Antithesis and Analogy: Understanding Coleridge’s Scale of Life

Lydia Azadpour (Royal Holloway University of London)


‘All life begins in obscurity’, Coleridge claims in his notes, ‘Observations on the Scale of Life’ (1825). The development from this ‘obscurity’ to full articulation of life has two strands in Coleridge’s thinking. First, the temporal development of an individual, and second, the atemporal scale of kinds of living beings. The difficulties involved in postulating a relation between these two scales originates in the work of the Naturphilosophen—especially by Schelling—following C. F. Kielmeyer’s introduction of a mirroring between embryological and species developments in his influential speech of 1793. By returning to their work, the stakes of such difficulties are brought into focus. The paper reconstructs Coleridge’s response to this debate in philosophical and scientific thinking, and in so doing recontextualises his striking denial of species transformation. This will involve two main topics of analysis: a) the constitution of these scales in Coleridge’s reaction to Naturphilosophie and to contemporaneous developments in comparative anatomy, and b) the relation between these two scales in Coleridge’s response. Investigating these issues must address whether they are real or ideal scales, temporal or atemporal, and the relative weight placed on continuity and discontinuity in each scale. Moreover, to fully address these issues, it is worth looking at one of Coleridge’s earlier works: in The Friend he had also stressed the gulf not only between unorganised natural particulars and organised natural individuals, but also the discontinuities between different entities in his scale. Natural science will, in his view, reveal more if it searches for antithesis rather than analogy in the scale of life.


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