Against the Fantasts

Philosophy 66 (257):349-367 (1991)
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Abstract

Amongst Kant's lesser known early writings is a short treatise with the curious title Dreams of a Spirit-Seer Explained by Dreams of Metaphysics, in which, with considerable acumen and brilliance, and not a little irony, Kant exposes the empty pretensions of his contemporary, the Swedish visionary and Biblical exegete, Emanuel Swedenborg, to have access to a spirit world, denied other mortals. Despite his efforts, it must be feared, however, that Kant did not, alas, succeed in laying the spirit of Swedenborg himself to rest once and for all, for there has arisen in our own day, and within philosophy itself, a movement of thought, if such it can be called, which, like that of Swedenborg, is founded upon an unbridled and unhealthy exercise of the imagination, and apparently believes that philosophical problems can be discussed and resolved by the elaboration of fantastical, and at times repulsive, examples; if we require a name for this contemporary pretence at philosophy, we could take as our model the Italian word for science fiction, fantascienza, and call it ‘fantaphilosophy’: it is my aim to show that this fantaphilosophy is a phantom philosophy.

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