. 6
( 8)


claims of Kant™s synthetic a priori, an organic, absolute idealism and a
non-conceptual ¬eld of experience traditionally preserved by Christian
dualism. These dif¬cult relations condense into the three-way tension
between the foundational, dialectical and voluntaristic axes in his later
The ¬rst two of these have already been examined. At the same time,
at least since John Muirhead™s defence in ±° of Coleridge™s cultivation
of a ˜voluntaristic form of idealism™ the central role of will in Coleridge™s
thought has also been widely accepted.±± Particularly important is the
uneasy position it assumed in his work, his attempts to contain it dialecti-
cally, and the question of precisely where such strategies situate Coleridge
±° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
in terms of the broader development of post-Kantian philosophy in the
early decades of the nineteenth century. For though S. V. Pradhan rightly
points out that his combination of faith and logic has an ancient pedigree
and is typical of ˜Christian polemics™, any consideration of Coleridge™s
voluntarism has to take into account his reading of Kant™s theory of
practical reason as presented in the second Critique.± It was to this that
Coleridge returned in his attempt to undo the pantheistic implications
of Biographia Literaria. By treating the Kantian notion of a creative will “ a
will which was capable of giving the moral law to itself “ in metaphysical
terms, Coleridge sought to recast Schelling™s absolute as progressive, but
also as open-textured. The highest point of reality, God himself, became
absolute will, of which the human was an echo; an ˜Intelligent Will™, cre-
ative, free, and with an intimate, personal connection with its creator.±
But the very feature which attracted Coleridge the Christian (as well as
Coleridge the poet) to Kant™s idea of the object of pure practical reason “
namely, free will™s noumenality; its inaccessibility to knowledge and its
availability only as a matter of practice, through moral, devotional or
aesthetic activity “ disappointed Coleridge the philosopher.± His conse-
quent readiness to collapse practical and theoretical reason led him into
the dilemma of how will, as in¬nite becoming, could be contained by
being known.
Coleridge™s strategy for overcoming such apparent paradoxes encour-
aged him to pursue further a dialectical method which he had encoun-
tered in Fichte and Schelling. It is here that many commentators have
noticed shared characteristics with Hegel. Among them, Kathleen
Wheeler has made a compelling argument in defence of a view of
Coleridge™s thought as part of a general tide in philosophy which in-
cluded Hegelianism. His opposition to dualism; his concern with the
organic growth and progress of ˜uni¬ed knowing and being™ over and
above exhaustive explanations of the world qua object; his rejection of
noumenal reality, and thus any notion of a metaphysical ˜given™; and his
pioneering use of the immanent logic of dialectical method, it is claimed,
all mark out Coleridge as a fellow-traveller with Hegel.±µ With Coleridge,
however, the ˜and yet™ is always hovering in the background, and it is gen-
erally recognized elsewhere that the unfolding of dialectical processes in
his thought is itself tempered by a Christian principle of love, or a volun-
tarist emphasis on will.± Moreover, German dialectic was increasingly
tilted towards the removal of all difference, including that implied in the
mysteries of religion and creation, ¬nally making it the property of phil-
osophy. Long after Coleridge had quit the ¬eld, Schelling continued to
Coleridge and theosophy
rail against Hegel™s dialectic, which ˜presented God, whom it reached
at the end, as the merely logical result of its earlier mediations [. . .]™.±·
It was precisely from this kind of conceptual closure that Coleridge was
attempting, at different times, to preserve artistic and spiritual truth. In
such a form, dialecticism presented a kind of global logic and ˜knowledge™
more aggressive and aquisitive than Kantian foundationalism.
Any general re-evaluation of Coleridge™s later work, then, must ad-
dress the central problem of how his theosophy adjudicated the rela-
tionship between philosophy and religion; a relationship which became
so uncomfortable because, as was seen in the previous chapter, by
˜philosophy™ Coleridge usually meant something foundational and cer-
tainly apodeictic; a ˜total and undivided philosophy™ combining diversity
in unity.± This question leads immediately to his attempted reconcilia-
tion of a dialectical methodology with an ontology of absolute will; his
struggle to harmonize something like Hegel™s ˜concrete universal™ with
Jacobi™s ˜faith of reason™. Such a reassessment must at some point redress
the very partial views of Coleridge which have in the past ¬fteen years or
so attempted to recast his work as pre¬guring, or as continuous with, as-
pects of modern theory, such as deconstruction and the much-trumpeted
˜death™ of epistemology. This will involve questioning both Hegelian
and indeterminist readings of Coleridge, and suggesting that what lies
behind the apparent ability of Coleridge to act as a ˜perfect mirror™ for so
many of the varied and even con¬‚icting concerns of modern theory is an
unresolved dilemma between knowledge and indifference which places
him at a crossroads in the development of philosophy after Kant. Yet
before any further discussion, it is necessary to examine why the idea of
a global logic, or universal organon, held such an appeal for Coleridge.

 ©®  ¬©  ®¤ § ¬¬ ¬§ © 
Coleridge™s hunger for unity dates back to his childhood. As he recounts
in a letter to Thomas Poole in October ±··, ˜from my early reading
of Faery Tales, & Genii &c &c “ my mind had been habituated to the
Vast “ & I never regarded my senses in any way as the criteria of my
belief ™. Having come, he explains, to regulate his beliefs by conception
rather than sensation, he adds that ˜I know no other way of giving the
mind a love of “the Great”, & “the Whole”.™ It was this resistance to any
inclination to regard the universe empirically, or as merely ˜a mass of little
things™, which lay behind his current interest in Spinoza.± Nonetheless,
though he was reading the Dutch philosopher™s work by ±·, it is likely
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
that he was simultaneously reading the very philosophers “ among them
Leibniz, Kant and in particular Jacobi “ who would have sensitized
him to the dangers and pitfalls of his system. Thus, while in his letter to
Southey of September ±· he is able to report that, despite the domestic
chaos around him, he, ˜sunk in Spinoza™ remained ˜as undisturbed as a
Toad in a Rock™,° he was already noting his dissatisfaction with the
Spinozan account of unity, arguing that ˜yet there must be a oneness,
not an intense Union but an Absolute Unity [. . .]™.± This distinction
is typical of the outlook of post-Kantian German idealism, and despite
that fact that by ±±° Coleridge had decided that there were ˜[o]nly two
Systems of Philosophy [. . .] possible ±. Spinoza . Kant, i.e. the absolute &
the relative™, he was already doubting whether that particular kind of
absolutism could withstand Kantian critique. As this doubt hardened
into conviction, Schelling™s philosophy also became implicated.
At the core of Coleridge™s problems is his ambivalence about Spinoza™s
monism. Spinoza™s zeal for healing the breach of Cartesian dualism had
resulted in a thoroughgoing logical absolutism which called into question
the very identity of particulars in reality qua particulars; or, in Coleridge™s
own terms, of the reality of multeity within unity. Writing in ±°,
Coleridge complains of ˜all the odious consequences of Spinosism™ and
in particular ˜leaving the main problem unsolved & unsolvable, viz. the
ground of the existence of Multeity, or the passage from the In¬nite to
the Finite [. . .]™. There were a number of reasons why he found this
arrangement disturbing. Above all, it seemed to erase the presence of
God as a distinguishable personality in the world, replacing the biblical,
transcendent divinity with an absolute substance fully identical with the
sum of its attributes and modes. Moreover, it removed all human free-
dom with a necessitarianism even more binding than any devised by
Hartley or Priestley, because based upon logical, and not causal condi-
tions. In this light, Coleridge™s demand for multeity is in agreement with
Schelling™s demand that an adequate account be given of the possibility
of contingency in the world. Indeed, Schelling was to acknowledge that for
all its shortcomings, empiricism ˜founds that agreeable free relationship
to God which rationalism negates™, and to that extent ˜allows a higher
way of looking at things™.µ Spinoza™s global logic, however, will not
allow that knowledge of any event might be irreducibly contingent. The
twenty-ninth proposition of Part ± of The Ethics states that ˜[i ]n nature
there is nothing contingent, but all things have been determined from the necessity
of the divine nature to exist and produce in a certain way™. Contingency and
particularity, then, are illusions brought on by a lack of understanding
Coleridge and theosophy
of more fundamental, eternal necessity. There are no holes in nature.
Spinoza makes this clear when he claims that the apparent transience of
things stems from the fact that ˜we can have no adequate knowledge
of their duration [. . .]™. Indeed, such an inadequacy ˜is what we must
understand by the contingency of things™, for ˜beyond that there is no
contingency™.· This position comes as no surprise: it must, indeed, be a
presupposition of any system which seeks to explain reality by purely a
priori deductive means.
On one level, Coleridge was as little inclined as Spinoza to accept
contingency as a brute fact, as Hume and Jacobi (and, at unsteady mo-
ments, Kant) had. Such an admission seemed to him to open the door
once again to scepticism and the detested empirical philosophy. On the
other hand, he saw that Spinozism failed to account for the kind of change
and growth of knowledge that Bacon had been able to outline in The
Advancement of Learning. For Spinoza, one may say that our reasoned be-
liefs are true, even necessarily true, but our knowledge is not ˜with™ us;
we may not discover anything new, much less add to current knowl-
edge from our own stores, as it has nothing to do with any creative
capacity in us. The problem for Coleridge concerned how one might
account for epistemic creation, and thus for the progress of knowledge,
without conceding to the empiricist that the price of synthesis is contin-
gency. Spinoza™s own attempt to account for the limitations of human
intelligence which gave rise to the illusion of contingency had resulted,
paradoxically, in a dualism of nature viewed as active (˜Natura naturans™),
and nature viewed as passive (˜Natura naturata™) “ or, respectively, ˜what is
in itself and is conceived through itself ™, i.e. God, and ˜whatever ¬‚ows
from the necessity of God™s nature [. . .]™. Human intellect, he claimed,
must fall into the second category. But it was this kind of static and super-
¬cial dualism, acting as a veil for a more oppressive monism, to which
the post-Biographia Coleridge objected, and later perceived as perpetu-
ated by the Identity Philosophy of Schelling™s work of the early ±°°s.
Rejecting the notion of polar being as prior to divine Will, he countered
in a notebook entry of ±° that ˜[i]n our Absolute (i.e. the ineffable
Godhead) there is no Dualism, no antithesis, consequently no “Identity”
in the sense [. . .] af¬xed to the term by the New Decorators of Spinosism
[i.e. Schelling]™. Instead, Coleridge proposed to remove the dilemmas
of unity versus freedom, and necessity versus creation and growth, with
a new form of grounded dialectic. This will be discussed below.
Spinoza™s own theory of knowledge, meanwhile, is unambiguous. As
human knowledge is identi¬ed with the reality which it perceives, insofar
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
as it is a mere passive mode of the absolute substance, truth, no less than
divinity, becomes immanent; that is, a matter of coherence rather than
correspondence of a mental product to the ˜outside™ world.° False ideas
are simply ideas which the ¬nite mind is not able to resolve into original
principles. From this it follows that there can be no completely false belief,
and that, as Spinoza puts it, ˜[ f ]alsity consists in the privation of knowledge
which inadequate, or mutilated and confused, ideas involve™. On one level, this po-
sition must have been attractive to Coleridge, who shared with Spinoza
the desire to heal the breach of Cartesian dualism. Spinoza™s coherentism
attempted to solve this by dispensing with Descartes™ account of knowl-
edge as representation. However, the logical constraints of Spinoza™s co-
herentism are much more rigid than those of his modern, predominately
empirical, successors, who are as concerned to explain how knowledge
changes as how it sticks together.± From Spinoza™s perspective, truth,
rather than just belief, took the form of coherence. Thus, there is no
room in his scheme for any of the broader or more affective features of
human experience. The implications of Spinoza™s views, for example,
are as fatal for any voluntaristic philosophy as his metaphysical monism
is generally for the concept of free will. Indeed, to illustrate his notion
of a ˜false™ or inadequate idea, Spinoza cites the example of the com-
mon belief in individual liberty: ˜men are deceived in that they think
themselves free, an opinion which consists only in this, that they are
conscious of their actions and ignorant of the causes by which they are
determined™. The idea of knowledge as emotional or affective would
have made no sense at all to Spinoza. Imagination, indeed, is the sole
source of error in human knowledge, causing a confusion in ideas which
is only soluble in the highest form of knowledge, or the intuitive be-
holding of logical essences. Spinoza™s theory of knowledge, then, as
far as Coleridge is concerned, fails because it offers no possibility that
truth might be something that is created, rather than deduced, thereby
negating any sense of human reason as progressive, and capable of real
That man is fundamentally a creative, and thus a progressive being was
one of Coleridge™s unshakeable convictions. It is a corollary of his views
on original sin and the possibility of redemption, as well as his concep-
tion of artistic genius. It feeds into his contention in the three-volume
Friend of ±± that all true philosophical method is genuinely creative,
in that it ˜supposes  ° ©®  ©° ¬  ¦ µ ®©   · ©  °§   © ® ; in
other words, progressive transition without breach of continuity™.µ
Indeed, in the third appendix to The Statesman™s Manual he compares
the vocation of the intellect to that of a colonial conqueror:
Coleridge and theosophy
But whatever of good and intellectual Nature worketh in us, it is our appointed
task to render gradually our own work. For all things that surround us, and all
things that happen unto us, have [. . .] all one ¬nal cause: namely, the increase
of Consciousness, in such wise, that whatever part of the terra incognita of our
nature the increased consciousness discovers, our will may conquer and bring
into subjection to itself under the sovereignty of reason.
Inevitably, the voluntaristic ingredient is important to Coleridge here,
and will be discussed below. It was, however, the notion of consciousness
striking out into the ˜terra incognita of our nature™ and discovering new
domains for reason which sets Coleridge™s account of knowledge apart
from the story typically told by rationalism. Moreover, it is evident that,
at least by the time he was composing the Logic, he was able to agree with
Kant that the de¬ciencies of rationalist thought in this respect stemmed
from its overreaching logic; its exhaustively analytical approach to
the problems of philosophy. ˜There are™, he averred to Henry Nelson
Coleridge, ˜three ways of treating any subject. ±. Analytically. . Histori-
cally. . Constructively or Synthetically. Of these the only one complete
and unerring is the last.™ Proceeding analytically, ˜you may set out like
Spinoza with all but the Truth, and end with a conclusion which is alto-
gether monstrous [. . .]™.· It goes almost without saying that by ˜synthetic™
method Coleridge does not mean to recommend the additive and ab-
stracting procedure of empirical science, that ˜anti-philosophy™, as he
terms it in the Philosophical Lectures, which sets out ˜arbitrarily and most
groundlessly™ from a mere hypothesis of understanding. Kant had
demonstrated to Coleridge™s satisfaction the necessity for a priori syn-
thetic foundations in knowledge. But even following the collapse of the
absolutist project in Biographia, Coleridge could not accept the transcen-
dental conditions which Kant attached to his argument; and principally
among these, his stipulation that things as they are ˜in themselves™ are
unknowable. This seemed too high a price to pay, even for such coveted
goals as foundational security in knowledge and an explanation of the
purposefulness of existence as determined by a structure of human ends.
Repeatedly, then, Coleridge attacks Kant™s idea of noumenal reality as
unknowable being, particularly with regard to the nature and existence
of God. In the ¬‚y-leaves of J. H. Green™s copy of Kant, for example,
he scribbled an objection to the latter™s ±· essay ˜On a Newly Arisen
Superior Tone in Philosophy™:
I do not clearly see by what right Kant forbids us to attribute to God Intelligence
and Will, because we know by experience no Intelligence or Will but the human
Understanding (?), the human Volition (?) [. . .] while yet he allows us to attribute
<to him> the notion of a Ground [. . .].
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
The phenomenal /noumenal distinction, he concludes, is one that
˜no religious man could retain™.° This is the same kind of bewilderment
evident in Biographia when Coleridge expresses disbelief that ˜it was pos-
sible for him [Kant] to have meant no more by his Noumenon, or T © ® §
© ® I  ¬ ¦ , than his mere words express [. . .]™.± By the ±°s, how-
ever, Coleridge had formulated his own de¬nition of the self-identical
object in such a way as to make it cognizable, writing in a fragment that
˜I use the word Noumen as the abridgement of the Greek, Noumenon,
for whatever is understood, and can be known only by being understood:
[. . .] by antithesis to Ph¦nomen (from the Greek, phainomenon) [ . . . ]
viz, [ . . . ] Appearance, or impression of the Senses.™
Aside from his equivocations over epistemological foundationalism,
Coleridge™s ambivalent attitude to Kant is further complicated by his
failure adequately to distinguish between the philosophical outlook of
the three Critiques and that of Kant™s pre-critical writings. In particular,
his reading of On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and the Intelligible World,
the ˜Inaugural Dissertation™ of ±··° “ which he praised as ˜an invaluable
Essay containing the Germs of all the great works published by him forty
years afterwards™ “ led Coleridge into confusion about the aims of the
¬rst Critique. Although the ˜Dissertation™ was the earliest work among
his pre-critical writings that the critical Kant was prepared to consider for
publication, and despite the fact that its anti-Wolf¬an stance is, arguably,
preparing the ground for his later work, it faces in a completely different
direction. Coleridge, however, mistook it as somehow germinal.
The basic thrust of the ˜Dissertation™ is a critique of what Kant sees
as Wolff ™s con¬‚ation of ˜things which are thought sensitively™, or ˜repre-
sentations of things as they appear™, and ˜things which are intellectual™, or
˜representations of things as they are™.µ As a consequence, Kant claims,
Wolff loses sight of classical philosophy™s distinction between ˜phenomena
and noumena™. Nonetheless, despite having removed space and time from
the jurisdiction of reason, and therefore from metaphysical considera-
tion, the ˜Dissertation™ has yet fully to emerge from the shadow of Kant™s
rationalist mentor, in that it does not place noumena beyond the reach
of philosophy. On the contrary, the purpose of the division is not, at this
point, to anchor metaphysical speculation within the bounds of sense,
but to caution rationalist metaphysics against being misled by spatio-
temporal intuitions, ˜lest the principles which are native to sensitive cognition
transgress their limits, and effect what belongs to the understanding [. . .]™. This
produces the ˜fallacy of subreption™, which results in the illusion that ˜[t]he
same sensitive condition, under which alone the intuition of an object is
Coleridge and theosophy
possible, is a condition of the possibility itself of the object™.· It was only
later that Kant would turn this reasoning on its head to insist that we
could only know the object via sensible intuition. That Coleridge should
quote approvingly from passages such as the above in Biographia in sup-
port of his general argument in defence of knowledge of unconditioned
reality, then, is unsurprising, as is his famous uncertainty in that same
work as to Kant™s position on the possibility of intellectual intuition.
Just as notoriously, it seems quite possible that it is Kant™s elimination of
space and time from considerations of pure intellect in the ˜Dissertation™
that Coleridge had in mind when he wrote his great declaration to Poole,
claiming to have ˜completely extricated the notions of Time, and Space™
and overthrown ˜all the irreligious metaphysics of modern In¬dels™.
Coleridge™s Kant hovers uncertainly between the ˜Dissertation™ and the
Critique of Pure Reason.
The critical Kant, however, while providing a much-needed antidote
to the excesses of Sinoza™s global logic, and an account of the conditions
for a uni¬ed progressiveness in human knowledge in his defence of a priori
synthesis, did so, as far as Coleridge was concerned, at the expense of
knowledge itself, in its fullest sense. From this perspective, Coleridge™s
objection to Kant™s noumena/phenomena division is the reverse of
Jacobi™s. True philosophy had to unify human knowledge and draw it
towards the Absolute, and typically (though not exclusively) Coleridge
thinks of this in terms of a system. The transcendental method, however,
was not, and could not be the method of a system, as Coleridge points
out to Hugh Rose in an ±± letter. Noting the systems of, among others,
Cicero, Spinoza, Schelling and Fichte, he asks ˜can there be, any other
systems? Kant™s “ No! for his proofs are moral™, and demand ˜only that we
should act as if the proof were scienti¬c™.µ° Despite his dif¬culties with
Spinoza, the possibility of an apodeictic global logic, a universal organon
which would ˜reduce all knowledges into harmony™, still exerted a pow-
erful hold upon Coleridge™s mind, and was to do so until the end of
his life.
And yet the kind of explanation offered by rationalist philosophers re-
mained unsatisfactory. Like Spinoza, Leibniz set out on the wrong foot,
Coleridge argues, insofar as he assumed that questions of existence were
open to exhaustive logical enquiry. In Aids to Re¬‚ection, he attacks the
philosopher™s speculations on the relation of body and soul, claiming
that ˜Leibnitz [. . .] erred in the attempt to demonstrate geometrically a
problem not susceptible of geometric constuction™.µ± The School phil-
osophy, he notes, had laboured under the same delusion, the resulting
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
contradictions leading many ˜to doubt whether a logical truth was nec-
essarily an existencial [sic] one, i.e. whether because a thing was logically
consistent it must be necessarily existent [. . .]™.µ The object cannot be
explained ˜internally™ in this way, from a God™s-eye view, as if (as Leibniz
would have it) there are no extrinsic denominations. As Coleridge insists
in Logic, following Kant, space and time cannot be explained relationally,
or eliminated by analysis: they are subjective, but no less real for that:
˜Leibniz was so far in the right that he denied the subsistence of space
independent of the mind; but he grievously erred in representing it as
nothing more than a confused perception arising out of the indistinctness
of all particular ¬gures [. . .].™µ
This rather abstruse debate between Leibniz and Kant over the struc-
ture of the object had a wider signi¬cance for Coleridge. Indeed, it
had an immediate bearing on the relation between religion and phil-
osophy. Coleridge saw that what drove Leibniz™s philosophical logic,
his belief that the fundamental ˜reason for a truth consists in [ . . . the
principle] that the predicate is in the subject™,µ was the rationalist ideal
of a universal organon, or ˜alphabet of human thoughts™, whereby all
propositions might be traced, as far as possible, to their roots in neces-
sary (tautological) propositions.µµ However, if a universal calculus of this
kind was possible, then religion was in danger of becoming subordinated
to philosophy, and Coleridge™s own theosophy of becoming nothing more
than a rather elevated form of the latter. In this light, Leibnizian logic
was as dangerously reductive a tool in philosophy as Spinozan monism.
Against such an idea, Coleridge was moved to protest in the Philosophi-
cal lectures that, rather than life being the result of a logical principle
of organization, ˜organisation is in some way or other dependent on
life as its cause™.µ Consequently, Coleridge™s recommendation of Kant™s
˜Dissertation™ to Pryce in ±± is quite understandable, for he believed
(again, mistakenly) that in that work
Kant™s merit consisted (mainly) in explaining the ground of the apodeixis in
Mathematics: which neither Leibnitz nor Plato had attained to “ and this he
did by proving that Space and Time were ±. neither general terms, . nor
abstractions from Things, . nor Things themselves; but, . the pure a priori
forms of the intuitive faculty [. . .].µ·

