Bridging Nature and Freedom? Kant, Culture, and Cultivation

Social Theory and Practice 38 (3):385-406 (2012)
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Abstract

In recent years, Kant’s lesser-known works on anthropology, education, and history have received increasing scholarly attention, illuminating his views on human nature, moral psychology, and historical development. This paper contributes to this literature by exploring Kant's conceptualization of culture. While recent commentary has drawn on Kant's “impure ethics” to suggest that his anti-imperialism and cosmopolitanism reflect a concern for the preservation of different cultures, I argue that this misinterprets the nature and function of culture in Kant’s thought. Rather than regarding culture as a constitutive good, I argue that Kant understands culture as a transitory good, as a sphere of individual and collective cultivation drawing humanity towards its teleologically given end: the perfection of our rational capacities. This suggests that only certain kinds of culture--those that “prepare [humanity] for a sovereignty in which reason alone is to dominate”--are valuable for Kant. Given this, I argue that Kant’s view of culture in fact presents far greater problems than prospects for theorizing an anti-imperial and cosmopolitan politics

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