Idea For A Universal History
The Eonic Effect 
As Resolution of Kant's Challenge

Kant's Idea for a Universal History

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 As we study world history with our 'eonic periodization', we suddenly realize we are attempting to answer  'Kant's Challenge' as presented in his short work, Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View. This 'minor' work is one of the most influential of modern history, for it enters indirectly on cat's paws into the whole struggle of modern philosophy of history and ideology. It is a deceptive work in the sense of giving consideration to what Kant calls 'asocial sociability', but really is pursuing a different issue, in the process asking a question. 

Many have answers to questions of history, Kant, with a curious brilliance, had the presence of mind to but ask, and leave some answer to the future, for he must have sensed that he was given inadequate data. And the rise of modern archaeology bears this out, yet even so we find that Kant had an implicit model, visible in his sense that the period of the Enlightenment was a turning point with respect to the whole of the past. And the decision to partition past and future with a science of metaphysics, successful or not, is a gesture so audacious that it immediately evokes our eonic echoes. 

It is ambiguous, for Kant seems to hedge on the issue of 'asocial sociability', which is the 'answer', yet only the outcome, and the generalized dialectic of individual and society that so animates the play of events, but whose deeper structure shows an unsuspected coherence in its chaotic randomness. 

We can start with the first paragraph of Kant's work, where the question seems posed in terms a pattern of universal history. We can also note the nature of this pattern must, by its wording, involve the antinomy of freedom and necessity. The unsuspected significance of this work shows us something very elegant about our understanding of history, if we can manage the dangers of historical directionality, and its dangerous teleological implications, which we can successfully evade with our crackerjack 'discrete-continuous' model. 

The study of the eonic effect covers a vast range, leaving critical the question of point of view.  Apart from the spectacular rise of science, which might be our keynote, several things stood out after completion of the study, for example, the Samkhya Karika, the great 'materialist' sutra from India, and the works of Kant. Especially Kant in relation to Newton. Indeed, in relation to Kant, which are as well invoked in this invocation of Kant. As the world is flooded with New Age confusions swamping the Enlightenment theme of rationality, a dose of Kant might help to get one's bearings.  The point is clear from Schopenhauer that we are at the boundary of the mystery of self. But our purpose here is much simpler, a short look at Kant's essay on history. This essays poses the issue of history, historicism, and freedom in a classic fashion. 

We tend to think science has obviated philosophy, a doubtful notion,  we must do justice to the history of philosophy, in any case. There is no other option, since the evolution of philosophy is likely to remain unexplained by any philosophy of evolution, the plight of the Darwinist. As we take our stance in the present  we are nonetheless confronted by the immensity of our subject, and the strange fact that development tends to peak during our transitional periods, leaving the mystery of Kant  at the climax of the Enlightenment and almost mysterious near our divide, ET6+. There is, on examination, a clear reason for this sudden 'critique of reason', world history is reaching a crisis of metaphysics, addressed in one way by science, yet with a limitation rapidly crystallizing in the dilemmas of reductionism. The great religions are lumbering along oblivious into modernism like freight trains about to derail, and laden with metaphysical burdens. 

 It is useful, to assess a 'point of view' with respect to this totality, to close on the critical moments, one of them being the 'divide' era of our modern transition, the generation ca 1800, when out of the blue the rise of a distinctly modern philosophical trend climaxes in the phenomenon of German philosophy, the generation of Kant and after. Why does this happen? It is a considerable mystery of the eonic effect, and we are drawn to its great Sphinx, the philosopher Kant, who both sums up this modern philosophy, and the era of the Enlightenment, but initiates a movement beyond it. We need only watch the Darwin debate emerging later to see the strange wisdom in our pattern, and the curiously 'double whammy' profundity of Kant's clarity and obscurity, mixed. 

So even if we were philosophical amateurs, a kind of 'what's what' with Kant (a similar, and parallel, statement could be made about Hume or the Scottish Enlightenment--this is not choice of a world view) stalks our eonic model, in which this curious wizard suddenly  stands out. This is not, then, a Kantian exposition, but an historical 'bird's eye view', and it might constitute a useful introduction to that philosopher, even as we move beyond the basic foundations of thought that Kant assumed. Moving beyond Kant is, however, not so easy. So one might linger here, for a considered view. 

