Foucault’s previously unpublished doctoral dissertation on Kant offers the definitive statement of his relationship to Kant and to the critical tradition of philosophy.
This introduction and commentary to Kant’s least discussed work, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, is the dissertation that Michel Foucault presented in 1961 as his doctoral thesis. It has remained unpublished, in any language, until now.
In his exegesis and critical interpretation of Kant’s Anthropology, Foucault raises the question of the relation between psychology and anthropology, and how they are affected by time. Though a Kantian “critique of the anthropological slumber,” Foucault warns against the dangers of treating psychology as a new metaphysics, explores the possibilities of studying man empirically, and reflects on the nature of time, art and technique, self-perception, and language. Extending Kant’s suggestion that any empirical knowledge of man is inextricably tied up with language, Foucault asserts that man is a world citizen insofar as he speaks. For both Kant and Foucault, anthropology concerns not the human animal or self-consciousness but, rather, involves the questioning of the limits of human knowledge and concrete existence.
This long-unknown text is a valuable contribution not only to a scholarly appreciation of Kant’s work but as the first outline of what would later become Foucault’s own frame of reference within the history of philosophy. It is thus a definitive statement of Foucault’s relation to Kant as well as Foucault’s relation to the critical tradition of philosophy. By going to the heart of the debate on structuralist anthropology and the status of the human sciences in relation to finitude, Foucault also creates something of a prologue to his foundational The Order of Things.
Michel Foucault (1926-84) is widely considered to be one of the most important academic voices of the twentieth century and has proven influential across disciplines.