1 1 Abstract: The aim of this paper is to explore Kant s notion of death with special attention paid to the relation between rational and aesthetic ideas in Kant s Third Critique and the discussion of death in Kant s Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. It will be argued explicitly how it is that Kant can claim death to be a rational idea by arguing that death exhibits an epistemic limitation characteristic of the relation Kant describes between aesthetic and rational ideas. Ultimately, death, for Kant, will be shown to be a product of the productive/poetical faculty of the imagination. On Kant s Notion of Death: From Anthropology to Aesthetics The aim of this paper is to explore Immanuel Kant s notion of death with special attention paid to the relation between rational and aesthetic ideas in the Third Critique and the discussion of death in the Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. It will be argued explicitly how it is that Kant can claim death to be a rational idea by arguing that death exhibits an epistemic limitation characteristic of the relation between aesthetic and rational ideas in the Third Critique. Ultimately, the notion of death will be shown to be a product of the productive/poetical faculty of the imagination described in the Anthropology. In 49 of the Critique of Judgment, Kant offers various examples of representations that may be termed ideas. 1 The mention of death, however, stands out amongst the other examples given. He writes: The poet essays the task of giving sensible form to the rational ideas of invisible beings, the kingdom of the blessed, hell, eternity, creation, and so 1 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. James Creed Meredith, ed. Nicholas Walker (New York: Oxford UP., 2007), 143/314.
2 2 forth. Or, again, as to things of which examples occur in experience, e.g. death, envy, and all vices, as also love, fame, and all the like, transgressing the limits of experience he attempts with the aid of an imagination, which in reaching for a maximum emulates the precedent of reason, to present them for the senses with a completeness of which nature affords no parallel. 2 Here, Kant addresses death as a rational idea which is given sensible form by the poet. Yet, all humans must die and most, if not all, have experienced death at some point in their lives. One would perhaps want to claim that there is a significant empirical difference between our experience of, say, envy and our experience of death. For example, we may be mistaken when we judge a person to be acting enviously; perhaps we missed some vital information or just did not know the person enough. However, a corpse is a corpse. But why is it that death, among the other perhaps more suitable examples, lends itself to be presented by the poet? What is it about Kant s notion of death that requires the imagination in order to give a full presentation to the senses? 3 The intention of this paper is, first and foremost, to examine Kant s notion of death and to argue that death indeed requires the imagination in order to have a full presentation. Hopefully, this can also aid substantially in understanding the relation between Kant s aesthetic and rational ideas. The mention of death comes amidst the discussion, in the Critique of Judgment, of ideas and of the, widely disputed, relation between rational and aesthetic ideas. The first step, then, is to explain these ideas as they are presented in the Third Critique. A rational idea, according to Kant, is a concept, to which no intuition (representation of the imagination) can be adequate. 4 The counterpart (pendant) to the rational idea would be the aesthetic idea. Kant describes this 2 Kant, Critique of Judgment, 143/ To my knowledge, an argument for or against death being an idea in Kant s thought has not been given. However, Henry Allison has made explicit that it is questionable, although he too falls short of actually providing some argument for this. He writes in a footnote, it is questionable whether some of these, e.g., death, really count as ideas in the Kantian sense, that is, involve the thought of a totality or completeness that can never be found in experience. Kant s Theory of Taste: A Reading of the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001), 386. Footnote Kant, Critique of Judgment, 143/314. Italics added.
3 3 as: the representation of the imagination which evokes much thought yet without the possibility of any definitive thought whatever, i.e. concept, being adequate to it, and which language, consequently, can never quite fully capture or render completely intelligible. 5 In other words, if death is a rational idea, then we can assume here that Kant is also saying that there must be some such thing as an aesthetic idea of death. But perhaps more importantly, in labeling death a rational idea, Kant also reveals that what is of concern is our imagining about death. Kant writes that the imagination (as a productive faculty of cognition) is a powerful agent for creating, as it were, a second nature out of the material supplied to it by actual nature, and that these: representations of the imagination may be termed ideas. This is because they at least strain after something lying out beyond the confines of experience, and so seek to approximate to a presentation of rational concepts (i.e. intellectual ideas), thus giving to these concepts the semblance of an objective reality. But, on the other hand, there is this most important reason, that no concept can be wholly adequate to them as internal intuitions. 6 This is to say that no representation of the imagination, or aesthetic idea of death, can adequately depict the rational idea of death, probably because death as an aesthetic idea evokes much thought without a concept of death being adequate to it. 7 Nevertheless, an aesthetic idea, serves the above rational idea as a substitute for logical presentation, but with the proper task, however, of animating the mind by opening out for it a prospect into a field of kindred representations stretching beyond its ken. 8 In other words, Kant is clearly indicating a relation between these ideas, but, I would like to point out, there is also a large gap between them. By a gap, what is meant is that it seems as though the aesthetic idea (of death) strives to present the rational idea (of death). Yet, there is a disconnect. An aesthetic idea can be said to 5 Kant, Critique of Judgment, 142/314. Italics added. 6 Ibid., 143/ Ibid., 142/ Ibid., 144/315.
