Coleridge, Samuel Taylor (1772–1834)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC015-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 07, 2021, from

Article Summary

Although much of Coleridge’s life and his best critical and creative powers were devoted to the attempt to develop a philosophical system, he is less well known as a philosopher than as a romantic poet. This is partly because many of his writings remained unpublished until recent years; they now shed new light on the extent of his knowledge of intellectual history, and on the significance of his philosophical synthesis.

As a young man, Coleridge was attracted by the materialist philosophies and theories of human nature which had become part of the Enlightenment’s ‘Science of Man’. These coincided with his support for the drive towards progress and human brotherhood which he thought inspired the French Revolution. At Cambridge (1791–4) religious doubt accompanied his radical politics and he turned from orthodox Christianity to Unitarianism.

Gradually, however, he became dissatisfied with the ‘mechanistic’ reductive principles of British eighteenth-century thought. His visit to Germany (1798–9) and his subsequent study of German ideas convinced him that here was a spectrum of philosophical insights which was more adequate to the whole of human nature; one through which ‘head and heart’ might be reconciled.

Coleridge’s work reflects his experience of a world subject to violent revolutionary upheavals and his sense of widespread intellectual and moral confusion. Becoming convinced in the early years of the nineteenth century of both the intellectual and spiritual value of Christianity, he sought to re-establish a unity between religious faith and experience and critical philosophy. His ‘ideal Realism’ reconciled elements of Greek and German philosophy with reinterpretations of Judaeo-Christian themes and doctrines, and with the moral lessons he believed history provided. Any sound philosophy must, he insisted, do justice to every aspect of human nature. He declared that he was not concerned to be ‘original’ but to provide a new synthesis, and boldly claimed to have been the first to have ‘attempted to reduce all knowledges into harmony’; although his copious notes intended for an Opus Maximum, the ‘Logosophia’, were never organized into publishable form.

    Citing this article:
    Perkins, Mary Anne. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor (1772–1834), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC015-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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