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  • The Function of Kant’s Miltonic Citations on a Page of the Opus postumum

Kant repeatedly reflected on particular verses of Milton’s Paradise Lost (8.140–52) as a way of locating the role of aesthetic activity in transcendental philosophy’s grasp of a whole of experience. The intent of his last citations of these verses, in the Opus postumum, at first seems highly obscure. (In my Kant and Milton I ignored them completely, as have all other commentators.) I here demonstrate that, in fact, these late deployments of Milton’s verses represent a continuous development from Kant’s earlier citations of them, and that their interaction with his argumentation points concretely toward new dimensions of his aesthetic thought.

On one manuscript page of the Opus postumum Kant twice recurs to a passage from Paradise Lost that, seven years earlier, he had cited to exemplify aesthetic ideas and the concept of succession (Nachfolge).1 Now he calls on these same verses to perform an additional function, namely, to represent the a priori idea of a community of reciprocity. For Kant, the “insertion” of this idea serves as an “actus of cognition” that can enable experience of the “subjectively actual” (21:99, Op 255; 21:581, Op 90).2

In the cited passage from Paradise Lost, Raphael instructs Adam about the “reciprocal … Male and Female Light” of the “two great Sexes” that “animate the World” (8.140–52). On the Opus postumum page, Kant names Milton both times and uses the citations as markers of the beginning and ending of the manuscript text that he has shaped with large-scale deletions. Kant here links the two citations by ending the [End Page 76] second citation with a word repeated from the first. The significance of this boundary marking and closure of a single page is illuminated by what Vittorio Mathieu has called Kant’s “cellular” method of composition in the Opus postumum. In Mathieu’s words,

Kant’s … text never (with a single exception) extends beyond the borders of the individual sheet [Bogen], indeed almost never beyond the border of the individual page [Seite]. … In this way the pages conjointly become pictures of a line of thought. The individual sheet always—frequently also the individual page—has the task of recording a fully enclosed line of thought, and thus maintains a synoptic function. … As a cell in an organism always represents the entire body, every sheet (or page) of the [Opus postumum] represents, as it were, the entire line of thought, and each under a special aspect. … Consequently every page becomes a mirror of the whole work.3

Both Mathieu and Gerhard Lehmann point out that on each of these manuscript pages there is no difference in the status of what Kant wrote in the center or in the margins: “Thoughts that are of great moment for the development of the problem itself are often found only in the side text.”4 Although there has been considerable controversy about the overall quality of the Opus postumum, there is little doubt that, at the very least, portions of the work are of great philosophical interest. This is most obviously true of pages in which Kant has painstakingly demarcated an integrated reflection and created a “cellular” density that has implications for the manuscript as a whole.

In the page of the Opus postumum where he cites Milton—dated by the Akademie editors to approximately 1799—Kant has indeed shaped a single-cell picture of a fully enclosed line of thought. In the manuscript we observe Kant in the act of shaping his page by eliminating repetitious or extraneous matter, that is, in the folio sheets numbered 39 and 40 in the fifth fascicle of his manuscript (21:566–71). The bottom left corner of sheet 38 contains the freestanding bridge note and rubric: “Von der Gemeinschaft aller Weltkörper” (Of the community of all celestial bodies). Kant has inserted his Milton citations at the top right of the verso (39) and the bottom left of the recto (40). I will refer to the resulting manuscript page as Seite 40’.5 The facsimile of Kant’s manuscript pages clearly shows his very considerable deletions, making one page:6 Here, in excerpt form, is a translation of Seite 40’: [End Page 77]

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Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz (SBB-PK), Ms. germ. fol. 1702, Conv. V, S. 39 [40]

Wherefore always through the combination of two [sexes] Milton’s male [and female] light. …

[In] an organic body … each of its parts, within a whole, is there for the sake of the other. …

An organic body is that, in which the idea of the whole precedes the possibility of its parts, with respect to its unified forces. … A single, thus immaterial being must be assumed as the mover distinct from them. …

The title “organized body” belongs in the classification of concepts which is inescapable in the transition from the metaphysical foundations of natural science to physics. …

The totality of the species … together, as members of a chain, form a circle (man not excepted). … They require each other for their existence [i.e., “in reciprocal relation” (21:17)], not merely in respect of their nominal character (similarity), but their real character (causality)—which points in the direction of a world organization (to unknown ends) of the galaxy itself. … [End Page 78]

The idea of caloric [i.e., light-ether], which is … no merely hypothetical thing … alone makes all bodies … experienceable. …

Of organic creatures that altogether can only preserve their species through two sexes. Wherefore [recurring to “Wherefore always through the combination of two (sexes) Milton’s male (and female) light”] Whether this is the case in the entirety of the celestial bodies. Milton

To begin to understand the role of Kant’s citations of Milton’s verses from Paradise Lost 8.140–52 on this page it is necessary to rehearse briefly the range of their occurrence in his writings. For the moment I leave aside the likelihood that Kant had already levied upon these verses in the Third Analogy of Experience of the first Critique.

As mentioned above, in 1792, in his Elsner anthropology lectures, Kant cited these verses to exemplify aesthetic ideas and the workings of succession (Nachfolge). Brief as it is, this exemplification is the most substantive illustration of aesthetic ideas and succession that Kant ever offered, exceeding in its precision, extent, and integration the examples he had given two years before in the Analytic of the Sublime in the third Critique, namely, “Jupiter’s eagle, with the lightning in its claws,” the doggerel of “the great king” (Friedrich II), the lone verse of a “certain” minor poet (Philipp Lorenz Withof), or the inexpressible “holy awe” of sublimity in the inscription on the Temple of Isis (5:315–16 and n.). Clearly, Kant now wished to provide an exemplum that could actually do the job. Here is his Elsner text:

Aesthetic ideas are those representations that contain a wealth of thoughts which ad infinitum draw after it a succession of thoughts. Such ideas draw us into an immeasurable prospect, e.g., Milton’s saying, “Female light mixes itself with male light, to unknown ends.” Through this soulful idea the mind is set into a continuous motion.

