Foucault's 1961 Introduction to Kant's Anthropology from a Pragmatic point of view

Notes by Arianna Bove

This text by Foucault on Kant was published and translated for generation-online and as part of the translator's PhD thesis A critical ontology of the present. It can now be consulted here in English and French. What follows is a series of notes by the translator.

L'anthropologie sur lequel malheureusement nous réfléchissons trop souvent, c'est bien précisément un transcendantal qui se voudrait vrai au niveau naturel, qui ne peut pas l'être: mais a partir du moment ou on essaie de définir une essence de l'homme qui pourrait s'énoncer a partir d'elle-même et de toute limite possible de la connaissance, on est en plein paralogisme.

Foucault's introduction to Kant's Anthropology interests us for several reasons. There we find the first reflections on humanism and the status of man within modernity, but the work also aims at criticising a certain form of anthropology which gained success in France and aimed at formalising' and providing 'scientificity' to the study of man, from within the Kantian tradition. Structuralism has often been accused of construing rigid structures of formal understanding. Foucault here aims to look at the source of transcendental thinking and the relation it has with notions such as origin, structure and genesis in Kant's least discussed work. Foucault will often repeat that Kant's Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view questions and endangers the whole of Kantian critical enterprise from the outset, whilst attempting to reinforce it epistemologically. The fact that Kant's Anthropology aimed at a wide public audience is of importance. No direct reference is there made to the Critique, even though there is correspondence in their structures. In 1797 its two publications gained more popularity than the Critiques. In these lectures, Kant dwells on topics such as memory, mental illness, temperament, people's psychology, the phenomenon and the limits of reasons. First he deduces a priori principles from a metaphysics of the natural and a metaphysics of the human world (customs). Secondly, he describes phenomenal reality on the basis of experience in terms of an empirical knowledge of nature (Physis) and an empirical knowledge of man (Anthropology). We will look into the reasons for the attention granted by Foucault to this particular work because they help our understanding of Foucault's writings on 'actualité', critique and enlightenment, but more importantly they shed light on what Foucault actually means by anthropology, and what is at stake in The Order of Things and the declaration of the death of the subject.

We interpret this commentary as moving in the following main directions: Foucault aims to unravel the empirical foundations of the critiques in some notion of language. Language will be the anthropological point where the subject is questioned in its validity as the conditio sine qua non of the activity of cognition. He is also concerned with offering an outline of the inevitable epistemological constraints to philosophical reflection on man's finitude by showing how in Kant's system the circularity and difficulties of the human sciences and all contemporary philosophising were already present at the level of theoretical elaboration. In a perverse way, it seems that Foucault wants to play Kant off against neo-Kantians and use the anthropological reflection as a warning against the dangers of formalising epistemological activity, as well as philosophically grounding the impossibility of a rational psychology, that is, one that accounts for the workings of the soul as unaffected by empirical modifications arising out of sensation. Foucault is also critical of all anthropologies that aim to essentialise man or search for his 'origins' in a distant time. Elsewhere Foucault says that until Kant every reflection on man was secondary to thinking the infinite, and reflection on man in treatises on his nature always questioned the modalities of perception against the background of a truth given by physics and mathematics. Since Kant, however, the problem of man is posed outside of the problem of infinity and truth, and in the context of his finitude, which becomes the point of departure for any reflection upon him, including the possibility of writing a positive science of man.

The question: what is man? is at the centre of Foucault's reflections on Kant's theoretical enterprise. It relates directly to the three questions of the Critiques, respectively: what can I know? what must I do? And what can one hope for? Foucault observes that:

'These three questions that hang over and, to a certain extent, command the organisation of critical thought, can be found at the beginning of the Logic, but affected by a decisive modification. A fourth question appears: what is man? –which only follows on from the first three in order to take hold of them again in a reference that wraps them all: because they all have to relate themselves to that one.'

Foucault investigates the effect of this questioning on the whole critical enterprise and in his Commentaire he tries to establish whether the anthropological interrogation is a reinforcement of the a priori forms of knowledge established in the Critique of Pure Reason, or whether the positing of man at the centre of philosophical reflection in fact breaks off and endangers the Kantian system from within. We have to remember that this is inserted in a wider critique of the positivity of knowledge; the role of finitude brought about by the human sciences and the circularity of their enterprise is – albeit implicitly – the backdrop of Foucault's assessment of Kant's solution to the problem of an empirical study of man. What is at stake is the very role of modern philosophy.

'Philosophieren seems to be able to deploy itself exhaustively at the level of a knowledge of man; the largely empirical status that the first Critique assigns to the Anthropology is, by this very fact, challenged, - it is no longer the last empirical stage of a knowledge organised philosophically, but the point where philosophical reflection comes to culminate into an interrogation of the interrogations themselves.'

