Excursus: “Mere High-Flown Fantasy …?” (Kant on Holiday)

  • Susan McManus
Part of the Studies in European Culture and History book series (SECH)


From Rousseau’s impassioned critique, and his ardent, affective, and creative fictions, I move, but without quite coming back to earth, to Immanuel Kant, abstemious, austere, literally self-denying, who, like Hobbes, I see as a further (but also potentially productive) writer of disciplinary and didactic fictions. I again pose the dual question of what modes of imagining underlie theoretical world creation, and what those imaginings make possible. In fact, opinion is sharply divided, and the innocent reader casually glancing through the books on the library shelves may find herself somewhat bewildered that, in addition to all the various dualisms that organize Kant’s texts, curiously, Kant himself seems to have left a bifurcated or dualistic legacy to modern philosophy; or rather, she may find herself unsure as to which is the real Kant, and which the doppelganger (the double or forbidding ghostly apparition …?). For example, Nietzsche sinisterly (or perhaps impishly, but most likely both) writes that Kant’s “categorical imperative gives off a whiff of cruelty,” and for Theodor Adorno, Kant is “repressive.”1 And yet, in an altogether different tenor and key, Ernst Bloch claims for Kant’s categorical imperative the attempt to think “a Humanum which is so little merely abstractly general and so clearly also anticipatorily general that it is not accommodated with its human landscape in any class society.” For Bloch, the categorical imperative contains a utopian forward impulse toward solidarity and away from violence, so that it “seems almost like an anticipatory formula directed toward a non-antagonistic society, that is, to a classless one, in which real generality of moral legislation is possible for the very first time.”2


Categorical Imperative True World Supreme Principle Fictive Theory Pure Practical Reason 
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    Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, p.47; Adorno, Negative Dialectics (London: Routledge, 1973), p.232, and throughout.Google Scholar
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    Since the Groundwork, although short, is a remarkably dense text, and since this is merely an excursus, I have taken the liberty of bypassing the vast amounts of secondary literature on Kant. However, I must acknowledge my debts to the following accounts: Howard Williams, Kant’s Political Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983);Google Scholar
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© Susan McManus 2005

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  • Susan McManus

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