Kant’s setting out of his dilemma – we can only know appearance – contained, for the Romantics, the solution – we are free to overcome it – by focusing on our inner experience.1
And not only to overcome that dilemma but, because of our freedom to focus on our inner experience, to bridge the schism between appearance and what stands beyond it (all the dichotomies symbolised by that schism, ‘the world’) – on the basis of mysticism (the dominant Western form being Neoplatonism).
The very dryness and one-sided rationalism of Kant’s philosophy was an incentive to take that step. The other incentives – our freedom (which Kant intended to be moral) and the justification to focus on the self by exploring the at first implicit then overt Neoplatonism2 in his writing (in fact, the very framework of the dilemma) were the answer.
Kant’s philosophy was both the concentration of a problem and a dare – to fully take up what had not been fully explored, fully indulged in, in German philosophy in the modern period. The Romantics, Schelling and Nietzsche responded eagerly to Kant and met his unintended challenge.
Nietzsche’s vitalist philosophy, from The Birth of Tragedy to the final ‘aphorism’ of The Will to Power (which ‘aphorism’ contains a synopsis of The Enneads) was built on Neoplatonism mixed with Platonism and Christianity – the parallels between his god Dionysus and Christ are numerous.3 In The Gay Science Nietzsche wrote: ‘Even less am I concerned with the opposition between ‘thing in itself’ and appearance: for we ‘know’ far too little to even be entitled to make that distinction.
For Nietzsche, we simply have no organ for knowing, for ‘truth’.4 The ‘truth’ to which he (as one drenched in ‘god’) referred was Absolute and ineffable, not (as for the materialist) deepening and relative (it was once true that the earth is flat). It was constrained by the same ‘limits of reason’,5 the same Neoplatonic perspectivism to which Leibniz, Kant and Schelling subscribed.6
In hindsight, the ‘diagnoses’ that Schelling and Nietzsche made of Kant convey that he was far too restrained, too controlled. But in their writing, all of the dualisms were retained – only the emphasis was different. The ‘reason’ of Kant shifted to the ‘emotion’ of Schelling and Nietzsche, but the writing of all three was equally within the embrace of Lloyd’s Man of Reason, equally divorced from true life and nature, and from the criterion of practice.
‘the fundamental laws of the motions of the heavenly bodies gave established certainty to what Copernicus had at first assumed only as an hypothesis, and at the same time yielded proof of the invisible force (the Newtonian attraction) which holds the universe together. The latter would have remained for ever un-discovered if Copernicus had not dared, in a manner contradictory of the senses, but yet true, to seek the observed movements, not in the heavenly bodies, but in the spectator.’7
He believed that in his Critique of Pure Reason he had made a similar revolutionary achievement in metaphysics – he too had developed an hypothesis that contradicted previous metaphysicians and made the spectator necessary.
What Kant and Copernicus did could not have been more different, each from the other. The observation of matter, and thought about and testing of those observations, resulting in certain laws, confirmed Copernicus’ hypothesis – one which did not seek the observed movements in the spectator, but of bodies in relation to the sun.
For Copernicus, the spectator (or particularly – their consciousness) was not required. His discovery went beyond appearances, which according to Kant’s Critique, was impossible. Kant engaged in sleights of hand to justify his division between theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge,8 between ‘conceptual knowledge’ and the distorting influence of the senses, between what goes on in the spectator’s head and in the world, of which that spectator’s head and body are a part.
Like Schelling and Nietzsche, Kant was not guilty of ‘spiritual sickness’ nor ‘decline of life’, he contemplated the world on the basis of a long philosophical tradition – one divorced from the criterion of practice.
1. In his metaphysics Kant argued that a person’s perception of the world is dependent on what they bring to the act, in his moral theorising he argued that the individual is free to determine their actions and in his aesthetics he argued the beautiful is to be found in the subject’s experience. ↩
2. Behind which stood Leibniz ↩
3. The final words of Ecce Homo (the words spoken by Pilate before the crucifixion of Christ) are ‘Have I been understood? – Dionysos against the Crucified…’ My reply – in the din of ideology, nowhere near well enough. Ecce Homo, Trans., R.J. Hollingdale, Penguin, 2004, p. 104, section 8 ↩
4. The Gay Science, Trans., Josefine Nauckhoff, Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 214 section 354 ↩
5. The Anti-Christ, p. 185, section 55, in Twilight of the Idols (or How to Philosophise with a Hammer) and The Anti-Christ, Trans., R.J. Hollingdale, Penguin, 2003 ↩
6. Schelling wrote: ‘Within the absolute all particular things are genuinely separated and genuinely one only to the extent that each is the universe unto itself, and each is the absolute whole.’ The Philosophy of Art op. cit., p. 34, #26 ↩
7. Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason op. cit., Preface to Second Edition, Note p. 25 ↩
8. The Critique of Judgement op. cit., p. 15. For any reader willing to consider Kant’s carefully worded and much repeated lie (in his and subsequent philosophy academics’ attempts to retain the relevance of metaphysics) that his great ‘achievement’ (in The Critique of Pure Reason) replicated in philosophy what Copernicus had contributed to science, I recommend my previous post. ↩