The Role of Arational Factors in Interpretive History: the Case of Kant and ESP

  • Graham Solomon
Part of the The Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science book series (WONS, volume 65)


The Challenge of the Strong Programme. The strong programme in sociology of knowledge is a programme; it is a format for research and a philosophical manifesto. If it did not provide a reasoned context for doing research it would be of no great interest to sociologists; if it professed no epistemology it would be of little interest to philosophers. Philosophers of science (in growing numbers, it seems) fmd a challenge in the tenets of the strong programme. That challenge has largely to do with the fact that the strong programme offers an alternative epistemology in the name of scientifiic sociology, and many philosophers fimd it an alternative sadly lacking in philosophical justifiication.


Basic Belief Pure Reason Logical Possibility Strong Programme Spirit World 
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  1. 2.
    The material in this essay dealing with Kant and spiritualism is more fully discussed in Chapter III of my book, Kant and the Double Government Methodology: Supersensibility and Method in Kant ’s Philosophy of Science (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1984).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    In Historical and Philosophical Perspectives of Science, ed. Roger Stuewer, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy ofScience, V(Minneapolis 1970). A quite different, but promising approach to these problems is to be found in James Brown’s doctoral dissertation, Models ofRationality and the History of Science (University of Western Ontario 1981).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Maybe what I am here calling meta-reasons are Gutting’s “basic beliefs. ” I’m not sure about this. I do think there are such creatures as basic beliefs, and that these can be described following identification. If all that the strong programme advocate needs is the assimilation of basic beliefs into my kind of Type I meta-reason explanation, then that programme begins to me to look quite innocuous, because then the scientific questionableness of Type II explanations need never arise, and the absence in sociology of knowledge of any established law-candidate generalizations need cause no embarrassment. I am not suggesting that what I am calling meta-reasons cannot themselves be argued for. Often they are revealed as suppressed premises in the explanation, but are themselves conclusions of independent reasoning.Google Scholar
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    Progress and Its Problems (Berkeley & London 1977), p. 208. I am afraid that Laudan will not be completely satisfied with what I am up to: showing that the arational functions in rational explanations.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    The exception is the very full and competent study by C. D. Broad, “Immanuel Kant and Psychical Research,” Religion, Philosophy and Psychical Research (New York 1953), pp. 116–155. I will rely heavily on Broad’s clear analysis of the case, but will have to update the information he had available to him.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    In a postscript to his essay Broad adds to the literature, introducing reference to Kant’s Lectures on Rational Psychology, in which Kant mentions Swedenborg with approval. The date of the letter to Miss von Knobloch is disputed; I think Broad’s dating of 1763 is likely correct.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    That Kant made regular reference to Swedenborg in lectures on metaphysics is now amply evidenced by published transcripts of notes of Kant’s students. See Metaphysik L1, Kant’s Schriften, 28.1, pp. 298–99; MetaphysikL2, Schriften, 28.2.1, p. 593; MetaphysikHerder, Schriften 28.1, pp.113–14 (compare Nachtrage Herder, Schriften, 28.1, pp. 857–88); Fragment einer späteren Rationaltheologie nach Baumbach, Schriften, 28.2.2, pp. 1324–25. Additional references are in Strife of the Faculties, Ak. Ed., Vol. 7, p. 46; and in Anthropology, Ak. Ed., Vol. 7, p. 191. See also Reflexionen 1486 and 5026, the latter containing this fascinating claim: “That on which the plausibility of a metaphysical hypothesis (Swedenborg) rests. On a putative intellectual intuition on analogy with the sensible one ”. Can it be that Swedenborg is the source of a doctrine (there is intellectual intuition) that Kant will finally put aside decisively in Critique of Pure Reason? Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    February 7, 1766, and April 8, 1766. The earlier letter is not extant, but is quoted in Kants Werke, ed. Rosenkranz u. Schubert, XI, I (1842). The second letter is translated in Arnulf Zweig, Kant, Philosophical Correspondence 1759–99 (Chicago 1967), pp. 54–57.Google Scholar
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    Kant had purchased, for £7 sterling, the eight large quarto volume set of Swedenborg’s Arcana Coelestia, a work subjecting every word in the Biblical books of Genesis and Exodus to a symbolical interpretation. Broad says “It may fairly be described as one of the most boring and absurd productions of any human pen. ” Kant read the volumes. It is tempting to think that he took the Schwärmerei to have been generated by this kind of reading! Twenty-four years after writing the Träume Kant was still worrying about spiritualist ecstacies.Google Scholar
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    It is a long letter, running to nearly 2,000 words. Ludwig Ernst Borowski reprinted the German original of the letter in his Darstellung des Lebens und Charakters Immanuel Kants (Konigsberg 1804), pp. 211–25.Google Scholar
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    Not everything Kant says in the letter is reserved. He says of the incident of the Stockholm fiire, The ... occurrence appears to me to have the greatest weight of proof, and to place the assertion respecting Swedenborg’s extraordinary gift beyond all possibility of doubt.Google Scholar
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    I amreferring to the neglected third part of this celebrated treatise, Enthalt eine Vergleichung zwischen den Einwohnern der Gestirne, where Kant’s thinking extends beyond the mechanistic framework of the rest of his book. He claims for these speculations only that they are not arbitrary, though he also adds that the claims are “not quite indubitable. ” The publisher of this book declared bankruptcy, and nearly all copies were impounded until 1765 or 1766. There is very little evidence that Kant’s close contemporaries knew much about his important astronomical speculations.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    It is an historical curiosity that Swedenborg himself had introduced a form of the nebular hypothesis 21 years prior to the appearance of Kant’s Allgemeine Naturgeschichte, in the Principia of his three volume Opera Philosophica et Mineralia (1734). Beginning in July, 1736, Swedenborg travelled extensively in Europe. In the notes on his journeys, he records that sometime in 1736 he began the study of Wolffs philosophy, had made his acquaintance, and corresponded with him from time to time. I am not a close student of the Swedish magus, and so I do not know how deeply Swedenborg was influenced by Leibniz, if he was at all. The Principia gained for him a European reputation. There is no evidence that Kant had read the work. Kant is not always faithful in naming sources, but in the case of the Allgemeine Naturgeschichte he is careful to say than an account in the Hamburg publication, Freie Urteile (1751), of the work of Mr. Wright of Durham, had suggested that the fixed stars form a system resembling that of the planets. [The Hamburg account appears in translation in full in Kant ’s Cosmogony, trans. W. Hastie; revised and edited, Willy Ley (New York 1968), pp. 166–79.] I think it fair to assumew that if Kant had known Swedenborg’s work he would have credtied it. Finally, it was not Swedenborg’s natural philosophy, but his commitment to the paranormal — which he took to be quite normal — that became well-known in northern Europe.Google Scholar
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    I supply some ofthe details ofthis summary of Leibniz’ empirical methodology in “Leibniz on the Side of the Angels, ” Chapter II of my Kant and the Double Government Methodology. Google Scholar
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    A translation of the relevant section is by Paul and Anne Schrecker, Monadology and other Philosophical Essays (Bobbs-Merrill 1965), pp. 78–80.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    Kant is in a strong sense the philosopher of mnethod. I would be prepared to argue that the vital nerve of his lifelong ambition is the quest for a rational accommodation of both Cartesian science and Christian longing for a better life by means of a defensible reformulation of DGM. What I have written about Kant’s methodology is summed up in “Kant and the Problem of Scientific Methodology, ” Proceedings ofthe Ottawa Congress on Kant, ed. Pierre Laberge, Francois Duchesneau, Bryan Morrisey (Ottawa 1976), pp. 222–33. The papers on Kant’s teachings on hypotheses cited in the Ottawa paper deal with Kant’s attempt methodologically to eliminate a science of the supersensible: “Hypothesis and Explanation in Kant’s Philosophy of Science, ” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, 43 2 (1961); “Kant on Hypotheses in the ‘Doctrine of Method’ and the Logik, ” Archive für Geschichte der Philosophie, 44 2 (1962). These papers are now supplemented and improved by the full treatment of methodology in my Kant and the Double Government Methodology. Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    Broad’s analytic account of the theoretical parts of the Träume is extensive and quite excellent; I cannot improve upon it here.Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    The terms ‘subreption’ and ‘surreption’ have a common root, and both have the sense of false, sneaky, deceitful. All of this is likewise true of Kant’s German term, “erschleichen ”. An interesting early meaning of ‘surreption’ has to do with a sin or a temptation secretly stealing unbidden and unexpected into one’s mind. our words also share a common root (meaning ‘to creep’) with ‘reptile’ and ‘serpent’. One should bear in mind in all of this that the Critique of Pure Reason abounds with discussion of what happens when we seek to extend cognition beyond the limits of experience, when, so to speak, idle and inutile thoughts ‘creep in’. I think it likely that Kant took this quasi-religious sense of bad epistemology quite seriously. To mark and dispel surreptitious cognition became for him, as we shall see, a kind of mnethodological crusade.Google Scholar
  19. 20.
    I have mentioned Kant’s later interest in the Schwärmerei, the irrational enthusiasm for things paranormal that seems to sweep through northern Europe in the second half of the 18th century. Hamann, Kant’s sometime friend and proofreader for the 1 st Critique, writes in a letter to Kriegsrath Scheffner that he regards Swedenborg’s spiritual paroxysms as a form of “transcendental epilepsy ” producing critical frothing (Nov. 10, 1784) There seems to have been a readiness on the part of many to regard the Schwärmerei as a form of mnental illness. For Kant the Schwärmerei is a corrupt mental state in at least three senses: it is a sickness, a distorted form of cognition, and an inappropriate ethical and religious enthusiasm. Hamann adds in his letter that the entire theory of evidence of the church is derived from this transcendental epilepsy. He concludes, “Unfortunately dreams and sicknesses are the best data of the energy of our souls. ” We will see below that this problem of data is for Kant a central concern, a concern fully expressed in an important letter to Moses Mendelssohn.Google Scholar
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    Broad (1953), p. 127.Google Scholar
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    The letter is translated in Arnulf Zweig (1967), pp. 54–7.Google Scholar
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    See the references to my studies of Kant on hypothetical reasoning cited in footnote 17 above.Google Scholar
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    My references to Kant’s On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World are to the translation of G. B. Kerford and D. E. Walford, Kant, Selected Pre-critical Writings (New York 1968).Google Scholar
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    I am not proposing a sociological reason for Kant’s philosophical style in this work, apart from the explanatorily neutral observation that when engaged in a ceremony one usually follows the rules, or else is not taken to be engaged in that ceremony.Google Scholar
  25. 26.
