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Introduction: A Welcome from the Host

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2014

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Summary

Immanuel Kant's dinner-party

In Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (1798), Immanuel Kant describes how to throw the perfect dinner-party. The company must not number fewer than the graces or more than the muses: a number from three to nine is ‘just enough to keep the conversation from slackening or the guests from dividing into separate small groups with those sitting next to them’. The conversation should proceed through three stages: ‘narration’ (which concerns the news of the day), ‘arguing’ (the exchange of opinions, which ‘stirs up the appetite for food and drink’) and ‘jesting’ (‘the mere play of wit’). Governing all three phases are further injunctions: ‘to choose topics for conversation that interest everyone’, ‘not to allow deadly silences to set in’, ‘not to change the topic unnecessarily’, ‘not to let dogmatism arise’ and, should a serious conflict occur, ‘carefully to maintain discipline over oneself and one's affects’. These matters observed, a dinner-party will combine both physical good (‘good living’) and moral good (‘virtue’), the former derived from fine food and wine, the latter from sociability and enlightenment. But, Kant cautions, a balance must be maintained ‘whereby the inclination to good living is limited by the law of virtue’. Have fun, that is, but not too much fun.

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Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2013

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