Studia Swedenborgiana

Vol. 10 May,  1997 Number 2 

Kant on Swedenborg in the Lectures on Metaphysics, Part 2

by Gregory R. Johnson

Kant's Lectures on Metaphysics are an important resource for understanding Kant's attitude toward Swedenborg. Filling four weighty volumes in the Akademie edition of Kant's writings, these texts consist of ten complete or partial sets of student notes on Kant's course on metaphysics. Eight sets of the metaphysics notes record Kant's discussions of the state of the soul after death. In all of these notes, Kant discusses Swedenborg's visions of the spiritual world, explicitly naming Swedenborg in seven and clearly alluding to him in the eighth. (Kant also discusses Swedenborg in the so-called Fragment einer späteren Rationaltheologie nach Baumbach, roughly dated to 1789?0 or 1790?1.) These texts have been dated from 1763?4 at the earliest to the Winter Semester of 1792?93 at the latest.

In the previous issue of Studia Swedenborgiana, I translated and commented upon the texts for the 1760s and 1770s: Metaphysik Herder, Nachträge Herder, and Metaphysik L1. In what follows, I translate and comment upon the texts of the 1780s and the 1790s: Metaphysik Mrongovius, Metaphysik Volckmann, the Fragment einer späteren Rationaltheologie nach Baumbach, Metaphysik L2, Metaphysik K2, and Metaphysik Dohna.

6. Metaphysik Mrongovius

The next set of lecture notes to come down to us is the Metaphysik Mrongovius, named for Christoph Coelestin Mrongovius (b. 1764) and reliably dated to the winter semester of 1782?783. Although the Metaphysik Mrongovius contains no explicit reference to Swedenborg and does not refer specifically to the spiritual world, in structure and content it so closely parallels the discussion of Swedenborg in Metaphysik L1 (as well as in subsequent sets of notes) that one can count it as at least an allusion to Swedenborg. The entire passage follows, in my translation.

How can we think of our state after death? Either thus, that the soul will be completely free from my body, or thus, that a new body will be given over to the soul. If the latter, then palingenesis occurs. Priestly and other materialists have had to assume that in my new life the soul would clothe itself in the same body. It is a bolder thought to compare resurrection to the metamorphosis of a butterfly. For if the caterpillar is burnt up, then no chrysalis emerges from it. Whole nations have differed with respect to the manner in which they thought of the immortality of the soul?he Romans, for example, regarded the body as a prison of the soul and for this reason burned it. The Egyptians, on the other hand, believed that it was a necessary vehicle of the soul and sought to preserve it and to guard it against decomposition. ?Whether the soul falls asleep for a while immediately after death, we have nothing to say for or against this. Furthermore, granted that it is so, no human being need be unsettled by this, because the shortness of this sleep disappears in contrast to eternity. But how must we imagine the separation of the soul from the body? Nothing more than as the beginning of the intellectual and the end of the sensuous life. It is a materialist representation if one thinks that the soul, so to speak leaves the room when the human being dies, for it has no local presence. The soul begins from then on to intuit things differently than it had been accustomed in connection with the flesh. Now we find ourselves already in the intelligible world [Intelligblen Welt (sic)], and every human being can count himself either in the society [Gesellschaft] of the blessed or the damned, in accord with the condition [Beschaffenheit] of his manner of thinking [Denkungs Art]. Only now he is not conscious of it, and after death he will become conscious of this society. Thus the human being does not come for the first time to heaven and hell, but rather merely sees himself there. This is a marvelous representation. [Dies ist eine herrliche Vorstellung]. Where is heaven and hell? If we ask for the place, then that is sensuous [I.e., a sensuous representation] and makes the soul into a body. Heaven is the kingdom of the rewarding and hell of the punishing judge. We [920] are now already conscious through reason of finding ourselves in an intelligible kingdom [intelligiblen Reiche (sic)]; after death we will intuit and know it, and then we are in a wholly different world, which, however, is only changed in form, where, namely, we know things as they are in themselves [Dinge . . . Wie sie an sich selbst]. The opinion of Leibniz, that the soul already has here, and will have in a future life, a material vehicle, which is indestructible, is sensuous [I.e., a sensuous representation] and explains nothing.

The parallels and contrasts between Metaphysik Mrongovius and Metaphysik L1 are as follows. Both begin with the question of whether a departed soul enjoys a corporeal or a purely spiritual existence. Then, while L1 immediately explores the option of spiritual existence, Mrongovius discusses corporeal existence, treating such topics as palingenesis, Priestley on the resurrection of the body, the analogy between the metamorphosis of the soul and the metamorphosis of a butterfly, and the contrasting views of the Romans and the Egyptians on the relation of soul and body. Mrongovius then discusses the idea of the sleep of the soul after death. None of these topics appears in L1. The change may reflect an omission on the part of the L1 notetaker or a later copyist, or it could indicate a later expansion of the course by Kant. The parallels resume, when Mrongovius offers a critique of the idea of the passage into the next life as a change of place, claiming instead that death brings a change from a sensuous to a spiritual intuition of the same place. The notes then identify the afterlife with the intelligible world. Then we find the Swedenborgian claim that each human being in this life already enters into societies of blessed or damned spirits based upon his character, discovering his position in heaven and hell only after his death, when his spiritual eyes are opened.