Given the limitations of Kantian method, then, what Coleridge re-
quired was a means of completing philosophy™s task of demonstrating the
Absolute as a dynamic, creative essence “ and man as partaking of that
creativity “ without at the same time rendering faith, and thus religion,
Coleridge and theosophy
redundant. The means he chose, accordingly, were voluntaristic: will or
practical reason had to have a constitutive role in knowledge. Rationalist
thought tended to see will as an unruly power which unsettled knowl-
edge. As Descartes put it, ˜[t]he scope of the will is wider than that of the intellect,
and this is the cause of error™.µ For Coleridge, however, in comprehending
eternal truths not subject to conditions of space or time, the speculative
reason has only a negative role to play: positive cognition must be at-
tributable to ˜the Practical Reason of Man, comprehending the Will, the
Conscience, the Moral Being with its inseparable Interests and Affec-
tions “ that Reason, namely, which is the Organ of Wisdom, and (as far
as Man is concerned) the Source of living and actual Truths™.µ This is
one of the clearest statements of the later Coleridge™s marginalization
of conventional philosophy as a search for epistemological grounds and
a priori certainty. In the notion of ˜wisdom™ Coleridge signals a decisive
move away from what John Dewey would call the ˜spectator concep-
tion of knowledge™,° or the Cartesian and Lockean view of experience
as the relation between a ¬xed subject and object, and enters in to
a new stream of post-Kantian thinking in which epistemology™s story
of the purely knowing self is decentred in favour of a para-philosophy
encompassing dialectic and will, culminating in James™ assertion almost
a century later that ˜[p]retend what we may, the whole man within us
is at work when we form our philosophical opinions. Intellect, will, taste,
and passion co-operate just as they do in practical affairs [. . .].™± At this
point, however, such a headlong rush to life and ˜value™ could not simul-
taneously sustain a commitment to apodeictic philosophy: voluntarism
would not sit easily any form of exhaustive global logic which sought to
close down difference and contingency.
The tension, then, between Coleridge™s attraction to global theorizing,
and his ¬rm belief in human progressiveness “ or between his desire for
a system which could demonstrate the necessary truths about the funda-
mental unity of reality, and his awareness that divine and human creativity
alike depended upon the premise that existence was not susceptible of
exhaustive logical explanation “ is at its most most pronounced in his
treatment of rationalist thinkers such as Spinoza and Leibniz (though it
was later to affect the way he thought about Schelling). The lesson of
Leibniz, in this light, was that reality cannot be accounted for within
a system of relation and representation, no matter how logically com-
plete that system. Without the intervention of an act of will (or faith),
knowledge, like the Leibnizian monad, was merely ˜a Proteus, modi¬able
into a thousand forms [. . .]™. The remaining problem, however, was a
±° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
Jacobian one: how knowingly to un-know the unity of knowing and faith,
philosophy and self-creation.

