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To solve the relationship between the singular and the universal, this kind of dialogue [“a dialogue of cultures”] could make use of Kant's theory of aesthetic judgment, which would understand culture and forms of life as singular experiences that have the pretension or hope of being universally shared.
Juan Christóbal Cruz Revueltas, “Philosophy as a Problem in Latin America”
In an essay addressing communities of philosophers outside the European context, Juan Revueltas outlines the difficulties of self-definition and the construction of a uniquely Latin American philosophical community. The problem as he explains it is to find a way between the horns of the dilemma of a colonizing universalism on the one hand and of a “false particularism” on the other. Revueltas argues that in describing or constructing a uniquely Latin American philosophical community it is necessary to avoid the occupation of indigenous communities by dominant European systems, since the latter tend to normalize and mask their own built-in cultural biases via claims to universal validity. His point is backed by a burgeoning literature critiquing the tendency of Western philosophy for its colonization of world philosophical communities and calling on these communities to define themselves.
In this book Jane Kneller focuses on the role of imagination as a creative power in Kant's aesthetics and in his overall philosophical enterprise. She analyzes Kant's account of imaginative freedom and the relation between imaginative free play and human social and moral development, showing various ways in which his aesthetics of disinterested reflection produce moral interests. She situates these aspects of his aesthetic theory within the context of German aesthetics of the eighteenth century, arguing that Kant's contribution is a bridge between early theories of aesthetic moral education and the early Romanticism of the last decade of that century. In so doing, her book brings the two most important German philosophers of Enlightenment and Romanticism, Kant and Novalis, into dialogue. It will be of interest to a wide range of readers in both Kant studies and German philosophy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
In a well-known account of the role of transcendental imagination in Kant's philosophy, Martin Heidegger practically accused Kant of intellectual cowardice. Heidegger argued that Kant's refusal in the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason to grant that the imagination was a fundamental faculty was a result of Kant's having originally identified the transcendental imagination with the “common root” of sensibility and understanding, and of his subsequently being unwilling to grant such basic status to a faculty whose obscure nature frightened him: “He saw the unknown,” Heidegger says, and “he had to draw back.”
In what has become a classic critique of Heidegger's Kant interpretation, Dieter Henrich's “Die Einheit der Subjektivität” (“On the Unity of Subjectivity”) takes up his challenge to the integrity of the Kantian enterprise and defends Kant on the grounds that his refusal to explore the common root of both sensibility and understanding really has nothing to do with Kant's attitude toward the imagination, but rather represents his adoption of the view, already promulgated against Christian Wolff by Christian August Crusius, that subjectivity cannot be traced to a single basic faculty or principle. Far from suggesting the need to identify any common root of human subjectivity, Henrich argues, Kant denies outright the possibility of ever knowing such a basic power and is agnostic about the existence of such a power even apart from the conditions of human knowledge.
Kant's deduction of our “peculiar ability” (sonderbares Vermögen, V: 281) to make universally valid judgments about particulars without the aid of concepts and based solely on a feeling is as well known as his “deduction of judgments of taste” in the Critique of Judgment. Less familiar is his contention that this aesthetic reflective capacity involves certain demands on how we value the world around us. Having just presented his deduction, Kant claims that we can more readily understand the judgment of taste's demand for agreement if we see that the mere “universal communicability as such of our feeling must already carry with it an interest for us” (V: 296). That is, judgments of taste make demands on us analogous to the demands of morality, because, like moral interest in the good, aesthetic interests are bound up with a kind of duty. However, these interests of disinterest are more important to Kant than just as vehicles for explaining why taste can command the assent of everyone, and they clearly have implications beyond the justification of judgments of taste. In what follows, I want to suggest that Kant's discussion of the interests of disinterest has significance for his views on art and morality, as well as for his position on how we ought to value nature.
MORAL INTEREST AND INTELLECTUAL INTEREST IN THE BEAUTIFUL
Before looking at the broader implications of his views, it is necessary to discuss briefly Kant's doctrine of “interest” and also to look closely at his arguments in Sections 41 and 42 to the effect that beauty gives rise to interests in us.
