There has been a recent trend in philosophy, particularly by some working under various flavors of speculative realism (such as objected-oriented ontology and speculative materialism) to accuse Kantian metaphysics of problematic anthropocentrism—meaning the undue privileging of humans or humanity. These accusations seem to result from a belief that Immanuel Kant’s intervention in philosophy amounted to an expansion of the powers of the human mind, placing it in charge of the category of reality. That is, however, not what Kant did.
Nor does Kant ‘privilege’ humans as subjects while ‘degrading’ non-humans as objects. After all, in his terminology all subjects are objects to each other—and to the extent that something apparently inanimate could be construed as a subject (perhaps through the metaphor of a physical reference frame, or through some notion of panpsychism), all humans are objects to it.
Speculative realists speak disapprovingly of what they call the ‘correlationism’ that pervades Kant, as Kant observes that we will only ever have access to our representations of (and the relationship between) reality and our mind, without ever having direct unmediated ‘external’ access to either. Somehow speculative realists interpret this sharp limitation and restriction that Kant places on the scope of human knowledge as instead being an empowering or even ‘reifying’ of human knowledge.
Now, I could list and flatly deny such claims for a while longer. But that doesn’t seem very productive. So, instead, I’d like to take a step back and mount a proper defense against such ideas. I’ll do this by using this article to explain (in the broadest and most accessible strokes I can) what the low-level insights of Kantian philosophy actually involve.
The World According to Headphones: