I’m still teaching Kierkegaard this semester, now excavating the historical subterrain somewhat. I’m reading Dieter Henrich, Between Kant and Hegel: Lectures on German Idealism. It’s relatively light, given the heavy subject matter. Which I find agreeable. The original lectures were delivered in 1973 at Harvard, so it’s all perhaps out of date, although I understand that Henrich – who is still alive – made appropriate updates and edits before the book was published in 2008. Also, it is not my impression that a wave of subsequent historicist work has, indeed, swept this work away. I am open to correction on that point.
I find the book extremely interesting. I am thinking fresh thoughts about this period, but I can’t say I’m sure they are true. But that is mostly my fault. The lectures, true to their original form, have a sweeping, generalizing quality. If I want to verify, I should go back and read a lot of Jacobi and Fichte and Schelling. Which is, admittedly, unlikely. Let me just quote, and comment on, some passages I’m contemplating paraphrasing for class purposes.
Let me start with something definitely true, which I hadn’t ever thought hard enough about before: it all happened really fast. Kant published The Critique of Judgment in 1790. Within the next five years, there sprouted four different, major strands of post-Kantian dissent/development. Henrich focuses on 1795 as an especially fecund year. Here’s a tree diagram from the book. (Sorry for poor quality of reproduction. Buy the book yourself, you big cheapskate!)
There you see it. Kant lives until 1804. And he was more or less appalled/uncomprehending at these rapid turns. Kant equates all this new-fangled idealism with ‘mysticism’ [Alchemie], which he contrasts with the proper, hard work [Arbeit] of criticism. And all the new kids on the block fight among themselves for good measure.
The time between the publication of the Critique of Pure Reason in 1781 and the 1844 publication of Kierkegaard’s Concept of Anxiety – the same year in which Marx wrote the Early Economical Philosophical Manuscripts – is just sixty-three years. Shorter still is the time from the publication of the Critique of Pure Reason to the final step Hegel made in his philosophical development: the establishment of a speculative logic as the fundamental discipline of his system and not simply a negative introduction into it. This happened in 1804, the same year in which Kant died. What is astonishing about this very short period of time is that within it, the entire development from Kant through Fichte and Schelling to Hegel occurred. This unique development that unfolded during the late lifetime of Kant both invites and resists interpretation.
No one who is a good student of Nietzsche – as I consider myself – can be totally taken by surprise by this picture. From Beyond Good And Evil:
It strikes me that nowadays people everywhere are trying to direct attention away from the real influence Kant exercised on German philosophy and, in particular, prudently to overlook the value he ascribed to himself … Then came the honeymoon of German philosophy. All the young theologians of the Tubingen seminary went off right away into the bushes … And what didn’t they find — in that innocent, rich, still youthful time of the German spirit, in which Romanticism, that malicious fairy, played her pipes and sang, a time when people did not yet know how to distinguish between “finding” and “inventing”! Above all, a faculty for the “super-sensory.” Schelling christened this intellectual intuition and, in so doing, complied with the most heartfelt yearnings of his Germans, whose cravings were basically pious. —The most unfair thing we can do to this entire rapturously enthusiastic movement, which was adolescent, no matter how much it boldly dressed itself up in gray and senile ideas, is to take it seriously and treat it with something like moral indignation. Enough — people grew older — the dream flew away. There came a time when people rubbed their foreheads. People are still rubbing them today. They had dreamed: first and foremost — the old Kant.
Even so. 1795. Just five years. Yes, they were a bunch of kids, drunk on Kant. Even so, what made it so heady?
I dot-dot-dotted out some Nietzsche, above. I think Henrich does a more painstaking job of filling in the blanks. (Because he, unlike Nietzsche, thinks we should take the technical details somewhat seriously.) He starts by outlining what he thinks Kant thought he was up to, which is largely backwards-looking. He contrasts that with what those who followed thought he had been up to, and what they thought they were up to.
Henrich, by the by, gives Fichte original credit for inaugurating the Anglo-Saxon/Continental split, for better or worse. Not sure whether I agree with that. But it’s interesting. Because everyone working in philosophy feels the split. But who reads Fichte?
