Mind and Matter in Hegel and Schelling

Tilottama Rajan (University of West Ontario)

Dynamic Matter

Tilottama Rajan

In his Introduction to the First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature, written after the Outline itself, Schelling says it would be impossible to get ‘a glimpse of the internal construction of nature’ except by an ‘invasion of Nature … through freedom,’ which he calls an ‘experiment.’ An ‘experiment’ is a ‘question put to Nature, to which it is compelled to give a reply,’ and is itself ‘a production of phenomena [Hervorbringen der Erscheinungen]’ (196-7). Schelling’s statement can be read alongside Goethe’s comment that a science matures when it reaches a ‘crisis’ that confronts the ‘universalist’ with the ‘singularist’ who wants to but cannot find one Idea everywhere, putting both deductive and inductive systems at risk. But it follows logically from newly dynamic theories of matter that complicate, if they do not erase, the boundaries between the inorganic and organic. For if there is no absolute boundary between  organic and inorganic, there is no clear dualism of mind and matter, opening the possibility that mind is a potency of matter, and that material singularities can also reconfigure mind. In other words, a subject-object dualism in knowledge is also impossible as mind and matter continuously unfold and enfold each other.

         This reflexivity–not correlationism– of mind and matter can be seen if we contrast two apparently similar passages from 1797 and 1799. In the more conventionally idealistic 1797 ‘Treatise Explicatory of the Idealism in the Science of Knowledge,’ Schelling writes that spirit only ‘gradually… approximate[s] its own nature’ by ‘appear[ing] for itself in an external form, namely, as organized, animated, matter.’ Though spirit must ‘intuit itself’ outside itself in matter in ‘the succession of its representations,’ matter is the ‘visible analogue’ of an immanently developing spirit with ontological if not temporal priority (93). In 1799, in the First Outline, it is again a question of a dynamic relation between inside and outside, as Schelling writes that ‘the empirically infinite is only the external intuition of an absolute (intellectual) infinity whose intuition is originally in us, but which could never come to consciousness without external, empirical exhibition’ (15). But in this complex back and forth, even as the empirical world is ‘only’ the intuition of the ‘intellectual,’  what comes to consciousness through the outside is not an ontologically prior inside, or spirit, made manifest in a ‘gradual succession of organisms’ (Treatise 93).  Rather what comes to light is a productivity in nature that requires intellectual intuition to grasp what lies within the mathematical infinity of the empirical, while this productivity in turn simulates or serves as an intuition of the absolute infinity of intellectual possibilities that mind can encounter only by grasping itself through nature.

         With such absolute infinity or absolute knowledge in mind, this paper takes up the First Outline as one of Schelling’s most radical and formally experimental texts, standing to the Naturphilosophie as the unpublished Ages of the World (1815) stands to the philosophy of spirit, as an archive of ideas. Absolute knowledge, as Schelling elaborates it in ‘On the Nature of Philosophy as Science’ (1821) leaves ‘everything behind,’ all presuppositions, all ‘definable science[s],’ since to define is to confine (217). Indeed this much later essay is a useful gloss on the Outline, as it too holds the desire of ‘one system’ to ‘become absolute master over the others’ against the ‘asystasy’ of knowledge: the fact that the very desire for system presupposes that knowledge ‘does not exist in a system’ but ‘in inner conflict’ (168-9).  In keeping with this asystasy, which requires the ‘human spirit [to] have searched in every possible direction’ (168), the Outline does not unfold as an argument like the System, nor does it have the narrative and de-cisionary structure of the Freedom essay. I will therefore put it in dialogue with Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature (PN), which wrestles differently with a dynamic rather than mathematizable nature. For although Hegel’s argument suffers multiple diremptions on the way to a goal it never attains, PN tries to narrativize the life sciences through what Schelling calls the Stufenfolge, which Schelling describes as a dynamic process in which individual types of natural phenomena develop as one production ‘inhibited at various stages’ (Outline 49). To consider Hegel and Schelling together further lets us highlight the Outline’s role as an  encyclopedia of the natural sciences from the perspective of their dynamic interaction with and impact on philosophy. In other words this paper is also specifically concerned with the disciplines or fields through which both thinkers focalize nature, with the ontological personalities of disciplines, and with a certain in-discipline in Schelling’s  text.

         For as Schelling writes, even while publishing it, the Outline is a ‘treatise… written … as a guide for lectures’ and cannot be subjected to ‘the same demands’ as book ‘intended for the public’ (3). As such, it is not even a set of lectures printed as chapters on recognizable disciplines, like the 1803 lectures On University Studies, which Schelling describes as an ‘outline [Grundriss]’ that can stand in for an ‘encyclopaedia of the sciences’ (41; SW 1,5, 247). Rather the First OutlineEntwurf or draft– is a chaos of (un)divided parts without a clear architecture. Mark Wigley has critiqued the profoundly conservative role of ‘architectural discourse’ (25), evident in Kant’s use of the word architectonic to describe a system conceived as the coinherence of parts in a whole (Kant, Reason 691-2). As Wigley writes, architecture ‘represents building to itself as ‘complete’ and ‘secure,’ and so by analogy the ‘edifice’ or ‘grounded structure’ represents philosophy as ‘the construction of propositions that stand up’ (9, 25). But rather than a book with an architecture, the Outline is truly a text in Roland Barthes’ sense of not ‘clos[ing] on a signified’ but being a weave of possibilities produced and shifted by its writing (155-8).

         Within its ‘whirlpool,’ in Schelling’s own image for thought (Outline 18n), I will argue that there is one recurrent idea: an idea that indexes Idealism’s ambitions for a newly dynamic sense of matter by channelling the volatile, organismic forces of nature into a form of purposiveness. This idea, though it is constantly at risk, is the Idealist projection of the Stufenfolge or ‘graduated stages’ by which nature organizes itself in increasingly complex forms, as ‘one production captured at different stages’ (39). The notion of a ‘history of nature’ that also grounds reason in history sounds Hegelian, and is indeed the structuring prototype for Hegel’s philosophies of nature, history and aesthetics. But Schelling proposes it well before Hegel in the Treatise Explicatory. He returns to it in the 1800 System of Transcendental Idealism (122, 125, 199), and the hypothesis also distinguishes the First Outline from the earlier Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature (1797) and On the World Soul (1798). To elaborate, in the Outline Schelling is disappointed with the existing concept of ‘Naturgeschichte’ or ‘natural history’ as a merely taxonomical ‘Naturbeschreibung’ that frustrates the purposiveness implicit in the word ‘history.’ For as Michel Foucault points out, natural history, as the collection and arrangement of nature’s contents, contains very little that is historical, seeking to place ‘the proliferation of beings occupying the surface of the globe’ in space rather than time, in ‘the field of a mathesis’ where ‘development’ is no more than the traversal of a ‘preordained table of variations’ (Order 235-6, 276). Schelling therefore wants to give the term natural history a ‘much higher meaning’ that would yield ‘eine Geschichte der Natur selbst,’ replacing a static account of nature’s contents with a dynamic ‘history of nature’ itself,  in which nature ‘brings forth the whole multiplicity of its products through continuous deviations from a common ideal,’ which it realizes ‘not indeed in the individual, but in the whole’ (53; SW 1/3,68).

         Responding to Schelling, Coleridge’s friend Joseph Henry Green gives this history of nature the name ‘physiogony,’ in lectures from the 1820s that he synthesized two decades later in Vital Dynamics (1840).  Vital Dynamics was followed by Mental Dynamics (1847) to provide a titular simulacrum that would recontain the disciplinary ferment of the life sciences in a progress from nature to spirit. Green distinguishes three approaches to nature, increasingly hypostatising the last. Physiography is natural history in its conventional sense of natura naturata or the enumeration of nature’s products. Physiology (which is broader than animal physiology) studies natura naturans or the laws and powers behind nature, and is a dynamic rather than mathematical science. And finally physiogony or the history of  nature traces a development ‘from the polypi to the mammalia, as so many embryonic states, of an organism, to which nature from the beginning had tended, but which Nature alone could not realize’ (101-2). By claiming that nature ‘labour[s] in birth with man’ ‘to complete the evolution of the organic realm,’ physiogony makes nature a ‘preface and portion of the history of man’ and part of his ‘self-knowledge’ (38, 73). It not only moves from the static to the dynamic, but gives the dynamic a clearly evolutionary direction.


         Green’s term captures what Arthur Lovejoy calls the temporalizing of the Chain of Being, whereby the ‘plenum formarum’ is no longer just an ‘inventory of nature’ but the gradual carrying out of a ‘program of nature’ (242-4), but as an ‘Idea’ that ‘lies in Reason’ rather than a literal evolution (Schelling, Outline 49; trans. modified). Yet as an environment for this Idea, the Outline is unique because its lack of architectonic boundaries makes it a resource for thought rather than a grounding of concepts. This gives the Stufenfolge, which is less determinately anthropological in the Outline than in Schelling’s the System or Green’s Vital Dynamics, only experimental status. I will return to the unique epistemology of the Outline, but turn now to Hegel, who provides a logic of disciplines absent from the Outline, while involving this logic in a deeply reflexive relation with the nature it tries to regulate. Hegel’s PN has been read as an account of the graduated stages of naturethat knits philosophy and nature together through a series of increasingly tight ‘matter/thought’ or ‘concept/matter relations’ (Stone 54, 57). This Stufenfolge has its goal in the Kantian organism conceived as natural purpose: namely as a whole whose parts are both cause and effect of each other (Kant, Judgment   ): a whole made up not of parts but ‘members’ that are both ‘product and also productive,’ both means and ‘ends’ (PN 279, 377).

         Hegel’s claim for the progression from matter to organic life is generally seen as a ‘logical’ rather than ‘natural’ evolution (Ferrini 203, Gambarotto 119), and I would add, an ‘Idea’ he struggles to realise.[1] For as Coleridge says, in a comment that strikingly approximates the Hegelian agon, ‘life’ and ‘mind’ are distinct. Mind is complete in itself as ‘a Subject possessing its object in itself,’ whereas life is ‘a Subject with an inherent tendency to produce an Object, wherein and whereby to find itself,’ and is incomplete and lacking (Shorter Works 2.1426-7, 1437). In PN Hegel likewise produces nature as an object in which ‘philosophy’ struggles to recognise itself, an ‘alien existence, in which Spirit does not find itself’ (3). This formulation, like Coleridge’s, lacks the confidence of Green’s account of nature as ‘preface and portion of the history of man’ and thus part of his ‘self-knowledge and the outwardly realized history of our own consciousness and conscious being’ (43). Coleridge nevertheless wants to see life as having an ‘ascension towards mind’ and thus as intelligent (Shorter Works 2).  Life is a term that wavers in being attached to either subject or object, and can thus be defined as the milieu in which the interchange between them occurs, as the cogito finds itself in life, so that mind unfolds as a life. Paul Ricoeur describes the resulting ‘phenomenology’ (rather than logic) in terms similar to Coleridge’s. Whereas ‘consciousness’ is ‘directed toward another’  that ‘is lacking to it,’ ‘spirit’ ‘is entirely complete within itself,’ yet falls short of this completeness till the final moment (‘Hegel and Husserl’ 230-1). Hegel’s phenomenology is therefore ‘a phenomenology of mind that remains … in consciousness,’ or ‘a phenomenology of spirit in the element of consciousness’ (231). The final moment serves as a ‘hermeneutic tribunal,’ ‘a criterion of meaning’ or ‘measure of truth’ with respect to which ‘all the modalities that precede it … [are] lacking’ (231). Yet despite terms such as spirit and mind, Hegelian consciousness is by no means ‘transcendental,’ as the ‘very thing that, in Kant, had been set up as a tribunal is born suffering  the pain of uprooting’ (233).

         PN unfolds as an attempt to reach Mind, through the biological analogue of the Kantian organism as a unity that holds its members together. But Hegel goes beyond organizing nature through strategies of dialectic and teleology that forward this Kantian Idea. He also puts forth a ‘Stufenfolge der Wissenschaften,’ in the phrase he uses elsewhere (Aesthetics 1. / ). The philosophy of nature is thus organized as a scale of disciplines, which is meant to forward the programme of an evolution from matter to spirit; as such, it comprises one ‘circle’ in the larger circle of philosophy where each ‘member [Glied] has an antecedent and a successor’(PN 2). The phrasing associates Kant’s theory of organisms as means-end purposes with knowledge itself, which Hegel says (again echoing Kant’s definition of architectonic)  ‘must not be an aggregate’ but ‘must present itself as an organism’ (PN 6). This focalizing of material nature through a system of sciences may partly account for Hegel’s insistence on the greater rigour attending his philosophy of nature over Schellingian ‘fantasy’ on the one hand,  and on the other hand over a British natural philosophy based in physics, which remains empirical and has not raised itself to the level of a philosophical science  (2, 6). Yet this does not mean that Hegel claims to have grasped the essence of ‘this Proteus’ he calls nature (3). For while he refers to Logic (the first part of the Encyclopedia) as ‘Wissenschaft,’ and while he also attaches this honorific to the study of nature in the Philosophical Propaedeutic, thereafter Hegel entitles the second part of the Encyclopedia ‘Philosophie der Natur.’

         The emphasis on disciplines is clearest in the first, bare-bones version of this enkyklos paideia in the Propaedeutic, lectures Hegel gave at the Gymnasium in Nürnberg  (1808-11). Across this text and the three versions of the Encyclopedia Outline (1817, 1827, 1830), the scale begins with mathematics, which is subsumed into mechanics after 1817.  It then moves to physics, including meteorology and chemistry, and then to the third division, ‘Organics.’ But three points are worth making about Hegel’s restless modifications of his headings and divisions. First, in the Propaedeutic and the 1817 Outline mechanics is part of the second division on ‘Physics,’ but thereafter it becomes the first division, absorbing mathematics as a metonym. The result of removing mechanics from Physics is to make Physics more purely dynamic, since inert matter and quantification are put behind us as ways of grasping nature.[2] Here Hegel also breaks with Kant, who had said that in ‘any special doctrine of nature there can be only as much proper science as there is mathematics therein’ (MF 6). Second, with the demotion of mechanics to the first division after 1817, the second division on Physics is also trisected into ‘physics’ of the ‘universal,’ ‘particular,’ and ‘total individuality,’ thus making the dialectic of individuation a key theme of the lectures. Finally, in the Propaedeutic and 1817 Outline,  the third division is entitled ‘Physik des Organischen,’ mirroring ‘Physik des Unorganischen’ in the second division on Physics. But in later versions of the Encyclopedia (1827, 1830) and in K-L Michelet’s enriched, posthumous editions of PN, the third division becomes just ‘Organik’ to mark a sharper, if troubled, division between physico-chemistry and organics.[3] The organic, in turn is subdivided into terrestrial nature (the material of geology and mineralogy), vegetable nature (botany and plant physiology), and the animal organism (physiology and medicine), taking Hegel to the threshold of spirit. Without going into detail, the ascent of disciplines is by no means smooth. The organic is profoundly complicated by its subdivisions, as the very logic of the Aufhebung as cancellation and preservation allows mechanical and vegetable structures to return in the animal (for instance in the bones and ganglia respectively). Moreover, since the human is included under the animal, the transition to the human sciences in the larger Encyclopedia is also highly problematic, as animal somatology returns in the convolutes of anthropology and psychology, preventing them from becoming pure sciences of spirit (see Rajan ‘Openings’).