4 4 attempt to present a rational idea, yet, if we pay close attention to how Kant defines rational idea, we see that no intuition (representation of the imagination) can be adequate to the rational idea. 9 I will designate this gap as the epistemic gap, where, in essence, the claim is that there is no empirically certain way to determine whether the aesthetic idea actually does represent the rational idea adequately. The aim here is not to pose the epistemic gap as a problem, and much less to attempt to solve it. 10 Rather, the aim is to point this gap out as a particular characteristic that must be sought in the experience of death, as Kant understands it, in order to properly argue that death can be considered an idea. In order to carry this out, we will turn to the Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View to analyze the notion of death which Kant described there. In 27 of the Anthropology, Kant writes: [t]he complete suspension of sensation is called asphyxia, or apparent death, which as far as we can judge externally, may be distinguished from actual death (as in persons drowned, hanged, or suffocated) by its potential return to life. 11 In other words, a real death can be taken as the complete suspension of sensation when there is no potential for return to life. However, Kant adds: [n]obody can experience his own death (since it requires life in order to experience); he can only observe it in others.the natural fear of death is therefore not a fear of dying, but rather, as Montaigne rightly puts it, a fear of having died (that is of being dead). 12 So, according to Kant, one can experience death as the 9 Kant, Critique of Judgment, 143/ What I call here the epistemic gap has been widely discussed in the literature when dealing with symbolic hypotyposis. For example, Allison writes: But rather than concluding from this [the gap] that ideas cannot be exhibited in any sense, Kant now suggests that they can be indirectly exhibited by means of symbols, with the latter functionally defined as intuitions that exhibit a conceptual content in an indirect fashion by means of an analogy. Kant s Theory of Taste, 255. The work mostly centers on understanding how rational ideas can be indirectly represented according to Kant. See also: Rudolf A. Makkreel, Imagination and Interpretation: Kant, The Hermeneutical Import of the Critique of Judgment, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990). Chapter 6 is of particular interest for this issue. 11 Immanuel Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, trans. Victor Lyle Dowdell, ed. Hans H. Rudnick (Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1978), Ibid., 56.
5 5 apparent cessation of sensation in others, yet, one cannot experience the suspension of one s own sensation. First, it is important to note the extent of the concern Kant shows for biological death: even if there is cellular death in a person lying before me, this fact can give me no certainty with regards to the person s loss of sensation. In other words, at some point I must assume that sensation has ceased in the other in order to claim that that person is dead. The fact seems to be, for Kant, that there can be no certain knowledge of death. All that can be said with certainty about it is that one can judge another to be dead when one can safely assume that the body will show no more signs of being capable of sensation. This means, then, that life, or showing signs of life, would be determined through the capacity for sensation and the expressing of this capacity for sensation. This is as close as Kant gets to defining the experience of death, which interestingly does not include the experience of one s own death. However, even though Kant clearly states that, [n]obody can experience his own death, he does acknowledge the possibility the imagining being dead. This thought of being dead, Kant writes: is a thought the victim of death expects to entertain after dying, because he thinks of his corpse as himself, though it no longer is. This Kant calls a deception which cannot be removed because it is inherent in the nature of thinking as a way of speaking to oneself and of oneself. The thought, I am not, cannot exist at all; because if I am not, then it cannot occur to me that I am not. [T]o negate the subject itself when speaking in the first person (thereby destroying itself) is a contradiction. 13 There is something peculiar about this claim that imagining one s self as being dead is an unavoidable deception. This claim seems in need of some explaining. In order to do so, some backtracking is required to 24 of the Anthropology. In this section Kant is in the middle of a 13 Kant, Anthropology, 56.
