Publisher Places a Politically Correct Warning Label on Kant’s Critiques


Most times when I hear some­one on a tear about the dan­gers of “polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness” I roll  my eyes and move on. So many such com­plaints involve ire at being held to stan­dards of basic human decen­cy, say, or hav­ing to share resources, oppor­tu­ni­ties, or pub­lic spaces. But there are many excep­tions, when the so-called “PC” impulse to broad­en inclu­siv­i­ty and soft­en offense pro­duces mon­sters of con­de­scend­ing pater­nal­ism. Take the above omnibus edi­tion of “Kant’s Cri­tiques” print­ed by Wilder Pub­li­ca­tions in 2008. The pub­lish­er, with either kind but painful­ly obtuse motives, or with an eye toward pre-empt­ing some kind of legal blow­back, has seen fit to include a dis­claimer at the bot­tom of the title page:

This book is a prod­uct of its time and does not reflect the same val­ues as it would if it were writ­ten today. Par­ents might wish to dis­cuss with their chil­dren how views on race, gen­der, sex­u­al­i­ty, eth­nic­i­ty, and inter­per­son­al rela­tions have changed since this book was writ­ten before allow­ing them to read this clas­sic work.

Where to begin? First, we must point out Wilder Pub­li­ca­tions’ strange cer­tain­ty that a hypo­thet­i­cal Kant of today would express his ideas in tol­er­ant and lib­er­al lan­guage. The sup­po­si­tion has the effect of patron­iz­ing the dead philoso­pher and of absolv­ing him of any respon­si­bil­i­ty for his blind spots and prej­u­dices, assum­ing that he meant well but was sim­ply a blink­ered and unfor­tu­nate “prod­uct” of his time.

But who’s to say that Kant didn’t damn well mean his com­ments that offend our sen­si­bil­i­ties today, and wouldn’t still mean them now were he some­how res­ur­rect­ed and forced to update his major works? More­over, why assume that all cur­rent read­ers of Kant do not share his more repug­nant views? Sec­ond­ly, who is this edi­tion for? Philoso­pher Bri­an Leit­er, who brought this to our atten­tion, humor­ous­ly titles it “Kant’s 3 Critiques—rated PG-13.” One would hope that any young per­son pre­co­cious enough to read Kant would have the abil­i­ty to rec­og­nize his­tor­i­cal con­text and to approach crit­i­cal­ly state­ments that sound uneth­i­cal, big­ot­ed, or sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly dat­ed to her mod­ern ears. One would hope par­ents buy­ing Kant for their kids could do the same with­out chid­ing from pub­lish­ers.

None of this is to say that there aren’t sub­stan­tive rea­sons to exam­ine and cri­tique the prej­u­di­cial assump­tions and bias­es of clas­si­cal philoso­phers. A great many recent schol­ars have done exact­ly that. In her Phi­los­o­phy of Sci­ence and Race, for exam­ple, Nao­mi Zack observes that “accord­ing to con­tem­po­rary stan­dards, both [Hume and Kant] were vir­u­lent white suprema­cists.” Yet she also ana­lyzes the prob­lems with apply­ing “con­tem­po­rary stan­dards” to their sys­tems of thought, which were not nec­es­sar­i­ly racist in the sense we mean so much as “racial­ist,” depen­dent on an “ontol­ogy of human races, which under­lay Hume and Kant’s val­ue judg­ments about what they thought were racial dif­fer­ences” (an ontol­ogy, it’s worth not­ing, that pro­duced sys­temic and insti­tu­tion­al racism). Zack respects the vast gulf that sep­a­rates our judg­ments from those of the past while still hold­ing the philoso­phers account­able for con­tra­dic­tions and incon­sis­ten­cies in their thought that are clear­ly the prod­ucts of will­ful igno­rance, chau­vin­ism, and unex­am­ined bias. An informed his­tor­i­cal approach allows us to see how books are not sim­ply “prod­ucts of their time” but are sit­u­at­ed in net­works of knowl­edge and ide­ol­o­gy that shaped their authors’ assump­tions and con­tin­ue to shape our own—ideologies that per­sist into the present and can­not and should not be papered over or eas­i­ly explained away with skit­tish warn­ing labels and didac­tic lec­tures about how much things have changed. In a great many ways of course, they have. And in some sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers, they sim­ply haven’t. To pre­tend oth­er­wise for the sake of the chil­dren is disin­gen­u­ous and does a grave dis­ser­vice to both author and read­er.

via Leit­er Reports

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Man Shot in Fight Over Immanuel Kant’s Phi­los­o­phy in Rus­sia

100 Free Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es Online

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (18)
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  • Nathaniel says:

    I’ve only read Cri­tique of Pure Rea­son– what’s dat­ed and non-PC about Kan­t’s ethics? I can only recall that he believed some peo­ple weren’t capa­ble of being ratio­nal actors/rule-mak­ers and that they were there­fore exempt from the cat­e­gor­i­cal imper­a­tive. I can see how that exemp­tion could be eas­i­ly used to fur­ther an impe­ri­al­ist agen­da. How­ev­er, when I read him I found his cat­e­gor­i­cal imper­a­tive to be a con­vinc­ing case for the Gold­en Rule, par­tic­u­lar­ly strong in that it’s uni­ver­sal. Keep in mind I don’t want to defend or apol­o­gize the guy, I’m just curi­ous.

