Kant on Philosophy as the History of Poetry and Symbols

Going over something I’m working on related to philosophy and literature, I noticed the passage, at the bottom of this post, from Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment (also known as The Critique of Judgement and The Third Critique) § 59.  As it’s Kant, we an be sure there’s many people who’ve commented on this passage, and a proportion of that who would deny the meaning I find in it.  Nevertheless, I can confidently say that this passage has not been noticed as much as it could have, given what it suggest about how Kant might see the history of philosophy, and I’m confident that the reading I find interesting is plausible given that we emphasise certain other passages.  The passage I particularly like to compare it to is the discussion of poetry in § 53 of the same text.  I find this so interesting in my current work that I plan to deal with it separately.

What is significant about the passage below, for me, is the suggestion that philosophy, or some significant part of it, with John Locke’s concept of substance presented as the main example, is composed of symbol and analogy.  This is a field of the non-schematic and of the lack of a direct intuition.  Now this is close to what Kant says about poetry, which he suggests comes from the play of forms, what nature does not present by itself or determine, and in relation to a schema for the supersensible.  Kant refers to metaphysical terms, and also how we might represent God in the discussion around the passage below.  The use of analogy and symbol over rigid determinacy is also given a political meaning in freedom from despotism.

There is a case for looking at Kant, at least some of the time, as someone who descries the poetic creation of symbols in philosophy, giving is a model for looking at history of philosophy, and suggesting that Kant’s philosophy itself is a work of symbolism and indirect presentation.

Our language is full of such indirect presentations, in accordance with an analogy, where the expression does not contain the actual schema for the concept, but only a symbol for reflection.  Examples are the words ground (support, basis), depend (be held from above), from which flow (instead of follow), substance (as Locke expresses it: the bearer of accidents), and innumerable other nonschematic but symbolic hypotyposes and expressions for  concepts not by means of a direct intuition, but only in accordance with an analogy with it, i.e., the transportation of the reflection of one object of intuition to another, quite different concept, to which perhaps no intuition can ever directly correspond.

Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, edited by Paul Guyer, translated by Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews, Cambridge University Press, 2000, 226 (Prussian Academy Edition, 5: 352-3)





One thought on “Kant on Philosophy as the History of Poetry and Symbols

  1. Pingback: Metaphor, Politics, Kant and Philosophy « Stockerblog

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