(AA, 25.2:1561)7

This example begins to be adequate to a significant part of the complex of concepts that Kant wove about the sublime, aesthetic ideas, and succession in the second and third Critiques. We can begin to summarize that complex as follows:8

i. Aesthetic ideas, in their superabundance (CJ, 5:314–15), are disclosed when the mind empirically follows—in succession (Nachfolge)—an effectively endless progression of representations (CJ, 5:318) that is “evoked by a particular representation” (CJ, 5:250). [End Page 79]

ii. Each representation in the progression ad infinitum that admits of such succession (as opposed to mere imitation, Nachahmung) must represent “its own inadequacy” to represent (CJ, 5:252–53).

iii. In following a progression of examples of this kind one experiences the condition of the sublime in which all examples in the progression are replaced by an exemplarity or archetype of those examples (CJ, 5:309, 315, 318, 326).

The centrality of succession and aesthetic ideas in Kant’s aesthetics and moral philosophy is deeper and broader than the foregoing. There is a good deal of disagreement among commentators about how, precisely, to draw the connections among Kant’s multiplex concepts in the Analytic of the Sublime. Yet something like the following additional propositions underlie Kant’s valuation of aesthetic ideas and succession, not only in the Critique of Judgment but in the Critique of Practical Reason as well:

iv. In experiencing the mathematical sublime, the mind encounters “the impossibility of [grasping] the absolute totality of an endless progression.” As a result of that experience of exceeded capacity, the mind suffers a “momentary check to the vital forces,” which Kant understands to be, or to make possible, the sublime condition of freedom (CJ, 5:255).9

v. The procedure of empirical succession discloses (eröffnet) a correspondent, formally similar, but a priori and autonomous procedure of succession that also issues in experience of the sublime and its products; namely, the aesthetic idea as well as freedom and moral feeling (CJ, 5:313, 318). (In the case of Milton’s verses and, I believe, in Kant’s citation of them as well, the disclosed aesthetic idea and moral feeling both center in Milton’s term “reciprocal.”) This disclosure is closely related, perhaps identical, to what Kant in the second Critique calls both the “succession” (Nachfolge) and “the grand disclosure” (die herrliche Eröffnung) of “the sublimity of our own supersensible existence” (5:94, 88).

vi. Parallel to this correspondence of the empirical and autonomous successions, a transfer (Übertragung) and disclosure (Eröffnung) take place, in the sublime (CJ, 5:266–67, 352–53; CPrR, 5:94, 161), from the sensible (and the example, the individual) to the supersensible (and the exemplarity that is an a priori idea). In these procedures of aesthetic ideas and succession, Kant says, reason “transfers” (hineinträgt) (a) that which “can … be … exhibited by actions in the sensible world in accordance with the formal rule of a law of nature” into (b) the realm of the “supersensible” or the a priori idea (CPrR, 5:71). [End Page 80]

Kant also cites Milton’s verses in a letter to Friedrich Schiller. In 1795, in Kant’s one letter to Schiller, he reminds him—cryptically and condescendingly—of “what Milton’s angel told Adam about the creation: ‘Male light of distant suns mixes itself with female, to unknown ends.’” Perhaps because of Schiller’s closeness to Herder at that time, Kant keeps his deep reflections on Milton’s verses out of Schiller’s reach while quietly enjoying the citation of poetry that, in Kant’s opinion, was far superior to Schiller’s.10

Kant’s ways of citing Milton’s verses on Seite 40’ indicate that he is now locating dimensions of those verses that have a new import for him, specifically, a new function within his aesthetics. Here, once again, are those citations, from the beginning (1) and ending (2) of the revised page:

(1) warum imer [sic] durch Mischung zweyer Miltons mänlich Licht (wherefore always through the combination of two [sexes] Milton’s male light)

(2) Von Organischen Geschopfen die insgesamt nur durch 2 Geschlechter ihre Species erhalten könen.

Warum Ob das auch im Gantzen der Weltkörper so sey. Milton

(Of organic creatures that altogether can only preserve their species through two sexes.

Wherefore Whether this is the case in the entirety of the celestial bodies. Milton)

The new function that Kant is here attaching to Milton’s verses emerges from the interaction between the contents of those verses and the argumentation of Seite 40’. Commentators on the Opus postumum, from Erich Adickes to Eckart Förster, have shown in a variety of ways that Kant’s central preoccupation throughout the work is the transition from metaphysics and a priori ideas to physics and empirical objects.11 This preoccupation holds solidly on Seite 40’. Yet the particular enclosed line of thought that concerns him on this page is, as he puts it, how, in “the transition from the metaphysical foundations of natural science to physics,” the “unified forces” of an “organic” whole or “organized body” become “experienceable.” Kant proposes that in order for such experience to be made available, an “immaterial being,” a “mover distinct” from the organic whole, must provide “the idea of the whole [that] precedes the possibility of its parts, with respect to its unified forces.” [End Page 81]

Kant goes one crucial step further in locating the provision and reception of the preceding “idea of the whole … with respect to its unified forces.” This is the step that begins to explain his citation of Milton’s—this distinct mover’s—citations. Kant affirms that only an internal experience of moving forces, on the part of the subject, can make experienceable the moving forces of the external, empirical object:

Only because the subject [is conscious] to itself of its moving forces (of agitating them) and—because in the relationship of this motion, everything is reciprocal—[is conscious] of perceiving a reaction of equal strength (a relation which is known a priori, independently of experience) are the counteracting moving forces of matter anticipated and its properties established.

