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The Romantic Absolute

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2011
JournalBritish Journal for the History of Philosophy
Journal number3
Volume19
Number of pages21
Pages497-517
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In this article I argue that the Early German Romantics understand the absolute, or being, to be an infinite whole encompassing all the things of the world and all their causal relations. The Romantics argue that we strive endlessly to know this whole but only acquire an expanding, increasingly systematic body of knowledge about finite things, a system of knowledge which can never be completed. We strive to know the whole, the Romantics claim, because we have an original feeling of it that motivates our striving. I then examine two different Romantic accounts of this feeling. The first, given by Novalis, is that feeling gives us a kind of access to the absolute which logically precedes any conceptualisation. I argue that this account is problematic and that a second account, offered by Friedrich Schlegel, is preferable. On this account, we feel the absolute in that we intuit it aesthetically in certain natural phenomena. This form of intuition is partly cognitive and partly non-cognitive, and therefore it motivates us to strive to convert our intuition into full knowledge.