The Sources and Influence of the Kant-Friesian School

The chart shows the cascade of Friesian influence after the Neo-Friesian revival by Leonard Nelson, together with Kantian and Scottish formative influences for Jakob Fries and for the more peripheral figures. The "Scottish Philosophy" of Hume and Smith is indicated, both for the inspiration provided for Kant, who was awakened from his "dogmatic slumber" by Hume, but also for the enduring foundation of sound economics provided by Smith. Starting with Kant and including Schopenhauer, the whole structure might better be called the Kant-Friesian rather than the merely Friesian School.

Down the line, F.A. Hayek, C.G. Jung, and Mircea Eliade were probably unaware of the specifically Friesian influence on them. Nelson, having attracted the older Rudolf Otto with Friesian ideas, inadvisedly repudiated the man's philosophy of religion. Yet it is Otto who is generally remembered, albeit confusedly, and Nelson isn't.

Nelson's students and their associates, Grete Henry-Hermann, Paul Bernays, Gustav Heckmann, Stephan Körner, etc., although heroically perpetuating his memory, editing and publishing the great Gesammelte Schriften [Felix Meiner Verlag, 1949-74], maintaining his Philosophisch- Politische Akademie, and pursuing Nelson's practice of Socratic Method, sometimes, seeking to accommodate themselves to trends in more recent, sceptical philosophy, abandoned fundamental Friesian principles, especially in repudiating the unique Friesian doctrine of non-intuitive immediate knowledge. Nelson himself foretold this:

Disciples of a great philosopher, however, who lack a sure feeling for truth are often misled into relying on the consistency of the system alone. The discovery of inconsistencies in the master's system and the endeavour to eliminate them easily leads these disciples to a world-view quite opposed to that of their teacher. ["What is the History of Philosophy?" Ratio, Vol. IV, No. 1, June 1962, p. 28]

The irony, of course, is that his students rejected Nelson's ideas the way that Nelson had rejected Otto's. Indeed, Nelson's own philosophy of religion turns out to be a statism that is shockingly hostile to actual religion. He made no attempt to save the phenomena.

The flow chart is, of course, not just descriptive, but programmatic and systematic. Identifying Schopenhauer and Fries as the proper successors to Kant is due to the judgment that Schopenhauer represents the best critique of Kant's metaphysics as Fries represents the best critique of his epistemology. That both viewed the "Subjective Deduction" in the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason as the most revolutionary passage is significant, as is a similar use of it by a modern Kant scholar, Robert Paul Wolff, in his Kant's Theory of Mental Activity [Harvard, 1963]. It was Wolff's book, clearly and discursively written, that gave me the first useful introduction to Kant in 1967, even if the rest of Wolff's career seems to have been idiosyncratic and foolish. Also, when I meet Wolff in person in 1986, he was friendly, witty, and insightful, in contrast to the otherwise turgid and obscurantist presentations at our philosophy conference.

Similarly, the identification of both Hume and Adam Smith in the Scottish background of the tradition represents a judgment, not just that Hume and Smith were well known and sympathetic to each other, but that Smith's theory of the free market in the Wealth of Nations is still, especially with Jean Baptiste Say, the foundation of all productive political economy, mostly ill appreciated in the 20th century, apart from Austrian economists like F.A. Hayek and Chicago economists like Milton Friedman. The personal and theoretical association of Hayek and Karl Popper ties Austrian economics firmly into the Friesian tradition.

On the religious and psychological side, C.G. Jung and Mircea Eliade may seem more peripheral, except to the extent that they rely on Otto, who is substantially and firmly Friesian, and (independently for Jung) on Kant and Schopenhauer. The use of all these figures, of course, implies a more substantial content for religion, both epistemologically and metaphysically, than Kant, Fries, or Nelson would have been willing to admit.

The inclusion of Freud and Nietzsche is only appropriate as background for Jung and Camille Paglia. The initial formative influence of Freud on Jung's mature thought, and the substantial influence of Schopenhauer through Nietzsche, motivates the reference for him. Paglia may seem to some as too much of an intellectual lightweight to be included on the same level as the other figures. However, Paglia is one of the few recent art historians who does not suffer from a facile, thoughtless political leftism. In fact she characterizes herself as a libertarian, which places her in almost unique agreement, for modern American academics, with the Classical Liberalism of Popper and Hayek. Equally important, Paglia's appreciation of beauty and aesthetic value in general, sets her apart from the anaesthesia and anhedonia of much recent art and literary criticism, which, for political reasons, rejects the independent value of art altogether. To many, it is now shocking heresy, indeed, a political crime, to claim, with Oscar Wilde, that art is about beauty.

