Courage in the Anthropocene: Towards a philosophical anthropology of the present

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In the late 18th century, Immanuel Kant attracted attention for his criticisms of colonialism, that problematized the established boundaries between civilization and barbarism, and chastised English colonialism in particular. Some years later, however, in his lectures on Anthropology, he ventured some oddly racist views, concerning the specific differences between European and Indigenous peoples. Kant's racism is by now well-documented. However, less attention has been paid to the peculiarities of that racism, and especially its foundations in a theory of virtue. His racism comes to light especially in his discussions of the virtues of patience and courage, and in passages which have rarely been subject to critical scrutiny still to this day. This article starts out from an analysis of the functions of Kant's concepts of courage and patience in his account of European versus Indigenous difference, with a view to interrogating the politics of virtue in the present, where this discussion is reoccurring in new guises. What Kant considered courage has now been devalorized, while what he considered patience is now valorized. This reversal of perspectives on what counts as virtuous has occurred in correlation with a reversal in western perspectives on Indigeneity. Such that contemporary accounts of courage are correlated with contemporary accounts of Indigeneity. These reversals of perspective must be understood in context of the transformation which philosophical anthropology has undergone under the duress of the Anthropocene. Contemporary works by Dipesh Chakrabarty and Jonathan Lear are of great relevance to this correlated transformation and will be discussed here. The article analyses what both Chakrabarty and Lear understand by courage today, its relevance to the Anthropocene, and points out the limitations of their theories. Ultimately the article argues for a rethinking of the definition of courage as a political virtue of the Anthropocenic present.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-259
Number of pages11
JournalPhilosophical Forum
Issue number4
Early online date7 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023
MoEC publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Anthropology
  • Anthropocene
  • indigeneity

Field of science

  • Philosophy
  • Social and Culture Antropology


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