Finally, you might think the 'eonic effect' and its model some indulgence in 'historicism', a la Popper, and think the critical system of Kant might be rather the demise rather than the proposal of a 'universal history', as some kind of metaphysical enterprise. Be my guest. You can use the Kantian theme is both ways, even as we use Kant to create a foundation for our enquiry. At least, consider, how many macrohistorical treatises invite the enemy into the introduction?  This somewhat strange approach to Kant is due to the sudden appearance of the issue of directionality, hence teleology, hence non-reductionist thinking. We can only operate blind, and detect things indirectly. As Kant suggest the 'critique of teleological judgment' will lay undermine simple efforts here. We can use the 'eonic model' to proceed indirectly. 

Our treatment of Kant is deliberately lightweight. A sort of eonic rickshaw service. The eonic effect, and Kant, are already complicated enough, but a snapshot of eonic history does resolve the implied question embedded in Kant's essay on history. We point to Kant's Antinomies, and the commentary on teleological judgment, and are done. It is also a useful way to coordinate our data in in two pieces, the causal pieces and the 'freedom' pieces, as a two-in-one package. 

  • The study of the eonic effect resolves the famous issue of what we call Kant's Challenge. By showing how a model matching historical evidence can detect and explicate directionality in history we clarify the ambiguity of directionality and causality in historical terms. The process corresponding to the generation of the 'perfect civil constitution' is clearly isolated by the eonic model. 

  • We demonstrate a non-random pattern in history. Kant's essay asks for a 'movement in the play of freedom'. Note the subtle differences between Freedom, 'play of free activity', and the historical process creating a 'regular movement'.  Free activity, with our without Free will, can show a regular movement due to a 'cause'. This is not the same as the usually sterile activity of searching for sociological laws or causations. Note that Kant hypostatizes 'nature' as doing all this, an ambiguity he never explains, although we must presume this is cover language. If not, we must not accept it, without refusing what it points to, a large-scale directionality of unknown provenance (i.e. naturalistic, but as in the Critique of Teleological Judgment not an object of knowledge, only reflective judgment)

  • This kind of distinction can be confusing, but you use it every day. Consider the children in a play ground during play hours, in a school schedule. The 'system', i.e. the schedule, is a process or regular movement in the free activity of children, i.e. a 'sort of cause', that is, they only play outside on schedule. Once outside playing their free activity is constrained but open. This kind of generalized 'sheep herding' semi-causality is not physics and characterizes the kind of process  that is to resolve the dilemma of 'freedom and necessity'. 

  • Our mood is science, our eonic model invokes 'causality' as macrohistory, and we end with the precise starting point of Kant, due to the way our 'discrete-continuous' model generates a slick variant of  'noumenal/phenomenal' distinction, slick because the noumenal is never mentioned nor invoked. We simply describe the phenomenal surface and detect the deficit of observation. It is not dissimilar to what happens with 'punctuated equilibrium' in biology ( a classic discrete-continuous variant and a dangerous term we quite eschew), although it is entirely possible there is a selectionist account of such phenomena in the realm of biology.  But the point is that one generates a double account, macro and micro, and the macro become ambiguous. We must move to protect our schema from vitalism, metaphysics, and speculative mischief with a Kantian watchdog

    • Our stance is ultra simple, and stark. IF we adopt the model indicated, the data of world history coheres as a whole, and the parts fall in place.  The macro factor is there, but we only detect it indirectly. The great danger then is pseudo-theories masquerading as propagandas, and still more propaganda masquerading as exposes of historicism. The exact historical tragedy we see. There is no solution to the dilemma. We can however track history over a short range with an empirical map, the eonic model.

This mo-del generates a slick version of the noumenal-phenomenal distinction without so much as mentioning the 'noumenal', which is not as such the transcendent or metaphysical. 

  • For example, we see the discrete-continuous model of transitions, which constitute a pseudo-causal nexus, and the embedded 'eonic emergence of democracy. This in turn provokes the classic variants of the 'question' 'what causes freedom', the famous short circuit of Kant's antinomy. Most remarkable indeed that our discrete model generates this variant of Kantian Dialectic. Note the relation of causal mechanics and causal freedom in this association. We never see the noumenal here, only the 'caused freedom' in historical clusters, yet this isolation of subsets called transitions creates a contrast analogous to the 'noumenal-phenomenal', both of them really phenomenal. 

