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

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


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

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

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

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

The end of knowledge: Coleridge and theosophy




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

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

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