. 5
( 8)


cognitive status of art and the type of creativity represented by the origi-
nal genius. Wordsworth and Rembrandt, as he claims in ˜On Genius and
Common Sense™, are typical of genius™s power to give the rule to reason
by virtue of their power of creation ex nihilo. It is, indeed, ˜the power
over those [ideas] which are not given, and for which no obvious or
precise rule can be laid down™.± Yet Hazlitt often displays a suspicion
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
of creation as naked power, as in his criticism of Shelley™s poetry for
˜indulging its love of power and novelty at the expense of truth and
nature [. . .].™ ˜Poetry,™ he continues, in contrast to his own observations
on painting, and his comments on Wordsworth and Rembrandt, ˜we
grant, creates a world of its own; but it creates it out of existing materials.
Mr. Shelley is the maker of his own poetry “ out of nothing.™± This fear
of unfounded expression, of creation without foundations or ˜existing
materials™, ensures that in Hazlitt™s writing the cyclical play of indiffer-
ence and epistemology, power and knowledge, continues ceaselessly.

Coleridge and the new foundationalism

A chain without a staple, from which all the links derived their
stability, or a series without a ¬rst, has been not inaptly allegorized,
as a string of blind men, each holding the skirt of the man before him,
reaching far out of sight, but all moving without the least deviation
in one strait line. [ . . .] Equally inconceivable is a cycle of equal truths
without a common and central principle, which prescribes to each
its proper sphere in the system of science.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria±

Romantic writing oscillates between knowledge and knowledge-indif-
ference. It moves between philosophy™s conception of knowledge and
a more holistic perspective on ˜life™; between a desire for foundational
truth and an acceptance of being as something we are always already
in. These are irreconcilable but incorrigible attitudes, the products of
Hume™s ultimatum to philosophy to justify its linkage of truth and
value which more recently has become a challenge to justify its con-
nection of truth and meaning. The Romantics express what it is to
think and live in this condition of ambivalence, producing a mode of
discourse which is tactical rather than strategic, oscillating between
earnest epistemological quest and an indifference to knowledge which
is sometimes playful and ironic, but involved with exploring reality in a
way which avoids, as Andrew Bowie describes the German Romantics™
bˆ te noire, ˜the separation of the everyday “life world” from the sys-
tematically determined spheres of science, technology and modern
bureaucracy™. Consequently, representations of Romantic thought as
fundamentally indifferent, that is, as committed to a phenomenological
media res, a new para-philosophy of decentred knowing “ or, alternatively,
as always destined to deconstruct its own ¬gures of understanding “
suppose a resolution (whether in ˜being™ or the ˜abyss™ of meaning)
which the equal and opposite commitment to truth in Romantic writing
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
This tension is at its most agonistic in non-¬ctional prose, and in par-
ticular the essay, wherein the essentially circular rhetoric of the Romantic
˜high argument™ struggles with a medium more ¬tted to the consequen-
tial reasoning of discursive argument. So far, I have discussed the work
of a poet professedly writing prose under protest (Wordsworth) and the
work of a prose writer with a recurring inferiority complex about poetry
(Hazlitt). I now want to turn to the case of a poet turned compulsive
prose writer, namely Coleridge. In each of these writers the resistance
and compulsion to found their experience upon knowledge is subtly
different. What distinguishes Coleridge from his contemporaries is that
his own vision of a ˜new condition™ for philosophy emerges against the
background of his belief in the possibility of a rehabilitated a priori meta-
physics. Crucially, this directs him to attempt what hitherto seemed
impossible: the placing of Hume™s ˜value™, the creative life of ¬guration
and projection, not within the quasi-cognitive domains of ˜poetic truth™
or ˜power™, but back within philosophy™s grid of reasoning “ albeit a grid
now reconstructed as unsystematic and intuitional.
What attracted Coleridge to this project was the entirely new direction
opened up by Kant™s suggestion that the foundations of knowledge lay in
thought, rather than in objects. The possibility of a positive, philosophical
refutation of empiricism (and thereby scepticism) through transcendental
argument took hold of Coleridge ˜with a giant™s hand™ while reading Kant
in the opening years of the nineteenth century. He saw that in the Critique
of Pure Reason Kant had proposed a complete reorientation of philosophy,
steering it between the Scylla and the Charybdis of sceptical empiricism
and speculative metaphysics, towards an attempt to understand the a
priori foundations of experience itself. It is the same project that lies
behind Coleridge™s excited claim to Poole in ±°± that, having perused
his predecessors ˜from Aristotle to Kant™, he has ˜overthrown the doctrine
of Association [ . . .] and with it all the irreligious metaphysics of modern
In¬dels™. It is still evident in his thinking to the end of his career. In his
Logic manuscript, unpublished at his death, he echoes Kant™s dictum that
though ˜all our cognition commences with experience, yet it does not on
that account all arise from experience™, and supports this with an oft-used
analogy of his own:µ
The term ˜transcendental™ means the same as ˜sciental™, but with an additional
signi¬cance. All knowledge is excited or occasioned by experience, but all knowl-
edge is not derived from experience, such, for instance, is the knowledge of the
conditions that render experience itself possible, and which must therefore be
supposed to exist previous to experience, in the same manner as the eyes must
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
pre-exist to the act of seeing, though without that act of seeing we never should
have learnt that we possessed eyes.

Here, with Kant™s assistance, Coleridge outlines a template for the
kind of transcendental argument towards which Hazlitt had been mov-
ing in the Essay. It was this new foundation of conceptual conditions
which, Coleridge hoped, would ˜staple™ the ˜circle of truths™ into place,
so avoiding the in¬nite sceptical regress of empirical conditions. Unlike
Hazlitt, Coleridge was prepared to accept that such a staple would have
to be a priori in nature. Yet his reception of transcendental argument
was conditioned by a subsequent tradition of post-Kantian philosophy
in Germany, much of which was in overt reaction against the foundation-
alist and knowledge-centred method of Kant™s critique. Both Jacobi and
Schelling, for example, saw Hume™s division of knowledge and life as
pernicious, and both suspected that the projective subject/inert object
dualism which sponsored it was covertly reproduced in Kant™s separa-
tion of phenomenal and noumenal realms. At the same time, Coleridge
would have learned very different lessons from these ¬gures with regard
to whether this predicament was a problem for or a symptom of a philos-
ophy construed as the quest to ground human life and experience upon
certain knowledge. For Jacobi, such alienation was itself the product of
too much philosophizing and too little faith. For Schelling, however, phil-
osophy™s groundlessness, though self-in¬‚icted and irresolvable, remained
inescapably a philosophical problem.
In this way the question which in Britain had hardened into a Hobson™s
choice between naturalism and a moribund empiricism, presented
German thought with a number of possible new avenues for philoso-
phy, the scope of which is too various to begin to cover here. One way
of viewing this range, however, is as an unstable spectrum of positions
stretching from Kant™s neo-foundationalism through varying registers
of epistemic indifference, neither of which escapes the inevitable back-
slide towards its antagonist. At one end of the scale Kant™s attempt to
extend his critique to practical reason and aesthetics itself encouraged,
on one hand, a discourse of will in Fichte and the early Schelling, and,
on the other, the cultivation of an ironic aesthetic in Schiller and the
Schlegels which remained ambivalent between awareness and unknow-
ingness. More positively, Fichte and Schelling (and later, of course, Hegel)
moved to rescue dialectic from the futile paralogisms of Kant™s critique
and recast it as the methodology of a system in which epistemic indif-
ference was brought back within the fold of a constructive, rather than
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
merely compensatory, para-philosophy of intellectual intuition. Mean-
while, at the extreme of indifference, in the work of Jacobi, Schopenhauer
and the later Schelling, there remained the voice inhabiting the darker
corner of the discourse of will, one which envisaged no compensation
other than faith, resignation, or sheer activity, and which engaged with
philosophy only to undermine it.
This is a necessarily brief thumbnail sketch of post-Kantian philoso-
phy in Germany, but even here it is clear that Coleridge was diving into
an intellectual milieu which was already pulling in radically different
directions, a strain which was often if not usually replicated within the
work of individual thinkers. Most of these trends enter into Coleridge™s
work in ways which are extremely dif¬cult to trace, though admirable
scholarly efforts in the past have managed to map this area in ways
which it would be redundant for the present study to rehearse.· My
principal object is to explore the play of knowledge and indifference in
two of Coleridge™s major prose works from his middle period, namely
Biographia Literaria and the ±± edition of The Friend, a play which is
conditioned by a triangular contest between Kantian foundationalism,
Schelling™s para-philosophy of intuition and dialectic, and an ironism
which resisted any philosophical appropriation of its numinous aesthetic.
The key shift in Coleridge™s thought occurs between the collapse of the
Biographia™s transcendental method of enquiring into ˜the knowledge of
the conditions that render experience itself possible™ and the emergence
in The Friend of a discourse of dialectic which eschews any such attempt
to ˜ground™ knowledge. Both methods, it will be seen, place Coleridge™s
early hopes for an autonomous domain of aesthetic freedom under pres-
sure. Indeed, the tension between serpent and logos proves the undoing
of the Biographia Literaria. Like his description of Shakespeare™s poetry,
in Coleridge™s thought ˜the creative power, and the intellectual energy
wrestle as in a war embrace™, despite “ or more accurately, because of “
his efforts to demonstrate their indifference. As will be seen in the fol-
lowing chapter, this strain recurs in his later endeavour in the ±±“±
Lectures to harmonize apodeictic philosophy with a voluntaristic religious
faith and acceptance, or ˜the love of wisdom with the wisdom of love™,
and yet again in Aids to Re¬‚ection™s attempt to reconcile founded knowing
with a metaphysics of absolute Will through a process of dialectic.
In some respects the foregoing recapitulates a by now familiar debate
between those, such as Thomas McFarland, who read Coleridge as a
misunderstood metaphysical system-builder, and those such as Wheeler
who see him as rejecting wholesale the values of positivist philosophy,
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
and foundational epistemology in particular, in favour of a rhetoric of
decentred ironism. The truth, one may aver without excessive anxiety of
Coleridgean in¬‚uence, lies in an ungenial middle ground between these
two positions.±° It is true that Coleridge engages with the post-Kantian
marginalization of knowledge, moreover, that he is present at the begin-
ning of this process. With Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Cavell, he agrees
that knowledge is not something about which one has opinions, much
less a theory, but that it is a ˜form of life™, and even then only one form of
life. From this perspective, it is a greater journey in time than in thought
from Coleridge™s ±± claim ˜that intelligence and being are reciprocally
each other™s Substrate™,±± to Heidegger™s assertion in ±· that ˜[w]e pre-
suppose truth because “we”, being in the kind of Being which Dasein
possesses, are “in the truth” ™.± But it is also true that he retained a ner-
vousness that scepticism could not merely be set aside in this way, and
that Hume™s challenge demanded an answer. Consequently in his Logic
manuscript, he strove to extend Kant™s epistemology into the propaedeu-
tic for a philosophy of the Will-grounded unity of ˜reality in nature and
the reality of reason™.± Philosophy is thus alternately attacked and re-
centred in Coleridge™s writing as he seeks to moderate the centrifugal
tendency of his belief that truth is made, not found, with the centripetal
pull of synthetic a priori foundations. The ¬rst major attempt at this rec-
onciliation is made in Biographia Literaria.

« ® ®¤   ¦ ¦    ®   ©   °©©
Before turning to the Biographia, it is worth assessing how signi¬cant
Coleridge™s early intervention is, since Kant™s new agenda for philosophy
effectively tied the continuing autonomy and primacy of epistemology to
the fate of the synthetic a priori for the next two centuries. In particular,
Coleridge™s oscillation between a transcendental defence of synthetic
a priori foundations on one hand, and, on the other, para-philosophical
and anti-philosophical modes of epistemic indifference based on the
common paradigm of creativity, touches what have since been the prin-
cipal points of the debate. Coleridge™s con¬dence that Kant™s theory
of knowledge formed the necessary propaedeutic to a total philosophy
which encompassed creative freedom indicates that, far from sensing
any tension between these accounts, he saw them as co-dependent.
In order to appreciate how this came about, it is necessary to take a
moment to examine the peculiarities of Kant™s own exposition in more
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
In his Introduction to the ¬rst Critique, Kant draws three distinctions
with regard to propositions: a priori vs. empirical, necessary vs. contingent,
and analytic vs. synthetic. For Kant, the ¬rst, epistemological distinction
runs perfectly parallel to the second, logical distinction. That is to say,
all propositions which are known to be true a priori or regardless of
experience are necessarily true (and vice versa), just as all propositions
which are empirical or only veri¬ed by experience are contingently true
(and vice versa). The third distinction, however, cuts across the other two.
Where Leibniz had assumed that all analytic truths were necessary and
a priori, and Hume that all synthetic truths were contingent and empiri-
cal, Kant argued that mathematics, geometry and, more contentiously,
metaphysics, contained propositions which, if true, were true in a way
which was both metaphysically synthetic and epistemologically a priori
(therefore necessary).
Despite their powerful effect upon western philosophy, Kant™s de¬ni-
tions have come in for a great deal of criticism. The surprisingly short
account in the Critique of Pure Reason characterizes analytic and synthetic
propositions as ˜judgements of clari¬cation™ and ˜judgements of ampli¬cation™
respectively, according to the way in which they either explicate what
was already ˜contained™ within a concept, or add new information to
it.± Thus, ˜all bachelors are unmarried™ is analytic because it merely
unpacks or explicates ˜bachelor™. On the other hand, ˜all bachelors are
happy™ (whether true or not) is synthetic, as it adds something new to
the concept. This is all rather vague, and since Frege philosophers have
generally agreed that among other things Kant fails to free himself com-
pletely from the Lockean equation of psychological causation with justi¬-
cation. For example, in Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics he argues that
the proposition ˜[a]ll bodies are extended™ is analytically true because
the predicate concept is already thought of as contained in the subject
concept. Yet he also claims that it is analytically true because one cannot
deny the proposition without self-contradiction: ˜For since the predicate
of an af¬rmative analytic judgement is already thought beforehand in
the concept of the subject, it cannot be denied of that subject without
contradiction [ . . .]™.±µ These are two different kinds of explanation; one
being psychological, the other logical. As Frege cautioned a century later,
˜[a] proposition may be thought, and again it may be true; let us never
confuse these two things™.± Crucially, however, it was Kant™s psychologis-
tic framing of synthetic a priori propositions that encouraged Coleridge in
the belief that their possibility underwrote his radical ideas about human
±µ° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
The point of defending synthetic a priori knowledge in the ¬rst Critique
was, in part, to resolve Hume™s fork in knowledge between necessary
relations of ideas and contingent matters of fact. If it could be demon-
strated that certain facts (synthetic propositions) were cognizable a priori,
then Hume™s sceptical regress might be halted by foundational, necessary
facts about human nature. Uncovering such truths in order to defeat the
sceptic would be the business of transcendental argument, demonstrat-
ing that ˜the entire ¬nal aim of our speculative a priori cognition rests on
such synthetic, i.e., ampliative principles [ . . .].™±· At this point, however,
Kant™s psychologistic account of the foundations of knowledge assumes
a new signi¬cance. His introspective defence of synthesis a priori gave
rise to a thesis of transcendental psychology whereby the mind became
creative; or rather, a co-author, with nature, of phenomenal reality.
This came about in the following way. First, by treating the difference
between synthetic and analytic as a matter of what seemed to occur in
the process of thinking, Kant became convinced that what distinguished
synthetic propositions was that they could only connect two concepts
through the mediation of an intuition. For example, in geometry, the
proposition that a straight line between two points is the shortest possible
is synthetic by virtue of the fact that no amount of analysis of the concepts
˜straight line™ and ˜point™ could produce it. Nor could one determine
its truth by empirical investigation of observable instances in nature: this
would only permit a contingent rule, not the necessary law required by
geometry. Instead, Kant argues, one must construct an image or spatial
intuition. Thus, ˜it is manifest that the predicate certainly adheres to those
concepts necessarily, though not as thought in the concept itself, but by
means of an intuition that must be added to the concept™.± But how could
a made-up intuition ground a necessary proposition? For Kant, this could
only be explained by the fact that our knowledge was, at least in part,
self-created. The question, how is nature itself possible? thus becomes
subject to the basic principle of Kant™s ˜Copernican revolution™, namely,
that ˜understanding does not draw its (a priori) laws from nature, but prescribes them
to it™.±
Notoriously however, Kant™s price for a transcendental psychology of
creative knowing is transcendental idealism, or his thesis that we only
have knowledge of ˜phenomena™, or reality-as-appearance. The object as
it is in itself, the ˜noumenon™, is inaccessible to us precisely because what
is ˜given™ to the senses as the raw material of sensation cannot become
experience without the mediation of the a priori forms of intuition and
concepts of understanding. Kant™s theory of epistemic creation, then, is
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
also one of epistemic limitation, supported by his view of knowledge as
correspondence. It is at this point that the disjunction between Kant™s
epistemological Copernicanism and Coleridge™s anti-foundational cre-
ationism becomes apparent. There is a tone of puzzled disappointment
to Coleridge™s claim in Biographia that he could ˜never believe, it was
possible for him [i.e. Kant] to have meant no more by his Noumenon,
or T© ®§ ©® I  ¬¦, than his mere words express [ . . .]™.° Ultimately,
this dissatisfaction re¬‚ects the fact that while Kant remained, at heart,
a representationalist about knowledge, Coleridge was divided between
his attraction to Kant™s transcendentalism as a bulwark against scep-
ticism, and his aspiration towards a way of thinking about experience
and reality which bypassed the very discourse within which scepticism
arose. Throughout the three Critiques, Kant™s objectives are epistemologi-
cal and foundational, seeking to establish an end for knowledge. Many
of the ideas which Coleridge shared with other Romantics, meanwhile,
such as the notion that in all spheres of life man was ˜his own creator™,
connoted no less than the end of knowledge.±
In many ways, the struggle which takes place within Coleridge™s
thought pre¬gures a major faultline within recent Anglo-American phil-
osophy. For the story of English-language philosophy over the last century
in particular can be narrated as a contest between, on one hand,
the undoing of the Kantian scheme for foundational knowledge by
the progressive dismantling of the synthetic a priori cell, and on the
other, the continued defence of both. This process began in the
nineteenth century with Frege™s elision of Kant™s psychologistic concept-
containment version of the analytic/synthetic distinction, and his recast-
ing of mathematical truth as fundamentally analytic, leaving the domain
of synthetic a priori propositions to geometry and metaphysics alone. His
account of analyticity as based solely ˜on general logical laws and de¬ni-
tions™, in turn brought about the ˜linguistic turn™ in philosophy by which
logical positivists like Carnap, Schlick and Ayer collapsed the synthetic
a priori, which they perceived to be sponsoring the ˜meaningless™ claims of
metaphysics and Phenomenology, into an exhaustive analytic/synthetic
division of truth, thereby refashioning philosophy as ˜a department of
logic™. However, the ambitious attempt, by the aggressive application
of Hume™s fork to questions of meaning, to resuscitate epistemology as
concerned only with that branch of knowledge containing the necessary
relations of ideas, fell foul of certain relations, including analyticity, which
seemed to resist reduction to logical rule. Most notably Wittgenstein,
initially troubled by the problem of how ˜atomic™ propositions such as
±µ Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
˜x is red™ and ˜x is green™ could be incompatible without being logically
contradictory, was led to the conclusion that meaning is produced by
words or language-games, not logic.
The logical positivists™ idea of a foundation of intensional, necessary
propositions, that is, of propositions which were true simply by virtue
of their meaning, was further undermined by Quine™s attack on the
analytic/synthetic distinction. Carnap had proposed that the exhaustive
conversion of analytical but non-logical statements such as ˜all bachelors
are unmarried™ into logical formulae could be achieved by the process of
substituting the original terms for logical synonyms guided by ˜meaning
postulates™. Quine, however, argued that far from explaining the notion
of truth by virtue of meaning, synonymy itself presupposed the idea of
analyticity. In reality, he claimed, any substitution of terms or translation
of language was infected by a systematic indeterminacy. The logical posi-
tivist™s project of translating all natural language into a formalized, logical
˜sub-basement of conceptualization™µ Quine saw as the last failed quest
for a foundational Holy Grail, driven by ˜a metaphysical article of faith™;
namely the distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions.
Between them, Wittgenstein and Quine pared epistemology down
into, respectively, a form of philosophical therapy and a branch of nat-
ural science or empirical psychology.· Despite their differences then,
both alternatives represent a turn towards pragmatism and naturalism
and a corresponding rejection of the foundationalism of Kant™s succes-
sors. What has been suggested here, moreover, is that insofar as these
strategies are ways of coping with Hume™s fork by deciding not to cope
with it “ that is, by setting aside the division of analytic and synthetic,
conceptual and factual truths, and indeed, of fact and value “ they effect a
similar shift in thought to that which the Romantics enacted through their
indifference to epistemology and their emphasis on creation rather than
knowledge. And just as, despite this, the Romantic pursuit of Truth per-
sisted in recursive tropes of empirical veri¬cation “ or in Coleridge™s case,
within the Kantian grid of the synthetic a priori “ so recent trends in epis-
temology suggest that what Hazlitt termed philosophy™s ˜dry romance™
with the metaphysics of certainty is far from over. Michael Williams for
one has noted the rise of ˜“New Scepticism”™, a reaction against neo-
pragmatist and post-Wittgensteinian attempts to dismiss scepticism as
a muddled consequence of language gone astray. Philosophers such as
Barry Stroud and Peter Strawson see scepticism as intuitive, and foun-
dationalism and other theories as ˜reactions to the threat of scepticism, not
the sources from which the threat arises™. Foundationalism itself continues
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
to receive support in various forms from philosophers such as Chisholm
and Sosa, and even those who are con¬rmed coherentists about justi-
¬cation such as Lawrence Bonjour and Donald Davidson still main-
tain, albeit in carefully hedged ways, that ultimately ˜there is no real
alternative to the standard and commonsensical conception of truth
as, roughly, correspondence or agreement with independent reality
[ . . .]™. Epistemological realists such as Jerrold Katz, meanwhile, have
called for the rolling back of naturalism and the rehabilitation of Kant™s
synthetic a priori principles in order to reinstall epistemology, together
with a realist ontology, as ˜a foundational discipline of foundational disci-
plines [ . . .]™.° In this light, the struggles within Coleridge™s prose appear
less like antique philosophical puzzles, and more as obstinate question-
ings which compulsively recur. The Romantics themselves had an insight
into this phenomenon. As Friedrich Schlegel observed, ˜[m]any of the
complex disputed questions of modern philosophy are like the tales and
the Gods of ancient literature. They return in every system, but always

°©¬ ° ™ µ ©® ¤ ·  : ©§°© ¬©©
Biographia Literaria, indeed, often seems to parade its self-conscious
ambivalence between knowledge and epistemic indifference, even as it
attempts to open up a para-philosophical third way for re¬‚ective thought.
In the self-addressed ˜letter™ which brings to an abrupt end the thirteenth
chapter (and with it, the ¬rst volume) of Biographia Literaria, Coleridge
likens his argument to ˜the fragments of the winding steps of an old ruined
tower™. The suggestion of intellectual ascent in this is revealing, and
echoed a few years later by his explanation of the pedagogical func-
tion of the ˜Landing-Places™ between the essays in the ±± Friend. The
underlying idea, as so often with Coleridge, is akin to that of an exer-
cise in intellectual and spiritual mountaineering, by which the thinker,
having established a safe base camp in ¬xed ¬rst principles, gradually
ascends to higher truths. These truths are at the same time taken to
be foundational; that is, truths which form the ground of the whole pro-
cess. The logical return here is what Coleridge elsewhere explains as
the ˜seeming argumentum in circulo, incident to all spiritual Truths™.
But is this argumentum in circulo merely an appearance? Coleridge sug-
gests that it is an unavoidable one in human knowledge, but his work
remains caught between two paradigms of thought: the circular and
the foundational or linear, or between the self-consuming serpent and
±µ Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
the ascending steps to Truth. In Biographia™s image of the ruined spiral
staircase, the process of simultaneous rotation and ascension remains
notoriously incomplete, deferred for the projected but never completed
˜great book on the ®  µ  ©  ° © ¬  ° ™.µ Thus, the procedure
initiated in the philosophical theses of chapter ± having been arrested,
the project of chapter ±, ˜in which the results [of the theses] will be
applied to the deduction of the imagination, and with it the princi-
ples of production and genial criticism in the ¬ne arts™ is left as a frag-
mentary exposition in the hugely in¬‚uential but attenuated and gnomic
sequence of distinctions between primary and secondary imagination,
and fancy.
As a consequence, students of Coleridge have been left to puzzle over
the ˜missing™ argument for themselves and explain why Coleridge seems
to give up at this point. At least since Thomas McFarland™s Coleridge and
the Pantheist Tradition, it has been accepted that a signi¬cant part of the
problem lies with the ˜counter-pull™ exerted upon Coleridge™s thought at
this point in time between Kant and Schelling (or, as McFarland sees it,
between Kant and Schelling/Spinoza); in other words, between a system
in which free will is preserved at the price of being declared noumenal,
and one in which free will is imperilled, but set against the goal of a
system of total and undivided philosophy at ease with the in¬nite.· The
difference between the methodologies of Kant and Schelling in this,
Gian Orsini claims, is the product of their contrasting ¬rst postulates,
or philosophical starting-points: for while Kant sets out from the episte-
mological problem of to what extent objects can be said to conform to
human knowledge, Schelling asks: ˜do we deduce Mind from Nature or
Nature from Mind?™ In a broader sense, however, the contest between
these positions is one which concerns the status of argument itself, and
the possibility of a philosophy based upon any kind of ˜deduction™.
Biographia™s problems have provoked a diverse range of critical respon-
ses over the years. Among these, however, there is a more or less settled
opinion that Coleridge™s failure at this stage to come to terms with the
Kant/Schelling debate merely added to the dif¬culty of a work which,
having begun its life as a reply to and a rebuttal of Wordsworth™s empiri-
cal and associative de¬nition of imagination as set out in the Preface to
his ±±µ Poems, had already far exceeded its initial plan, both in scope and
size. As the statement of his poetic principles and critique of Wordsworth
had turned into a literary life, and this into a broader exploration of his
developing views on epistemology, religion, and the history of language,
the Preface to the Sibylline Leaves (as it had originally been conceived) now
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
dwarfed that work. The printer™s decision to produce Biographia in two
volumes only served to emphasize the break between its ˜philosophical™
and literary-critical planes, and underscore the failure of Coleridge™s de-
clared intention to apply the rules of art, ˜deduced from philosophical principles,
to poetry and criticism™.°
Yet there was always something rather curious about this deductive
project. This might be expressed as the query: why, if the question ˜What
is poetry? is so nearly the same question with, what is a poet?™ was there
any need to establish rules of art, outside those which genius creatively
legislated for itself ? ± More crucially, why need such rules be dictated
by, or ˜deduced from™ a ¬rst philosophy, when, as Coleridge himself
elsewhere claims, they are themselves just another form of life?:
Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink
into mechanical art. It would be m»rjωsiv, not po hsiv [a fashioning, not a
creation]. The rules of the ©§©®  © ® are themselves the very powers of
growth and production. The words, to which they are reducible, present only
the outlines and external appearance of the fruit.

What is evident here, in fact, is the tension between three positions
which Coleridge attempted, unsuccessfully, to reconcile in Biographia
Literaria. In general terms, these were, on one hand, a conception of
art as an autonomous domain which might communicate, through the
creative power of genius, a feeling for an ineffable Absolute; the notion of
a ˜total and undivided philosophy™ which might present this Absolute in
intellectual intuition; and a Kantian, foundational epistemology which
would ground the former and proscribe the latter. The main ambiva-
lence lurking within Coleridge™s main deductive effort in Biographia, then,
becomes clearer if one considers that work as an attempt to use ¬rst
principles of philosophy in order to deduce a conception of art whose
principal guiding thought was that it escaped such principles. Thomas
Pfau touches on the same paradox when he writes that any account of
the Biographia™s overdetermination by German idealism would need to
explain ˜how a tangential, ¬‚eeting, and sharply demarcated moment of
intellectual contact™ with Schelling would enable Coleridge to ˜reinvest
the principal debt “ i.e., a metaphysical “grounding” of the imagination “
in a highly detailed and materially sensitive analysis of the ¬nite verbal
art of Wordsworth™s early Romanticism™.
Coleridge™s position in the Biographia, nonetheless, is famously close to
that of Schelling in the ±°° System, with one crucial exception. The dif-
ference is that Coleridge is more, not less inclined to ground the aesthetic
±µ Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
(here, Wordsworth™s ˜¬nite verbal art™) in philosophical principle. One of
the main objectives of the Biographia was to rescue foundational philoso-
phy from French disrepute, and to rebut Humean/Burkean scepticism
regarding the role of ˜¬xed principles™ in ordinary human life. Indeed,
whereas Schelling was moving to a position in the System whereby art
alone ˜achieves the impossible, namely to resolve an in¬nite opposi-
tion in a ¬nite product™, Coleridge remained wedded to the Kantian
belief that without a foundational staple in the chain, aesthetic ¬guration
remained exiled from knowledge as such.µ
But the nature of knowledge was itself changing. Coleridge™s reluctance
to install art as an autonomous mode of knowing the world, and the way in
which the notions of will and dialectic in the Biographia vacillate between
the epistemically therapeutic and the outright non-epistemic, testify to
this. The Schelling of the Positive Philosophy would later re¬‚ect upon
the inevitable alienation brought on “ alike in Jacobi™s anti-philosophy,
his own earlier philosophy of identity, and of course Hegel™s ˜negative
philosophy™ “ by the casting of knowledge as a neutral and stable ground.
In this way, he observes, Jacobi™s salto mortale, ˜instead of really attacking
the knowledge which displeases it, completely gives way to it, by with-
drawing into not-knowing, with the assurance that only in not-knowing
does salvation lie. From this it follows, then, that it considers that merely
substantial knowledge which [ . . .] dominates in rationalism, itself to be
the only possible real (echt) and true knowledge [ . . .].™ From this per-
spective, Coleridge™s attempt to bridge Hume™s duality of fact and value
(or as he puts it, knowing and being) in Biographia is constantly stymied by
the fact that his sense of knowing is that of Kant rather than that of the
later Schelling or Nietzsche; in other words, that which inheres in a priori
conditions demonstrable by transcendental argument. While Coleridge™s
voluntarism drew him closer to Schelling™s later view of philosophy as
a symptom of fact/value alienation, his foundationalism continued to see
grounded knowledge as salvation from this alienation.·
Thus, Coleridge™s thought perpetuates the Romantic oscillation be-
tween knowledge and indifference. To refute the sceptic on his own
territory, he needed the synthetic a priori foundationalism of Kant™s
epistemology. At the same time, he feared the march of the unfettered
intellect or French ˜understanding™ suf¬ciently to cultivate the aesthetic
as an autonomous and decentred sphere of human experience. As these
desiderata came into con¬‚ict, he gradually developed both a form of
dialectic which, while putting knowledge in its place, threatened to end
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
rather than preserve difference within a system in which reality was logi-
cally contained, together with a countervailing voluntaristic praxis which
stressed the importance of faith and will but which imperilled the very
notion of knowledge he sought to ground.
This, however, is to anticipate the subject of the next chapter.
My present purpose is to show how Coleridge perpetuates English
Romanticism™s equivocation over knowledge by attempting to carry
Kant™s ˜transcendental method™ into his explorations of art and reli-
gion. It is the con¬‚ict between the foundationalist direction of Kant™s
method and the epistemically decentred objectives which Coleridge seeks
to ful¬ll with regard to the roles of imagination and will, art and faith,
which eventually break the back of the Biographia™s forecast ˜deductions™.
By ±±µ, encouraged by Kant™s own introspective and psychologistic
account of synthetic a priori knowledge, Coleridge was full of optimism
that the transcendental method would usher in a new foundationalism,
one which would confer epistemic legitimacy upon the creative activity
of mind and of free expression in the arts. Even more so than Kant,
he saw the problem of the justi¬cation of synthetic a priori propositions
as a problem about causation, as a question concerning the relationship
between a ˜subject™ and ˜object™. But while for Kant epistemic creation,
the transfer of legislative power from object to subject meant the sur-
render of ˜transcendent™ grounds of knowledge for transcendental surety,
Coleridge believed that the German philosopher™s linking of transcen-
dental method with creativity offered the prospect of an unprecedented
alliance whereby the status of art and religious or revealed truth could
be elevated on the back of epistemology.
By the time Biographia appeared in print in ±±, however, it was clear
that its transcendental deductions had failed to produce this outcome,
leaving Coleridge a great deal more sceptical about the ability of foun-
dational philosophy or ˜¬rst principle™ to achieve all his aims. In this
respect, Biographia is a pivotal text in Coleridge™s career, for in it one
witnesses a collapse of con¬dence in the logocentric paradigm of foun-
dational thought, and the ¬rst emergence of an interest in dialectical
method which was to precipitate the abiding struggle of his later career:
namely, his attempt to reconcile the demands of apodeictic philosophy
with the ineffability of creation in art and religion. What went wrong?
To understand this, we need to be clearer about terminology, and in
particular the different meanings assigned by Kant and Coleridge to the
notion of a ˜transcendental deduction™.
±µ Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose

§µ ©®§ ˜ ®  ® ¤®  ¬ ¬™ © ® ©§°© ¬©©
After empiricism, transcendental method is the primary mechanism of
foundationalist Romantic justi¬cation. Yet it also represents the ¬rst ten-
tative step away from foundationalism. Schelling argued with some ac-
curacy that, as used in Kant™s critique, transcendental argument ¬rst
requires the desire to escape scepticism. In this sense, Kant ˜was in no
way hostile towards the positive. Whilst he demolishes the whole edi¬ce
of the metaphysics, he always makes his view clear that in the last analysis
one must want what it wanted [ . . .].™ Elridge agrees, noting that to the
extent that it requires that the thinker ˜begin in media res, in our conceptual
consciousness and schemes and practices as we happen to have them™,
Kant™s transcendental method is an ˜antifoundationalist reply to the de-
mand for a metaphysical critique of critique™. Meanwhile, the story of
how transcendentalism itself metamorphoses in German thought into a
more epistemically indifferent dialectic is a familiar one.
This lineage, however, should not detract from the real differences
between the two methods. Thomas McFarland has complained that
literary history is often apt to allow certain terms ˜to be thrown about
mightily by almost anyone able to string sentences together [ . . .]. Indeed,
it sometimes seems as though complete understandings of “pantheism”,
of “Platonism”, and of “transcendentalism” are, like freedom of speech
and the franchise, the born rights of every citizen of a democracy.™µ°
Without wishing to share McFarland™s censorious tone, it might yet be
admitted that, though it is often claimed that Coleridge™s business in
Biographia is ˜transcendental™, there has been little investigation in
Coleridge studies as to just what transcendental method meant, either to
Coleridge or Kant. This is important, as it is tempting, but often mislead-
ing, to label almost any argument which concerns itself with the dialectic
of consciousness as ˜transcendental™.µ± To begin with, unlike dialectic,
transcendental argument does not participate in the transformation of
its own content. On the contrary, by inquiring after the conceptual conditions
of thought or experience, it aspires to perfect formality, maintaining a
rigorous separation of method and conclusion, a division which marks
it out as distinctly foundational. That Coleridge™s rehearsal in the Logic
of Kant™s deduction of the categories and Hazlitt™s account of practical
reasoning in the Essay on the Principles of Human Action both deploy a tran-
scendental structure of argument demonstrates its content-neutrality in
this respect: ideally, it does not oblige one to assume any speci¬c kind of
philosophical position.µ
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
Coleridge, nonetheless, while keen to maintain the epistemological
foundation that transcendental argument provided, oscillates between
preserving the form/content distinction on which it depends and testing
it in the manner of Schelling. This ambivalence is made clear when he
comes to distinguish ˜transcendental™ and ˜transcendent™ in Biographia:
As the elder Romans distinguished their northern provinces into Cis-Alpine
and Trans-Alpine, so may we divide all the objects of human knowledge into
those on this side, and those on the other side of the spontaneous consciousness;
circa et trans conscientiam communem. The latter is exclusively the domain
of ° µ philosophy, which is therefore properly entitled transcendental, in order
to discriminate it at once, both from mere re¬‚ection and re-presentation on
the one hand, and on the other from those ¬‚ights of lawless speculation which
abandoned by all distinct consciousness, because transgressing the bounds and
purposes of our intellectual faculties, are justly condemned, as transcendent. The
¬rst range of hills, that encircles the scanty vale of human life, is the horizon for
the majority of its inhabitants.µ

