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Coleridge's encounter with Kantian ethics in the mid 1790s

Conference Presentation

Monika Class

on 26 January 2013

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Transcript of Coleridge's encounter with Kantian ethics in the mid 1790s

Within 12 months after the writing [...] my bold Optimism, and Necessitarianism, together with the Infra, seu plusquam-Socinianism, down to which, step by step, I had unbelieved, gave way to the day-break of a more genial and less shallow System. But I con-template with pleasure these Phases of Transition. (Coleridge PW I.1, 280; concerns the period 1795-96) 1830s 1 1820 1820s 1810s ‘I by no means recommend to you an extension of your philosophic researches beyond Kant. In him is contained all that can be learnt.’ (Coleridge, Letters V, 1223). ‘I reverence Immanuel Kant with my whole heart and soul; and believe him to be the only Philosopher, for all men who have the power of thinking. I can not conceive the liberal pursuit or profession, in which the service derived from a patient study of his works would not be incalculably great, both as cathartic, tonic and directly nutritious’ (Coleridge, Letters IV, 792). ‘I will just tell you how I proceeded myself, 20 years & more ago when I first felt a curiosity about Kant, & was fully aware that to master his meaning, as a system, would be a work of great Labor & long Time —(Coleridge, Letters V, 1222) ‘I enquired after all the more popular writings of Kant — read them with delight. — I then read the Prefaces to several of his systematic works, as the Prolegomena &c — here too every part, I understood, & that was nearly the whole, was replete with sound & plain tho' bold and novel truths to me’ (Coleridge, Letters V, 1223). Letter to James Gooden 1800s 1790s James Hutton There is a great Talent displayed in it [Investigations of the Principles of Knowledge]; and the Writer had made an important advance Step beyond Locke, Berkley [sic] & Hartley – and was clearly on the precincts of the Critical Philosophy – with which & the previous Treatises of Kant he appears to have had no acquaintance’ (STC Marginalia II, 1203-4) ‘But Kant, & all his School, are miserable Reasoners, in Psychology & particular Morals- bad analysts of aught but Notions’ (STC Marginalia III 253). - STC's surprise when reading the 'Groundwork' - Nitsch had familiarized him with a different version of Kantian morals. George Berkeley - influences on STC ‘One basic pillar of the Kantian system
rests on these concepts of sensations
as mere modifications of ourselves
(on which Berkeley, too, principally
builds his idealism), and of space and
time.’ Zugabe zu den Göttingischen
Anzeigen von gelehrten Sachen
(January 19, 1782): 40-8 trans. by
Brigitte Sassen Ralph Cudworth Freedom Categorical Imperative
in a review of Nitsch in

the 'British_Critic' The True Intellectual
System of
the Universe
borrowed May 1795
& Nov. 1796 A striking note in STC's notebook of 1796:
'By obliging every one always to do that which to him shall seem in the then present time and circumstances conducive to the public good: or by enjoining the observation of some determinate Laws, which if universally obeyed would produce universal happiness.- (Coleridge, Notebooks I, §249) Wenn ich mir einen hypothetischen Imperativ überhaupt denke, so weiß ich nicht zum voraus, was er enthalten werde: bis mir die Bedingung gegeben ist. Denke ich mir aber einen kategorischen Imperativ, so weiß ich sofort, was er enthalte. Denn da der Imperativ außer dem Gesetze gemäß zu sein, das Gesetz aber keine Bedingung enthält, auf die es eingeschränkt war, so bleibt nichts als die Allgemeinheit eines Gesetzes überhaupt übrig, welchem die Maxime der Handlung gemäß sein soll, und welche Gemäßheit allein der Imperativ eigentlich als notwendig vorstellt. Der kategorische Imperativ ist also nur ein einziger, und zwar dieser: handle nur nach derjenigen Maxime, durch die du zugleich wollen kannst, daß sie ein allgemeines Gesetz werde. (Kant, Grundlegung 420-21) ‘the highest good is practically possible, only upon the condition that VIRTUE BE THE CAUSE OF HAPPINESS’ (Nitsch, 1796, p. 217) I cannot represent, than by supposing myself
to have known only our light airy, modern chapels
of ease and then for the first time to have been
placed, and left alone, in one of our largest
Gothic cathedrals in a gusty moonlight
night of autumn.
(Biographia Literaria I, 301) Retrospectively, Coleridge conceives of the myth of the Kantian moonshine. the missing link!
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