in Kant’s Cosmopolitanism.Todd Hedrick - 2008 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 46 (2):pp. 245-268.
Olympe de Gouges versus Rousseau: Happiness, Primitive Societies, and the Theater.Sandrine Bergès - 2018 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 4 (4):433-451.


Added to PP

63 (#195,055)

6 months
63 (#25,690)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Huaping Lu-Adler
Georgetown University

Citations of this work

No citations found.

Add more citations