(Re)encountering Individuality: Schlegel's Romantic Imperative as a Response to Nihilism

Inquiry 54 (6):567 - 590 (2011)
According to Friedrich Schlegel: "The Romantic imperative demands [that] all nature and science should become art [and] art should become nature and science"; "[P]oetry and philosophy should be made unified?, and ?life and society [should be made] poetic". The aim of this paper is to explain why Schlegel believes that this is an imperative that constrains philosophy and ordinary life. I argue that the answer to this question requires that we regard the Romantic imperative as a response to the skeptical worry that was introduced by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi as nihilism. The aspect of nihilism that I discuss concerns the worry that we are incapable of experiencing individuals qua individuals. According to Schlegel, this skeptical threat requires a reorientation in thought and philosophical method, one that must be modeled on the aesthetic orientation towards the world. More precisely, the experience of individuals qua individuals, which is called into question by the nihilist, depends on the special normative structure of the creative and critical attitude towards art and beauty that Schlegel called Romantic Poesie. Kant failed to address nihilism because he failed to recognize that the normative structure that he himself ascribed to the judgment of taste is required also for experiencing individuals as individuals, and for being properly responsive to persons
Keywords Romanticism  Nihilism  Kant
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DOI 10.1080/0020174X.2011.628078
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