In an editorial note to this passage, James Engell describes Coleridge™s
account as ˜basically Kantian™.µ However, though this may be true of
its tone, in outlook it is basically un-Kantian, and the two features which
identify it as such are its hostility to ˜mere re¬‚ection and re-presentation™;
and the description of the ˜transcendent™ as merely ˜transgressing the
bounds and purposes of our intellectual faculties™ “ rather than, as
in Kant, the limits of possible experience (which limits appear here to
be symbolized instead by ˜[t]he ¬rst range of hills™).µµ With this in
mind, Coleridge™s supposed recantation of this ˜Kantian™ passage later
in Biographia is no such thing, as he had never adopted a Kantian atti-
tude to begin with. He is thus being quite consistent when he admits that,
though sympathetic to Kant™s reasons for de¬ning intuition in such a way
as to preclude the existence of intellectual intuition, he has ˜reverted to its
wider signi¬cation authorized by our elder theologians and metaphysi-
cians, according to whom the term comprehends all truths known to us
without a medium™.µ Remarks like this belie Coleridge™s methodological
programme in Biographia as being faithfully transcendental.
This becomes clearer once we examine the form of a transcendental
argument, which proposes that there must be something Y if there is
something X of which Y is a necessary condition. Arranged schemati-
cally, this becomes an argument to the effect that: (±) X cannot be the
case unless Y is the case; () X is the case; () therefore Y is the case.
Kant™s own interest is in the persuasive power of transcendental argu-
ment insofar as it tests the coherence of scepticism. In the Critique of Pure
±° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
Reason, in a brief but important introduction to the full deduction of the
categories of understanding entitled ˜The Principles of Any Transcen-
dental Deduction™, Kant makes it clear how, just as in the Transcendental
Aesthetic his object was to demonstrate that ˜space and time are pure
intuitions which contain a priori the condition of the possibility of objects
as appearances, and the synthesis which takes place in them has objective
validity™,µ· so the aim of the forecasted transcendental arguments in this
instance concerns the ˜exploration of the manner in which concepts can
[ . . .] relate a priori to objects™.µ To this end, it must be shown that the
categories ˜must be recognised as a priori conditions of the possibility of
experience [ . . .]™.µ It never occurred to Hume, the arch-sceptic, ˜that
the understanding might itself, perhaps, through these concepts, be the
author of the experience in which its objects are found [ . . .]™.°
Coleridge, however, is not alone in his ambivalence over the impli-
cations of a foundational argument which used purely logical means to
overturn scepticism. Kant, too, found that the ideal of a pristine tran-
scendental argument which functioned purely by an analysis of con-
ceptual conditions was apt to slip into argument about reality itself.
The Critique of Pure Reason, indeed, entertains not one, but two transcen-
dental arguments, which not only propound different theses but which
operate in quite different ways. As commentators such as Robert Wolff
and Paul Guyer have noted, Kant carried the analytic method of the
Prolegomena into the synthetic method of the ¬rst Critique, thereby stymy-
ing the objectives of the later work. In the Prolegomena, Kant had set
himself the task of discovering the conditions of knowledge. His argu-
ment was regressive and analytical: in other words, it ascended from an
assumed position (that we are in possession of synthetic a priori knowledge)
to the conditions or premises which made such a proposition possible.
One key premise, for example, states that synthetic a priori knowledge, or
science, is possible if its concepts are necessary conditions of conscious-
ness. Having established the suf¬cient conditions of knowledge in this
way, the object of the ¬rst Critique was then to demonstrate that such
concepts were indeed necessary conditions of consciousness.
However, by introducing the regressive mode of argument into the in-
troduction to the second edition of the Critique, Kant runs the Prolegomena™s
question, ˜is synthetic a priori knowledge possible?™ together with the
Critique™s original question, ˜is synthetic a priori knowledge actual?™± This
is an important con¬‚ation, as Wolff argues, because the ¬rst question
implies only a regressive inquiry which merely demonstrates the suf¬-
cient conditions or premises for a proposition: by itself it ˜lends no weight
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
whatsoever to the premises to which it ascends. In Kant™s language, it
merely shows them to be “possible”.™ Another product of this con¬‚a-
tion is Kant™s metaphysical thesis of transcendental idealism which states
that our own knowledge of the world (phenomena) can never be ade-
quate to the way the world is in itself (noumena), and which Jacobi found
so objectionable. For when Kant argues synthetically in the Critique, he
demonstrates the principles necessary to con¬rm contingent empirical
judgements “ judgements which he has no reason to suppose do not
correspond to reality. However, when he argues analytically or regres-
sively, he seeks to establish the suf¬cient conditions of knowledge of truths
which are necessary. Assuming such knowledge, Guyer notes, Kant ˜then
argues that such claims to knowledge of necessary truth can be explained
only by our antecedent possession of certain conceptions and capacities
which we must, in turn, be able to impose upon a reality which does not
itself, even contingently, conform to these conditions [ . . .]™.
The upshot of this is that even in Kant the purely logical foundation-
alism of the transcendental mode of argument is already tainted with a
given world-view. In this light Kant™s transcendental idealism is no
accident: it is the direct product of one mode of his transcendental argu-
mentation, that which was still haunted by rationalist dreams of perfect
knowledge but suf¬ciently sobered by Hume™s psychological scepticism
to ¬nd that a suf¬cient condition of such knowledge was an unbridgeable
gap between our representations and the world. It is the unhappy product
of this, phenomenalism, which Kant attempts to forestall in the Critique™s
˜Refutation of Idealism™, countering what he identi¬es as ˜the dogmatic
idealism of Berkeley™, with a supplementary transcendental argument
to the effect that consciousness of oneself existing, i.e., as determined
in time, ˜is possible only through the existence of actual things which
I perceive outside me™. Consequently, as Guyer puts it, ˜the method
and the metaphysics of Kant™s Copernican revolution are not two sepa-
rate puzzles but are intimately connected™.µ
The relationship between method and metaphysics, the form and
content of thought, was one which exercised Coleridge throughout his
life. Kant strove to separate the two, but the same theology of perfect
knowledge which had frustrated his efforts maintained such a grip over
Coleridge that he was prepared to erase the boundary between them
in order to bring thought back into contact with existence. At the same
time, however, he hoped that the anti-sceptical force of the transcendental
argument, the argument of conceptual condition by which we know that
˜the eyes must pre-exist to the act of seeing, though without that act of
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
seeing we never should have learnt that we possessed eyes™, might be pre-
served in a new para-philosophy of indifference between knowing and
being. Thus, where Kant became caught between two kinds of transcen-
dental argument, Coleridge vacillates between transcendental method
and an indifference to knowledge which would obviate any argument, as
Kant intended the term, collapsing the distinction between method
and metaphysics. In this, the foundational staple in the chain should
be at the same time indistinguishable from that chain, the line from the
circle. In any philosophical system, then, ˜[t]he connection of the parts
and their logical dependencies may be seen and remembered; but the
whole is groundless and hollow, unsustained by living contact, unaccom-
panied with any realizing intuition which exists by and in the act that
af¬rms its existence, which is known, because it is, and is, because it is
In this way the remnant of transcendental argument in Biographia is
constantly contested by the metaphysical thesis that subject and object
are identical. In the theses of chapter ±, Coleridge™s demand that phil-
osophy must have a ground or ¬rst principle leads him to the conclusion
that ˜[s]uch a principle cannot be any  © ® § or      [ . . .]. But
neither can the principle be found in a subject as a subject, contra-
distinguished from an object [ . . . therefore] it must be found in that
which is neither subject nor object exclusively, but which is the iden-
tity of both.™ Moreover, ˜[t]his principle [ . . .] manifests itself in the Sµ
or I  ; which I shall hereafter indiscriminately express by the words
spirit, self, and self-consciousness™,· and this, by its turn, ˜as subsisting
in a ·©¬ ¬ ,or primary   of self-duplication [ . . .] is the immediate and
direct principle of one science alone, i.e. of transcendental philosophy
This con¬‚ict between the cultivation of the aesthetic domain as a form
of value and life in which the dualisms of philosophy are annulled, and the
deduction of the principles of criticism and art from philosophical grounds
lies at the source of Biographia™s divided objectives. It is often assumed
that the deduction Coleridge had in mind was already partly practical
or phenomenological, in the manner of Fichte or the early Schelling.
Yet there are a number of statements in Biographia which suggest that it
was transcendental, in the Kantian sense of arguing a priori for Y simply
on the grounds that it is a condition of a given proposition, X. The
argument for sight is just one example of this. In one passage, while
arguing against associationism as a logical principle of knowledge, he
declares that the faults of associationism
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
may be all reduced to one sophism as their common genus; the mistaking of the
conditions of a thing for its causes and essence; and the process by which we arrive at
the knowledge of a faculty, for the faculty itself. The air I breathe, is the condition
of my life, not its cause. We could never have learnt that we had eyes but by the
process of seeing; yet having seen we know that the eyes must have pre-existed
in order to render the process of sight possible.·°
In other words, though associationism may be a physical, or psycho-
logical condition of cognition (a ˜condition™), it is not a logical condition of
knowledge (a ˜cause™ or ˜essence™). Despite the fact that Coleridge chooses
to call logical conditions ˜causes™, the use of the analogy of sight to
demonstrate how our knowledge is derived from, but not grounded
upon experience, suggests a Kantian argument. The same analogy,
cited at the beginning of this chapter, is used by Coleridge to illustrate
˜transcendental™ knowledge. In passages such as these Coleridge aligns
himself with Kant™s new foundationalism, and above all the argument
that the grounds of knowledge are conceptual, not causal in nature. It
also neatly reverses the empiricist™s ˜despotism of the eye™, and reinforces
Coleridge™s favourite amendment to Locke:
Assume in its full extent the position, nihil in intellectu quod non prius in sensu,
without Leibnitz™s qualifying pr¦ter ipsum intellectum, [ . . .] and what Hume had
demonstratively deduced from this concession concerning cause and effect, will
apply with equal and crushing force to all the other eleven categorical forms
[ . . .] How can we make bricks without straw? Or build without cement? We
learn all things indeed by occasion of experience; but the very facts so learnt force
us inward on the antecedents, that must be pre-supposed in order to render
experience itself possible.·±
This is a standard transcendental argument. It is the emphasis on what
˜must be pre-supposed in order to render experience itself possible™ that
signals Coleridge™s support for Kant™s foundationist enterprise. Yet the
pairing of Leibnizian and Kantian positions in this passage alerts one to
the possibility that all is not as it initially seems. Coleridge con¬nes himself
to the conceptual conditions of ˜experience™ at this moment in Biographia
only because he is challenging the empiricists on their own ground. But
even as he joined Kant in his argument with Hume, Coleridge sought
to move beyond that debate, setting aside philosophy as the founda-
tional discipline (and epistemology as the foundational discipline of phil-
osophy). The moment Coleridge ceases to view securing certainty in
knowledge as of paramount importance, he parts company with tran-
scendental enquiry. His task then becomes one of showing how epistem-
ological principle demonstrated by transcendental method supports
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
but does not exhaust truths about being, truths which can only be appre-
hended through intellectual intuition. Later, in Logic, he was to write that

Transcendental knowledge is that by which we endeavour to climb above our
experience into its sources by an analysis of our intellectual faculties, still, how-
ever, standing as it were on the shoulders of our experience in order to reach at
truths which are above experience, while transcendent philosophy would con-
sist in the attempt to master a knowledge that is beyond our faculties [ . . .] of
objects therefore the existence of which, if they did exist, the human mind has
no means of ascertaining, and therefore has not even the power of imagining
or conceiving [ . . .].™·

On ¬rst inspection, there is little here that would trouble Kant. How-
ever, Coleridge does not imagine that this exercise exhausts the task of
the philosopher. The title of the work is, after all, Logic, and not Logosophia:
and this re¬‚ects Coleridge™s attitude to Kant™s epistemology as a neces-
sary propaedeutic to the total philosophy, or theosophy, but insuf¬cient
in itself as a system. In a far less critical moment, he claims that to dis-
cover and explain ˜any higher form of knowledge than that which results
from these very processes of the understanding [ . . .] is the express object
of transcendental research™, and indeed, that ˜the distinction between
analytic and synthetic judgements [ . . .] is of small importance except
in the investigations of transcendental logic [ . . .]™.· Further, though
˜considered as logic it [Kantianism] is irrefragable; as philosophy it will
be exempt from opposition and cease to be questionable only when the
soul of Aristotle shall have become one with the soul of Plato, when the
men of talent shall have all passed into men of genius, or the men of genius
have all sunk into men of talent. That is, Graecis calendis, or when two
Fridays meet.™·
These strains are already evident in Biographia™s attempt to ground
aesthetics in philosophy. Setting out the methodology for the Theses of
chapter ±, Coleridge claims that ˜[t]he science of arithmetic furnishes
instances, that a rule may be useful in practical application, and for the
particular purpose may be suf¬ciently authenticated by the result, be-
fore it has itself been fully demonstrated™.·µ This is the familiar Kantian
account of how mathematical reasoning is able to exceed experience
for the purpose of veri¬cation, according to which, the af¬rmation of
Y being the case is ˜suf¬ciently authenticated by the result™ of it being
demonstrated as a condition of X, which we know a priori to be true.·
Such a method, Coleridge maintains, ˜will be applied to the deduction
of the imagination, and with it the principles of production and of genial
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
criticism in the ¬ne arts™. In the wake of the collapsed deduction, how-
ever, Coleridge™s de¬nition of art and poetry in Biographia is more ¬‚orid
than lucid. A clearer account is provided in the near-contemporary es-
say ˜On Poesy or Art™, in which he designates ˜that species of poesy
which is not muta poesis by its usual name “poetry”™; giving art or poesy

as of a middle quality between a thought and a thing, or, as I said before, the
union and reconciliation of that which is nature with that which is exclusively
human. It is the ¬gured language of thought, and is distinguished from nature
by the unity of all the parts in one thought or idea. Hence nature itself would
give us the impression of a work of art, if we could see the thought which is
present at once in the whole and in every part [ . . .].··

Lecture ± of Coleridge™s ±± course of Lectures on the Principles of
Judgement, Culture, and European Literature to the London Philosophical
Society, is associated with this essay. In Coleridge™s notes for this talk, he
writes that ˜Art (I use the word collectively for Music, Painting, Statuary
and Architecture) is the Mediatress, the reconciliator of Man and Nature™.
Indeed, ˜Art itself might be de¬ned, as of a middle nature between a
Thought and a Thing [ . . .].™· By organic ¬guration of the dynamic
unity of man™s consciousness and nature™s unconscious being, then, art
imitates the beautiful in nature. ˜What is beauty?™ Coleridge asks, answer-
ing: ˜[i]t is, in the abstract, the unity of the manifold, the coalescence of
the diverse; in the concrete, it is the union of the shapely ( formosum) with
the vital™.· Coleridge™s idea here that art can reveal to us a hidden, cre-
ative side of reality which consciousness could not otherwise grasp in
intellectual intuition recalls the early Schelling, as when he writes that
˜[t]he artist must imitate that which is within the thing, that which is
active through form and ¬gure, and discourses to us by symbols “ the
Natur-geist, or spirit of nature, as we unconsciously imitate those whom
we love [ . . .]™.° In Biographia, however, poetry is rendered at once more
memorably and vaguely in terms as a ˜spirit of unity™; a ˜synthetic and
magical power™, equated with ˜imagination [ . . .] ¬rst put in action by the
will and understanding™, which ˜reveals itself in the balance or reconcil-
iation of opposite or discordant qualities™, yet which ˜still subordinates
art to nature [ . . .]™.± The evasiveness of this effusion, its equivocation
between ˜subordination™ and ˜reconciliation™, is the direct product of the
Biographia™s tension between epistemological foundationalism and indif-
ference, between transcendental method and the merger of method and
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
As with the ˜principles of production™, so we ¬nd that the prospective
deduction of the principles of ˜genial criticism™ is placed under intoler-
able strain. Indeed, rather than being ˜deduced™, the principles of criti-
cism which Coleridge expounds in the second volume of Biographia are
inferred from psychological observation and generalisation. As Pfau
notes, on one level Coleridge had a ˜fundamentally different intellec-
tual sensibility™ from Kant and Schelling, ˜one far more inclined to start
out deductively, beginning with the micromanagement of empirical phe-
nomena, rather than descending from those remote and uncertain “stars
and nebulae” of transcendent ideas™. On the principle of poetic metre,
Coleridge writes: ˜This I would trace to the balance in the mind effected
by that spontaneous effort which strives to hold in check the workings of
passion [ . . .] and how this balance of antagonists became organized into
metre (in the usual acceptation of that term) by a supervening act of the will
and judgement, consciously and for the foreseen purpose of pleasure.™
In fact, one needs to look beyond Biographia itself to ¬nd Coleridge™s
clearest near-contemporary statement of critical principles; to the ±±
˜Essays on the Principles of Genial Criticism™. Here, he had offered a
slightly different de¬nition of poetry from that of the ±± ˜On Poesy
or Art™. ˜All the Fine Arts™, he writes, ˜are different species of Poetry
[. . .]. The common essence of all consists in the excitement of emo-
tion for the immediate purpose of pleasure thro™ the medium of beauty;
herein contra-distinguishing poetry from science, the immediate object
and primary purpose of which is truth and possible utility.™ Coleridge™s
main purpose in these essays is to connect a Kantian thesis of the dis-
interestedness of aesthetic judgement of beauty, with a more substantive
Neoplatonic thesis (which Kant would have rejected) that beauty in art
is an intellectual apprehension of organic form. The third and most
complete of his principles, then, is that

