Romanticism and the ethics of style

Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 91 (1):21-41 (2009)
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Abstract

Alexander Nehamas and others have recently attempted to revive a conception of ethics that is centered on self-formation and the values of aesthetic coherence. This conception faces several difficulties, including the lack of fit between models of aesthetic coherence in literary works and individual lives and an absence of determinate content. The argument of this paper is that both of these defects are absent from the work of one of the earliest and most vocal exponents of this conception of ethics, Friedrich von Hardenberg (1772–1801), better known by his pseudonym “Novalis”. The paper begins by reviewing the growing consensus among scholars that Novalis makes a serious contribution to philosophy, and by pointing out the lack of attention paid to his moral philosophy. His conception of moral life as an infinite process of approximation the archetypal unity of the divine is then explicated in detail. Particular attention is paid to the manner in which his model of moral life and conception of aesthetic coherence avoids some of the difficulties faced by more recent theorists.

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