  • David Tkach says:

    Here’s an exam­ple of Kan­t’s thoughts on race. It is deplorable.

    I don’t think that this means Kant is no longer wor­thy of study or some oth­er non­sense, but it’s still nec­es­sary to con­sid­er when inter­pret­ing Kant, espe­cial­ly in the con­text of inter­pret­ing his ethics.

  • Vince Noir says:

    There is absolute­ly no men­tion to the cat­e­gor­i­cal imper­a­tive in the Cri­tique of Pure Rea­son. Nei­ther ethics or racial com­ments. In fact, he adscribes the same fac­ul­ties to any human being, and con­sid­ers all humans to be ratio­nal to same degree.

  • Josh Jones says:

    See also Susan M. Shel­l’s chap­ter on Kant in The Ger­man Inven­tion of Race (full text here:

  • Spitz says:

    This is a scam book com­pa­nies that pub­lish­es edi­tions of pub­lic domain and open source text in pre-for­mat­ted book tem­plates. They also got out­rage for putting these in edi­tions of the Con­sti­tu­tion and I’ll bet they’re in every book they pub­lish because they don’t pub­lish any­thing con­tem­po­rary, that is, under copy­right. But don’t let that get in the way of your lazy out­rage that could­n’t even google the pub­lish­er for con­text.

  • Lloyd Hargrove says:

    While Kant might remain the dar­ling of some “intel­lec­tu­al” cir­cles, mod­ern brain sci­ence with its acknowl­edge­ment of the total dom­i­na­tion of one’s “rea­son” by the sub­con­scious mind along with its count­less bias­es has shown Kant to have missed the boat, by and large.

  • Drenn says:

    Sounds like the SJWs have been at work…

  • Estranged2 says:

    I lived under com­mu­nism for some time, and most books that weren’t ful­ly com­pat­i­ble with the dog­ma would have a pref­ace like this one.

  • GF says:

    That state­ment is there main­ly for lia­bil­i­ty rea­sons. Wel­come to the real­i­ty of Amer­i­can liti­gious­ness.

  • Ted Kinnaman says:

    Lazy indeed. First, Kant would reply to crit­i­cisms “in tol­er­ant and lib­er­al lan­guage” because he *was* a lib­er­al. The vol­umes shown here are clas­sics of mod­ern lib­er­al the­o­ry. Sec­ond, all the evi­dence of his moral trans­gres­sions cit­ed above is tak­en from minor works, *not* from the works shown here.

  • Richard Ebeling says:

    There are at least two inter­pre­tive per­spec­tives from which one can read and ana­lyze an author’s ideas:

    First, ana­lyz­ing, inter­pret­ing and judg­ing those ideas from the views, val­ues, and beliefs of one’s own lat­er time. Assum­ing that one views one’s own time as more “advanced,” enlight­ened,” “informed,” it is easy to demon­strate how “back­wards,” “igno­rant,” “erro­neous” the ear­li­er author’s views and val­ues were from ours.

    Sec­ond, ana­lyz­ing, inter­pret­ing, and eval­u­at­ing those ideas with­in the con­text of the author’s own time, and the val­ues, views, and cir­cum­stances pre­ced­ing his own and that of his con­tem­po­raries.

    It is true that too many Enlight­en­ment-era thinkers did not con­cep­tu­al­ly draw all the con­clu­sions that we have deduced or gone beyond from our time-per­spec­tive, and they may have act­ed in var­i­ous ways that were incon­sis­tent with their own stat­ed beliefs, ideas and ideals.

    But if one attempts to see this as an intel­lec­tu­al evo­lu­tion through his­tor­i­cal time, then they were way-sta­tions in the his­to­ry of ideas, no more incom­plete and incon­sis­tent than, no doubt, oth­ers who come after us will con­sid­er our ideas and actions.

    Such dog­mat­ic intol­er­ance and implied hubris of stand­ing on the top of an intel­lec­tu­al Mount Olym­pus from which to judge (and con­demn) those who pre­ced­ed the judg­ment-mak­er as well as his con­tem­po­raries is an indi­ca­tion of mis­placed “pre­tense of knowl­edge” and a dan­ger­ous arro­gance.

  • ThePatrioteer says:

    What is deplorable about it? Very log­i­cal.

  • Ben of Houston says:

    While the philo­soph­i­cal argu­ments are quite inter­est­ing. I think we need to put this into per­spec­tive. They also put these warn­ings on a num­ber of oth­er doc­u­ments, includ­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion and the Fed­er­al­ist Papers, which got them into the news a few years ago.

  • RHoltslander says:

    If any­one has chil­dren that are actu­al­ly inter­est­ed in read­ing Kant but also need to be told that atti­tudes have changed in the years since Kant wrote his works, I’d be very much sur­prised.

  • Andrew says:

    The site linked above con­tains malware–don’t vis­it it! (And Open­Cul­ture, please con­sid­er remov­ing it!)

  • Andrew says:

    I mean Josh Jones’s link.

  • Fernando A says:

    Tomás de Torque­ma­da would be proud of that “parental guid­ance” warn­ing. We live (once more) in dan­ger­ous times for free­dom of thought.

  • Micha Elyi says:

    Ha! And the Ger­mans were so smug think­ing there could nev­er be a Kant for Dum­mies.

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