(22:503–6, Op 147–48)

Within the enclosed line of thought of Seite 40’, Milton’s framing verses, I propose, are the agency that, first and last, makes “the subject [conscious] to itself of its moving forces (of agitating them).” We should not miss the vast importance that Kant-the-subject is identifying here in the object to be experienced. That object is the “counteracting moving forces of matter” in the whole of the Newtonian cosmos.

Michael Friedman points out that “one of the most important foundational problems of eighteenth-century science” was how Newton’s “brilliantly successful … paradigm” could be “extended beyond astronomy and terrestrial mechanics [to] other types of attraction.”12 Seite 40’ provides one kind of Kantian solution to this foundational problem by locating the a priori idea of the moving forces of attraction. On Seite 40’ the insertion of the disclosed, a priori idea of reciprocal male-female attraction into our experience of the laws of gravity makes those laws available to us as “subjectively actual” experience. This preceding idea is the special kind of hypothesis that is “no merely hypothetical thing.” In Kant’s theorizing of this claim for inserting the a priori idea he employs the term “a priori idea” interchangeably with the terms “hypothesis” and “Dichtung,” meaning formation, composition, and also poetry, fiction. The three-way usage of a priori idea, hypothesis, and Dichtung takes on multiple practical significances in Kant’s following of Milton on Seite 40’. Especially with regard to the role of hypothesis, Kant’s schema seems to be formulated as a modest but significant exceeding of Newton’s discovery of gravitation. In his General Scholium to the second edition of the Principia (1713) Newton famously announced, “Hypotheses non fingo” (I do not feign hypotheses), thereby acknowledging his inability [End Page 82] to explain the cause of the action-at-a-distance of universal gravity and asserting, at the same time, his unwillingness to feign or imagine hypotheses to explain it.13

Kant, as Friedman says, turns Newton’s approach to the laws of motion on its head precisely by beginning with hypotheses that he believes the mind constructs a priori.14 In the Opus postumum, we should add, Kant specifically invokes the Latin verb for feigning, fingere, that Newton abjured.15 Here is Kant:

The subject produces (fingit) for itself the manifold of the sense-object according to its form, and does so, indeed, according to a principle … prior to all empirical representation with consciousness (perception).

(22:95–96, Op 194)

Kant specifies the a priori status of this fingere:

[When] imagination forms (fingit) [feigns] a priori according to a principle … it invents [dichtet].


Kant is at pains to spell out the creative role of hypothesis or, more precisely, of the fingere or insertion of hypothesis:

We have to do only with synthetic a priori knowledge, with the composition of the manifold in space and time, and with an object that we make ourselves, as spectators and, at the same time, originators.

(22:420–21, Op 184)

That there is something else outside me is my own product. … We make everything ourselves.

(22:82, Op 189)

A hypothesis “is actual,” he says, when “the concept of it … is given by reason, not as a hypothesis for perceived objects, for the purpose of explaining their phenomena, but rather, immediately, in order to found the possibility of experience itself” (21:578–79; repeated at 22:553–54, Op 89).16 Kant is technically speaking here of the hypothesis of the caloric that “connects all celestial bodies in one system and sets them into a community of reciprocity” (21:578–79 and nn.; 22:553–54n, Op 89n). Yet his words apply equally to the cosmic light, or Lichtstoff, that he fully identified with the caloric. This understanding of the role of hypothesis is rich in implication. Hypothesis “as a principle of the possibility of experience” is “not … merely hypothetical” but rather “a priori for the sake of the unity of the moving forces in a system” (21:230–31, Op 77).17 [End Page 83]

Our next order of business is to grasp the relevant precision, extent, and integration of the Miltonic verses—the Dichtung in more than one sense—that Kant is citing in order to make available the subject’s needed a priori idea. This is to say that when we peruse Seite 40’ with the activity of Milton’s verses in mind we discover that Kant has inserted the organizing idea of those verses as part of a picture of a special aspect of that philosophical and scientific transition, namely, the way in which a specific act of understanding and imagination can enable experience of the “subjectively actual” (21:581, Op 90). Kant explains the apparently paradoxical status of the “subjectively actual” in this way:

It is a matter of whether the empirical intuition of the elementary material, as belonging to the whole of a possible experience, already contains these attributes in its concept (according to the principle of identity)—an issue which relates solely to the cognitive faculty, insofar as this faculty contains in idea the whole of possible experience in one total representation (and so must think of it as given a priori). Hence, the material must be valid both subjectively, as the basis of the representation [of] the whole of an experience, and objectively, as a principle of the unification of the moving forces of matter.

(21.578–79; 22.554, Op 89).

On Seite 40’ this picture is of the way in which the poetically represented idea of reciprocal male-female attraction can aid in creating access to a subjectively actual experience of one of the greatest moving forces in our external world, namely, gravitational attraction (and repulsion): “the invisible force,” Kant had called it, “that holds the universe together” (CPR, B xxii, n.). To begin to understand how Milton’s verses could aid in this way we need to peruse the verses themselves, not just for their details but also for their inner workings in Kant’s terms for such workings.

