Academic journal article PSYART

Toward a Psychological History of Philosophy: Kant's Dreams of a Spirit-Seer (Träume Eines Geistersehers, Erläutert Durch Träume der Metaphysik, 1766)

Academic journal article PSYART

Toward a Psychological History of Philosophy: Kant's Dreams of a Spirit-Seer (Träume Eines Geistersehers, Erläutert Durch Träume der Metaphysik, 1766)

Article excerpt

Immanuel Kant's position that the external world conforms to our mental representations and that we thus seem to have enormous power to shape our own reality-but at the same time are hugely limited, never sure our representations of reality are adequate-is so foundational for modern philosophy and linguistics that it essentially has the status of a presumption in much work in those fields today. While it is well-known that Kant became a professor of philosophy relatively late in life (in 1770, aged 46, when he was appointed to a professorship in logic and metaphysics at Königsberg), his earlier writings, including those on psychology and anthropology, are relatively under-examined in scholarship in philosophy, psychology, and German studies. This is in part because that work is simply not considered significant in relation to the seismic impact of his later philosophical production.1 But early in his career, and, perhaps surprisingly, in texts about hallucinations and mental illness, Kant's expositions on the malfunctioning of the mind demonstrate interests similar to those that guide his philosophy decades later. Kant's philosophy has been credited with informing later developments in psychology and psychoanalysis. But the article argues that Kant's early work demonstrates that early psychology also informs modern critical philosophy.2

In order to do this, I first briefly explicate the contours of faculty (or empirical) psychology in the mid- to late eighteenth century in Germany; this was part of the intellectual context in which Kant produced his early writings. I then focus on Kant's exploration of aspects of psychology in Dreams of a Spirit-Seer (Träume eines Geistersehers, erläutert durch Träume der Metaphysik, 1766), and make reference to his Classification of Mental Disorders (Versuch über die Krankheiten des Kopfes, 1764).

For Kant, a consideration of psychosomatic disorders was a way of exploring questions about consciousness and self-consciousness. The budding field of empirical psychology of the eighteenth century, in Germany in particular, included the observation and description of psychosomatic symptoms.3 In the eighteenth century, German psychologists generally worked within a dualistic framework, whose ongoing indebtedness to a Cartesian model of the self meant that German psychology diverged strongly from the French and English traditions prior to approximately 1770. While philosophers such as Locke rejected the sense of certainty and confidence about the self that came in the wake of Descartes's contention that consciousness (or the res cogitans) is the reliable repository of reason, German psychologists often continued to separate the operations of consciousness from emotional states, which were attributed to the passions of the body.

By the 1770s, however, there was a shifttoward "mental physicalism," which included a view of emotional states as natural, gradually replacing the Cartesian-influenced model that had dominated the German-language tradition since the seventeenth century. This shiftwas not a complete rejection of philosophical psychology; rather, mental physicalists borrowed aspects of the thinking of Leibniz and Wolff, who had already revised Descartes on the point of the uniqueness of consciousness. Leibniz acknowledged that mental activity depends on the body. Wolffamended Descartes' restriction of consciousness to the thinking subject alone, arguing that consciousness is constituted only in relations between subject and object. Like Leibniz, Wolffdistinguished between initial physical sense perception, or sensation, and apperception, or the awareness that one is perceiving something. This two-stage theory of perception continued into German psychology's transition into "mental physicalism," which asserts the embodiedness of mind, but has no difficulty accepting a separation between physical sensation and mental perception (or apperception). Albrecht von Haller, Moritz, C. …

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