This book situates Kant's aesthetic theory within the context of his overall philosophical enterprise and also within German aesthetic theory of the eighteenth century. Although the aim of the book is not primarily historical, I have found it useful to frame the analysis of Kant's theory of imagination historically, by locating his views within a line of German aestheticians from the early German Enlightenment through early German Romanticism. Kant is not often viewed as an advocate of the didactic value of aesthetics nor as a precursor to early German Romanticism, but the chapters at the beginning and end of the book (chapters 1 and 7) argue that these are important aspects of his aesthetic project. In so doing they situate Kant's aesthetic theory between rationalist aesthetic pedagogy and early German romantic aesthetics in a way that brings into relief certain commonalities of these otherwise very different theories. Given a prevailing attitude that casts Romanticism as an irrationalist mysticism with sinister inheritors, connecting it to rationalist philosophies at all may sound implausible. This book aims to show that by focussing on certain important but neglected aspects of Kant's aesthetic theory, a window is opened on the common link between both perspectives in German aesthetic theory of the eighteenth century. That link is the recognition and gradual elevation of the power of imagination.
Doch das Paradies is verriegelt und der Cherub hinter uns; wir müssen die Reise um die Welt machen, und sehen, ob es vielleicht von hinten irgendwo wieder offen ist.
(Kleist, “Über das Marionetten Theater” (On the Marionette Theater)) (Paradise is barred and the cherub behind us; we must travel around the world, and see if maybe somewhere it is open again from the back.)
Kleist summed up the mix of awe and profound disappointment that many intellectuals in the 1780s and 1790s must have felt in the wake of Kant's philosophy. For although in it human cognitive activity takes on new constitutive powers that define the boundaries of the real, the cost of shifting this constitutive power to human subjectivity was high: loss of access to a world beyond appearances. In spite of Kant's claim to have made “room for faith,” knowledge of the world of things “in themselves” was barred, so it seemed, once and for all. In his fictional essay “On the Marionette Theater,” Kleist frames the philosophical problem of knowledge as a problem within the context of performance art. His narrator interviews a renowned dancer who aims to move with absolute grace across the floor, freely and without alienation, but recognizes that the impossibility of achieving his goal is rooted in self-consciousness. The great dancer tells Kleist's narrator that the artist should look to the marionette as a model of unselfconscious expression of absolute, unalienated movement.
The early (Jena) period of German Romanticism is closely identified with early German Idealism, and with the philosophy of Johann Gottlieb Fichte. The reason for this is obvious enough. Fichte began lecturing at the university in Jena in the spring (Summer semester) of 1794, and work preliminary to his major work, the Wissenschaftslehre, appeared in that same year. His arrival at Jena was anticipated with great excitement, and among the Jena cohort of scholars and students who were inspired by his forceful presence were some whose names were to become inseparably bound up with German Romanticism. The Schlegels, Schelling, Tiek, Novalis, and also Hölderlin all were part of the Jena milieu in which Fichte's work was avidly studied and discussed.
Fichte's philosophy was of course very much influenced by Kant's Critical philosophy (he was hired at the University at Jena as a “Kantian” to replace Reinhold), and by Fichte's concern that a stronger defense of the possibility of practical reason was needed than Kant himself gave. The need for such a move is suggested by Kant himself in the third Critique, where he speaks of a “gulf” separating nature and freedom, and the need for a “principle of purposiveness” if a causality of freedom is to be seen as effective in the natural realm. As we have seen, this principle for Kant is never more than regulative, however, and the question of a common principle uniting theoretical and practical reason in a single system necessarily remains open for Kant.
This book contains work that has been in process for over fifteen years, and during that time I was greatly aided by the encouragement and advice of wonderful colleagues and students in many places: philosophers and scholars too numerous to mention here, but some of whom will perhaps recognize their influence in parts of the book that follow. Let this serve as a gesture of my thanks and deep appreciation for their time and thoughtful discussions. Three constellations of scholars deserve mention in connection with this book, all tied in one way or another to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): The NEH Summer Seminar “What is Enlightenment?” conducted by James Schmidt at Boston University during the bicentenary of the French Revolution, the NEH Workshop “Figuring the Self” conducted by David Klemm and Günter Zöller at the University of Iowa over the Spring semester of 1992, and the NEH Summer Institute for College Teachers on “Nature, Art and Politics after Kant: Reevaluating Early German Idealism” directed by Karl Ameriks and myself at Colorado State University in 2001. The participants at these NEH venues were truly inspired and inspiring, and without them much of this book would have remained unwritten, even unconceived.
I owe a special debt of gratitude to the faculty at the University of Cincinnati's Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures for the very formative time I spent there doing MA studies in German literature and aesthetics.