At this point, Mrongovius declares that, "This is a marvelous representation [Dies ist eine herrliche Vorstellung]," while at roughly the same point of the discussion, L1 declares that, "The thought of Swedenborg on this matter is quite sublime [sehr erhaben]." It is not unreasonable to speculate that Kant mentioned Swedenborg in the later lecture course as well, but that this reference was not recorded by the notetaker. Then Mrongovius, like L1, repeats some of the points made immediately before, namely: the nonspatiotemporal location of heaven and hell, that the passage to the afterlife is not a change of place, but a change from sensuous to spiritual intuition of the same place, that in our earthly existence we already establish our place in heaven or hell, and that upon our deaths, when our spiritual eyes are opened, we will discover the place we already occupy in the afterlife. As in L1, the tone of the treatment of these topics is pointedly assertoric. We are given the strong impression that Kant is speaking in propria persona. Furthermore, here Mrongovius adds the following philosophical equations to the ones offered in L1: the afterlife = the intelligible world = heaven and hell (treated in a Swedenborgian fashion) = the intelligible kingdom = things as they are in themselves. The equation of the afterlife with things as they are in themselves is especially important, for this is the language of the Critique of Pure Reason, and thus clearly indicates that the Swedenborgian element of Kant's thought not only survived his "Copernican Revolution," but also was integrated into his mature metaphysics. Mrongovius then mentions something that is not discussed in L1: Leibniz's account of the material vehicle of the soul, the corpuscle. Then the notes on the rational psychology unit come to an end. There is nothing in Mrongovius that corresponds to L1's treatment of the following topics: the inability of rational psychology either to prove or to disprove the possibility of a spiritual world; whether and how we can have interaction with departed souls, either by their appearance in the material world or by their direct influence on the mind (here Swedenborg is again explicitly mentioned); the opposition of the principle of sound reason to speculations regarding interaction with spirits; and the moral, as opposed to speculative, grounds for believing in the immortality of the soul and the existence of a spiritual world.

7. Metaphysik Volckmann

The next surviving set of notes is the Metaphysik Volckmann, named for Johann Wilhelm Volckmann (1766?836) and reliably dated to winter semester 1784?785. In spite of its rough form, in richness and detail the Metaphysik Volckmann is second only to Metaphysik L1.

?I>The consideration of the state of the soul after death. The first question here is this: If the soul lives after death then where is it? If the corporeal world is only appearance, then we cannot at all place the soul in it, but rather in another world, heaven, which means the totality of intellectual beings [das Ganze der intellectuellen Wesen]; if the souls will know the same things as they are, then this is the other world. Now we can say: The virtuous [person] is already in heaven, only he is not conscious of it, for he knows the things in themselves, and the rational kingdom [das vernünftige Reich] is considered under moral laws: the kingdom of God [Reich des Gottes] and the kingdom of ends [Reich der Zweke (sic)], and he is a true member in the kingdom of ends; the passage to the other world would be only the intuition that is called coming into another world; this is only with respect to form another, but with respect to the content it is always the same; further than this we cannot go. That the soul, according to Leibniz, will have a corpuscle, [a] vehicle that already lies in a human being, is far too crude a representation. Leibniz also said: the soul would still be buried with the body because it could not so easily work itself loose, until the parts of the body have passed into decay, where it can then more easily come away, but then the soul would still have to be dug up sometime; death is also merely the end of sensibility; if this has an end, then we are separated from the body. ?The last question is: can one think of a sleeping soul? I.e., whether the acts of its thinking will also be suspended for a while, about which, however, one can say nothing at all. (Metempsychosis was a pleasing idea of the Oriental peoples, although somewhat crude. It was their purgatory, which they named devas; if the soul migrated into an animal there, then this was called lamaistic rebirth, and of the soul can again into a human being as a reward, then it was called Burham; from there, they believed, the soul would be flung back into the abyss of all souls, namely God, out of which it had come.) Cutting off all further brooding on this is the best medicine, [446] that we can say. Another world means only another [form of] intuition of the same things; the sensible world thus totally ceases for us; therefore, we also cannot hope to be transferred to any place in it. Now it is asked: will the soul exist as pure intelligence? But it is indeed that when it is not sensuous; yet will there not be another sensuous intuition? No human being can settle this, or also whether after death souls will intuit things according to the same form, only more finely and more perfectly. We also cannot know that, only then the soul would always only remain in the same world, and there would be no other world, but rather it would perhaps be only at another place in this world, but should there really be another world, then I must separate it from this manner of sensibility. But one also cannot think how a being that is created should know things in themselves. We will thus presumably come only gradually to a greater perfection of knowledge and in the same or in another world have another kind of intuition. Here no philosophy goes further. ?The author [e.g. Baumgarten] now speaks also of blessedness [Seeligkeit] and damnation [Verdammung], etc., etc. Here on Earth, happiness [Glückseeligkeit] is nothing but a progress [Fortschritte], each sensation of our state drives us to go from one to another; accordingly, we cannot think of a persistent state after this which would be happy in an identical way, for we think of happiness only in progress, but if it is always in progress, then it can never be completed; were this to happen, then happiness would cease. We think of a wholly complete happiness only in the other world, which state, without any additional pain, is called blessed. Blessedness is contentment [Zufriedenheit] so far as it springs out of the power of a rational subject, or so far as the subject is itself sufficient. If the moral good that someone does is enough for contentment, then he has a foretaste of blessedness, but which degree is only a small admixture of heavenly sparks; accordingly, a human being in this life is not blessed, but rather in the strictest understanding it could not also become [blessed], for it depends upon other things, the possession of which is needed for its contentment. But we almost cannot think that a creature can be damned or robbed of all happiness, for then we must represent it as almost dead; it would aim at no other state, and so all activity would cease. In the future [447] world we can thus think only a progress toward happiness or toward misery; we cannot at all imagine that all will be in one heap. The morally good and evil is therefore also never perfect with a human being, but rather consists only in progress. With respect to moral and physical perfection, we will thus be able to think of the other world also only in terms of a progression [progressus], [in] which both ultimately must be connected with wellbeing [Wohlbefinden]. If the moral worth of a human being can never be attained all at once, then it is peculiar that it is so represented by human beings, since, if a human being in this life in a progress of getting wickeder, more evil, [it] is not to be expected that after his death it will take another path, thus there is an unfathomable future of decline in deterius, and thus my state too will decline ever more into misery and unhappiness. For this reason, therefore, improvement in the last moment of life is also quite difficult. ?The progress toward the good also goes on to infinity, for we see no reason why it should cease. The state of progress in moral and physical good is called blessedness, and the progress of moral and physical evil is called damnation, but whether this will last eternally, one cannot fathom. But in the practical sense, we can say that concern with evil is eternal, for I have no reason to believe that the human being should be different there (practically indiscernible is thus that where I have no reason to set bounds), similarly we are also not in a position to establish positively that it will last eternally. ?On the possibility of community with departed souls. This came to be imagined, because one could not represent a human being who was dead, and thus often represented him to oneself in fantasy, through which one finally lapsed into this: although a human being is not visible, then he must be there invisibly, which representation still increased the dread of annihilation. Those who accept this say: it would indeed be possible, which possibility can be twofold, either the soul takes on a body, and then souls would come before us as corporeally appearing beings, or secondly, they would be internally present, which Schwedenburg [sic] maintained. To get mixed up in disputing the possibility of this here would be [a] vain effort; I can neither prove it nor thoroughly refute it, for experience [448] gives us no instruction on it. Yet the maxims of reason, or the maxims of self-preservation, require us not to accept any of this; I cannot grant that if I concede this, reason has no further use; with respect to the effect of such beings, however, there is no possible use of reason at all, for since they are spirits, they cannot be grasped and observed by us; then neither can there be any use of reason on them at all. All spirits and ghosts [Gespenster], apparitions, dream interpretations, precognitions of the future, sympathy of souls are altogether a most objectionable delusion [Wahn], for it does not allow itself to be explained through any rule or through comparative observations. The human being who counts on that takes away all those means through which alone a use of reason is to be made, namely, that the things of the world stand under natural laws, and even if real ghosts exist, a rational person must still not believe in them, because it corrupts all use of reason. A certain malice also sticks in this, for the ignoramus would readily like to cancel the difference between him and the rational scholar, and in this even the cleverest is as dumb as the ignorant. ?But now it is asked whether or not it could be valid for other spirits besides the human, but which have a merely spiritual existence, and can they influence us? Through this is brought up the whole delusion of the neoplatonic philosophers (who were also called eclectics), out of which sprang theurgy, which is the whole art of entering into community [Gemeinschaft] with such beings, to which belonged penance, sacrifice, and all kinds of superstitious formulas, etc. There is a peculiar lot of brain phantoms here, which one also finds in modern times, but it is foolish to accept that one created being should be the governor of others.

Metaphysik Volckmann begins with the question of whether the afterlife can be understood in terms of place, arguing that the passage to the next world is not a change of place, but a change from a sensuous to a spiritual form of intuition of the same place. It then asserts that each human being, in his earthly life, already establishes his place in heaven or hell, discovering this place only when his spiritual eyes open after death. Both of these topics are treated in L1 and Mrongovius. Volckmann offers the same epistemological caveats and speaks in the same assertoric tone, but introduces some crucial new terminology. Metaphysik L1 asserts the following philosophical equations: the afterlife = the Swedenborgian spiritual world = heaven and hell (conceived in Swedenborgian terms) = the intelligible world. Metaphysik Mrongovius expands the list: the afterlife = the intelligible world = heaven and hell (conceived in Swedenborgian terms) = the intelligible kingdom (intelligiblen Reiche [sic]) = things as they are in themselves. Metaphysik Volckmann expands the list still further: the afterlife = heaven and hell (conceived in Swedenborgian terms) = the totality of intellectual beings (das Ganze der intellectuellen Wesen) = things in themselves = the rational kingdom (das vernünftige Reich) = the kingdom of God (Reich des Gottes) = the kingdom of ends (Reich der Zwecke). Of these terminological innovations, the "kingdom of ends" is particularly important, for this is Kant's main description of the community of moral beings in his first installment of his mature system of moral philosophy, the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785). Elsewhere I have argued extensively that Swedenborg's vision of the spiritual world appears in Kant's mature moral philosophy as the kingdom of ends. The Meta-physik Volckmann (1784?785) is the clearest record of this link.

Metaphysik Volckmann then discusses Leibniz's claim that the soul after death has a physical vehicle, a corpuscle, and the question of whether the soul sleeps for a while after death. Both of these topics are also treated in Mrongovius, but not in L1. Volckmann then discusses the Oriental doctrine of metempsychosis, its resemblance to the Christian doctrine of purgatory, the ideas of lama and Buddha reincarnation, and the doctrine of the annihilation of individual souls into the abyss of souls, none of which are treated in L1 and Mrongovius. Volckmann then deals with whether the soul exists after death as a pure intelligence, and, as in L1 and Mrongovius, answers in the affirmative.

Then Volckmann treats Baumgarten's claim that earthly happiness consists in the pursuit, not the possession, of happiness, whereas heavenly blessedness is completely and enduringly possessed. Then Kant apparently asserts the difficulty of thinking of hellish misery as a state of complete abjection and the preferability of regarding it as an unending decline in deterius. Following this, we find Kant's claim that heavenly blessedness, like earthly happiness, is enjoyed in an unending pursuit or progress (Fortschritt) rather than as an enduring possession. Then follows a remark on the possibility of eternal damnation and its practical meaning. None of these topics are treated in L1 and Mrongovius, but they do look forward to Kant's account of the afterlife in the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) as an endless progression (undendliche Progressus) toward the highest good.

Volckmann then discusses whether and how we can enjoy community with departed souls, the origin of the idea of interaction with the dead in the human fear of annihilation, the possibility of spirits appearing by taking on corporeal forms, the possibility of spirits appearing by directly affecting our minds (here Swedenborg is explicitly mentioned), the impossibility of either proving or disproving the possibility of spirit manifestations, the opposition of the maxims of reason and self-preservation to rational speculation on interaction with departed souls, and the possibility of interaction with spiritual beings other than departed human souls (the neoplatonic eclectics, theurgy, ascetic practices, magical formulas). All of these topics, save the very last, are treated identically in L1. None of them appear in Mrongovius, which breaks off after its discussion of the Leibnizian corpuscle. Unlike L1, after denying speculative grounds for belief in a spiritual world, Volckmann does not go on to offer moral or practical grounds for such a belief. Such arguments do, however, appear only a few years after Metaphysik Volckmann (1784?785) in the Critique of Practical Reason (1788).

8. Fragment einer späteren Rationaltheologie nach Baumbach

Swedenborg is also mentioned in one of the fragmentary texts in the rational theology section of Kant's Lectures on Metaphysics, the so-called Fragment einer späteren Rationaltheologie nach Baumbach, roughly dated to 1789?790 or 1790?791. The entire passage, in my translation, follows.

Mystical intuition [mystische Anschauung] is the faculty to see things which are not objects of experience; e.g., the notion of spirits that are in community [Gemeinschaft] with us. Not one example is recorded, neither from here nor elsewhere. It is remarkable that the mystic only knows something already known through experience. Thus Swedenborg wrote of all planets and their inhabitants, but only those then known by astronomers. Of Uranus he knew nothing. He appears, therefore, to have been a deliberate fraud. [Er scheint daher ein vorsätzlicher Betrüger gewesen zu sein.] ?The mystic thinks that a higher reason should make the use of empirical reason [Erfahrungsvernunft] superfluous.

Of all the references to Swedenborg in Kant's corpus, this one is the most sharply critical, for it contains the straightforward accusation that Swedenborg was nothing more than a fraud, a claim far harsher than even the nastiest passages of Dreams of a Spirit-Seer, where Kant explicitly says that he does not think that Swedenborg is a fraud.

Let us simply take the Fragment nach Baumbach at face value. Let us take it as an accurate report that Kant thought that Swedenborg was apparently a deliberate fraud. How does this affect my thesis that Kant took Swedenborg's idea of the spiritual world seriously, I.e., that he regarded it as a live option?hat he regarded it as a possible truth? The blow is somewhat softened by the fact that Swedenborg's claims about extraterrestrial life have long troubled his readers?ll the more so as space exploration has expanded our knowledge of the physical conditions on nearby planets. This fact has not, however, made it impossible for most of Swedenborg's readers to take other aspects of his writings seriously and derive benefits from them, and the same attitude could well hold true of Kant. It is certainly the case that Kant continued to lecture on Swedenborg in his rational psychology unit after the date of the Fragment nach Baumbach, and there is no apparent change of his tone there.

It may, however, be imprudent to take the Fragment nach Baumbach at face value, for the text is not unproblematic. First, it is unique. It resembles none of the other references to Swedenborg in the Kantian corpus. Therefore, it lacks corroboration from independent sources, which increases the likelihood that it is not an accurate report of Kant's views. Second, because of the problematic nature of all of these texts, prudence dictates that we do not grant probative value to any statements in the Lectures on Metaphysics. In other words, these sources can at best corroborate statements about Swedenborg from Kant's own hand, but they cannot add to or alter these statements. On the other hand, however, the text in question does refer to a historical event that took place long after Kant's initial encounter with Swedenborg, namely Herschel's discovery of Uranus on March 13, 1781. If the text records Kant's reevaluation of Swedenborg in light of new evidence, then it would not be fair to deny it probative value simply because it does not agree with a judgment made before he rethought his position. Nevertheless, the text's lack of corroboration places it under a cloud of suspicion. Third, the passage contains a number inaccuracies and errors that are hard to credit to Kant, but are not hard to credit to a student or copyist adding his own elaborations to Kant's statements. The errors and inaccuracies are as follows. First, Swedenborg did not claim that he possessed a faculty of nonspatial, nontemporal intellectual intuition. Instead, he claimed that his experiences of the spiritual world took the form of visions of spatial and temporal objects, I.e., objects of sensible intuition, which were related only symbolically to transcendent, nonspatiotemporal realities. Second, in Dreams Kant accurately reports this fact, so it is unlikely that he would attribute intellectual intuition to Swedenborg. Third, it is false that Swedenborg claimed to write about all the planets in our solar system. He says nothing to indicate that he thinks his survey of the solar system is complete, he speaks of planets outside of our solar system, and he mentions the existence of planets other than the ones he discusses. Fourth, it might have been the case that one of these was the planet later dubbed Uranus, but what purpose would it have served for Swedenborg to call it by a name that had not yet been assigned to it? Fifth, since Swedenborg made no falsifiable generalizations about life on other worlds, we cannot conclude that the discovery of Uranus falsifies any of his claims. (It is, of course, the case that more recent explorations of the solar system do not bear out Swedenborg's claims regarding the physical environments and inhabitants of the planets, but this fact throws no light on Kant's attitudes.) Given the scrupulous accuracy of Kant's reconstruction of Swedenborg's system of thought in Dreams, it seems hard to credit Kant with such inaccurate exposition and specious reasoning. Given that a conclusion cannot be sounder than the premises from which it is derived, and given the inaccuracy of the text's presentation of Swedenborg and the speciousness of its reasoning, we cannot grant the conclusion that Swedenborg was a deliberate fraud any more probative value than the rest of the argument.

9. Metaphysik L2

The next treatment of Swedenborg in Kant's Lectures on Metaphysics is in the so-called Metaphysik L2 of 1790?791. The passage follows in my translation.

[1] The state of the soul after death. Of this not much can be said, other than what is negative, I.e., what we do not know. We cannot place the soul after death in the corporeal world, also in no other world, which would somehow be far away. We say: it comes either to heaven or to hell. By heaven, one must understand the kingdom of rational beings [das Reich der vernünftigen Wesen] in union with their master as the holiest being of all. The human being who is virtuous is in heaven only he does not intuit it, but he can conclude it through reason. The human being who always finds cause to despise himself and find fault, is already in hell here. Thus the passage from the sensible world to another is merely the intuition of oneself. According to content, it is always the same, but according to the form it is different. It is asked: whether the human being will take on a new corpuscle as the vehicle of the soul? Probably not! ?We could make for ourselves [593] no concept of sleep if experience might not teach it to us. Now if we would compare the state of the soul after death with sleep, I.e., since it has suspended it actions, then it is asked whether the soul will fall into a sleep after death, or will immediately continue its life. Of this, nothing can be said at all. ?Metempsychosis, the migration of the soul, was a pleasing concept of the Orientals, which underlies the enthusiasm [Schwärmerey] of the Indians; it is their purgatory [purgatorium], just like the purgatory [Fegfeuer] of the Catholics. One sees immediately how limited our knowledge of the state of the soul after death is. ?This life shows nothing but appearances; another world means nothing other than another intuition; things in themselves are unknown to us here, but whether we will become acquainted with them in another world, we do not know. A pure spirit cannot exist in the sensible world as a mere soul. As intelligence, it does not appear in space, also not in time. The matter of the body is appearance.

[2] Happiness [Glückseeligkeit] is nowhere complete in this world. Blessedness consists in contentment so far as it rests on the subject; it is, so to speak, self-sufficiency. No creature can be blessed [seelig] in the strictest understanding, for as soon as it is dependent upon something, it always has needs and can never be content. Thus happiness consists in progress [Fortschritte]. In the future world we will thus be in progress either toward happiness or toward misery, but whether this con-tinues eternally, we cannot know at all. Moral good and evil is never perfect here; it is always in progress.

[3] On the possibility of community with departed souls. The human being quite abhors annihilation [vernichtung]. The possibility of community with the souls of the dead is twofold, namely (1) the soul takes on a body, or it has one already; this can be a possibility. (2) through its presence, a spirit brings forth in us thoughts and presentations of things, in the same way as when we intuit actual things. Schwedenborg [sic] also had this last view. To refute the possibility of spirit-apparitions would be a vain effort. Possible things, of which we can have no experience whatsoever, we cannot judge except other than with the principle of contradiction. All spirit-apparitions are of the kind that we can neither set up experiments nor precisely observe and inspect them, and [594] it thus allows reason no further employment here at all. All apparitions of spirits and ghosts [Gespenster], all dream interpretations, precognitions of the future, presentiments [Ahnungen], and the like are most objectionable because they cannot be brought under any rule. The neoplatonic sect, which flowered particularly in the third century, had these visions and raptures [Phantastereien und Schwärmerey]. They called themselves eclectics because they were, so to speak, chosen. They had special arts. Theurgy is the whole art of entering into the community [Gemeinschaft] of spirits and conversing with them. Theurgy has as its object the great kingdom of spirits [Geister Reich], magic and Cabbala, and there was still more here. It is not worth the trouble to say more about this.

In the first paragraph, Metaphysik L1 deals with the following topics: (1) whether the existence of departed souls can be understood in terms of place, (2) heaven and hell conceived in Swedenborgian terms as spiritual communities into which we enter during our earthly existence, and (3) the passage into the afterlife as the change from a sensuous to a spiritual intuition of the same place, as opposed to the movement from one place to another. All these topics are treated in precisely the same way in L1, Mrongovius, and Volckmann. Whereas the earlier texts equate the afterlife with the Swedenborgian spiritual world, with heaven and hell conceived in Swedenborgian terms, the intelligible world, the intelligible kingdom, things as they are in themselves, the totality of intellectual beings, the rational kingdom, the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of ends, L2 describes the afterlife (and heaven in particular) as the kingdom of rational beings (das Reich der vernünftigen Wesen).

L2's first paragraph then goes on to treat Leibniz's claim that the soul after death has a physical vehicle, a corpuscle; the question of whether the soul sleeps for a while after death; the Oriental doctrine of metempsychosis and its resemblance to the Christian doctrine of purgatory; the inability of rational psychology to either prove or disprove the possibility of spiritual existence; the limitation of knowledge to appearances, as opposed to things as they are in themselves; the body as material appearance in space and time; and the departed soul's existence as a pure intelligence outside of space and time. All of these topics are treated in essentially the same way in the Metaphysik Volckmann, although in greater detail.

The second L2 paragraph discusses earthly happiness as constant progress toward, rather than the enduring possession of, happiness, and heavenly blessedness as constant progress toward, rather than the enduring possession of, blessedness. Again, all of these topics are treated in essentially the same way in the Metaphysik Volckmann, although in greater detail.

The third L2 paragraph treats the question of whether and how the living can have interaction with departed souls; the origin of this idea in the abhorrence of annihilation; the apparition of spirits in material form; the apparition of spirits by directly affecting our minds, bringing forth thoughts and representations of physical things which are symbolically related to spiritual realities and from which the inner spiritual meaning can be retrieved by an act of interpretation (here Swedenborg is explicitly mentioned); the inability of rational psychology either to prove or to disprove the possibility of interaction with the spirits; and the Neoplatonist eclectics, theurgy, and the Cabbala. Again, the treatment is essentially identical to that of the Metaphysik Volckmann, although it lacks detail.

Butts characterizes this paragraph rather misleadingly by allowing the whole discussion to be colored by the impression created by its final, disdainful words about neoplatonism, theurgy, and the Cabbala: "The author of the notes, if not Kant himself, had little that is positive to say about this version of mysticism." By "this version of mysticism" Butts apparently means Swedenborg's. But this is somewhat misleading. Kant is not talking about one kind of mysticism, but of many. The notes, however sketchy, preserve some traces of the distinctions Kant took pains to set out. This distinction is, furthermore, much clearer in the Metaphysik Volckmann, where Swedenborg is discussed under the heading of the possibility of interaction with the departed spirits of fellow human beings, while neoplatonism and theurgy are discussed under the different topic of the possibility of interaction with nonhuman spirits. Given that Kant set out such distinctions, it is unreasonable to elide them and characterize the tone of Kant's treatment of Swedenborg based upon the tone of his references to other forms of mysticism. Kant, after all, took Swedenborg's version of mysticism seriously enough as a candidate for truth to write a book about him, an honor he did not extend to the Neoplatonists and Cabbalists.

10. Metaphysik K2

The next treatment of Swedenborg in Kant's Lectures on Metaphysics is found in Metaphysik K2, dated roughly to 1791?792 or 1792?793. The entire passage follows in my translation.

State of the Soul after Death

[Status animae post mortem]

[1] This is no more than a dream. ?The passage into a future life is either a passage to a spiritual or animal life. The former is a passage to another world, the latter not, for there is only one space, and we may be in any location we wish, we are still in space and hence in the corporeal world. Let it be supposed that our future life would be a pure spiritual life, but then the separation of the soul from the body is not a transference from one place to another, for the soul has no relation to places in the manner of other things. Swedenborg in his Arcana Coelestia says: his inmost soul was opened up, I.e., he has a sense for interaction with spirits, and maintains it with them. He says: every man is already here in heaven or hell, but [only in the] future [will] he see himself in the society [Gesellschaft] of the pious and damned, which he cannot [see] here. The animal life [vita animalis] is a life in interaction with a body. Separation is the decomposition of the interaction. In the animal life, the union can be (1) with the same body, or (2) with another body. The first is palingenesis. But the passage into another animal life is (1) palingenesis, (2) [769] metamorphosis. The first is twofold, (1) through evolution, (2) through resurrection. [He] who accepts a palingenesis of evolution, accepts a corpuscle, like Leibniz, who says the soul in human beings is in a small body, which would not be destroyed by death, but rather out of which the soul develops. The Jews say everything in the body perishes except for a small bone in the brain, out of which the entire body would rise again. Palingenesis through resurrection is just as if one assumed that a wholly new body could be produced. Those who accept this are materialists, to which class the apostles also belong, who place personality in matter. The transfigured body is a word without sense. ?Why should our calcerous flesh [kalkerdigter Leib] [be] in heaven? And yet it is supposed to be the same. The system of palingenesis of evolution seems to be adopted by Paul, but yet he speaks also of the resurrection of the same body. ?The system of metamorphosis can be (a) formal metamorphosis, (b) a material metamorphosis. The first is a metamorphosis of transformation, the latter of transmigration (I.e., metempsychosis), soul displacement. According to the first, one assumes that the same body merely takes on another form; according to the latter, that the soul is transposed into another animal body. If one adopts the cup of forgetfulness [letheum poculum], where the soul is conscious no more of its previous state, has lost its previous personality, but has gained a new one. Here no imputability can take place, but one still assumes that, although in his new state the human being cannot remember the previous one, he will still be rewarded or punished for what he did in the other. It is insipid, because it does not accomplish what it is thought to; a human being is supposed to be, e.g., punished in a new state for that which he did in another, of which he is not conscious; this is not punishment, but rather only evil. According to it, animals can also make themselves deserving that they finally come into human bodies. If a human soul comes from an animal again into a human body, then it is called the lama rebirth. If such a human being dies, then he becomes a burchan, I.e., a saint. ?Some hold souls to be mere parts of a general world soul. This is not possible; for the one is conscious of his subject, the other of a wholly other kind of subject. The Chinese seek to become free of their individuality as much as possible, in order to be swallowed in the general world soul. [770]

[2] The state of passage to another world is (a) that of a slumbering soul, where the soul is conscious of neither this nor that world. An advocate of the sleep of the soul [hypnopsychita] is whoever assumes this. An advocate of the eternal night [psychopannychita] assumes an everlasting slumber of the soul. (b) A full consciousness of oneself. The state of the soul in consciousness of continuation in another world is (a) of a consciousness in association with the blessed, (b) with the nonblessed. Blessedness is a moral contentment with oneself. Happiness is contentment with the state of the world in which I find myself, in relation to the things outside me.

[3] Heaven and hell. The maximum of all good, of well-being as well as the worthiness to be happy, is heaven; it is the love of the highest good. The maximum of evil, I.e., the abhorrence of all good, is hell. By heaven is understood the infinite progression to the good, and thus the gradual extension of the evil principle is hell. An infinite progression in good can easily be thought, but not in evil.

For reasons soon to be made clear, it is best to comment on Metaphysik K2 alongside the next and final treatment of Swedenborg in Kant's Lectures on Metaphysics, the Metaphysik Dohna.

11. Metaphysik Dohna

Metaphysik Dohna, named for Graf Heinrich Ludwig Adolph zu Dohna-Wundlacken (1777?843), is reliably dated to the winter semester of 1792?3. Since Metaphysik K2's likely dates overlap with Metaphysik Dohna's firmly established dates, it is possible that both texts record exactly the same lecture. Although K2 is much more detailed than Dohna, their contents show considerable overlap, making a common origin quite likely. The entire passage from Metaphysik Dohna is as follows.

Of the passage to the future life, this is spiritual, or animal life [vita animalis], the former which we call another world, because space fashions all things into only one single world; the concept of spiritual life is wholly idea [ganz Idee]. It may be supposed, and if we have gone over from animal life to a pure spiritual life, then this is not at all to be sought for in space. (Swedenborg?ook the ideal whole for real, invisible church.) Animal life, life in interaction with the body; a union, either (1) with the same body, palingenesis, (a) through corpuscles which remain indestructible, evolution, (b) through resurrection?f the same body is resurrected, those who assert that are materialists; (2) with another body?etamorphosis. The system of palingenesis, of evolution, assumes throughout the soul as material?I>transfigured body says nothing, it thus remains always body. The theory of metamorphosis is: (1) formal, where the same matter receives another form, namely from the corpuscle, as from the kernel, this is the metamorphosis of transformation; (2) the metamorphosis of transmigration, metempsychosis, soul-displacement, soul-migration, a very old opinion with the Indians. The advocates of metempsychosis [Metempsychosists] must always adopt the letheum poculum?he cup of forgetfulness?ut this does not help recovery at all. The state of the soul after the passage. The advocates of the sleep of the soul [Hypnopsychita] adopt a sleep of the soul as intermediate state. The soul is conscious of itself as either in the world of the blessed or the unblessed?his concerns the moral?blessedness contentment with one's morality; happiness contentment with objects outside oneself. Heaven the maximum of all good with respect to well-being and worthiness?ell the opposite?oth are ideals. The maximum cannot be given with a human being?e can think an infinite progress in the good.

K2 and Dohna both begin by discussing the passage into the afterlife as either the passage into an animal existence in a spatial and material world, or the passage into a spiritual existence in an immaterial, non-spatial world. If the former, then the afterlife is properly understood as another place, and death is properly understood as a change of place. If the latter, then the afterlife is not properly understood as another place, and the journey is not understood as a change of place. It should be noted, however, that neither K2 nor Dohna speak of this passage as the change from a sensuous to a spiritual form of intuition, as discussed in the other extant notes.

Both K2 and Dohna then refer to Swedenborg, K2 discussing Swedenborg's claim in Arcana Coelestia that his innermost soul was opened up to communication with the spiritual world and that each man, in his earthly life, enrolls himself into a heavenly or hellish community in accordance with his character, only discovering his position after death. Dohna, however, refers to Swedenborg's identification of Kant's "ideal totality" with a real, invisible church. In spite of the difference, both notes could simply be recording different aspects of one and the same discussion of Swedenborg.

These references to Swedenborg are easily misinterpreted. At the beginning of K2, Kant's topic is the idea that the afterlife is literally another world, conceived specifically as a spatial world. Kant claims that this idea is "no more than a dream" [nichts weiter als ein Traum]. If the afterlife were another spatial world, then, Kant insists, survival after death would require another physical body. If, however, death is the separation of the soul from the physical body?nd this seems clearly to be Kant's preferred view?hen the afterlife into which the soul passes is not another spatial world. Kant's use of the word Traum brings Swedenborg to mind, and when Swedenborg is mentioned a few sentences later it is natural to conclude that Kant is again speaking of the Träume of this particular Geisterseher. But this is no more than an error. Swedenborg did not hold that the afterlife is literally another world. He held that the afterlife is the very world in which we live, only seen with new spiritual eyes that only open after our physical eyes have closed for the last time. Swedenborg claimed, of course, that he became aware of this arrangement by a special dispensation of God, which opened up his inner spiritual vision while he was still alive, allowing him simultaneously to exist as a citizen of both worlds. Kant, in short, is not criticizing Swedenborg in this passage. Indeed, he may be citing Swedenborg for confirmation.

As for Metaphysik Dohna, Kant is concerned with the question of the precise nature of the afterlife. Is it another world in the literal sense of another place, another space? If so, then the afterlife would have to be a kind of "vita animalis," I.e., a form of embodied existence. If, however, death is the separation of the soul from the body, then the other world could not be a spatial world, for spiritual existence is "wholly idea" [ganz Idee]. By "idea" Kant does not, of course, mean that pure spiritual life is merely an abstract possibility, but that pure spiritual life is not to be met with in the real world, I.e., the world of space and time. Swedenborg is then mentioned in a highly cryptic, parenthetical passage: "(Swedenborg?ook the ideal whole for real, invisible church)." If Metaphysik K2 may serve as a clue?nd it may, even if the two texts were not based upon the same lecture?hen the mention of Swedenborg at this point may be for the purpose of confirmation. It is, however, possible to read the passage in such a way that Swedenborg is mentioned in contrast to Kant's view: Kant may be saying that the afterlife is a totum ideale, Swedenborg may be saying that it is a totum reale. To say that Swedenborg "took" the totum ideale for a real church might even be taken as an implied critique, although the sense of the German verb "annehmen" is more to assume, adopt, accept, or defend a position than to construe or interpret (or misconstrue and misinterpret) a state of affairs.

After dealing with Swedenborg's spiritualistic account of the afterlife, both K2 and Dohna turn their attention to more materialistic accounts, which require that the soul exist in union with a body. This body can be either (1) the same body (palingenesis), or (2) a different body (metamorphosis). At this point, the texts dissolve into a garbled series of slightly varied options and examples, which I reconstruct as follows. Palingenesis can take place either (1) through evolution, I.e., crystallization of a new body around a surviving portion of the old, examples being Leibniz's doctrine of the corpuscle and the Jewish doctrine of the resurrection bone, or (2) through resurrection, I.e., the recreation of the previous body, examples being the teachings of the apostles and the doctrine of the transfigured body. Metamorphosis is either (1) formal, I.e., the transformation of the soul, or (2) material, I.e., the transmigration of the soul (e.g., the Oriental doctrine of metempsychosis; like Volckmann, K2 refers to lama and Buddha reincarnation and the annihilation of the individual soul in the abyss of the world soul). Both texts refer to the cup of forgetfulness and the sleep after death. Both texts then rehearse the standard discussions of earthly happiness and heavenly blessedness as well as heaven and hell.


What do Kant's Lectures on Metaphysics reveal about his views of Swedenborg? Because of the problematic nature of these texts, the answer, strictly speaking, is: nothing new. All of these texts, with the exception of the Fragment nach Baumbach, do, however, provide ample corroboration of my interpretation of Kant's writings on Swedenborg: namely, that Kant regarded Swedenborg's ideas as serious candidates for truth, and did so for a period of thirty-five years, including the entire period during which he elaborated his epochal system of critical philosophy. Perhaps it is time for Kant scholars to take Swedenborg as seriously as Kant did.

The author wishes to thank Marsha Keith Schuchard and Glenn Alexander Magee for suggestions and encouragement, and Karl Ameriks for sharing the galleys of his forthcoming translation (with Steve Naragon) of selections from Kant's Lectures on Metaphysics. The translators' introduction in particular saved me from several errors. The usual disclaimer applies.