In book 9 of Paradise Lost, after Eve has fallen, Adam says that the force of “the link of nature” draws him to her, never to “forgo” her “sweet Converse and Love so dearly join’d” (9.908–14). He therefore resolves to follow her transgression and to suffer the consequence, death. This “link” or “bond” of nature that draws Adam and Eve to each other is a repeated theme in book 9 (see lines 133, 956, 970).18 In the Opus postumum, what interests Kant are the verses of book 8 that show how this link or reciprocity of nature (which may, or may not, entail equality) is constituted. Milton there explains that the bond between Adam and Eve is only one instance of a male-female reciprocity that underlies all relation of moving forces—all “Male and Female Light”—in the entire cosmos. On the page of the Opus postumum where Kant cites these [End Page 84] verses, he notes that this reciprocity is pervasive in the totality of the species and even in the celestial bodies. All such bodies and all species (Kant believed) are animated by “the combination of the two sexes,” which, he says, “require each other for their existence, not merely in respect of their nominal character (similarity), but their real character (causality)—which points in the direction of a world organization (to unknown ends) of the galaxy itself.” The reciprocal causality of this male-female moving force or “light,” Kant adds, “alone makes all bodies … experienceable” (Seite 40’). Here are Milton’s verses in book 8:

        What if that lightSent from [Earth] through the wide transpicuous air,To the terrestrial Moon be as a StarEnlight’ning her by Day, as she by NightThis Earth? reciprocal, if Land be there,Fields and Inhabitants: Her spots thou seestAs Clouds, and Clouds may rain, and Rain produceFruits in her soft’n’d Soil, for some to eatAllotted there: and other Suns perhapsWith thir attendant Moons thou wilt descryCommunicating Male and Female Light,Which two great Sexes animate the World,Stor’d in each Orb perhaps. … (emphasis added)


These verses fit seamlessly with the accustomed topics of many of Kant’s deepest meditations. Milton here explores the common grounds of the two themes that Kant specified in what may be the most lyrical passage in all of his writings, namely, the famous opening of the conclusion to the second Critique: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence, the more often and more steadily one reflects on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me” (5:161). Given the drive toward unity that is everywhere characteristic of Kant’s thought, it is not surprising that these two topics were not only of equal importance to him but that he tenaciously sought an inherent connection between them as well. What may well surprise us, however, is that Milton’s representations of the intimacy of connection between these same topics closely resemble Kant’s representations of these topics and their intimacy of connection.

We should now note that in the first Critique Kant had already reflected on the starry heavens in terms that correspond in significant detail to the above verses of book 8. Milton’s verses explicitly represent [End Page 85] the mediation of a “light” that communicates the “reciprocal” influence between the forces or act of the subject’s seeing (“thou seest,” “thou wilt descry”) and the forces that inhere in the celestial bodies. In the Third Analogy of Experience of the first Critique, Kant had written: “The light, which plays between our eye and the celestial bodies, produces a mediate community between us and them, and thereby shows us that they coexist” (A 213, B 260). For Kant the key to this mediate community of communicators is the “reciprocal” relation that he will increasingly identify with the structure of the moral law, in which, he said, “freedom and unconditional practical law reciprocally imply each other” (CPrR, 5:29).19 In the Third Analogy he offers the picture of mediate community to exemplify his contention that

the relation of substances in which the one contains determinations[,] the ground of which is contained in the other[,] is the relation of influence; and when each substance reciprocally contains the ground of the determinations in the other, the relation is that of community or reciprocity.”

(A 211, B 257–58)

The important consequence of this reciprocity of subject and object in this “relation of influence” is that it “shows us that they coexist,” or, in Kant’s later terms, that it confers subjective actuality on the elements in this reciprocity or “alone makes [them] experienceable.”

Kant called this “dynamical community” between the starry heavens and the human being who reflects on them a “community of reciprocity” (“Gemeinschaft der Wechselwirkung”), or “commercium” (A 211–13, B 258–60). We should recall in this connection that Kant sometimes exemplified the second topic that filled his mind “with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence,” namely, the moral law within him, with another commercium of reciprocity that is also prominently featured in the verses of Milton that he cites. This is the commercium sexuale that only reciprocity can render a fulfillment of the moral law or human moral capacity. Like many before and after him, Kant believed that human sexuality profoundly challenges moral consciousness. Sexual relations can be either an intense fulfillment or a radical violation of the Kantian arch principle of ethical behavior, the categorical imperative: “So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means” (4:429).

Kant believed that the very intensity of sexual passion can become a force of dedication by which men and women treat each other always as [End Page 86] an end and not merely as a means. In his Lectures on Ethics he has this to say about the commercium sexuale:

If a person … dedicates himself to the other, he dedicates not only his sex, but his whole person; the two things are inseparable. If only one partner yields to the other his person, his good or ill fortune, and all his circumstances, to have right over them, and does not receive in turn a corresponding identical right over the person of the other, then there is an inequality here. But if I hand over my whole person to the other, and thereby obtain the person of the other in place of it, I get myself back again, and have thereby regained possession of myself. … The two persons thus constitute a unity of will. … So the sexual impulse creates a union among persons, and only with this union is the use of it possible [in freedom and morality].


These thoughts illuminate Kant’s citations of Milton’s representations of both the commercium of the starry heavens above us and the commercium sexuale of the “two great sexes.” The mind’s movements toward a community of reciprocity structure each of these commercia and make them morally reciprocal with each other. Immediately after his first citation of Milton’s verses on Seite 40’, Kant defines such organic community as follows: “Such that each of its parts, within a whole, is there for the sake of the other.” Indeed, Kant’s insertion of his Miltonic citations may itself suggest a community of reciprocity that he shares with Milton.

Milton’s representation of the “communicating” of the “reciprocal” meets not only Kant’s requirements of the aesthetic idea that is produced by succession but also the modality of hypothesis in which those requirements are expressed or experienced. Kant’s emphasis on the importance of hypothesis in constructing experience finds a striking parallel in these verses. At the moment in Paradise Lost that these verses mark, the angel Raphael is completing the course of instruction that must equip Adam and Eve for encountering the created world. Yet this essential guidance is presented only as a hypothesis, a “What if” underlined by another “if,” then a “perhaps,” and then another “perhaps.” Located in the tense interval between Adam’s and Eve’s creation and the Satanic assault on their existence, Raphael’s hypothesis only supplies resources for the first pair’s free choices. Now or at a more ripe moment they will choose whether or not to insert this hypothesis in order to achieve a sustained experience of the actual.

