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Romanticism™s equivocation over knowledge by attempting to carry
Kant™s ˜transcendental method™ into his explorations of art and reli-
gion. It is the con¬‚ict between the foundationalist direction of Kant™s
method and the epistemically decentred objectives which Coleridge seeks
to ful¬ll with regard to the roles of imagination and will, art and faith,
which eventually break the back of the Biographia™s forecast ˜deductions™.
By ±±µ, encouraged by Kant™s own introspective and psychologistic
account of synthetic a priori knowledge, Coleridge was full of optimism
that the transcendental method would usher in a new foundationalism,
one which would confer epistemic legitimacy upon the creative activity
of mind and of free expression in the arts. Even more so than Kant,
he saw the problem of the justi¬cation of synthetic a priori propositions
as a problem about causation, as a question concerning the relationship
between a ˜subject™ and ˜object™. But while for Kant epistemic creation,
the transfer of legislative power from object to subject meant the sur-
render of ˜transcendent™ grounds of knowledge for transcendental surety,
Coleridge believed that the German philosopher™s linking of transcen-
dental method with creativity offered the prospect of an unprecedented
alliance whereby the status of art and religious or revealed truth could
be elevated on the back of epistemology.
By the time Biographia appeared in print in ±±, however, it was clear
that its transcendental deductions had failed to produce this outcome,
leaving Coleridge a great deal more sceptical about the ability of foun-
dational philosophy or ˜¬rst principle™ to achieve all his aims. In this
respect, Biographia is a pivotal text in Coleridge™s career, for in it one
witnesses a collapse of con¬dence in the logocentric paradigm of foun-
dational thought, and the ¬rst emergence of an interest in dialectical
method which was to precipitate the abiding struggle of his later career:
namely, his attempt to reconcile the demands of apodeictic philosophy
with the ineffability of creation in art and religion. What went wrong?
To understand this, we need to be clearer about terminology, and in
particular the different meanings assigned by Kant and Coleridge to the
notion of a ˜transcendental deduction™.
±µ Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This attempt to reconcile a Kantian, formalist aesthetic of disinterest-
edness with a metaphysical organicism which inevitably undermines the
division of form and content, disinterestedness and engagement, points

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