˜ ®  ©® §  ©® ©  © ¬  ™:  ¬µ® ©  
As has been seen, the principal effort behind Coleridge™s later thought
was to establish the common ground between philosophy and religion
without reducing the two to a barren, unproductive identity. In this way,
philosophy could be saved from its futile doubtful search for epistemic
foundations, a search which only led the thinker into an in¬nite regress
of conditioned propositions and away from value and ˜life™. At the same
time, religion might be considered as something which was, at least, not
inconsistent with speculative reason. Religion, as he de¬nes it in the ±±
Friend, ˜signi¬es the act and habit of reverencing   I® ©  ©  ¬, as the
highest both in ourselves and in nature™, and ˜[t]he same principle, which
in its application to the whole of our being becomes religion, considered
speculatively is the basis of metaphysical science, that, namely, which requires
an evidence beyond that of sensible concretes [. . .]™. Worthy of attention
here is the fact that, though Coleridge denies that such reverence, when
considered with reference to the ˜whole of our being™, can be subsumed
under mere speculative metaphysics, he nonetheless refers to it as a
˜principle™. This does not mean that the invisible itself can be known, but
it does suggest that it can be considered in a way which is not like how
we consider things rationally: we may, in other words, have a kind of
non-cognitive acquaintance with it which is neither formulable in terms of
rational speculation nor ordinary experience. What kind of acquaintance
this might be is the question which Coleridge later asks himself when he
wonders ˜what is the ground of the coincidence between reason and
experience?™ He ¬nds his answer in Plato:
The only answer which Plato deemed the question capable of receiving, compels
the reason to pass out of itself and seek the ground of this agreement in a
supersensual essence [. . .]. Religion therefore is the ultimate aim of philosophy, in
consequence of which philosophy itself becomes the supplement of the sciences,
both as the convergence of all to the common end, namely, wisdom; and as
supplying the copula, which modi¬ed in each in the comprehension of its parts to
one whole, is in its principles common to all, as integral parts of one system. And
this is M¤, itself a distinct science, the immediate offspring of philosophy,
and the link or mordant by which philosophy becomes scienti¬c and the sciences
It is wisdom, then, which unites religion and philosophy, as well as
furnishing the principles of the unity of method which bind philosophy
Coleridge and theosophy
and the sciences together. Wisdom bounds that ineffable area of human
and divine creativity into which reason cannot venture. It is analogous
to artistic expression, which, lying somewhere between the lawfulness of
method and the theoretical constructions based upon experience, is sim-
ilarly irreducible to rational explanation, but no less ˜true™ for that. Yet
it is typical of Coleridge™s ambivalence that he chooses to categorize such
a pragmatic, non-logocentric notion as a ˜ground™, thereby once again
invoking the foundationalist demand for epistemic security. Wisdom is
the ˜common end™ of different forms of knowledge in the sense of being a
common goal, not an end to a certain way of thinking about ˜knowledge™.
Coleridge is clear that philosophy must itself be grounded, even though
he was to describe it to Henry Nelson Coleridge as merely ˜the middle
state between Science or Knowledge and Wisdom or Sophia™.µ
The question arises, however, as to what quality in wisdom distin-
guishes it from mere reason suf¬ciently to establish theosophy as the
˜copula™ of philosophy and religion. This, he came to decide, could not
be anything other than the will, for only in an act of will could the
apparent contradiction between thinking and unknowable being be re-
solved without the annulment of one or the other. ˜Credidi, ide´ que in-
tellexi™ (˜I believed and therefore I understood™), he declares towards the
close of Biographia, ˜appears to me the dictate equally of Philosophy and
Religion™ “ a thought enthusiastically championed later by William
James. Yet Coleridge was aware that philosophically, such a move had its
risks. It entailed either that will had, on some level, an epistemic validity,
the conditions of which, by de¬nition, remained uncomprehended, or
that the very notions of ˜validity™ and ˜comprehension™ needed to be re-
examined in the light of will. The will to knowledge was, he admitted,
a ˜seeming argumentum in circulo, incident to all spiritual Truths™, but
which only remained ˜as long as we attempt to master by the re¬‚ex acts
of the Understanding what we can only know by the act of becoming™.
The stress on the word ˜know™ betrays some uneasiness on Coleridge™s
part. The delicate balancing-act between ˜reason™ and ˜will™ continued
to be a dif¬cult one to maintain. Ironically, in trying to escape the
limitations of Kantian foundationalism while avoiding the monolithic
absolutes of German idealism, it was to Kant™s theory of practical rea-
son that Coleridge turned.
In an entry to his notebooks of ±°, Coleridge quotes Kant™s asser-
tion in the Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals that ˜[t]he Will is none
other than the practical reason™, countering that though ˜[m]y will & I
seem perfect Synonimes [. . .] I do not feel this perfect synonimousness in
Reason & the Wille [. . .] Again and again, he is a wretched Psychologist.™
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
A more accurate re¬‚ection upon this exchange, however, would be: again
and again, Coleridge misunderstands Kant. For Kant did not think that
will and reason were perfectly synonymous: if he had, there would have
been little call to write a Groundwork or second Critique. Indeed, later in
the same passage, he af¬rms that it is precisely because the will is not
completely determined by the theoretical reason that practical reason is
required to issue reason with unconditional commands to action.· But at
this stage at least, Coleridge was either unaware of, or unwilling to accept
such a distinction within reason, presuming, as it did, a corresponding
distinction between noumenal and phenomenal realms. Nonetheless, his
identi¬cation of the will with the spontaneity of the ˜I ™ led him to the fur-
ther consideration that sometimes, such as in geometrical constructions,
˜I seem to will the Truth, as well as to perceive it. Think of this! “ ™
It was this linkage of will with epistemic creation which he was later to
pursue further. Accordingly, in a notebook entry which was to become a
draft for a passage of Chapter ± in Biographia, Coleridge ¬nds that the ab-
solute ground of knowledge must be ˜ P © ® © °¬  , in which  © ® § ®¤
 µ § ©®©¤ ™, and that the same principle must be based in an
˜Act of Will™ or ˜the Sµ  or I AM,™ which, making itself its own object,
becomes self-consciousness, or ˜the original and perpetual Epiphany™.
The transparency of the self through the spontaneous will thus be-
comes the keystone of the Biographia. It supports, among other things,
Coleridge™s further endeavours to demonstrate human teleological real-
ity, and reject ˜that subordination of ¬nal to ef¬cient causes in the human being,
which ¬‚ows of necessity from the assumption, that the will, and with the
will all acts of thought and attention, are parts and products of this blind
mechanism, instead of being distinct powers, whose function it is to con-
troul, determine, and modify the phantasmal chaos of association™.·° It is
also identi¬ed with the fundamental freedom of the self-conscious spirit;
a freedom which, again, ˜must be assumed as a ground of philosophy, and
can never be deduced from it™.·± However, the idea of a will which was
at once spontaneous or creative and perfectly transparent to itself was
not a stable one.
In this, Coleridge was experiencing the mixed in¬‚uence of Schelling.
The text which Biographia leans on most heavily “ the ±°° System of
Transcendental Idealism “ represents a pivotal point in Schelling™s thought,
a transitional stage when he was moving towards a more Spinoza-
in¬‚uenced view of the absolute identity of consciousness and being, but
had not yet entirely freed himself from the Fichtean position that com-
plete self-consciousness or reality could only be achieved via practical
Coleridge and theosophy
philosophy, or by the exertion of will. As he puts it in the System, the
unconditional ˜ “I am” ™, which is the in¬nite proposition grounding the
unity of knowledge and existence, ˜cannot be sought in any kind of thing;
for [. . .] that which is the principle of all knowledge can in no way become
an object of knowledge originally, or in itself, but only through a speci¬c act
of freedom™.· This echoes Fichte™s position. Though in his ˜Second Intro-
duction to the Wissenshaftslehre™, Fichte maintains that, rather than Kant™s
experience of spatio-temporal reality, it is the possibility of intellectual
intuition which is essential for philosophy, he adds that ˜[i]t is, however,
an entirely different undertaking to con¬rm [. . .] the belief in the reality
of this intellectual intuition [. . .]™. As he further explains, ˜[t]he only way
in which this can be accomplished is by exhibiting the ethical law within
us [. . .]™.· However, it was this practical resolution of the contradictions
contained in his theory of reality as the act of self-construction through
a process of self-positing that so dissatis¬ed Schelling and Coleridge.·
What was more, it failed adequately to explain being as such, or how the
˜I™ could be in itself, rather than merely posited for itself.
The seeds of Schelling™s rebellion are already evident in the ±°°
System. He demonstrates his concern for that which lies beyond the
bounds of consciousness in the inclusion, in the act of intellectual in-
tuition, of the ˜real™ or unconscious world, together with Fichte™s ˜ideal™
or conscious world.·µ Thus, though at this stage he agrees with Fichte
that the two can only be united practically, in ˜the absolute act of will™, and
not intellectually, as this is ˜a thing utterly impossible through freedom™,
the resolution itself is not merely that of self with itself, but that of self
with nature or the objective world. Furthermore, he suggests that art
might present such an intuition of the absolute, thereby completing a
progression ˜from simple stuff to organization (whereby unconsciously
productive nature reverts into itself ), and from thence by reason and
choice up to the supreme union of freedom and necessity in art (whereby
consciously productive nature encloses and completes itself )™.· Thus, art
becomes ˜at once the only true and eternal organ and document of phil-
osophy™ in that it ˜achieves the impossible, namely to resolve an in¬nite
opposition in a ¬nite product™.··
Schelling™s preoccupation with the unconditioned as resting in the
fundamental identity of unconscious productive nature or reality and a
conscious, subjective ideality was to take him further away from Fichte
in his revisions for the second, ±° edition of his Ideas for a Philosophy
of Nature (originally published in ±··). In this, Schelling™s move towards
a more neo-Platonic notion of the absolute resulted in the excision of
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
Fichte™s dialectical method and its replacement with a view of nature as
the emergence or emanation into difference of an original unity. The
Identity Philosophy, as it came to be known, was driven by a hierarchy of
˜potencies™, or degrees of difference-in-unity, through which ¬nite things
evolve. As he puts it, ˜[t]he absolute, in the eternal cognitive act, expands
itself into the particular, merely so that, in the absolute embodiment of
its in¬nity into the ¬nite itself, it may take back the latter into itself, and
in it both are one act™.·
Immediately noticeable as absent from this picture, however, is any
constitutive role for either will or art. The Identity Philosophy, indeed,
has no room for them. Yet it is important to see how the priorities of
the ±°° System have led into this, and how Coleridge never gave up the
central project of that work insofar as he sought to demonstrate the
origin of truth in an unconditioned Absolute “ the alternative (to ac-
cept the existence of reality beyond consciousness which was altogether
noumenal) being unacceptable. Herein, however, lay his most intractable
problem. Schelling, the further he drew away from the practical philos-
ophy of Fichte, found the business of explaining the progressiveness of con-
sciousness, or how the absolute translated itself into ¬nitude, evermore
tasking. This, as has been seen, was one of the principal causes behind
Coleridge™s later disenchantment: the self-identical absolute threatened
to revert back into an unwelcome Spinozism, a new kind of global logic.
Consequently, Coleridge, unable to follow Schelling into dark iden-
tity, but having accepted (against Kant™s advice) that philosophy must
¬nd the unconditioned as a foundation, and (against Fichte™s advice) that
this lay in the union of the self with a metaphysical other which was
not just a postulation of the self, was left stranded. His metaphysical
theory of Absolute Will should thus be seen as an attempt at a compro-
mise between Fichtean freedom and Schellingian absolutism. But try as
Coleridge might, volition and foundational a priori knowledge would not
It was in the end the leeway provided by his early Fichteanism which
had permitted Schelling the space to assign crucial epistemic functions
to will and art in the ±°° System, but this opennesss and lack of clos-
ure was also the root of his dissatisfaction with any philosophical sys-
tem which attempted to retain Kant™s distinction between the practical
and the theoretical; an attitude he shared with Coleridge. Though later
Schelling would recognize this tension as a fundamental heteronomy in
human nature, and recast identity™s absolute ground as itself a symptom
of an inescapable but impossible philosophical desire for grounds, at this
Coleridge and theosophy
point it produced in both writers the same pressure on such concepts
as knowledge and freedom. Schelling realized that intellectual intuition
˜must come about through a type of knowing utterly different from or-
dinary knowledge. This knowing must be [. . .] absolutely free [. . .].™· It
rests upon a principle which ˜borders on practical philosophy, since it is
simply a demand, and on theoretical, since its demand is for a purely theoretical
construction™.° Though not identical, this exotic ˜knowing™ is close to what
has been identi¬ed above as Coleridge™s idea of ˜wisdom™; that is, as in-
corporating both a cognizing reason and an active, creative will; as being
at once rational and voluntary, the solution to Jacobi™s self-alienating salto
mortale. It was the endeavour to reconcile this pragmatic, aesthetic sense
of ˜knowing™, both with an epistemology of a priori foundations and an all-
encompassing metaphysics, which tests much of Coleridge™s later work.
For dialectic and Kantian foundationalism both had a sting in the tail.
The ¬rst offered an escape from knowledge as mere representation, and,
followed ironically or teleologically, a holistic alternative to the ration-
alistic constraints of empiricism and transcendentalism alike. However,
at the same time it had a tendency in Coleridge, like Hegel, to close
down any notion of an open-textured, creative dimension to experience,
making it the exclusive property of philosophy. The second, thanks to
the psychologistic interpretation of synthetic a priori propositions shared
by Kant and Coleridge, was associated with a theory of transcendental
idealism which in turn opened up the aesthetic and practical reason as
compensatory, ineffable ¬elds of experience and feeling. Yet the price of
this, infamously, was the alienation of these realms from knowledge.
This brings us back to Kant, and practical reason. For Kant, the epis-
temologically conservative result of the critique of reason had a positive
value in that it allowed man™s practical being the freedom to experience
the absolute in a moral (non-cognitive) way. As he puts it in the Critique
of Pure Reason:
So far, therefore, as our Critique limits speculative reason, it is indeed negative; but
since it thereby removes an obstacle which stands in the way of the employment
of practical reason, nay threatens to destroy it, it has in reality a positive and very
important use.±