In the Opus postumum Kant emphasizes that the insertion of an “hypothesis” or “Dichtung” into thought is “no merely hypothetical [End Page 87] thing” because only the insertion of such hypothesis makes possible the mind’s organization of reality, thus also enabling subjectively actual experience. Milton’s Raphael (“Miltons Engel,” Kant calls him [AA, 8:11]) hypothesizes that the reciprocity of the “two great sexes [that] animate the World” is infinitely replicated in the “reciprocal” organization of the celestial bodies “communicating Male and Female Light.” Human beings can perceive some empirical manifestations of this reciprocity (in one direction or the other), such as the receipt of rain by the soil and the soil’s provision of food for local inhabitants. Yet the angel emphasizes that the larger purposes of the infinitely numerous celestial luminaries remain unknown to human beings. The starry heavens are “Ordain’d for uses to [the] Lord best known” (8.106), says Raphael. In Kant’s Elsner citation of these verses he duly notes this idea of purposiveness that is unknown purpose. His phrase for this is “zu unbekannten Endzwecken” (to unknown ends) (AA, 25.2:1561). He repeats this phrase on Seite 40’ in company with his repeated citation of Milton’s verses.

Milton’s—Raphael’s—hypothesis represents an effectively endless (open-ended) progression of “reciprocal” male (m) and female (f) pairings: such are Earth (m or f) and Moon (f), Star (m) enlightening her (f), as she (f) this earth (m or f), Clouds or Rain (m) producing Fruits in her (f) soft’n’d Soil, Suns (m) perhaps with their attendant Moons (f), Male and Female Light, as well as the male and female pair who are receiving this instruction from the angel. In order to be faithfully reciprocal, each of these represented reciprocities of one part for the sake of the other represents, in Kant’s terms in the third Critique, a deprivation or “sacrifice” of outer freedom by which “inner freedom” is gained (CJ, 5:269–71). Separately and together, the human pair perform the everyday seeing that is noted in thou seest, thou wilt descry.

To paraphrase Kant’s account of commercium in the first Critique and bring it back to Milton: the light, which plays between Adam’s and Eve’s eyes and the celestial bodies, produces a mediate community between Adam and Eve and the celestial bodies, and thereby shows Adam and Eve that they coexist with those celestial bodies and with each other. Only by means of reciprocal influence can the parts of matter establish their simultaneous existence—or can we establish for them, simultaneously, that they actually exist.21 With some considerable wrenching of word order, in Milton’s verses the syntactically and conceptually pivotal word on which the entire passage is made to turn is “reciprocal.” This placement pinpoints the fulcrum of reciprocity in the Miltonic commercium.22 [End Page 88]

Consonant with Milton’s representation of the reciprocity that is communicated by shared light, in the Opus postumum Kant argues that the ether-light “connects all celestial bodies in one system and sets them into a community of reciprocity” (21:579n, 22:553n, Op 89n).23 “Light,” he writes there, “is the effect of the pulsating ether” (21:503). The “oscillating motion … of light” is the effect of “attraction and repulsion” (21:387, Op 13).24 In the “relationship” of the “moving forces” of attraction-repulsion that is already grounded in the a priori, “everything is reciprocal” (22:506, Op 148).

In some, perhaps all, of the instances of male-female reciprocities in our Miltonic verses, the qualities of maleness and femaleness are themselves shared or interchanged. Whether or not Kant was consciously aware of it, the premier case of this sharing is the simple phrase thou seest. Not only is the angel’s instruction intended for both Adam and Eve, but that instruction is also introduced as a response to Eve’s response and Eve’s question (at 4.657–58), repeated by Adam without acknowledgment but with academic flourish (at 8.15–38). Eve raised her question upon her noting the seeming superfluity of light from the celestial bodies: “Wherefore all night long shine these,” she asked, “for whom / This glorious sight, when sleep hath shut all eyes?” Seen in this carefully crafted context, the “perhaps” in the phrase “Suns perhaps / With thir attendant Moons” takes on yet another meaning: namely, perhaps attendant or subordinate, but also perhaps NOT attendant or subordinate.

In other words, the apparently dominant and seemingly more intellectual male (symbolically, the sun) has been shown to be respectfully attendant upon the intellect of the female (symbolically, the moon). A sharing or interdependence of gendered roles in reciprocities of this kind is to be found in Her (f) spots (engendering m), which are seen as engendering Clouds or Rain (m), in some (m and f) to eat, in thou (m and f) wilt descry, in in each Orb (both m and f), and in some (m and f) that live. The Latinate verb animate combines its etymological roots, namely, both the masculine noun animus, meaning rational idea of the soul, and the feminine noun anima, meaning sensation of the physical body. This cross-gendered, fused meaning accords with the pervasive “animist materialism” that Stephen Fallon has demonstrated in Paradise Lost.25 This is to say that Milton here rejects both a dualism of sensible and supersensible as well as a one-sided assignment of either rational or physical forces in the identities of Adam and Eve and their male and female correlates. This is also to say that, in these verses, male and female animation is a reciprocal conjunction of energy-matter that is [End Page 89] held together by the reciprocal forces of attraction and repulsion. Here, too, as Kant says, everything is reciprocal.

