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Imagination in Kant's Critique of Practical Reason (review)
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Reviewed by
Bernard Freydberg. Imagination in Kant's Critique of Practical Reason. Bloomington-Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2005. Pp. xiii + 180. Paper, $19.95.

At the heart of the task of the historian of philosophy is the effort to interpret well what has been said by another philosopher. Like the poet who chooses to create verse under the constraints of meter and rhyme, the historian does philosophy under the constraints of the historical text. Given these constraints, any historian of philosophy—continental or analytic—must bind herself to the text. The significant distinction one might find, though, is one of content: an analytically-informed historian might be concerned with questions in logic (as Russell was when he read Leibniz), but a continentally-informed historian might be inspired by questions of embodiment, as suggested by Merleau-Ponty, or, as in the present book, by questions about the imagination, as suggested by Heidegger.

But the continentally-informed historian might also distinguish herself on grounds of style. She might take the historical text as a starting point for a literary or philosophical flourish of her own, "playing" with it, instead of interpreting it in the stricter sense. Such playful flirtation is certainly philosophical, though it is harder to defend as genuinely historical. The original text is easily lost sight of amidst such play.

Bernard Freydberg's book brings a continental inspiration, as well as a continental flourish, to the interpretation of Kant's Critique of Practical Reason, arguing that there is a Heideggerian-cum-Sallisian focus on the centrality of the imagination even in Kant's practical philosophy (13–14, 19). But Freydberg does not want to write just for a continental audience. He asserts that the purpose of his book "is to facilitate exchange across the current philosophical divide" (18 n. 3), assuring more analytically-informed readers that there will be "rigor" in his textual analyses. [End Page 335]

But Freydberg does not succeed in reaching across this purported divide. That is because his playful style moves the book beyond anything that could be identified as historical interpretation. This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course; it is just to say that the book does not do much to advance our understanding of Kant.

It is not that Freydberg fails to appeal to Kant's text. The loss of historicity occurs later in the book, when he provides his interpretations. For example, he argues that "the reality of freedom, together with the apodictic law that proves this reality, belongs to the play of images" (35), coming to this conclusion through imaginative reveries on what Kant meant when he describes the moral law in the Critique of Practical Reason as "the unique fact of pure reason" (Ak. 5:31). Freydberg's argument here seems to be that, since facts are "neither intelligible nor sensible," they must be imaginative, so the fact of reason is an image. But there is an interpretive leap here from fact to imagination that wants argument. Why is not the fact of pure reason intelligible—or sensible, for that matter—given Kant's later emphasis on the role of the moral feeling of respect in becoming aware of the constraint of the moral law upon us? But even supposing that this fact is neither intelligible nor sensible, why conclude that it is purely imaginative?

Later, Freydberg says that, because the "apodicticity" of this law cannot be either concept or intuition, it, too, "is another image dwelling at the heart of pure practical reason" (35). This is taken to be obvious, based on the following passage near the very end of the Groundwork:

We do not indeed conceive the practical unconditional necessity of the moral law, but we conceive its inconceivability, which is all that can be reasonably demanded of a philosophy that in its principles strives to reach the limits of human reason.

(Ak. 4:463)

I am mystified how one gets from this text to the conclusion that the apodicticity of the moral law "cannot be a concept, and it cannot be an intuition" (35). Again, no argument is offered. Can we really be convinced, then, as Freydberg seems to be, that freedom, for...