Monday, April 11, 2011

Fallon, Stephen M. Review of Sanford Budick, KANT AND MILTON. NDPR (April 2011).

 Budick, Sanford.  Kant and Milton.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2010.

You may be one of the many readers who do a double-take when encountering the title of Sanford Budick's Kant and Milton. I predict that Kant scholars will put down the book convinced that Milton is a seminal figure for Kant, and Miltonists will put it down heartened by this evidence of the poet's influence and armed with a new way of thinking about one of the central debates in Milton studies today, concerning the meaning of Samson Agonistes. (A preliminary word to philosophers: caveat emptor; as a Milton scholar with an interest in the history of philosophy, I cannot claim anything like Budick's intimate knowledge of Kant.)

Budick, a prominent, highly regarded Milton scholar, demonstrates an impressive philosophical sophistication. The second surprise, after the title, is that Budick, a professor of English at Hebrew University, engages intensively with Kant scholarship and only minimally with Milton scholarship. He argues that Kant, who along with other eighteenth-century German intellectuals knew Milton well and valued him highly, singles out the poet as the preeminent poet of the sublime and, as such, as a crucial predecessor making possible Kant's understanding and articulation of the attainment of freedom and moral autonomy. For Budick's Kant, aesthetics and ethics are closely related. If Budick's arguments are right, then Kant's readers will have a new resource for tracing the development of the categorical imperative, and Miltonists will have a new and powerful lens to understand Milton.

In six chapters Budick traces the development of Kant's moral and aesthetic thought as it develops out of the crucible of the constellation of German Miltonism (Budick employs a methodology of Konstellationsforschung pioneered by Dieter Heinrich), particularly in agonistic dialogue with Herder. . . .


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