By Dr Basil Salman, Teaching Associate in Law (University of Bristol Law School).
When I was a graduate student, I became very interested in one of Immanuel Kant’s lesser-known works, his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. In this weird and wonderful book, which has received renewed attention in recent years, we see a very different side of Kant to the one we are used to. It is a Kant removed from the transcendental idealism of the Critique and the abstract principles of the Groundwork; and with the aim, not of explaining the basis of knowledge or morality, but of offering a practical guide to living. What we find in the Anthropology is a kind of applied ethics: a number of observations about human activity, coupled with guidance on how to live successful lives. We find advice on how to use the imagination, how to remain good-tempered, and even how to hold a good dinner-party.
One may well wonder why we should be concerned with a work like this. No doubt there are a number of reasons why I myself became attached to it (some of these strategic of course—the most obvious being that I wanted something new and interesting to write about for my dissertation!). But despite the fact that numerous passages from Kant’s Anthropology strike us as odd, undeveloped, and rather disconcerting today, I think there is a lot in it that recommends itself to us as legal scholars. Indeed, going back and revisiting my thinking from that time, I should like here to offer some reasons why I think legal philosophers should go ahead and read it. (more…)