[t]he safest de¬nition then of Bµ  , as well as the oldest, is that of Pythagoras:
  ¤µ© ®  ¦   ®    ® [. . .]. The sense of Beauty subsists in
simultaneous intuition of the relation of parts, each to each, and of all to a whole: exciting
an immediate and absolute complacency, without intervenience therefore of any interest sen-
sual or intellectual. The Bµ  ©¦µ ¬ is thus at once distinguished both from the
A§ ¬, which is beneath it, and from the G¤ , which is above it: for
both these have an interest necessarily attached to them [. . .].µ

This attempt to reconcile a Kantian, formalist aesthetic of disinterest-
edness with a metaphysical organicism which inevitably undermines the
division of form and content, disinterestedness and engagement, points
up the curious way in which Coleridge™s instincts are at once more and
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
less foundationalist than those of his mentor. Kant™s response to Hume™s
claim to ¬nd no empirical grounds for setting a standard of taste other
than psychological aptitude in the critic is to empty aesthetic judgement
of content. His broader purpose, as in the Critique of Pure Reason, is to
bypass Hume™s division of truth and value (in this case, aesthetic value)
by making the foundation for both purely conceptual, or formal. Once
again, the principal weapon in his arsenal is transcendental argument.
The value of ¬ne art for Kant rests upon it being a transmitter of
aesthetic ideas, or ˜that representation of the imagination that occasions
much thinking though without it being possible for any determinate
thought, i.e., concept, to be adequate to it [ . . .]™.· The aesthetic idea
is ineffable precisely because it is the product of the ability of the artistic
genius to give the rule to itself in producing works which are exemplary,
yet not reducible to known rules, either empirical or a priori. It is an
unexplainable product of imagination, the counterpart of the idea of
reason for which no representation can be found. And without concepts,
Kant claims, there can be no demonstrable rules of evaluation. Nonethe-
less, as a matter of linguistic form the act of aesthetic judgement makes a
claim to universal validity; that is, to a necessity based upon some kind of
rule, or principle. The only recourse left, then, is to investigate the tran-
scendental conditions of aesthetic judgement. Accordingly, Kant makes
a general transcendental argument for the form of aesthetic judgement
as a necessary condition of knowledge; an argument which he bases on
the intimate connection between knowledge and empirical communication.
Aesthetic pleasure rightly claims assent, for the ground of this pleasure is
˜that judgement whose predicate can never be cognition (concept of an
object) (although it may contain the subjective conditions for a cognition
in general)™.
Kant™s allowance for aesthetic creativity (the free but lawful play of
imagination and understanding) is thus itself grounded in an epistemol-
ogical and foundationalist argument concerning the possibility of
empirical knowledge. For this very reason, however, any deep insight
into the principles of artistic production is withheld from the mere intellect.
In this way, Kant hopes, a circumscribed and formalized epistemologi-
cal foundationalism can underwrite a cognitively enriching aesthetic
experience which is nevertheless relieved of the burden of justifying its
content according to principle. In Coleridge, however, the subordination
of aesthetics to epistemology competes with a metaphysical psychology
in which conceptual argument breaks down. To Coleridge in this mood,
there is no fundamental difference between statements concerned with
ontology; those which make a transcendental argument as such, and
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
those which express facts concerning the faculties or the powers of the
mind. Thus, having already criticized associationism for confusing psy-
chology with epistemology, his own argument “ which might have been
the ˜deduction™ of imagination “ appeals directly and exclusively to in-
trospective acquaintance with the process of individual consciousness, a
process which is now imbued with metaphysical signi¬cance:
Now let a man watch his mind while he is composing [ . . .]. There are evidently
two powers at work, which relatively to each other are active and passive; and
this is not possible without an intermediate faculty, which is at once both active
and passive. (In philosophical language, we must denominate this intermediate
faculty in all its degrees and determinations, the I§© ® © ® [ . . .].)°

It is generally thought, with some justi¬cation, that in Biographia
Coleridge moves beyond Kant™s purely conceptual, transcendental argu-
ment in order to develop an idea of poetry which, lying somewhere be-
tween thought and being, tests the foundationalist boundaries on which
this method depends. However, at the same time his compulsion to ground
his enquiries is in many ways stronger than that of Kant. In one mood at
least he believed that a priori transcendental logic could be enlisted as a
new foundation not only for a metaphysics of imagination which erased
the distinction between a priori and empirical thought, but also for his
projected but ultimately unsuccessful aesthetic deduction in Biographia:
of rules of art, ˜deduced from philosophical principles, to poetry and criticism™.
In this light Coleridge™s optimism regarding the ability of transcendental
argument to provide the foundation for a deduction of an epistemically
decentred aesthetic theory seems fundamentally misguided. As has been
seen, this kind of argument, in its analytical, regressive mode, draws
out the suf¬cient conditions of a proposition but does not support that
proposition. Moreover, when applied to knowledge of necessary truths,
as in Kant, it leads to a transcendental idealism barely more attractive
than Hume™s scepticism. At the same time, in its synthetic, progressive
form, while grounding empirical knowledge by stipulating its necessary
conditions, it leaves unsatis¬ed the hunger for absolute truth which still
lingered, albeit in repressed form, in Kant™s noumena and in Coleridge™s
quest for intellectual or rational intuition.

 ¬ ©° ©®§  : ¤© ¬ ©   © ®  ¦©®¤ ( ±± )
Coleridge™s search for philosophical closure and ¬xed principle is allied
with his political concerns. With Wordsworth, Coleridge shared the
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
conviction that the ˜despotism of the eye™ was allied to an emerging
hegemony of ˜means™ over ˜ends™ in society. Put another way, though em-
piricism supported capitalism™s notion of ˜progress™ through its model of
the cumulative, acquisitive mind, it could not, as Kant observed, accom-
modate the idea of purposive progress; and thus, of teleological principle.±
Benthamite utilitarianism reduced all matters of human conduct and
morality to the ˜hedonic calculus™ of whether they caused a prepon-
derance of pain or pleasure in a greater or lesser number of people.
Such a view naturally precluded a notion of practical reasoning as
proceeding from a conception of individuals as rational ends in them-
selves. Coleridge, with Kant and Hegel, however, looked towards a teleo-
logical view of human nature which included a purposive role for artistic
Art™s position in this equation, however, is a precarious one, besieged
on one side by the utilitarianism which cuts it free from epistemic con-
cerns at the price of relegating it to a status no higher than that of
push-pin, and on the other by an all-encompassing metaphysics of con-
sciousness which, by subsumption under the concept of a universal end,
threatens to erase its autonomy. It is a precariousness to which Kant was
acutely sensitive. Moving to preserve the freedom and singularity of the
judgement of natural beauty, his notion of re¬‚ective judgement in the
˜Critique of the Aesthetic Power of Judgement™ does not place particulars
or objects under a general rule or concept, but postulates a rule, or end,
for the object, and moves towards this from the particulars themselves.
The re¬‚ective judgement, common to both aesthetic and teleological
thought, gives the end to the object by attributing to it what Kant calls
the ¬nality or ˜the purposiveness of its form™. Thus, ˜nature is repre-
sented through this concept as if an understanding contained the ground
of the unity of the manifold of its empirical laws™. Art, however, as a
man-made entity, or an artefact, would seem to have quite clearly de-
¬ned (and conceptualizable) ends, and thus be a candidate for determinant
(non-aesthetic) judgement. Kant attempts to solve to this paradox by
arguing that in judging works of art, the re¬‚ective judgement considers
them as transmitting aesthetic ideas; that is, as works through which the
ineffable law of nature™s purposiveness is expressed through the medium
of original genius. In this way, Kant seeks to maintain both the possi-
bility of a kind of objectivity in aesthetic judgement, and the autonomy
of art.
Guyer observes that Kant remains ambivalent in the third Critique
between explaining aesthetic judgement logically (in his analysis of
±·° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
judgement) and psychologically (in his depiction of the harmony of the
faculties). This means that his formalism swings between af¬rming, on
one hand, that aesthetic judgement consists in the pleasure of apprehend-
ing the ¬nality of form in an object, and on the other, in the re¬‚ection upon
the form of ¬nality expressed by the pleasurable response itself.µ Kant
himself distinguishes these two kinds of judgement:
In the aesthetic judgement of sense it is that sensation [of pleasure] which is
immediately produced by the empirical intuition of the object, in the aesthetic
judgement of re¬‚ection, however, it is that sensation which the harmonious play
of the two faculties of cognition in the power of judgement, imagination and
understanding, produces in the subject [ . . .].

