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Jesse Kai.in THE INTENT OF ROMANTICISM: KANT, WORDSWORTH, AND TWO FILMS Great Kant, As a believer calls to his God, I call upon you for help, for solace, or for counsel to prepare me for death. The reasons you gave in your books were sufficient to convince me of a future existence — that is why I have recourse to you — only I found nothing at all for this life, nothing that could replace the good I have lost. . . . my heart splits into a thousand pieces. If I hadn't read so much of your work I would certainly have taken my own life by now. But the conclusion I had to draw from your theory stops me — it is wrong for me to die because my life is tormented, and I am instead supposed to live because of my being. Now put yourself in my place and either damn me or give me solace. Maria von Herbert, August, 1791 ' This ESSAY is an attempt to describe a kind of thoughtfulness that has its origins in the beginnings of the Romantic movement and is of ethical relevance today. I will first locate the moral problematic that this thoughtfulness responds to as it arises within the framework established by Kant's moral philosophy. It is that of despair in the face of life and, while this is a problematic Kant himself would consider invalid, the solution it calls for, were he to try to provide it, involves the kind of thinking he considers in the Critique of Judgement, though not in quite the way he understands it. I will then suggest that the Wordsworth of the 1802 "Preface" can be taken as sketching out the sort of response to this problematic that Kant himself refuses to give or even recognize as philosophically needed. This will be a kind of artwork which is at the same time a certain process of thinking. The intent of Romanticism referred to in my title is thus both the concern to resolve this Kantian problem and the goal of achieving this Wordsworthian artwork. What I shall finally propose is that this kind of artwork is ofcurrent interest to moral philosophy and will 121 122Philosophy and Literature elaborate this claim through the discussion of two recent instances, both films — Margarethe von Trotta's The SecondAwakening ofChrista Klages and J.J. Murphy's Print Generation. I Kant sets a complicated and multifaceted background for both Romanticism and modern moral philosophy. His positions are complex and even convoluted and some of his most important ideas are both obscure and presented only obliquely. The problem ofdespair which comes to be at the heart of Romanticism develops out of the two Kantian themes of thoughtful autonomy (enlightenment) and the purposive unity of man and the world. Kant argues that practical reason must affirm these ideas as the Postulates of Freedom and God. In taking this position, however, Kant is implicitly committed to the existence of things good in themselves other than, and finally coordinate to, the Good Will, though he gives no direct account of such goods. Despair in the face of life is grounded in the inability or failure to appreciate these goods, and while Kant provides hints, he is never able to recognize or articulate a means of evidential access to them. Both the need of such goods and the appropriation of them remain submerged and latent themes in his writings. Let us begin with the question ofGod and the wholeness of all things. It would be a disaster, Kant says, if we could not, no matter how hard we tried, accomplish the purpose set for us by the Moral Law which is happiness in accord with virtue. It would be intolerable if the virtuous were always to be unhappy, or the vicious always to have their peace. However, since happiness is only marginally in our control, we need to postulate both immortality of the soul and existence of God as moral author of the world to assure that this purpose, or the summum bonum, can be achieved. What we cannot do, God will. This is the so-called moral argument for the existence of God and its outcome...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 121-138
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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