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

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

Abstract

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

Keywords

Coherence Excavation Stake Univer Metaphor 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, p.47; Adorno, Negative Dialectics (London: Routledge, 1973), p.232, and throughout.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Walter Benjamin, “On the Program of the Coming Philosophy,” in, Benjamin: Philosophy, Aesthetics, History, ed. Gary Smith (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), p.3.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Ian Hunter, “The Morals of Metaphysics: Kant’s Groundwork as Intellectual Paideia” in, Critical Inquiry 28 (Summer 2002), pp.908–929, 908.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 6.
    Stanley Fish, Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), pp.342–343. I have insisted that this book is neither “pro-foundationalism” nor “anti-foundationalism,” since to organize this field into camps—to create the foundationalist moment as singular and monolithic—is to miss the moment of rupture that comes from reading foundations. To be simply anti-foundationalist is to presuppose and work to create the very monolith of foundationalism. I would rather, as I have suggested already, maintain the status of the “always already” fictive quality of foundations; this nevertheless means occasionally drawing on the kinds of characterizations such as Fish provides.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Kant, “Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History,” in, Kant’s Political Writings, ed. Hans Reiss, trans. by H.B. Nisbet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p.228.Google Scholar
  6. 39.
    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
  7. Onora O’Neill, Constructions of Reason: Explorations of Kant’s Practical Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); Miller, The Ethics of Reading; Paul Guyer, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Kant (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press);Google Scholar
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  9. Kimberley Hutchings, Kant, Critique and Politics (London: Routledge, 1996);Google Scholar
  10. Christine M. Korsgaard, Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  12. 47.
    Nietzsche, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, ed. Maudmarie Clark and Brian Leiter, trans. R.J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), Preface, 5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Nietzsche, The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs, trans. Walter Kauffman (New York: Vintage, 1974), IV, 108.Google Scholar
  14. 60.
    On this classical account of positive and negative freedom, where to be positively free is to be governed by the rational self, see Isaiah Berlin’s essays on liberty: Four Essays on Liberty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979). While dealing with the problems this account generates is beyond the confines of this book, I would simply like to note that Kant seems to confer agency on rationality and willing that is beyond the boundaries of the self.Google Scholar
  15. 63.
    William Sokoloff, “Kant and the Paradox of Respect,” in, American Journal of Political Science 45/4 (October 2001), pp.768–779, 770.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 67.
    William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida (London: Penguin, 1987), I.i.57–58.Google Scholar
  17. 79.
    Richard Beardsworth, Derrida and the Political (London: Routledge, 1996), p.31.Google Scholar

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© Susan McManus 2005

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  • Susan McManus

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