The former position might imply (as it occasionally does in Kant) that
¬nality of form is a substantive rational standard of taste, rather than
that the purely formal ¬nality in the object of aesthetic judgement attests
to the impossibility of such a standard.
This ambiguity notwithstanding, the main thrust of the third Critique™s
discussion of aesthetic judgement is directed towards replacing a
paradigm of aesthetic judgement whereby the justi¬cation of such judge-
ment is made upon the content of a set of given foundational rules
(a course which only produces scepticism) with a paradigm whereby
such judgement is made according to formal properties of judgement
which have been established by transcendental deduction to be foun-
dational to knowledge. As has been seen, when applied to knowledge
of necessary truths, this same transcendental method in Kant™s hands
produces a partition of phenomenal and noumenal, or knowable and
unknowable realities, a cleavage for which the aesthetic experience, or
re¬‚ective judgement, is intended to compensate. Poetry, for instance,
˜strengthens the mind by letting it feel its capacity to consider and judge
of nature, as appearance, freely, self-actively, and independently of deter-
mination by nature™, using ˜points of view that nature does not present
by itself in experience [. . .] as the schema of the supersensible™.·
For many philosophers, however, Kant™s attempt to introduce an
aesthetic consolation merely emphasized the ¬‚aws of a transcendental
method which precipitated such an unwelcome and, as they saw it, un-
necessary division of knowing and being. Consequently, the attempt to
overcome this division involves changing the basic question which philos-
ophy is asking, namely, from one of the formal, conceptual possibility of
consciousness to that of how the form and content of consciousness inter-
act in the process of world-construction. Once the contradiction between
subject and object is rescinded, what remains is to demonstrate their
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
relation. For Fichte, and in the early work of Schelling, this is achieved
practically, whereby the contradiction between the self and not-self is
resolved in the application of will. Fichte terms the method of ¬nding
opposition in equation, the ˜antithetic procedure; commonly described as
the analytical™, and the method of discovering in opposites the respect in
which they are alike, the ˜synthetic procedure™. Each of these presupposes
the other: ˜we saw that the primordial act it expresses, that of combining
opposites in a third thing, was impossible without the act of counterposit-
ing; and that this also was impossible without the act of combination
[ . . . ]™. This ˜third thing™ presupposed by the ¬rst analysis and synthesis
is a ˜thetic judgement™, ˜in which something is asserted, not to be like
anything else or opposed to anything else, but simply to be identical
with itself [ . . .]™. This antithetical process was inherited by Schelling and
Hegel, and feeds into the philosophical passages of Biographia.
With the ¬nal merging of method and metaphysics comes the replace-
ment of foundational deduction by dialectic. On one hand, the loosening
of the boundaries between form and content represented for Coleridge a
welcome move towards a therapeutic para-philosophy which surpassed
the Understanding-centred limitations of Kant™s epistemology. On the
other hand, it signalled not only the worrying overthrow of foundational
justi¬cation by description (or at least a process in which the distinction
between description and justi¬cation was dangerously blurred), but also
the compression of the theory of aesthetic autonomy which he was pur-
suing in Biographia “ a theory which depended upon the dualisms of
Kant™s transcendental method. From this perspective, Coleridge™s idea
of a supra-cognitive aesthetic sphere in human experience which is irre-
ducible not just to knowledge, but to philosophical articulation as such,
is placed under stress. This time, however, the stress is exerted not by
Kantian foundation, but by the pressure of dialectic. This is not to say
that the two are incompatible. Indeed, dialectic has its roots partly in
the Romantic ˜play™ of the aesthetic experience. For Schiller, the play of
man™s sensuous and formal (rational) drives in the aesthetic presented
the only possible way of healing Kant™s bifurcated ˜I™. Thus, though the
harmonization of the two principles came to signify to the subject ˜the
Idea of his Human Nature, hence something In¬nite™, an intellectual
intuition of this fundamental ˜Nature™ was something ˜to which in the
course of time he can approximate ever more closely, but without ever
being able to reach it™.±°° For Friedrich Schlegel, meanwhile, irony supas-
ses philosophical argument because it ˜contains and arouses a feeling of
indissoluble antagonism between the absolute and the relative, between
the impossibility and the necessity of complete communication™, and is
±· Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
˜the freest of all licences, for by its means one transcends oneself; and
yet it is also the most lawful, for it is absolutely necessary™.±°± As Andrew
Bowie puts it, ˜[t]he semantic contents of [ . . .] forms of language which
are not reducible to any other type of discourse are precisely what is
at issue in the Romantic conception of art™.±° As a philosophy, however,
emerging in the work of Hegel and the early Schelling, dialectic™s logic
of self-cancelling difference increasingly contests the notion that art has
something to express which cannot be articulated by philosophy, or
absolute knowing.
If we are clear, then, about what is at stake in the delicate relationship
between method and metaphysics, aesthetic and dialectic, it may serve to
shed light on the tensions within Coleridge™s exposition of method in the
±± Friend; which, in their turn, may elucidate the deductive dif¬culties
of Biographia. The fundamental story that they help to illuminate is the
(by now familiar) one of a struggle within Coleridge™s thought between,
on one hand, the epistemic compulsion which drives the Biographia™s
failed transcendental deductions, and on the other, an indifference to
knowing as such which oscillates uneasily between a non-foundational
para-philosophy of dialectic and a notion of aesthetic freedom which is
itself ultimately released by the limitations of Kantian argument. Most
importantly, this three-way dynamic lurking behind Coleridge™s own
dialectic of knowledge and indifference means that each of these positions
is always ready to slip into one of the others.
In The Friend Coleridge makes it clear that method is concerned with
relations, not things, and that it can be approached both materially
and formally. With respect to its ˜matter™, the key idea for Coleridge
is ˜initiative™.±° This initiative, or ¬rst principle, contains within itself
a principle of ˜progressive transition™, which Coleridge conceives accord-
ing to a paradigm of organic growth.±° Of the relations of reasoning
themselves there are two kinds: Laws (which are absolute, conveyed by
Ideas, and which, as the ties which bind philosophy and religion, have
a supersensible basis)±°µ and Theories (or the empirical understanding
of the sciences, based upon observation of cause and effect).±° Between
these two varieties of relation, though, Coleridge places the ¬ne arts, as
partaking of both and reducible to neither:
Between these two lies the Method in the F©® A , which belongs indeed to
this second or external relation, because the effect and position of the parts is
always more or less in¬‚uenced by the knowledge and experience of their previous
qualities; but which nevertheless constitute a link connecting the second form
of relation with the ¬rst. For in all, that truly merits the name of Poetry in
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
its most comprehensive sense, there is a necessary predominance of the Ideas
(i.e. of what originates in the artist himself), and a comparative indifference of
the materials.±°·

The vagueness betrays Coleridge™s dif¬culty with art™s status. In a foot-
note of his own to an earlier draft of the paragraph, he claimed that
genius is that which embodies the ends in the means:
It were perhaps to be wished, that we should desynonymize the two words,
Poetry and Poesy, by using the latter, as the generic name of all the ¬ne Arts:
for every work of Genius, containing the End in the Means, is a poihsiv, as
distinguished from a <mere> suntaziv, or collocation for an external and
conventional End.±°

Insofar as it embodies an organic interpenetration of means and ends,
art partakes of the Lawful progressiveness of method. But the method of
Law, as has been seen, is the self-development of an organic intelligen-
tial principle from ˜within™, in that ˜all Method supposes  ° © ®© °¬
 ¦ µ® ©  · ©  °§  ©® ; in other words, progressive transition
without breach of continuity™. As such, it is ˜constitutive™, while science is
merely ˜representative™ of reality.±° Hence, Ideas are living principles,±±°
which presuppose intellectual intuition of the nature of reality as the
organic unity of consciousness;±±± and man™s telos is evolved outwardly
from the principle of the unity of knowing and being within him, which
is determined by the Will.±±
It is symptomatic of a deeper tension in Coleridge™s account of rea-
soning that Theory, strictly speaking, is no Method at all, as it does not
begin with an ˜initiative™, but observation: ˜[t]he term, Method, cannot
[ . . . ] otherwise than by abuse, be applied to a mere dead arrangement,
containing in itself no principle of progression™.±± However, it does not
serve Coleridge™s holistic purposes to con¬gure Theory and Method
as irreconcilable poles of human knowledge: there must be some point
of coincidence. The problem with this, though, is that there is all the
difference in the world between setting out an inquiry empirically and
setting one out a priori. One may do both interchangeably; that is, one
at one moment, the other at the next, but not at once. Coleridge would
have it that art occupies this ˜middle-ground™ of method, but instead of
this, it seems itself to be eclipsed by a method which is already logically
determined. Put simply, there is nothing that poetry can tell us about
reality that philosophy, pursued according to the true Method, cannot
disclose more clearly or completely. The progress of Method, whereby
the creativeness of the initiative idea is contained and realized by the mind
±· Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
even as it is produced, closes down any notion of artistic creation which is
beyond such knowledge. The only alternative to this “ to invest art with
a signi¬cance and meaning which transcends mere method “ would be
to defeat the very purpose of the ˜Essays on Method™. It is worth noting
in this respect what a small fraction of Coleridge™s discussion (compared
with the effort exerted on its behalf in Biographia only a few years pre-
viously) is taken up by the subject of the status of art in these essays in
the ±± Friend. At this point in the evolution of Coleridge™s thought,
dialectic has superseded and incorporated aesthetic truth as the means
whereby the common ground of Theory and Law is communicated to
humanity. Philosophy, it seems, may redeem itself after all, but only by
recreating itself as non-foundational, and thereby as something other
than philosophy.
The method outlined above, indeed, is clearly dialectical: that is, based
upon the principle of the uni¬ed progress of an initial, seed-like Idea from
within self-consciousness, transparent to itself and retaining identity
through levels of differentiation (or undergoing a process of distinction
without division). Only in Coleridge, this stems from a pre-established
transcendent ground. His later attempts, in the absence of a Fichtean or
Hegelian principle of immanent becoming, to cement the unity of the
process through the notion of the absoluteness of the Will, will be exam-
ined in the next chapter. It is suf¬cient here to note that the method out-
lined in the ±± Friend, a method which was embryonic in the Biographia,
moves to eclipse both Kantian argument and aesthetic.
This brings us back to the original point: for Coleridge the founda-
tionalist, the ˜Method™ of Coleridge the Friend is validated at the cost of
being indistinguishable from, because constitutive of, metaphysical con-
tent. The direction of one branch of Coleridge™s thought was towards a
foundationalism which could replace empiricism. But as he was drawn
towards the Absolute of German idealism, he found it increasingly dif-
¬cult to reconcile such a notion with his ideal of human creativity and
epistemic freedom. The limitations of transcendental argument in the
Biographia compelled him to relinquish this procedure in favour of a
dialectic which healed the rift between knowing and being but which in
turn meant sacri¬cing his ideal of the kind of autonomous, self-legislating
art which is created spontaneously. It is in this light that Coleridge™s
relationship to Romantic aesthetics on one hand, and the methodology of
later German idealism must be carefully weighed. For while the ¬rst
prized art as the creative surrogate of an unobtainable philosophical
¬nality, the second worked towards conceptual closure which effectively
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
eclipsed art™s claim to a distinct value of its own. It is the former ten-
dency which one may observe persisting in German thought, through
the unidenti¬able ground of Schelling™s ˜Positive™ philosophy and the
double-life of Schopenhauer™s endlessly striving Will, into the work of
Nietzsche.±± The latter, on the other hand, in Hegel ¬nally becomes the
concrete property of philosophy. In this light the signi¬cance of Biographia
lies with how, despite itself, it ¬nally draws apart the paths of poetry
and philosophy, after a brief moment during which their convergence
appeared a real possibility.
It is curious that the central text of English Romantic theory should
have as its stated prime goal such a typically Enlightenment enterprise as
the philosophical deduction of principles of criticism. Even Hume had
¬nally shied away from the task of demonstrating objective principles
or rules of taste. Aesthetic judgement, it was recognized, is singular: it is
based upon an immediate response to an object. It can now be seen, how-
ever, that this peculiarity in Coleridge™s thinking is the direct product of
his ambivalent response to the challenge posed by Hume. One side of his
thought would simply set aside the ¬‚awed discourse of Enlightenment,
and bid farewell to the Cartesian search for epistemological foundations,
to replace it with creative aesthetic exploration or religious experience.
Biographia Literaria™s very title, in this respect, signals its opposition to
Hume™s division of fact and value, or the polarization of philosophy and
˜life™. The other side, however, harbours a fear that without epistemic
structures, without transcendental foundations, unity or ¬rst principle,
scepticism™s power to undermine con¬dence in notions of truth and
knowledge is dangerously increased. From this perspective, the ambi-
tious aesthetic deduction of Biographia Literaria can be seen as an attempt
to harmonize these two approaches and effectively out-Enlightenment
the Enlightenment; that is, by designating a creative imagination, which
is indifferent to subject and object, as itself foundational for knowledge.
The point at which Coleridge attempts to frame this strategy within
the limits of a foundational ˜transcendental™ deduction, however, is the
point at which the Biographia accedes to epistemology, and so bites its
own ˜experiential™ tail. The winding steps of the theses of chapter ±
remain the fragments of a process which, caught between circular and
vertical movements, achieves neither foundational stability nor a hori-
zontal coherence in dialectic. Yet in the course of this the ˜ruined tower™
of Biographia™s argument becomes the example par excellence of English
Romanticism™s Janiform attitude towards knowledge.

