The Evolution of Schelling’s and Coleridge’s Theories of Matter

Dale E. Snow (Loyola University)

Video to be uploaded soon!


Coleridge often claimed that the similarities of his thought to Schelling’s was due not to direct influence, much less plagiarism, but their shared intellectual background and inspirations. I explore one sense in which this may have been true, and examine how Coleridge employs one of the key insights he shares with Schelling: the idea that matter, as reflected in natural entities, has an educative and even revelatory function. One of Coleridge’s longest quotations from Schelling is from a minor polemic of 1806, in which Schelling clearly identifies his quarrel with the science of his time; it is reminiscent of Coleridge’s own criticisms of empiricist science. I discuss the neoplatonic roots of this set of ideas, and how Schelling and Coleridge both argued for, and in their later writings thought through, an understanding of nature which could serve to aid in our recovery from our alienation from it.

Schelling and Coleridge’s Theories of Matter

Dale E. Snow

Coleridge claimed in Biographia Literaria that he was fortunate to have arrived at many of the same insights that Schelling had, but that he had taken a different path to reach conclusions that in some respects seem quite similar. More than a few erudite literary detectives have applied themselves to what might loosely be called the anxiety of influence question. On balance, I feel that James Engell sums up the situation well when he observes that “No exculpation — fast dictation, intermingling and fusing of passages, the bizarre fact that in Biographia Literaria Coleridge either mentions by name or describes every book from which he takes significant material, or the surprising fact that Schelling, unperturbed at the situation, later had only kind words and praise for Coleridge (as did Ludwig Tieck) — can alter the fact that Coleridge’s standard of citation falls far below not only that of modern scholarship but that of his own day as well.”[1]

  1. Coleridge

The more compelling question is what it is that Coleridge found to be of such value that he strongly identified with and/or borrowed from it? I want to begin by examining one of the longest paraphrased texts in the entire Biographia Literaria. This text was not from Kant, who Coleridge greatly admired, nor was it from one of Schelling’s major works, but rather a little-known polemical “pamphlet,” as Coleridge called it, “The Statement on the True Relationship of the Philosophy of Nature to the Revised Fichtean Doctrine” of 1806.[2] The “Statement” is a fiery final reckoning with Fichte, who after several years of silence had published three works in rapid succession in 1805-06.[3] Schelling took umbrage at several explicit and implicit criticisms of the philosophy of nature in these works, and considered himself duty-bound to respond, which he did in great haste. “The Statement,” written specifically to set the record straight, and to combat the influence of Fichte’s recent publications, had the misfortune to be published just as the Napoleonic Wars were intensifying in Germany. Real war eclipses philosophical conflict, and little contemporary notice of the “The Statement” was taken in Germany, and less in England. Fichte was enraged by it, but the rambling refutation he composed was not published in his lifetime. It seems likeliest that the “pamphlet” came into Coleridge’s possession after he asked the bookseller Thomas Boosey for “any of Kant or Schelling’s writings” in a letter in 1817.[4]

In Biographia Literaria, Coleridge explains his disappointment with the philosophers he has studied, from Aristotle to Locke and Hartley, and remarks “The term, philosophy, defines itself as an affectionate seeking after truth; but Truth is the correlative of Being.”[5] Here we begin to see what may have drawn Coleridge to Schelling’s text, for variations on this idea are a frequent refrain in “The Statement.” Coleridge briefly traces the evolution of this idea from Plato to Proclus, Ficino, and Boehme. He then turns to Schelling’s text, adding that he “might have transcribed the substance from memoranda of my own, which were written many years before this pamphlet was given to the world.”[6]

The long passage from “The Statement” which he in part translates and in part paraphrases discusses the misjudgment and mistreatment of those thinkers vilified and persecuted as fanatics [Schwärmer] for their “investigation of the indwelling and living ground of all things.”[7] In other words, for their unorthodox interpretation of the relation of truth to being. Schelling’s text seems to be referring to Boehme, although he does not name any thinker in particular; Coleridge adds the names of Johann Tauler and George Fox. Coleridge expresses the gratitude that he feels toward these authors:

