Continuing (sans Seth) from part one on “On the Relation Between the Plastic Arts and Nature” (1807) and Part 6 of System of Transcendental Idealism (1800).
We finish up the 1807 speech by talking about sculpture vs. painting and then move on to this penultimate chapter of this early, systematic, seminal work whose beginning we treated in episodes 273 and 274. The System of Transcendental Idealism served as the rough blueprint for Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, and so it begins with basic perception and self-consciousness, moves through philosophy of science, ethics, and history, and we’re now reading this part because somehow the whole philosophical project culminates in art, in a very dense, 15-page section that provides the theoretical basis for the much more listener-friendly 1807 speech (and arguably for most of what the Schlegel brothers had to tell us in our last two episodes).
The key idea here is that art allows us to somehow immediately, intuitively grasp infinity, which is what philosophy is trying to understand but can never fully and explicitly do so via conceptual reasoning. The point of philosophy is also to fully realize self-consciousness, where this means not the bare, empty introspection that anyone can do at any time, but the “thick” self-consciousness where you as an individual realize that you are (per transcendental idealism) in some sense identical to the whole universe.
There are two parts to this (that are made clearer in our prior episodes on Fichte and Schelling): The idealist position is that we create all that we experience with our minds. So even though the objective world looks quite different than me, the person who’s perceiving it, understanding the truth of idealism means claiming responsibility for all that objective stuff, understanding that I’m constructing it, and so in that sense it’s actually part of me. But these idealists are not relativists or (worse) solipsists: They don’t literally mean that each of us as a unique individual creates our own world, or that only the philosopher is real. Instead, the self that is doing the creating ends up being not you as a free individual, but you as one somehow individuated perspective within the group mind that is really God. We’re all designed similarly, according to the same blueprint, to create the world in a similar kind of way; this is what makes the idealism “transcendental,” in that I as an instantiation of this ultimate creative force am not something that I experience in the same way that I experience the objects of my perception.
So how do we experience ourselves in this way? Again, art is the only way to really grasp this, because the truths of art strike us as eternal truths. When a mood or a face or a figure or a situation is captured with grace and perfection, we experience that as timeless and hence infinite: Something that we could really sink into and contemplate pretty much indefinitely without getting bored.
Learn about the online Core Philosophy Texts course Mark is running this fall at partiallyexaminedlife.com/class.
Next week: We’re actually going to release our part 3 episode in this public feed, as we thought it was that good. For our next full episode, we’re reading some things on the origin of language, starting with the Stanford Encyclopedia article on the innateness of language, then two works by Michael Tomasello: Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition (Ch. 1-3, 8-9) and “Language is Not an Instinct” (1995).