6 6 classification of the five senses into external and inner senses (taste and smell belonging to the former; touch, hearing and sight to the latter). 14 He writes: The inner sense is not pure apperception, a consciousness of what man does, since that belongs to the faculty of thinking. The inner sense is rather a consciousness of what man experiences, as far as he is affected by his own play of thought. It is subject to inner perception and consequently based on the relation between ideas within time (whether they are simultaneous or successive).the perceptions of the inner sense and the inner experience (veridical or apparent) resulting from the combination of the perceptions cannot be considered as merely anthropological. Rather, the perceptions of the inner sense are psychological, whereby we believe that we perceive such a sense within ourselves. The mind, which is represented as a mere faculty of feeling and thinking, is regarded as a substance especially resident in man. There is but one inner sense then, because we do not have various organs of inner sensation, and because we might say that the soul is the organ of the inner sense of which it is said that it is subject to delusions which consist in one s taking internal phenomena either for external phenomena, that is, taking imagination for sensation, or even for inspiration prompted by another Being, which is not an object of external sense. 15 Kant is drawing an important distinction between being affected by physical things or by the mind. 16 The death of another can perhaps be considered an external phenomenon, but it would be a deception to take one s own death, i.e. one s being dead, as an experience in the same sense as the death of another, i.e. as an external phenomena. Rather, I will suggest, that one s own death should be considered an inner perception or internal phenomenon, which Kant, interestingly, equates to imagination. Kant describes the functioning of the imagination in 27 of the Anthropology as: a faculty of perception without the presence of the object, [imagination] is either productive, that is, a faculty of the original representation of the object (exhibitio originaria), which consequently precedes experience, or it is reproductive, that is, a faculty of derived representation (exhibitio 14 Kant, Anthropology, 54. The explanation of death is included in the section discussing the loss of the faculty of the senses. 15 Ibid., 49. Italics added. He continues: Illusion is then fanaticism or visionariness, and both are deceptions of the inner sense. In both instances there is mental illness, which lies in the inclination to accept the play of ideas of the inner sense as empirical knowledge, although it is only fiction, or to deceive ourselves by intuitions which are formed in accordance with such fictions (day dreaming). 16 Ibid., 40.
7 7 derivitiva), which recalls to mind a previous empirical perception. Imagination is, in other words, either poetical (productive), or merely recollective (reproductive). The productive faculty, however, is nevertheless not creative, because it does not have the power to produce a sense impression which has never before occurred to our senses. One can always identify the material which gave rise to that impression. 17 Our imaginings about death, then, could potentially be of two types: productive or derived. While there is the experience of the death of others, which can perhaps be argued to bring about derived imaginations, this experience is not the same as the experience of the death of one s self. Much less is it the same as experiencing the end of the inner sense, so that imagining one s own death cannot be a recollection. 18 It is being argued here, in other words, that one s own death is precisely a productive/poetical representation of the imagination, which is given rise through the experience of the death of the other. Even though there is no direct experience of one s own death, the imagination can represent one s own death because it can produce the sensation from experience of the cessation of sensation in others. To recap, according to Kant, as a human being one can experience the bodily death of another and death in another is confirmed by postulating that that body will not be capable of sensing any longer. From the Anthropology, it was seen that Kant distinguishes between inner perceptions, or internal phenomena, and external phenomena. Finally, it was seen that the idea of one s own death is dependent on the imagination (as a productive/poetical faculty), i.e., the idea of one s own death is an internal phenomenon. However, there is a problem here: Kant admits that one cannot imagine one s own demise, while at the same time holding that humans are doomed to imagine being dead! To make sense of this, it is useful to refer back to what was quoted above, namely, that the inner sense can imagine being. What it cannot do is imagine not being. So that the experience of another s bodily 17 Kant, Anthropology, I will return to this point further below.
8 8 death can lead to imagining one s own bodily death, but this internal phenomena, according to Kant, would be of being beyond bodily being. Yet, one would be deceived if one were to posit what one imagines as what actually occurs externally. That is to say, it would be a mistake to take as an empirical fact whatever one s imagination may conjure with regards to death. There is no sensation of a suspension of sensation, and thus there are no empirical grounds from which to claim any knowledge about the potential end of the soul, or of inner perception. 19 Nevertheless, while one cannot experience this cessation, or end, of the self, yet one can attempt to imagine it. But from what has been claimed about the imagination as the productive/poetical faculty, these imaginings, as far as one can know, give no certainty about one s own death because they are based on an entirely different experience, i.e. the death of another. In other words, what is being described here is precisely the epistemic gap that was described above regarding aesthetic and rational ideas. It has been argued here that death, as Kant understands it, must be considered a rational idea. From what has been described, death can 19 In one of the remarks in the Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, Kant writes: One reason why the representations of death do not have the effect that they could is that, as industrious beings, by nature we should not think about it at all. Immanuel Kant, Remarks in the Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, in Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime and Other Writings, ed. Patrick Frierson and Paul Guyer (New York: Cambridge UP, 2011), 69. This remark is found on the title page of Kant s Observations. What I wish to extract from it is Kant s idea that thinking of death could have some effect upon us, despite the natural inclination to not think about death at all. A later remark is perhaps a little more telling: [t]hat the anticipation of death is not natural is to be seen from the fact that the consideration of death accomplishes nothing at all against the inclination to make preparations as if one were to live long, and the human being makes arrangements at the end of his life as seriously as if he would not [die] at all. From this, vanity and the thirst for glory after death may originate because the natural human being flees shame and knows nothing of death. Hence, the natural drive extends beyond death, which surpasses it. Ibid., 148. Despite the human ability to contemplate death, Kant is here complaining about the observation that the contemplation seems to change nothing. The fact that one knows nothing of death apparently lends itself more to searching for glory after death (I assume that here Kant is talking of bodily death). Still it is a bit unclear what Kant s intention is. One last remark may perhaps enlighten: I find this mistake [to be] almost universal: that one does not ponder the shortness of human life enough. It is surely perverse to have it in mind in order to despise human life and in order to look only towards the future one. But [one should have it in mind] so that one may live right at his position and not postpone it [life] too far through a foolish fantasy about the plan of our actions. The consideration of the nearness of death is agreeable in itself and a corrective for bringing human beings towards simplicity and for helping them towards the sensitive peace of the soul, which begins as soon as the blind ardor, with which one previously chased after the imagined objects of one s wishes, ceases. Ibid., 196. In short, the main point of quoting these remarks is to illustrate the importance Kant finds in the contemplation of death, despite epistemic limitations and any propensity to avoid thinking of it.
9 9 be experienced, to some extent, as the death of another. But even this experience is somewhat questionable because one ultimately must assume that the other is no longer capable of sensation. Moreover, the idea of one s own death, in particular, is, for Kant, a representation of the imagination as productive/poetical faculty. In other words, one can never really know that the imaginations conjured regarding death really live up to death as the cessation of sensation, for there is no experience of this phenomenon. So it can be claimed that the representations of death that can be imagined serve the above rational idea [death] as a substitute for logical presentation, but with the proper task, however, of animating the mind by opening out for it a prospect into a field of kindred representations stretching beyond its ken. 20 Thus, there is an epistemic gap between the representations the imagination produces and what the actual cessation of suspension may be. To conclude, the main goal was to argue that Kant was justified in claiming death to be a rational idea in the Critique of Judgment. Kant s understanding of death was shown to fit the description he supplied in the Third Critique of rational and aesthetic ideas. In particular, it was demonstrated that the characteristic epistemic gap of the relation between aesthetic and rational ideas was also present in the relation between the idea of death as the cessation of sensation and the imaginings that can be produced to attempt to depict what this experience may potentially be like. Ultimately, while much can still be said of this relation, the hope is that this paper can aid in opening new discussion about the relation between aesthetic and rational ideas while paying proper attention to the importance of Kant s Anthropology Kant, Critique of Judgment, 144/ A paper that attempts to delineate a the shifts in Kant s anthropology lectures with regard to Kant s evolving thought on aesthetics and teleology is Paul Guyer s Beauty, Freedom, and Morality: Kant s Lectures on Anthropology and the Development of His Aesthetic Theory, in Essays on Kant s Anthropology, ed. Brian Jacobs and Patrick Kain, (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003), pp
10 10 Works Cited Allison, Henry. Kant s Theory of Taste: A Reading of the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment. Cambridge. Cambridge UP Kant, Immanuel. Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. Translated by Victor Lyle Dowdell. Edited by Hans H. Rudnick. Carbondale. Southern Illinois UP Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgment. Translated by James Creed Meredith. Edited by Nicholas Walker. New York. Oxford UP Kant, Immanuel. Remarks in the Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, in Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime and Other Writings. Edited by Patrick Frierson and Paul Guyer. New York. Cambridge UP. 2011,