Metaphysics: Unrequited Love and Air-Architecture.


An old observation from Kant came to mind again, while I was quietly contemplating why so many people these days are so enamoured with all things metaphysical – I went back to reread it, and found the book even better than I remembered it (Dreams of a Spirit-Seer):

Metaphysics, which it is my fate to be in love with, even though I cannot boast of having received any favors from her, offers two advantages. [2:367]

This is at the end of chapter two of the second part of the book, a sort of conclusive thought that Kant drops in passing. As is well-known, Dreams of a Spirit-Seer is a strange book which basically reveals Kant’s disillusionment with metaphysics.  Some parts of the book, I think, need to come back and reassert themselves as the interest in metaphysics makes me think of passages like this (from Part I, chapter 3, translation for the linked above old English version):

Aristotle says, somewhere, “When we are awake, we have a common world, but when we dream, everybody has his own.”  It seems to me that it ought to be possible to reverse this latter proposition and say, if, among different human beings, everyone has his own world, it may be supposed that they dream.  With this understanding we will view the various imaginary worlds of these air-architects [die Luftbaumeister] which each one inhabits quietly to the exclusion of others.  Behold, for example, him who inhabits the Order of Things as it was framed by Wolff out of but little building material obtained from experience, but many conceptions gotten on the sly. Or we will view those who inhabit the world produced by Crusius out of nothing, by means of a few magical sayings about the thinkable and the unthinkable.  And, as we find that their visions are contradictory, we will patiently wait until the gentlemen have finished dreaming.  [2:342]

Say what you will about Kant, but I do like his sarcastic side, too bad he was too serious of a fellow later on to let it slip in more often into his writings. Of course, one cannot leave Dreams of a Spirit-Seer without a description of its most famous metaphysical persona:

There lives in Stockholm a certain Mr. Swedenborg, a gentleman of comfortable means and independent position.  His whole occupation for more than twenty years is, as he himself says, to be in closest intercourse with spirits and deceased souls; to receive some news from the other world, and, in exchange, give those who are there tidings from the present; to write big volumes about his discoveries; and to travel at times to London to look after their publication.  He is not especially reticent about his secrets, talks freely about them with everybody, seems to be entirely convinced of his pretensions, and all of this without any apparent deceit or charlatanry. [2:354]

Make what you will of Kant’s strange little book, but I like it, especially all the little digs at metaphysicians and other spirit-seers, so in love with their mistress that they don’t notice that she barely cares for their attention…

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