Kant’s Theory of Progress
My topic is Kant’s theory of historical progress. My approach is primarily textual and contextual. I analyse in some detail Kant’s three most important essays on the topic: ‘Idea for a Universal History’, the third part of ‘Theory and Practice’ and the second part of The Conflict of the Faculties. I devote particular attention to the Kant-Herder debate about progress, but also discuss Rousseau, Mendelssohn, Hegel and others. In presenting, on Kant’s behalf, a strong case for his theory of progress, I address the main objections which have been put to it. These are: (i) historical teleology is incoherent (history can’t have a goal because there is no intentional actor functioning at the historical level); (ii) historical teleology undermines morality (if things are getting better anyway, why do I have to try to make them better?); (iii) progress involves ‘chronological unfairness’ (if things are getting better, doesn’t this mean that earlier generations get a raw deal?); (iv) progress consigns the species to ‘spurious infinity’ (isn’t endless improvement endlessly unsatisfactory?); (v) progress amounts to pernicious homogenization (doesn’t the elimination of traditional practices and values impoverish our world?); (vi) the idea of progress is just ‘secularized’ religion (and should be rejected accordingly). In relation to (vi), I consider the Löwith-Blumenberg debate, and draw some general conclusions about the issue of ‘secularization’. In relating these to Kant, I argue for the following position: (a) his theory of progress is more than merely secularized religion; (b) to the extent that it can be described in terms of the secularization thesis, this reflects his ‘critical’ endeavour to rationalize Christianity; (c) in any case, the idea of progress by no means exhausts the rational potential of religion, and so should not be seen as intended to replace the latter.Kant
McCloughan, Meade (2008) Kant’s Theory of Progress. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.
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