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25 - Representation restructured

from Part IV - The Ends of Romanticism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 May 2009

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John Stuart Mill, in his essays on Jeremy Bentham and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, observes that ‘these two men’, though ‘they agreed in being closet-students’, ‘were destined to renew a lesson given to mankind by every age, and always disregarded – to show that speculative philosophy … is in reality the thing on earth which most influences’ mankind. Mill, in the first instance, stresses the points of contrast between the two. Thus, he paints Bentham as a figure who continually challenged the truth of standard formulations and was unwilling to accept views simply because they were customary and Coleridge as one who saw ‘the long duration of a belief’ to be ‘at least proof of an adaptation in it to some portion or other of the human mind’ (p. 100). Yet Mill’s account also helps to bring out certain similarities in their projects: both were crucial participants in a massive change in the understanding of representation that occurred within their lives and those of their Romantic contemporaries. When Mill refers to the Germano-Coleridgean legacy, he points to Coleridge’s role in bringing to England a specific appreciation for the Kantian claim that humans are not passive recipients of sensory experience but rather active originators of representations that make the perception of objects possible. The consequence, for Coleridge as for many others of Romantic-era England, was that human psychology, understood as the study of the basic laws of human nature, developed a powerful centrality.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2009

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