ABSTRACT

The problem of imagination is intimately linked to the problem of the Enlightenment. Seventeenth-century rationalism and 18th-century philosophy were keen to distinguish reason from its opposite, imagination. In the realm of politics, the ‘Enlightenment project’ consisted in the attempts to define ‘rational’ forms of politics as opposed from religious superstition and the belief in unquestioned authorities. Both sides of the dichotomy – reason and imagination – are ultimately located within the autonomy of the individual. Responsible citizens are defined as reasonable beings and it is this capacity of reasoning that makes them able to peacefully live together in society. The clearest expression of this idea can certainly be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the first article stating that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood’ (emphasis mine). Reason and conscience is what defines the humanity of a person in the political realm. Inversely, from Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement onwards and at least late into the 20th century, the realm of aesthetics relies foremost on the core category of the ‘genius’, i.e. of an autonomous individual endowed with an exceptionally developed faculty of productive imagination. ‘Enlightenment’ can therefore be seen as the source of the divide between reason and imagination and of the subsequent location of both terms within an autonomous individual.