            Three further points are worth making of PN itself in its more evolved form. The movement from its first to its second division narrates a transition in knowledge from the static Newtonian disciplines of mathematics and mechanics to  dynamic physics. Hegel sets out this goal as early as De Orbitis Planetarum (1801),  which wants to emancipate physics from the mechanical notion of an ‘inertial matter’ moved from outside to ‘forces, internal and immanent’ to matter (9). But secondly, Hegel’s Stufenfolge is doubly removed from the thing-in-itself, since he organizes nature not just through concepts but through the sciences as the imperfect shapes or Gestalten by which we grasp nature. This double remove concedes the idealism, even solipsism, inhabiting the philosophy of nature, rather than simply offering what Alison Stone calls a ‘strong a priori’ reading of nature itself  (21). And third, PN is beset by an ‘ever-increasing wealth’ of empirical ‘detail’ avoided by Kant’s third Critique. This detail not only proves ‘refractory to the unity of the Notion’ (PN 444). It also means that Hegel does not fully observe the  Kantian precaution of proposing his program as an Idea of Reason. PN is not purely about mind self-organizing its understanding of nature. For Hegel does not hold the Idea, a word charged with affect, firmly separate from nature. In that sense Schelling is wrong to accuse him of a withdrawal into ‘pure thought’ that ‘hid[es] the lack of true life’ (Modern Philosophy 136, 143).  Rather Hegel posits the Idea as an Idea in nature, not an Idea of nature. This is not equivalent to converting a regulative into a constitutive Idea; rather Hegel attempts an invasion of nature through freedom in which ‘nature’ talks back, binding him even more to nature as the medium of the Idea’s immanent development and disappointment. Hegel’s graduated stages are not only posited as unfolding dynamically; they involve a dynamic but ruinous interfolding of mind and matter, as ‘spirit’ tries to find itself in nature and cannot do so.

            It is here that PN and Schelling’s Outline converge because both go beyond a dynamic theory of matter to our concern here: a dynamic relation of mind and matter in the context of ‘life.’ But it is here that they also diverge. For in the labour of the negative that constitutes his lifelong struggle with nature, Hegel is tormentedly Fichtean in the resistance he feels between the I Am and the It Is. Hegel holds subject and object apart, unable to withdraw mind back into itself, as Kant does in his theory of the sublime, but unable to embrace mind and matter as folds of each other, as Schelling does in the Outline. This is not to critique Hegel, since the Outline is a product of Frühromantik, while the ‘tragic tone’ of Hegel’s work, as Ricoeur calls it (Husserl 206), had its own impact on Schelling after 1807. In repeating the familiar argument that the post-Kantians make reflective judgment determinant and render the regulative constitutive, Maurizio Esposito writes that they ‘‘ontologized’’ and ‘naturalized’ a ‘strategy of reason’ (31). The key word here is ‘ontologized.’ By positing consciousness in phenomena, Hegel brings out the ontological stakes of what Kant poses as an epistemological strategy. But contrary to Esposito, Hegel cannot hypostatize purpose in nature. On the one hand consciousness is posited outside itself in nature. On the other hand this nature in its unassimilable materiality is also inside consciousness. For as Hegel writes, the ‘sciences,’ which should prove the emergence of spirit from nature, are themselves man’s ‘non-organic nature,’ which resists him and which he struggles ‘to make his own’ (PN 276).

             The ontological task of PN unfolds in the climate of disciplines that are no longer static and thus self-certain. As John Zammito says, science in the late eighteenth century shifted from ‘mathematical kinematics’ to ‘‘experimental physics’ and ‘natural history’’: to ‘the problem[s] of ‘imponderable fluids’’ like ‘electricity, magnetism, chemical bonding, light and heat,’ and that ‘of ‘organized form’ or life’ (52).[4] Life in all its complexity is the milieu of Hegel’s thought, as distinct from Kant’s, and the milieu in which PN, if not the Logic, actually develops itself.[5] In Coleridge’s terms, Kant comprehends life within mind, whereas for Hegel mind is thrown outside itself into life. Idealism, nevertheless, wants to see life as intelligent, and Kant’s theory of the organism as natural purpose gave Hegel a telos that would bind the volatile forces unloosed by a dynamic rather than mathematically based physics and chemistry within this ascension towards Mind. But the point was to get from experimental physics and chemistry to the organism through the newly developmental Geschichte der Natur Schelling describes, in which nature proceeds through ‘continuous deviations from a common ideal’ that it realizes not ‘in the individual, but in the whole’ or genus process (Outline 53).

            Accordingly, we can follow Alison Stone in seeing the desired logic of PN as one where nature’s progress from the inorganic to the organic, and through planets, plants etc. to the animal organism, gradually approximates a body made up of interdependent  ‘members’ (Glieder) rather than ‘parts’ (Teile).  An organism made up of parts (like the plant) does not fully possess those parts, whereas in one composed of ‘members’ the universal is revealed within the part(icular) so that the body is ‘intelligibly structured’ throughout (Stone 46-50, 75; PN 277, 291). The movement towards an integrated body is effected through a series of sciences, including crystallography, meteorology, geology, botany, animal physiology and finally medicine, which Hegel tries to put in an intensifying scale of what Green and Coleridge will call individuation and integration. In his argument with British natural philosophy, it is individuation that Hegel sees as crucial to recovering physics for philosophy (6), which he presumably does not see Schelling’s ‘speculative physics’ as having accomplished.

            Yet the ascent of nature is not as simple as Stone suggests, even if we reconceive it as a dialectic of individuation and integration rather than as straightforwardly linear. Thus a crystal is ‘articulated through and through’ and is not ‘mechanically compounded,’ but because it is ‘rigid,’ ‘mechanism is resumed’ or returns in organism (PN 99, 160); a comet is not rigid, but is an ‘unstable mass of vapour,’ lacking ‘a nucleus’ and centre of individuation (99). The difference between these deviations from the ideal raises the problem of a disunion between force and form that is supposedly resolved in the organism: the fact that form without force is rigid but forces without form annihilate their matter rather than reveal themselves in their parts. Or as Hegel elaborates, ‘the body of rigidity has only a formal being-for-self,’ whereas ‘the body of dissolution … behaves aberrantly’ (99). These deviations from the ideal also raise issues having to do with individuation, integration, and what Coleridge calls ‘specification.’ That a crystal is a ‘specific total’ means that because of its molecular structure its parts are uniform rather than differentiated and individualized, and exist in ‘apposition’ rather than being integrated.[6]  Such discrepancies between individuation and integration persist higher up the scale in planets–covered by Hegel under physics–, and remain even in organics. For planets, the terrestrial organism and plants all deviate from the ideal of the animal organism as a whole that holds its ‘members’ together rather than falling apart into subsystems (PN 276). But the point is that throughout the space of nature, entities deviate differently from this ideal, falling short of the philosophical norms in various ways that expose aporias and tensions between these norms. Indeed, this may be why Schelling, as we will see, cannot construct a scale of being or a Stufenfolge der Wissenschaften culminating in Organics.

            Individuation and integration are the contrary ‘tendencies’ that Green wants to see reconciled in the organism (105). But Green manages to synchronize them by conceiving individuation on the Kantian model of organisms as natural purposes that are both means and ends. In this model individuation as an increasing complexity and specialization of parts is kept in check because it also entails the interdependence of parts and the ‘subordination of the lower to the higher’ (41). The ‘tendency to integration in the parts’ makes individuation simply a microcosm of the other ‘great tendency’: ‘integration’ itself, whereby nature creates a ‘comprehensive whole’ through ‘advancing integration,’ within a ‘physiogony or genetic process’ of ‘gradative evolution’ (37, 39). Interestingly, for Green, the scientific terms have moral extensions: ‘Individuality has its acme in integrity’ (43). But for Coleridge, who in his Theory of Life similarly wants to see individuation in terms of organisms as natural purposes whose parts are all ‘reciprocally means and end’ (510, 512-13), the tendencies are also ‘counteracting’ pulls. Paralleling Goethe’s distinction between the universalist and the singularist, Coleridge describes a force of ‘attachment or reduction’ into ‘the universal life’ and of ‘detachment’ from it (515, 557), a tension already taken up by Schelling (Outline 53-4).  Indeed when Coleridge distinguishes among the tendencies to ‘totalise,’ ‘specificate,’ and ‘individualise,’ and when he offers the pebble and crystal as examples of the first two tendencies and the daisy and fly as examples of the third, his sense of individualisation comes closer to what we might call ‘singularity’ (‘Life’ 1029). For Coleridge does not describe the daisy and fly, unlike the pebble and crystal, in terms of the part-whole relationship; nor does he approach them as representatives of a class, as Green does in discussing individuation. The term individual, when thought within the part-whole relationship is still normative, in that even deviations are considered in relation to the whole or an ideal of wholeness. When individuation is approached in relation to a class of entities (birds or fish, for example), the term is likewise being thought in relation to the genus-process, as when Jean-Luc Nancy refers to a ‘higher form of substance of subject taking charge … of separate individualities’ (Inoperative 27).  Singularity, by contrast, better describes a poetic sensitivity to difference, at the level of what he calls ‘infra-individual’ ‘singular differences’ (Being 13-15)

            A detachment or individuation –let alone singularization–at odds with the whole explains why the various deviations from the ideal along the Chain of Being cannot really be ‘continuous,’ as Schelling hopes in his experiment with nature (Outline 53). Thus Coleridge describes how the ‘class of fishes’ marks a ‘higher step’ over that of insects yet ‘sinks a step below’ the latter in its mode of impregnation (546-7). Similarly, as Hegel moves from Physics to Organics, plants have the advantage over planets in being organisms that develop, as Coleridge would say, ‘ab intra’ (‘Life’ 1029). The parts of a planetary system remain external to each other, while the plant grows from within and ‘differentiates itself into distinct parts.’ But although the plant thus enters the ‘first… stage of subjective vitality,’ it ‘falls apart into a number of individuals’ rather than being ‘a subjective unity of members’ (PN 303). Planets, which are lower on the scale than plants, thus advance beyond them in forming a system, which in turn is associated with volition. For whereas the plant is ‘impotent to hold its members in its power’ (276), there are a ‘number of earths or planets which together form an organic unity,’ whose ‘arrangement … in space is the act of the planets themselves’ (104).[7]

            Coleridge rationalizes this uneven development when he writes that every ‘grade of ascension’ is accompanied by ‘an apparent retrograde movement,’ but when nature ‘drops a faculty’ she never fails to pick it up again’ at a higher level (Theory 546-8). And Green similarly streamlines his logic of nature by arguing that in the ‘evolution of the organic realm’ there is’an apparent sinking back’ necessary to concentrate ‘the organific energies’ for a ‘higher and more complete ascent’ (36, 114). The logic is that of Hegel’s Aufhebung as a dialectical spiral rather than linear progress, and as I argue elsewhere, Green tacitly supplements Schelling with Hegel to rein in the volatility of Naturphilosophie (‘Asystasy’   ). That task was made easier by the fact that the work by Hegel Green knew was the Logic rather than the still unpublished  Philosophy of Nature in the more detailed eclectic text that was not edited by K.L. Michelet till 1842. But it is another question whether this logic can contain the singularities that are throughout the Zusatze that Hegel added to the propositions in his Encyclopedia Outline (Grundriss), the minutely granular details that Schelling added to his Outline (Entwurf), or the entries in Coleridge’s Notebooks wherein a poet’s eye for detail is transferred to the way he engages with the sciences. Coleridge cordons off these details in his notebooks and fragments. But as Novalis says in his Romantic Encyclopedia, every ‘molecule of science’ can be philosophically potentiated (#489), so that the empirical, instead of being determined by the transcendental, retroacts upon it in a dynamic interfolding of mind and matter.

            A gradative evolution of natural phenomena is also Hegel’s aim, as he strives to attain the maximum of ‘individuation and integration’ in the animal organism, narrating this progress through the relevant sciences But this is not the end of the story, since the Stufenfolge undergoes a profound diremption in the section on the animal, which ends with pathology. Throughout PN the Kantian organism as a whole rather than aggregate has been the light at the end of the tunnel. But when Hegel reaches this climax, he writes that the animal can ‘as well not conform to its genus,’ which resistance he calls ‘disease.’ In disease one of the organism’s ‘systems or organs … establishes itself in isolation … against the activity of the whole’ (228). Here the very unity and integrity of the animal body, from which the plant is exempt, means that all of its systems –nervous, digestive, circulatory etc.– ‘interpenetrat[e]’ in this dis-memberment (372). Or as Hegel puts it, hovering on the border between physiology and psychology, only an animal can become ill and ‘turned against’ its very ‘structure,’ whereas a stone is ‘destroyed in the negative of itself [and] chemically decomposed’ (429).

            Thus the very superiority of biology to chemistry as a way of grasping organic vitality, meant to distinguish Idealist biology from British natural philosophy, becomes a pharmakon. Likewise the integration of the animal body, which is made up of ‘individual’ and ‘specialized’ subsystems (Schelling, Outline 127), proves its undoing. For the ‘isolated activity’ that occurs when a member separates itself from the whole is still a ‘moment of the whole,’ as the ‘entire organism … is involved and its activity deranged because one wheel (Rad) in it has made itself the centre’ (PN 428, 433). Moreover, Hegel seems unable to approach the animal through normal physiology, as he does the plant. The result is that the ‘biological normal,’ as Georges Canguilhem writes, is ‘revealed only through infractions of the norm and that concrete … awareness of life exists only through disease.’ As Canguilhem argues in The Normal and the Pathological, disease thus preempts health, since the norm can be established only a posteriori through deviations from it (118), making any ‘common ideal’ purely ideal: an understanding that provides an example of how philosophical paradigms are shifted by the dynamic retro-action of nature on mind.


