Saturday, August 1, 2009

Position Paper #3 Immanuel Kant

Is Human Reason Everything That Leads History?

Immanuel Kant (22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804), the philosopher of the period of High Enlightenment, had a teleological view of history that denied the arguments of his predecessors. His view opposed the cyclical conception of Vico Giambattista, who looks at History in a Cyclical conception and that Human History repeats certain stages- the age of gods, the age of heroes and the age of men (Vico 1744).

Kant on the other hand, argues that our world and Human beings are going to certain end. He supported this idea with biological concept that a seed becomes a tree; it reaches to the final natural end. Based on this Historical concept, he also argues that the progress is always possible until human being reached his natural end. And the reaching to the final end of human is achieved by rational capacities and potentials of human being.

I would like to point out the factors of progress of human civilization proposed by Immanuel Kant in his book “On History (1784)” by stating some of his nine theses.

Third Thesis: “Nature has willed that man should, by himself, produce everything that goes beyond the mechanical ordering of his animal existence, and that he should partake of no other happiness or perfection than that which he himself, independently of instinct, has created by his own reason.(Kant 1784)”

According to this thesis, everything in our society or civilization is created by human reason; that every aspect that constitutes the human civilization such as politics, society, economy and culture are all the result of human reason. Therefore, the progresses that had occurred in the past and will occur in the future are all made by human reason. So the development of rational capacities of human is directly related to the progresses of human life.

Second Thesis: “In man (as the only rational creature on earth) those natural capacities which are directed to the use of his reason are to be fully developed only in the race, not in the individual. (Kant 1784)”

Fourth Thesis: “The means employed by Nature to bring about the development of all the capacities of men is their antagonism in society, so far as this is, in the end, the cause of a lawful order among men. (Kant 1784)”

Fifth Thesis: “The greatest problem for the human race, to the solution of which Nature drives man, is the achievement of a universal civic society which administers law among men. (Kant 1784)”

The fourth thesis argues that the people’s antagonism in society is the factor that brings the development of all the capacities of men specifically a lawful order among men. This quite supports the idea of the Fifth thesis which implies that the achievements are possible only in the society. They cannot be achieved by an individual. Achievements and progress may occur in the relationship of people with one another. Therefore, Human civic society takes important role in occurrence of progress and achievement of human civilization. What people feel and experience in society brings their needs and people rationally come up with solutions to them. Those solutions which are for people to progress are examined by knowledge acquired through trial, practice, and instruction.

We can pick out the fact that the factors spur the progress in human life are all from human being itself- rational capacity, and social relationship among people.

I partially agree with his idea. I believe that Human society and civilization always progress and do not decline. Human civilization does not go back to barbarian time unlike what Vico said. It is true that human being has infinite potential and it will spur human civilization go forward and progress. And human reason somehow affects on directions of the world.

However, the problem with Kant’s theory is that his ideas are too humanistic and human-centered. He is not considering other factors that have led human History and will lead to a future human life. He is too much focusing on human beings and man’s rational capacity. It seems to be a narrow view on History. I strongly say that the human life and civilization have been led by not only human reason but also beyond power. I do not like his idea that eliminates the God from the History.

The basis of my Historical conception is that the maker, owner, and leader of History is not human but God. So I cannot agree with Kant’s humanistic view. The factor that determines direction of History is God’s will not human reason and product of people’s social relationship.

Truly, our world is going to a certain end. We should not deny it. But I would like to oppose the idea of Kant that the end of human History is not necessarily happiness but the development of rationality. Indeed the end of human History is not happiness and also not development of rationality. The end of the world is God’s will. The world is going to the end that God wants.


Vico Giambattista(1744). The New Science New York: Ithaca

Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View(1784). Translation by Lewis White Beck. From Immanuel Kant,“On History,”The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1963. Retrieved June 13, 2009, from htm

Immanuel Kant (Aug 1, 2009). In Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13:23 Aug 1, 2009 from

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