ARC: CONCEPT WORK
No nature, no consolation

Kant’s anthropology’s was pragmatic. It was however also, resolutely modern. The question for us might then be: what is the ratio or proportionality between a modern pragmatic anthropology, and one oriented to the contemporary?

Such a question thus retains the “pragmatic point of view” that Kant argued for: such an orientation asks what the human being as a free acting being can and should make of itself? An anthropology of the pragmatics of such freedom is thus a form of an anthropology of reason, to the extent that, as Kant argues, reason is an empirical sign of freedom. Reason, moreover, is the human being’s capacity for an indeterminate mode of life within conditions of discord.

Consequently, Kant doesn’t really think we can say very much about “human nature” (so much for the categories of “nature and culture”). He did, however, enumerate three human “predispositions”, one of which may aid us in specifying the particularity of a contemporary pragmatic anthropology.

The first predisposition is to animality, i.e. “self-preservation”, reproduction etc. I think that from a pragmatic point of view, an anthropology can safely bracket taking up this predisposition. Such a bracketing then also helps us to avoid wasted labour arguing about questions of metaphysics and ontology. The third disposition is that toward “personality” in Kant’s terms the use of reason to make moral laws, or, in Foucault’s altered terms, toward a mode of subjectification, i.e. how people come to recognize that they have moral obligations.

It is then the second predisposition that I think can help us specify a concern for a contemporary pragmatic anthropology. Kant calls the second predisposition that of the predisposition to humanity. This predisposition has two distinguishing features which are connected: “technical predisposition” to humanity and “pragmatic predisposition” to humanity.

The technical I think can be properly understood as “technē” in the strict sense of being the means by which form is given to a practice and to its ends. I think we can qualify Kant’s view of the technē dimension as modern in the sense that it is oriented not to “self-preservation” but to “self-assertion” (Blumenberg). Technē are thus not imitating or realizing nature / instinct, but are means mobilized in order to assert a mode of existence in the face of indetermination and discordance.

The “pragmatic predisposition”, connects means-ends activity to the open question of the signification of the ends pursued within a form of life that can be qualified as better or worse (telos). The pragmatic disposition is for human beings to set their own ends according to reason. Kant is equally modern on this score insofar as his hope for a “cosmopolitan combination”, 200 years later, requires a re-qualification and re-assessment (moments and experiments in cosmopolitanism notwithstanding: e.g. Steven Feld’s Jazz Cosmopolitiansim in Accra 2012).

What connection, today between available technē, forms and manners of living and the pragmatic anthropological predisposition?

We have suggested that hallmark of modern technē is precisely the breakdown and limits to self-assertion, pathos in such assertion, efforts and breakdowns. Likewise with Kant’s cosmopolitan intent; the aim is not to jettison it, any more than one could “jettison” ethoi of modernity (even counter-modern ethoi are modern in their self-assertion). The hope, however, of sustaining a critical intellectual cosmopolitanism seems to be failing today. How to proceed if neither melancholy nor consolation are adequate responses?