Our model simply points to the absence of full information. All we see are discontinuous transitions. And it will descriptively match something like determinism  limited as 'general determination' to the discrete and something like freedom limited as 'generalized free action' in the characteristic match of double evolutions to the continuous. Like a stoplight, the continuous field of traffic, free action, is mixed with the discrete on-off, stop and go.  A model so crude (not the stop-go example) must suffice as 'force-surrogate' short of the failing 'laws of history' but  will yield a rich payoff, precipitating yet not fully crossing the boundary into the metaphysical. Kant created a critical system, yet was so curiously wry as to propose not a Critique of Historical Reason, the curious lot of his successor Dilthey (Karl Popper's The Poverty of Historicism being one attempt at this book), but an Idea for a Universal History. We shall have to consider the first book, still unwritten, first to write the second after that, evidently as the first (Dilthey left his incomplete). For we would appear to find the answer, as a theory of the evidence, only to wonder if this is unknowable to all explanation.  

Some Notes on Kant's Essay

Kant on History
Although we might be wary of all purely metaphysical approaches to the study of history, the pattern of what we will find from the periodization of civilizations must almost by definition pertain directly to the ideas of so-called Universal History. This idea finds its classic realization in the writings of the philosopher Immanuel Kant, in  his essay Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View:

Whatever concept one may hold, from a metaphysical point of view, concerning the freedom of the will, certainly its appearances, which are human actions, like every other natural event, are determined by universal laws. However obscure their causes, history, which is concerned with narrating these appearances, permits us to hope that if we attend to the play of freedom of the human will in the large, we may be able to discern a regular movement in it, and that what seems complex and chaotic in the single individual may be seen from the standpoint of the human race as a whole to be a steady and progressive though slow evolution of its original endowment.

 This quotation is all we need. From this we can deduce the rest, and go our own way. There is more, (and we can leave you at the threshold of a project of Kant study), but our minimalist approach is not intended to explicate Kant, so this one paragraph is deeply significant Kant is asking also for that process in history, 'nature's secret plan', which will produce the 'perfect civil constitution'. Be wary of this language, which in any case, is posited as naturalism. The eonic effect has a lot to say here! But we get only a limited result, relative directionality in a short range. The suggestion of a 'plan' is teleological and we limit ourselves to directionality.  

  • This paragraph is not arcane. A good first example is an economy which shows by careful periodization a regular movement in relation to the chaotic free activity of free agents. The problem is that this applies only to economies which are subsets of 'histories' and these economies do not as such generate the complex infrastructure that represents greater culture. 

This paragraph suggests a problem that is not easy to solve! It reflects Kant's Third Antinomy, but applied to history. What does nature have to say? We should expect some intermediate condition between force and freedom. Armed with that, we can see all at once that history contains an 'eonic effect', i.e. switching on and off with respect to regions, in a relative series of onsets,  like economic cycles, where 'historical structure' coexists with 'free action', i.e. economic optionality in a field of market activity . We have it. Structure can coexist with 'free activity'. 

We see this only in an isolated fragmentary series, five thousand years long. But the pieces fall in place. The spectacular middle chord, confused with the axial age, is the smoking gun, it suggests a series. This suggests, move backwards and forwards to find the correlates. We see them at once at the birth of civilization, and the rise of the modern. This is a focal series emerging from a source, diffusing from hotspots. What about the middle eras? These are a different mix of 'force and freedom', often less than free, and tailing away into medievalism! A very simple, though at first confusing, result, but one seen only at high level. Consider why we use the term 'middle ages'. We already know all this, but didn't quite notice what we were talking about. It must be that way. We are inside this system, using it. We must already be aware of it without realizing it. 

Tread warily here. Something called the issue of double affection and the 'causal status' of the phenomenal versus the noumenal created great confusion in the wake of Kant. The eonic model might help here since 'causality' is replaced by 'e-sequence', in a context where some behind-the-scenes process is clearly at work. This one will tie your head in knots and prevent the simple message of Kant from registering. We can see how the eonic model, not being physics, escapes this by speaking of a 'generalized causal nexus' and a 'freedom generating sequence'. The question of causality arises, but its answer is not known. We might note in passing the generalized analogy, or rough similarity, to a genetic algorithm. A discrete model that could be taken to include a continuous extension, with a built in 'do-while' statement, i.e. the alternation of two aspects, or one system idling while the other is active. Thus, be wary here. There is nothing noumenal in a genetic algorithm. Keep it simple here. There is an unseen 'programmatic' detectable in historical becoming. 

