Immanuel Kant has maintained an enduring intellectual presence through his works on morality, reason, history, and art. He created the first university courses on physical geography and anthropology, and throughout his career he taught logic and metaphysics alongside courses discussing everything from taste to table etiquette. It is estimated that by the time Kant died there were already well over three thousand published pieces devoted to his work, and even as Kant’s general influence waned toward the end of the nineteenth century, new currents emerged such that “Neo-Kantianism” came to describe a number of schools in philosophy. Kant’s moral theory remains to this day a pillar of classical ethics and a centerpiece in contemporary bioethical discussions of autonomy and patients’ rights, and he continues to hold interdisciplinary appeal across various fields of law, science, and the humanities. In recent times, Kant has attracted added attention from historians of science and critical race theorists for his work in natural history and, as some have it, for his invention of the concept of race. It is such long-standing and widespread interest in Kant’s work, interest stemming from all manner of intellectual backgrounds and any number of investigatory goals, that has made Kant one of the most widely discussed authors in the history of ideas.
Given the very breadth of Kant scholarship, it is perhaps useful to locate this book, at least in a topographical vein, within its appropriate region. Kant’s Organicism starts by tracing the history of the life sciences as Kant would have come to know them, focusing especially on those (p.x) philosophers and life scientists whose works directly engaged Kant during his intellectually formative years. Once Kant’s connection to the life sciences has been established, the remainder of this book moves to an examination of the exact nature of the influence of these sciences on the emerging critical system. When viewed from the perspective of the life sciences in this manner, Kant’s theoretical philosophy becomes reframed as a philosophical project whose development was deeply influenced by the rise of organicism, a movement that arose in the wake of developments in natural history and helped shape fields as diverse as science, literature, politics, and philosophy. The general argument for Kant’s organicism is outlined in the introduction, with the details left to be developed in the chapters that follow.
There are a great many people to thank when one writes a book, and I am glad for the opportunity here to express my gratitude for all of the help and support I received along the way. Tracking down obscure historical references is a time-consuming endeavor, and I was fortunate throughout to have had the tireless help of Claudia Villafranca from Pennsylvania State University’s Interlibrary Loan division. Special thanks go to Mary Terrall for not only generously sharing her private notes on Maupertuis’s Baumann thesis but also pointing me toward Berlin as a resource for this manuscript in the first place. Peggy Price, curator of Special Collections at the University of Southern Mississippi, patiently went through volumes of the German edition of Buffon’s Histoire naturelle in search of references for me. Eric Watkins gave special help with translation questions related to Kant’s scientific works dating from his earliest precritical writings; Holly Wilson was intrepid in resolving a number of problems, dating and otherwise, regarding Kant’s anthropological essays and lectures; and Robert J. Richards provided both feedback and guidance concerning the relationship between Blumenbach and Kant. Three of my colleagues in the Department of Philosophy are to be especially thanked for their continuous support and encouragement regarding the project, Robert Bernasconi, Brady Bowman, and Mark Fisher. My thanks also to Peter Giannopoulos, who lent his talent and energy to the book in its final stages by preparing the bibliography.
When I began this book, I had already been lecturing on Kant for a good number of years, and it is a pleasure to express my appreciation here for the Kant scholars whose teaching and work first inspired me as their student and whose influence has continued to affect me as a professor and scholar. For this I want to thank Rudolf Makkreel, Eckart Förster, Manfred Kuehn, Hoke Robinson, and Mark Timmons. Kant’s (p.xi) Organicism also benefited from the readers’ comments made by John Zammito and Günter Zöller; I am grateful for the time and energy they put into their reviews, and I hope they will feel that the book has been improved as a result. At the University of Chicago Press David Brent has been ideal as both an editor and overall supporter of the project; his editorial associate, Priya Nelson, has been in equal measure efficient, friendly, and helpful in steering the book through all its various stages from review to production. Finally, I am especially grateful for George Roupe’s careful work and thoughtful suggestions when copyediting the final manuscript for Chicago.
I received a great deal of support while writing this book from my family, including, of course, my dog Ollie, who stayed by my side during every minute that I worked on it. My mother and father, Josephine and James Mensch, and my brother and sister, Joshua and Jessica Mensch, have been as good as it gets for unconditional support, encouragement, and general partisanship on my behalf during the entire process from beginning to end. My daughter, Zoe Mensch Schmidt, has been both patient beyond her years and full of good suggestions for wrapping up the project a bit more speedily than it has been, reminding me with some significance on more than one occasion that “staples have always worked well” for her when putting the finishing touches on one of her own books. My greatest thanks of all go to my husband, Dennis J. Schmidt, who not only read through and edited the manuscript three times from beginning to end but kept the house and everything in it, not least including me, sane, organized, and happy; for that and more, Denny, thank you.
A portion of chapter 1 appeared previously in slightly different form as “Understanding Affinity: Locke on Generation and the Task of Classification,” Locke Studies 11 (2011): 49–71. The image used in the conclusion is a reproduction of the title page of Francis Bacon’s Instauratio Magna, held by the Rare Books Collection at the University of Chicago Library; my thanks to the staff at the Special Collections Research Center for their help in procuring the image and granting permission for its use. (p.xii)