Skip to main content

What Comes after Kant? – Researchers from all over the world network at the Center for Post-Kantian Philosophy to discuss major philosophical questions

Prof. Karen Ng (left) and Prof. Dr. Thomas Khurana
Photo : Heike Kampe
Prof. Karen Ng (left) and Prof. Dr. Thomas Khurana

Friedrich Nietzsche, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx, and Hannah Arendt: In philosophical circles, and also beyond, these names are very well known. They are among the great thinkers of the 19th and 20th century, the so-called post-Kantian era. The philosophy of Immanuel Kant, who lived from 1724 - 1804, has a rich tradition especially in Europe. Thomas Khurana, Professor of Philosophical Anthropology and Philosophy of the Mind, studies this era scientifically and explains its foundations as follows: “For the post-Kantian tradition, the essential problems of philosophy can only be understood proceeding from Kant. He reoriented our view of them and redefined them. But at the same time, his solutions to these problems have not convinced most thinkers who came after him. In order to answer them, we must, in some way, go beyond him.”

Prof. Khurana is doing this together with colleagues at the Center for Post-Kantian Philosophy, which he founded at the Faculty of Arts in 2021 to promote exchange in this field of research. The center is part of a broad international network of institutions and regularly invites academics from all over the world as fellows. Prof. Karen Ng is one of them. She came to Potsdam for six months last spring and summer on a research fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

“This is the perfect place for my research,” says the researcher, who has specialized in the work of Hegel and the concept of species-being or Gattungswesen. This involves, for example, the question of whether humans are just one of many species on this earth, or whether humans relate to their own species in a special, self-conscious way and thus differ from other living beings. Hegel is considered the last representative of German idealism and had a strong influence on Marx and many other philosophers. Especially in the philosophy of nature, which deals with the interpretation and explanation of nature, representatives of German idealism were very innovative and ahead of their time, she explains. Freedom, self-determination, and humans’ connection to nature – she explores all of these topics in her research and investigates how they are interlinked.

Karen Ng was already a guest in Potsdam in 2022 and will return for the next two years to work on a book project dealing with the philosophical concept of “species-being”. During these research semesters, she will experience a different professional routine than at home at Vanderbilt University, where she researches and teaches. This includes workshops, conferences, and colloquia with other researchers, but also discussions in small groups at the department and exchanges with those who have similar research topics. “Here in Potsdam, I can totally concentrate on my research, especially as Germany, and the Berlin area in particular, is a hotspot for global post-Kantian research,” she says.

However, she spends most of her time alone in the library or at her desk, reading the philosophical treatises of the past. What can we learn from these texts today? Which questions remain unanswered, and how could they be solved? While reading and writing, she thinks about this intensively and develops research ideas. “That might sound boring, but we philosophers enjoy it,” she says laughing.

“Philosophy is self-consciousness,” Khurana explains. “What we investigate is within ourselves.” Yet philosophical exchange with others is also extremely important to him. “Of course, we see each other at conferences from time to time, where we can talk briefly about a topic. But here at the center, the exchange is longer and more sustainable.” Philosophical discussions on a particular topic can go on for several semesters or even years during your studies if you delve deep into philosophical texts with a seminar group, he explains. As a university lecturer, he missed these opportunities. “You have very little time for that in everyday life.” Now the center that he founded fills this gap and creates spaces for meetings, discussions, colloquia, and inspiration.

Sometimes – as in the case of Ng and Khurana – the research topics of those who meet at the center are similar: “We both study the works of Kant and Hegel and the concept of species-beings,” Khurana explains. “Of course, it’s great to have a partner for an in-depth and controversial dialogue about these texts.” In other cases, the guests bring completely new topics to Potsdam – and both sides benefit from it. “Since we are able to talk to each other for longer and more often, we better understand the respective points of view. That broadens our horizons,” the philosopher says.


This text was published (in german version) in the university magazine Portal - Zwei 2023 „Mentale Gesundheit“ (PDF).