 Historical Directionality
The question of historical directionality is resolved looking backwards using periodization, whose implications are not therefore predictive. We see that our 'discrete-continuous' model shows discrete interruption, and  switches off in our present. This quirk of our model is seen and bypassed in the confusion over historicism which suffers the obverse objection that 'freedom' requires an evolute to reach its liberty. And the contradiction thus goes round in circles, like a dog chasing its tail. We can use 'reflective judgment' to see directionality in the past. And this is not the same as our free action, free or not, in the after phase of our eonic history. Think of an earthquake sequence in a fault zone. There are two processes, earthquakes and spectators, the 'free action field'. We construct a map of discrete shocks, yet our free action response can only see in the past, with no prediction (as yet) of the future. The system switches off, and free action in its wake is our condition. You cannot predict the future based on the free action field.  Confusion of these two has always been the lot of deterministic theories. (In fact, we might say, the modern 'transition' switches on the centrality of markets, a non-random process triggering a form of randomized activity, to the confusion of all theorists, except perhaps Karl Polanyi) And we see why the controversy over the end of history, for example, can be so misleading and ideology prone. Thus  directionality suggests teleology, it does not prove it, nor provide a telos. We will exit the last phase arguing over the telos, and long and short step versions, starting in the early nineteenth century!  It is important to consider that the entire eonic model was constructed without any teleological thinking. None. We start with the 'causal' model, and watch it break down. The semi-causal nexus of the 'eonic transition' was the prime concern. And the relevance of Kant became apparent only towards the conclusion of the analysis. 

This will make better sense once translated into historical terms, where the relation of system action and free action is visible in the sudden rise of the modern, and the transition from the transition to the post-transitional new era early in the nineteenth century. 

 Antinomy of Teleological Judgment 
It is important to remember that Kant's critical system exists in the context of Newtonian physics.
Do not forget Rousseau. As we explore the eonic effect, we are in terra incognita, where we have no visible means, save evidentiary phenomenology of large scale geographical regions over time, of producing a statement of 'causality'. We are in the prime danger zone where Bergsons have gone before us and  foundered (perhaps, but seeing the inherent dilemma). Yet we see the grounds for such macro-causal assertions, but it is not a Newtonian situation. Nonetheless, we do proceed as if to find the 'causality' of large scale history, but this is an ambiguous method, for causality generates directionality, and we are in a subdomain that must answer to issues of a quite different yet real causality, physical reductionism, and teleology, about which we are ignorant. In fact our method shows the elegant 'compromise'. It is not unlike seeing the interval between episodes of a thermostat switching on. There is an environment and the visible effects of a macro-response to that environment, and that produces directionality.  But this is dangerous terrain. For nothing in the eonic study required, or used, a teleological method, although these are products of history that we must explain. This is puzzling. We bring a very strong plus toward renewed teleological considerations, but then stop short. Perhaps the following quote concerning the First and Third Critiques, and the ambiguous position of Kant's essay on history will help to show both how confusing the question is, and how deep was Kant's consideration. Our empirical method, with some elements of theory, might echo this, and, by giving an example of this perspectivist confusion of mechanics and teleology, clarify the passage's undoubted obscurity, at first sight.  Relax, you can't quite figure it out without an example! If you ever wondered why Popper ended up writing The Poverty of Historicism, it is to do with something round about here, in this quagmire.  Keep in mind that we are 'looking backward' with something like 'reflective judgment' to apply tried and true (if not synthetic a priori) principles of periodization (as causal surrogates) to detect a directionality generated by the 'discrete operation' in relation to the 'continuous operation', i.e. the action of a system, and the field of human free action. That amounts to saying, "keep it simple, stupid" or "keep out of trouble by counting on your fingers" to follow the tempo of history. The action of our system is in the past, as it switches off to leave the present as 'free action', free or not. The actual mechanism, like the noumenal, we never see. If you wish to play Zarathustra and predict the next cycle of system action, I will disown you, for the element of our current relative free action should be to 'exit history as the eonic sequence', by making the transition from 'eonic evolution' to Freedom as real History, for the first time. If we are still around for the next cycle it is only because we lost all self-awareness to endure millennia of medievalism, once again. Note there are two systems at work here in an unstable relationship, our evolving freedom and an unknown system, whose action we can detect by evanescence, in the past. We have no knowledge of what it is. It is like extra wheels on a child's bike. Someday they are removed. 

