Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Essays on the Principles of Method by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

If Coleridge were to Friend you it would mean no more than that you were to receive in the post a successor periodical to The Watchman. Rather that descrying the state of political life his intent was:

I do not write in this work for the Multitude; but for those , who by Rank, or Fortune, or official Situation, or Talents and Habits of Reflection, are to influence the Multitude. I write to found true Principles, to oppose false Principle, in Criticism, Legislation, Philosophy, Morals, and International Law.

Much the same Aims and Objectives which I myself espouse though I doubt S.T.C. had to deal with the machinations of the Illuminati. It was through the remarks of Owen Barfield on Essays on the Principles of Method in his book What Coleridge Thought that it first came to my attention. My particular edition of The Friend is that published by Princeton University Press in 2 Vols. Edited by Barbara Rooke. The second volume is a variorum containing emendations, historical background, index etc. which is of course fascinating but the actual text with notes but without index is in the first volume. The more important chapters are to be read here in a pdf (link not working but google on post title to get it) unfortunately the scanned copy of The Collected Works of S.T. Coleridge is hard to decipher in parts.

Collected Works
What interested me is the seeking after the anfractuose way of abduction that runs between the purely logical straight lines of induction and deduction. In a remarkable passage from his Table Talk he muses:

PHILOSOPHY OF YOUNG MEN AT THE PRESENT DAY.
I do not know whether I deceive myself, but it seems to me that the young men, who were my contemporaries, fixed certain principles in their minds, and followed them out to their legitimate consequences, in a way which I rarely witness now. No one seems to have any distinct convictions, right or wrong; the mind is completely at sea, rolling and pitching on the waves of facts and personal experiences. Mr. —— is, I suppose, one of the rising young men of the day; yet he went on talking, the other evening, and making remarks with great earnestness, some of which were palpably irreconcilable with each other. He told me that facts gave birth to, and were the absolute ground of, principles; to which I said, that unless he had a principle of selection, he would not have taken notice of those facts upon which he grounded his principle. You must have a lantern in your hand to give light, otherwise all the materials in the world are useless, for you cannot find them; and if you could, you could not arrange them. "But then," said Mr. ——, "that principle of selection came from facts!"—"To be sure!" I replied; "but there must have been again an antecedent light to see those antecedent facts. The relapse may be carried in imagination backwards for ever,—but go back as you may, you cannot come to a man without a previous aim or principle." He then asked me what I had to say to Bacon's induction: I told him I had a good deal to say, if need were; but that it was perhaps enough for the occasion to remark, that what he was evidently taking for the Baconian _in_duction was mere _de_duction—a very different thing.[1] [Footnote 1: As far as I can judge, the most complete and masterly thing ever done by Mr. Coleridge in prose, is the analysis and reconcilement of the Platonic and Baconian methods of philosophy, contained in the third volume of the Friend, from p. 176 to 216. No edition of the Novum Organum should ever be published without a transcript of it.—ED.]

He likens the natural philosopher to the sage who attempts to put himself into a receptive state of tension:

We have seen that a previous act and conception of the mind is indispensible even in the mere semblance of Method; that neither fashion, mode, nor orderly arrangement can be produced without a prior purpose, and “a pre-cogitation, ad intentionem eius quod queritur,” though this purpose may have been itself excited, and this “pre-cogitation” extracted from the perceived likeness and differences of the objects to be arranged. But it has likewise been shown, that fashion, mode, ordonnance, are not Method, inasmuch as all Method supposes A PRINCIPLE OF UNITY WITH PROGRESSION; in other words, progressive transition without breach of continuity. But such a principle, it has been proved, can never in the sciences of experiment or in those of observation be adequately supplied by a theory built on generalization. For what shall determine the mind to abstract and generalize one common point rather than another; and within what limits, from what number of individual objects, shall the generalization be made ? The theory must still require a prior theory for its own legitimate construction.

‘Intentio’ is ‘straining after’ (White’s Latin Dictionary) which sense is retained in the philosophical concept of intentionality. It is this very straining after, this tension, this aporia, the I don’t know how to go feeling that is creative. A new comprehension is required. The emergence of the creative solution involves finding a catalyst that crystallizes the new vision and it is inspririted by the stuckness.

This instinct, again, is itself but the form, in which the idea, the mental correlative of the law, first announces its incipient germination in his own mind : and hence proceeds the striving after unity of principle through all the diversity of forms, with a feeling resembling that which accompanies our endeavors to recollect a forgotten name, when we seem at once to have and not to have it; which the memory feels but can not find. 

The catalyst Coleridge calls a protophenomenon:

The naturalist, who can not or will not see, that one fact is often worth a thousand, as including them all in itself, and that it first makes all the other facts,—who has not the head to comprehend, the soul to reverence, a central experiment or observation (what the Greeks would perhaps have called a 'protophenomenon’), —will never receive an auspicious answer from the oracle of nature.
(from Essay VII)

No comments: