The Rational Human Condition 1, Preface and General Introduction, Section 1.1–Bounded in a Nutshell.


Section 1.1  Bounded in a Nutshell

The field of philosophy … can be brought down to the following questions:

1. What can I know?

2. What ought I to do?

3. What may I hope?

4. What is the human being?

Metaphysics answers the first question, morals the second, religion the third, and anthropology the fourth. Fundamentally, however, we could reckon all of this as anthropology, because the first three questions relate to the last one. The philosopher must be able to determine

1. the sources of human knowledge

2. the extent of the possible and profitable use of all knowledge, and finally

3. the limits of reason.

The last [question, What is the human being?] is the most necessary but also the hardest.

— I. Kant (JL 9: 25)[i]

Quarrels between professors are never entirely disconnected from larger quarrels. There was a hidden agenda behind the split between old-fashioned “humanistic” philosophy (of the Dewey-Whitehead sort) and the positivists, and a similar agenda lies behind the current split between devotees of “analytic” and of “Continental” philosophy. The heavy breathing on both sides about the immorality or stupidity of the opposition signals passions which academic power struggles cannot fully explain.

— R. Rorty[ii]

For … non-Kantian philosophers, there are no persistent problems — save perhaps the existence of Kantians.

— R. Rorty[iii]

Here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life.

— R.M. Rilke[iv]

Bounded in a nutshell, The Rational Human Condition is my attempt to do some real philosophy.

By “real philosophy” I mean authentic, serious philosophy, as opposed to inauthentic, superficial philosophy.

In turn, I think that real philosophy is what I call rational anthropology.

In the 11th and most famous of his Theses on Feuerbach, Marx wrote that “philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways; the point is to change it.”

I completely agree with him that the ultimate aim of philosophy is to change the world, not merely interpret it.

So Marx and I are both philosophical liberationists: that is, we both believe that philosophy should have radical political implications.[v]

But I also sharply disagree with him, insofar as I think that the primary aim of real philosophy, now understood as rational anthropology, and its practices of synoptic reflection, writing, teaching, and public conversation, is to change our lives.

Then, and only then, can we act upon the world in the right way.


[i] For convenience, I cite Kant’s works infratextually in parentheses. The citations include both an abbreviation of the English title and the corresponding volume and page numbers in the standard “Akademie” edition of Kant’s works: Kants gesammelte Schriften, edited by the Königlich Preussischen (now Deutschen) Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: G. Reimer [now de Gruyter], 1902-). For references to the first Critique, I follow the common practice of giving page numbers from the A (1781) and B (1787) German editions only. Because the Akademie edition contains only the B edition of the first Critique, I have also consulted the following German composite edition: Kritik der reinen Vernunft, ed. W. Weischedel, Immanuel Kant Werkausgabe III (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1968). I generally follow the standard English translations of Kant’s works, but have occasionally modified them where appropriate. Here is a list of the abbreviations and English translations I’ve used:

CPJ Critique of the Power of Judgment. Trans. P. Guyer and E. Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000.

CPR Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. P. Guyer and A. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.

JL “The Jäsche Logic.” In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Trans. J.M. Young, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992, Pp. 519–640.

[ii] R. Rorty, “Philosophy in America Today,” in R. Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis, MN: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1982), pp. 211–230, at p. 228.

[iii] R. Rorty, “Philosophy as a Kind of Writing: An Essay on Derrida,” in Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, pp. 90–109, at p. 93.

[iv] R.M. Rilke, “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” trans. S. Mitchell, in R.M. Rilke, Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), pp. 60–61, lines 13–14.

[v] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Radical Enlightenment: Existential Kantian Cosmopolitan Anarchism, With a Concluding Quasi-Federalist Postscipt,” in D. Heidemann and K. Stoppenbrink (eds.), Join, Or Die: Philosophical Foundations of Federalism (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016), pp. 63–90.


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