If the previous paragraph made no sense, forget it immediately.

From S. Korner's Kant

  • "Kant's resolution of the antinomy of reflective Judgment must be considered in the light of the first Critique. In that work, especially in the Analytic of Principles, he has expounded a system of theoretical a priori propositions, which constitute the fundamental conditions of Newtonian physics, and, in his view, of all science. The result of the first Critique is thus, among other things., a mechanistic metaphysics; and nothing in the Critique of Judgment indicates that Kant has in any way changed his view on this subject. ...The third Critique does not not develop a teleological metaphysics. On the contrary, it shows that teleological principles are not constitutive of the empirical world, but can only be regulative, for our reflection upon the empirical world. While the first Critique justifies the mechanistic method on the basis of mechanistic metaphysic, the third Critique justifies the teleological method in spite of the impossibility of a teleological metaphysics. This impossibility is insisted upon time and again. Kant admits only a metaphysics of nature and a metaphysic of morals. There is no metaphysic of purpose, but only a Critique of Teleological Judgment.  He shows that there is no conflict between the maxims of mechanistic an d teleological method. There can be no conflict between mechanistic and teleological metaphysics because, according to the critical philosophy, there can be no teleological metaphysics."

From Stephen Korner's Kant, Penguin, 1974, p. 208-209

Historicism, Big History, Evolution 
We must adopt a resolution that is workable to avoid the contradiction in the Third Antinomy--by embracing it!! But before doing that, we should ask, what is our business, a causal science of history, an account of the emergence of freedom, both, or schizophrenia? The amount of confused research here is a crisis, and we are hapless Dilthey's attempting a Critique of Historical Reason in the name of science, while the wily Kant wrote no such book, instead, An Idea for a Universal History. Was Kant a fox? 

  • We can take Kant's work short work on history as a starting point and  invoke its Challenge to find the pattern of Universal History, and then turn around and answer this challenge with the rubric of 'evolution'. But we must distinguish empirical maps from theories full blown. Further we see, as Kant saw, the teleological problems in describing a bio-cultural process, and this invokes the 'antinomy of causality and teleology'. Kant allowed no teleological metaphysics, but, based on regulative, rather than constitutive principles, we can looking backward detect the directionality implicit in a discrete continuous model. 

 Kant is appropriate because he is a pre-Darwinist, like Hume, and a no-nonsense philosopher grounded in science (indeed one of the originators of evolutionary thinking, re: the solar system) who nonetheless pointed to the dangers of reductionist empiricism, and teleology both.  Our 'discrete-continuous' model will avoid the traps of historicism studied by Karl Popper and will mimic (for history) Kant's famous distinction of 'phenomenal' and 'noumenal' , (beware, they are not however the same, we are looking at 'historical experience', which has no simple percepts of experience). We must raise the question of such terminology at the beginning, for it is nowhere used in the account of the eonic effect. Our approach might help is escaping the quagmire of this mostly misunderstood distinction, by never using the words. But our approach is naturalistic, with a caveat. And that is that the domain of values remains ambiguous, although we can see that the evolution of values is what a proper theory demands.  We must escape the false dilemma of supernatural historicism, reductionist positivism, and  the teleological historicisms of conventional universal history. Our simple model of world history faithfully mirrors Kantian reflection on history, but is more generalized. The problem is that Kant is taken as an 'idealist', and his 'transcendental idealism' as some kind of metaphysical supernaturalism. But his perspective was quite different. In any case, it is his question that interests us, not his system. As we attempt to deal with the 'antinomy of mechanism and teleology', Kant is incomparable as a guide. Darwinists assume they have the answers, but we can suggest the elusive fashion in which they go wrong. However, this is not a Kantian exposition. We will travel through Kant's strange world very briefly, on our way to a new perspective pointed to in his incomplete historical thinking, whose latent suggestion is both a critique of simplistic Darwinism, and an embrace of evolution.

