|At the end of his Anthropology (1798), Kant admits that it is impossible for him to finish because “In order to sketch the character of a certain creature’s species... it is necessary that the species be compared with and referred to in terms of other species already known to us” (quoted on 201). Since we don’t know of two kinds of rational beings, we can’t really describe ourselves in full. Kant imagines, for example, the opposition between “a terrestrial rational being [eines irdischen vernünftigen]” and “a non-terrestrial rational being [nicht-irdischen Wesen]” (quoted on 202). Why this? “Kant lived in an age that hardly wavered in its belief in the existence of rational life on other planets” (207). Kant showed interest in aliens since his 1755 work Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens. Clark explains that “the mere possibility of other rational creatures in the universe, creatures with abilities and weaknesses that are utterly unique to themselves, aids in clarifying what makes ‘man’ unique at the same moment that it puts his preoccupation with that uniqueness - a preoccupation that presumably includes pragmatic anthropology itself - in a larger, cosmological perspective where human beings are but one kind of rational creature among many” (213).|
The fact that the Anthropology’s work continues unabated suggests that the ‘insoluble’ problem figured forth by the aliens is engineered into the project, a staged obstacle around which the work could be said to form and flow like an eddy” (204). So ‘terrestrial’ is a false category, a fantasy involving our image of ourselves as unique by our planet, different from rational aliens. The aliens are “Necessary yet extraneous, missing yet accounted for” (204). This means that the aliens, as Kant’s Other, effectively ground Kant’s theory of humanity or philosophical anthropology. Remembering that Kant invented the Subjekt, it is clear when we hear that “the imagined aliens, as imagined, function as displaced figures for the fictionality of ‘man.’ To put it differently: the fiction of ‘man’ finds an uncanny simulacrum in the science fiction of the aliens whose very absence keeps ‘man’ from being known as an experienced ‘fact’” (210-211).
Kant explains, “If we now ask whether the human species can be considered a good or bad race (it can be called a race only when one thinks of it as a species of rational beings on earth, compared to those rational beings on other planets, sprung as a multitude of creatures from one demiurge)” (quoted on 212). The really interesting part is Kant’s conjecture with respect to the aliens, “It could well be that on another planet there might be rational beings who could not think in any other way but aloud... In what kind of different behavior towards others would this result, and what kind of effect would it have in comparison with our human species” (quoted on 212). In explicating humanity by its difference in a network of significations, “Kant’s curious extraterrestrial dream functions as a kind of charged relay point across which overlapping desires, anxieties, and assumptions about speaking, secrecy, and sociability flow” (213).
On account of the impossibility of secrecy or deception in Kant’s alien community, Kant gives the tentative judgment that “this race of terrestrial rational beings deserves no honorable place among other rational beings of the universe (unknown to us)” (quoted on 214). Why? At first it seems that Kant should praise these aliens, since the honesty of the aliens seem to make them in a state which Kant calls “perfect friendship” (214). But Kant’s aliens are not perfect friends, for “unless they are as pure as angels, we cannot conceive how they would be able to live at peace with each other, how anyone could have any respect for anyone else, and how they could get along with each other” (quoted on 215).
So humanity, by contrast, will be praised as possessing the ideal of discretion, since “for Kant proper sociality does not mean simply acting on the impulse to reveal ourselves to each other, but on the scrupulous and prudent economizing of that will to disclosure” (215). On the other hand decency is sacrificed in the alien society, since it is indecent when “the aliens uncontrollably mix the private and public regions of their existence in an ecstasy of communicability” (218). The aliens’ “imperative to talk” makes the aliens “a parodic image of sociality” (218, 219). Kant characterizes the alien community as suffering from “fanaticism,” “akin to insanity,” “without the mediation of the understanding” like “the rabble” and “the mob since it does not think” (217). Then “it belongs to the concept of the species to explore the thoughts of others, but to conceal one’s own” - perhaps even from one’s self - as a condition of our subjectivity (224). So, “the phenomenon of knowing the thoughts of one’s neighbor while concealing one’s own is, properly speaking, constitutive of ‘man,’ an intrinsically ‘nice quality’ that only ‘deteriorate[s] gradually from pretense to intentional deception’” (225).
“Kant’s aliens do in fact behave like insects” (217). Yet against this thesis, Kant says, “Man was not meant to belong to a herd like domesticated animals, but rather, like a bee, to belong to the hive community. It is necessary for him always to be a member of some civil society” (quoted on 217-218). Nevertheless, “not all hives are created equal” (218). Clark suggests that “the nonterrestrial nest lacks civility” for Kant, so they are killer bees or “killer Bienen” (218). Ultimately the fully-disclosing aliens “are in effect the Anthropology’s concluding case study of rational beings who are unable or unwilling, at the expense of their rationality and autonomy, to think for themselves (trapped, as they are, listening to the thoughts of everyone else)” (220).
Now Clark is a critical thinker, and so of course all of this touches on social justice issues. Representation of the alien, especially insofar as it constitutes representations of humanity (as its Other), will impact practices of social representation. There is an effective reality of ideas of aliens, such that “alien society comes across not so much as the contrary of human civility as the more troubling sign that civility harbors a profound incivility within itself” (218). And as a confirmation that we are dealing with a constitutive lack, we find that these limits are also a constitutive excess; if Kant’s aliens are both insane and rational, then “this insanity is not the opposite of reason but somehow the result of its unfettered amplification,” the proliferation of logos - perhaps disavowing the limits of “amplification” (222). “The supplemental status of the aliens as relevant as well as unreal no doubt explains why the more otherworldly they look, the more they appear human, all too human” (256). In fact we will see that some humans do occupy the space of Kantian aliens as alienated people, like Jews and women.