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Dreams of a Spirit-Seer/Editor's Preface

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THE EDITOR’S PREFACE.[edit]


Kant’s “Dreams of a Spirit-Seer,[1] illustrated by those of Metaphysics,” was published in the year 1766. His mental attitude at the time has been well described by his latest biographer and critic, M. Kronenberg: Kant; Sein Leben, and Seine Lehre: München: Beck: 1897. 8vo. VII., 312. The writer says in regard to the alleged scepticism of Kant about the year 1764: “All around the metaphysicians were still directing their telescopes to the farthest ends of the universe: Kant, on the contrary, having long returned from this high-strung flight, was making himself comfortably at home on earth.” (p. 157.) Of the “Dreams of a Spirit-Seer” he says:—

“Between the visions of Swedenborg and those of the metaphysicians of his time, Kant drew a surprising parallel. Swedenborg believed himself to be as familiarly acquainted with the beyond as with his own house. Was not the case the same with the philosophers? Kant believed himself to be in a position to explain these delusions, the one by the other, and so to get rid of both.

“So entirely did Kant look down upon Swedenborg and his contemporaries the metaphysicians that he merely played with them, handling them now with serious irony, now with sly humour, sometimes pouring upon them his gallish scorn and dealing them the sharpest blows of his cynical wit. Such a tone is only assumed by one who sees his subject far beneath him. So did Kant hold himself in regard to the metaphysicians, to general philosophical knowledge, yea even to knowledge itself as a whole.” (pp. 161, 163).

This judgment may be compared with Kuno Fischer: Geschichte der neu. Phil., Bd. III., p. 232: 2nd Ed., 1869, for remarkable agreements.[2]

That the “Dreams of a Spirit-Seer” was a humorous critique aimed chiefly at the philosophers of his day, using Swedenborg as a convenient because non-combative and comparatively unknown mark for his blows, is now generally conceded. But the century and a half that have elapsed since that time have brought Swedenborg out of his obscurity into light, and his real relation to Kant and the latter’s great indebtedness to him is now first seriously arousing the attention of the students of German philosophy. See especially the notices by Professor Vaihinger, of the University of Halle, in his Commentar zur Kritik d. R. V., Vol. II., pp. 143, 345, 431, 512, 513, Stuttgart, 1893; and in Kant Studien, Vol. I: II., on Kant and Swedenborg: also Heinze’s “Observations on Kant’s Lectures on Metaphysics” in Abhandlungen der Sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften. Leipzig, 1894: P. von Linds Kants Mystische Weltanschauung, ein Wahn der Modernen Mystik; Munich 1892: Du Prel’s Essay on Kant’s Mystical View of the World, in his edition of Kant’s Lectures on Psychology, Leipzig, 1809; and Der Angebliche Mysticismus Kants: Robert Hoar, Brugg, 1895.

In these investigations it comes to light that not only did Kant find in Swedenborg a system of spiritual philosophy so parallel to that of the philosophers in reasonableness that the validity of the one could be measured by that of the other, but that the very system finally followed by Kant himself when he came, later in life, as a lecturer in the University on Psychology and Metaphysics, to enter upon the domain of these inquiries, was largely identical with that of the “Dreams” he had once affected to be amused at. The fair and rational vision of a mundus intelligibilis avowedly erected on the testimony of Swedenborg,[3] in Chapter II. of the First Part of the treatise here published, he amuses himself with tearing down by the negative criticism of Chapter III., little forseeing that in four years’ time, for his inaugural dissertation of 1770, he would be choosing no other theme than that of the same vision he had thus destroyed that namely of a mundus intelligibilis et mundus sensibilis,[4]and that all through his subsequent teaching and writing, including the Critique and the Religion i. d. Gr., he would be finding the basis of his positive idealism only in those principles of the Arcana he had once affected to despise. Will not this circumstance account for the instruction given by Kant to his editor Tieftrunk (see Kant’s Werke: Edition Hartenstein: Bd. VIII., 812). “I assent with pleasure to your proposal for collecting and editing my minor writings. Only I wish you would not include writings earlier than 1770. In this case a German translation of my Inaugural Dissertation De Mundi Sensibilis atque Intelligibilis Forma et Principiis might form the beginning.” Thus omitting the “Dreams.”

In view of these investigations the importance of the Traüme as a potent factor in Kant’s development is so manifest as to make a longer delay in its translation into English inexcusable.

At the same time the growing appreciation among students of the profound philosophic principles which underlie the teachings of Swedenborg make the occasion of this publication an opportune one for placing side by side with the leading affirmations made by Kant in the Dissertation and his University Lectures, a citation of those passages in Swedenborg by which they were evidently suggested or with which they stand in interesting relation.

In this way the “Seer,” however it may fare with the “Metaphysicians” in Kant’s hands, will at least be allowed to speak for himself, and the reader may form his judgments at first hand. To the student of modern philosophical development it will not be time lost to witness here, where it has been least suspected, the first decided and controlling influence of Swedenborg’s spiritual philosophy upon modern idealistic thought.

To aid the reader in arriving at a truer understanding and appreciation of these “Dreams” and of their import in Kant’s entire system I have translated and brought together the recent utterances of German and other philosophers on the subject of Swedenborg’s real influence upon Kant, as shown especially in the latter’s Lectures on Psychology and Lectures on Metaphysics.

FRANK SEWALL.

Washington, D.C., U.S.A., December, 1899.


Notes[edit]

  1. The common title, “Dreams of a Ghost-Seer,” is not retained because it is a manifestly false rendering of the term “Geisterseher.” This means simply a seer of “spirits,” not of “ghosts.” Had the latter been Kant’s intention he would have used the word “Gespenst,” ghost, and not “Geist,” spirit.—F.S.
  2. “Swedenborg and Metaphysics were, to use a familiar phrase, for Kant ‘two flies to be killed at one slap.’ He went laughingly at it. The comparison was itself a witty one, and the philosophers took it up good-naturedly, and with all indulgence followed it out to its respective conclusions.” Kuno Fischer, Gesch. d. neu. Phil. III, 232.
  3. “It would be beautiful if such a systematic constitution of the spiritual world could be concluded, or at all events could be surmised with probability, not merely from the general concept the nature of a spirit, which is all too hypothetical, but from some actual and universally conceded observation. Presuming upon the reader’s indulgence, I insert an attempt of the kind, somewhat out of my way, to be sure, and far from a demonstration, but nevertheless giving occasion, it seems to me, for not unpleasant surmises.”—From the Traüme, Werke, II. 342.
  4. See Kant’s “Inaugural Dissertation” of 1770, with an introduction, &c., by William G. Eckoff, Ph. D., New York, 1894. Google Books