Phenomenon and Noumenon 
Kant's famous distinction of noumenon and phenomenon is basic to his work, his most insightful breakthrough, forever in danger of being lost, yet its elucidation is strewn with difficulties and landmines. The study of the eonic effect will lead you into this terrain. 

Proceed indirectly with the ultra-simple method of periodization, whose interior study slowly but surely closes on the antinomy of freedom generation enclosed in discrete regions.  And such a gesture of premature collation of systems would instantly acquire the classic problems here, that of the so-called 'double affection' problem (research that on your own). And yet it might almost be a fortunate 'error' to make once, for the vexatious nature of causal influence in an unknown phenomenology of evolution might well be tested in this strange sense of the clear limitations on realism.  The problem, for example, is that our eonic model gobbles up the phenomenon of Israelite 'revelation', in all its confusing beauty, and there's no 'G-d action' left to be referred to in such language. We hunger for historical myths in a desert where marginal gains of understanding creep upon plain historical study through careful study of overall patterns. The tremendous pressures of theology might tempt some to noumenalize an unmentioned-here version of eonic malarkey. It's a free country, but cut flowers are no answer. I find the eonic approach much more interesting as it disgorges nature's frankenstein version of the Kantian third antinomy. The eonic effect is all that will remain of the miracle tales of the Old Testament reduced to rubble in the onset of Biblical Criticism. Once used to the desert, a drink of water is enough, and here the minimum far more spectacular. Secularism can debunk a sacred book, but it cannot really explain away the curious enigma of periodization.  

 Here, as a rough measure of warning, our position vaguely resembles that of Quantum Mechanics, where a distinction of 'phenomenon' and 'reality' arises, with an evocative echo of Kantian thinking, something however most physicists would be altogether wary of acknowledging, perhaps for good reason. We have no such rigorous approach to the issues. This issue should be left to physicists, cf. the introduction to Nick Herbert's Quantum Reality. But Kantian issues were directly addressed by the founders of QM, and may even have confused the issue. But even if they weren't, there is a curious resemblance of the Kant mess succeeded by the Quantum mess. Physics is not our ballpark. But in general, far short of the more outrageous claims of some pop QM interpretations (which are actually profitable fun), the appearance of the distinction of surface and a deeper reality is genuinely evocative of Kant, and requires no apology, although you will probably get bitten by a wild physics dog for thinking this way. 

 In history we find a similar partition of phenomenon and a something else. The discrete discontinuity calls out for interpretation, but there is none, except that the method works. There is no discoverable miracle in the gaps here, for discontinuity is only a summary of the foundational evidence, which is vast, and history will prove homogeneous, as indeed the history of Israel is proving. The discontinuity is the application of methodology that produces the reconciliation of this with continuity in a defined 'eonic transition', relatively arbitrary, but enclosing fast evolution. More we do not know. It is the data that counts, and this is only partially reflected by the 'model'.. Only the external high-level relations of historical blocks and the interior 'self-consciousness' of agents, is visible, and this in mysterious. As we extend our range of enquiry, a contradiction arises. And that is enough to detect a derandomizer indirectly. More is unknown. Our position there is an 'if'. If we adopt a discrete-continuous model, then a short measure of world history can be shown to reveal a high degree of coherence. The appearance of the contrast strongly suggests a missing dynamic, that's the problem. A 'dynamic' might suggest a form of 'transcendentalism realism' next to the classic distinction of 'transcendental idealism' and 'empirical realism' of Kant. Ay there's the rub. A ticking clock, that's a discrete-continuous candidate, and its not transcendent, although it might prove 'transcendental' to observers, in Kant's sense.  We are two degrees of idiocy away from deep reality, and may confuse the empirically undiscovered with a magical illusion, the bane of all Darwin debate. And the depth of naturalism can be confused with an imagined 'supernature' when it is only a limit on our observation.  In the west, we confuse consciousness with spirit. The action of 'spirit' in history is deeper in deep water than the Titanic, but the original point might well resurface restated as a form of transcendental realism, for which Popper is well-known. But this view lacks the characteristic perspectives on ethics that brings us into a deeper realm. The latter ism is however undefined, and it is not clear, for example how a transcendental realist can deal with the 'fact-value' braiding suddenly seen to be the basis of cultural dynamics. Are values spiritual?  In any case, the percipience of the individual, addressed by Kant, and the methodology of the historical observer are not easily equated. 

