What is the Human Being?: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

What is the Human Being?

1st Edition

By Patrick R. Frierson


336 pages

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Paperback: 9780415558457
pub: 2013-02-12
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Philosophers, anthropologists and biologists have long puzzled over the question of human nature. It is also a question that Kant thought about deeply and returned to in many of his writings. In this lucid and wide-ranging introduction to Kant’s philosophy of human nature - which is essential for understanding his thought as a whole - Patrick R. Frierson assesses Kant’s theories and examines his critics.

He begins by explaining how Kant articulates three ways of addressing the question ‘what is the human being?’: the transcendental, the empirical, and the pragmatic. He then considers some of the great theorists of human nature who wrestle with Kant’s views, such as Hegel, Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud; contemporary thinkers such as E.O.Wilson and Daniel Dennett, who have sought biological explanations of human nature; Thomas Kuhn, Michel Foucault, and Clifford Geertz, who emphasize the diversity of human beings in different times and places; and existentialist philosophers such as Sartre and Heidegger.

He argues that whilst these approaches challenge and enrich Kant’s views in significant ways, all suffer from serious weaknesses that Kant’s anthropology can address. Taking a core insight of Kant’s - that human beings are fundamentally free but finite - he argues that it is the existentialists, particularly Sartre, who are the most direct heirs of his transcendental anthropology.

The final part of the book is an extremely helpful overview of the work of contemporary philosophers, particularly Christine Korsgaard and Jürgen Habermas. Patrick R. Frierson explains how these philosophers engage with questions of naturalism, historicism, and existentialism while developing Kantian conceptions of the human being.

Including chapter summaries and annotated further reading, What is the Human Being? is an outstanding introduction to some fundamental aspects of Kant’s thought and a judicious assessment of leading theories of human nature. It is essential reading for all students of Kant and the philosophy of human nature, as well as those in related disciplines such as anthropology, politics and sociology.


"This is the introduction to Kant’s anthropology that no serious student of Kant should miss. Frierson also offers a remarkably fresh take on the question of his ongoing relevance on a variety of contemporary philosophic and political debates, from socio-biology to the problem of human evil. Highly recommended." - Susan Shell, Boston College, USA

"The most philosophically engaging account of Kant's theory of human nature that I have read. Its chief virtue is its successful attempt to engage Kant's anthropology in dialogue with a variety of competing post-Kantian theories of human nature in a way that is neither depressingly dogmatic nor bluntly dismissive." - Robert Louden, University of Southern Maine, USA

"Anyone committed to developing an authentically Kantian conception of human being as a viable position in contemporary debates, or merely interested in the issue of human being from a Kantian perspective, will find this to be an indispensable source." - Robert Burch, University of Alberta, Canada

"An impressively thorough and up to date discussion of Kant's wide-ranging philosophical anthropology - a field that overlaps with key issues concerning science, psychology, history, ethics, and religion. Recent years have seen an explosion of interesting work on this topic, but perhaps no one has covered as much of the field as usefully as Frierson has here." - Karl Ameriks, University of Notre Dame, USA

"In this excellent introduction to Kant, Frierson (Whitman College) distills the profound complexity of Kantian philosophy into a remarkably accessible, concise, and well-argued contribution to the Routledge "Kant's Questions" series. Frierson's ability to simplify Kantian philosophy, without sacrificing philosophical rigor, makes for one of the best available contemporary introductions to Kant. Summing Up: Essential." - L.A Wilkinson, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, USA in Choice

"This is a bold book that wears its considerable scholarship lightly. Frierson artfully builds on the extensive recent work done by scholars all over the world on Kant’s anthropology, and he extends it into new territory by bringing it into constructive contact with contemporary discussions of human nature." -Robert B. Louden, University of Southern Maine

"Frierson's book attempts do many things, and it does…them very well…the general reading public interested in the history of ideas will find the entire volume to contain engaging, lucid, and wide-ranging discussions of diverse perspectives on the human condition."-Tim Jankowiak, Towson University, USA in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Table of Contents

Introduction Part 1: Kant on the Human Being 1. Kant’s Transcendental Anthropology 2. Kant’s Empirical Anthropology 3. Human Evil and Human History 4. Human Diversity 5. Kant’s Pragmatic Anthropology Part 2: From Kant to the Twentieth Century 6. Hegel, Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud Part 3: What is the Human Being Today? 7. Scientific Naturalism 8. Historicism and Diversity 9. Existentialism 10. Normativity Conclusion. Index

About the Author

Patrick R. Frierson is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Whitman College, Washington USA.

About the Series

Kant's Questions

"The Kant's Questions series is thoroughly excellent. The books combine depth of philosophical treatment with a fluid, easily-readable style, offering original historical interpretations of Kant's writings with an illuminating attentiveness to issues of contemporary relevance. All in all, the series reveals the stunning depth, power, and lasting impact of Kant's writings." - Robert Hanna, University of Colorado at Boulder, USA

"This is an excellently conceived series by internationally renowned Kant scholars who, unusually, focus not on individual works or sub-disciplinary fields of inquiry but engage with those questions which Kant took to be of perennial philosophical interest. Engagingly and accessibly written whilst meeting exemplary standards of scholarship, these volumes will prove an invaluable resource for students and teachers of Kant’s philosophy alike." - Katrin Flikschuh, London School of Economics, UK

"By providing careful and detailed accounts of Kant's answers to what he considered to be the most fundamental questions of philosophy, the books in this series constitute excellent introductions to the key aspects of Kant's philosophy. Moreover, by tracing the development of these questions and ideas to the present day, they contextualise contemporary debates within a historical narrative in a way that allows the reader to grasp the continuing relevance and significance of Kant's questions and the answers that he put forward." - Ralf M. Bader, New York University, USA


Series advisor: Allen Wood, Stanford University, USA

"The field of philosophy ... can be reduced to the following questions: What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope? What is the human being? Metaphysics answers the first question, morals the second, religion the third, and anthropology the fourth." – Immanuel Kant

With the addition of his celebrated essay, An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? Kant bequeaths us five fundamental questions that continue to resonate and challenge today.

Kant's Questions explores the philosophical meaning and significance of each question. Taken individually, each book is a fresh and innovative introduction to a fundamental aspect of Kant’s thought. Taken together, the series is an outstanding resource on the central questions motivating Kant’s philosophical and intellectual outlook as a whole.

Each book shares a clear structure. The first part introduces Kant’s question, explaining his own answer to it; the second part explores historical criticisms to the question; and the third and final part of the book places the question in a contemporary philosophical context. Also included are chapter summaries and a helpful section of annotated further reading at the end of each chapter.

The Kant's Questions series is essential reading, not only for all students of Kant, but those studying subjects such as ethics, metaphysics, philosophy of human nature and the history of philosophy, as well as those in related disciplines such as religious studies, politics and sociology.

  • What is Enlightenment? Samuel Fleischacker
  • What is the human being? Patrick R. Frierson
  • What may I hope? Andrew Chignell
  • What can I know? Michelle Grier
  • What should I do? Julian Wuerth

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PHILOSOPHY / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
PHILOSOPHY / Mind & Body