‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Very Brief, One Paragraph History of European 18th-century Philosophy

18th-century philosophers thought and wrote about many things, and many of these philosophers were very clever people. That said, one debate in particular dominated their discourse: what Jerry Fodor recently called 'mind-stuff versus matter stuff':
One might hold that the world isn’t made entirely of matter ... [that] there is also a fundamentally different kind of stuff – mind-stuff, call it – and consciousness resides in that. Notoriously, however, this view has hard problems of its own. For example, if matter-stuff and mind-stuff are of fundamentally different kinds, how are causal relations between them possible? How is it possible that eating should be caused by feeling peckish or feeling peckish by not eating? For this and other reasons, mind-stuff has mostly fallen out of fashion. [LRB, Vol. 29 No. 10: 24 May 2007; page 9]
Many 18th-century thinkers were motivated by a desire, the grounds and strength of which I don't have time to speculate about here, to retain the revealed religion known as 'Christianity' as part of their way of talking about the world. This meant they had to find a place for God, and an immortal human soul, in their world-views. Descartes suggested that human beings are bodies + souls, the mind-stuff going through a magic router called 'the pineal gland' to enable it to interact with the matter-stuff. But, for reasons akin to the ones to which Fodor alludes, plenty of people weren't persuaded by that. Other philosophers (Hume, Hartley, Priestly) claimed that there was nothing but matter-stuff, and mind-stuff was just an effect of the way the matter-stuff of the brain operated, not unlike (although this isn't, of course, an analogy any of those gentlemen used) 'speed' emerges from the proper operation of a motorcycle. Hartley believed in God, and used half his most famous book presenting 'proofs' for His existence; but since his account of human beings was entirely material some people accused him of inconsistency. Priestly (who is interesting here predominantly as a disseminator and analyst of Hartley) had an ingenious theory of his own that managed to keep Christianity as 'true' without sacrificing Hartley's materialism. Berkeley approached the problem from the other side, and denied that there was anything called 'matter' -- he thought that everything is 'mind-stuff'. But not many people believed him. So there was a breach, between 'soul' and world, that haunted the thinkers of the 18th-century; and it haunted them in part because they worried that the path of truth might compel them to give up 'soul' altogether. This is one reason why Kant proved so influential: he argued, in the Pure Reason critique, that 'mind' and 'world' were not separate entities after all, because key aspects of the world (dimension, causality etc.) were actually the way the soul itself was structured. Coleridge and the second-generation Romantics he inspired took this to be a great healing of the breach. I'm not sure they were right, though.

1 comment:

  1. This reblogged from Another Place, partly because I want to try and tidy things up at (and sometimes salvage things from) my other blogs prior to closing them down; but mostly because (as I explained at the Morphosal beginning) I'm using this blog as a holding pen for orts, scraps and ideas connected with my proper research. Landor is done, now; so from here on in I'll be doing lots of Biographia Literaria related stuff. This is that. It's certainly not something worth salvaging on its own right.