In his Jena lectures, especially in 1805/6, Hegel was already working out the Stufenfolge der Wissenschaften that forwards this problematic telos of the organism. In terms of the two regions of dynamic nature Zammito describes, dynamic matter and organic vitality, Hegel wants to chart a progression from physics and chemistry as sciences of matter, to biology which, as Canguilhem says, is concerned with ‘life.’ The irreducibility of life to mere matter is due to the ‘originality’ and singularity ‘of the biological phenomenon.’ But in valorising biology, Canguilhem does not mean to dismiss physics and chemistry, but to ‘‘comprehend’ matter within life, and the science of matter–which is science itself–within the activity of the living’ (Knowledge 69-70). His essays in Part 3 of Knowledge and Life–particularly those on vitalism, the machine as organism, and the milieu–are concerned with the complex dialogue among mechanics, physics, organics, and finally medicine that is also central to Hegel and Schelling. It is in medicine that biological originality produces the most profound diremption from the regularity of the Idea. What Grant calls the ‘eliminative idealism’ of transcendental philosophy (108, 202), is designed, in Hegel’s case as he moves up the scale of sciences, to protect biological originality, particularly from chemistry. But it also tries to repress this originality within the notion of autopoietic ‘Kantian wholes’ (Kaufman 67). Yet the Kantian regulation is finally defeated by the ‘instability and irregularity’ of the organism (Canguilhem 70), as biological originality turns out to include illness. For a stone cannot fall ill, as Hegel tells us. Or as Canguilhem puts it, ‘there is no physical, or chemical, or mechanical  pathology’ (Normal 127)

         The sciences in PN are also in Schelling’s Naturphilosophie, but they exist in a consciously experimental (dis)solution, given how many of these texts bear titles like ‘ideas for,’ ‘hypothesis’ or ‘first outline.’ We could say, then, that at least in his Naturphilosophie Schelling embraces a ‘non-eliminative idealism’ (Grant viii) that is more open to ‘life,’ including the understanding of matter within life. In terms of Zammito’s two regions of dynamic nature, Schelling never quite resolves their (dis)connection and the related question of whether a transcendental direction can emerge from, or be synchronized with, natural philosophy. The 1797 Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature unfolds purely in ‘physics and chemistry,’ though in revising its Preface for the 1803 edition, Schelling promises a continuation that ‘include[s] the principles of a theory of organic nature, or so-called physiology’ (5). But in the Preface to On the World-Soul (1798) Schelling  puts this promise more negatively, writing that he will not continue Ideas till he can formulate a ‘scientific [wissenschaftlichen] physiology’ that ‘rounds off the whole.’ The World-Soul, he insists, does not provide this physiology (SW 1/2.35). Yet the World-Soul is subtitled a ‘Hypothesis of the Higher Physics for the Explanation of the Universal Organism,’ describes Blumenbach’s Bildungstrieb as ‘epoch-making’ (1/2.128), and evokes the Kantian notion of organisms as natural purposes (1/2.123).

         So why does the World-Soul not round off the whole? The hope for a progression from physics/chemistry to organics marks a desired advance of German Idealism over British natural philosophy. I use the term Idealism rather than Naturphilosophie deliberately, to suggest an episteme that seeks to gather a more individuated and (dis)integrated body of knowledge in Naturphilosophie into a system itself conceived on the model of Kant’s Naturzweck, in which each science would be both means and end, or as M.J. Petry puts it, a sphere in its own right and a level in an ascending scale of knowledge (31).  But despite seeking a capstone in the 1803 revision of the 1797 Preface, in the actual Preface to the second edition of Ideas,[8] Schelling describes his promised further part as ‘organic physics’ (7), which still puts the text short of ‘organics’ as the culmination of the Hegelian schema. Schema: because, as Schelling himself says of the schematic, we are dealing with a construct in which the universal and particular have not been synthesized (Art 46), or in which the particulars appropriate to the universal have not been conceived.

         So perhaps Schelling never filled out his schema and never wrote his third part because organic physics cannot really bring the ‘real’ series of disciplines to an end, allowing us to move on to the ‘ideal’ series. In his middle work, especially Ages of the World (1815) Schelling becomes preoccupied with the difficulty of beginning and ending, or of moving from the first to the third through a linear or dialectical progression, without again going ‘back to the first’ or second (13, 36). Despite dwelling much more on the organism than Ideas (1797), we can argue that the World-Soul does not decisively proceed beyond Ideas because it remains too entangled in chemistry. In Ideas a chemistry of forces rather than elements, an organic rather than inorganic chemistry, had been the result of ‘dynamics as the basic science of a theory of Nature,’ which provided the text’s ‘philosophical part’ (5). It seemed, therefore, that progress was being made. But in the World-Soul Schelling expresses frustration with even this chemistry, because it discloses only ‘incomplete organizational processes,’ furnishing only ‘analogies’ (499), and so does not mark a real advance. And in the Outline, he complains that chemistry provides only ‘effects instead of causes’ (Outline 110), and hence is not yet a science (University 132).

         At the heart of this dissatisfaction is the irreducibility of life to physico-chemical causes characteristic of what Esposito calls ‘Romantic biology’: a tradition he traces from the post-Kantians, via British Idealism, to twentieth-century scientists such as J.S. Haldane and D’Arcy Thompson. In Hegelian terms, the World-Soul does not quite cross the threshold between a ‘physics of the total individuality’ with which the second division of PN ends, into Hegel’s third division on Organics. Instead it approaches the organism through what Iain Grant calls a ‘field-theoretical theory of nature’ in which ‘individuation and organization’ occur through forces rather than forms (87).  There are of course reasons for this drawing back. Briefly, Schelling often approaches differences in nature quantitatively. But for Hegel ‘merely quantitative’ differences are ‘indifferent,’ and domains such as physics and Organics, or even more so nature and spirit, must be separated by qualitative differences (PN 26-7). The quantitative/qualitative distinction means that Schelling unfolds nature in space, while Hegel develops it in time, where time contains a teleological promise but also entails finitude and fatality. Thus we need not necessarily read Schelling’s difficulty in proceeding to a ‘third’ part through Hegel. For after all in Ages (1815) Schelling will cast doubt on any linear or even dialectical progression from first to third, noting that the ‘third is incapable of continuance’ because the ‘unity [cannot] elevate itself and be outside the antithesis,’ and because ‘each of the three has an equal right to be that which has being’ (19, 36). So perhaps Schelling did write an (in)complete physiology or biology, not in the World Soul but in parts of the First Outline, but could not give it the synthesising authority of ‘the third.’ because he questioned the very possibility of synthesis.

         Yet if I evoke Hegel, it is also because Schelling cannot be as purely aligned with a quantitative and spatial understanding of nature as has now become fashionable (see Woodard; Heuser; Furlotte 6). It is because the schema of a temporal development that is most clearly formulated by Hegel also retreats and returns in Schelling’s work, thus providing a scaffolding that Schelling’s texts (dis)assemble. This temporal schema emerges powerfully in the middle work, especially the Freedom essay and the 1811 Ages, which participate in both the philosophy of freedom and the philosophy of nature. But as we have seen, it is present, albeit more abstractly, as early as the Treatise Explicatory, where Schelling writes of a ‘gradual succession [Stufenfolge] of organisms’ and a ‘transition from an inanimate [unbelebte] to an animate nature [that] clearly reveals a productive force’ developing ‘towards complete freedom’ (93; SW 1,1, 387).

         Put differently we cannot just oppose Schelling as a dynamic materialist or Deleuzean transcendental empiricist to Hegel as an Idealist, whether a complacent pan-logician or a ‘tormented’ idealist for whom nature is a series of ‘botched’ attempts at the ‘absolute’ (Krell     25, 96). For much of Schelling’s work is also deeply Idealist. But nor can we follow Hegel in dismissing Schelling as an Idealist without a sense of dialectic, without the labor of the positive that occurs in the differences between his texts. Rather than moving from Naturphilosophie, to the Identity philosophy, to the philosophy of freedom, as Manfred Shröter’s edition represents Schelling’s corpus, Schelling works on several tracks at once, seeing natural and transcendental philosophy as ‘one science’ with ‘opposite orientation[s]’ (Schelling  ‘Introduction’ 194),  and yet constantly probing their divergences. Even his idealisms are different: evolutionary and/or historical at times, and at other times involving a synchronicity wherein particulars are modes or potencies of the universal. It is notable that when Schelling revised Ideas in 1803 by refocalizing the speculative realism of 1797 through a Spinozistic neo-Platonism, he did so through a series of ‘Supplements’ that let the original version stand, as in a palimpsest.


         It is the Outline which, in a disciplinary sense, comes closest to the engram of what will become the Hegelian schema, beginning with experimental physics in the discussions of dynamic atomism and the universal fluid, and ending (if it can be said to end) with physiology, which segment includes, in the middle, an Appendix on disease, if not on medicine per se. In between, Schelling floats the hypothesis of ‘natural history’ in the ‘higher’ sense of a ‘history of nature,’ which could then be seen as a bridge from experimental physics to the organism, but a bridge that the actual physiology may well collapse. The Outline notably, has no clear division between sections that is not overrun by its proliferating details. There is no paginated Table of Contents, as in Hegel’s Encyclopedia, where divisions and subdivisions are clearly schematised in advance. While the English translation has three divisions extrapolated from the Hauptabschnitten in the Grundriss, or opening outline of the Outline, these are not marked in the 1799 original. And we cannot simply treat the Grundriss as a Table of Contents, since the First Division has four subdivisons in the Grundriss and five in the text itself. The text is studded with Roman and Arabic numerals–upper and lower case–, Latin and also Greek letters, confusing any subordinaton of subdivisions to divisions, or any hierarchy of thoughts and afterthoughts. And in contrast to the complicating but graspable structure of Satz and Zusatz used in Michelet’s enriched text of Hegel’s PN, Schelling uses a multiplicity of terms: Satz, Lehrsatz, Zusatz, Folgesatz, Beweis, Anmerkung, Erlauterung, Problem, Auflösung. Finally, there are also long footnotes by Schelling in the manscript, inserted by his son (probably with Schelling’s permission) when he republished the Outline in the Sämmtliche Werke begun during Schelling’s lifetime.  

         This method that decomposes system into asystasy makes the Outline what Deleuze, using Joyce as an example, calls a ‘great work which contains all the complicated series,’ and into which these ‘divergent series … lead out and back in.’ Within this great work, ‘each series,’ which could be an idea, category, paradigm, discipline or pre-discipline, ‘explicates or develops itself, but in its difference from the other series which it implicates and which implicate it’ (123). Within the Outline, lines of enquiry not quite stabilized as sciences develop and are implicated in other lines or folds, and the history of nature is only one of these series. Indeed Schelling’s larger corpus might also be a great work in which divergent series lead out and back in. These series, as Deleuze says, are not ‘different points of view on the same story,’ to be absorbed into a Leibnizian pre-established harmony (Deleuze 123; cf. Leibniz, Monadology #57). This synchronization is one of Schelling’s experiments, when he argues that the temporal is a mode of the eternal (Ideas 272), or that natural and transcendental philosophy are different perspectives on one science (‘Introduction’ 194). But the series or paradigms are ‘divergent’ series that ‘unfold simultaneously,’ such that the ‘point … of convergence lies in a chaos’ or asystasy (Deleuze 123). For as noted, throughout his life Schelling worked experimentally on several tracks at once, constructing multiple outlines, ideas and systems that involved natural and transcendental philosophy, religion and mythology. Until 1809, for example, the transcendental and natural series lead in and out of his corpus, reconfiguring each other in the pivotal Freedom essay, and then being again unbound in the Ages (1815) from the de-cision reached in 1809.

         The First Outline is the great work that contains Schelling’s Naturphilosophie upto this point; hence it must be (un)published as an archive rather than a finished text. As such the text is in restless transition between fields of knowledge –physiology, physics, geology etc.– as even hard sciences become life sciences subject to the excitability Schelling discusses, whereby, as soon as a balance among forces is found in an (intellectual) product, the ‘organic activity’ that prevents life from being ‘exhausted … in its product’ results in this balance disclosing a disproportion that requires a further product (FO 159-60). Yet the Outline, though presenting an unbound conceptuality that unfolds on what Deleuze and Guttari call a smooth, undivided space, or ‘plane of immanence’ rather than ‘development’ (266), is a form of transcendental thinking. For it is concerned with how mind thinks as a fold in nature, since mind is part of the same continuum as matter. But as we suggested earlier, this is not a transcendental idealism that proceeds from inside to outside. When Schelling says that to ‘philosophize about nature means… to create it’ and that ‘everything that exists is a construction of the spirit’ (FO 5, 13),  he means that everything is in construction, or that there are no a priori categories of mind. To experiment with thought does require an ‘a priori judgment’ (‘Introduction’  197), but the forms that mind takes are disclosed by the new forms in which nature causes it to think. Just as there are no a priori categories of mind, so too the ‘state of configuration’ is ‘the most original in which nature is viewed’ (FO 6). It is thus and not in the sense of any correlationism that Schelling can describe philosophy as ‘a natural history of our mind’ and say that ‘the system of nature is … the system of our mind’  (Ideas 30).

         If both mind and nature are in constant configuration, the text itself becomes a dynamic field to be experimentally de- and recomposed. We will attempt this in two ways, the first being to construct it along vertical and horizontal axes, where the vertical is an experiment with idealism, while the horizontal is an ‘unconditioned empiricism ‘ (FO 24). The vertical axis of the Stufenfolge is transcendental not just in a Kantian and formal sense but also in the more common sense where ‘transcendental’ signifies a content: the possible emergence of spirit from matter. Yet, as we have seen in Hegel, such an emergence is an Idea of Reason, which Hegel simulates through a progression in the sciences that never happens in Schelling’s work. This difficulty, which we have seen in Schelling’s inability to gather his earlier texts into a system of sciences, is reflected in the Outline in the way the vertical thrust of the Stufenfolge is constantly interrupted by a horizontal axis that distributes the text into a network of fields in which it is enveloped instead of being able to put them in  sequence. In the System, when Schelling writes that ‘nature is the unconscious poetry of the spirit’ (12),  nature, history and aesthetics are bound into an architectonic, if not sequentially, then through anticipation, analogy and homology. But in the Outline, through a series of events or collisions, scientific fields as snapshots of mind being refolded by matter generate competing energetics of thought rather than forwarding a single idea.