Kant's Question

  • From Bruce Mazlish, The Riddle of History
    There is a certain irony in the fact that the little philosopher--Kant was only five foot tall-who never left Konigsberg wrote a universal history from a cosmopolitan point of view. It corresponds perfectly, however, with Kant's abstracting mind as well as with the content of his philosophy. History, as he tells us, has to be looked at in its full, universal time sweep, for only in history as a whole is nature's purpose realized. And history has to be considered from a cosmopolitan point of view because its necessary goal is a 'perfect civic constitution of mankind',  a point which Kant stresses not only in the Idea, but in Eternal Peace, where he defends "the idea of a cosmopolitan world law' against the charge of utopianism.

    Kant begins the Idea by an assertion that human actions, like any other phenomena, are determined by general laws of nature. What appears accidental in the individual is determinate and predictable in the species. An example is marriage: although a marriage seems freely willed by the individual, yet the annual statistical tables exhibit a consistency which, according to Kant, show that marriages "occur according to stable natural laws." Such a social  phenomenon can be compared the the oscillation of the weather: while we cannot predict individual states of affairs, we can rely on a a regular support of the growth of plants, the flow of streams, and so forth, 'at a uniform, uninterrupted pace'.
    The conclusion is one to warm the heart of Adam Smith. "Individual men," Kant tells us, "and even whole nations, little think, while they are pursuing their own purposes--each in his own way, and often one in direct opposition to another-that they are unintentionally promoting, as if it were their guide, an end of nature, which is unknown to them." Nevertheless, since man himself has neither instinct, like the animals, nor a rational plan of his own to guide him to a preconceived end, history, at first glance, seems pointless, like Shakespeare's 'tale told by an idiot.' Or, as Kant puts it in typical Enlightenment fashion, "It is hard to suppress a certain disgust when contemplating men's actions upon the world stage."

    This disgust is relieved only by the discovery that "in this senseless march of human events" nature has a plan and an end. This discovery, however, is the philosopher's task, or rather Kant poses it as a problem for a future Kepler or Newton of the historical world. Kant himself will seek in the Idea only to provide a clue, or a guide, to this happy discovery. The whole point of Kant's attempt, however, is that he assumes from the beginning that man's random and free pursuits are to be considered as if they were subject to nature's laws--which Kant, as we shall see, equates with an aim or purpose of nature.  Bruce Mazlish, The Riddle of History, Harper & Row, 1966, p. 103

  • From Peter Fenves, A Peculiar Fate. The "Idea for a universal history from a cosmological plan/intention point of view" is only a preliminary essay. Not only are its nine propositions thrown together in a seemingly unsystematic manner, reminiscent of Aristotle's treatment of the categories, Kant even emphasizes from the very outset that this little essay will be withdrawn in favor of a universal history written by an as yet unknown philosopher of the future. In the footnote added to the title Kant explains that the essay was undertaken on the occasion of certain rumor that happened to make its way into a journal; this rumor "forces me to make a clarification, without which it would not make any sense". Kant needs to show that one of his ideas and indeed a "cherished idea" is not only founded on reason but even bound up with the very point of human rationality. This idea is cherished to the point of eroticism, the issues of priority and succession are thereby implicated in its general movement. Simply stated, the idea invites one to think that a "philosophical writer of history" might one day appear and, after having established himself as a successor to Kant, compose a world-history that, since it is itself based on the "final purpose of the human race," will be able to measure how far we have traveled with respect to our cherished goal. [Footnote below]  To justify his remark, therefore, Kant will have to demonstrate that history in its entirety is not without sense, direction, and ultimate destination?  Footnote: The remark attributed to Kant that happened to make its way into the Gothaische gelehrete Zeitung runs in part: "A cherished idea of Professor Kant is that the ultimate purpose of the human race is to achieve the most perfect state-constitution, and he wishes that a philosophical writer of history might undertake to give us a history of humanity from this point of view, and to shows to what extent humanity in various ages has approached or drawn away from the final purpose and what remains to be done in order to reach it" 


Last Modified 08/31/2005