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An Advanced introduction to some Kantian ideas

I.c.  An Advanced introduction to some Kantian ideas


I turn now to Modern Philosophy, Vol. VI of Frederick Copleston’s History of Philosophy, focusing on Copleston’s treatment of Space and Time, as I begin, tentatively, to apply Kant to Literati Landscape Painting.  In III.a. I will return to a subsection of Luchte’s “Overview of Themes” called “The Philosophy of Kant: The Basics,” which he continues with the chapter “Reading the Text,” in subsections titled “Transcendental Aesthetic: Space and Time,” “Transcendental Logic,” “Imagination, Synthesis and the Third Basic Faculty of the Soul” and “Transcendental Deduction.” First, however, a few generalizations of my own.


(1) Though the painter’s subject matter may be influenced by prior experience of the natural world, his creation of individual landscapes does not depend upon his experience of specific landscapes. (2) Instead, his treatment of landscape is a priori and synthetic. (3) He is not a mere copyist but rather a projector. What he projects is his conception of landscape (he does not work, like the impressionist, en plein air, nor, like the modern painter, from a photograph, but rather from his imagination, an important Kantian principle.) (4) His purpose is to embody his knowledge of nature and his understanding of the cosmic order through landscape painting.


 Now for Copelston, who is very helpful with Time and Space. He begins by quoting Kant: “Time is not something objective and real. It is neither an accident nor a substance, nor a relation; it is [instead] the subjective condition, necessary because of the nature of the human mind, of co-coordinating all sensibilia by a certain law, and it is pure intuition. For we co-ordinate substances and accidents alike, as well according to simultaneity as to succession, only through the concept of time . . .”


I note here in passing that what occurs in a Chinese landscape painting does so both simultaneously and through a succession of “events.” As for Kant’s view of Space: “Space is not anything objective and real; it is neither a substance nor an accident nor a relation; rather it is subjective and ideal and proceeds from the nature of the mind by a stable law, as the scheme (schema) of co-coordinating all external sensa.” Space and Time, then, together are the necessary conditions of “sensitive knowledge.”

To continue with Copelston: “If we assume that the human mind is purely passive in knowledge, we cannot explain the a priori knowledge which we undoubtedly possess. Let us assume, therefore, that the mind is active. This activity does not mean creation of beings out of nothing. It means instead that the mind imposes, as it were, on the ultimate material of experience its own forms of cognition; determined by the structure of the human sensibility and understanding, things cannot be known except through these forms.”


I note how similar these “forms” are to the “forms” in which the painter works, and how similar to Kant’s a priori knowledge is the tradition that dictates to the painter the format of his painting, its brush technique, his selection of subjects, motifs and so on. The philosopher’s aim, Copleston says, is to demonstrate “the laws which lie a priori at the basis of Nature (considered as the sum of possible objects of experience).” Is the painter’s aim not the same, as far as any “possible objects” of his experience are concerned?

“Space and Time constitute the framework [cp. the painter’s scroll] in which the manifold of sensation is ordered or arranged.” “Kant’s formula is therefore this. Space and time are empirically real but transcendentally ideal.” The Chinese literati landscape painter deals with things that are empirically real (mountains, boulders, waterfalls, lakes, trees, men), but he renders them in an ideal rather than realistic way. Copleston later goes on to discuss the subordination of indeterminate matter to the forms of Space and Time.


“These forms are the necessary condition to there being objects at all.” Likewise, there could be no landscape painting without the creation of Space and Time on the surface of the scroll. “Space and Time, Kant insists, are not illusions.” Likewise for the landscape painter they are necessary conditions. “Space and Time are a priori conditions of all experience” and “the a priori concepts or categories of the understanding are a priori conditions of the possibility of experience.” Likewise, for the painter his preconditions.


We have little difficulty understanding that Space must figure in the artist’s representation of the landscape in his literati painting. The presence of Time is a little more difficult to grasp. Fundamentally there is no Space without Time, so this is one way of grasping the necessity of Time in painting. But there are also other ways. It takes time to view the hand scroll as one unrolls it, or to move through the hanging scroll from its lower right-hand corner back across to its left margin, up and back across to its right, until we reach the top of the scroll.


There is, however, yet another sense in which time is embodied, in physical reality, in the creative Self, and in the painting produced by it. This is through the motion that is inherent in matter and, as Kant will argue, the motion or force inherent in the Self. (Though Kant did not have our knowledge of atomic physics, he nonetheless intuited it.) There follows a discussion of physical motion as conceived by Newton, Copernicus and Einstein, into which I interpolate remarks that draw attention to analogies with Chinese literati landscape painting.


II.a. A digression on The role of motion in physics