Kant™s idea is that free will, qua practical reason, is not compatible
with a totalizing metaphysical system, or global logic, of the order that
rationalist philosophy had undertaken in the past. At some point, the-
oretical reason had to know its own limits, and give way. The same
non-conceptual space won back by the critical philosophy prevents
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
the re¬‚ective judgement of aesthetics and teleology from being over-
determined by logic, and permits genius the freedom to create ineffable
aesthetic ideas. Kant™s transcendental account of synthetic a priori knowl-
edge permits a creativity in morals and art in a way which preserves the
autonomy of these discourses by drawing a line beyond which philoso-
phy™s insight into them ceases. But Coleridge™s metaphysical assertion of
a creative yet complete ˜Absolute Will™ as the ground of all identity and
true condition of Schelling™s synthetic ˜I Am™ effectively closes down such
a space. Yet Coleridge further believed that by marrying will and reason
he could go a ˜step higher™ than Schelling, and retain the progressiveness
and freedom of Kant™s practical philosophy, while af¬rming the uncon-
ditional absolute as metaphysically demonstrable. In this respect he
saw himself as advancing on Schelling by accounting for the possibility
of creation within a necessary order or unity.
Coleridge, however, needed Kant™s conception of practical reason for
his voluntaristic purposes. For example, in Aids to Re¬‚ection he saw it as
a condition of redemption that the human will was not perfectly coinci-
dent with theoretical reason, as only unfallen beings could exist in such a
state. Yet he was then left with the paradox of how will “ a creative force
which transcended nature and was itself supposedly beyond all compre-
hension “ could voluntarily determine its own law. Was it, in the end,
necessary that the will be guided by reason? Kant™s separation of practi-
cal reason (will) and theoretical reason made sense within transcendental
method. Coleridge™s disjunction of the two, however, in view of his com-
mitment to the identity of reason and will in Absolute Will, stems from a
theology of human will as fallen. Philosophically, the distinction between
the spontaneity of human spirit, or ˜the essential character by which ·© ¬ ¬
is opposed to Nature, as Spirit, and raised above Nature as self-determining
Spirit™, in that ˜it is a power of originating an act or state™, and the rational
spirit, or the ˜capacity of acknowledging the Moral Law™, has already
become blurred. Thus, Coleridge™s claim that a perfectly rational will
works in ˜free obedience of the Law™, appears as a tautology, and echoes
Schelling™s absolute identi¬cation of freedom and necessity. The law
known by reason is at once ˜the Law of the Spirit, the Law of Freedom,
[and] the Divine Will [. . .]™.µ
This voluntaristic/logical friction in Coleridge™s thought is echoed in
his own view of his role as philosopher and teacher. Coleridge frequently
expressed the Jacobian view that no one could come to a comprehension
of the central truths of the theosophy without an act of faith born of will. In
Aids to Re¬‚ection, though he insists that ˜[w]hatever is against right reason,
Coleridge and theosophy
that no faith can oblige us to believe™, the aphoristic structure “ indeed,
the title itself “ tells of this voluntaristic outlook. The author acts as
guide, rather than instructor or interpreter. Similarly, in the ±± Friend,
he had protested that his wish was ˜to convey not instruction merely, but
fundamental instruction; not so much to shew my Reader this or that
fact, as to kindle his own torch for him, and leave it to himself to chuse
the particular objects, which he might wish to examine by its light™.·
Nonetheless, Coleridge continues to display some uncertainty about the
precise extent to which truth is to be reached by an effort of will, or
a rational grasp of principle. For example, in the Statesman™s Manual, he
had argued that ˜W (that is, the human race) ¬©    ¦ ©  ™, and that
faith ˜is scarcely less than identical with its own being. Implicit`, it is the
C° µ ¬ “ it contains the possibility “ of every position, to which there
exists any correspondence in reality. It is itself, therefore, the realizing
principle, the spiritual substratum of the whole complex body of truths.™
In The Friend, however, he maintains that ˜a man™s principles, on which
he grounds his Hope and his Faith, are the life of his life™, and that
˜faith without principles is but a ¬‚attering phrase for wilful positiveness,
or fanatical bodily sensation [. . .]™. Later, he attempts to resolve the
problem by asking ˜what is faith, but the personal realization of the
reason by its union with the will?™°
The dilemma for Coleridge, then, is not whether reason might be
assisted or ˜aided™ by will, or vice versa, but whether the two might be
uni¬ed in a productive (that is, creative) way. Can faith know its own pur-
pose completely and still be faith? In a fragment on ¬rst postulates in
philosophy dated between ±± and ±±, he wonders: ˜Is Intelligence
the same as the Will?™, only to answer ˜No “ yet one with it, & involved in
the Idea “ .™± In an associated fragment on the will, however, he sees the
possibility of a vicious circularity looming. If Will in general is de¬ned,
as Coleridge de¬nes it, as ˜[t]hat which is essentially causative of reality™,
then the question arises that if the very de¬nition of cause presupposes
Will, how can the Will be de¬ned as self-causing? For Coleridge, this
means that ˜the Will is neither abstracted from intelligence [but] nor can
Intelligence be conceived of as not grounded and involved in the Will
[. . .]™. Coleridge™s discomfort at this point, however, is evident, as he real-
izes that a demonstration of such a distinction-within-indifference would be
just as question-begging on behalf of reason as the strategy of referring
the matter to faith would be on the part of Will. The result is a dualism
of ˜two kinds of reality™; namely, that level of being which has a sym-
biotic relationship with Will, in which the two are mutually implicated
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
(for example, God); and that level which is conditional upon Will, but
which Will does not itself presuppose (for example, time). However,
˜between these two there must needs be [. . .] a transitional state™ and
the possibility of ˜a change or contingent alterity™. This transitional state
or contingent alterity is in turn used by Coleridge to explain how human
reason may share common ground with the Will, for given that ˜whatever
is a law of the adequate solution of a part must be an organ of invention
for other parts™, then reasoning itself becomes a witness to the principle
of the indifference of knowledge and the creativity of human will in that
˜there can be no invention without discovery[,] no discovery which does
not contain the germ of an invention™[.] From another perspective,
however, the notion of contingent alterity perfectly expresses Coleridge™s
dilemma at this point. Because he is trained to think of knowledge and
reality foundationally, that is, in terms of ˜grounds™, he is forever strug-
gling to reign back pure will within the bounds of knowledge, even when
his commitment to faith demands that will should exceed it.
Thus, in the ±± Friend, and later in Aids to Re¬‚ection, reason is bifur-
cated in such a way as not only to establish its superiority to understand-
ing, but to preserve the unity or indifference which was fundamental
to its distinctness from Will. However, amidst all the conceptual acro-
batics, reason begins to show the strain of the different demands being
placed upon it. In The Friend, Coleridge concurs with Jacobi that rea-
son must have ˜the same relation to spiritual objects, the Universal, the
Eternal, and the Necessary, as the eye bears to material and contingent
ph¦nomena™ “ adding that ˜it is an organ identical with its appropriate
[super-sensuous] objects [. . .]™. In this sense, reason is completely at
one with Will: it is, as he characterizes it in Aids to Re¬‚ection, ˜the practical
Reason™; ˜the fountain of Ideas and the Light of the Conscience [. . .]™.
Reason has an alternate application, however, and with that, different
objects of attention. Thus Coleridge notes that ˜[c]ontemplated distinc-
tively in reference to formal (or abstract) truth, it is the speculative Reason
[. . .]™.µ This appears to correspond to the second sense which Coleridge
discusses in The Friend as ˜arising out of the former [i.e. practical reason]
indeed, but less de¬nite, and more exposed to misconception™. What he
intends by this is essentially the idea of the understanding working under
logical rule, or ˜the understanding considered as using the Reason, so
far as by the organ of Reason only we possess the ideas of the Necessary
and the Universal [. . .]™. Accordingly, reason comes to re-enact the
role of imagination in Biographia in that it faces in two directions at once:
assuming a simultaneously practical and theoretical view on the world.
Coleridge and theosophy
And like that faculty, it testi¬es to Coleridge™s simultaneous indifference
to, and intense preoccupation with knowledge.
The anxiety which Coleridge™s carefully honed epistemological indif-
ference attempts to settle is one which betrays a darker undercurrent
in Coleridge™s own thought, one which was later to disclose itself with
less inhibition in Schopenhauer™s philosophy. Relinquishing entirely the
idealist™s totem of a grounding for thought, a stable staple in the chain
of knowledge, Schopenhauer af¬rmed, meant embracing the corollaries
of a will which was nothing but pure activity. As such, just as it had no
ground, will had no purpose or goal, other than its own movement. An
invisible, universal force, it was not so much something to be revered,
as that to which one must be resigned. In the post-Kantian concept
of dynamic will Coleridge was swimming into a disturbing stream of
Romantic thought; the idea of a power which was blind to morality and
teleology and which would not, as Schopenhauer insisted, be settled into
an easy partnership with reason. For Schopenhauer, accepting the con-
tradictions in human life meant resigning oneself to the fact that ˜only a
blind, not a seeing, will could put itself in the position in which we ¬nd
There are countless examples of Coleridge elevating reason or intel-
ligence above will, only to reassert the primacy of will a few moments
later, or vice versa. The paradoxes inherent in his attempt to recon-
cile foundational epistemology with an ontology of Absolute Will were,
indeed, considerable, but this did not deter him. Here, as so often, his
relationship to Kant is pivotal. In the Preface to the second edition of
the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant had argued that ˜even the assumption [. . .]
of God, freedom, and immortality is not permissible unless at the same time
speculative reason be deprived of its pretensions to transcendent insight
[. . .]™. Thus, he claimed, he had ˜found it necessary to deny knowledge, in
order to make room for faith™. Indeed, it has been observed that it is
precisely this aspect of Kant™s teaching; the argument for morality and
the existence of God from the standpoint of practical reason, to which
Coleridge returns in the post-Biographia philosophy. In the Philosophical
Lectures of ±±“±, he asserts that what entitles Kant to the title of a
philosopher is not his analysis of mind, but his claim in the ¬rst Critique
that the will is a higher constituent of man™s being, and the fact that
˜from this he deduced a direct moral necessity for the belief, or the faith
of reason™ in God. And yet despite this, Coleridge still does not seem to
have understood the signi¬cance or conditions of Kant™s sense of prac-
tical reason. Soon after that comment he is misattributing to the same
°° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
thinker a de¬nition of philosophy which is entirely of his own making,
and which is based upon a version of his own identi¬cation of will and
reason in ˜wisdom™. Knowledge, he explains,

may be well comprized in two terms. The one <is> philology, that is to say all
the pursuits in which the intellect of man is concerned, in which he has a desire
of arriving at that which the Logos or intellectual power can communicate; the
other is philosophy, or that which comprises the Logos, and including it, at the
same time subordinates it to the Will, and thus combining <with> the other, is
philosophy, the love of wisdom with the wisdom of love.±°°

This is Coleridge™s, not Kant™s, divided vision of knowledge, a knowl-
edge which fears alienation from love, or the lived experience of human
value, and yet needs the parental epistemic authority of the foundational
logos, all the while subordinating this to a domesticated ˜Will™. What is
signi¬cant here is how despite all his efforts Coleridge invariably falls
back on dualisms. Like English Romantic prose in general, Coleridge™s
writing insists on indifference (or as he might put it, distinction without
division) at the very point where difference and division is most clearly
betrayed, and at its deepest this division is between ˜the love of wisdom
and the wisdom of love™, or the view of knowledge as foundational to
existence, and that of knowledge as itself just another ˜form of life™. Yet
the two were not happy companions.
This ambivalence in Coleridge™s position, even in the later writing,
demonstrates how far from Kant he remained: the withdrawal of his sup-
port from Schelling in the face of what he perceived to be the Spinozan
threat of the Identity Philosophy did not change this. In fact, what
Coleridge was doing in the later part of the second decade was cast-
ing around for a means of justifying his own voluntaristic absolutism. In
a notebook entry of ±µ, re¬‚ecting upon the de¬ciencies of Schelling™s
account of polarity within original consciousness, he writes: ˜How in-
comparably more simple to begin with the Will.™±°± Yet the question
then became: begin what? and how? Certainly not a transcendental
argument: Kant™s practical reason, while it guaranteed the sovereignty
of religious or spiritual experience, was the product of an unacceptable
transcendental idealism. Coleridge came to believe instead that if vol-
untarism was to be philosophically but non-reductively explicable then
some kind of dialectical procedure had to be invoked. Here the concept of
˜alterity within indifference™ reveals a further dimension to Coleridge™s
theosophy: one which complicates his thought still further, and draws
him closer to Hegel.±°
Coleridge and theosophy

