The aim of this project is to collaboratively develop a new perspective on classical German philosophy. We argue that the philosophy of Kant and post-Kantian authors is profoundly inspired by ‘anthropology’, namely by reflections exploring the distinctly human point of view. Historically, the term “anthropology” (Anthropologie) gained unprecedented traction in Germany within the period between XVIII and XIX century. “Anthropologie” meant different things to different people: it referred to various competing approaches investigating human mindedness and cognition, which involved disciplines as diverse such as physiology, medicine, comparative anatomy and philosophy. However, the views –– and the controversies– developed in that context profoundly shaped the reflection of classical authors on key topics: body, mindedness, human capacities, natural constitutions and the place of the human being within nature.
In bringing together an international group of experts, this network seeks to jointly establish the research area of Classical German Anthropology and point out what we can learn from it for current debates on what it means to be a human being. 

What is human nature? The Classical German tradition and the shape of a perennial question.

The controversy on what it means to be human is a perennial one but has been significantly growing again in recent times. On the one hand, the renewed pressure coming from empirical research (in areas such as evolutionary anthropology and psychology), has treated human as an empirically investigable notion, illuminating its specific natural constitution as a distinct species, with a specific natural history. On the other hand, authors have argued from the opposite perspective that such a natural (or biological) approach is misguided when it comes to understanding human nature. They consider the constitution of the human being as essentially social, normative, and non-naturalistic. Yet others, coming from different angles, are suspicious of the very notion of a distinct human nature and reject the whole question, in favor of a non-anthropocentric, post-humanistic, or transhumanistic view. This clash of views on human nature, together with the tensions it involves, has given new momentum to a central philosophical issue: what kind of question is the anthropological one? Is human nature a purely descriptive, or a normative notion? What kind of disciplines can contribute to giving an answer to the question what it means to be human? How are we to combine their perspectives? To what extent is human nature a matter of empirical inquiry and to what extent can it be the object of social dialectic and philosophical investigation? What precisely is “nature” involved in the locution “human nature”?

It is in this context that we think turning to tradition, and in particular to classical German thought, leads to a particularly useful and promising source of insights. It in this period that the philosophical questions such as those mentioned above became particularly urgent, permeating the whole epoch. Within this context, the problem of having to reconcile different answers to the question of what human nature is was paradigmatically faced by the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant, and remained one of the central focal points of the Post-Kantian German tradition, broadly understood, shaping the thought of its main protagonists, including Hegel, Fichte, Schelling, Schiller and the Romantics. However, despite being recognized as the origin point of many debates, surprisingly little attention has been devoted to the ‘anthropological’ reflections of classical German philosophy as a whole.

The aim of this project is to trace the human standpoint in post-Kantian philosophy and identify its role as a unifying theme: Classical German Philosophy is profoundly informed bywhat we call Classical German Anthropology.