         These fields, as figures of thought-matter, include physics as a theory of dynamic atomism that recasts thought as a finding of differences within differences; the earth sciences which open up processes of composition and decomposition in soils and other solids; and chemistry, as a space of volatile exchanges which allows us to know only ‘effects instead of causes,’ and which here, unlike in Ideas, is mixed up with physiology. Physiology, in turn, is both the body’s chemistry in John Brown’s Elements of Medicine, and physiology in Green’s broader sense of natura naturans or the forces in nature, which is to say that the individual and universal organism, nature and the body, are thought and rethought through each other. But importantly these fields are rarely named as sciences. Rather an intensity or potency hypostatises in an organ of knowledge through which nature is focalised, and the text then moves on, creating a different organ of knowledge. Thus, the text is less an organization of knowledge ‘defined by determinate organs’ than a body without organs which, as Deleuze says, moves through ‘provisional organ[s]’ of knowledge that endure only temporarily and which are then ‘displaced’ and ‘posited elsewhere.’ (Francis Bacon 47). Indeed Schelling indicates that organs form epigenetically in relation to situations and needs rather than being pre-formed (FO 38n, 113), which we can extrapolate to sciences as organs of understanding that are not restricted to disciplines named a priori.

         These fields then retroact on knowledge itself, in the way that Novalis describes in his Notes for A Romantic Encyclopedia, written in the same year as the Outline. For Novalis ‘encyclopedistics’ consists in applying ‘the system to the parts–and the parts to the system and the parts to the parts’ (#460).  In On University Studies, in a more conservative logic of emanation, if not hierarchies, Schelling describes ‘the organic body of knowledge’ as ‘flow[ing’ from its ‘central organs’ to sciences located in its ‘outermost parts’ (42). Using this image of fluidity far less idealistically than in its slightly later counterpart in Schelling’s transcendental philosophy, the Outline begins by evoking an unbedingt or universal fluid which is ‘determined’ in ‘figures’ that occur when actants (Aktionen) of thought-matter are bound, only to be unbound by the pressure of other actants within the figure ( ). These actants or ‘original productivities’ do not ‘actually exist’ but are the ‘ideal grounds of the explanation of quality’ (21). In Schelling’s theory of dynamic atomism, adapted from Leibniz, all products contain ‘an infinite multiplicity of unified tendencies’ or actants. Because monads too are not physical but ideal or ideational entities, Leibniz’ notion of the monad as indivisible is strictly heuristic and, as Kant argues, is not in contradiction to its infinite divisibility if we consider it as a ‘sphere of activity’ rather than an atom of matter (      ).  In the Outline sciences and fields can thus be seen as momentary bindings of multiple forces, figures deconstructed by nature’s complexity. So as Nature organizes ‘to infinity,’ the ‘sphere’ or field to which it is ‘limited must again contain an infinity,’ so that within it ‘other spheres are again formed and within these spheres others’ (FO 44).

         A different experiment for constructing this text is to read it in series, following Novalis, who organizes his entries neither alphabetically nor in a Hegelian enkyklos paideia or course of learning, but in series. In the Romantic Encyclopedia terms like encycyclopedistics, physics, or natural history, are repeated at intervals in what Deleuze calls the eternal return of difference (   ). In Schelling’s encyclopedistics of nature, which is richer in content than Novalis’ numbered Schlegelian aphorisms, terms are similarly repeated to give the idea a renewed or different potency. As a topic returns, another field makes an incursion into it, ‘derang[ing]’ it, in Schelling’s words (FO 39). Take the  Stufenfolge. The term first appears in footnotes and as the idea of a single ‘organism inhibited at various stages of development’ (FO 43), a theory of evolution avant la lettre. This ‘absolute organism,’ Schelling explains, must be thought as ‘a graduated series of productivity,’ since the series of ‘products’ is necessarily ‘interrupted’ as creation fails to move smoothly up the Chain of Being (43). Ten pages later the Stufenfolge is emphatically if hypothetically linked to a potential new discipline: ‘the history of nature’ (53), which Green will call physiogony.  But in between Schelling speaks of  ‘increasingly graduated divergences’ between entities, as he allows ‘comparative anatomy’ to temporarily hypostatise as an interruption of this history of nature (50). Interestingly in the transcendental series of texts which includes the lectures on academic study, comparative anatomy promises the ‘inner unity and affinity of all organisms’ (University   ). But in the natural series it is the site of divergences that potentially derange the analogical leap from nature to history.

         This is to say that comparative anatomy raises the problem of Naturbeschreibung as diversifying a history of nature and not just failing to achieve it. For Schelling also asks about different products that detach themselves from the absolute process to assert their autonomy, as individuation struggles against universalization. Since products are formed by inhibition (Hemmung) the arresting of productivity is a limitation. Thus Schelling tries to valorise ‘nature as subject’ over ‘nature as object,’ productivity over products (     ). But this natura naturans that ‘continues irresistibly’ (   ), consuming what is in its way, risks being the Hegelian Aufhebung that Schopenhauer, in his bitter critique of Idealism, later calls the will in nature. For Schelling too, ‘Life comes into existence in opposition to Nature.’ Raising the problem of biodiversity, he thus asks how ‘inhibition could  be permanent,’ how these ‘natures which have torn themselves away from universal Nature … can maintain an individual existence.’ While he says they cannot do so, clearly they do: fish do not sacrifice themselves to the genus process and become birds. In short, the physiology (in Green’s sense) that underpins physiogony is interrupted by physiography, as a return within the biological series of that dynamic atomism of understanding by which ‘every organ organizes again into infinity.’

         After this segment the Stufenfolge disappears for a hundred pages. Schelling then adds a further dimension in the form of a Stufenfolge of functions: the schema sensibility> irritability> reproduction (or the reverse) common in physiology of the time, which he constructs as a graduated series, so as to posit ‘ a unity of FORCE of production throughout…organic nature’ (149). Such a series, both in the individual organism and the absolute organism as it ascends from plants and polypi to mammals, could ideally synchronize with the graduated stages of nature, bringing the ‘graduated series of production’ and ‘products’ into convergence (140n). But the problem is that functions are not aligned with separate organisms, allowing us to move beyond irritability to sensibility in the chain of being itself. Rather, in complex organisms each function becomes its own sphere as the organism breaks down into ‘individual systems of specialised excitability’ (127, 143). Not only does the Stufenfolge of functions thus become a kindof ourobouros that cycles back into itself. In terms of a Stufenfolge of disciplines, like the one Hegel maps at least as a schema, physiology also fails to provide the desired unification for Schelling. For as he first projected it, John Brown’s physiology–his theory of excitability–was supposed to unify the functions and to synthesise the systems of chemistry and vital force (68). But physiology proves to be the site at which vital force, or the Bildungstrieb that pushes the graduated stages of nature forward, is disrupted by the chemistry of organisms.

         This diremption of vital force by its chemical intensity raises another line of flight, the  problem of illness, which Schelling brackets in an Appendix but which extends throughout the Outline. For if the Stufenfolge provides ‘a perspective… for the whole of organic nature …another is furnished’ for the individual by disease as a ‘deviation’ from ‘rule’ or ‘proportion.’ The Appendix thus takes us back to the graduated series of divergences, with the added recognition that disease in one organism may be health in another: thus the polyp would ‘be quite healthy’ ‘with the degree of irritability’ that sickens the plant (159). The tension between universal and individual perspectives further raises issues about the projection of normativity onto nature. For it seems that disease ‘has the same factors as life,’ just in different proportions, and so is ‘just as natural’ as life. But this raises a question, lethal to the Stufenfolge, of what life is, as Schelling, reflecting from a different perspective on the anthropological Idea, observes ironically that life is ‘extorted from Nature … a perduring sickness’ (159, 160n).

         In conclusion, the Outline is the ‘chaos of a cyclic poem,’ to evoke Percy Shelley who anticipates Deleuze’s notion of the great work. It is one of those primal texts in Schelling’s corpus into which many series lead in and out, another being the Ages (1815), which is similarly unsequenced and without an architecture. .. The Outline is a kind of encyclopedia of the sciences, but on the model of Novalis, for whom a science ‘is applicable to everything’ and ‘everything is applicable to it.’ In Novalis’ part-whole logic, we do not just read the parts within a whole as in Kant’s architectonic, but apply ‘the parts to the parts.’ In Novalis’ words, this ‘encyclopedization’ of a science is the genuine ‘self-criticism’ of that science, and the ‘stimulus’ for the ‘self-(post)-development of another science.’ Thus the various sciences in the Outline intersect and involve each other, creating feedback loops in which a science discussed earlier in the text, like dynamic atomism, is reinvolved as a way of un-thinking sciences that come up later, since, as Schelling says, ‘every science’ has ‘its unconditioned.’ As ideas are passed through this weave of sciences, which themselves exist in both real and ideal, or natural and transcendental series, these ideas, such as ‘nature’ or ‘life,’ enter a dynamic process that involves both self-criticism and concept-creation. Given more time, I would also suggest that such feedback loops connect what Schelling calls ‘the ideal part’ of philosophy in the Freedom essay back to the Naturphilosophie. through what Deleuze calls the trinity of complication/explication/implication. For instance, the pair evolution/involution occurs several times in the Outline, and following his own invitation to translate propositions ‘into the idealist potency,’ so as to raise physics to metaphysics, Schelling repeats these terms in the 1815 Ages. The Ages explicates the idea that Nature is ‘an infinite evolution from one original involution’ (77) with reference to history, which is complicated by nature, as what has been expanded in the later text is contracted back into or re-involved in the great whole of the First Outline. Through this process of explication and implication,or expansion and contraction, the ideal series itself as it had existed in the System is subject to criticism.  In this sense the early text is also a first outline for thinking Schelling’s corpus as a whole.

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—.  ‘Introduction to the Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature.’ In First Outline. 193-232.

—. ‘On the Nature of Philosophy as Science’ (1821). Trans. Marcus Weigelt. German Idealist Philosophy. Ed. Rüdiger Bubner. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1997. 210-43.

—.  Philosophical Investigations Into the Essence of Human Freedom (1809), translated by Jeff Love and Johannes Schmidt. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006.

—. The Philosophy of Art (1804-5). Trans. Douglas W. Stott. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1989.

—. System of Transcendental Idealism. Trans. Peter Heath. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978.

—. On University Studies. Translated by E.S. Morgan and edited by Norbert Gutterman. Athens: University of Ohio Press, 1966.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. A Defence of Poetry.

Stone, Alison. Petrified Intelligence: Nature in Hegel’s Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005.

Woodard, Ben. ‘Lamps, Rainbows and Horizons: spatializing knowledge in naturphilosophical epistemology.’ Angelaki  21:4 (2016): 23-41.

Zammito, John. ‘Kant’s Persistent Ambivalence Toward Epigenesis, 1764-90.’ In Understanding Purpose: Kant and the Philosophy of Biology. Ed. Philippe Huneman. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2007. 51-74.

[1]‘Logical’ may not state the case properly, as Hegel does give this evolution an ontological force, describing ‘a system of grades of which one arises necessarily from the other but not in such a way that one is generated by the other naturally but rather in the inner Idea lying at the base of Nature’ (Propaedeutic 143; emphasis mine)

[2] In the Propaedeutic Hegel previews the second division as ‘Inorganic Nature’ and then as ‘Physics of the Inorganic’ (143), and then divides the actual section, which is just called ‘Physics,’ into ‘Mechanics’ and ‘Physics of the Inorganic’ (145-6). In 1817 the Second Division is entitled ‘Physics of the Inorganic’ and subdivided into Mechanics, Elementary Physics, and Physics of Individuality. 

[3] I emphasise the word ‘troubled,’ since although ‘Organik’ is used in the Table of Contents, Hegel still uses ‘organisches Physik’ in the actual subdivisions.

[4] Zammito is presumably using the term ‘natural history’ more broadly than in its normal usage.

[5] This is the fundamental point made by Jean Hyppolite’s Logic and Existence. As George di Giovanni says,  

[6] Coleridge distinguishes among the terms ‘individualise,’ ‘totalise,’ and ‘specificate.’ A daisy or fly are ‘individualised,’ which connotes some kind of singularity. A ‘pebble is a mere total,’ internally undifferentiated. A crystal, as a ‘specific total,’ has uniform and not differentiated parts and so is only ‘an aggregate by apposition,’ in which there is no ‘evolution (ab intra)’  (‘Life’ 1029).       

[7] It is worth noting that Hegel considers planets both under Mechanics and Physics. In the former section he accuses the planets, though they have their ‘centre within [themselves]’ and  ‘possess determinateness,’ of being ‘just’ a ‘plurality’ (77, 80). 

[8] The 1803 Ideas contains both a revised Preface to the 1797 edition and a Preface to the 1803 edition.

Romantic Organicism and the Concept of Home

Wayne Deakin (Chiang Mai University)

“What if man’s homelessness consisted in this, that man still does not even think of the real plight of dwelling as the plight? Yet as soon as man gives thought to his homelessness, it is a misery no longer. Rightly considered and kept well in mind, it is the sole summons that calls mortals into their dwelling.”

-Martin Heidegger “Building Housing Dwelling”

In what follows I develop a critical assessment of the organic ontological worldview that was articulated during the romantic period, roughly taken here to be between 1780–1850. Developing the modern notion of ‘home’ as a tributary of this organicism, I contend that this philosophical narrative becomes key for of a number of British romantic poets and examine two corresponding poems from arguably the most philosophical of these poets: S. T. Coleridge and P. B. Shelley. In so doing, I hope to illustrate how this idea of the sanctity of home in an age when the human subject had become, as Jay Bernstein has termed it, “de-worlded.”1 In my assessment, the human subject has become spiritually homeless, an idea rooted in the concomitant concept of romantic organicism, which countered the essentially mechanistic physics that had dominated philosophy and the natural sciences since the epoch of Descartes and Newton.

To begin, I shall briefly define ‘romantic organicism’ by delineating this change in ontological sensibility in its various forms, from the monism of Spinoza, through the Frühromantik, to the absolute idealism of F. W. Schelling. Moreover, I locate these organic sensibilities alongside several differing views of home that can be discerned in both the romantic tradition and the current intellectual precis. Lastly, I offer the latter poetic hermeneutics of Heidegger, as a third organic way of thinking about our relationship with the notion of home and rereading the poetics of the English romantics. I conclude by suggesting that the current ‘culture wars’ are in one respect genealogically connected to these developing themes of liberal modernity that were originally interrogated by the romantics and German idealists and later expanded upon by Heidegger. 