The epistemological debates of his time revolved around the notions of subject and object. Going back to Kant, Foucault shifts the emphasis from the dialectical interplay of subject and object to one between passivity and spontaneity. In fact, the relation to be accounted for in Kant is one between receptive sensibility and active understanding, rather than subject and object, so it is internal to the act of knowledge. In this Foucault is a direct follower of Kant for his questioning of the status of the subject in discourse and the ontological role of language breaks out of such dichotomy by positing practice at the centre of epistemological analysis.

In the Commentaire, Foucault is particularly interested in the relation between anthropology and psychology. The difficulty of the Anthropology is 'how to articulate an analysis of what Homo Natura is on the basis of a definition of man as subject of liberty'. More specifically, in its pragmatic character, the Anthropology aims to study what man makes of himself. So the realm of its investigation will neither be morality nor the law, but 'what makes man, -or what he can and should do of himself as 'freihandelndes Wesen''. Foucault observes that even though the anthropology posits man neither as homo natura nor as subject of freedom, but rather as he is 'given within the already operating syntheses of his relation with the world', i.e. as a citizen of the world, it then goes on to study Gemüt (inner sense).

Gemüt, according to Kant, is a 'consciousness of what man experiences. The perceptions of the inner sense are not merely anthropological, they are psychological.' Foucault defines Gemüt in Kant as man's receptivity as he is affected by the play of his own thoughts, and it is in the relation of passivity and spontaneity that Foucault first looks for what constitutes man in Kant's system. The receptivity of the Gemüt is an originary passivity rather than a constitutive activity. The theme of self-affection will be extremely important to Foucault especially in his later works, where as we shall see, it will be theorised as the condition of possibility for accessing truth in the trajectory that goes from care to hermeneutics of the self. Here, though, self affection entails man's position as both object and determining subject, within the dispersion of the I in Time.

The theme of the dispersion of the I in Time recurs in The Order of Things in the form of the return to History which will displace the role of representation with respect to being and lead to the emergence of the two fundamental ramifications of modern discourse: phenomenology and structuralism.

'What is essential is that at the beginning of the nineteenth century a new arrangement of knowledge was constituted, which accommodated simultaneously the historicity of economics (in relation to the forms of production), the finitude of human existence (in relation to scarcity and labour) and the fulfilment of an end of History […]. Finitude, with its truth, is posited in time; and time is therefore finite. The great dream of an end of History is the utopia of causal systems of thought, just as the dream of the world's beginnings was the utopia of the classifying systems of thought.'

As we have seen, for Kant time is the form of the inner sense, its mode of functioning, in so far as it internally arranges things as they appear. But Time also constitutes the concrete unity of passivity and synthesis, of what is affected and what determines the affection. As Deleuze clearly puts it:

'Time moves into the subject, in order to distinguish the 'me' from the I in it. It is the form under which the I affects the 'me', that is, the way in which the mind affects itself. It is in this sense that time as immutable form, which could no longer be defined by simple succession, appeared as the form of interiority (inner sense), whilst space, which could no longer be defined by coexistence, appeared for its part as the form of exteriority. Form of interiority means not only that time is internal to us, but that our interiority constantly divides us from ourselves, splits us into two: a splitting in two which never runs its course, since time has no end.'

The inner sense, therefore, sees the conditions of its definition only in Time and, consequently, in a state of fluidity. This dispersion means the blurring of the distinction between passivity and spontaneity. The me object that is offered to sensation in the form of Time is also a determining subject since it is given in the form of being affected by himself. Hence, Time effects a dispersion of the I and the possibility for it to be determined without depriving it of its determining function. Thus, the reason why Gemüt occupies the centre of a reflection on man as nature and man as subject of freedom, is that for Kant, unlike the physiological study of man, which aims to investigate what nature makes of man, the Anthropology is concerned with studying what man makes of himself. As Foucault puts it: 'Gemüt gives control and balance: maître de sa pensée et maître de ce mouvement vital', representing the 'biggest possible empirical usage of Reason, the art of using life, what man makes of himself'.

However, in assessing the relation of the Anthropology to the Critique, Foucault observes that whilst the Critique points towards a relation of finitude to the infinite, in the paralogistic tendencies of Reason, the Anthropology operates on a very different terrain. As a knowledge of the knowledge on man and through its insertion in empiricity, the Anthropology poses the question that for Foucault hangs over the whole of contemporary philosophy, casting 'the shadow of a classical philosophy now deprived of God: can one have empirical knowledge of finitude?' In other words, how is the transcendental unity of apperception (a priori synthetic activity) to be accounted for without recourse to a transcendental subject?

