"Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose" or "The Idea of a Universal History on a Cosmopolitical Plan" (German: Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher Absicht) is a 1784 essay by Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), a lecturer in anthropology and geography at Königsberg University. The essay was published as Kant was gaining repute as a philosopher following the publication of his revolutionary treatise on epistemology, The Critique of Pure Reason (1781) and preceding his critique of ethical theory, Critique of Practical Reason (1788). "Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose" embroiled Kant in controversy due to the political implications of its critique of his contemporary Johann Gottfried Herder.
The essay proceeds by way of nine propositions through which Kant seeks to prove his claim that rational and moral autonomy will inevitably defeat the compulsions of self-interested individualism. Kant seeks to achieve this by advancing a hierarchical account of development of world history. In writing from the perspective of a universal future history, Kant valorizes an unrealized future state (though he is aware, however, of the problem of theorizing without empirical basis, recognizing the appearance of irrationality that such an enterprise exhibits and criticizing Herder for extracting conclusions from speculative psychologizing).
Kant classifies the constitutional republics of contemporary Western Europe—marked as they were by federalism, status-seeking, individualism and a degree of moral and cultural maturity—as belonging to an advanced, yet still intermediate, stage of development, judging them to be civilized but not thoroughly moral. All other societies are deemed inferior and judged according to the benchmark of European nation-states. Kant proposes that the European nations were tending towards statehood in a federation characterized by a universalist and cosmopolitan moral culture—a historical end-state also approached (albeit at a slower pace) by those inferior non-European societies, defined as they still were by the embrace of faith.
- Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, a work by Kant on perpetual peace
- Federal Europe, a political aspiration of cosmopolitan Europeans
- Genealogical method, a mode of cultural theorising most memorably employed by Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century
- Phenomenology of Spirit, a seminal work by German Idealist philosopher Hegel which advances a determinist account of history
- Three Worlds Theory, according to which nations fall into one of three stages of development
- Kant, Immanuel. 1824. (English translation of original 1784 article:) "Idea of a Universal History on a Cosmo-Political Plan" in The London Magazine: pp. 385-393.
- McCarthy, Thomas, "On Reconciling Cosmopolitan Unity and National Diversity" in De Greiff & Cronin 2002, p. 243
- Mah, Harold, "The Age of Herder, Kant, and Hegel", in Kramer & Maza 2002, pp. 151–152
- Kant 1991, pp. 41–53
- Tully, James. "The Kantian Idea of Europe" in Pagden 2002, p. 341
- Carvounas 2002, p. 23
- Works related to Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose at Wikisource
- Idea For A Universal History With A Cosmopolitan Purpose at the Marxist Internet Archive