For the writings of these mystics acted in no slight degree to prevent my mind from being imprisoned within the outline of any single dogmatic system. They contributed to keep alive the heart in the head; gave me an indistinct, yet stirring and working presentment, that all the products of the mere reflective faculty partook of DEATH, and were as the rattling twigs and sprays in winter, into which a sap was yet to be propelled, from some root to which I had not penetrated, if they were to afford my soul either food or shelter.[8]

The stark contrast between the dead letter of the understanding and the revivifying potential of reason is a recurrent theme of Schelling’s. In the Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature (1797) he writes: “Mere reflection is therefore a spiritual sickness in mankind, the more so where it imposes itself in domination over the whole man, and kills at the root what in germ is his highest being, his spiritual life, which issues only from Identity.”[9]

There are three main theses defended in “The Statement” which would have been of interest to Coleridge. The first relies upon the previously established idea that the understanding is limited compared to reason; the second is that mechanism and mechanical philosophy is insufficient and indeed deadening to any true grasp of nature; the third is that the concept of matter is reduced to a means by mechanistic philosophy [i.e. Fichte’s], but it ought to serve as a revelation, and thus in a sense is both a highest and lowest truth. What I am suggesting is that Coleridge enthusiastically agreed with the first two claims, but not the third.

An excessive reliance on mechanistic thinking and science distances us from nature and from truth, and elements of both of the first two theses can be seen in Biographia Literaria’s discussion of Fichte’s philosophical achievement. Fichte is given credit for going beyond Kant in an effort to set up a more systematic metaphysics. But Coleridge chides him for overreaching: “this fundamental idea he overbuilt with a heavy mass of mere notions, and psychological acts of arbitrary reflection. Thus his theory degenerated into a crude egoismus, a boastful and hyperstoic hostility to NATURE, as lifeless, godless, and altogether unholy.”[10] Coleridge’s claim is basically a gloss on another passage of “The Statement,” in which Schelling explains how pernicious the concept of nature Fichte defends truly is: “Herr Fichte has taught and maintained [that] . . . nature is an empty objectivity, a mere world of the senses: it consists of affections of the self, rests upon inconceivable limits, in which it feels itself enclosed, it is in its essence non-rational, unholy, not divine; in every respect dead; the basis of all reality and all knowledge is the personal freedom of man.”[11]

With respect to Schelling’s first thesis, by 1818 Coleridge had composed an essay on reason and understanding, published in his journal The Friend, which he thought made entirely clear his views on the heterogeneity of the two.[12] Writing to the Rev. Joseph Hughes a year later, Coleridge reflects, “My philosophy (as metaphysics) is built on the distinction between Reason and Understanding . . . “ and refers him to the aforementioned essay in The Friend.[13] The distinction between two very different forms of cognition has been firmly established. Peter Cheyne argues that he was influenced in this primarily by Kant: “As Kant limited reason to make room for faith, Coleridge subordinated understanding to reason.”[14] Inspired by Kant’s philosophy of science though he may have been, Cheyne is also clear that Coleridge took this distinction in a decidedly unKantian direction as he continued to develop it.

Coleridge’s proclivity for criticizing the inadequacy of empiricism and mechanical science for a true knowledge of nature was also an early preoccupation, even before he visited Germany. The scientific picture of the world he encountered in Newton and Locke seemed to him fatally arid, mechanical, and lifeless. Empiricism could not be the final truth of either science or the world, for consistently applied, it actively distanced man from both nature and God:

But some there are who deem themselves most free

When they within this gross and visible sphere

Chain down the winged thought, scoffing ascent

Proud in their meanness: and themselves they cheat

With noisy emptiness of learned phrase

Self-working tools, uncaused effects

Their subtle fluids, impacts, essences

Those blind Omniscients, those Almighty Slaves

Untenanting creation of its God.[15]

Over time Coleridge developed a number of objections to mechanism and materialism, but the two central ones are interdependent and mutually reinforcing: a thorough-going materialism always leads ultimately to atheism, he argued, and furthermore the passivity attributed to the mind by empirical and materialist epistemology made all real connection between the mind of man and the mind of God impossible. On the mechanist view, man is at best, a passive spectator of the unspooling of an interplay of forces.

