These two essays by Kant that we will have read after today’s reading show why philosophers since Kant have studied history as well as nature. It is only since the time of Kant that philosophy studied ‘the philosophy of history as a field of philosophy. Philosophy itself began when the Greeks discovered ‘nature’ as a concept. Philosophy began as the study of nature and developed to include the study of the natures below man, the study of the natures equal to man in being and the study of that which is above nature, the supernatural. The nature of a being explained what it is and what that being could do and what could be done to it or with it. Each being was understood, grasped intelligibly when we knew everything that it is capable of doing and why it does what it can do. “Nature is a goal, since we say that a thing’s nature is the sort of thing it is when it’s generation has reached its goal;” when all of its capacities to be are fulfilled in actuality. [Aristotle’s Politics: I, 2]

QUESTION

These two essays by Kant that we will have read after today’s reading show why philosophers since Kant have studied history as well as nature. It is only since the time of Kant that philosophy studied ‘the philosophy of history as a field of philosophy. Philosophy itself began when the Greeks discovered ‘nature’ as a concept. Philosophy began as the study of nature and developed to include the study of the natures below man, the study of the natures equal to man in being and the study of that which is above nature, the supernatural. The nature of a being explained what it is and what that being could do and what could be done to it or with it. Each being was understood, grasped intelligibly when we knew everything that it is capable of doing and why it does what it can do. “Nature is a goal, since we say that a thing’s nature is the sort of thing it is when it’s generation has reached its goal;” when all of its capacities to be are fulfilled in actuality. [Aristotle’s Politics: I, 2]

Aristotle and Plato thought that man’s end was to attain virtue or the excellent mode of being in full as a human. This virtue consisted principally in the perfection of our power to know what is as it is. Starting with Aristotle’s conception of human happiness, St. Thomas determines that the ultimate end of our nature as a human being, this ultimate perfection, is not attained in this life. [SCG III, Ch. 48] The perfecting human good is to be a generous gift of God to a human received in the next life, as it is a supernatural perfection. God had always intended man to attain this good. It was the end for which God had created an intellectual creature such as man. Man was created with the natural passive power to receive the very essence of God in his intellect, but this was intended to occur in the next life. For Thomas, human nature is such as to have a receptive capability of being possessed by God’s essence. God created man and the cosmos with the very intentions of sharing His Goodness with His intellectual creatures and He, as being in itself, had such a power as to raise a creature’s nature to such a partaking. Grace, the supernatural act of God, perfects human nature. Such is the teaching of Thomas’s philosophical science. The project framing the modern mind that started with Machiavelli does not look to that which is above man for the answers it seeks to know.

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These two essays by Kant that we will have read after today’s reading show why philosophers since Kant have studied history as well as nature. It is only since the time of Kant that philosophy studied ‘the philosophy of history as a field of philosophy. Philosophy itself began when the Greeks discovered ‘nature’ as a concept. Philosophy began as the study of nature and developed to include the study of the natures below man, the study of the natures equal to man in being and the study of that which is above nature, the supernatural. The nature of a being explained what it is and what that being could do and what could be done to it or with it. Each being was understood, grasped intelligibly when we knew everything that it is capable of doing and why it does what it can do. “Nature is a goal, since we say that a thing’s nature is the sort of thing it is when it’s generation has reached its goal;” when all of its capacities to be are fulfilled in actuality. [Aristotle’s Politics: I, 2]
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For Kant, we saw in our last reading on page 53, that man “became the equal of all (other) rational beings.” The other rational beings, if they exist, are the angels, god, or beings from another planet. In short, man as a rational being, when his will is perfected as absolutely good  “could be called good absolutely.” There is nothing else “in the world or indeed even beyond the world” that could be called absolutely good. [Groundwork of Morals, p. 393] As possessing a will, man has the natural capacity to be equal to a god and this perfection is not a creaturely participation in God’s goodness, it is equality with god. For Kant, mankind, in the nature of the species, has that capacity to be the best thing in the world and man does not need a god or anything supernatural to attain it. The point of today’s text is to show how mankind can attain this perfection of the will, this absolute goodness, by means of his own actions, which perfect man as rational being. As the Third Thesis states: “Nature has willed that man, entirely by himself, produce everything that goes beyond the mechanical organization of his animal existence and partake in no other happiness or perfection than what he himself, independently of instinct, can secure through his own reason.” The “natural capacities” that were given to man in his natural state, as we experience him, will be in constant conflict with man’s historically developed culture “until art so perfects itself as to be a second nature, which is the final goal of the human species’ moral vocation.” [Beginning of Human History, p. 55] The art which perfects mankind’s nature referred to in The Beginning of Human History is the art referred to in today’s reading in the Ninth Thesis, “the perfect civic union of the human species.” [p. 38] In its nine theses, today’s work displays “how the human species finally works its way up to that state where all the seeds nature has planted in it can be developed fully and which the species’ vocation here on earth be fulfilled”. This civic union, which is the end of human history, is the state where each human’s will freely will the same good, and everyone only follows the laws of reason itself, which in their autonomy each individual himself legislates, so that all are equally free and all are good and self-perfected. This, according to the Fifth Thesis is “the greatest problem for the human species” – a universal civil society administered in accord with the right. This end is the final objective of the plan of our nature’s capacities as a rational being.

The problem for each man as we know him in the nature that we experience is that the will most often will wills as the maxim of our choice to pursue mankind’s sensual goods, and thus man does not will with a good and rational will. Each human individual as we are presently constituted always chooses so as to serve ‘our dear self’. We seek to follow “a secret impulse of self-love” quoted in Frankfurt, p. 75. Each man acts so, and in doing so, he do esnot follow the stern command of duty, which is the maxim of the rational good of our nature. All of these aspects of Kant’s moral teaching will be clearer to us when we read our last book, that of Harry Frankfurt.