    It is important to translate Kant’s Latin “transeunt ” with the same English word, and not to use “transient ”. The Insel-Verlag German translation gives “übergehende ”, which is literal and helpful. The OED provides justification for my suggestion, pointing out that “transeunt ” has the force of the opposite of “immanent ”. The transeunt forces operate beyond themselves, causing the influxes. Kant’s point is exactly that such transcendent or transeunt forces can only be posited to account for that which is spatio-temporally ordered. The “actual influxes ” are thus sensuously ascertained terminations of the work of transeunt forces, and the “possible influxes ” will later become Kant’s “objects of possible experience ”. Although he is careful to limit positing of these forces within space/time formed world II — thus eliminating the specious postulation of objects of intellectual intuition and an inhabited spirit world — Kant does not remove the suspicion that he is countenancing the existence of objects that are causally efficacious within experience, and yet which actually transcend experience, until the 1787 2nd edition version of the Critique ofPure Reason. Nevertheless, Kant held throughout his career that the only forces we can know are forces given empirically (in LivingForces they are known by their effects); see, for example, A207/B252 in the 1 st Critique. Kant’s treatment of worlds in the Dissertation is part of his attempt in the 1760s to bring forces within the limits of sense experience, and under the constraints of the epistemic grammar of space and time.Google Scholar
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    The translation is that of Norman Kemp Smith (London 1950), pp. 637–38.Google Scholar
  27. 28.
    I think I have sufficiently dealt with the question of anonymity above. If there is a residue to be explained, then this is a place for addition of sociological considerations; but such considerations will have no bearing on Kant’s beliefs regarding the paranormal. Some relevant features of this adjusted accpunt are the following. In his letter to Mendelssohn of April 8,1766, Kant says that he wrote Träume to prevent people from pestering him with questions about his “prying inquiry into Swedenborg’s ‘visions ”’. I take this to be the occasion for writing the book, not the reason. I have shown that quite a few of Kant’s contemporaries knew that he had authored the book. It is one thing to accept authorship of a work dealing with matters of current debate; it is quite another to want one’s name fixed in perpetuity to a hastily written book, one with themes not fully developed, one written in an unscholarly style, one in which one’s later best arguments are not put forward. These matters receive further treatment in my Kant and the Double Government Methodology. Google Scholar
  28. 29.
    Kant’s rejection of the knowability of spirits, his deliberate failure to distinguish pathological maladjustment from paranormal experience, and his rejection of any rational psychological solution to the problems of soul/body connection, all pave the way for new departures in both psychology and physiology, not to speak of the liberating effects of his thought on ethical theory and philosophy of religion. Swedenborg’s spiritualism generated a church.Google Scholar
  29. 30.
    James Brown, in the doctoral dissertation cited earlier, seeks to show that such meta-reasons can be rendered as reasons. I am not sure that he is right, but that is a matter for another paper.Google Scholar
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    I am aware that the case study I have offered leaves some conceptual considerations unresolved. Gutting speaks of “basic beliefs ”, Bloor and Barnes of “interests ”, and I have introduced “utilities ”, “meta-reasons ” and “arational factors ”. My terms are closer in meaning to Gutting’s basic beliefs (if I understand him correctly). The interests of the strong programme operaye outside cases of scientific reasoning and condition that reasoning as “social forces ” condition economic developments and social changes. What I have wanted to show is that meta-reasons or utilities operate within scientific reasoning, and furnish one more mark of the value-ladenness of that reasoning. In the context of attempting to understand internal scientific rationality I am inclined to treat social forces as Kant treated spiritual forces: they lack local presence; they are not transeunt.Google Scholar
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    “Scientific Progress: the Laudan Manifesto ”, Philosophy ofthe Social Sciences 9 (1979); and “Methodology and the Functional Identity of Science and Philosophy ”, Probabilistic Thinking, Thermodynamics, and the Interaction ofthe History and Philosophy ofScience; Proceedings ofthe 1978 Pisa Conference on the History and Philosophy of Science, Vol. II, ed. J. Hintikka, D. Gruender and E. Agazzi (Dordrecht 1981).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Graham Solomon
    • 1
  1. 1.Wilfrid Laurier UniversityWaterlooCanada

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