¤ ©¬  ©   ® ¤   ˜© ® ¦ ¦¬  ® ™
In his effort to explain the nature of the progressiveness of reality and
the creativeness of the Absolute within a conceptual framework supplied
by philosophy, many commentators have noticed shared characteristics
between Coleridge and Hegel. J. H. Muirhead argued that Coleridge™s
adoption of a new ˜triadic logic™, which attempted ˜to carry the dialectic
of Kant™s thought a step farther and turn criticism against the Critic™,
meant that Hegel™s system ˜had far more points of agreement than of
con¬‚ict with his own™ “ though Coleridge himself seems to have had
little interest in the philosopher.±° More recently, both Gerald McNiece
and Mary Anne Perkins have made the same connection.±° But it is
Kathleen Wheeler who has argued most powerfully on behalf of the
view of Coleridge™s thought as part of a general tide in philosophy which
allies him with Hegelianism. His opposition to dualisms of any kind; his
concern with the organic growth and progress of ˜uni¬ed knowing and
being™ over and above exhaustive explanations of the world qua object;
his rejection of noumenal reality, and thus any notion of a metaphysi-
cal ˜given™; and his pioneering use of the immanent logic of dialectical
method, it is claimed, all mark out Coleridge as a fellow-traveller of
Others, however, have denied that Coleridge ever managed to break
free from the Kantian orbit; or that, if he did, he consistently lapsed
into muddle and contradiction. Most famously, Ren´ Wellek criticized
Coleridge™s failure to see ˜that nothing of the Kantian epistemology can
be preserved in a new system™,±° and claimed that as a consequence,
Coleridge™s dialectics amount to nothing more than ˜an empty mysti-
cism of numbers™.±°· Lovejoy, meanwhile, maintained that Coleridge™s
˜quasi-Hegelian™ streak was ˜hopelessly at variance with his doctrine of
individual freedom [. . .]™.±° Nonetheless, the tendency of Coleridge
scholarship over the past thirty years or so has been to assume a more
or less defensive posture in its analysis of the tensions in his thought.±°
However, the criticisms of those such as Wellek and Lovejoy can be
seen as responding to a real ambivalence in Coleridge™s thought, one
which represents the contradictory legacy of Hume and post-Kantian
philosophy. The dilemma which Kant left philosophy was whether, on
one hand, to accept the transcendental critique, with its division of phe-
nomena and noumena, and perhaps to enlist art to provide a symbolic,
though negative and asymptotic representation of the creative Absolute,
or, on the other, to erase the distinction and accept that philosophy as a
° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
universal organon could encompass, either in intellectual intuition (as in,
for example, the Schelling of the ±°° System), or through a conceptual
process of dialectical analysis (as in Hegel), the absolute idea, or reality
in its completeness.±±° At the same time, another strand of thought, run-
ning through Jacobi, Schopenhauer and the later, ˜Positivist™ Schelling,
saw no getting round Hume™s scepticism on epistemology™s own terms,
and sought instead to move the discussion on to questions of how life
should be lived, of how we might deal with faith and desire and the
impossibility of happiness in a way which was indifferent to the problem
of the ˜grounds of knowledge™, treating it as a dead question. Coleridge™s
thought at different times occupies each of these perspectives in his on-
going endeavour to reconcile religion and philosophy non-reductively
through the voluntaristic absolutism of the Logos, whereby creative will
and human knowledge or reason were brought together under the au-
thority of Absolute Will. Coleridge™s complex philosophical (or rather,
theosophical) method, then, is instructive with regard to the tensions
he encountered between attempting to ¬t the ˜faith of reason™ into the
˜concrete universal™, and resisting the temptation to do so.
Even though the existence of the Logic alone demonstrates Coleridge™s
commitment to epistemological foundationalism and the need for
˜grounds™ to knowledge, he was always uncomfortable with the tradi-
tional picture of experience as a kind of confrontation between inert
data and an active mind. From his very ¬rst reading of Kant, Coleridge
expressed dissatisfaction with the manner in which (as he saw it) Kant
proposed that the matter of perception was partly ˜given™ to experience
by the manifold of sensation. In a marginal note on the ¬rst page of his
copy of the Critique of Pure Reason, he registers, among the ˜[s]truggles
felt, not arguments objected™, some doubt as to ˜[h]ow can that be called
ein mannigfaltiges ˜ÉlŸ™ [“a confused manifold”±±± ], which yet contains in
itself the ground, why I apply one category to it rather than another? [. . .]
The mind does not resemble an Eolian Harp [. . .] but rather, as far as
Objects are concerned, a violin [. . .] played on by a musician of Genius™.
In a note on the second page, apparently written some time later, he
repeats the same point, which by this time has become much more of an
objection of principle. Thus, he asks Kant:
What do you mean by a fact, an empiric Reality, which alone can give solidity
(Inhalt) to our Conceptions? “ It seems from many passages, that this indispens-
able Test is itself previously manufactured by this very conceptive Power “ and
that the whole not of our own making is the mere sensation of a mere Manifold “
in short, mere in¬‚ux of motion, to use a physical metaphor. “ I apply the
Categorical forms to a Tree “ well! but ¬rst what is this tree?±±
Coleridge and theosophy
Given Kant™s own psychological rendering of his transcendental argu-
ment, Coleridge can scarcely be faulted for ¬nding the causal paradoxes
of his account rather dif¬cult to swallow. Besides, Kant™s discussion of
the sensory manifold already made too great a concession to empiricism,
and ran contrary to Coleridge™s own remedy: that of demonstrating the
unity of subject and object. As he puts it in his Logic, itself supposedly an
exposition of the critical philosophy: ˜it is, a demonstrable truth, that the
human mind is the compass in which the laws of all outward things are
revealed as the dips and declinations [. . .]™.±±
The view of knowledge as a relation between things, shaped by ˜phys-
ical metaphor™, meant that the compulsion towards certainty became a
search for a communicable Absolute. Thus, Coleridge™s chief concern
at this point, as has been seen, was to animate Schelling™s indifferent or
self-identical Absolute consciousness by uncovering within it a principle
of growth and differentiation which remained prior to being itself, and
thereby a transition from the Absolute Will to the communicative logos,
or from divine to human knowing. Such a principle, however, demanded
a corresponding method. One possibility in this respect, of which
Coleridge would have been aware, was the procedure of Fichte, who,
by endeavouring to explain the progress of the ˜I™ towards self-identity,
had converted Kant™s antinomies of reason into an alternating process
which involved both the ˜antithetic procedure; commonly described as
the analytical™ (or the method of ¬nding opposition in equation) and
the ˜synthetic procedure™ (or the discovery in opposites of the respect in
which they are alike). These two procedures were, Fichte found, logi-
cally co-dependent, and led to a dialectical movement of discovering
opposition by analysis, and synthesizing it, until irreconcilable opposites
were reached, taking the enquiry beyond the realms of the theoretical
and into the practical.±± Though Coleridge remained unhappy with the
separation of these realms, Fichte™s description of the ˜antithetic™ proce-
dure coincided with his view of the manner in which reality developed
from the self-differentiating, creative potential of the pre-dialectical
Absolute. This became the structure of the logos, the initiative or begin-
ning word, which, in turn, informed Coleridge™s thesis of desynonymy:
the theory that the natural growth and progression of language, and
therefore knowledge, was determined by the discovery of difference
in terms which were previously considered synonymous.±±µ
However, though this provided Coleridge with a metaphysical appa-
ratus for explaining the progress of the Absolute out of pre-existence
and into particularity, it did not quite do the necessary work in terms of
accounting for how the Absolute set being and knowledge into motion; a
° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
task which at one point in his career had led Schelling to an uncom-
fortable view of the Absolute as at once uni¬ed, divided, and the indif-
ference of unity and division.±± And yet Coleridge needed a justi¬cation
of his providential theology of of knowledge, and thus a broader meta-
physical context for his claim in the ±± Friend that knowledge grew,
(and therefore changed) but in a law-like way, and that consequently
˜all Method supposes  ° ©®  ©°¬   ¦ µ®©   · ©   °§    ©  ®
[. . .]™.±±· It was this problem which brings him to extend the Biographia™s
nascent concern with polarity into a more comprehensive involvement
with dialectical method.
In a notebook entry of ±±, for instance, Coleridge proposes that
˜Receptivity [. . .] at one pole, and Agency [. . .] at the other, are the
opposite states in which the one Activity [. . .] which is the Substance
of both, and their identity, reveals itself.™ These twin opposites he calls
˜the Poles [. . .] in which   O®  reveals its Being in two opposite yet
correlative Modes of Existence [. . .]™. Meanwhile, the ˜O® ™ itself, ˜which
is the sole reality of Both, and in both is presupposed, I call the Prothesis
[. . .] or the Identity, or the Radical [. . .]™.±± He makes the same point
rather more lucidly three years later in an annotation to Kant™s ±°°
Logic, in which he argues that ˜[o]pposites must be one in a suppositum “
or a Thesis = Antithesis in the Prothesis. Two terms, that have no equa-
tion in a common Root, cannot stand in opposition to each other.™±±
The ˜Prothetic™ philosophy could overcome the theoretical limitations
of Fichte™s practical, antithetical method, while resisting the collapse
into Schelling™s imponderable Identity. Yet despite his conviction that
polar logic would enable him to escape from the Spinozism he saw
lurking in the Schellingian system, it did not really constitute an advance
on Schelling™s own assertion of the different ˜potences™ of the Identical
Absolute. What was required was an explanation of the logic of the
progress of the indifferent diversity of the Absolute into contingent being.
One of Coleridge™s most sophisticated attempts at presenting such a
schema is outlined in Aids to Re¬‚ection, a work which holds in a kind of
torsion the competing claims of his foundationalism and epistemolog-
ical indifference, as well as the dialectical para-philosophy designed to
overcome the gulf between these. As has been seen, in the ˜Aphorisms on
that which is indeed Spiritual Religion™, Coleridge repeats his conviction
that theoretical reason can only have a ˜negative voice™ in truth, and that
accordingly ˜it must be the Practical Reason of Man, comprehending the
Will, the Conscience, the Moral Being with its inseparable Interests and
Affections “ that Reason, namely, which is the Organ of Wisdom, and
Coleridge and theosophy
(as far as Man is concerned) the Source of living and actual Truths™ which
constitutes the true theosophy.±° At the same time, he constructs an elab-
orate schematism for the different moments of the Absolute, whereby,
as well as the basic Prothesis/Thesis/Antithesis triad, the notion of the
˜Mesothesis™, or Idea, is included as the productive point between Thesis
and Antithesis; and ˜Synthesis™, as the ¬fth element of actual creation
in the world.±± Together, these moments constitute the ˜Noetic Pentad™,
the source of which “ the ˜Identity™ or Prothesis “ he takes, after the
Pythagorean geometry, as a point ˜transcendent to all production, which
it caused but did not partake in [. . .]. This was the Punctum invisibile,
et presuppositum: and in this way the Pythagoreans guarded against the
error of Pantheism [. . .].™ ˜Taken absolutely™, he continues, ˜this ¬nds its
application in the Supreme Being alone, the Pythagorean     ;
the © ® ¦¦ ¬ ® , to which no Image dare be attached™, but
which might be generalized, in relative terms, under Thesis, Mesothesis,
Antithesis and Synthesis.±
But the gulf between ineffability and dialectic was a dif¬cult one for
philosophy to bridge. In particular, it meant the absence of any logic or
principle of movement between each metaphysical moment in the ˜pentad™.
In the Phenomenology, Hegel himself had stated (thus far, in agreement with
Coleridge) that ˜the triadic form must not be regarded as scienti¬c when
it is reduced to a lifeless schema™, as it was in Kant.± Yet this of course
meant that all postulated essences had to be overcome by dialectic:
Science dare only organize itself by the life of the Notion itself. The determin-
ateness, which is taken from the schema and externally attached to an existent
thing, is, in Science, the self-moving soul of the realized content. The movement
of a being that immediately is, consists partly in becoming an other than itself,
and thus becoming its own immanent content; partly in taking back into itself
this unfolding [of its content] or this existence of it, i.e. in making itself into
a moment, and simplifying itself into something determinate. In the former
movement, negativity is the differentiating and positing of existence; in this return
into self, it is the becoming of the determinate simplicity.±
In consequence, existence just is ˜self-identical determinateness™.±µ It
is entirely relational, a product of the notion™s estrangement, and return
to itself. This is the method which Schelling saw as giving a merely
negative account of the world, ignoring the irreducible positiveness of
being. Coleridge™s scheme, however, lacks even the negative dynamic of
alienation and return of the Hegelian triad because of his postulation
of an Absolute prior to articulated existence. Instead, it is organized
according to his own idea of grammatical completeness, which itself
° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
stems from his theory of the unity of language and being in the logos.
Thus, the Prothesis corresponds to the in¬nite ˜I am™; the Thesis to the
˜thing™, or object; the Antithesis to ˜I act™; the Mesothesis to ˜to act™, and
Synthesis to ˜acting™.±
The reasons for this tension in Coleridge™s logic stem directly from his
attempt to harmonize a trinity of post-Kantian philosophical models:
epistemological foundationalism, voluntaristic absolutism and dialectical
idealism. This division of commitments has troubling consequences for
his dialectical metaphysics. Like Schelling, Coleridge moves from, rather
than, like Hegel, towards an Absolute ground, thereby immediately raising
the question of how absoluteness can be creative (and therefore, simulta-
neously, non-absoluteness). Moreover, for Coleridge the Identity of the
Prothesis is beyond conceptualization; it is ˜transcendent to all production™
(emphasis added), or the ˜Punctum invisibile, et presuppositum™. Con-
sequently, it is ˜©®¦ ¦ ¬™. But this is precisely the kind of postulating
of noumenal essences that Hegelian dialectic is designed to overcome. It
was a central concern of Hegel™s that the Absolute could be articulated:
there was nothing worth knowing that could not be known rationally,
i.e. in terms of a system within which knowledge of the Absolute was
immanent. On his view, ˜[t]he True is the whole. But the whole is nothing
other than the essence consummating itself through its development. Of
the Absolute it must be said that it is essentially a result, that only in the
end is it what it truly is [. . .] the spontaneous becoming of itself.™±·
Coleridge, however, was never wholeheartedly a coherentist about
knowledge, much less about truth. His commitment, amply demon-
strated in the Logic as elsewhere, to foundational ¬rst principles of knowl-
edge, principles which grounded cognition and experience, show that he
held a fundamentally linear view of epistemic justi¬cation which jarred
with both the dialectical and voluntaristic axes of his thought. He may
have discarded the empirical ˜given™ of Kant™s sensory manifold, but he
could not easily reject the epistemological ˜other™, whether that was the
synthetic a priori proposition, the transcendent divinity or the ˜Trans-
Alpine™ provinces of Biographia.±
Coleridge™s attachment to epistemological and metaphysical grounds
paradoxically meant that his embryonic decentred ˜para-philosophy™
of dialectic, having fallen foul of these foundations, hardened into an
˜anti-philosophy™ of epistemic indifference. As with Jacobi, Schelling
and Schopenhauer, the ¬‚ight from foundations itself betrayed a repressed
sentimental longing for knowledge lost. Thus, Coleridge™s further at-
tempt to pragmatize knowing by cultivating a central role for will and
Coleridge and theosophy
the ˜faith of reason™ merely served to emphasize how bottomless these
foundations were, so intensifying the sense of epistemic loss. Whereas
the voluntaristic turn would lead Pierce, James and Dewey to aban-
don the traditional construct of ˜knowledge™ as certainty prior to action
in favour of a result-orientated, open-ended and creative approach to
experience, the Janiform nature of Coleridge™s thought results in the
very absence of foundation being marked as a foundational mystery,
the ˜ineffable™ Prothesis. For Dewey, with foundationalism there was ˜no
place for genuine discovery, or creative novelty™:
As soon as and whenever it is assumed that the of¬ce of knowledge is to lay
hold of existence which is prior to and apart from the operations of inquiry and
their consequences, one or other of these errors or some combination of both
of them is inevitable. Either logical characters belonging to the operations of
effective inquiry are read into antecedent existence; or the world as known is
reduced to a pulverized multiplicity of atomically isolated elements, a Kantian
˜manifold™; or some machinery is devised, whether of an ˜idealistic™ or ˜realistic™
sort, to bring the two together. When, on the other hand, it is seen that the
object of knowledge is prospective and eventual, being the result of inferential
operations which redispose what was antecedently existent, the subject-matters
called respectively sensible and conceptual are seen to be complementary in
effective direction of inquiry to an intelligible conclusion.±
With Coleridge, however, creativity always hovers between being
something which needs to be justi¬ed, and that which, as with Dewey,
itself displaces linear explanation. Coleridge™s thinking then, internalizes
a number of divisions. On the most general level, this cleavage occurs
between, on one hand, the imperatives of foundational epistemology
and, on the other, para-philosophical and anti-philosophical forms of
epistemological indifference. In this, at least, he shares his predicament
with Wordsworth and Hazlitt.

