Feb 19, 2009

Foucault’s 1961 Introduction to Kant’s Anthropology from a Pragmatic point of view - Notes by Arianna Bove

Foucault's introduction to Kant’s Anthropology interests us for several reasons. There we find the first reflections on humanism and the status of man within modernity, but the work also aims at criticising a certain form of anthropology which gained success in France and aimed at ‘formalising’ and providing ‘scientificity’ to the study of man, from within the Kantian tradition. Structuralism has often been accused of construing rigid structures of formal understanding. Foucault here aims to look at the source of transcendental thinking and the relation it has with notions such as origin, structure and genesis in Kant’s least discussed work. Foucault will often repeat that Kant’s Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view questions and endangers the whole of Kantian critical enterprise from the outset, whilst attempting to reinforce it epistemologically. The fact that Kant’s Anthropology aimed at a wide public audience is of importance. No direct reference is there made to the Critique, even though there is correspondence in their structures. In 1797 its two publications gained more popularity than the Critiques. In these lectures, Kant dwells on topics such as memory, mental illness, temperament, people’s psychology, the phenomenon and the limits of reasons. First he deduces a priori principles from a metaphysics of the natural and a metaphysics of the human world (customs). Secondly, he describes phenomenal reality on the basis of experience in terms of an empirical knowledge of nature (Physis) and an empirical knowledge of man (Anthropology). We will look into the reasons for the attention granted by Foucault to this particular work because they help our understanding of Foucault’s writings on 'actualité', critique and enlightenment, but more importantly they shed light on what Foucault actually means by anthropology, and what is at stake in The Order of Things and the declaration of the death of the subject. [entire text]

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