Chapter 3 argued that aesthetic reflection produces interests, and that those interests might well issue in obligations on how we value ourselves and our world. This sort of claim poses a certain challenge to interpretations of Kant that reduce his account of value to moral or purely practical value. Since in recent years this view has had some very persuasive and powerful advocates, this chapter engages the topic of the role aesthetic reflective imagination might play in understanding the “primacy of the practical” in Kant's philosophy. The notion of the primacy of practical reason, which Kant introduces explicitly in the second Critique, has been adopted by a number of Kantians as the correct lens for viewing Kant's philosophy as a whole. This development has in many respects been a much-needed pendant to what might be called “second-wave” Kantianism in the US, when mid-twentieth-century analytic philosophers began a serious re-evaluation of the first Critique for developments in the history of modern theories of knowledge and metaphysics. The turn towards interpretive strategies that prioritize the practical philosophy, due in large part to Rawls, has allowed scholars to put the theory of knowledge in context, and has provided the motivation and basis for further important developments in contemporary theories of moral constructivism and Kantian-type ethics.
While acknowledging the enormous contribution to ethical and political theory that these interpreters have made, the tendency to read Kant as primarily an ethical theorist who subsumed all theory to practice is misleading.
The very idea of connecting Kant and Romanticism has raised and no doubt will continue to raise hackles among some Kant scholars. These critics typically view Kant as the last great defender of Enlightenment values in the modern era of philosophy, while viewing Romanticism as a reactionary, counterenlightenment development expressing irrationalist tendencies and forces whose aims are anathema to the spirit of liberty and equality. This view continues to prevail in the face of much new scholarship documenting the broad spectrum of Enlightenment positions and controversies, and in spite of the fact that Kant himself was a great admirer, and in some cases friend, of several major counterenlightenment figures. Kant did not directly engage the so-called “Jena school of Romantics” that included the Schlegels, Schelling, and Novalis. Yet his philosophy loomed so large in the German academic context that there can be no question of his influence on them. Indeed one could argue that it is in the claim to be Kant's successor and remediator that Fichte attracted and fascinated the early Romantics. Kant repudiated Fichte's appropriation of his philosophy, and Fichte's Doctrine of Scientific Knowledge was criticized by the early Romantics. They quickly came to reject Fichte's basic assumptions. It is a major contention of the latter part of this book that this rejection, most forcefully stated in Novalis' Fichte Studies, is fundamentally a rejection on Kantian grounds and bears the mark of Kant's aesthetic theory.
Just as the concept of freedom is central to the political and moral philosophy of the Enlightenment, it is also important to the aesthetic theory of this period. This is clearly true of the German Enlightenment. Beginning with Baumgarten, the concept of the autonomy of the imagination in aesthetic judgment and artistic production becomes an essential feature of German aesthetic theory, culminating in Kant's detailed account of the free activity of the imagination in judgments about the beautiful.
A study of Kant's notion of imaginative freedom also reveals a continuity in German philosophy from Lessing to Schiller that is not apparent in other approaches to his aesthetic theory. That is, in spite of an apparent break with the German enlightenment tradition created by Kant's insistence that aesthetics is essentially irrelevant to morality, his account of imaginative freedom suggests the possibility that political and moral progress may be intimately connected with our ability to make universally valid aesthetic judgments. This in turn suggests that Kant's system left room for an “enlightened” commitment to the view that our experience of beauty and art may have an indispensable role to play in our moral improvement.
In what follows, I first briefly trace the development of the concept of imaginative freedom from Baumgarten to Lessing and then go on to outline Kant's account of this concept.
Den Pakt zu wechselseitigem Gebrauch Von den Vermögen und Geschlechtsorganen Den der die Ehe nennt, nun einzumahnen Ercheint mir dringend und berechtigt auch.
Ich höre, einige Partner sind da säumig. Sie haben - und ich halt's nicht für gelogen - Geschlectsorgane kürzlich hinterzogen: Das Netz hat Maschen und sie sind geräumig.
Da bleibt nur: die Gerichte anzugehn Und die Organe in Beschlag zu nehmen. Vielleicht wird sich der Partner dann bequemen
Sich den Kontrakt genauer anzusehn. / Wenn er sich nicht bequemt - ich fürcht es sehr - / MuB eben der Gerichtsvollzieher her.
(“On Kant's Definition of Marriage in the Metaphysics of Morals” by Bertolt Brecht)
Brecht's sonnet satirizes Kant's view of marriage as a legal contract between two persons for the legitimation of sex, and at the same time indicts bourgeois values according to which nothing is so sacred that it cannot be commodified. Indeed, Kant's most important single statement on marriage, sex, and family is located squarely within his discussion of property rights in the “Doctrine of Right” in the Metaphysics of Morals.