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Laying down the law for the historical imagination: Kant, Schiller and Nietzsche

Matthew Louis Blanshei, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Is there an epistemological and/or practical basis for an ethic of history at the close of the twentieth century? This dissertation focuses upon selected works within the tradition of Western metaphysics that have allowed such a question to become both recognizable and problematic today. The problematic aspects of such a question become readily apparent. For it gives rise to the idea of a world-history—of a teleological historical process—which is all but unanimously considered to be of contemporary relevance only as a reminder of why the present defines itself as a “postmodern” age. Furthermore, the concept of an ethic of history evokes the thought of the Kantian moral law which Georg Lukàcs described as early as 1914 as a depleted source of illumination that no longer serves as “the map of all possible paths.” But along with the philosophy of history as conceived by Herder, Hegel and Marx, the present has inherited a critique of that tradition whose origins lie in the Kantian system. Chapter 1 explores how Kant presents an ethic of history that is in fact deprived of the kind of objective or empirically verifiable measure capable of providing something like a road map for human action. For Kant the task of enforcing an unwritten and unrepresentable law is therefore conferred upon the human imagination. Chapter 2 then focuses upon how Kant's critique of reason regulates the necessary yet potentially boundless and debilitating power of the imagination by instituting a theological supplement to the moral law. The very phrase “theological supplement” indicates that an unorthodox theological concept has thereby been introduced in order to establish and valorize a limit to the capacities of the human will. Can such a limit be represented “atheologically”? This is the question underlying chapters 3 and 4. In chapter 3 Friedrich Schiller's program for an “aesthetic education” is interpreted as a supplement to the moral law that ends up by all but displacing it. Chapter 4, in turn, argues that Friedrich Nietzsche's attempt to displace the moral law succeeds in revitalizing it.

Subject Area

Philosophy|Political science

Recommended Citation

Blanshei, Matthew Louis, "Laying down the law for the historical imagination: Kant, Schiller and Nietzsche" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9988766.