Home is where the Organic Hearth Is?

The concept of ‘home’ pursued in this chapter is linked closely to a critical idea of modernity—the philosophical idea of organicism.2 The concept of the organic itself is of course as old as the concept of home. Still, they both became a combined and vitally living idea under the aegis of the philosophical romanticism that came to the intellectual fore in Europe just after the French Revolution and the demise of the ancien régime. The organic explored as an aesthetic instead of a more psychological manner, was famously initiated by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Judgment (1790), in which he utilized the scholastic principles of compositum and totum to delineate the organic in his critical and aesthetic philosophy.3 The organic Naturphilosophie developed by Schelling and his close friend Hegel was a direct response to Kant’s third Critique, and was instantiated in order re-home the putative human subject of a de-worlded subjectivity, thus providing a firm bedrock for the new natural and logical sciences.

     This new sense of homelessness in the world arose in part as a reaction to the privileging of the transcendental subject in modernity, a move that abstracted humanity from the more communitarian locale in which it had dwelled in the classical and pre-Enlightenment ages. This abstract conception of the individual, which also led to the original romantic longing for a bygone classical ‘golden age’ and in part the medieval world from which the early modern subject had been jettisoned. This particularly new sense of homelessness had also led to novel conceptions of human migrancy and even a new sense of boundaries and borders—both physical and psychological. On the one hand, this would lead to a new cosmopolitanism, whilst on the other, a sense of romantic primitivism and yearning for connection to the culture, traditions, language and soil of one’s homeland. This sense of primitivist organicism was famously developed in various guises by Prussian thinkers such as Hamann, Herder, and Hegel.

     This post-Enlightenment de-worlded notion of home and homelessnes can be seen even today, at the globally-holistic, localized-parochial and individual-subjective levels respectively.  At the global and geopolitical end of the scale, Jacques Derrida has explored the contradictions of Enlightenment cosmopolitanism as articulated in Kant’s most political work, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795). Derrida teases out the notion of modern cosmopolitanism in its necessary and ambivalent relationship to the unavoidably parochial sense of organic nationhood:

If Kant takes great care to specify that this good or common place covers ‘the surface of the earth,’it is doubtless so as not to exclude any point of the world or of a spherical and finite globe (globalisation), from which an infinite dispersion remains impossible; but it is above all to expel from it what is erected, constructed, or what sets itself up above the soil: habitat, culture, institution, State, etc. All this, even the soil upon which it lies, is no longer soil pure and simple, and, even if founded on the earth, must not be unconditionally accessible to all comers.4

Therefore, there are already inherent contradictions in the new global political economy borne of Enlightenment reason, which are connected to a newly globalized world, and reckoned with in the political space of sovereignty and borders. This sense of organic sovereignty, of a cultural primitivism of the soil, and a localized vision of home is just one of a number of unavoidable contradictions inherent in of the DNA of modern Liberalism and the Enlightenment project of reason.

    More recently, and at the more parochial end of the scale, Roger Scruton has also expounded the theory of oikophilia, the love of one’s home, as a natural aspect of the human condition. From Scruton’s conservative perspective, there are inherent dangers in the connection of oikophilia with the cosmopolitan environmental movement, which for Scruton entails a loss of local character and identity. He goes as far as to use Milan Kundera’s term uglification in respect to things such as wind turbines off the UK coast, which he contends needlessly destroy the aesthetics of the landscape—an aesthetics partly spawned from a cultural primitivism itself so celebrated by the romantics. Scruton argues that a return of power and decision making to local communities and parishes would itself produce a more organic green political response to a very mechanical problem. He writes,

French environmentalism is the child of pays réel conservatives like Gustave Thibon and Jean Giono, while the German Greens have inherited some of the romanticism of the early twentieth-century Wandervogel movement, as well as the vision of home and settlement so beautifully expressed by the German Romantic poets and taken up in our time both by the ex-Nazi Martin Heidegger and, in a more lucid and liberal vein, by his Jewish student Hans Jonas.5

It appears that in whatever direction one faces—whether the cosmopolitan or the more parochial—and upon whichever bent your political sympathies lie—one of the major dilemmas of modernity is our spiritual and territorial sense of our home on earth—a sense of home which has become challenged by both the industrial and the Kantian ‘Copernican revolution’ in philosophy.

     Moreover, on an individual—and by extension cultural level—the sense of home has also become politically embroiled within the precarious postmodern realm of identarianism and conversely, identarianism. Bonnie Honig has written of contested subjectivities and identities that, in light of a postmodern critique, are far more complex than the post-Kantian binary position outlined by Derrida; and far less stable than the conservative essentialist position delineated by Scruton. In citing postcolonial feminist thinkers such as Bell Hooks, Honig claims that the concept of a stable home is an unattainable fantasy, yet one that various individuals are prone to strive for as:

a place free of power, conflict, and struggle, a place—an identity, a private realm, a form of life, a group vision—unmarked or unriven by difference and untouched by the power brought to bear upon it by the identities that strive to ground themselves in its place.6

Therefore, contested subjectivities, narratives and identities such as that of an African American woman living under the ‘double voiced’ discourse of both patriarchy and domestic racial prejudice necessarily inculcate resistance, adjustment and negotiation as the basic elements of a human agent’s constructed and unstable identity. Consequently, it seems problematic, if not impossible, in light of recent postcolonial theory, to sustain, at least in many ethnographic instances, an essentialist sense of home and hearth.

     Given the complexities of the simple idea of home in a modernity at once punctuated by diasporas, industrial and economic relocation, imperialism and sociological fluctuation, it is perhaps more important than ever to at least philosophically trace a fundamental sense of home in the organicism that was first given serious philosophical attention by the thinkers who were reacting to the dawn of the modern philosophical period after the instantiation of Rene Descarte’s dualistic ontology of res cogitans and res extensa.

     The romantics themselves, both in Germany and Britain indeed heeded the drive towards a sense of place and home within the natural world, whether in the conservative primitivism of Robert Burns or the millenarian promise of an earthly home for the imaginative poet as expressed in Wordsworth’s delightful Home at Grassmere (1800).7 There were also more proto-cosmopolitan theories of home such as that expounded by Novalis, who with the characteristic German sense of sehnsucht,identified home in philosophical terms as Gefühl, or the sense that philosophy is “really homesickness, the drive to be at home everywhere.”8 The philosopher is in this sense paradoxically at home in not being at home—this is his natural dwelling. Thus, even when we hearken back 200 hundred years or so, we can still discern the sense of both oikophilia in Burns, Wordsworth and Coleridge and a more cosmopolitan sense of home in the work of a poet such as Novalis, through his aesthetic of the poetic Monolog, the fragment and his exploration of Gefühl. In the following section I shall outline the romantic period’s organicism before moving on to the particular tendencies that characterise both the romantic and more specifically, idealist developments of this narrative.    

Romantic Organicism

After Immanuel Kant responded to the epistemic limits of the mechanistic worldview as promulgated by Newton, Descartes and Spinoza, with his regulatory organicism, as expounded in The Critique of Judgment (1790), a succession of philosophers including Fichte, Schelling and the Frühromantik had developed models of the organic in ways to describe the world and the universe in a post-Kantian praxis, and in order to find a back door around Kant’s dualistic model of the phenomenal and the noumenal world.9 Critical reactions such as those of Jacobi, Reinhold, Hölderlin and eventually the absolute idealism of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, culminated in a worldview that combined Spinoza’s logical monism and Leibniz’ internal entelechy. However even though an organic worldview had been ushered in under these philosopher’s aegis, this view itself had differing variants and epistemological implications.

     Kant’s regulatory organism was devised based upon his critical philosophy and his transcendental idealism, which retained a logical dualism between the subject and the object. His main reasons for holding his organicism as regulative  (as supposed to apophantic), were firstly that we cannot extrapolate from the transcendental nature of human knowledge and cannot project aspects such as purpose and will onto the natural world—something strongly disputed by Schopenhauer and the tradition that traced this philosophical path;10 secondly, we only have true cognition of things we can create ourselves through use of our transcendental categories—a notion that, if correct, means that with the twentieth century development of genetic engineering and modification, we therefore now can have fully privileged access to the realm of the natural world; and finally, Kant’s attack on hylozoism, which stems from his post-Newtonian notion of inertia—where a change in matter must have an external cause, which is in effect a rejection of Leibniz’ metaphysical theory of monadology and by extension his metaphysics of entelechy. This, however, is also a notion that had been not only challenged by the then-contemporary empirical science of epigenesis, advocated by thinkers such of Blumenbach, but also more recently has been challenged by current developments in epigenetics.

     The major organicist response to Kant’s regulative organicism was that promulgated originally by Schelling: his theory of Naturphilosophie. Schelling’s theory involved the postulation that the differences between aspects such as the ideal and material or the subject and object were differences only in degree but not in kind. This led to his famous dictum that “Nature should be visible spirit and spirit invisible nature.”12 In essence, this is tantamount to a new epistemic epoch, which posits Naturphilosophie as a transcendental epistemic foundation. This culminated in Schelling’s famous “identity philosophy” which was posited as an answer to the absolute ego of J. G. Fichte, itself ultimately a choice between the positing of the absolute ego on the world or a dogmatic realism—a fortiori implying a stark form of dualism—as well as Kant’s dualistic ontology. This new system of romantic metaphysics, which was in part an answer to new questions that were being raised in the new sciences, produced an intoxicating cocktail of Fichtean idealism, Leibnizean pluralism and even Spinozist realism As Frederick Beiser claims:

   It is fair to say that, by organizing Spinoza’s universe, the romantics reinterpreted it along Leibnizian lines. Their reinterpretation of Spinoza was essentially a synthesis of Spinoza and Leibniz. The romantics fused Leibniz’s viz viva with Spinoza’s single infinite substance, creating a vitalistic pantheism or pantheistic vitalism. If they accepted Spinoza’s monism, they rejected his mechanism; if they rejected Leibniz’s pluralism, they accepted his vitalism, his organic concept of nature implicit within his dynamics. It was with this remarkable fusion of Leibniz and Spinoza—the two greatest dogmatic metaphysicians of the seventeenth century—that the romantics would attempt to solve the aporiae of the post-Kantian age.13    

     Paradoxically, this organic idea of differences of degree also had a strong connection to Spinoza’s mechanistic model, which viewed everything as part of a single substance, of which all of the universe was an attribute—Spinoza’s famous pantheism or Deus sive Natura. However, Spinoza’s universe was frozen and did not entail any ontological economy of degree—in effect a human subject is on the same ontological footing as a rock. While this brand of determinism was an anodyne in terms of ethics; Sartre’s “man is condemned to be free” becomes, in light of Spinoza’s Ethics (1677), replaced by another more limited sense of freedom, whereby one might also paradoxically contest that we are free to feel limited by fate; this limitation means that we are not haunted by the existential sense of angst and abandonment posited by Sartre—less choice gives us a more ethical approach to our everyday existence, resulting in fortitudo (strength of mind) and generositas (nobility). The only element of freedom in Spinoza’s is the sui generis God, who manifests his freedom through the attribute of Natura Naturans: God as the self-creating cause exhibits his freedom in nature—thus there is vitalism in nature—nature is vitalism. This active capacity of nature is also deconstructed in Spinoza to its passive counterpart: Natura Naturata. God can be conceived as nature and as nature as the concretization of God’s will. Hence Spinoza leaves the space open for both a deistic element in his philosophy as Natura Naturans and a scientific element, inviting the possibility of measurement and observation, Natura Naturata.

     Significantly, Spinoza has to be understood in the context of the Cartesian, mechanistic aura in which he bathed and one sees that his pantheism opens the door to the new natural sciences, whilst preserving space for a pantheistic manifestation of God. This Spinozist monism and realism were to have a significant influence on both the later idealists and romantics. However, the notion of a frozen universe was one in which the latter thinkers were disinclined to find themselves. Both the romantics and the idealists valued the role of freedom in the world, perhaps more so after the French Revolution of 1789; they therefore took Spinoza’s monistic realism as their hammer to shatter the dualistic impasse or de-worlded subjectivity left in the wake of Kant, and the equally de-worlded egoism of Fichte, and married it with immanent teleology—in order to produce a monisitc organicism, equipped to reinstall the human subject back home in the world, whilst retaining a unique position for the human as the gnostic head of this organic universe—due to a teleology that allowed for an economy of naturalistic realism that culminated in the human mind as the configuration of this single substance. For both the romantics and the idealists this was the sphere of reason and aesthetics.

     However, in examining the philology of organicism, and in light of its current use, one clearly sees that, given current environmental, farming and climate concerns, this type of organicism in some sense feels highly anthropocentric, with its positioning of the human subject at the apex of the organic family tree. Spinoza’s original mechanistic ontology was also a reaction against the then prevailing theological dogma of his time, which he also felt was too anthropocentric. Spinoza’s model of the universe became the great leveler of the time; here was a system where man was not at the centre of the picture. However, it did, importantly, allow the natural sciences programme to explore a whole logical picture that was waiting to be discovered in the Natura Naturata. Furthermore, even though the picture was self-evidently mechanistic, in light of the Cartesian physics to which it responded, a sense of the organic was preserved in the symbiotic notion of the Natura Naturans. The freedom was of a metaphysical agency and was attributable a pantheistic God and in this sense this universe also corresponds to Schelling’s notion of nature as visible spirit and spirit as visible nature—although without the anthropocentric agency or teleological implications of Schelling’s System of Transcendental Idealism (1800). The main anachronistic concern with the romantic form of idealism is the fact that it may have culminated in a relationship with the planet that has borne dire ecological consequences, whether foreseen or not.

    There is, I would argue, a third form of phenomenological organicism to which I will turn shortly, and which I contend was most apparently present in the work of a number of the canonical English poets of the nineteenth century. Before I examine this, I will turn to the romantic troping of “home” and the place of romantic agency into the broader universe at large.

Romantic and Idealist Visions of an Organic Home

There is also an historical situational irony at work here, in that the philosophers who came after Spinoza removed our place at home in the universe, by introducing a new form of dualism between the human subject and the material world, one that for Fichte in his Wissenschaftslehre (1794) meant a stark choice between absorption into a dogmatic realism, or the post-1789 hypostasis of the absolute human ego at the ontological apex of the ontological pecking order; and which for Kant had meant the separation of the noumenal and phenomenal realms. This loss of our home in the universe had prompted the later organicism of Schelling, Hölderlin and Hegel and their seminal document, The Oldest System Programme of German Idealism [SP] (1796).  