In positive terms, Paglia's theory is basically a Jungian one, of sexual archetypes, reflected in a Jungian title (i.e. Sexual Personae -- like Ingmar Bergman's 1966 movie Persona), even though she discusses Freud more than Jung. Paglia herself certainly has no interest in or even awareness of the Friesian School, but her thought, independently and unintentionally, requires and promotes the Polynomic Theory of Value. Paglia's theory of aestheticism, that the value of art is independent of any moral or political purpose (similar to the argument of art historian and critic Robert Hughes in his The Culture of Complaint [Oxford, 1993]), avoids being a theory of moral aestheticism, which would deny the significance of moral judgment, since Paglia clearly retains the full force of moral judgment with it. This is conformable to the distinctions found under "The Fallacies of Moralism and Moral Aestheticism", which are illustrated in "Logical Relationships of Moralism and Moral Aestheticism". Paglia's whole treatment thus stands as an important counterpoint to Nelson's own theory of moralism, one of the most important features of Friesian ethics.

At left, I am at a Reason Foundation Weekend event in Philadelphia on April 29, 2016, asking Camille Paglia herself if she had any plans to publish the promised second volume of Sexual Personae. She answered "No," but said that the material from the second volume would eventually all be out in essay form, volumes of which she has been publishing.

This is disappointing. A unified and sequential narrative is a very different business from collections of essays, especially as the continuation of the historical narrative of Sexual Personae. But Paglia continues as an unusual academic in the humanities who values history, art, and beauty, retains moral awareness, and is not absurdly hostile to conservatives and traditionalists. Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine, who was interviewing Paglia for the audience, remarked on the surprising "moralism" of her thought. Of course, he did not mean what "moralism" means here, which is the extension of moral judgment into issues of non-moral value (like art), but only that he was aware of Paglia retaining and appling moral judgments, where appropriate.

Another perspective on Paglia can be found in a new book, Boomers, The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster, by Helen Andrews [Sentinel, 2021]. Although Andrews is herself a conservative, in fact "a senior editor at The American Conservative" magazine, her treatment of Paglia might even be called sympathetic, to an extent -- although without a hint that Andrews understands the polynomic issue in Paglia.

Andrews does address the same issue as my 2016 question to Paglia:

The introduction to Sexual Personae explains that the book the reader is holding is in fact only the first volume of a two-part work. The second volume would apply the literary themes of the first to "movies, television, sports, and rock music." By the time Vamps and Tramps was released in 1994, Paglia's story on this sequel was that it "was completed in 1981 but is currently being revised to incorporate the thousands of notecards that have accumulated over the intervening decade and a half."

No such volume has yet appeared. It may be, as Paglia has elsewhere indicated, that she has simply said most of what she had to say on pop culture in her occasional essays. But Paglia's scholarly work has always been at a qualitatively higher level than her journalism. Could it be that when she took her critical intelligence, that great big brain schooled in New Criticism and close reading at the best English program in the Ivy League, and applied it to popular culture, she discovered that the object of her attention simply could not bear up under it? [pp.121-122]

The curious thing about this passage, where we see the answer that Paglia gave to my own question, is that it looks like the opposite of "damning with faint praise," but more like "praising with faint damnation." I am even tempted to say that Andrews may be right.

However, the principle criticism that Andrews has of Paglia is that her interest in and valorization of popular culture has served to degrade and even eliminate high culture (and, she says, folk culture) from our civilization. Even if that is true, I do not think it was ever Paglia's intention, although at times she sounds like it, as when Andrews quotes her saying, "One cannot make any kind of firm line between high art and pornography... Michaelangelo is a pornographer" [p.113]. However, while Andrews compares Paglia's downfall to that of her hero, Oscar Wilde, Wilde actually said,

They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all. [Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891]

In these terms, how beautiful or well written (or well done) is most pornography? Camille Paglia cannot say, and I don't think she would say, that Debbie Does Dallas [1978], although in its own way a kind of classic, is particularly beautiful, well written, or, as a movie, well done. Even the most classic pornography, for instance, has audio that makes is sound like the movie was shot in a metal shower stall. For most pornography, production values get only worse. But Wilde's own The Picture of Dorian Gray, certainly a well written literary classic, is itself about morality, that beauty can conceal and even facilitate moral decay and corruption, to the point of murder.

