Dreams of a Spirit-Seer
Dreams of a Spirit-Seer by Immanuel Kant
Velut aegri somnia, vanae
Finguntur species. – Horace.
A PREFACE which promises very little for the discussion.
The land of shadows is the paradise of dreamers. Here they find an unlimited country where they may build their houses ad libitum. Hypochondriac vapours, nursery tales, and monastic miracles, provide them with ample building material. Their ground plans are sketched by the philosophers, who keep on changing or rejecting them, as is their wont. Holy Rome alone possesses in this land profitable provinces; the two crowns of the invisible kingdom support the third, which is the frail diadem of earthly sovereignty; and the keys which open the gates of the other world open at the same time, sympathetically, the money chests of the present. Such jurisdiction of the spirit world, when policy furnishes the proofs for its claims, is far above all feeble objections of the learned, and its use, or abuse, is already too venerable to feel the need of being exposed to their depraved scrutiny. But the common tales which are so strongly believed by some, while disputed by others, who have as little foundation for their opinion, why do they still float about for no visible reason, and yet unrefuted, and creep even into systems of doctrine, although they do not have in their favour that most convincing of proofs, the proof derived from utility (argumentum ab utili)? What philosopher has not at one time or another cut the queerest figure imaginable, between the affirmations of a reasonable and firmly convinced eye-witness, and the inner resistance of insurmountable doubt? Shall he wholly deny the truth of all the apparitions they tell about? What reasons can he quote to disprove them?
Shall he, on the other hand, admit even one of these stories? How important would be such an avowal, and what astonishing consequences we should see before us, if we could suppose even one such occurence to be proved? A third way out, perhaps, is possible, namely, not to trouble one’s self with such impertinent or idle questions, and to hold on to the useful. But because this plan is reasonable, therefore profound scholars have at all times, by a majority of votes, rejected it!
Since it is just as much a silly prejudice to believe without reason nothing of the many things that are told with an appearance of truth, as to believe without examination everything that common report says, the author of this book has been led away partly by the latter prejudice, in trying to escape the former. He confesses, with a certain humiliation, that he has been naive enough to trace the truth of some of the stories of the kind mentioned. He found—as usual where it is not our business to search—he found nothing. This is indeed by itself a sufficient reason for writing a book; but add to this what has many a time wrung books from modest authors, the impetuous appeals from known and unknown friends. Moreover, he had bought a big work, and, what is worse, had read it, and this labour was not to be thrown away. Thence originated the present treatise, which, we flatter ourselves, will fully satisfy the reader; for the main part he will not understand, another part he will not believe, and the rest he will laugh at.