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Back to the Woods or Into Ourselves?: Kant, Rousseau and the Search for the Essence of Human Nature
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of Philosophy, Logic and Metaphysics.
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis contributes to a field of Kant’s practical philosophy that has received renewed attention, namely his moral anthropology. While it is true that Kant, in some of his best-known writings, literally says that the fundamental ground of morality must be pure and thus entirely free from admixture with anthropological principles, he nevertheless admits that these “subjective conditions” in human nature that “either hinder or help people in fulfilling the laws of the metaphysics of morals” make up the foundation of all applied ethics. In other words, in order to know if and to which extent human beings are susceptible to moral commands, we need to know our abilities as well as our limitations.

Kant wrote several works about these topics and his long-term teaching of anthropology shows that he had a continuing interest in the theory of man. Moreover, it is widely acknowledged that Kant, during the mid-1760s was highly influenced by Rousseau. It is hardly a coincidence that Kant’s first reference to the “unchanging nature of human beings” appeared at the same time as Rousseau proclaimed the need of finding the true nature of man – the unmasked being who has not been damaged by social prejudice. In order to understand man and his moral capacities we need to find his true essence or what really constitutes humanity.

Accordingly, a careful examination of the multifaceted characteristics of human nature is needed in order to understand the very concept of a moral being and to account for his moral progress. I will argue that Kant’s early insights about this need runs like a thread through his entire course of philosophy and that Rousseauian ideas actually affect also his critical ethics. They agree that man is sociable, but also suspicious. He has good predispositions but is likewise susceptible to corruption. My analysis will shed light on man’s eternal balance between conflicting forces and on the means needed for the progress towards the vocation of humankind. This reveals the need of knowing oneself and explains why the question: “what is the human being?” ought to be taken seriously.    

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Uppsala University, Department of Philosophy , 2015. , 262 p.
Keyword [en]
Kant, Rousseau, Moral Anthropology, Human Nature, Radical Evil, Sociability, Gesinnung, Character, Denkungsart, Propensity, Compassion, Self-Love, Self-Conceit, Ambition, Humility, History
National Category
Research subject
Philosophy, with specialization in history of philosophy
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-262830ISBN: 978-91-506-2486-1OAI: diva2:859832
Public defence
2015-11-27, Geijersalen, Engelska Parken, Hus 6, Thunbergsvägen 3P, Uppsala, 10:15 (English)
Available from: 2015-11-05 Created: 2015-09-21 Last updated: 2015-11-05Bibliographically approved

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