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  • Coleridge's Contemplative Philosophy by Peter Cheyne
  • Dale E. Snow
Peter Cheyne. Coleridge's Contemplative Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. Pp. xviii + 373. Cloth, £70.00.

Peter Cheyne may have understood Coleridge better than the latter understood himself. This book provides an extensive road map to many of the highways and byways Coleridge wandered down in both prose and poetry, and it does so without ever losing sight of the ultimate goal of the journey: a philosophy of contemplative ideas, an ideal-realism that brought together these many disparate influences. For Cheyne, Coleridge is a thinker of the first rank, whose achievement—the philosophy of contemplation, which presents a "view of intuitive reason and its ideas that shape humanity" (3)—could have great value for the future direction of philosophy.

Although Cheyne identifies three main periods in Coleridge's intellectual activity, an imagination period (1795–1816), a period focused on the philosophy of ideas (1816–30), and a theological period (1822–34), it is clear from the outset that he will draw upon all three to fully sketch the contemplative philosophy of ideas. He masterfully combines Coleridge's published works, letters, notebooks, marginalia, unpublished manuscripts, and fragments to create a comprehensive portrait of his evolution as a thinker.

Cheyne points out that "no standard interpretation of Coleridge … as philosopher and critic exists" (38). This is due in part to the inaccessibility of much of his work, in part to the extent and heterogeneity of his learning, and finally to questions about the relationship of Coleridge's philosophy to German idealism. All three of these issues are dealt with in detail. Cheyne brings to the task a formidable level of conviction that there is a central philosophical vision to be found in Coleridge, a claim disputed in the literature. A key strength of his presentation is his discussion of Coleridge's place in the philosophical traditions that he learned from and tried to bring together. Here I would highlight the nuanced discussion of Coleridge's relationship to Neoplatonism. The emphasis on the Socratic and practical elements of Coleridge's thought is also illuminating.

Another insightful analysis is provided in chapter 5 with the handling of Coleridge's relationship with Jakob Böhme and, later, with Friedrich Schelling. Coleridge encountered Böhme as an adolescent, and, as Cheyne informs us, he was the writer whose works Coleridge annotated most extensively. Böhme's significance lay both in his sheer ardor for the divine, and more directly in his demonstrating the power of a dynamic logic of qualities, which became the guiding inspiration for Coleridge's "Order of the Mental Powers" (131, 172), which he developed through his reading of Richard of St. Victor and an idiosyncratic rereading of Plato's Divided Line. In portraying Coleridge's journey beyond the empiricist and mechanically reductive theories he had embraced in his youth, Cheyne shows the inspiration and model for the organicist theory of mind Coleridge eventually adopted. A characteristic feature of this theory of mind is the distinction between the higher and the lower senses of reason (170–71).

Chapter 7 is focused on Coleridge's modified Platonism. Cheyne calls him a "post-Kantian Christian Neoplatonist" (222), which, cumbersome as it sounds, does combine the three main influences Coleridge labored to synthesize. He was a post-Kantian because he had been taught by Kant to seek the principles constitutive of knowledge and experience; he was Christian out of lived conviction; and he was a Neoplatonist in the sense that he found all reality to depend on a higher truth. Coleridge's originality lay in his insight that certain ideas of reason interpenetrated human social reality in ways that created cultural realities and helped to define humanity itself. In his Church and State (1829), Coleridge had argued for the development of human institutions as guided by their ideas, an insight later developed by others such as John Henry Newman, T. S. Eliot, and George Steiner.

Another of the standout chapters in this ambitious book that must at least be mentioned is the highly detailed (and technical) discussion of Coleridge's pentadic logic, which is the subject of chapter 9. It is a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 336-337
Launched on MUSE
2021-04-26
Open Access
No
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