Kant's Biological Conception of History

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History
Author: Alix Cohen 1
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  • 1 Newnham College, Cambridge, UK

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Abstract

The aim of this paper is to argue that Kant's philosophy of biology has crucial implications for our understanding of his philosophy of history, and that overlooking these implications leads to a fundamental misconstruction of his views. More precisely, I will show that Kant's philosophy of history is modelled on his philosophy of biology due to the fact that the development of the human species shares a number of peculiar features with the functioning of organisms, these features entailing important methodological characteristics. From this main claim will follow three further claims: (1) Kant's teleological view of history is not simply based on ethical considerations that have to do with the moral progress of the human species; rather, it stems from his conception of teleology as developed in his philosophy of biology. (2) Kant's philosophy of history allows for the practice of scientific history. In this sense, Kant's view of history is not merely teleological but involves a mechanical (and thus empirical) element. (3) Just as teleology is useful for furthering mechanical accounts of biological phenomena, teleological history is useful for scientific history.

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