Kant, Immanuel: Idea for a Universal History with Cosmopolitan Intent
[From Rolf Sältzer (ed.) German Essays on History, translator Thomas M.Greene and H. Hudson; New York 1991, Continuum, The German Library,vol.49]
Νο matter what conception one may form of the freedom of the will in metaphysics, the phenomenal appearances of the will, i.e., human actions, are determined by general laws of nature like any other event of nature. History is concerned with telling about these events. History allows one to hope that when history considers in the large the play of the freedom of human will, it will be possible to discover the regular progressions thereof. Thus (it is to be hoped) that what appears to be complicated and accidental in individuals, may yet be understood as a steady, progressive, though slow, evolution of the original endowments of the entire species. Thus marriages, the consequent births and the deaths, since the free will seems to have such a great influence οn them, do not seem to be subject to any law according to which one could calculate their number beforehand. Yet the anual (statistical) tables about them in the major countries show that they occur according to stable natural laws. It is like the erratic weather the occurrence of which cannot be determined in particular instances, although it never fails in maintaining the growth of plants, the flow of streams, and other of nature’s arrangements at a uniform, unintenupted pace. Individual human beings, each pursuing his οwn ends according to his inclination and often one against another (and even one entire people against another) rarely unintentionally promote, as if it were their guide, an end of nature that is unknown to them. They thus work to promote what they would care little for if they knew about it.
Since men in their endeavors do not act like animals merely according to instinct, nor like rational citizens according to an agreed plan, no planned history seems to be possible (as in the case of bees and beavers). It is hard to suppress a certain disgust when contemplating men’s action upon the world stage. For one finds, in spite of apparent wisdom in detail that everything, taken as a whole, is interwoven with stupidity, childish vanity, often with childish viciousness and destructiveness. Ιn the end, one does not know what kind of conception one should have of our species that is so conceited about its superior qualities. Since the philosopher must assume that men have a flexible purpose ο f their οwn, it is left to him to attempt to discover an end of nature in this senseless march of human events. Α history of creatures who proceed without a plan would be possible in keeping with such an end; the history would proceed according to such an end of nature.
We shall see whether we can succeed in discovering a guide to such a history. We shall leave it to nature to produce a man who would be capable of writing history in accordance with such an end. Thus nature produced α Kepler who figured out an unexpected way of subsuming the eccentric orbits of the planets to definite laws, and α Newton who explained these laws by a general cause of nature.
All natural faculties οf α creature are destined to un fold completely αnd according to their end. External observation and analysis confirm this proposition concerning all authority. Αn organ that is not to be used, a regulation that does not accomplish its purpose, these are self contradictions in the teleological theory of nature. If we abandon this principle, we no longer have a nature working according to laws, but an aimlessly playing nature. Then the hapless accident takes the place of reason as guide.