Thus, while Paglia can get carried away with her thesis, she cannot really maintain the kind of attitude repersented in the quote by Andrews. And part of the sympathy we see for Paglia in Andrews is the sense Andrews gets that Paglia is in fact appalled at the decline in American education, where high literature and art are "deconstructed" into political vitriol, replaced by Leftist cant and merely vulgar entertainment, not to mention stunning ignorance in history, science, and general knowledge. Andrews quotes some evidence of Paglia's disillusionment:

As a fervent evangelist of the age of Hollywood, I publicly opposed Neil Postman's dark picture of our media-saturated future. But time has proved Postman right. He accurately foresaw that the young would inherit a frantically all-consuming media culture of glitz, gossip, and greed. [p.121]

In the terms that count, for the authoritative Oscar Wilde, the media culture can become ugly, stupid, and pointless. No one understands the popularity of the Kardashians, and the humorless, politicized "comedians" of late night television have all but destroyed humor. Real comics now avoid the Savonarola atmosphere of American colleges. The superficial glamour of popular culture, like the eponymous picture of Dorian Gray, conceals, if not promotes, a vicious internal moral and aesthetic decay.

Nevertheless, great art does exist in popular culture, and film is an art form that didn't even exist, couldn't have existed, before the 20th Century. And there is no doubt that the best of film rises to the level of the greatest of art; and, even when it doesn't, not only can it be instructive in its own right, but there is also little doubt that it echoes the themes and forms of earlier art.

Thus, I have examined how the science fiction movie Forbidden Planet [1956] and Hitchcock's The Birds [1963] look like versions of Shakespeare'e The Tempest. This is an interesting example because Helen Andrews considers the small book that Camille Paglia actually wrote about The Birds. While Paglia mentions Forbidden Planet in relation to The Birds, she misses how the antecedent of both would be The Temptest. Andrews, in turn, is more interested in how Paglia neglects recent charges that Hitchcock was a cruel sexual predator whose treatment of actress Tippi Hedren was abusive.

This raises the interesting question of the relationship of the morality of the artist to the value of his art, but that is not something that Andrews considers, but that Paglia, elsewhere, actually does. If we can say that, strictly speaking, Hitchcock's behavior is irrelevant to the artistic value of The Birds, then Paglia scores the point better than Andrews does -- whose views about good art by bad people are unstated. Indeed, Andrews seems to rebuke Paglia for not considering Hitchcock's moral character, without explaining why that would belong in an analysis of The Birds, rather than in a biography of Hitchcock. Is Andrews then asking that art criticism assimilate to the gossip of popular culture, or the Inquisition of feminist political crimes, as we also see at the moment with Paul Gauguin? It is not clear to me how Andrews stands in such matters.

Thus, Paglia's concern with popular culture is not misplaced. And the failure of the second volume of Sexual Personae to appear disappoints me because, among so many things, Paglia's promised comparison of Elvis Presley with Lord Byron has not happened. In many ways Presley and Byron are like apples and oranges, but I can already sense some similarities. Byron was not a rock star, and Presley did not die fighting for Greek Independence, so the level of seriousness is going to be a mismatch. But Byron was charismatic in his time, in a way that poets may not have previously been, and a star in his own popular culture. Each was a kind of exemplar of what the public was, and could have been, interested in at the time. So I think Paglia would have a lot to work with there. It is possble "she discovered that the object of her attention," i.e. Presley, "simply could not bear up under it?" But we don't need to judge that Elvis Presley was as weighty or important as Lord Byron for him nevertheless to have been a phenomenon worthy of consideration. Was his art beautiful? Well, yes. Then we should follow Oscar Wilde: "They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty."

The inclusion in the diagram above of Husserl, Heidegger, and Sartre, many of whose ideas, including nearly all epistemological, political, and ethical ones, are quite contrary to Friesian principles, is appropriate for the contributions of Phenomenological thought to metaphysics. Those contributions, concerning consciousness and transcendence, are considered in "A New Kant-Friesian System of Metaphysics", A Deuteronomy of Kant-Friesian Metaphysics, and The Origin of Value in a Transcendent Function.

A systematic and programmatic approach to the Friesian tradition is, of course, very much at odds with the tendencies of modern academic philosophy, especially Anglo-American academic philosophy, which expresses both scepticism and positive hostility towards systematic efforts and where the typical vehicle of philosophy is brief papers on dissociated, isolated issues. Such is the heritage, as Popper has noted, of Logical Positivism, which denied the status of knowledge to anything but science and gave to philosophy only the role of describing science or clarifying meaning. The next step, whether the later Wittgenstein, deconstruction, or "post-modernism," was to dismiss science as well and to deny that meaning can be clarified, which brings us to a final nihilism in which philosophy mirrors all the absurdity and meaninglessness of an Existentialist world.

The Principles of Friesian Philosophy

The Curse of the Friesian School

Return to Friesian School on the Home Page

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