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The Genealogy of the Romantic Symbol$
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Nicholas Halmi

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199212415

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199212415.001.0001

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Uses of Philosophy

Uses of Philosophy

(p.63) 3 Uses of Philosophy
The Genealogy of the Romantic Symbol

Nicholas Halmi (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter argues that the Enlightenment in its multiplicity made the Romantic concept of a universal and inherently meaningful symbolism not only intellectually desirable, but philosophically possible. Four developments, each entailing in its way a rejection of dualism, were crucial: (1) the non-subjectivist recuperation of sensible intuition in the disciplines comprising ‘ natural history’; (2) the interpretation of humanity's cognitive relation to nature in terms of a microcosm-macrocosm analogy; (3) the increased acceptance of metaphysical monism after the reported affirmation of Spinoza's philosophy by the much-admired Lessing; and (4) the replacement of mechanistic with vitalist theories of matter in the later 18th century. These developments were not necessarily compatible with each other: vitalism, for example, rejected the mechanistic concepts that Spinoza applied more rigorously and comprehensively than anyone else. But by a process of syncretic assimilation the Romantics, especially Schelling (with active encouragement from Goethe), undertook to develop out of the various anti-dualist tendencies in Enlightenment thought ‘a markedly unified interpretation of matter and spirit, of nature and history, as elements of a single ascending process’ — in short, the Naturphilosophie on which the claims for the symbol would be based.

Keywords:   Enlightenment, Romantics, symbol, natural history, humanity, nature, metaphysical monism, Spinoza, Lessing, vitalism

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