     However, the organic vision of the universe, and by extension our home within it, soon became bifurcated and one can discern a romantic version of the organic and a more strictly idealist view of the organic universe. This is arguably a vital source of the troping of home in English romantic poetry that I will discuss below; a trope that answers to the post-Kantian aporia and dislocation from the Spinozist sense of home within the great chain of being.

     Whilst the path to organicism can be traced on the selfsame genealogical path displayed above, the response of the Frühromantik differed in very different ways from that of idealists such as Schelling, Hölderlin and Hegel. The German romantics initially postulated a similar vision for an organic view of the world as was adumbrated in the SP, which flagged the prominence of a new religious mythology of aesthetics and reason; “People without aesthetic sense are our pedantic philosophers [Buchstahen Philosophen]. The philosophy of spirit is an aesthetic philosophy. One cannot be spiritual [geistreich] in anything, one cannot even reason spiritually over history—without aesthetic sense.”14 The idealists and romantics therefore both endorsed the view originally postulated by Schiller15 about the philosophical importance of aesthetics. They also agreed that the new ideas would be “aesthetic i.e. mythological”. Friedrich Schlegel, the high-priest of the Frühromantik, also prognosticated this new aesthetic-mythological discourse and wrote his own Discourse on Mythology (1800); however, this vision of mythology was destined to be tied to concepts such as parabasis, transcendental buffoonery, allegory, wit and irony—a new form of particularly modern mythology—rather than a mythology linked to the realm of public reason, as expounded by the idealists.  Schlegel characteristically packs this idea of a new religion and mythology of art into one of his fragmentary Ideas, whilst also resembling the SP and Schelling’s putative synthesis of Fichtean idealism and realism:

All philosophy is idealism, and there exists no true realism except that of poetry. But poetry and philosophy are only extremes. If one were to say that some people are pure idealists and others very definitely realists, then that remark would be quite true. Stated differently, it means that there exists as yet no wholly cultivated human beings, that there is still no religion.16

This fragment points to the perhaps forever unattainable synthesis of idealism with the only highest form of realism—poetry—a newly organicist form of Spinozist realism; here it seems that Schlegel is indeed concurring with Schelling’s notion that the highest human creative art form, poetry, needs to become the realist organ of idealist philosophy in order for there to become a new mythology or religion. Poetry, and the poet as tolerating “no law above himself”17 needs to supersede previous notions of realism. However, as we have seen, the romantic notion of poesy and its ascent to the infinite is necessarily partial and ironic—this is the new realism that faces the newly crowned romantic philosophers, who have poesy as their new philosophical apparatus. The new religion is always yet to come and is of necessity bound by an ultimately unattainable sense of idealism that had been posited by Hegel, Schlegel’s old sparring partner.

     The new realism of poetry however, is the sense that the poet truly senses the in media res nature of human experience of the world at large; the only partial (and in this sense Spinozist), sense of the infinite; partial because we can cultivate an intellectual love of God, we can partake in the infinite mind of God, but can never stake an Olympian claim to absolute knowledge as this is only available to the infinite mind of God, which is beyond the temporality of our grammar, and hence poetry.      

 As Andrew Bowie has claimed:

For Schlegel, then, one is left with the alternative between the evanescent transcending of the sensuous in wit and a failure to represent a transcendent unity in allegory, rather than a way of seeing art as the sensuous manifestation of the infinite. The aptness of these ideas is already evident in the extent to which they become preoccupations of so much modernist art from this time forwards.18

In this sense of romantic allegory or irony, the organic metaphysics at work in romantic art as in some sense less organic than Spinoza’s system. Spinoza’s sense of the human subject as in media res,means that one is within a single substance system and, although not granted the same human freedom as what is instantiated in the romantic/idealist systems, at least has a definite place within a chain of being; in one sense this Spinozist location provides us with an awareness of a system that is higher than the subjective needs of our wants and desires,  and one that, as outlined above, requires a noble adherence to higher preestablished rules that provide us with access to Aristotle’s more communitarian notions of the good life or magnificence;as long as they are adjusted to in good faith.

     Moreover, the fact that anything in Spinoza’s system is of necessity no more valued on an economic scale than anything else, points to an ethical system whereby our place within the Natura Naturata means that we are ourselves determined and therefore struggle for mastery in vain—in the philosophical long run. There is no admittance of the infinite senhsucht of romanticism, as in this ethical system, one faces life with dignity and resolve in the face of predetermined necessity. Furthermore, even in the idealist progamme of Naturphilosophie, there are unanswered philosophical problems, which may themselves point to a species of dogmatism lying just under the surface, because of the hypostasis of the transcendental Ego over the natural world on the ontological economic scale. This is the fundamental reason for the romantic irony that pervades the oeuvre of German Romanticism and some areas of English Romanticism, as most clearly elaborated upon by Ann K. Mellor.19 These selfsame tensions are also give rise to the uncertainty about home and hearth, as signaled in certain areas of the romantic tradition.

     However, there was one later philosophical giant of the twentieth century, who readdressed our conceptualisation of the world as our home, and developed another form of ‘philosophical romanticism,’ perhaps providing the new mythology or religion for which the earlier romantics and idealists such as Schlegel and Schelling yearned. This thinker attempted to organically re-house the human subject in its rightful home—locating home as the place where we poetically dwell—Martin Heidegger.

Heidegger’s Organic Language of Home and ‘Dwelling’

Heidegger’s hermeneutics followed Husserl’s call for a ‘return to the things in themselves’ in the form of his hermeneutics of Being. If Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology had once again produced a transcendental subjectivity, Heidegger placed the subject right back into the prepositional being-towards-which and the Geworfenheit (thrownness) of his philosophical hermeneutics of Being. Although Heidegger’s broader treatment of, for example, twentieth-century technology, is of no great interest for the purposes of this chapter, his anti-metaphysical system does share some interesting organic similarities to the systems assessed above. For one, it shares a monistic ontology, whilst placing the subject firmly back into world, and moreover a desire to challenge the representationalism of the Kantian system, whilst concurrently challenging the absolute Ego of Fichte’s idealism. Heidegger’s placing of the subject back into Weltheit (worldhood) that enables the instantiation of a third type of organicism, which gives us an interesting vista through which to reread the poems under discussion below, whilst helping us reframe the ideas of organicism in the early nineteenth century.

     In a number of seminal later essays Heidegger develops the notions first elaborated upon in Being and Time (1927) to dizzying heights as he developed his notions of poetic dwelling within the world. He posits in these latter works that poetry is much more than an aesthetic, and in the romantic tradition of Schlegel, Shelley and others, places the poet at the top of the echelons of philosophy. In the self-same tradition, poetry becomes for Heidegger (as it would later for other philosophical romantics such as Richard Rorty), the supreme act of both aesthetic and philosophical creation. This is because poetic thinking arrests or stills Being, enabling one to partake in Being at its deepest level. It is both this privileging of the poetics of higher hermeneutics and the organicism entailed in this situating the human subject in the world—but also in the world of a non-representational ontology—which make Heidegger such a romantic and organic thinker. In The Origin of the Work of Art (1935-6)he writes:

     Projective saying is poetry: the saying of the world and earth, the saying of the arena of their conflict and thus of the place of all nearness and remoteness of the gods. Poetry is the saying of the unconcealdness of what is. Actual language at any given moment is the happening of this saying, in which a people’s world historically arises for it and the earth is preserved as that which remains closed.20

Heidegger thus sees language not as representing the world but as bringing the world ‘as worldhood’ into phenomenological existence for humanity. In other words—and in one respect, pace the primitivism of previous thinkers such as Herder and Hamann—poetry itself is organic and discloses our worldhood—whilst at the same time closing off the earth to us. Language presences the world for us and without this presencing there would not even be the requirement for philosophical correspondence to something “other”; there would in fact be no earth which is closed to us without it being in the first-place history arising out of language, or as he says elsewhere, “Language is the house of Being.”21   

      Thus, in Heideggerian organicism, the organic and mechanical are borne of language, language which is ultimately a linguistic concrete universal or totum that is not abstracted mechanically out of the various parts of the preexisting world (which would be language as compositum or abstract universal), but in fact precedes them and concretises them in human consciousness—thus it is organic in both the scholastic and the latter idealist sense.

     It is strangely paradoxical in that if we reread the romantics through this neoromantic framework, we ascertain that we see in them the origin of—on the one hand—the twentieth-century action of Gestell (framing) the world and thus removing ourselves from a more organic involvement with the world to a more mechanical one, whilst also poeticizing the world in such a way as to actually buan (dwell) in the world of Being. One of Heidegger’s poetic heroes is indeed the German romantic poet Hölderlin, from whom he borrows the phrase “man dwells poetically”.22 Dwelling in the world is an active verb-al process of doing. In contrast, framing reduces the world by disclosing it in new technological ways that take us further away from a more organic connection or “clearing” of the world. Therefore, the romantic organicism of Schlegel is a long way from dwelling in Being as Heidegger would have it, because it dislocates us from authentic Being by actually disclosing it in such a way as to promote a playful and allegorical distance from it. Whereas Heidegger would have it that authentic poetic thought or writing is organic in such a way as to open Being up to us rather than close it off—even if the earth is in some sense closed to us—because worldhood is opened to us through authentic, poetic, organic language.23   

     Heidegger also reestablishes the epistemic concept of aletheia (disclosure) in the sense that certain artifacts open up a world for us, or disclose our world, which is however not the same as representationalism, transcendental idealism or empirical realism as postulated by Kant; something to which the post-Kantian romantics and idealists responded to in kind; one may say even that this was a form of world-disclosure into which both latter groups remained subsumed, in terms of the coherence of their thought.

     Theoretically, the four-fold nature of Heidegger’s sense of clearing is revealed through poetic thinking, not to or by poetic thinking; the poet thinker or philosopher takes part in the four-fold process, which includes our worldhood of: earth, sky, mortals and gods, all functioning in a collective mirroring, all symbiotically thinging together. In examining his concept of “thinging” in the essay, The Thing (1951), he recalls the original German meaning of the word: “gathering” and contests that through the philological twists and turns of context-riven history, we have arrived at the modern etymology of “anything that exists, in any sense”, which is not only an extremely ambiguous meaning but one that has become central to everyday parlance. He sees this as endemic of our new representational disclosure of Being, or our technological sense of the world, from the Greek root of tikto: to bring forth or to produce.

     In the four-fold of earth, sky, mortals and gods being produced symbiotically, and through language, there is a clearing, roughly translated as ereignen, whereby the fourfold are gathered up in the old verbal sense of “thing” which thus conjugates to form the verb “thinging.” This symbiotic and verb-al event horizon is key to Heidegger’s answer to Husserl’s call to return to the things themselves; indeed, the things-in-themselves mystification instantiated by Kant is symptomatic of the fact that the verb-al and actionable processes that genuinely open up or presence Being for us have become mystified or, in grammatical terms, nominalized and turned into a series of frozen noun phrases, taking us further than ever away from the originary, actionable nature of language-as-Being—so treasured by the romantics. 

Because the word thing as used in Western metaphysics denotes that which is at all and is something in some way or other, the meaning of the name “thing” varies with the interpretation of that which is—of entities. Kant talks about things in the same way as Meister Eckhart and means by this term something that is. But for Kant, that which is becomes the object of a representing that runs its course in the self-consciousness of the human ego. The thing-in-itself means for Kant: the object-in-itself. To Kant, the character of the “in-itself” signifies that the object is an object in itself without reference to the human act of representing it, that is, without the opposing “ob-“ by which it is first of all put before this representing act. “Thing-in-itself,” thought in a rigorously Kantian way, means an object that is no object for us, because it is supposed to stand, stay put, without a possible before: for the human representational act that encounters it.24

Thus, things thing-ing have become nominalized in our mental grammar and are thus waiting to be re-presented through poetic thought; in actual fact, more than ever in our modern world of techne, whereby representationalism has taken such a firm hold and has reduced things to this gallery of modern Gestell. Consequently, Heidegger’s organicism is verb-al, however verbal in the sense of linguistic performativity, gathering the fourfold up for the lighting up or clearing in which we may truly dwell poetically and in which things are thing-ing and thus mutually illuminating their specular presencing. Heidegger’s sense is one of “letting be”—of clearing—in the sense that it does not direct us to a relationship with the products of nature; in authentic “worldhood” the world “worlding’ signifies the relationship of a mutually acknowledged ontological mirroring, or a “ringing.” However, the ringing is not a ringing-of some-thing, because this is in fact the world worlding. As Heidegger writes “Therefore, the round dance does not encompass the four like a hoop. The round dance is the ring that joins while it plays as mirroring.”25 The very verbal process of poetic gathering discloses a world without a sense of ontological distance for us. With this sense of organicism in mind, that I would like to briefly examine the two most philosophical of the English romantic poets, Coleridge and Shelley, and their particular organic encounters in the Vale of Chamonix.     

Organic encounters in the Vale of Chamonix

S. T. Coleridge’s credentials as a poet were never really in question, his reputation already being a good deal towards being fully secured after his conversational poems with Wordsworth during the Alfoxden period and the ensuing revolutionary volume of The Lyrical Ballads (1798).26 He recognised Wordsworth’s technical superiority as a poet and thus charged his friend with writing the philosophical epic, The Recluse. As a philosopher in his own right however, Coleridge was more successfully penetrating than is often recognized.27 His heady and eclectic combination of Platonic noesis, Neoplatonism, Behemenism, idealism and his formal logical system of pentads and tetrads all work in the service of a novel system of Coleridgean ‘Ideas’ that involves a multi-level structure crossed by a chiastic centre, ultimately enabling experience through inchoate contemplation that is approximate in many ways to Heidegger’s organic notion of the ‘dwelling in Being’, or in Coleridgean terminology his ideal realism.   

     Shelley’s own philosophical preoccupations were equally diverse, drawing on the deterministic French materialism of thinkers such as Baron d’Holbach, whilst emanating from an atheist centre, which only complicated his youthful thoughts on Godwinian perfectibility, which were cased in a rationalist and free conception of history; these fulminations are further complicated by Shelley’s interest in the British empirical tradition and the Humean scepticism in which this logically culminates.  Moreover, his Platonic faith in the transcendental notion of the One, expressed poetically in the Demogorgon’s claim in Prometheus Unbound that ‘the deep truth is imagless’28 in some respects mirrors Coleridge’s faith in inchoate contemplation and aesthetics providing a hieroglyphic cipher to the deeper logos—or for Shelley the One. These elements are what informs Shelley’s sceptical idealism.  It can certainly be concluded that of the British romantics, these poets were the most philosophically committed, and were both seeking ascent to the logos or a transcendental signified—in one way or another—through aesthetics. Therefore, it is of interest to explicate, in a philosophical light, their relative poetic excursions in the Vale of Chamonix.