In place of this bleak vision, he proposed a dynamic model of nature as constituted by the interaction of ideal powers in relationships of polarity, which certainly has many similarities to systems constructed by Schelling and Heinrich Steffens. It was all-important for Coleridge to keep this vision of nature compatible with Christian doctrine, especially the biblical account of the creation of the world, so he had to reconcile a view of nature as an apparently self-organizing organic unity with a belief in the transcendent Christian God. One of the themes of this conference is to investigate what is of lasting value in Cambridge Platonist and transcendental idealist theories of life; I suggest that they are in conflict, as Coleridge’s efforts to reconcile them show, and a major battle in that conflict is over the concept of matter.

On the one hand Coleridge could write that nature should be regarded as “the other great Bible of God” and should be read as “the expression, an unrolled yet glorious fragment of the wisdom of the Supreme Being.”[16] Yet he also maintained that all knowledge of nature and matter is through the senses, and thus can never reach the level of knowledge — it can only be reflected upon, leaving all of creation a mystery. One way around this difficulty is through the symbol; as when Coleridge writes of the mystics’ conception of beauty as “the subjection of matter to spirit so as to be transformed into a symbol, in and though which the spirit reveals itself.”[17] That could perhaps suffice to explain how we encounter natural beings, yet the conundrum of matter remains, since it cannot be symbolized.

Coleridge faced further difficulties with respect to matter: it cannot be conceived of as being self-subsistent or having an independent reality, since that would be an affront to God’s omnipotence. Yet it cannot be wholly dependent either, since that would make it identical with nature and raise the specter of pantheism. One of the clearest statements of Coleridge’s concept of matter is to be found in his marginal notes on Boehme’s Aurora. He exclaims in apparent exasperation that “the word matter, materia, hyle [Gk] is among the most obscure and unfixed in the whole Nomenclature of Metaphysics — and I am afraid that the knot must be cut — i.e. a fixed meaning must be arbitrarily imposed on the word, as I have done in defining matter as mere videri [)(] Spirit [C’s own symbol for antithesis] as mere ‘visibility’ [ be seen, to appear] as opposed to Spirit as ‘that which acts and does not appear’, the synthesis being Body, ‘which is and is seen.’”[18] Matter does not seem to be a self-subsistent entity, but to be the accidental guise in which the things of nature appear. Coleridge speaks of a ‘fixed meaning’ which is ‘arbitrarily’ imposed, almost as if to admit that he is simply trying to dismiss the vexing problems of matter, not solve it.

Therefore, it is unsurprising that Coleridge was unhappy with Kant’s theory of matter in his Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Coleridge’s doubts about both the style and substance of Kant’s approach are evident. In a comment on Kant’s explanation that it is not possible to make the fundamental forces of matter conceivable precisely because they are fundamental, that is, not derived from anything else, Coleridge comments grimly: “Be it so in the present instance: and in a system which begins with Space and physical Powers defined exhaustively by effects and products solely relative to Space and manifestable in and by Space, so it must be. But I have learnt by experience not to suffer myself to be cowed by the term Grundkraft, and the impossibility of rendering same comprehensible.”[19]

Yet when Kant goes on at length to characterize the fundamental powers of attraction and repulsion, Coleridge also finds this unsatisfactory, although for a different reason. He asks, of these two putatively equally important forces, how it is that “if the two opposite forces are equal, how comes it that they do not destroy or suspend at least the other? This surely should have been explained out of the nature of one or both of the forces, or the power of which these are the forces.”[20] This criticism has a strong family resemblance to several made by Schelling. In the Ideas (1797) he argues that the conflict between Kant’s two powers could have no permanence without the assumption of a third factor (SW 2, 23). The Introduction to the Sketch (1799) returns to this issue using very similar language: “Kant cannot complete the construction of matter from two forces alone. He still requires the third force which fixes the opposition, and which, according to us, is to be sought in the universal striving toward indifference, or in gravity.”[21]

However, in the end it was Kant’s acceptance of matter as a given that seems to have distressed Coleridge the most. He complains: “Again and again Matter is assumed as a datum, the subject of the powers tho’ two of these powers are elsewhere taken as constituting matter.”[22] No doubt it is this assumption of matter as a datum that makes it possible for Kant to claim that matter can neither be created nor destroyed, another assertion that Coleridge takes exception to. After Kant’s proof of the first law of mechanics, Coleridge does not quarrel with the proof, but simply disagrees. “I turn coward at the thought of my own Courage, while I am about to avow, that this ‘Proof’ appears to me a mere Sand-Rope of Assertions,” which is either atheistic (like Spinoza) and makes matter a synonym for God, or makes Substance a synonym for God. He adds, “I do not, however, deny it as a necessary assumption in mechanics; but will not let it be forced upon me, in Cosmology.”[23]

Kant’s theory of matter implies too broad a gulf between nature and spirit and hints at the ontological independence of matter; if no substance arises or is annihilated in all changes of nature, but the quantity of matter always remains the same, it seems to Coleridge to have at least the potential for a troubling independence. In other words, he does not directly refute Kant’s arguments so much as his conclusions, since they present a concept of matter that is altogether too real.

At the beginning of his marginal comments on Boehme’s Aurora, Coleridge pleads with the reader not to fall into the same error that Boehme, and at one time Coleridge himself had done, of approaching too closely to pantheism. The editors of the Marginalia also point to the last of the “Essays on Method,” which they report that Coleridge considered one of his most important, on this topic. In it Coleridge discusses “the ground-work of all true philosophy”[24] which is apprehension of the difference between the contemplation of reason and mere abstract knowledge. This separation must be overcome “and prepare for the intellectual reunion of the all in one, in that eternal reason, whose fullness hath no opacity, whose transparency hath no vacuum.”[25] It is at this point in the essay that Coleridge inserted a passage, sent in several letters to friends in 1818, which contains one of his strongest denunciations of pantheism. He describes it as

a paragraph . . . unfortunately omitted — it’s object being to preclude all suspicion of any leaning toward Pantheism, in any of it’s forms. I adore the living and personal God, whose Power is indeed the Ground of all Being, even as his will is the efficient, his Wisdom the instrumental and his Love the final, Cause of all Existence; but who may not without fearful error be identified with the universe, or the universe to be considered an as attribute of his Deity.[26]

This, of course, was Schelling’s cardinal sin, as Coleridge makes most colorfully clear when he calls Schelling a “Hylotheist.”[27] For Schelling it is nature that is absolute and living, rather than the ‘living and personal God’, and this is what made Naturphilosophie so unacceptable to Coleridge. Indeed, Schelling compares unfavorably with Boehme in this respect: “Schelling and his Followers are in the same case as Boehme—only that Boehme oscillates or rather leaps from Error to Truth or to the neighborhood of the Truth, while Schelling settles on the Error.”[28]

Coleridge began to develop his own theory, as can be seen in the Theory of Life, composed in late 1816, that he hoped would move beyond and avoid the difficulties posed by the Naturphilosophie. Here the traces left by his struggles with the concept and nature of matter can be seen in reverse: matter is simply appearance, nothing more. We might say that there is nothing to it, for Coleridge. Indeed he has so successfully vanquished it, reduced it to brute stuff, that he has his work cut out for him to be able to account for the profusion and variety of actual natural entities. To say nothing of accounting for life, the title subject of his work.