The end of knowledge: Coleridge and theosophy

(Now how shall I get out of this sentence? “ The Tail is too big to
be taken up into the Coiler™s Mouth “ )
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, letter to John Kenyon±

Following the failure of Biographia Literaria™s deductions, Coleridge moved
to place knowledge, and philosophy, within a broader context of human
value. Unlike the other English Romantics, however, Coleridge retained
system-building ambitions, whereby the perspective of ˜understanding™
and philosophy was to be harmonized within a theocracy of higher
reason which combined both the dialectical and voluntaristic moments
of an absolutist metaphysics. Coleridge™s subsequent work, particularly
in The Friend (±±), Philosophical Lectures (±±) and Aids to Re¬‚ection (±µ)
places him within a network of post-Kantian concerns which he shares
with Fichte, Schelling, Hegel and Schopenhauer. Moreover, by agreeing
with Kant in his Logic that the fate of knowledge after Hume depended
upon the possibility of grounding synthetic a priori principles, while at
the same time cultivating a non-foundational notion of ˜wisdom™ which
incorporated volitional, affective and practical elements, Coleridge™s
thought maps out much of the territory for succeeding philosophy for
the next two centuries. By doing so, however, it remains ambivalent in
a peculiarly English Romantic way; that is, caught between ¬nding an
end for knowledge, and declaring the end of ˜knowledge™.
Such ambivalence is well expressed by a comment made to Henry
Nelson Coleridge in ±±, when he offered the following assessment of
his philosophical achievements:

My system is the only attempt that I know of ever made to reduce all knowledges
into harmony; it opposes no other system, but shows what was true in each, and
how that which was true in the particular in each of them became error because
it was only half the truth. I have endeavoured to unite the insulated fragments
of truth and frame a perfect mirror.

Coleridge and theosophy
This is a revealing statement, and not the least so because of its diverg-
ing implications. The general picture “ of Coleridge having harmonized
all systems of knowledge in a grand synthesis by bringing out what was
˜half ™ true in each “ is strikingly Hegelian in appearance. This is offset,
however, by the image of the philosopher framing a ˜perfect mirror™,
suggesting an underlying notion of truth as a matter of correspondence
between the mind and something other than itself, rather than the co-
herentist theory defended by Hegel. A similar tension is evident between
Coleridge™s conviction that he has succeeded in assembling a uni¬ed
˜system™, and his awareness of the fragmentary, incomplete nature of the
˜knowledges™ which have gone into its construction. Elsewhere, indeed,
he cites the very limitations of consciousness as evidence of the constitu-
tive role of conscience in knowledge. Without the involvement of a free
act of will (or faith), the self was merely, as he noted in ±µ, ˜a Proteus,
modi¬able into a thousand forms™, each of which was ˜a representation,
of a somewhat that is not myself ™, or a kind of endlessly deferred, ˜self-
conscious self-sentient looking-glass™.
Remarks such as these bear witness to the delicate balance which
Coleridge™s later thought attempted to maintain between two major
themes in post-Kantian German philosophy; namely, the methodology
of dialectic, and the ontology of will. That this is remarkable in an English
poet of the period is only intensi¬ed by the fact that Coleridge™s acquain-
tance with the philosophical ¬gures most closely associated with these
currents “ Hegel and Schopenhauer “ was ¬‚eeting in the ¬rst instance,
and non-existent in the second. Yet, while in Germany the role of the
professional philosopher had been energized with the task of working
through the implications of Kant™s ˜Copernican revolution™, in England
the withering of the philosophical appetite after Hume™s dismantling of
knowledge meant that the task of reconstruction fell largely to poets,
essayists and journalists. Associated with this trend was the emergence,
in the work of Wordsworth and Coleridge, of a self-consciously philo-
sophical poetry. Coleridge™s contact with German thought at the end
of the eighteenth century complicates matters, however, for he was
encouraged at ¬rst by what he read there to theorize this new devel-
opment in English poetry along Schillerian lines. And it was the collapse
of his attempt in Biographia Literaria to emulate Schelling™s project to
reconcile notions of aesthetic freedom with the pantheistic principles
of Naturphilosophie which marks the beginning of his intensi¬ed interest
in dialectic and will; both of which elements were already present in
that work.
±· Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
After the Biographia, Coleridge gave up the project to frame all truth
within a philosophical system of the kind constructed by Schelling, and,
sensing that spiritual being occupied a ground inaccessible to philosophy,
set out on what was to be the central endeavour of his later thought; that
being, by habituating philosophy to religion, and by making religion
amenable to philosophy, to establish a new doctrine of theosophy; a para-
philosophy based not upon aesthetic, but upon religious experience. It
was vital to this undertaking that neither religion nor philosophy should
assume the role of master-discourse. In the Philosophical Lectures of ±±“±,
his principal criticism of Plotinus and the ˜Eclectic™ philosophers (who
had been so in¬‚uential in Biographia) is that they ˜attempted to make
religion philosophy™, just as the Schoolmen™s fault ˜was to convert phil-
osophy into religion™.µ Indeed, it was one of the central aims of the
Lectures to show ˜that as religion never can be philosophy, because the
only true philosophy proposes religion as its end and supplement, so on
the other hand there can be no true religion without philosophy [. . .]™.
The marriage of the two disciplines, then, should be a harmonization,
not a hypostasis. In particular, Coleridge was aware that it was one thing
to say that religion should not be reducible to philosophy, and quite
another to say that philosophy could say nothing about religion. On the
contrary, he believed that it was part of philosophy™s task to establish the
proper location of religion in human life.· By achieving this, he hoped
¬nally to defeat the philosophies of mechanism, and complete the logical
propaedeutic of Kant.
However, viewed from another perspective, what Coleridge is attempt-
ing in his work post-Biographia is to maintain a realm of feeling inaccess-
able to philosophy as originally established by Kant™s transcendental
idealism, a domain which was to be subsumed by Hegel™s concrete uni-
versal. Coleridge™s journey down the absolutist path in Biographia had
brought him to the point of erasing the autonomy of art entirely. But
he came to believe that absolute idealism was just as jealous of reli-
gion™s domain as it was of art™s. The question, as so often, concerned the
status of knowledge: could philosophy encompass religious and aesthetic
truth, even if only in principle? By answering in the negative, Coleridge
retreated from his earlier attachment to the kind of universal organon
exempli¬ed by systematic thinkers such as Spinoza, Leibniz and more
recently, Hegel, in which all truth, whether about experience, mathemat-
ics, or God, could be brought within the comprehension of exhaustive
philosophical investigation.
Coleridge and theosophy
Seamus Perry has noted how the ˜syntactic turn, “and yet” [. . .] is a
hallmark grammar that articulates Coleridge™s divided vision [. . .]™. It
also passes by contagion to his commentators, together with the syno-
nymic ˜however™ and ˜nonetheless™. For even as he resisted it, Coleridge™s
felt need of a system in which the unity of the scattered fragments of
particular truths might be demonstrated, re¬‚ected the extent to which he
had inherited the priorities of the Enlightenment, and in particular the
demand that knowledge be defended against scepticism. There must,
he believed, be at least the possibility of a priori veri¬cation of truth if
the mind is to have some kind of anchor in reality. As he insisted to
Henry Nelson Coleridge in ±°: ˜[y]ou must have a Lantern in your
hand to give light; otherwise all the materials in the world are useless,
for you can neither ¬nd them, and if you could, you could not arrange
them™. At the same time, like his German contemporaries Coleridge
struggled with questions of history and teleology thrown up by a culture
still coming to terms with political revolution. In the work of the Anglican
Coleridge, this took its root in the soil of an established national religion,
growing into a Christian theodicy of providence and redemption. Linked
with this was his desire to give an account of humanity as progressive,
and possessed a priori of an absolute and more purposive freedom than
Rousseau™s idea of the collective will would allow. In general, as Nigel
Leask has noted, the politics of Coleridge™s later thought are represented
by the replacement of a model of a democratic imagination by one of a
theocracy of higher reason, in which the intuition of reality is reserved for
a select group of initiates.±° The cost of maintaining such a system, how-
ever, was high indeed, and Coleridge struggled to develop an entirely new
account of reason which would mediate between foundational epistemol-
ogy, absolute philosophy and religious faith, or between the competing


. 5
( 8)