Catharine Diehl studied philosophy and comparative literature at Brown University (B.A. 2001), the Goethe University Frankfurt (2005-2006), and Princeton University. Her dissertation, ‘Degrees of Reality: Theories of Intensity from Leibniz to Kant’, reassesses the development of aesthetics in the eighteenth century and argues that eighteenth-century aesthetics wrestles with problems of intensity that are first developed by Leibniz.

Her research interests include German philosophy and literature from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century, the history of linguistics, and contemporary continental philosophy.

'Differentials of Consciousness':
Sensory Tensions from Leibniz to Ernst Bloch

ICI Project 2009-11

This project explores fundamental tensions between aesthetics, metaphysics, and psychology through an investigation of theories of intensity from the late seventeenth through the early twentieth centuries. The intensity of a quality or sensation – for instance, brightness, warmth, or pain – is defined as its force or degree, the amount of the quality present in a single instant. The concept of intensity describes the tension within the qualitative, the inner difference underlying what appears to be simple and homogenous.

Intensity often denotes an ineffable aspect of quality, a je ne sais quoi of experience. On the other hand, psychologists, physicists, and philosophers have defined it as the quantity of quality and attempted to construct a ‘measure’ of sensation. In both instances, however, intensity constitutes a ‘differential’ underlying an only apparently simple sensation or quality. I examine different paradigms of intensity in Leibniz, Kant, G. T. Fechner, Hermann Cohen, and Ernst Bloch to trace a genealogy of the concept of a ‘differential’ within sensation itself.