Michael J. Olson



My research focuses on Kant’s analysis of the unity of human life.  As I see it, Kant’s views on the issue can be broken down into two broad phases.  In the first phase, which begins in the 1760s and peaks with the publication of the Critique of Pure Reason in 1781, Kant develops an explanation of the unity of consciousness that avoids the pitfalls of earlier metaphysical accounts bound up with ideas of the immortality and immateriality of the soul.  In what I see as the second phase of Kant’s thinking about human life, which overlaps the first in the 1770s but becomes more pronounced in the 1780s, he expands the scope of his investigation considerably.  Here he explores the political, moral, and cultural dimensions of human life, as well as asking questions about how biological structures and geographical variation impact our lives.  Kant’s approach to these areas of investigation is guided by the principles established in by the first phase of his work, but his study of the moral, political, and natural aspects of human life leads him to reconsider those principles at a number of points.  The goal of this research is, then, to provide a unified and historically sensitive explanation of Kant’s analyses of the many facets of the unity of a human life and of his efforts to reconcile the tensions that arise in trying to integrate those analyses into a systematic whole. 


Articles & Chapters

Reprinted in Anik Waldow (ed.), Sensibility in the Early Modern Era: From Living Machines to Affective Morality (New York: Routledge, 2016), 25-37.

Book Reviews



Work in Progress


Key Texts in Early German Life Science Debates: Theories of Generation and Race, 1750-1820, ed. and trans. Jennifer Mensch and Michael Olson (under contract with Bloomsbury)

Kant and the Unity of Life (manuscript in preparation)


"Kant, Dog Whistle Politics, and the History of Philosophy"

"Distinguishing 'Nature' and 'World' in Classical German Philosophy" (with Raoni Padui)