Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Coleridge on Metaphysics


I AM fully aware, that what I am writing and have written (in these latter essays at least) will expose me to the censure of some, as bewildering myself and readers with metaphysics; to the ridicule of others as a schoolboy declaimer on old and worn-out truisms or exploded fancies; and to the objection of most as obscure. The last real or supposed defect has already received an answer both in the preceding essays, and in the appendix to my first Lay-Sermon, entitled The Statesman's Manual. Of the former two, I shall take the present opportunity of declaring my sentiments ; especially as I have already received a hint that my idol, Milton, has represented metaphysics as the subject which the bad spirits in hell delight in discussing. And truly, if I had exerted my subtlety and invention in persuading myself and others that we are but living machines, and that, as one of the late followers of Hobbes and Hartley has expressed the system, the assassin and his dagger are equally fit objects of moral esteem and abhorrence; or if with a writer of wider influence and higher authority, I had reduced all virtue to a selfish prudence eked out by superstition,— for, assuredly, a creed which takes its central point in conscious selfishness, whatever be the forms or names that act on the selfish passion, a ghost or a constable, can have but a distant relationship to that religion, which places its essence in our loving our neighbour as ourselves, and God above all,—I know not, by what arguments I could repel the sarcasm. But what are my metaphysics ? merely the referring of the mind to its own consciousness for truths indispensable to its own happiness! To what purpose do I, or am I about to, employ them? To perplex our clearest notions and living moral instincts ? To deaden the feelings of will and free power, to extinguish the light of love and of conscience, to make myself and others worthless, soulless, God-less ? No! to expose the folly and the legerdemain of those who have thus abused the blessed machine of language; to support all old and venerable truths; and by them to support, to kindle, to project the spirit; to make the reason spread light over our feelings, to make our feelings, with their vital warmth, actualize our reason:—these are my objects, these are my subjects; and are these the metaphysics which the bad spirits in hell delight in ?
(from The Friend Essay XV by S.T.C.)



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