Kant’s Treasure Hard-to-Attain: Why Kant Scholars are Engaged by Folktales

In the Anthropology (1797: §16; 33; 154), Kant calls out “The thrill that comes over us at the mere idea of the sublime and the gooseflesh [grüseln] with which fairy tales put children to bed late at night are vital sensations; they permeate the body so far as there is life in it.” The point is, anyone lacking such an experience, as depicted in the Märchen, is hardly alive, is an emotional zombie. But this discussion goes beyond the one explicit example in Kant to the issue of the highest good, a moral idea of which we have no decisive experience. In our human lives, rarely is virtue rewarded, and when such a thing happens it is as often by accident or a happy good fortune, and nothing like a strict causal connection. Still, for those, like Kant,relying on a healthy human understanding, who are persuaded that the world is governed by rules and is a cosmos, not a radom chaos, the underling reason (rationality) urges that virtue should be rewarded. According to Kant (1785: 21/404): ‘But the most remarkable thing about ordinary reason in its practical concern is that it may have as much hope as any philosopher of hitting the mark. In fact, it is almost more certain to do so than the philospoher, because he has no principle which the common understanding lacks, while his judgement is easily confused by a mass of irrelevant considerations…’  Textual evidence is available that Kant regarded the dialectical concept of the highest good as the possession of the ordinary person’s reason (1790, II: 128-9;458). Indeed,  in this case, saying that the ordinary person contradicts himself in confusion is not necessarily a reproach from which the philosopher escapes. The short answer is that Kant scholars are engaged by folktales because certain of the latter are sourced in aesthetic ideas that depict the highest good, which is nowhere else exemplified in our human experience. Taking a step outside the explicit framework of Kant’s practical philosophy is a radical move, but, I submit, a necessary one if we are to make sense of Kant’s appeal to untutored reason.  The details are complex and require further argument – KantStudienKantsTreasureHardToAttainAgosta

Categories: Altruism, Emotions, Ethics, Hermeneutics, Psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, talk therapy, Taste (aesthetic)

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