Philosophy has a single origin in Greece (if one distinguishes from the logic of Hinduism and Buddhism). It also enjoyed a single tradition from its origin up to the end of the eighteenth century. This means in part that the philosophers whom we could call “great” were connected with each other, irrespective of political borders or the boundaries of language. It also means that philosophy had one language. At first this language was Greek; then, with the rise to dominance of the Roman Empire, the language of philosophy became Latin, which endured until the eighteenth century. This situation changed entirely at the end of the eighteenth century with the appearance of Fichte. At that time a split took place that has since separated two worlds of philosophy: the Anglo-Saxon, which is basically empirically oriented, and what is called Continental philosophy, which understands itself as somehow in a tradition that emerged at the end of the eighteenth century.
Yeah, yeah, over-simple. (Henrich was delivering lectures! Please make allowance for lack of footnotes and fussy hedging.) But worth thinking about.
This is getting a bit long, as posts go, so let me just pile up some thoughts here. What follows is from chapters (lectures) 5-7, on mysticism, Jacobi and Spinozism.
Beyond his intention, Kant actually undermined the Leibnizian metaphysical tradition and Lockean empiricism (initially in Germany, and later on throughout Europe). As a consequence of this complete change, the dominant schools were no longer able to suppress other traditions, even though Kant was more hostile toward these formerly suppressed traditions than he was toward the dominant schools of his time. This is something that very often happens when revolutions take place: a revolution always opens possibilities for those who are rivals of the revolutionaries, yet who had also been victims of the fallen rule. Having been suppressed by that rule in the past, although they are not in any accord with those making the revolution, they receive a new opportunity by virtue of the revolution itself. When the Critique of Pure Reason effectively upended Leibnizian metaphysics and Lockean empiricism, the traditions Leibniz and Locke had once discounted regained influence.
There were three such traditions: (1) Spinozism, not in its academic form, but as a philosophy that various little Protestant sects (in the Netherlands, for instance, from whence their influence subsequently spread over Europe) advocated; (2) a certain popular philosophy that we may call “the philosophy of love,” of which Shaftsbury,- for instance, is a representative, and that proved more influential in literature than in academic philosophy; and (3) a certain theological line of thinking, the “theology of the spirit,” …
Each of these suppressed traditions, which lacked any academic influence, depended in one way or another on Plato. Platonism is one of the main lines of European thinking. We can define it superficially-although not entirely misleadingly-by contrasting it to Aristotelianism. Accordingly, we could say that Platonic positions do not accept Aristotle’s ultimate orientation toward the concept of being as the most basic notion in theory and in the understanding of human life. By contrast, Platonism identifies unity as the central concept from which all reasoning begins.
This is interesting at the level of academic culture and sociology. Is Henrich right that Kant, unawares, cracked open academic barriers, letting in those he considered cranks?
Getting back to Platonism-as-Unity. Obviously there is a spirit of German nationalism – a will to German unification – running through German Romanticism. It’s politicized stuff. Henrich emphasizes as well that one of the main criticisms of Kant, from these followers, had to do with the unsatisfactory, ‘multidimensionality’ of Kant’s philosophy. What’s that? Henrich:
By tracing the way in which Kant’s system became multidimensional from its dualistic inception – of intuition and concept, of sensibility and understanding – we saw how he established the ontological framework for his system. But Kant established this framework by way of a further distinction between understanding and reason, and this route made it impossible for him to relate the ontological framework back to the basic distinction he had investigated (intuition and concepts). In Kant’s new conception of the concept, freedom emerges as a suitable way to reintegrate his analysis of the self into his own epistemological framework. Kant conceives of freedom as mediating between the intellectual and the sensible worlds. Indeed, within this system, freedom is the only imaginable mediation we can be aware of as occurring. The mediating function of freedom is what makes Kant’s program a system in the proper sense, inasmuch as freedom is the principle that holds the system together. Freedom as the principle of the system is typical of the systems of Kant’s successors as well, but they differ in specific ways. Unlike them, Kant’s concept of freedom is not accessible as the “keystone” from the beginning. Instead, Kant somehow has to describe freedom as a fact. This means, for Kant, that freedom is neither something that is immediately accessible for integration into the system – or that can be integrated into a logical framework in a deductive sense – nor is freedom something that allows us to make deductions from it regarding other things. The insertion of freedom into the system of reason makes the system become a meaningful whole. But it is not the case, for Kant, that reason would be impossible without the insertion of freedom. This is the claim Fichte would make at a later date – that the very essence of reason is freedom.
