The Romantic Absolute Being and Knowing in Early German Romantic Philosophy, 1795-1804
by Dalia Nassar
University of Chicago Press, 2013
Cloth: 978-0-226-08406-0 | Electronic: 978-0-226-08423-7
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.001.0001
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

The absolute was one of the most significant philosophical concepts in the early nineteenth century, particularly for the German romantics. Its exact meaning and its role within philosophical romanticism remain, however, a highly contested topic among contemporary scholars.  In The Romantic Absolute, Dalia Nassar offers an illuminating new assessment of the romantics and their understanding of the absolute. In doing so, she fills an important gap in the history of philosophy, especially with respect to the crucial period between Kant and Hegel.
            
Scholars today interpret philosophical romanticism along two competing lines: one emphasizes the romantics’ concern with epistemology, the other their concern with metaphysics. Through careful textual analysis and systematic reconstruction of the work of three major romantics—Novalis, Friedrich Schlegel, and Friedrich Schelling—Nassar shows that neither interpretation is fully satisfying. Rather, she argues, one needs to approach the absolute from both perspectives. Rescuing these philosophers from frequent misunderstanding, and even dismissal, she articulates not only a new angle on the philosophical foundations of romanticism but on the meaning and significance of the notion of the absolute itself.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Dalia Nassar is assistant professor of philosophy at Villanova University and an Australian Research Council Fellow at the University of Sydney. She lives in Sydney, Australia. 

REVIEWS

The Romantic Absolute is an excellent book. Dalia Nassar has a superb command of the very difficult materials she deals with and makes a strong case for the significance of ‘romantic philosophy’ by offering extensive readings of Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg), Friedrich Schlegel, and Friedrich Schelling. Not simply carving out a little niche but addressing the core issue in Germany around 1800, she thinks along with these thinkers, unfolding how they explore different versions of the ‘absolute.’”
— John H. Smith, University of California, Irvine

“In TheRomantic Absolute, Dalia Nassar explores the treacherous philosophical territory between Kant and Hegel, which is the reserve of the early romantics: the poet Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis), the classicist Friedrich Schlegel, and the boy-philosopher Friedrich Schelling. Danger lurks here. Without a reliable guide, the reader can quickly tumble into crevasses of incomprehension. Nassar provides such a guide. With articulate verve, she shows how the romantics construed nature and mind as identical, how in Schelling’s terms nature was the poetry of mind and mind the outgrowth of nature. Following a careful path through thickets of disputing critics, she illuminates the darker areas of German romanticism and protects the reader from sliding into the slough of despond.”
— Robert J. Richards, University of Chicago

“Dalia Nassar’s The Romantic Absolute is an excellent book. It focuses on the still relatively neglected topic of the metaphysical and epistemological foundations of German romanticism. Nassar argues for interpreting the leading romantics as constructive metaphysicians (a reading which leads her to include Friedrich Schelling as one of them). Her historical scholarship is first-rate, her critical discussion of other secondary literature consistently illuminating, and she writes with a rare combination of linguistic mastery and intellectual clarity that makes her book a pleasure to read.”
— Michael Forster, Bonn University

“An engaging book on the philosophical movement known as German Romanticism. . . . Nassar’s treatment of her principal subjects is first-rate, and her grasp of both primary texts and recent secondary literature impressive. Her writing is clear and accessible despite the thorny technical vocabulary of her subjects. While this is not a comprehensive history of philosophical Romanticism, Nassar is deeply conversant with the intellectual and cultural milieus of the era and puts this knowledge to good use when contextualizing and illuminating her subjects.”
— D. C. Kolb, Choice

“Romanticism is a complex and many faceted phenomenon, and our understanding of (and wonder at) this fascinating movement can only gain by the multiplicity of perspectives with which scholars have approached it. Nassar’s book gives us one of the most interesting and insightful philosophical approaches I have read and will no doubt be a landmark in the scholarship for some time to come.”
— Judith Norman, Notre Dame Philosophical Review

