Kant, Immanuel (17241804)
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German philosopher, who made groundbreaking contributions to many fields of thinking. From the point of view of anthropology, his most important work relates to the establishment of a legitimate field of inquiry for the social sciences. Whereas in the 18th century philosophers had discussed whether our perception of the world was grounded in objective sensory perception (British empiricism) or in the innate characteristics of the mind (French rationalism), Kant argued that the mind's perception of the world was the only version of the world accessible to human beings, and, moreover, that human beings everywhere perceived the world in similar ways. Our perception is thus objective, in the sense that is necessary and shared, it is subjective, in the sense that we can never know what the world is "in itself". Our knowledge is thus based, not on more or less realistic mental images of the world, but on mental judgements based on uniquely human criteria. It is with such judgements that the social and humanistic sciences are concerned.

Kant's philosophy was later developed in a number of differing, indeed contradictory, directions. Two threads are of major importance for anthropology. Both lead through Hegel, who established a specific basis for collective human judgements and hence for a field of inquiry specific to the social human sciences. The first thread then continues, through Marx, to the classical sociology of Durkheim, Weber and others, which formed the theoretical basis of British (structural functionalist) and French (structuralist) anthropology. The second leads through Herder and the German Romantics, who created the concept of culture, which, via Adolf Bastian and his student, Franz Boas, became the foundational idea of American anthropology.

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