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Photography In The 18th Century

by Peter Keeble

Kant, that austere, stay-at-home philosopher
from back in his eighteenth century enlightenment
would really have liked cameras,
and not just because they demonstrate
how our kit, biological and mechanical,
determines if we see the flower petals in his matrix of a world
as luminescent symbols of god or grainy sets of washed out flakes.

No, it would have shaken him
from the slumber of his circumscribed ways,
so predicable town clocks were set to his daily walk.
Imagine him with a new interest in photography
playfully dancing out at any time of day
hiding behind some flowering shrub
in knee-length hosiery and buckled shoes,
digital Canon or Nikon in hand,
happily snapping startled passersby;
or sneaking up on shopkeepers,
shiny goods piled high behind them,
detecting and then revealing with candid shots
their cheating ways and hidden dodgy fruit,
all their secretest secrets,
shutter sound loud, flash bright
to get the full paparazzi effect.

Every month on forays far beyond his home town
he’d trade in a lens or two for some higher spec:
faster, wider, longer.
Once in a while there’d be a brand new body
with more pixels to its sensor
because, like you and me, he greedily craves
the lure of an ever-greater approximation to reality,
whatever that may be.

But after a while perhaps the Königsberg aldermen
would tire of seeing their moles and deformities
magnified around town in posters churned out for our moralist by the local apothecary.
With not a wisp of understanding the irony
that they’d caught him out in some illogical anomaly,
they’d arraign him on charges of behaving in ways
that treated others as mere images
for his own selfish pleasure;
and at the end of the lawsuit
the judge in exasperation would intone,
“Immanuel, where would we be if everyone spent their time in such a useless pursuit?”
Then in response to furtive clickings
from behind the philosopher’s gown
he’d shout with cold command and withering frown
“For God’s sake man, put that camera down!”

© Peter Keeble 2017

Peter is a retired local government research officer and teacher, much of whose poetry makes use of philosophy.

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