     Coleridge’s poem “Chamouny; the Hour Before Sunrise. A Hymn” (1802),was in fact written about an experience he had on Scafell Peak, in the British Lake District. In his introductory preamble to the poem in the Morning Post, 11th September, 1802, he had asked “Who would be, who could be an atheist in this alley of wonders?”29A clear challenge to the militantly atheist Shelley. However, Coleridge had not even seen Chamouny at the time this poem was written, which begs obvious questions about the purported tenor of the poem. However, New Historicist assumptions aside, there are clear philosophical undertones in Coleridge’s depiction of the landscape in moving the poet’s contemplative horizon. In characterising the peak of the mountain, both Shelley and Coleridge remark the sense of sublime limit placed upon their reason when looking towards the apex—the analogon of the apeiron—of the mountain; Coleridge exclaims:

Deep is the sky, and black—transpicuous, deep,

An ebon mass. Methinks thou piercest it

As with a wedge! But when I look again,

It seems thy own calm home, thy crystal shrine,

Thy habituation from eternity.

Oh dread and silent form! I gazed upon thee

Till thou, still present to my bodily eye,

Didst vanish from my thought. Entranced in pray’r,

I worshipped the invisible alone.

Yet thou, meantime, wast working on my soul,

E’en like some deep enchanting melody,

So sweet, we know not we are list’ning to it.

But I awake, and with a busier mind

And active will self-conscious, offer now,

Not, as before, involuntary pray’r

And passive adoration.


The lyric poet moves from an associationist connection of imagery to a more organic troping; far from the imagery of the peak assuming the traditional and mechanical penetration metaphor of the deep sky, the sky becomes an organic “home” for the mountain top—and this has been the case “for eternity”. Moreover, as the speaker experiences the sublime “Oh dread and silent form!” which begins to work “on my soul’ the poets moves, through inchoate contemplation to a purer idea, and as with a palimpsest the original sensory sensation is written upon his soul. However, upon rising from his meditative state, in a move similar to the call for a visionary return in “Kubla Khan”, he calls through his active and “self-conscious” secondary imagination upon the scene to awaken for him, as the objective correlative to his numinous imaginative state.

     By way of a series of imperatives he raises the numinous question of creation, “Awake, awake! And thou, my heart, awake!” (24). Before answering his own call “Who with lovely flow’rs/ Of living blue spread garlands at your feet?/ ‘God, God! The torrents, like a shout of nations, Utter…(54-57). However here is the organic weakness of the poem—whilst it commences similarly to Wordsworth in poems such as Tintern Abbey, by moving from a physical landscape centripetally to the deeper recesses of the poet’s mind and soul, it signally fails to subsequently move in a centrifugal fashion back out towards the landscape, using devices such as Keats’ egotistical sublime.30 Coleridge adopts a position of active calling out towards the theodicy of the landscape, starting from his very corporeality, but fails to imaginatively infuse the world with the imaginative organic tool of poetics that will reflect the creativity of the  Natura Naturans; instead Coleridge calls upon the Natura Naturata of the landscape and in reality produces a poem genuinely restricted to the generic limits of a hymn. In Heideggerian terms, he summons the fourfold of the earth, sky, mortals and gods but fails to encapsulate the verb phrase “thinging” of gathering; the imperative mood of the verb fails to successfully switch to the indicative mood of the voice of the poet gathering these elements after summoning them to the forefront of his conscious mind. The elements that often create a ringing and a mirroring in Wordsworth’s vistas, often fail to reach beyond the state of a summons in much of Coleridge’s conversation poems with Wordsworth, and perhaps Coleridge realised this when asking Wordsworth to write the philosophic and imaginative answer to the Milton’s previous epic Paradise Lost.

     However, the poem’s final section slows the tone down to a canter and produces Coleridge’s reprise and arguably the best lines of the poem. He once again addresses the sublime mountain-scape itself, after listing the preceding metonymic and picturesque elements of the mountain itself, such as “meadow streams” (58), “silent snow mass” (60), “dreadless flow’rs” (61), “ye wild goats” (62). He says “Rise like a cloud of incense from the earth!/ Thou kingly spirit throned among the hills.” (73-74).  His tone switches to one of adpration and reverence for the organic sublimity of the whole, over and above the compositum of its metonymic parts. His final lines bring us once again closer to a gathering of the fourfold as he finds his poetic footing in an organic totum. However, the elements are called together in these final four lines but there is still a sense of lack…perhaps because we sense the lyric speaker still standing in a sense apart from the thing itself; the authentic fouring as Heidegger would phrase it is not quite accomplished:

Thou dread ambassador from earth to heav’n—

Great hierarch, tell thou the silent sky,

And tell the stars, and tell the rising sun,

Earth with her thousand voices calls on God!


The earthly mountain is connected to heaven by the sky and the stars and the sun are also ringing in these lines, however perhaps the fact that the mountain is instructed to call on God issues in a sense that this is a depiction and not a mirroring. The use of prosopopoeia in calling the mountain “dread ambassador” is perhaps why the best lines fall short of the perfection they call for? The sublimity of the landscape itself is enough to transport the lyric speaker and bring the fourfold together, the very dwelling in this poetic landscape, even for Coleridge the philosopher, in an inchoate manner, is perhaps enough to disclose an organic cipher to the eternal Reason as Logos. I turn now to Shelley’s very different depiction of the same (this time authentic) landscape, 14 years later.  

     Shelley’s encounter with Mont Blanc in the Vale of Chamonix concludes Mary Shelley’s travelogue History of a Six Week’s Tour (1817). Upon the Heideggerian anti-representationalist notion of romantic organicism I offer here, Shelley’s sceptical idealism produces fertile ground in this (at least in part) response to Coleridge’s poem. The address to the power of the imagination as a tool is key to understanding the first part of the poem, as Shelley reflects upon some Coleridgean images, drawn mainly from Coleridge’s seminal poem about both the power and the ironic and fragmentary limits of the secondary poetic imagination: Kubla Khan (1817). Shelley’s lines include “caves echoing the to the Arve’s commotion” (30), “the still cave of the witch poesy” (44), “vast caves/ Shine in the rushing torrents’ restless gleam,/ Which from those secret chasms in tumult welling” (120-122). Coleridge’s underground and unconscious rivers and caverns, that are “measureless to man” (Kubla Khan, 4), are metonymically framed by Shelley as the mountainous tributaries of the Arve—roaring forth from an uncertain source at the top of the mountain—which for Coleridge is the region of eternity—also the symbolic home of the mountain. Concomitantly, for Shelley the cloud-shrouded peak of Mont Blanc is “Where Power in likeness of the Arve comes down/ From the ice gulfs that gird his secret throne,/ Bursting through these dark mountains like the flame/ Of lightning through the tempest; thou dost lie.” 15-19). The simile of lightening hints at a possible Promethean allusion, and a possible allusion to Shakespeare’s The Tempest; both allusions potentially humanise the power of the imagination instead of attributing it to God. Shelley further seems to contradict Coleridge in humanist terms by claiming that

 -when I gaze on thee

I seem as in a trance sublime and strange

To muse on my own separate fantasy,

My own, my human mind, which passively

Now renders and receives fast influencings,

Holding an unremitting interchange

With the clear universe of things around;


For Coleridge the trance he falls into whilst in contemplation is signified by the perceptual condition of becoming “Entranced in pray’r,/ I worshipped the invisible alone.” Whereas Shelley’s empiricist and rationalist tendencies refer him back to his mind’s dialogue with the external world, Coleridge takes refuge and makes the intuitive leap to theism and to “passive adoration”. Shelley’s mind is far from made up, given his atheism and philosophical influences, with the deeper meaning of this experience of the sublime. This is the reason that Coleridge fails in thoroughly gathering up the fourfold of worldhood; Shelley is gathering up more and more of this experience and thus not setting himself up in a passive relationship with an omnipotent deity, which would mean not allowing the fourfold to properly thing in the first place. Moreover, an unremitting interchange is precisely the verbal way to keep one in the ringing and mirroring exchange of Being, to dwell in the sublimity of the house of Being.  

     The trope of an organic interchange or positive dialogue with the mirroring elements is further elaborated upon in one of the most famous sections of the poem, where Shelley elaborates upon the truly ambiguous nature of encounters with the sublime:

The wilderness has a mysterious tongue

Which teaches awful doubt, or faith so mild,

So solemn, so serene, that man may be

But for such faith with nature reconciled.

Thou hast a voice, great mountain, to repeal

Large codes of fraud and woe—not understood

By all, but which the wise, and great, and good

Interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel.


However, this anthropomorphism is not of the exact nature as Coleridge’s previous personification. It frames a roughly human aspect but takes an ambiguous turn; it may have a family resemblance to use Wittgenstein, however, it is only a resemblance and as with a lion we can’t truly understand what is said. There is something of an exchange and it may indeed produce the “faith so mild” of Wordsworth in Tintern Abbey; or it may equally be registered as “awful doubt” which is produced by the overall unheimlich (uncanny) effect of a natural event that dislodges us from a “homely” feeling, but in so doing produces an effect of organically re-housing the human subject. This is in either sense (or language game) an exchange, a ‘lesson’ and in whichever way we disclose the experience of the sublime, whether in the Wordsworthian game of the egotistical sublime, or the more Burkean sense of terror and the uncanny, we partake in an exchange, where our subjectivity is interrogated from both within and without and thus placed within an organic web of relations. We are dwelling in the world or ringing relations either way, and not in the passively theistic sense adumbrated by Coleridge in his ‘Chamouny’ experience.  An experience that signally fails to rehouse the human subject in a deeper relationship of continual interjections that necessitate our sense of Worldhood.   

     The poem’s final lines, notoriously ambiguous, are also perhaps, as with Coleridge, the most organic of the poem, but produce the most explicit statement of the interchange either previously sought for…or intimated by Shelley.

                     …The secret strength of things

Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome

Of heaven is as a law, inhabits thee!

And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,

If to the human mind’s imaginings

Silence and solitude were vacancy?


These lines are often read as perfect examples of Shelleyan scepticism, with a retention of the romantic idealism of the aesthetic imagination and its hermeneutic force. This reading couches the poem in the then prevailing ideas of organicism of the romantic period, incorporating the romantic irony or scepticism of the Frühromantik, or the positive Naturphilosophie of the post-Kantian German idealists—or even the transcendental idealism of Kant himself. On my more Heideggerian romantic reading, the rhetorical question indicates that there is an interchange that gives us a home in the world, allowing us to dwell both organically and poetically in the world—both phrases amount to the same thing. The ringing and mirroring of things thinging in the world, the mutual mirroring between dasein and the umwelt (the environment), this “secret law” of course inhabits a sublime mountain such as Mont Blanc. However, it is also a law that “governs all thought” and of necessity “the infinite dome of heaven”. Hence, even though Shelley is a self-avowed atheist, the ringing or mutual disclosure of worldhood necessarily entails fourfolding, thinging (gathering) and apophantic worlding to bring the world fully and comprehensively into existence for us. There could be no actual vacancy, or actually no “world” without the worlding that includes mortals as well as the gods.  These elements in effect have a phenomenologically geometrical essence—that call us back to our true home in wordlhood.


 To conclude, the philosophical romanticism that I posit here in light of the organicism, aestheticism, idealism and romanticism of the nineteenth-century provides the keys to what I purport to be a stronger and more resilient claim to a home in the world for the human subject, despite the Gestell, or advance of technology and current culture wars that have not only de-historicised our Being-in-the-World but also atomised our sense of home in the world, at not only at a geopolitical and environmental  level, but also at a more parochial, personal and community level. The only panacea for this atomisation is a radical and timely re-engagement with our collective sense of worldhood; one less fragmented, alienated and divisive. This may be implemented through timely aesthetic and philosophical engagement that provides for a new aesthetic education of humanity.

Wayne Deakin.

Chiang Mai University        


  1. Jay Bernstein outlines this view in his essay “Poesy and the Arbitrariness of the Sign: Notes for a critique of Jena romanticism” in Philosophical Romanticism, ed. Nikolas Kompridis. Routledge: London, 2007. pp. 143-172.
  2. There are of course a number of varying approaches to the concept of home, many of which differ from the ontological/epistemological rendering I offer here in the context of Romanticism. Other signal representations of this concept at differing points in modern intellectual history have been made by Thoreau in Walden (1854), Marx (in terms of the economic labour theory of value) in concepts such as of alienation and private property, in many works but for example the Grundrisse (1973), Freud in terms of unheimlichkeit [the uncanny] (1919); and in their overall oeuvre, Kafka and Kierkegaard in terms of existentialism; significant contributions have more recently been made by George (1996), Rouner (1996), Nussbaum (1996), Ignatieff (1993), Homi K Bhabha (1990) and bell hooks (1990). Novalis also responds to the irony of his Frühromantik peers by offering music as another type of response to the homelessness, or aporia, of modernity. His theory of the musicality of language as an echo of the infinite play of the universe, leads him to trace a more non-conceptual and aesthetic response to the philosophical drive of Gefühl, bypositing music as offering an at least occasional sense of ‘home’ for the mind. This type of argument for the non-conceptual significance of music, was also articulated in a different form connected to the will, by Arthur Schopenhauer and others that followed in his tradition.      
  3. The idea of organicism can be traced right back to Plato’s dialogue on Timaeus and the transcendent Demiurge and also in Aristotle’s biological teleology of the formal-final cause—traced contingently to his doctrine of the unmoved mover. The idea of anima mundi in various guises in the Stoics, the Neoplatonic Emanation theory of Plotinus, Giordano Bruno, (and other renaissance thinkers); it also crucially appears in the work of the 17th century Cambridge Platonists, More, Cudworth, Whichcote, et al., in their implicit defense of amongst many other things, Origen, and their equally implicit critique of the naturalism of Spinoza (whom I hold here to be, upon a philological reading, an organic thinker) and Hobbes. Crucially, Cudworth’s The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678)was studied in Latin at the Tübingen by Hegel, Schelling and Hölderlin. Hedley, Coleridge, Philosophy and Religion, 40-2, citing Michael Franz, Schellings Tübinger Platon-Studien, ch. 3. In Hedley’s paper Coleridge’s identification with Anglican Platonism is discussed at length and this identification of the role Cudworth’s book brings into sharp relief the question of the influence of Anglican Platonism on the German Idealists before their early “The so-called oldest system programme of German Idealism” (SP)of 1796. Thus, one may discern more than just a response to Kant’s regulative organicism in the call for a new form of religion.

          In addition, Goethe himself, like Aristotle, was trained as a biologist (as well as a theorist of aesthetics) and one clearly discerns this in his work both before and after his Italian Journey (1816-17), in which he develops a botanic theory of artistic creation. Back in England, in the eighteenth century, both Shaftesbury and Alexander Gerard also developed psychological and aesthetic organic theories that predated the latter German development of organicism, in both Gerard’s Essay on Genius (1774) and Shaftesbury’s earlier Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (1711), which includes the influential essay “Soliloquy, or Advice to an Author”(1710). Shaftesbury was immensely influential at the time and exerted an influence throughout France and the then Germanic States. His influence only waned along with the idealism of Bradley and others, after the development of twentieth century analytic philosophy.

  • Jacques Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. London: Routledge: 2002. pp. 20-21.
  • Roger Scruton, Green Philosophy: How to Think Seriously About the Planet. London: Atlantic, 2013. pp. 15-16.
  • Bonnie Honig, (1994). “Difference, Dilemmas, and the Politics of Home,” Social

Research. 61:3, 1994 (Fall). pp. 563-97.

  • See my own Hegel and the English Romantic Tradition. Palgrave-Macmillan: 2015, pp. 96-102 for an Hegelian discussion of the importance of home for Wordsworth.
  • Novalis, cited in Deakin, p.70.
  • In one sense it is not only Spinoza that can be deconstructed and read as both mechanistic and organic, as I outline here, but also even Newton himself, whose mechanistic view of the universe was the target of much of the critique of the organic thinkers. Newton hypothesized a ubiquitous God with free agency to “within his boundless uniform sensorium,”vitalise all living things in the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687). Kant had to respond to the aspect of Newton’s physics that posited a non-direct causality between objects at a distance, which ironically prompted his views on inertia and his entertainment of organicism as a regulatory principle. See M.H. Abrams, see The Mirror and The Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition. London: OUP, 1953. See especially chapters 7, 8 and 9.
  • Schopenhauer, in his magnum opus, The World as Will and Idea (1819) both assumed a unique access point into “the thing-in-itself” through the human unconscious, which he saw as an epistemological Rosetta stone. He also believed (contra Kant) that the blind force of will even existed in a blade of grass—thus he himself employed yet another species of organicism, whereby the world of representation could be transcended through our access to the universal driving force of the will. This in effect spurned another tradition of philosophy and psychology, that culminated in psychoanalysis, and moved away from the modern dialectical tradition started by Kant.  
  • Epigenesis was the theory that cells and eggs develop through stages into organs and eventually the mature body and one can see the connection made to all of life in general by Aristotle, first outlined in his On the Generation of Animals. The formal-final cause is also related to the theory of epigenesis, where we can clearly discern the influence of Aristotle’s training in biology. In the modern scientific paradigm, there have been more recent challenges made by the meta-theory of epigenetics. Therefore, we can now discern a new living idea of the organic in the form of epigenetics, which posits that cells essentially read genetic code like a script to be interpreted rather than a blueprint that produces the same result each time. This new area of biology promises interesting cross-disciplinary philosophical discussions in the near future—something that has already commenced with new discoveries in neuroscience. Anil K, Seth, for example, runs the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at Sussex University in the UK, which collaborates with neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, psychiatrists, brain imagers, VR technicians and philosophers. There will undoubtedly be more such interdisciplinary centres in the near future that will be localised around the idea of epigenetics. For more discussion of the recent discoveries in epigenetics, see Nessa Carey, The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology is Rewriting our Understanding of Genetics, Disease and Inheritance. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. 
  • F.W. Schelling, quoted in Frederick Beiser, “The Paradox of Romantic Metaphysics” in Philosophical Romanticism, p. 223.
  • Beiser, p. 228.
  • “The so-called oldest system programme of German Idealism”(SP). Trans. Andrew Bowie, in Andrew Bowie, Aesthetics and Subjectivity: From Kant to Nietzsche (2nd ed.). Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003. pp. 334-5.
  • Schiller’s seminal text, Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795) was hugely influential on the latter idealists and romantics.    
  • Friedrich Schlegel, Fragment 96 from “The Ideas” in Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments. Trans. Peter Firchow. Minnesota: University of Minnesota, 1971. p. 250.
  • Schlegel, Athenaeum Fragment 116. p. 175.
  • Bowie, p.65.
  • Ann K. Mellor, English Romantic Irony. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1980. Mellor discusses the work of Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Carlyle and even Lewis Carroll as examples of English Romantic irony. I argue both in my own Hegel and the English Romantic Tradition and here through Heidegger’s hermeneutics that while the English romantics don’t always move beyond the springes of romantic irony (or bad sense of infinity as Hegel would have it); they often do manage to re-house themselves in Being, or through Hegel’s concrete universal, they move dialectically beyond this particular gestalten (shape of consciousness). 
  • Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought. (Trans. Albert Hofstadter). New York: Harper and Row, 1971. p.74.
  • Martin Heidegger, “Letter on Humanism” in Lawrence Cahoon (ed). From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology. London: Blackwell, 2000. pp. 274-308. p. 275.
  • Poetry, Language and Thought, pp. 213-229.
  • This view also goes some way to concurring with Coleridge’s privileging of symbolic over allegorical language—as expounded in his Biographia Literaria (1817); although Coleridge’s theory was more theological than Heidegger’s and is closely connected to Goethe’s same idea on symbol and allegory, as expressed in his Maxims 1112-1113: “Allegory transforms the phenomenon into a concept, the concept into an image, but in such a way that the concept always remains bounded in the image, and is entirely to be kept and held in it, and to be expressed by it. Symbolism [however] transforms the phenomenon into idea, the idea into an image, and in such a way that the idea remains always infinitely active and unapproachable in the image, and even if expressed in all languages, still would remain inexpressible.” Goethe’s rendering however still leaves the possibility of space between the signifier and the signified, Heidegger’s organic theory of language contends that the authentic use of language enables us to “dwell in Being” and argues that being for both dasein and mitsein is both bound to and cleared through poetic language. Therefore, hermeneutical phenomenology closes the gap between signifier and signified, the structuralist linguistic theory that still retains the element of representationalism under critique in this type of phenomenology. It shouls also be noted that Novalis himself also saw more
  • Poetry, Language and Thought, pp. 176-77.
  • Poetry, Language and Thought, p. 180.
  • The Lyrical Ballads were first published in 1798, however the edition with the seminal ‘Preface’ was the 1800 edition, which was subsequently updated in the third (1802) edition.
  • Peter Cheyne, Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy, Oxford: OUP, 2020, goes a long way to restoring Coleridge back to his rightful place in the British philosophical tradition. Moreover, one can also discern a more logical picture in which to frame the three periods of Coleridge’s thought in Cheyne’s book. Coleridge’s contemplative philosophy is the praxis in which he secures more certainty about his noetic engagement with the Logos—more certainty than is often found in his poetry.  The architectonic of his poetic philosophy is arguably more stable than his philosophical poetry. However, Cheyne’s reading of the sequence of ‘Limbo’ poems convincingly argues for a rereading of Coleridge in light of a better appreciation of his philosophical system.
  • Shelley, Prometheus Unbound (1820), Act II, Scene IV, (116).
  • In Romanticism: An Anthology, ed. Duncan Wu. London: Blackwell, 2001, Wu cites Griggs, who quotes a letter from Coleridge to William Sotheby wherein Coleridge explains that he wrote the poem ‘when I was on Scafell. I involuntarily poured forth a hymn in the manner of the Psalms, though afterwards I thought the ideas etc. disproportionate to our humble mountains, and, accidentally lighting on a short note in some Swiss poems concerning the Vale of Chamouni and its mountains, I transferred myself thither, in the spirit, and adapted my former feelings to these grander external objects’. p. 505. This explanation regarding the formalism of the poem goes some way to explaining the somewhat vatic structure of the imperative mood of the verb and the questions in the main body of the poem. Both poems cited here are taken from the Wu anthology.
  • ‘The Egotistical Sublime’ was Keat’s theory in which he postulated that Wordsworth privileged his own human agency in his poems; and by symbolising psychic aspects such as the imagination in his experience of the sublime at the peak of Snowdon at the conclusion of The Prelude, Wordsworth was exercising the egotistical sublime. In Keat’s theory of poetics, this is an error as the poet should demonstrate “negative capability” and as such, remove his agency from the poem.         

The Ordure of Things: Coleridge’s Living Ideas and the Indivisible Remainder

Tim Milnes (University of Edinburgh)


Coleridge’s work abounds with the imagery of ‘life,’ ‘death’, and ‘life-in-death.’ One of the most significant, and characteristically Romantic features of his own thought, however, is the chiastic way in which it figures the relationship between ‘life’ and ‘thought’. On one hand, he developed vitalist theories about life in his ‘Essay on Scrofula’ and Theory of Life, according to which living ideas evolved from a foundational ungrund (the primordial and ineffable Prothesis) and, through a form of self-alienation (thesis-antithesis), gave rise to a new intellectual element—a ‘third something’ or ‘tertium aliquid’ (synthesis). At the same time, he was equally concerned with the life of and in ideas. He insisted, for instance, that philosophy could only complete itself as Christianity, which was not a philosophy of life but life itself. Coleridge’s philosophy of / as life reflects his twin aims, on one hand, to idealise organic life, and, on the other, to enliven and ‘organicise’ thought.

The problem with this chiastic philosophy of life / life-philosophy, as Tillotama Rajan and Greg Ellerman have argued, is that it contains within it a volatile kernel that Coleridge struggled to contain. ‘Life,’ as he conceived it, proved difficult to reconcile with his notion of the ideal. This incommensurability produced a lacuna within ‘living ideas’, a void which Coleridge would have encountered in his reading of Schelling’s middle-period Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom (1809) as the traumatic ‘indivisible remainder’ in the Absolute, an ‘incomprehensible base of reality in things’ that resists rationalisation and sublation. In always being ‘something’ more than itself, Coleridge’s synthetic tertium aliquid harbours troubling implications for his thought, for it bears the same indefinable ontological surplus as Schelling’s ‘indivisible remainder’. This essay argues that another name for this insufficiency of the real is what Coleridge calls the caput mortuum (‘dead head’), the abjected other of the tertium aliquid. Manifesting ‘life’ as pure, excessive drive, the caput mortuum threatens to erupt volcanically within Coleridge’s ‘living’ ideas, tipping sublime delight into abject disgust. The essay concludes that the central problem, not just of Coleridge’s Philosophy of Life, but also his ‘Life-Philosophy’, remains one of what to do with God’s waste.


Linking Mary Shelley with John Thelwall’s Vitality Discourse and its Radicalism

Kimiyo Ogawa (Sophia University, Tokyo)

In the early nineteenth century, debates about the nature of electricity blossomed (involving issues over the relation between body and soul), which was concatenated with the discussion of the properties of revolutionary communication and the mysteries of vitality. Like Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1794) and Wollstonecraft’s The Wrongs of Woman; or Maria (1798), while advocating humanitarian reform, John Thelwall’s The Daughter of Adoption (1801) associates the issue of vitality with radicalism. The setting is the French colony of ‘St. Domingo’ where Seraphina, a white Creole has been adopted by an expatriate English philosopher, Parkinson. She imbibes his radical principles, although Thelwall has his heroine experience the limits of such idealism. As the heroine, Seraphina, is brought to England, she comes to understand the physiological ‘springs that set in motion that complicated machine of the human heart’ (259) due to the social disparity between herself and her lover, Henry Montfort. Thelwall’s point is that this physiological ‘motion’ depends on the ‘vitality of the frame’ that constitute the material roots of sympathy — an embodied sympathy that is severed from intentionality, material and contingent yet not wholly passive. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) has also been associated with ‘Galvanism’, or galvanic electricity, which allegedly replaced the spirit or soul that more traditional thinkers associated with an animating life force. Given the powerful creation scene, which is heavily inclined towards material science, Shelley’s novel could be looked on as an exemplar of modernity and secularism. However, a careful observation of medical texts reveals that for Mary Shelley, as it was for many other contemporary writers, the life-giving ‘substance’ remained obscure, although some were happy to allow the suggestion of supernaturalism to haunt the more material precincts of science; in this last respect electricity, or ‘the electrical fluid’, served as a helpfully ambiguous metaphor for the mysterious substance of ‘vitality.’ In this paper, I will examine how Thelwall and Mary Shelley reiterate the themes of embodied subjectivity and the complex nature of ‘necessity’ and ‘agency’ also put forward in the earlier scientific writings by Erasmus Darwin, William Lawrence, John Abernethy and also by Thelwall himself (Essay Towards a Definition of Animal Vitality, 1793).


Short Bio

Kimiyo Ogawa is Professor of English Studies at Sophia University, Tokyo. Her research interests are medical discourses and Romantic writers, and among her recent publications are; “Cross-Channel Discourses of Sensibility: Madeleine de Scudéry, Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote and their Romantic Inheritors” in Early British Romanticism in a Continental Perspective: Into the Eurozone. Eds. S. Clark and T. Connolly (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) and “Nogami Yaeko’s Adaptations of Austen Novels: Allegorizing Women’s Bodies” in British Romanticism in Asia: The Reception, Translation, and Transformation of Romantic Literature in India and East Asia. Eds. Alex Watson and Laurence Williams (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).

Matter, Life and Signification

Daniel Whistler (Royal Holloway University)

Concepts of the symbol in romanticism and idealism were often developed out of nature-philosophical concerns; indeed, many of the Jena Romantics and those on the fringes of the movement (from Novalis and A.W. Schlegel to Schelling and Jean Paul) can be considered aesthetic naturalists, i.e. they attempted to understand artistic products naturephilosophically. In this paper, I want to focus on the complementary attempt to make sense of the text and of the linguistic sign in terms of a vital materialism in both German romanticism and beyond. I survey several ‘scenes’ in which this materialist conception of signification is thematised: Malabou’s reading of Kant’s third Critique, Novalis’ “Monologue”, Goethean morphology, Schelling’s and Coleridge’s concept of tautegory and later Lebensphilologie. My aim is to build up a cumulative case for the importance of a nineteenth-century tradition that understood linguistic signs as chunks of nature. I will further suggest, in particular, that this tradition became interested in those ‘crisis’ moments in a naturalist linguistics where the natural object fails to signify and nature appears as uninterpretable, resistant to all hermeneutic understandings.