®  ¬µ © ®
Described this way, Coleridge™s predicament is one which many philoso-
phers today might acknowledge as more or less inevitable. In Coleridge™s
case, however, the foundationalist compulsion to ground our knowledge
of the world vies with his Christian reverence for an ˜invisible™ nature,
which in turn drove his Jacobian concern that the aspirations of knowl-
edge, and thus of philosophy, be curtailed. Unlike Jacobi, however, in
Coleridge knowledge and anti-knowledge are momentarily bound in a
dialectical relationship whereby the communicative Logos emerges from
° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
Absolute Will. Yet in the very process of articulating this relationship
Coleridge™s therapeutic, non-apodeictic para-philosophy becomes a
knowing philosophy. Indeed, the problem of philosophical investigation
for Coleridge is that it can not disclose new areas of experience and real-
ity, but not without ceasing to be philosophy. Wherever he opens up the
circle of being, the line of knowing is already present, waiting to close it
down. In this way, the outcome of his attempt ˜to reduce all knowledges
into harmony™, is knowledge itself.
Conclusion: life without knowledge

While we are reasoning concerning life, life is gone [ . . .].
David Hume, ˜The Sceptic™±

When he urged every enlightened reader to commit to the ¬‚ames those
volumes of ˜sophistry and illusion™ which contained neither abstract nor
experimental reasoning, Hume was aware that such an injunction would
precipitate the division of value from fact, of what mattered deeply to us
from what could be known by us. Henceforth, the choice confronting
speculative minds would not so much concern the nature of the philoso-
phy they followed, as whether philosophy itself was to be preferred over
˜life™, or the domain of experience which lay outwith Hume™s forked epis-
temology. Indeed, it seemed to many that epistemology had only itself
to blame for its predicament. Philosophy in general, as Lamb observed
of the ˜Humeian™ in particular, had become inhuman. If it was to over-
come its own sceptical alienation from value, the question which phil-
osophy faced was: must knowledge know itself completely in order to
count as knowledge? Looked at from a slightly different perspective, this
question becomes: would such absolute knowledge even be knowledge?
This eighteenth and early nineteenth-century problem is the converse of
that perennial paradox of late twentieth-century theory and historicism,
much of which assumes an epistemic grounding through the very pro-
cess of never permitting that ground to settle. While the modern critique
silently attests to its unconditioned consciousness through its ceaseless
examination of its own contingent conditions, the ˜knowledge™ of episte-
mology ultimately aspires to groundlessness; which is to say, a condition
beyond itself, life, in which the dualism of knower and known, thought
and being, is annulled.
Indeed, the two discourses face the same dilemma from opposite sides,
in that both are ¬nally forced to confront the ¬gure of a ground which
is impossible but inescapable. In the eighteenth century, naturalism, the
±° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
¬rst sustained philosophical response to Hume, internalizes this ambiva-
lence. In particular, Reid™s defence of a pre-epistemic common sense
slides between positing a naturalized but unknowing belief and a belief
which itself grounds a rehabilitated knowledge. For the Romantics, such
a settlement was poor compensation for the freedom lost by binding the
mind to nature. The only other immediate route around the impasse of
knowledge seemed to be the supernatural road, ascending to the apoca-
lyptic triumph over nature by faith and will, the path suggested by Jacobi™s
declaration that ˜[t]here are instincts in man, and there is a law in him,
that unceasingly commands him to prove himself mightier than the nature that
surrounds him and pervades him from all sides™. But as Schelling observed, by
quitting the ¬eld supernatural unknowing merely submits to the ration-
alist conception of knowledge it is meant to transcend. Consequently,
thought given over to will and faith, ˜instead of really attacking the knowl-
edge which displeases it, completely gives way to it, by withdrawing into
not-knowing [ . . . ]™.µ Could there be a middle way between knowledge
and indifference?
This is the question which English Romanticism struggles to resolve.
But since it is one which concerns the very pre-eminence of knowing,
as well as philosophy™s superintendence of knowledge, their response
does not always take the form of an answer. Instead, argument competes
with ways of coping with division as a condition of human life; through
memory, contemplation, action, or religious devotion. For the same rea-
son it is in Romantic prose, where the voice of discursive understand-
ing was more dif¬cult to repress, that this struggle between knowledge
and creation is at its ¬ercest. Latent in the notions of inspiration and
the sublime, the concept of creation had gradually emerged throughout
the eighteenth century as a leading idea in aesthetics, culminating with
Kant™s treatment of the self-legislating genius in the Critique of Judgement.
In Britain this development was actually encouraged by empiricism™s
preoccupation, since Locke, with psychology and the question of origins.
However, having let the genie out of its bottle, empiricism immediately
found itself in peril, as a paradigm hitherto con¬ned to the arts appeared
ever more applicable to knowledge itself. In particular, in Hume™s hands,
the association of ideas could provide a worryingly compelling picture of
how the mind™s tendency to project order onto the world operated alike
in its aesthetic, moral and epistemic judgements. The ¬gure of the circle
threatened to enclose knowledge, art to subsume philosophy. From this
perspective, then, the Romantics were not solely concerned to mount a
general defence of poetry: they were every bit as exercised by the fate
Life without knowledge
of philosophy, a fate that would ultimately be decided not in the always
already ¬gurative domain of poetry, but philosophy™s stubbornly literal
home ground of prose. In this, one can see the obverse of Derrida™s
observation as to how philosophy of art is undone by its subject matter,
whereby ˜the philosophical encloses art in its circle but its discourse on
art is at once, by the same token, caught in a circle™. Indeed, just as
philosophy is enclosed in art™s circle, so art is already straining to know
this enclosure discursively “ in this case, in prose. In Romantic prose the
¬gure never quite bites its own tail, but is tempted out of its circularity
towards argument, conclusion and ultimately knowledge.
A telling example of this slippage between ¬gure and argumentation
occurs in Coleridge™s discussion of synthetic a priori reasoning in Logic.
Dismissing the claim (later to be defended by John Stuart Mill in his System
of Logic) that mathematical and geometrical reasoning were synthetic but
a posteriori “ in Coleridge™s words, like a mere ˜rope of sand™ “ he suddenly
ventures to ˜elevate the subject™ by recurring to a metaphor he had used
earlier, likening knowledge to a palace. In the eyes of the empiricist, he
continues, such a palace was merely ˜a phantom in the desert, when on
the contingences of some I know not what whirl blast™,

the desert sands rise up
And shape themselves: from Earth to Heaven they stand,
As though they were the pillars of a temple,
Built by Omnipotence in its own honour!
But the blast pauses, and their shaping spirit
Is ¬‚ed; the mighty columns were but sand,
And sophist snakes trail o™er the level ruins!