To answer this question Foucault looks at the role of Time in these two texts. Whilst the Time of the Critique works at the level of the 'ur', where multiplicity is already dominated in the unity of the cogito; in the Anthropology, Time operates at the level of the 'ver' and through the dispersion of synthetic activity. (Foucault writes that Time gnaws at synthetic activity). It lacerates it from within and rather than as a form of intuition and of the inner sense, Time is the 'originary depth of the insular syntheses of Gemüt', but it is also the time of the world, as the actuality of the synthesis of the present . Whilst, then, the Time of the Critique leads to an ontology of the infinite and the thought on origins through the sovereignty of the determination (Bestimmung); the time of the anthropology points to the incertitude of the exercise of Kunst and refers us to the time of the world of the Opus Postumum: a city to build rather than a ready given cosmos.

'The relation described by the Anthropology has its own dimension within the slow, precarious and always doubtful labour of the succession: the manifold as it offers itself to the senses is not yet (noch nicht) ordered; the understanding must come to add itself (hinzukonnmen) and insert an order that it supplies itself (hineinbringen). A judgement that is produced before this ordering activity [putting into order (zuvor)] risks being false. On the other hand, this relation of succession does not put up with/withstand being extended with impunity; if, in the order of time, the retrospective reassessment of reasoning (Nachgrübeln) and the indefinite folding (repli) of reflection (Überlegung) intervened, the error could equally slip. The given is therefore never deceptive, not because it judges well, but because it doesn't judge at all, and what judgement inserts within time, forms truth according to the measure of this time itself.'

This endangering of the critical enterprise is crucial for Foucault's project to attack the philosophy of origins as well as dialectical thought's obsession with the ontology of the infinite:

'Cartesian thought, even though it struggled with it well early, and from the experience of error, reencounters this finitude, but the latter has been indefinitely referred back to starting from an ontology of the infinite. And empiricism practices this finitude and refers to it without pause, but as a limit for itself as much as a frontier of knowledge. The anthropological interrogation has a different meaning; it is about knowing whether, at the level of man, a knowledge of finitude can exist, so liberated and grounded that one can think such finitude in itself, i.e. in the form of positivity.'

So whilst the Critique develops on the path of establishing a relation between Time and the Subject, the Anthropology focuses on the relation of Time to Kunst, in a negation of man's originary passivity. Kunst means technique, skill, art, but for Foucault, Kant's frequent use of this term in the text points to the possibility of arbitrariness in judgement and the setting up of appearances against and above phenomena. In other words, it is used in the context of the intentionality of deceit and it is the negation of originary passivity in so far as, whilst inhabiting the domain of the given, 'it exercises its sovereignty in three ways: it is the puissance of the negative, it is the decision of the intentional, it is the language of exchange.'
The notion of Kunst will no doubt later develop into that of technology of the self. Like Kunst, technology of the self entails the same free play and sovereignty yet it is inserted in the concrete system of belonging to the world as 'concomitant to the determination of me as the objective content of experience in general.'

Thus, it is through a reflection on Time and its role in the syntheses of the understanding that we arrive at the significance of the inner sense for an analysis of man as Weltbürger.
Foucault notes that in the Anthropology, the complex of existence, the world as Ganz, is interrogated as source, domain and limit and determines the structural belonging of the question of what is man to the questioning of the world. The world is not exteriority and rather than to the order of the I know, it relates to the order of the I am. Here again Foucault highlights the instability and openness of the terms of the Anthropology: the world is the basis of the transcendental relation of passivity and spontaneity, not just the source of sensation; it is the basis of the relation of necessity and freedom in foundational activity, rather than simply the domain of possible syntheses; and more importantly, it is the basis of the relation between reason and spirit, rather than simply the limit for the use of ideas.
'Within this system of correlation the reciprocal transcendence of truth (vérité) and freedom is founded.'

In this context, a relation of truth and language is established in Kant's description of a banquet . In the Anthropology, Kant dwells on the conviviality of a banquet and the kinds of exchange that occur when people speak to one another and 'reason' together. Foucault sees these passages as the best indication of what Kant means by citizenship of the world, and free handling of being.

'The man of the Anthropology is Weltbürger, but not in so far as he must belong to such social group or such institution. Purely and simply because he speaks. It is in the exchange of language that, all at once, he attends to and accomplishes himself the concrete universal. His residence in the world is originally an inhabiting language.'

Truth is then not only the temporal dispersion of the syntheses, but also the movement of language and exchange. It does not have an originary presence, nor is it confined to the impact of experience on the understanding. In speaking in a convivial situation freedoms meet one another and are 'spontaneously universalised.'

'It is a truth more interior and more complex, since it is in the movement itself of exchange, and that exchange accomplishes the universal truth of man. Similarly whilst at any time the originary could have been defined as the temporal itself, one can now say that the originary does not reside in a preliminary and secret signification, but it the more manifest route of the exchange. It is there that language assumes, achieves and finds again its reality, it is there also that man deploys its anthropological truth'.

Arianna Bove

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