Henrich argues that, for Kant, systematic philosophy ends with freedom – ascends to freedom. Whereas, for the idealists, it tends to start there. They saw this as not only more ethically attractive but more coherent. Kant’s way leaves it mysterious why there should be a dualistic split at the base of his system, ontologically and epistemologically and methodologically. Maybe freedom makes a handsome keystone, holding up the arch. But why should there be an arch with two bases, feet planted far apart, never the twain shall meet save at the top? (Nietzsche, describing everyone off into the Tubingen bushes, like a bunch of Pokemon Go, gotta-catch-em-all faculty collectors, misses this drive towards unity. Not that Nietzsche would care. He thinks it’s all pretty silly, either way.)
More about Spinoza. Henrich talks about the famous ‘Lessing was a Spinozist’ scandal. (That much, everyone who knows anything about the period has heard of!)
The post-Kantian intellectual movement begins with a revival of Spinozism. In Jacobi’s letters to Moses Mendelssohn, he takes up the doctrine of Spinoza. Jacobi reported that the poet and critic Lessing had confessed in conversation that he was a Spinozist. This report came after Lessing’s death and is not substantiated by anything in his own writings. Nevertheless, Jacobi claimed that Lessing had said: “The orthodox concepts of the Divinity are no longer for me; I cannot stomach them. Hen kai pan! I know of nothing else…. There is no other philosophy than the philosophy of Spinoza.” With the alleged endorsement of Lessing, Jacobi goes on to explain the spirit of Spinozistic thought. Spinoza has as his first premise a nihilo nihil fit, from nothing comes nothing. Maintaining this premise in its strictest possible sense means that we have to reject all transitory causes, including the Christian idea of the creation of the world (ex nihilo, from nothing) and the neo-Platonic idea of emanation from the transcendent One. If one takes a nihilo nihil fit in the strict sense, the omnipotent God can no more create the world originally than emanation theory can claim that the finite is a place that God fills by emanation, because these statements rest on the assumption that something is brought out of nothing. According to Jacobi, Spinoza’s ultimate premise is that we have to reject this idea entirely. Spinoza rejected any transition from the infinite to the finite, and consequently replaced the emanating ensoph with an immanent one. Given Jacobi’s presentation of Spinozism, it is not difficult to see how Spinozism becomes, in modern times, the reestablishment of Stoicism, under the provisos of Platonic thought on The One. It is doubtless puzzling that this idea of the Spinozistic immanent ensoph could be associated with Kant’s philosophical position. Indeed, Kant rejected the association as absurd and could not understand why there were those who claimed that the Critique of Pure Reason is Spinozistic.
I’ve always been with Kant on this one. I can’t say I have ever lost sleep, wondering why every German thinker and his poet brother went gaga for Kant-plus-Spinoza around the turn of the 19th Century. But I can’t say I’ve ever got it either.
Jacobi’s construal of Lessing’s confession forms the point of view from which Spinoza and Kant seem to correspond: there is no transcendent God on whom we are dependent, whose laws we have to obey, and on whom the salvation for which we hope rests …
If God is acting at all, God is acting inside of us; and if we are free, it must be possible to think that our freedom is not simply in contradiction with, but something that is already essentially a part of the life of God. This is what the rallying cry of the “Spinozism of freedom” meant to the generation of Hegel, Holderlin, Fichte, and Schelling …
Therefore, the (Stoic) idea of hen kai pan, the “All in One,” is the only possible philosophy. Accordingly, infinity exists without any change, and the finite exists eternally in an original relation to it, that is, in a way that has to be determined but that excludes transition. Philosophically, this signals the end of orthodox concepts of God. It also shows what Jacobi’s Spinoza (whom he also claimed was Lessing’s Spinoza) holds in common with Kant, despite their apparent opposition: both philosophers teach liberation from orthodox images of the world …
Not the clearest thoughts ever. But I’m starting to get it. I think.
It’s the weekend, so it’s traditional to offer up something lighter. Maybe a YouTube video. I can’t think of too many songs about people probably wrongly thinking they hear someone saying ‘hen’, when they probably aren’t. But here’s one.
[Sorry for lack of page references. I’ve only got Kindle locations. And, if you’ve got a Kindle, you can just search text inside. So what good are Kindle locations?]