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

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

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