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in the Age of Media, Computers, and Internet


Sanford Budick


Wolfgang Iser's seminal charting of the use of fictions in philosophy represents (among other things) a conceptual development along a line of "As-if" thinking that comes to him from Kant and Vaihinger. My aim in this paper is to put into dialogue Iser's concept of fiction, specifically, how fiction is generated in philosophical discourse, with Kant's concept of exemplarity, specifically, how exemplarity is generated by the artist's and the philosopher's "talent" for being exemplary.

My point of departure is something that I have recently discovered regarding the _Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals_: namely, that in writing the _Groundwork_ Kant almost certainly had before him, in a compact composition of an
earlier writer (Milton), virtually the full constellation of ideas that make up Kant's exemplary teaching of exemplarity in the categorical imperative. (A detailed account of what I have found was presented earlier this month to the Center for Literary Studies of The Hebrew University and is forthcoming in MODERN LANGUAGE QUARTERLY.) In point after point Kant's "free" exercise of the talent for the exemplarity of the categorical imperative was, in the terms in the _Critique of Judgment_, "aroused" by this earlier composition and by the line of other works in which he encountered it. He encountered this line, we see, as a virtual repetition series. With regard to Kant's thought, what is of interest in this relation between the _Groundwork_ and earlier texts is not at all a question of plagiarism, but rather (again in Kant's terms in the _Critique of Judgment_) the phenomenon of his "Nachfolge" or "following" of an existing line of the talent to be exemplary. We can now see how, in the _Groundwork_, an act of Nachfolge liberates Kant's "special talent" to teach the exemplarity of the categorical imperative. I propose further that what gives this Nachfolge the possibility for producing a free exemplarity is an experience of the Kantian sublime. The sublime that is represented here is not Lyotard's kind; and it is also not Kant's alleged non-cultural variety. In the case before us the sublime experience is occasioned by encountering an effectively endless progression of examples of the talent to produce the free exemplarity of the categorical imperative.

The Kantian exemplarity that is derived in a specific line of exemplarity can be understood in terms of what Iser calls "tacit knowledge" and even of "the empty ideating act of a projected supplement." Explicating the use of philosophical fictions, Iser writes: "the ideating act is basically empty, but this actually reveals an aspect of the idea that is missing both from hypothesis and from dogma. The empty ideating act can be grasped as a projected supplement that cannot exist by itself, and so it can be linked to every possible content because it is not defined through correspondence to reality." The possibility of Kantian exemplarity depends upon a sublime experience which produces both emptiness and freedom. Here the empty ideating act emerges from the encounter of a line--or continuity or cultural tradition--of contents which are indeed not defined either through correspondence to reality or by a status of hypothesis or dogma. Moreover, these contents are each representations which (in Kant's terms) partially represent emptiness or partially show their inadequacy as representations. In addition, however, the individual experiences these representations as parts of an effectively endless line of culture. This experience is an indispensable condition for the achievement of exemplarity.