I explore the role of practical necessity in Kant’s essay Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim. This form of necessity arises on the basis of social and interstate antagonism and Kant appeals to it with the aim of avoiding the introduction of a standpoint that is external to the agents whose attitudes and actions are being described. In connection with the role that Kant accords to practical necessity in the establishment of the legal and political conditions required to fulfil the ‘plan of nature’ in the course of history, I argue that in this essay he fails to identify a mechanism that would explain a fundamental moral change in that which motivates human beings once these conditions have been established. This in turn invites questions concerning the kind of universal history that Kant proposes. In particular, I argue that the choice of historical material that it demands could, in certain circumstances, be regarded as counterpurposive in relation to the aim of nature of which Kant speaks in the same essay.
Theodor W. AdornoNegative Dialektik (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp2003) 314. English translation: Negative Dialectics trans. E. B. Ashton (London: Continuum 1973) 320. I have modified the translation. The extent to which Adorno himself appears to allow for the possibility of some of the essential features of universal history in Kant’s sense see David James ‘Self-mastery and Universal History: Horkheimer and Adorno on the Conditions of a Society “in Control of Itself”’ Philosophy and Social Criticism (forthcoming).