In Kant’s own account of Adam and Eve’s experience, in the third Critique, the pair organize the manifold of their perceptions with the a priori organizing idea of male-female attraction. Remarkably enough, Kant there explains that the very idea of an organizing idea that organizes a whole originated with the commercium sexuale of Adam and Eve. Here is Kant:

There is only a single external purposiveness that is connected with the internal purposiveness of organization and is such that, without raising the question of for what end such an organized being must exist, nevertheless serves in the external relation of a means to an end. This is the organization of the two sexes in relation to one another for the propagation of their kind. For here one can always ask, just as in the case of an individual, why must such a pair have existed? The answer is that this is what here first constitutes an organising whole, although not one that is organised in a single body. (emphasis added)

(CJ, 5:425)26

It is worth recalling that in an unwieldy footnote in the introduction to the third Critique Kant defines “the faculty of desire as a faculty which by means of its representations is the cause of the actuality [Wirklichkeit] of the objects of those representations” (CJ, 5:178n). Prima facie at least, the idea of actuality-causing desire fits well with an a priori organizing idea of male-female attraction that can contribute to the construction of subjectively actual experience.

After his first citation of Milton’s verses on Seite 40’ of the Opus postumum, Kant, we have seen, defines the a priori idea of the organic whole in a community of reciprocity in two ways: first, as a “whole” in which “each of the parts … is there for sake of the other”; second, as “the idea of the whole [that] precedes the possibility of its parts, with respect to its unified forces” (21:568–69). Both definitions are substantively at work in Milton’s verses. In Milton’s commercium the reciprocal parts of the organic whole in their effectively endless progression disclose the a priori idea of the whole, namely, the “Communicating Male and Female Light” of the “two great sexes [that] animate the World.” Thus, in Milton’s verses, “that light” (1) links the series of empirical objects from the beginning of the passage; (2) is the principal term in the endless progression of sublime experience that, in Kant’s terms, transfers the mind into the a priori idea; (3) turns out to be, at the end of the passage, the same as the “Male and Female Light” that was present [End Page 90] from the beginning (perhaps in apposition with the double-gendered holy spirit, of Genesis 1, in the opening of Milton’s book 1), preceding all the parts of the progression; and (4) is also the principal term in the transition from the organizing idea of the whole to the subjectively actual experience of its empirical parts.

Kant’s emerging view in the Opus postumum is that the idea of the commercium, specifically of the commercium sexuale, must itself be inserted by what he calls “a purposively [künstlich] acting subject” who, or which, can alone furnish the idea that combines a particular manifold into unity. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that Kant here self-consciously views himself as following Milton in the role of künstlich acting subject. We see this in the comparison of Seite 40’ with another occurrence, almost verbatim, of that page in another fascicle of the Opus postumum.

As noted, Kant opens Seite 40’ by citing Milton’s hypothesis of “the combination of two [sexes].” Then, after following the elements of that hypothesis, he closes the page with an interlocking citation of the same verses. Virtually the entire text of Seite 40’ occurs on pages 22:548–49 (Op 85) of the Akademie transcript. However, in place of the Milton references, Kant presents the following conceptual elaboration of the agency that inserts a hypothesis—just such, indeed, as he cited and inserted on Seite 40’ in his explicit references to Milton’s verses. On page 22:547, this is what Kant says in place of his references to Milton’s verses in book 8:

For the generation of [the vital forces], an immaterial principle, possessing an indivisible unity in its power of representation, is necessarily required. For the manifold, whose combination into unity depends on an idea of a purposively (artificially [künstlich]) acting subject, cannot emerge from moving forces of matter (which lack the unity of the principle). That these bodies, however, possess the ability to preserve their species from the available matter (by propagation), does not necessarily belong to the concept of an organism. It is, rather, an empirical adjunct, for the purpose of assigning other properties to organic bodies (e.g., that of producing their own kind by means of two sexes)—properties which one can abstract from in their concept.

(22:547, Op 85)

Kant’s language in this passage (in the German as well) is not easy to follow, yet his main point can be made out with some certainty. He emphasizes that the combination into unity of the manifold depends on an idea of a künstlich subject, not on the mere biological datum that certain “bodies … possess the ability to preserve their species from the [End Page 91] available matter (by propagation).” This ability of bodies is in itself thus only an empirical adjunct to the superabundant “concept” of propagation “by means of two sexes” throughout the galaxy. This hypothesized concept, which for Kant means no mere hypothesis—namely, the a priori idea of reciprocity for the sake of the other—can be applied by the künstlich acting subject. Just so, in Kant’s insertion of Milton’s light on Seite 40’ the a priori idea applied is the infinitely manifested reciprocity of being “for the sake of each other.”

Kant believed he could show how the reciprocity of male and female forces of attraction-repulsion brings into play both theoretical and practical reason. Because the empirical datum of this reciprocity is inherently ungraspable in its endless progression and purposiveness, it discloses to the purposively acting subject an exemplarity or a priori idea of form. It does this in sublime experience. In Seite 40’ the disclosed, unifying idea is the moral reciprocity of the mind-body’s internal moving forces of attraction-repulsion. The subject can then apply this practical-moral a priori idea to organize and unify the manifold of the moving forces of nature in subjectively actual experience. It may be the case that on Seite 40’ Kant’s insertion of Milton’s verses paradoxically makes his subjectively actual experience by disclosing the “internal possibility” of the “determination of the concept of an organic body.” As we said earlier, paradoxes of this idealist kind are inherent in Kant’s long-standing demonstration that an idea is required to unify any manifold of perceptions. But now Kant may be going further by assigning subjective actuality of experience to this presently organized whole.27 “We can know no objects, either within us or lying outside of us,” he writes in the Opus postumum, “except insofar as we insert in ourselves the actus of cognition” (21:99, Op 255). On Seite 40’ Kant’s inserted “actus of cognition” suggestively consists of inserting Milton’s “actus of cognition.”

