A Commentary on Kant's "Dreams of a Spirit-Seer"

Dissertation, The Catholic University of America (2001)

Kant's Dreams of a Spirit-Seer is usually interpreted as a skeptical-empiricist attempt to discredit the dogmatic metaphysics of the Leibniz-Wolff school by showing its similarities to Swedenborg's thought. I argue instead that Kant took Swedenborg's ideas serious as candidates for truth and that Swedenborg had a significant positive influence on the development of Kant's mature critical philosophy. ;Chapter one argues that Dreams is not unambiguously hostile to Swedenborg but rather systematically ambiguous and ironic. Kant constructs his text on two levels, placing his criticisms of Swedenborg in the center while subtly negating or qualifying them in the margins, intimating his serious interest in and positive debts to Swedenborg "between the lines." Kant had reason to adopt this rhetorical strategy because of the danger of persecution from the Prussian church and the Berlin Enlightenment. ;Chapter two comments on Kant's earliest surviving discussion of Swedenborg, his letter to Charlotte von Knobloch, August 10, 1763, showing that he spent a great deal of time, energy, and money investigating the rumors that Swedenborg was a clairvoyant, that he was convinced that Swedenborg's powers were genuine, and that he deliberately dissimulates these facts in Dreams. ;Chapter three deals with the prefatory material of Dreams. Chapter four deals with Dreams, part one, chapter one. Here Kant encapsulates his ideas on the relationship of soul and body before his encounter with Rousseau forced him to confront the place of freedom in a deterministic world. Chapters five through seven discuss Dreams, part one, chapter two. Here Kant offers his answer to Rousseau: a speculative reconstruction of Swedenborg's visions of a cosmos divided into material and spiritual worlds. Chapter eight comments on Dreams, part one, chapter three, where Kant subjects his Swedenborgian metaphysics to a parody of the arguments of the "popular philosophers" of the Berlin Enlightenment. Chapter nine deals with Dreams, part one, chapter four, where Kant offers pragmatic grounds for retaining his Swedenborgian metaphysics. Chapters ten, eleven, and twelve comment on part two of Dreams, an historical paragon on Swedenborg included so that the careful reader can discern Kant's debts to him. The Conclusion surveys the whole argument.
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