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On the Ruins of BabelArchitectural Metaphor in German Thought$
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Daniel Purdy

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780801476761

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801476761.001.0001

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Architecture in Kant’s Thought: The Metaphor’s Genealogy

Architecture in Kant’s Thought: The Metaphor’s Genealogy

(p.53) 3 Architecture in Kant’s Thought: The Metaphor’s Genealogy
On the Ruins of Babel

Daniel L. Purdy

Cornell University Press

This chapter traces the genealogy of the Tower of Babel metaphor in metaphysical interpretations of architecture, and more specifically examines the Kantian appropriation of the metaphor. In the early modern period, the tale was not understood always in terms of punishment so much as an affirmation of the correspondence between grand architecture and monarchical authority. Indeed, this baroque adaptation of the Genesis myth motivates Enlightenment thinkers such as Immanuel Kant to reintroduce the more critical, perhaps more Protestant, reading of the story into philosophy. Babel has become an attractive metaphor with which to critique both metaphysics and absolutist power. The eighteenth century established the modern correspondence between epistemological critique and the earlier Protestant understanding of the tale as a moral/political lesson about the hubris of oversized state planning.

Keywords:   Tower of Babel, metaphysical interpretations, architecture, philosophy, Immanuel Kant, monarchical authority, metaphysics, epistemological critique, absolutist power

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