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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
philosophical.
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-
o
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
intersect.
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
±µ
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,

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