I have started our reading of today’s text of Kant by explaining the objective end of our nature and its development in human history. [p. 38 – 39] Kant begins this work on page 29, where he states: “Individual men …. give little thought to the fact that while each according to his own ways pursues his own end – often at cross purposes with each other – they unconsciously proceed toward an unknown natural end, as if following a guiding thread, and they work to promote an end they would set little store by, even it they were aware of it.” [p. 29] Without a plan of their own, mankind nonetheless acts “in conformity with some definite plan of nature’s.” [p. 30] It is as if there is present what Adam Smith calls “the invisible hand of nature” guiding our history. (He explains the guiding thread more clearly when treating of the Ninth Thesis.

The first thesis is foundational. It is the principle of philosophy from the time of Socrates. “All of a creature’s natural capacities are destined to develop completely and in conformity with their end.” This is true of each individual animal, except for man “as the sole rational creature on earth”. The natural capacities of his reason are completely developed only in the species and not in the individual. [Second Thesis] Thus man is not completely who is to be until the end of human history. Man is now uniquely an historical being, because his nature is what it is to be only if it is historically constituted. Until the end of history man is incomplete because he is not united in his soul. He has an animal nature and he has a rational nature and they are in conflict as both function as principles of the actions that proceed from his soul.

QUESTION #1: Explain the point of the Third Thesis. Especially explain what he means when he says: “What will always seem strange.” [p. 31] Is this merely puzzling for man, or is it tragic for all men who live before the end of history, as they produce the human good but never get to enjoy the fruits of their travail and labor. Is this the work of a just God?

QUESTION #2: Explain the means that nature uses to bring about the development of all of man’s capacities. How then does man solve “the greatest problem for the human species? You will first need to explain what this problem itself is.

QUESTION # 3: Does this idea of human history seem true? Does it seem plausible? Can one find one’s life meaningful when one realizes that he must suffer endless conflict and perpetual servitude to cruel masters so that some men in the distant future may achieve the species’ perfection? Is this not to reduce all living beings to mere instruments for another’s well-being?

ANSWER

Kant’s Philosophy of History: Unveiling the Meaning of Human Development

Introduction

The philosophical study of history has been a topic of interest for scholars since the time of Immanuel Kant. Prior to Kant, philosophy primarily focused on understanding nature. However, Kant’s groundbreaking ideas expanded the realm of philosophy to include the investigation of history. This essay aims to explore three key questions raised by Kant regarding the philosophy of history: the nature of human development, the means by which it occurs, and the implications of this perspective on the individual’s sense of meaning and purpose.

Question #1: The Third Thesis and Its Implications

Kant’s Third Thesis states that nature has willed that man, independently of instinct, produces everything that surpasses the mechanical organization of his animal existence. Here, Kant acknowledges the inherent conflict between man’s natural capacities and his historically developed culture (Camenzind, 2021). This conflict creates a profound sense of strangeness, as individuals strive to pursue their own ends while unconsciously contributing to an unknown natural end.

This strangeness can be interpreted in two ways: first, as a puzzling aspect of human existence, and second, as a tragic realization for those who live before the end of history (Ennen, 2014). The latter view highlights the labor and travail invested by individuals who may never witness the fruits of their contributions. From a moral standpoint, this may raise concerns about the justice of such a system.

Question #2: Nature’s Means of Human Development and the Greatest Problem

Kant postulates that nature employs a gradual process to bring about the development of all of man’s capacities. This process involves historical constitution, wherein man’s nature is incomplete until the end of human history. Man possesses both an animal nature and a rational nature, which often conflict as principles guiding his actions.

The greatest problem for the human species, as Kant suggests, is the establishment of a universal civil society administered in accordance with rights. The resolution of this problem implies the creation of a harmonious civic union where each individual freely wills the same good and follows the laws of reason. This ideal state represents the ultimate objective of human development.

Question #3: Evaluating the Plausibility and Implications of Human History

The idea of human history as presented by Kant raises questions about its plausibility and the meaningfulness of individual lives. It challenges individuals to find purpose and fulfillment amidst perpetual conflict and servitude to bring about a distant future where the species reaches perfection.

The truthfulness and plausibility of this concept may vary from person to person. Some may find solace in the belief that their contributions serve a greater purpose, while others may struggle with the idea of being reduced to instruments for future generations’ well-being (E. Chu & Karr, 2017). It is crucial to acknowledge the diversity of perspectives and the potential impact on individuals’ sense of personal meaning and fulfillment.

Conclusion

Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of history expanded the scope of philosophical inquiry to include the study of historical development. The Third Thesis highlights the strangeness of human existence, which can be both puzzling and tragic. Nature’s means of human development involve historical constitution and the resolution of the greatest problem: the establishment of a harmonious civic union. The plausibility and implications of human history vary for individuals, challenging them to find personal meaning in their contributions to the collective journey toward perfection. Ultimately, Kant’s philosophy encourages contemplation on the nature of human existence and the pursuit of a just and enlightened society.

References

Camenzind, S. (2021). Kantian Ethics and the Animal Turn. On the Contemporary Defence of Kant’s Indirect Duty View. Animals, 11(2), 512. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11020512 

Chu, E., & Karr, J. R. (2017). Environmental Impact: Concept, Consequences, Measurement ☆. In Elsevier eBooks. https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-12-809633-8.02380-3 

Ennen, A. (2014). Interpreting Objects and Collections. www.academia.edu. https://www.academia.edu/7894796/Interpreting_Objects_and_Collections 

 

 

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