This difficult marvel will be accomplished by the application of the principle of individuation. Levere points out that Coleridge’s definition of life, like Schelling’s, drew on scholastic usage: “I define life as the principle of individuation, or the power which unites a given all into a whole that is presupposed by all its parts.”[29] This aspect of Coleridge’s theory draws extensively from work done by Henrik Steffens, a follower of Schelling’s with a strong interest in geology. Although not well known now, in its time Steffens’ Beyträge zur inner Naturgeschichte der Erde, first published in 1801, exerted a wide influence. He may have felt that Steffens was a kindred spirit when he read these words in the preface: “ . . . have I succeeded in elevating certain tones from nature that chime together with the eternal harmonies? — will that which I devotedly planted, and carefully nurtured, grown into a plant of a nobler nature?”[30] Coleridge was plainly fascinated with the wealth of scientific detail from Steffens’ own field work and observations. Steffens wanted to compose a philosophically rigorous, scientifically based history of the earth. Coleridge returned again and again to the Beyträge, which he seems to have wanted to use as raw material for his own theory, providing a wealth of examples for his contentions about individuation and its development. I found many statements which seem to be translations or perhaps paraphrases of Steffens in the Beyträge, as well as from his later work, Grundzuge der philosophischen Naturwissenschaft (1806).

It is clear from early on in Theory of Life that Coleridge will not be receptive to theories which explain life as inherent in nature (too pantheistic) or as some sort of inexplicable quality[31] (too unscientific). He is unequivocal about his conviction that God is the only possible cause of life.[32] “The most comprehensive formula that he could give for life in its ascent was ‘the power which discloses itself from within as a principle of unity in the many.’” (TL, 42) Or in other words, the emergence of individuality. Coleridge’s illustration of the ascent to individuality begins where Steffens does. Like him he begins with the metals: “the form of unity with the least tendency to individuation.”[33] The second step is crystals, which are unions of both powers and parts. The third step is to be found in the vast roughly differentiated formations of the residue of animal and vegetable life, such as peat bogs and coral reefs. The transition from the lower to the higher forms is distinguished by an ever more pronounced emergence of life:

By life I everywhere mean the true Idea of Life, or that most general form under which life manifests itself to us, which includes all its other forms. This I have stated to be the tendency to individuation, and the degrees or intensities of life to consist in the progressive realization of this tendency.[34]

Another equally fundamental assumption Coleridge exhibits here is that man, as Christian doctrine teaches, is the crown of creation. It is not merely anthropomorphic of him to think that he sees human superiority as consisting most clearly in the human degree of individuation; it is also of great existential import to him given his deep-seated need for redemption. As the editors of the “Prolegomena” to the Theory of Life put it, “the controversies over which came first, matter or spirit, whether there was a God who created and cared for man, or whether man was simply the highest point of organization reached by matter and then by organic life, were for Coleridge not merely intellectual problems but problems felt in the innermost fibres of his being.[35] Despite its Christian roots this idea still seems familiar and convincing in the guise of its modern analogues. The indisputable uniqueness of each human being has been so firmly inculcated in us from birth that we may be unprepared to recognize that there are much larger, longer-lived and arguably more complex organisms that could arguably dethrone any mere human from the top of the individuality contest.[36] Therefore all forms of matter, up to and very much including the human body, are rescued from the formlessness and passivity of being material entities by being infused with life, which enables them to develop their unique individuality.

  1. Schelling

Schelling seems to want to be deliberately vague about the nature of matter in his 1806 essay, the “Treatise on the Relationship Between the Ideal and the Real in Nature” which he wrote as a preface to the second reissue of Von der Weltseele:

The most obscure thing of all, yes, obscurity itself according to some, is matter. However, it is precisely this unknown root out of which arises all the forms and living appearances of nature. Without knowledge of it, physics is without a scientific basis, and science itself loses the bond by means of which the idea is connected to reality. I take matter neither to be something independent of the absolute unity, which might underlie it as a kind of stuff, nor do I regard it as mere nothingness . . . “[37]

This seems to have some similarity to Coleridge’s complaint that matter is not self-sufficient, but merely the guise in which nature appears, and needs to be animated by life and distinguished from other living things by its individuality of the forms it takes. Yet even here Schelling is groping toward a more important role for matter than as merely that which is opposed to spirit, in the way that Coleridge often does, in the Marginalia and elsewhere, describing a complete opposition between matter and spirit, to which God then adds life. Had he gone in a different direction with the idea that nature is “the other great Bible of God,” he may have developed an idea of matter and life closer to the middle Schelling.

Schelling reflects on matter and life in “The Ages of the World” (1811), which admittedly Coleridge could not have read. Joseph Lawrence has argued that “The Ages of the World” represents a final extension of the Naturphilosophie, rooted in the criticism of mechanical science but “culminating in Schelling’s wider attempt to universalize the evolutionary point of view.”[38] Schelling argues that even at the earliest stages, we encounter “the spiritual and the corporeal as two sides of the same existence[;] we can well say that the present moment of their supreme inwardness of feeling is the shared birthplace of what later, as matter and spirit, will be so decisively opposed.”[39] Thus their opposition is by no means a simple one, and it is also supremely necessary, for “if there were not  such a point of convergence where the spiritual and physical are fully united, then matter would be incapable of being raised back to mind and spirit.”[40] This is the problem that Coleridge is attempting to get around with the concept of life; it is the only way he can get inert matter to behave with a semblance of the grace and liveliness the world of nature exhibits.

How does Schelling arrive at the conclusion that matter plays this pivotal role? He declares that it is reserved for his own age to finally discover that path to philosophical objectivity:

As long as philosophy restricts its concern to what is inward it must lack the natural means of an external form of exposition. But now things have finally changed. After having so long gone astray, philosophical science has recalled the memory of nature and of its own previous unity with her. And this is not all. Hardly were the first steps taken to rejoin philosophy with nature, when the enormous age of the physical became apparent. Far from being what is last, it is much rather what is first. . . . In due time, the contempt with which ignorant people alone still look down on the physical will pass away.”[41]

In all three versions of The Ages of the World that we have, the stated plan is to treat the past, present and future, in that order; however, in all three versions Schelling does not get far beyond the past. Nor does he give much context to his description of the original state of matter, or “the secret birthplace of the living essence . . . in its primordial beginnings.”[42] However, what is clear is that Schelling puts matter at the heart of creation. This new respect accorded the ‘enormous age’ of the physical is probably due to the influence of Steffens and the rapidly accumulating evidence that the age of the earth was far greater than had previously been appreciated.

Therefore, the objection Coleridge originally raised against Kant’s view, that matter ought not to be conceived of as too other, too independent, has been answered. Tellingly, a part of Schelling’s answer makes use of some of the same ideas that Coleridge adapted from Steffens, although with a different emphasis. Schelling remarks that a good observer of nature sees more in things than simply their existence as corporeal entities.

There is something else in them or about them that first grants them the full luster and sheen of life: something superfluous, as it were, is at play around them that streams through them as a living being [Wesen] that, while ungraspable, is imperceptible. What should this nature that shines through and looks through things be if not the inner spiritual matter that still lies concealed in all the things of this world and only awaits its liberation? In corporeal things we look for it above all in metals . . .[43]

This is a reference to the starting point of Steffens’ Beyträge, the metals, and the series which ends with vegetation, the animals, and after the all-important introduction of the principle of individualization, rises to the level of the human, who is said to contain the world in himself. Or as Schelling puts it, “it is in organic life that we can most clearly see the resurgence of this principle, where it appears as the oil that sustains the green of plants or as the balsam of life that is the source of health. One recognizes it in the undeniable physical radiance that shines through flesh and glimmers in the eye.”[44] I wonder whether, if Coleridge had remained true to his conviction the “Truth is correlative to Being”[45] whether he might not have been sympathetic to this way of putting it. It would not be difficult to dismiss these statements of Schelling’s as mystical or obscure, but it was Coleridge who thanked the certain mystical writers for reintroducing the heart, and not allowing the head alone to determine reality.

There is a final objection to address: that Schelling’s philosophy and his concept of matter are too dependent, too identified with God, in short too pantheistic. By the time of the writing of the Ages of the World Schelling’s earlier enthusiastic pantheism has transformed itself into a darker emphasis on the irrationality that precedes the rational. As was argued in the 1809 On Human Freedom, reality itself has a ground. In the Ages: “The fundamental force that draws things together is the truly original, root force of nature. Darkness and concealment are the character of the primordial age. All life forms itself and comes into being in the night.”[46] This is no longer pantheism but a more decided identification of reality with matter; it could be regarded as the fulfillment or final development of Schelling’s hope in the “Statement” that matter ought to serve as a revelation, and thus in a sense is both a highest and lowest truth. In short, the direction Schelling went in was toward a more central role for matter, not less. The very element Coleridge wanted to dismiss, or give an arbitrary name and forget, may have been the key to a more satisfying understanding of the natural world.

Tyler Tritten  has argued that Schelling “sets the canonical reading of  Neoplatonism (and Platonism at large) on its head by rejecting the idea that reality descends from superior originals to inferior copies. . . .The contention is that Schelling’s later thought continues to build upon his early reading of Plato’s Timaeus, but in such a way that it inverts the direction of so-called emanationism in Neoplatonism.”[47] In other words reality moves from the lowest level of matter toward higher levels of organization. Matter is not the opposite of spirit but a principle productive in itself, a dynamic process. In the Ages of the World it is also a pre-condition even for the emergence of the Absolute. Schelling has fulfilled his aim of placing matter at both the highest and lowest point of his system.

However, there can be no real doubt that Coleridge’s view, or views importantly similar to it, are the ones that have prevailed and continue to shape our relationship to the world of nature today. Since it is vital to Coleridge to maintain God’s transcendence and his role as creator of nature, he remains fully committed, at least implicitly, to the anthropocentrism and devaluation of the natural world implied in the Christian world view, and both of these are evident in Coleridge’s treatment of matter. Because matter cannot be granted any genuine independence, since that would give it too much importance, nor can it be too dependent, the world of material things remains in an odd limbo, forever beyond our grasp except in the most superficial way, as appearances or symbols. In the end it seems that ironically, one of Coleridge’s old criticisms of Fichte, that he espoused “a boastful and hyperstoic hostility to NATURE, as lifeless, godless, and altogether unholy”[48] could fit Coleridge, if ‘matter’ is put in place of ‘nature.’ The relationship of truth to being remains a strained one.

There is abundant evidence that this is no arcane academic disagreement. We have only to observe the deforestation, pollution, habitat loss, decreasing biodiversity and signs of climate change in the natural world to see the consequences of the view that matter and the physical world are of less value than the human world. The practical science that this world view gives rise to maintains the objective-subjective distinction, seeks human advantage in the optimized manipulation of natural resources, and keeps a holistic understanding of the natural world at arm’s length, or denigrates it as sentimental and oversimplified.  The cutting-edge theoretical science of this view has now revealed that only about 5% of the universe is made up of what we think of as normal matter; the rest is dark matter and dark energy, about which there is little known.[49] The world becomes stranger and stranger to us, and we more estranged from it.

Schelling’s middle and later writings locate the physical and the human in the same origin story, and as emerging out of dynamic processes which have structural similarities and thus can be understood in the same way. There are certainly polarities, but the idea of complete opposition is no longer central in the way that is seems to be for Christian thought. This is not the place to speculate about the practical and theoretical science that might have been developed had a Schellingian view prevailed, and not the Christian one; still it seems safe to say that it might have been less destructive of nature, and more likely to provide human beings with a sense of belonging to nature with both their heads and their hearts.