To such an assertion, ˜in short™, Coleridge maintains, ˜no answer can
be given™. One might, indeed, suppose that the power of this passage,
excerpted from a variant of his poem ˜The Night-Scene™ (··“) itself
obviates the need for any answer. For Coleridge, however, the closing
image of ˜sophist snakes™ trailing over the ruins of empirical knowledge
was a troubling and ambivalent one. The ¬gure of the serpent, itself
the trope of ¬guration and the ˜shaping spirit™ of creative activity
(as Coleridge had approvingly noted of its ancient Egyptian signi¬cation
in Biographia· ) was also, as he later came to see it in Aids to Re¬‚ection, ˜the
Symbol of the Understanding,™ or ˜sophistic Principle™, tempting the mind
into a barren knowing alienated from will. The Ouroborous or self-
devouring serpent in particular held a hypnotic fascination for Coleridge
and Shelley, connoted at once with in¬nity, groundless creativity and
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
(in the case of the former) a decadent, satanic desire for knowledge. It is
signi¬cant, then, that in Logic Coleridge™s trope of empirical knowledge
as a phantom palace betrays some anxiety at the suggestion that its own
status as ¬gure is merely the serpent among the ruins, marking the spot
where ˜no answer can be given™, and rendering his demonstration (as he
labels the empiricist view of mathematics) ˜monstratio de nihilo™ (˜a showing
from nothing™). This anxiety that his own philosophical edi¬ce is itself
merely built on foundations of sand, on poetry and metaphor, precipi-
tates a reassertion of the language of philosophical logic, of ˜geometrical
demonstration™, ˜consequents™ and ˜antecedent™. As swiftly as he passed
into metaphor, then, Coleridge shifts back into the ˜short™ argument and
solid language of prose, by ˜requesting the assertor to make or renew
his acquaintance with the elements of geometry™. For he is, Coleridge
concludes, either delusional or self-contradictory, speaking ˜that which
he himself knows to be false™.±°
Caught between the irreconcilable imperatives of indifference and
knowledge, life and philosophy, the English Romantics explored the
possibility of a para-philosophy through which the contradiction between
non-knowing and knowing might be obviated. The new philosophy,
however, was always already slipping into ¬guration on one hand or,
on the other, back to cold foundations. In Wordsworth, it took the form
of a poetic dialectic of consciousness or phenomenological via naturaliter
negativa, in which the foundationalist science of the French ideologues
was corrected by the power of feeling, sensation and pleasure. Nature™s
law was moderated by a spontaneous second nature through which the
poet asserted his epistemic autonomy. Yet the ¬gurative nature of that
authority failed to eliminate Wordsworth™s fear of scepticism. His plea-
sure is always self-conscious, and poetic creation is at every turn checked
by empirical veri¬cation, the human value of the ˜people™ by the inhuman
fact of the ˜public™.
Hazlitt too was attracted to a decentred view of knowledge as a ¬eld
of force. But the epistemological paradigm of creation in his theories of
practical reasoning and abstraction modelled a dynamic conception of
truth that empiricism could not verify. As creation and truth failed to
meld, knowledge itself began to dissolve. In Hazlitt™s immanent idealism,
the notion of power is only ever quasi-epistemological, inhabiting an
ambivalent middle-ground between the numinous ideal truth of poetry
and the factual real truth of prose. Hazlitt™s new condition of philosophy,
then, involves a reaction against epistemology, as an uncompromis-
ingly non-cognitive, ˜exaggerating and exclusive faculty™ of imagination
Life without knowledge
threatens to replace knowing as the primary mode of human engage-
ment with the world.±± Like Wordsworth™s consciousness, Hazlitt™s power
is Janus-faced, on one side forming the foundation for an ˜ideal™ truth, and
on the other contesting knowledge itself as something grounded in truth.
Coleridge, meanwhile, came to see such manoeuvres as merely tinker-
ing with an empirical machine that was already damaged beyond repair.
His attempt to replace Locke™s and Hume™s ¬‚awed foundation of fact
with Kant™s ground of synthetic a priori proposition was encouraged by
the latter™s tendency to frame this question psychologically, implying a
creative element to knowing. However, Kant™s further attempt in the
¬rst Critique to run the deduction of suf¬cient conditions of knowledge
of necessary truths together with that of the necessary conditions of
empirical knowledge meant that transcendental method™s pristine foun-
dationalism of formal conditions was already implicated in a thesis of
transcendental idealism which Coleridge rejected in Biographia Literaria.
At the same time, rationalism™s holy grail of perfect knowing continued
to exert its in¬‚uence over Coleridge, so that when he came to think
about the problem of knowledge in dialectical terms, this pressurized
not only his foundationalism but also its compensatory aesthetic theory.
And yet, while Coleridgean dialectic curtailed the province of knowl-
edge by erasing its border with being, it remained all the more securely
within its boundaries by being based upon a priori principle. Thus, in
his later work in particular, the therapeutic power of dialectic occupies
an unstable middle ground between the synthetic a priori foundations of
Kant™s transcendental method and the ineffable prothetic divine Will. In
this, the new foundationalism proved to be as slippery and beguiling as
the old.
Simultaneously centrifugal and centripetal in their attitude to knowl-
edge, the English Romantics re¬‚ect and resist the preoccupations of
postmodern reading. In their ambivalence between confronting scepti-
cism and evading it, the Romantics at once look back nostalgically to the
certainty which Hume dissolved, and forward to ways of thinking about
experience and reality that overcome ˜knowing™. Rather than commit to
one or the other, the typical movement of English Romantic prose is to
waver between the vertical and the horizontal axes of experience, one
moment ascending the steps to truth, the next biting the tail of argument.
But indifference is not naivete, and the knowingness of this manoeuvre
perpetually draws its line through the circle of being.
For the same reason, English Romantic prose represents a way of
reading which, rather than secretly harbouring knowledge by outwardly
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
abjuring it, confronts the inevitability of knowing in the face of its impos-
sibility: not because it merely loathes self-division, but, indeed, because
it sees such a condition as unavoidable. This is not so much a question
of abandoning knowing the world in order to ˜accept™ it, but, as Cavell
suggests, recognizing that this acceptance will always be locked in a war-
like embrace with the desire to know. Schelling™s later philosophy of posi-
tivity in a sense represents the culmination of this facet of Romanticism,
one which is not prepared to be played out either teleologically or end-
lessly through the relations of dialectic. For Schelling, such therapeutic
attempts to overcome the divisions within epistemology merely repress
the desire for certainty, for grounds, as much as Jacobi™s precipitant ¬‚ight
from knowledge. It is too easy, he argues, for Jacobi to suddenly declare,
in the face of philosophy, ˜ “I do not want this result, I ¬nd it revolting,
it goes against my feeling” ™:
We cannot declare such an expression to be forbidden, for we ourselves allow a
great importance, at least for the initial determination of concepts in philosophy,
to wanting. The ¬rst declaration in philosophy (which even precedes philosophy)
can in fact only be the expression of a wanting. To this extent it must be permitted,
to say: ˜I do not like it, I cannot bring it into accord with myself.™ It is all very
well to say, like Jacobi: ˜I demand a personal God [ . . . ]™ “ it is praiseworthy to
say this, but these expressions for themselves alone are ¬ne words, to which no
deeds correspond. If there is, in contradiction with our feeling and with what we
would rather wish, a knowledge which can give itself the appearance of being
necessary and inevitable, then we have no other reasonable alternative than to
choose either to surrender ourselves to necessity, to command our feeling to be
silent, or to overcome that knowledge by a real (wirklich) deed.±

Whether Schelling is justi¬ed in his own ˜third way™ belief that knowl-
edge can be overcome by deed is a question for a different kind of study.
But by drawing out the con¬‚ict between a feeling which is always already
knowing, and a ˜necessity™ which is both alienating and paradoxical, he
underlines the Romantic dilemma between indifference and knowledge.
In this light, the knowingly unknowing ways of English Romantic prose
resemble not so much the playful fragmentation of postmodernism, but
the ambivalent remains of the foundationalism which postmodernism
scorns, and which persists in the work of Wittgenstein, Kuhn, Cavell and
Quine, to name but a few. This attitude has been reluctant to abandon
foundationalism entirely, and remains wary of attempts to bypass scep-
ticism as merely the product of philosophy™s outworn metaphors. It is as
impressed by the naturalness as by the ˜inhumanity™ of philosophy, and
the way in which ˜life™ and value retain a symbiotic relationship with
Life without knowledge
the ˜knowledge™ from which they remain divided. It is certainly dif¬cult,
and perhaps impossible to determine the re¬‚exivity behind the relation-
ship of Romantic and modern knowing. But being in that relationship,
I have maintained, must mean not only maintaining a vigilant suspicion
of ˜knowledge™, but also owning up to it, assuming responsibility for it. If
this at least is clear, then it might not seem dialectically naive to af¬rm
that if the ˜Humean predicament is the human predicament™, then our
divided way of coping with that predicament continues to be a Romantic

©®  ¤µ ©® :  ® © © ™ « ®· © ®§ ·
± Stanley Cavell, foreword, Must We Mean What We Say? A Book of Essays
(Cambridge University Press, ±·), p. xxii.
 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood
(Cambridge University Press, ±·), p. ±°°.
 Charles Lamb and Mary Lamb, The Letters of Charles and Mary Anne Lamb,
ed. Edwin W. Marrs, Jr,  vols. to date (Cornell University Press, ±·µ“),
vol. ©© ©, p. .
 M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition
(Oxford University Press, ±µ).
µ Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight (Oxford University Press, ±·±), p. ±. See
also Kathleen Wheeler™s Romanticism, Pragmatism and Deconstruction (Blackwell,
 Tilottama Rajan, Dark Interpreter (Cornell University Press, ±°), p. µµ.
· David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge, nd edn, rev.
P. H. Nidditch (Oxford University Press, ±·), p. µ.
 David Hume, Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the
Principles of Morals, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge, rd edn, rev. P. H. Nidditch (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, ±·µ), p. ±µ.
 Hume, Treatise, p. ±.
±° Michael G. Cooke, Acts of Inclusion: Studies Bearing on an Elementary Theory of
Romanticism (Yale University Press, ±·), pp. xix“xx.
±± As raised in: E. L. Gettier, ˜Is Justi¬ed True Belief Knowledge?™ Analysis 
(±), ±±“.
± See for instance Donald Davidson, ˜A Coherence Theory of Truth and
Representation™, Kant oder Hegel? Uber Formen der Begr¨ ndung in der Philosophie,
ed. Dieter Henrich (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, ±), in which Davidson seeks
to unite a coherence theory of justi¬cation with the foundationalist principle
that ˜truth is correspondence with the way things are™ (p. µ).
± Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scienti¬c Revolutions ±, rd edn (University
of Chicago Press, ±), p. ±.
± Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Fontana/Collins, ±µ),
p. ±±.

Notes to pages µ“ ±·
±µ Ibid., p. ±.
± Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton University Press,
±°), p. ±.
±· George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller
(Oxford University Press, ±··), p. ·.
± Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Concerning the Doctrine of Spinoza in Letters to Herr
Moses Mendelssohn, ±·µ, The Main Philosophical Writings and the Novel Allwill,
trans. George di Giovanni (McGill-Queen™s University Press, ±), p. .
± See Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, ed. Walter Kaufmann, trans.
Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson,
±), p. : ˜ “Truth” is therefore not something there, that might be found
or discovered “ but something that must be created and that gives a name


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