To conclude, in Milton’s verses we have seen the following elements: the immaterial mover (Raphael or Milton); the insertion of hypothesis; the hypothesis or idea of light that precedes the whole; the combination of two sexes in male-female light that animates the galaxy; the chain of reciprocating influence; the communication of this community of reciprocity; the endless progression; the ending in the repeated idea of repeated light, this time of the unified forces and the organized whole. The correspondences in concepts and representations between Milton’s verses and Kant’s exposition on Seite 40’ are so minute and extensive that it is not hard to imagine that Kant was more or less fully aware of them, and that, indeed, he had chosen to cite these verses in [End Page 92] order to achieve a particular philosophical goal. What, then, finally, was that philosophical goal, and how could the insertion of references to Milton’s verses aid Kant in achieving that goal?

As a final way of drawing nearer to an answer to this question, we should note again that in the Opus postumum a frequent synonym for “a priori idea” is “Dichtung”—with its meanings of formation, composition, as well as poetry, fiction.28 The common ground of these Ideen and Dichtungen is the inventive (erfinderisch) work of the imagination.

In the Opus postumum Kant writes, “Transcendental philosophy is that philosophy which independent of all empiricism, still less of perceptions, constitutes itself from ideas or Dichtungen into a system [of] an absolute whole of objects in order to make a complete whole in its formal element” (21:126).29 With this formula in mind, we can say that on Seite 40’ Kant’s Dichtung of a complete whole in its formal element is made by inserting Milton’s Dichtung of a complete whole in its formal element. Considering Kant’s earlier association of these Miltonic verses with succession, with the progression ad infinitum, and with aesthetic ideas, these insertions on the page of the Opus postumum may well bring with them an instrumentality of the sublime that discloses the exemplary aesthetic idea. In Kant’s following of, or succession to, Milton’s verses he performs his own representational “actus of cognition,” that is, of inserting a Dichtung that he now considers to have an a priori status and function that are disclosed in the sublime (21:99, 22:466, Op 255, 132). Sublime experience can certainly occur in spectacular encounters with nature. Yet the mind’s reliable, freely willed access to experience of the sublime and to Dichtungen of this sublime kind is uniquely manifest in art—indeed, says Kant, “precisely in the poetic art” (CJ, 5:314). On Seite 40’ all the structures of a community of reciprocity are discursively in place without Milton’s verses. Only the insertion, however, of the poetically disclosed aesthetic idea—in this case, Milton’s dynamic idea of a community of reciprocity—can set this transcendental philosophy, this moment of achieving experience of the subjectively actual, in motion. [End Page 93]

Sanford Budick
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


For helpful comments on earlier versions of this essay I am indebted to Karl Ameriks, Eckart Förster, Pierre Keller, David O’Connor, and Fred Rush.

1. Opus postumum (21:566–71), where the printed text reproduces the matter that Kant deleted. My citations of the Opus postumum follow the Preußischen Akademie edition, Kant’s gesammelte Schriften, vols. 21 and 22, ed. Arthur Buchenau and Gerhard Lehmann (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1936, 1938). Translations from the Opus postumum are cited from Opus postumum, ed. Eckart Förster, trans. Eckart Förster and Michael Rosen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). The references for these translations are given both to the Akademie pages and to the pages—marked Op (without periods)—of Förster and Rosen’s translation. Translations from the Opus postumum that are not marked Op are my own. All other citations of Kant in German are from the reprints of the Akademie-Textausgabe edition (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1968).

Unless otherwise noted, quotations from Kant given in English are from the following texts: Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (London: Macmillan, 1993); Critique of Practical Reason, in Immanuel Kant, Practical Philosophy, trans. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Critique of Judgment, trans. James Creed Meredith (Oxford: Clarendon, 1973), or, as indicated, Critique of the Power of Judgment, trans. Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). References to the Critique of Pure Reason are given to the A and B texts; those to the Critique of Practical Reason and the Critique of Judgment are to the Akademie-Textausgabe page numbers, which Meredith and Gregor provide in the margins of their translations. All page number references to Kant’s texts are given in parentheses immediately after citations. Page numbers of the Akademie-Textausgabe, the Critique of Pure Reason, the Critique of Practical Reason, and the Critique of Judgment are sometimes preceded by the abbreviations AA, CPR, CPrR, and CJ, respectively, though references to the Critique of Pure Reason are most often given simply to the A and B texts. Unmarked translations are my own.

2. See Eckart Förster, Kant’s Final Synthesis: An Essay on the “Opus postumum” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), pp. 100–16 et alibi, for the centrality of the concept of “insertion” (hineinlegen) and its relation to the “doctrine” of “self-positing” (Selbstsetzungslehre) in the Opus postumum.

3. Vittorio Mathieu, Kants Opus postumum, ed. Gerd Held (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1989), pp. 62–63.

4. Mathieu, Kants Opus postumum, p. 62, citing Lehmann in his introduction to the Opus postumum (22:782).

5. Almost the whole of Seite 40’, but without the references to Milton, appears in the twelfth fascicle (at 22:548–49 in the Akademie edition). The twelfth fascicle was apparently composed at approximately the same date as Seite 40’. (The fascicles of the Opus postumum were not numbered by Kant. The numbers tell us little about the order of composition.) I will soon return to this other occurrence of most of the text of Seite 40’. Incidentally, Kant refers to the same verses of Milton one other time in the Opus postumum, at 21:349. I will not discuss that reference here since it consists of elements that are more informatively deployed in the pair of references at 21:566–71. [End Page 94]

6. All the manuscript pages of the Opus postumum are available online from the Kant site of the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (

7. I discussed the Elsner passage at a number of points in Kant and Milton (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), but I did not then see the cogency or significance of Kant’s Milton citations of the same verses in the Opus postumum.

