Immanuel Kant the Mystic?

Immanuel Kant the Mystic?I recently bought an English translation of the Critique of Pure Reason, which has this picture on the front page.

The interesting thing about this engraving is that Kant is surrounded by the mythical snake Ouroboros. I have yet to find out exactly what is meant with this etching, as the combination of Immanuel Kant and mysticism is a bit puzzling.

According to the book, it is an engraving by J. Chapman. There is an American artists named John Gadsby Chapman (1808–1889) who was a Freemason, judging by his painting The Masters Carpet in the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.

I would love to know more about this portrait of Kant and what the idea is between the combination of him and the mystical snake. Any suggestions?

5 thoughts on “Immanuel Kant the Mystic?

  1. Does the snake perhaps merely represtent the humorous irony that reason or logic is ultimately circuitous and and self-defeating in the manner of the snake devouring itself? Perhaps, whether through a mystical experience or good reasoning, Kant (like Aquinas) saw on some level that everything he had written was “straw”.


  2. Hi Don,

    This is a very promising line of thought, which I will seek to explore further in the near future.

    I am not aware of any circular reasoning in Kant (like in Descartes), but it could have to do with his Copernican Revolution, in which the observer becomes interlinked with the observed.


  3. You are interested in magic but don’t know the meaning of the image?

    variously – it means unity, perfection, universality, totality –
    In the case of Kant I suggest it alludes to the complete system of his philosophy.

  4. I would suggest that this image refers to Kant’s historiography. In Groundwork he traces the history of philosophy to derive the moral law and conclude our a priori knowledge of duty–with freedom, we have the opportunity to transcend irrational impulses and condition a good will. In this sense, history tends towards harmonization on the space/time continuum.

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