The great presupposition of Spinoza’s philosophy, the Substance, or hypostasis, left no space for a separately generated human experience.
All semblance of such an experience was a temporary aberration that must eventually be resolved and dissolved back into Ein Sof through the process of Tikkun (or in Spinoza’s re-interpretation, through rational thought).
The Romantics kicked against the Spinozist proposition that man, along with all multiplicity, is dissolved into the great presupposition.
Kant rejected the blind acceptance of the all-consuming presupposition and the consequent theory of truth: that our ideas, if true, must conform to the presupposed reality.
Kant proposed the revolutionary thesis that objective reality, to be known at all, must conform to the subjective structure of the human mind. We know reality because it is our own making. Thinking ceases to be passive, a ‘subjective act’, but is a ‘constitutive act’ of the very being of the object.
At a stroke Kant generated a formidable weapon against the presuppositional philosophy of Spinoza and his heirs. His revolution swallowed all of the presupposed Substance, Ein Sof, the fact as fact, Nature, and so on.
With his ‘discovery’ of the ‘subjectivity of knowledge’, Kant restored the creative imagination as the defining act of what it is to be human. With this, the Romantic Reaction began as Christian Renaissance humanism in secular form.
The answer to the ‘what am I?’ question shifted, from a tabula rasa to be written upon, to the stylus which writes upon the tablet. Central to Romanticism was the idea that the human imagination creates worlds, defying all external constraints upon it.
It was a return to Renaissance thinking, in that the creative power of man was understood to be an echo or reflection of the power of the first Creator in whose image man is made, i.e. St Augustine’s concept of capax Dei.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the Romantic poet and philosopher, certainly mused upon the idea of capax Dei, representing its secular implications in an eternal context.
The IMAGINATION then, I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM.1
Counterposed to the Spinozist death of the self, Kant’s philosophy marked the reawakening of the self. The Romantic Movement to which it gave rise was founded on this resurrection.
And yet, despite his seminal role in the reawakening, Kant’s philosophy retained a Spinozist residuum. Spinoza’s great presupposition still stood. Knowledge was limited to objects of possible experience and the form that these objects presented to the ego presupposed a matter which the Ego did not produce. Kant’s knower is not an absolute creator, because sensation is the modification of the Ego but not its product. Sensation is not the demonstration of the Ego’s activity but its passivity, which implies an unknowable external agent, the thing-in-itself.
Kant did not see that this thing-in-itself, alien or inaccessible to our experience, destroyed the attributes of knowledge that he was most anxious to defend, i.e., human freedom and agency. The concept of the thing-in-itself was a residuum of the Spinozist Substance (rooted as we know in Lurianic Kabbalah), which Kant’s Copernican Revolution combatted, but did not fully destroy.
The post-Kantians intended to finish the job. Conscious that Kant’s thing-in-itself was a creation of mental activity, the post-Kantian idealists attempted to banish this Spinozist residuum from the world.
1 S. T. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, vol 1, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1907, p.202
© John Dunn.