Loyola University of Maryland, February 2021

[1] James Engell, “Biographia Literaria,” Cambridge Companion to Coleridge, ed. Lucy Newlyn (2006), Cambridge University Press, 68.

[2] Sämtliche Werke VII, 1-126; Statement on the True Relationship of the Philosophy of Nature to the Revised Frichtean Doctrine, tr. Dale E. Snow, New York: SUNY Press, 2018.

[3] Characteristics of the Present Age, Lectures on the Nature of the Scholar, and The Way Toward the Blessed Life.

[4] Coleridge’s Letters, 4, 730, 738.

[5] Biographia Literaria I, 142.

[6] Biographia Literaria I, 147.

[7]Biographia Literaria I, 148.

[8] Biographia Literaria I, 152

[9] SW II 13 [see fn. 1, p. 152 Biographia Literaria]; Heath and Harris translation, p. 11].

[10] Biographia Literaria I, 158-159

[11] SW VII, 21 or p. 21 in translation.

[12] Collected Works, vol 4:1, 154-161.

[13] Coleridge’s Letters, VI, quoted in The Friend, CW 4:1, 161, n.1.

[14] Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy (2020), 9.

[15] Poetical Works I, 132, 113-14

[16] Statesman, p. 70 and note 3.

[17] Biographia Literaria II, 239.

[18] Marginalia III, 130.

[19] Marginalia III, 284.

[20] Marginalia III, 289.

[21] SW 3, 268, Peterson’s translation p. 189.

[22] Marginalia, III, 295.

[23] Marginalia III, 296.

[24] Marginalia I, 557.

[25] Works vol. 4:1, 520, 522.

[26] Works vol 4:1, 520, n.1

[27] Marginalia I, 620; the editors note that this usage of hylotheist — one who identifies God with matter — precedes the first citation given in the OED.

[28] Marginalia, I, 619.

[29] Poetry Realized in Nature, Cambridge U. P. (1981), 217. (TL, p. 42)

[30] Henrik Steffens, Beyträge zur inner Naturgeschichte der Erde – Primary Source Edition. CPSIA reprint, unpaginated. “. . . ob es mir gelang, einzelne Töne aus der Natur herauszuheben, die mit feinen ewigen Harmonien zusammenstimmen? — ob das, was ich mit stillem Fleiss aussäete, mit andachtsvoller Sorgfalt pflegte, emporwachsen wird zur Pflanze einer edlern Natur?”

[31] Theory of Life, p. 500 Coleridge declares that he will not explain life as an “occult quality.”

[32] Theory of Life, p. 503.

[33] Theory of Life, p. 515.

[34] Theory of Life, p. 517.

[35] Prolegomena, Theory of Life, p. ccxi.

[36] Consider the massive life forms of clonal trees: some trees grow as clones of a parent tree through a very old root system. Such is the case with Old Tjikko, a Norway spruce tree (Picea abies) that’s been growing in Sweden for an estimated 9,550 years. But even that old-timer pales in comparison to the clonal cluster of quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) in Utah—genetic testing has revealed that this small forest of clonal trees, named Pando, is about 80,000 years old. Considered to be one organism, its estimated weight is over 6,000 tons, making it not only the oldest living thing on Earth but also the heaviest.

[37] SW II: 359

[38] The Ages of the World (1811), (2019), p. 13.

[39] Ages of the World (1811), (2019), 91.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ages of the World, 63.

[42] Ages of the World, 74.

[43] The Ages of the World (1811), 91.

[44] The Ages of the World (1811), 92.

[45] Biographia Literaria I, 142

[46] The Ages of the World, 83.

[47] “On Matter: Schelling’s Anti-Platonic Reading of the Timaeus,Kabiri, vol. I (2018), 110.

[48]Biographia Literaria I, 159

[49] By fitting a theoretical model of the composition of the universe to the combined set of cosmological observations, scientists have come up with the composition that we described above, ~68% dark energy, ~27% dark matter, ~5% normal matter.

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