An image of the Kantian sublime; or, how philosophy gets underway

What are the conditions necessary for philosophy to get under way? An image comes to mind: that of the Kantian sublime.

An image of a man standing on the shoreline. He looks out to sea. The water is churning; his discomfort rising. Just now the sky is darkening, the scene ominous and stirring.

It’s an image of someone who cannot grasp what is, whose conceptual net cannot take in both sea and sky, for whom the cosmos is  uncertain and unsettling. And yet, it’s also an image of someone who is out of harm’s way. He is, we must recall, standing just on shore.

I love this image not least because it depicts the moment one turns to philosophy: the neophyte just outside the maelstrom, standing beside the sea, all the while beholding, aware, longing to understand.

And philosophy, once it gets under way, must go all the way up–ascending to higher things–as well as all the way down–descending into the minutiae of everyday life–in an effort to re-conceive the cosmos in the form of the beautiful.