“Modern scholarship on classical German philosophy has demonstrated the role of early Romanticism in defining the post-Kantian intellectual agenda. Dalia Nassar’s excellent study of three members of the movement, Novalis, F. Schlegel, and Schelling, provides an illuminating account of how their common concern to develop a philosophy of the ‘Absolute’, together with the conceptual challenges inherent to such a project, shaped their ideas and generated distinctive profiles. . . . For students approaching the subject for the first time, Nassar’s book provides a highly readable, reliable, and informative introduction to key themes and figures (including discussion of relations to Kant, Fichte, Jacobi, and—notably—Goethe). Seasoned scholars of the period will also find plenty to keep them thinking, in Nassar’s problem-oriented analyses and eye-opening comparisons. Required reading for those interested in the field.”
— Brady Bowman, Australasian Journal of Philosophy

"Dalia Nassar’s recent book contributes to the on-going debate around the relation between early German Romanticism and German Idealism, with a focus on three thinkers and a cluster of topics related to the vexing topic of the Absolute. . . . The Absolute is at the heart of much of the philosophical work of each of these thinkers, and it is a subject worthy of close, sustained attention. The endeavor to provide a unifying account of the romantic Absolute is certainly a valuable enterprise."
— Journal for the History of Modern Theology

TABLE OF CONTENTS

- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0001
This chapter is available at:
    https://academic.oup.com/chica...

- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0002
[Friedrich von Hardenberg, Fichte-Studien, Fichte, Wissenschaftslehre, transcendental philosophy, German romanticism, German idealism, history of philosophy, the unconditioned, the absolute]
This chapter focuses on Novalis’ so-called Fichte-Studien (1795-6), which Manfred Frank has described as the “most important contribution to philosophical romanticism.” It considers two competing interpretations of the Fichte-Studien and of Novalis’ relationship to Fichte, and argues that both overemphasize the significance and coherence of the text. The chapter illustrates that in these early notes, Novalis develops two mutually exclusive conceptions of being, only one of which remains in his later writings, and show that the conception of the work of art presented in the Fichte-Studien does not suggest an original or unique understanding of the meaning or role of art— but in fact mirrors Fichte’s understanding. The chapter concludes with the claim that, while the Fichte-Studien can offer insights into Novalis’ questions and concerns, it does not offer a consistent and cohesive philosophical worldview and must therefore be read alongside Novalis’ later writings. (pages 19 - 38)
This chapter is available at:
    https://academic.oup.com/chica...

- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0003
[Friedrich von Hardenberg, Novalis, Kant, transcendental philosophy, German romanticism, German idealism, Hemsterhuis, history of philosophy]
This chapter traces the development of Novalis’ conception of the self, following his engagement with the Dutch philosopher, Franz Hemsterhuis and his interest in Kant. It shows that it is in his studies of the two thinkers that Novalis develops a relational conception of the self and reality, and begins to formulate his ideal of knowledge. In contrast to recent interpretations of Novalis as a Kantian, the chapter argues that Novalis criticizes Kant’s conception of the moral self and its relation to others and to the world. Thus, although he retains Fichte’s understanding of the self as primarily active, Novalis emphasizes that morality involves affectivity, relationality and harmony, and criticizes both Fichte and Kant for their apparently one-sided approaches to morality. (pages 39 - 47)
This chapter is available at:
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- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0004
[Friedrich von Hardenberg, Goethe, romantic science, Goethe’s science, romantic novel, romanticism, Romanticizing, German romanticism, Naturphilosophie, history of philosophy]
This chapter offers a discussion of Novalis’ philosophy of nature, and his parallel concern with education and moral development. It argues that in both instances, Novalis is concerned with “romanticizing” the world— whether it be through discerning the ideal in the real (nature), or instantiating the ideal through moral action— and argues that, for Novalis, understanding nature and undertaking moral action are interdependent activities. The chapter offers a detailed account of Novalis’ turn to the study of nature in 1797-98, demonstrates the significance and influence of Goethe on Novalis’ scientific practice, in particular, Goethe’s use of imagination in his study of nature. It then moves to explore Novalis’ notion of moral harmony, and shows that for Novalis, the activity of nature remains incomplete without moral activity. (pages 48 - 70)
This chapter is available at:
    https://academic.oup.com/chica...

- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0005
[Friedrich von Hardenberg, Novalis, romantic encyclopedia, Friedrich Schlegel, romantic fragment, philosophy of nature, Naturphilosophie, history of philosophy, German romanticism]
This chapter explores the meaning and implication of this claim, and elaborates Novalis’ conception of an “encyclopedia” of knowledge. It argues that for Novalis the artistic or creative mind is most able to grasp nature, precisely because the artist, through the creation of works of art or “living thoughts,” partakes in the activity or productivity of nature. The chapter illustrates that, although the work of the creative mind transforms nature, this transformation does not imply falsification, but a higher manifestation of nature— a manifestation that discerns the fundamental characteristics of the natural phenomena and articulates them with intention and clarity. It also shows that for Novalis, the encyclopedia of knowledge is not a closed and static system, but a dynamic open system, constructed to mirror the growth and development of the natural organism. (pages 71 - 76)
This chapter is available at:
    https://academic.oup.com/chica...

- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0006
[Friedrich von Hardenberg, Novalis, Romanticizing, German romanticism, German idealism, the absolute, history of philosophy]
This chapter offers a brief summary of the preceding chapters, by recounting key moments in Novalis’ development and pointing to his most important influences. It argues that although Novalis is deeply indebted to Kant, Fichte, Hemsterhuis and Goethe, he ultimately developed his own philosophical perspectives and goals, which sought to synthesize transcendental philosophy with his artistic insights and his interest in the natural sciences of his time. Its conclude that in Novalis we see a very particular brand of idealism, what he himself terms “empirical idealism,” and argues, in opposition to Frank, that for Novalis romanticism cannot be separated from idealism— that is, from the work of idealizing the real and realizing the ideal. (pages 77 - 80)
This chapter is available at:
    https://academic.oup.com/chica...

- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0007
[Friedrich Schlegel, Jacobi, Woldemar, Fichte, Wissenschaftslehre, transcendental philosophy, Wechselerweis, German romanticism, German idealism, the absolute]
This chapter explores Schlegel’s earliest philosophical writings, including his review of Jacobi’s novel, Woldemar and critical notes on the Wissenschaftslehre from 1795-96. It elaborates Schlegel’s critique of Jacobi and of the notion of the unconditioned, and argues that for Schlegel, the idea of an unconditioned principle is problematic for two reasons. First, it implies an unjustified presupposition of the task and object of philosophy. Second, as unconditioned, the first principle of a system of knowledge necessarily remains outside of the system (outside of determination). Thus, although it determines the system, it remains undetermined, and hence unknown from within the system. The chapter concludes with an explication of Schlegel’s alternative to the notion of an unconditioned and the method of transcendental philosophy. (pages 89 - 97)
This chapter is available at:
    https://academic.oup.com/chica...

- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0008
[Friedrich Schlegel, transcendental idealism, Fichte, Kant, German idealism, German romanticism, hermeneutics, history of philosophy, the absolute]
This chapter explores the transition in Schlegel’s thought from transcendental philosophy or epistemology to ontology. In contrast to widespread interpretations of Schlegel as an epistemologist, the chapter illustrates that Schlegel’s goal was to develop a philosophy of life and nature. It locates the transition in Schlegel’s thought in his 1800-1801 Jena Lectures on Transcendental Idealism. In addition, the chapter argues that Schlegel’s conceptions of truth and knowledge are not— as has been widely thought— skeptical, but idealistic, and proposes that Schlegel develops a “hermeneutic idealism,” in which truth and knowledge are not simply determined within a context, but also realized through the work of a creative mind. It explores Schlegel’s notion of mind as the ground of both the subjective or reflective intellect and objective reality, and illustrates how, through the notion of a universal consciousness, Schlegel makes the transition from epistemology or transcendental philosophy to ontology or metaphysics. (pages 98 - 114)
This chapter is available at:
    https://academic.oup.com/chica...

- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0009
[Friedrich Schlegel, German idealism, German romanticism, philosophy of nature, Naturphilosophie, romantic science, the absolute, history of philosophy]
This chapter explores Schlegel’s understanding of the relationship between the infinite and the finite, and shows how Schlegel seeks to conceive the relation in decisively different terms from the relation between the unconditioned and conditioned. It argues that the infinite and finite are not two separate or distinct entities, such that the infinite precedes and predetermines the finite. Rather, the infinite and finite are reciprocally conditioning and conditioned grounds— the infinite is only in and through the finite, and vice versa. The chapter also illustrates that, according to Schlegel, being or reality is necessarily historical because it is always in a state of transition— the infinite becoming finite, and the finite becoming infinite. The chapter concludes with an exploration of Schlegel’s notion of “infinite becoming” and his view that nature is historical. (pages 115 - 125)
This chapter is available at:
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- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0010
[Friedrich Schlegel, German romanticism, romantic novel, romantic fragment, romantic poetry, transcendental philosophy, system of fragments, history of philosophy, Lucinde, romantic encyclopedia]
This chapter investigates Schlegel’s notion of fragment and explicates the way in which Schlegel employed the metaphor of the plant to construct his ideal of a “system of fragments.” In opposition to the widespread interpretation of Schlegel’s conception of the fragment, it argues that although the fragment resists closure, this does not imply that fragments are in a state of infinite struggle or contradiction. By contrast, the chapter illustrates that Schlegel’s goal was to construct a system in which the fragments form a harmonizing whole, which he likens to the unity in a work of music. The chapter concludes with an exploration of the relation between natural and artistic products, through an investigation of Schlegel’s notion of an encyclopedia and his novel, Lucinde. (pages 126 - 154)
This chapter is available at:
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- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0011
[Friedrich Schlegel, German romanticism, transcendental philosophy, system of fragments, the absolute, history of philosophy]
This chapter is a brief recapitulation of Part Two. It indicates that Schlegel’s key contributions to the history of philosophy consist in his move beyond subjective transcendental idealism, in the historicization of being or nature (and thus of philosophy), and in the development of new systematic ideals and methods. (pages 155 - 156)
This chapter is available at:
    https://academic.oup.com/chica...

- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0012
[Friedrich Schelling, Fichte, Spinoza, German idealism, intellectual intuition, the absolute, the absolute I, third kind of knowledge, transcendental philosophy, history of philosophy]
This chapter examines Schelling’s earliest philosophical writings, and argues that until 1796, Schelling was much more influenced by Spinoza than by Fichte. It illustrate that although Schelling shared fundamental questions and concerns with Fichte, in his early works he employed Fichtean terminology to explicate Spinozist ideas. In deep contrast to the widespread view of the early Schelling as a disciple of Fichte, the chapter shows that Schelling’s conception of intellectual intuition, which he first developed in Vom Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie (1795), mirrors Spinoza’s third kind of knowledge, and has little to do with Fichte’s notion of intellectual intuition. It concludes with an explanation of why Schelling remained a critic of Spinoza in spite of their clear affinities, and illustrates how this criticism is directly connected to Schelling’s later philosophy of nature. (pages 161 - 186)
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- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0013
[Friedrich Schelling, Goethe, Goethe’s Science, Naturphilosophie, philosophy of nature, German idealism, intellectual intuition, the absolute, philosophical construction, history of philosophy]
This chapter explores Schelling’s turn to nature, and engages with the debates concerning the origins of his transformed understanding of nature. While in his early writings on nature, Schelling had insisted that nature must be grasped as a product of the mind, in his 1799 Einleitung to the Entwurf eines Systems der Naturphilosophie, he maintains that nature is independent of mind. The chapter argues that his transformed understanding of nature is based on his appropriation of Goethe’s notion of natural metamorphosis. It offers an elaboration of Goethe’s conception of metamorphosis and illustrates Schelling’s debt to Goethe through biographical evidence and a detailed analysis of the Einleitung. The chapter concludes with an examination of Schelling’s notion of experimentation and its role in the philosophical construction of nature. (pages 187 - 211)
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- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0014
[Friedrich Schelling, Fichte, System of Transcendental Idealism, German idealism, intellectual intuition, transcendental philosophy, the absolute, the absolute I, philosophy of art, history of philosophy]
This chapter investigates Schelling’s most well-known philosophical work, the System des transzendentalen Idealismus (1800), explicates Schelling’s justification for the necessity of this work, and compares its methodology with that of the philosophy of nature. It argues that the difference in method betrays a fundamental difference in goals— a difference which ultimately leads Schelling beyond transcendental philosophy to the identity philosophy. The chapter proposes that Schelling’s goal of achieving immediate insight into the absolute cannot, as he maintains in the System, be gained in the work of art. For, as Schelling sees it, the absolute cannot be gleaned indirectly through its manifestations, but only directly in and through itself. The chapter concludes by arguing that it is on account of this implicit contradiction that Schelling abandons the work of art and develops the identity philosophy. (pages 212 - 224)
This chapter is available at:
    https://academic.oup.com/chica...

- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0015
[Friedrich Schelling, Fichte, Spinoza, German idealism, intellectual intuition, the absolute, the absolute I, identity philosophy, philosophy of art, history of philosophy]
This chapter explores Schelling’s turn to reason following the System. It contends that the problem with the work of art has to do with the fact that it remains an object, opposed to the subject. As such, it cannot truly present the absolute. The chapter traces the development of Schelling’s thought in the identity philosophy, beginning with the Darstellung meines Systems der Philosophie (1801), and argues that in spite of decisive differences between this work and earlier writings, the Darstellung does not represent a rupture in Schelling’s thought. The chapter shows that the Fernere Darstellung and Schelling’s dialogue, Bruno, represent a return to some of Schelling’s earliest ideas. It concludes with an investigation of the role of art in the identity philosophy, and suggests that although Schelling considers the artwork and the imagination to be less significant than reason, he implicitly accords to them a certain superiority over reason. (pages 225 - 256)
This chapter is available at:
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- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0016
[Friedrich Schelling, Fichte, Spinoza, Goethe, German idealism, intellectual intuition, the absolute I, transcendental philosophy, Naturphilosophie, the philosophy of nature]
This brief reiteration of Schelling’s development suggests that in Schelling one finds a vivid presentation of key romantic ideas and questions. Thus, instead of interpreting Schelling as the culmination of romanticism, this chapter proposes that Schelling’s philosophical development clearly evidences the many challenges of thinking the absolute critically. (pages 257 - 257)
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- Dalia Nassar
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226084237.003.0017
[Friedrich Schelling, Friedrich Schlegel, Friedrich von Hardenberg Fichte, Spinoza and German idealism, Goethe, intellectual intuition, the absolute I, transcendental philosophy, Naturphilosophie]
The final section of the book elaborates the connections between the three thinkers examined, and maintains that, in spite of their differences, they agreed on the most fundamental level. It points to the distinctive interpretation of The Romantic Absolute, and argues that in the work of the romantics, we find a formidable attempt to grasp and present the relation between mind and nature and in a coherent, but non-reductive way, that continues to be relevant today. (pages 258 - 262)
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