Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 March 2021
Philosophy of History
Immanuel Kant (1724– 1804)
Kant's The Old Question Raised Again: Is the Human Race Constantly Progressing (1798) is typical of a third phase approach to knowledge. It takes up perspectives that have articulated in the systematic approach—in this case historical development—and probes in depth differing aspects of particular concepts central to the projective understanding that enables problems to be posed, and addressed in action.
Kant states the value of his inquiry:
As a divinatory historical narrative of things imminent in future time, consequently as a possible representation a priori of events which are supposed to happen then. But how is a history a priori possible? Answer: if the diviner himself creates and contrives the events which he announces in advance. It was all very well for the Jewish prophets to prophesy that sooner or later not simply decadence but complete dissolution awaited their state, for they themselves were the authors of this fate. As national leaders they had loaded their constitution with so much ecclesiastical freight, and civil freight tied to it, that their state became utterly unfit to subsist of itself, and especially unfit to subsist together with neighboring nations. Hence the jeremiads of their priests were naturally bound to be lost upon the winds, because priests obstinately persisted in their design for an untenable constitution created by themselves; and thus they could infallibly foresee the issue.
Kant continues, bringing his emphasis upon perspective and the concepts attached to perspective, up to his present time:
So far as their influence extends, our politicians do precisely the same thing and are just as lucky as their prophecies. We must, they say, take men as they are, not as pedants ignorant of the world or good-natured visionaries fancy they ought to be. But in place of that “as they are” it would be better to say what they “have made” them—stubborn and inclined to revolt—through unjust constraint, through perfidious plots placed in the hands of government; obviously then, if government allows the reins to relax a little, sad consequences ensue which verify the prophecy of those supposedly sagacious statesmen. (Ibid., 138)