The 'thought-work' ; or, the exuberance of thinking in Kant and Freud

Sandford, Stella (2021) The 'thought-work' ; or, the exuberance of thinking in Kant and Freud. In: Vassilopoulou, Panayiota and Whistler, Daniel, (eds.) Thought : a philosophical history. Abingdon, U.K. : Routledge. pp. 219-235. ISBN 9780367000103


In several works generally seen as peripheral to his critical project Kant embarked on a sustained and generally consistent attempt to identify, analyse and explain what at first sight seem to be the para-phenomena of his faculty philosophy: dreams, visions and various forms of mental disturbance and madness. Kant characterises these phenomena as empirical problems with the functions of the faculties of sensibility (including imagination), understanding and reason. Concentrating especially on the misfiring or malfunctioning of reason and understanding, this chapter considers how these disturbances are related to the proper functioning of the faculties – that is, how Kant sees this relation, but also how Kant’s official view of things may be questioned. Kant’s explanation of mental disturbance as having its origin in the body is an attempt, this chapter will argue, to separate the various forms of madness and disturbances of thought from the proper working of the higher cognitive faculties and from philosophical thinking, including philosophical error. This chapter will dispute that separation. It lays out Kant’s distinction, in his ‘Essay on the Maladies of the Head’, between the three forms of madness associated with the faculties of sensibility, understanding and reason, respectively. It then considers the problematic relation of these forms of madness with metaphysics, leaving us with the question of the nature of the perversion of understanding and reason and the relation of their faulty to their ‘correct’ forms. The chapter then suggests, on the basis of a linguistic and topical kinship, that this question can be approached via Freud’s work on the psychopathology of everyday life. On the model of the ‘dream-work’ and the ‘joke-work’ in Freud’s writings, this chapter suggests that we can think of thinking in general in terms of the subjective ‘thought-work’, and it considers how this conception of thought in general must necessarily have implications for how we can think about philosophical thought.

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