8. The summary is derived from Kant and Milton, pp. 20–21n12, and pp. 266–72, where fuller explanations are provided.

9. Timothy Gould, “The Audience of Originality: Kant and Wordsworth on the Reception of Genius,” in Essays in Kant’s Aesthetics, ed. Ted Cohen and Paul Guyer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), pp. 179–93. Gould was one of the first commentators to pay attention to the poetic applications of Kant’s theory of the Nachfolge.

10. The letter may be found in Kant’s Correspondence, ed. and trans. Arnulf Zweig (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 497–98; AA 12:10–12. I discussed the letter at some length in the appendix to Kant and Milton. On Kant’s high opinion of British poets, in marked contrast to his generally low opinion of German poets, see Otto Schlapp, Kants Lehre vom Genie und die Entstehung der “Kritik der Urteilskraft” (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1901), pp. 298–99.

11. Since the publication of Adickes’s Kants Opus postumum dargestellt und beurteilt (Berlin: Reuther & Reichard, 1920), the ever-growing body of scholarship regarding the Opus postumum has principally focused on this preoccupation.

12. Michael Friedman, Kant and the Exact Sciences (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 240.

13. The translation “I do not feign hypotheses” is from Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica, 3rd ed., trans. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), p. 943.

14. Friedman, Kant and the Exact Sciences, pp. 142–43.

15. On the centrality of fingere, and its cognate figura, in the history of European literature, see Erich Auerbach, Scenes from the Drama of European Literature: Six Essays (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), pp. 11–76.

16. Thus Kant (cited in Förster, Kant’s Final Synthesis, p. 46) says, “To assume such a matter [i.e., ether] filling cosmic space is an inevitably necessary hypothesis, for, without it, no cohesion, which is necessary for the formation of a physical body, can be thought” (21:378, Op 12).

17. Although it might be tempting to think of such hypothesis under the rubric of Hans Vaihinger’s theory of the “As-if,” it is well to remember that for Kant a hypothesis is never merely a fiction in that it is potentially verifiable and may even be grounded in a priori ideas. Thus Wolfgang Iser, in The Fictive and the Imaginary: Charting Literary Anthropology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), points out (reinforcing Dieter Henrich’s position on the matter) that “Vaihinger’s use of the Kantian As-if misappropriates its essential duality” (p. 149), one part of which is in Kant’s view justifiably thought of as truth. [End Page 95]

18. I cite Paradise Lost from John Milton, Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Odyssey, 1957).

19. Henry E. Allison, in Kant’s Theory of Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 201–13, and Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 283–300, builds on this and other passages to explicate what he calls Kant’s “reciprocity thesis.”

20. Lectures on Ethics, ed. Peter Heath and J. B. Schneewind, trans. Peter Heath (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 158–59.

21. The idea of reciprocity that Kant highlights on his Milton page makes clear that the progression of suns is only one dimension of the larger progression that Kant encounters here. That larger progression is of male and female reciprocities (which pervade all the celestial bodies) to unknown ends of creation.

22. In book 9, even before the Fall, Adam sees that this reciprocity of influence, between Eve and himself, is already weakening (9.309–17). Satan’s temptation of Eve precisely works to abort this reciprocity of influence, including the element of a mutually communicating light (9.606–9).

23. Kant’s direct linkage of poetry with the idea of a commercium in the Opus postumum is also evidenced by his citing, three times, Virgil’s famous phrases describing the spirit that links the mind with the celestial bodies: “spiritus intus alit, totamque infusa per artus / mens agitat molem et magno se corpore miscet” (a spirit within sustains, and mind, pervading its members, sways the whole mass and mingles with its mighty frame [i.e., of “the heaven and earth”]) (Aeneid 6.726–27; cited from the text and translation of H. Rushton Fairclough [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986]). In the Opus postumum Kant quotes the full two verses at 21:146 and at 22:62 as well as part of them at 22:56. Without doubt Virgil’s phrases influenced the formulation of the commercium in Milton’s verses, which are themselves far more apt to Kant’s purposes when he cites them on Seite 40’ of the Opus postumum and which are much closer to his figuration of the commercium in the Third Analogy.

24. These last two citations are noted by Förster, Kant’s Final Synthesis, p. 46.

25. Stephen M. Fallon, in Milton among the Philosophers: Poetry and Materialism in Seventeenth-Century England (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), shows the remarkable distinctiveness of Milton’s “materialist monism” or “animist materialism” among contemporary mind-body models; see especially pp. 79–110 and (on the verses that Kant cites on Seite 40’) pp. 125–26. More recently, Bryan Hall argues that in the Opus postumum Kant made his way to an idea of omnipresent, sempiternal substance; see “A Dilemma for Kant’s Theory of Substance,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 19 (2011): 79–109.

26. Cited from the Guyer and Matthews translation.

27. We can confirm this reading of the above passage with Kant’s explanation of what he means by an empirical adjunct, specifically, when he is speaking of how organic bodies preserve the species “through intercourse of two sexes” (22:498–99, Op 144–45).

28. Rodolphe Gasché, in The Idea of Form: Rethinking Kant’s Aesthetics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), pp. 217–18, observes a similar usage of Dichtung in Kant’s Anthropology. [End Page 96]

29. So, too: “Transcendental philosophy is the complex (complexus) of ideas (Dichtungen) of all principles of theoretical speculative and moral/practical reason in an unconditional (absolute) whole in order to posit oneself originally in synthetic knowledge [realization] a priori from concepts” (21:89). Other instances of Kant’s idealist synonymy of Ideen and Dichtungen in relation to self-positing and/or Lichtstoff and/or Aether occur in the Opus postumum at 21:101, 102, 105; 22:92, 109. To this we should add that Kant says repeatedly that Lichtstoff (light-substance/light-ether) and Wärmestoff (caloric) are either different manifestations of each other (21:131, 381; 22:214, 429, 522) or identical (21:565; 22:455). [End Page 97]

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