The romantic period emphasised the self, creativity, imagination and the value of art. This is in contrast to the Enlightenment emphasis on Rationalism and Empiricism.
It roots can be found in the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant. Philosophers and writers associated with the Romantic movement include Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Freidrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854), and George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) in Germany; Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) and William Wordsworth (1770-1850) in Britain.
Philosophically romanticism represents a shift from the objective to the subjective: Science claims to describe the objective world, the world understood from no particular viewpoint. Imagine three people looking at a landscape, one is a farmer, another a property developer and the third an artist. The farmer would see the potential for raising crops and livestock, the property developer the chance to build houses and the artist at the shades and subtleties of colour and form. None of these individuals is seeing the landscape objectively; they are seeing it from a particular or subjective viewpoint.
The move from the objective to the subjective is a result of Kant's idea that human beings do not see the world directly, but through a number of categories. We do not directly see "things-in-themselves"; we only understand the world through our human point of view. If we agree with Kant that we can never know things-in-themselves, we may as well discard them. This leads to Idealism; the belief that what we call the "external world" is somehow created by our minds.
The Enlightenment's emphasis on the empirical deterministic universe left little room for the freedom and creativity of the human spirit. The romantic emphasis on art and imagination is a direct critical reaction to the mechanical view of some Enlightenment figures.
The romantic emphasis on the individual was reflected in ideas of self-realisation and nature. Wordsworth thought that the individual could directly understand nature without the need for society and social artifice, salvation is achieved by the solitary individual rather than through political movements.
"Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains" Rousseau wrote in 1762. He thought that civilisation fills "man" with unnatural wants and seduces him away from his true nature and original freedom. Rousseau is credited with the idea of the "Noble Savage" who is uncorrupted by artifice and society.
In "Émile" (1762) he describes the education of a free being who is encouraged to develop through self expression the natural nobility and liberty of the spirit.
In the "Social Contract"(1762) he attempts to describe a society in which this natural nobility could flourish. The society would be based on a contract where each individual would give all of his rights to the community, but all collective decisions would be based on a direct democracy (a democracy where each member has a chance to vote on every issue). As all are involved in decision making this contract is seen as legitimate.
The state is seen to represent the common good or the general will. The general will is not to be confused with the "will of all": The "will of all" is what individuals think they may want and includes selfish motives. The "general will" however is what people would want if they were rational and is seen as necessarily good.
If an individual does not want to obey the general will then he must be "forced to be free". Imagine a group of people attempting to cross a bridge that is, unknown to them, weak and dangerous. The gatekeeper refuses to let the group pass and they feel that their freedom is being curtailed as they do not have a full understanding of the situation. The gatekeeper is forcing them to be free; if they were not stopped then they may have perished on the weak bridge. Rousseau likens this situation to the person who does not understand why they should obey the general will. To obey what is best for all is to maximise the freedom for each.
Schelling agreed with Kant that the only objects we have direct knowledge of is consciousness. The external world is seen as an adjunct to what is most real: the mind. The way that the mind will come to full awareness of itself is through art.
Coleridge was interested in the psychology of artistic creativity and was dissatisfied with the empiricist idea that the mind was merely a passive absorber of impressions. After reading Schelling and other idealists, he found a way to criticise the over mechanical view of the Enlightenment.
The mechanical view of the mind is atomistic: it is simply the sum of its experience. Coleridge saw the mind more in organic terms; it functions more like an organism than an engine. An organism can be creative, but it is difficult to see how an engine could create poetry.
Coleridge felt that his version of idealism could be reconciled with his Christian beliefs, and that Kant's moral theories (See later) were in tune with Christian sentiments.
Coleridge thought that intellectuals had an important role in disseminating culture in order to bring society closer to a state of harmony.
G.W.F. Hegel was the most influential of the German idealist philosophers, perhaps the most important philosopher since Kant. He became a professor at Heidelberg in 1816 and was Professor of Philosophy at Berlin from 1818 until his death in 1831.
Like other idealists, he agrees with Kant that the mind is not simply a passive absorber of the external world, but actively organises it. As the mind can not know things-in-themselves, what becomes the real is Geist: mind, spirit or soul. As Hegel says, "The Real is the Rational and the Rational is the Real".
Hegel sees Geist developing through history, each period having a Zeitgeist (spirit of the age). These stages will eventually reach the telos (Greek for "end") of self-understanding, that is when Geist comes to know itself.
It is only when Geist comes to know itself that we can be free: it is only possible to be free if we understand reality. If we do not understand reality we are not in a position to make a free judgement, we struggle in vain against that which we do not understand.
For Hegel each person's individual consciousness or mind is really part of the Absolute Mind, it is just that the individual does not realise this. If we understood that we were part of a greater consciousness we would not be so concerned with our individual freedom, we would agree with to act rationally in a way that did not follow our individual caprice. By following the Real or the Rational, each individual would achieve self-fulfilment.
Philosophy in continental Europe, following Kant, became increasingly idealistic. However Kant's remarks about science and technology progressing, whilst philosophers still disagreed with each other about almost every thing, could still be applied to the nineteenth century just as much as to the eighteenth.
Following Hegel two different interpretations of Hegelianism spawned two different groups: the "Old Hegelians" who uncritically accepted Hegel's views and the "Young Hegelians" who wanted to continue the revolution of ideas using Hegel's dialectics (see later). Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-72) and Karl Marx (1818-83) where the most influential of these.
Whereas Hegel thought that he had reconciled religion with his Idea of Absolute Mind, Feuerbach wanted to see religion as an example of an alienated or estranged consciousness. For Feuerbach, who wanted to resurrect something of empiricism and materialism in his philosophy, religion is not a way of apprehending Geist; rather it is a reflection of the way society is structured.
For Feuerbach it is man who creates God in his own image, and then falls down and worships his own creation. This notion of God is that of an idealised human, and by removing these ideal qualities from ourselves and projecting them onto a religious object, we are estranging or alienating ourselves from our own essence or being.
Marx, also a materialist, wanted to be more radical than Feuerbach. Whilst Feuerbach saw religion as alienation and seemed content to leave society as it was, Marx wanted to radicalise society; as he says: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it."
Hegel was not the only important post-Kantian Philosopher. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was a contemporary of Hegel. Schopenhauer became a lecturer at the University of Berlin and decided to offer his lectures at the same time as Hegel. As Hegel was the most famous philosopher of his age, it is no surprise that Schopenhauer gained few students. Schopenhauer thought that the ultimate reality is not Geist, but will.
Schopenhauer was influential on the young Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) who developed the theme of will. For Nietzsche the 'will to power' is the basic driving force of human nature and philosophy. We could not imagine twentieth century psychoanalysis without the influence of these two great thinkers.
We can see then three competing themes in nineteenth century philosophy: Idealism, Materialism and Will.
As we saw in the previous section Hegel thought Geist came to know itself through the progression of history. He called this process "Dialectical". A dialectical process is one in which a starting position (the thesis) proves to be inadequate and so throws up it's opposite (the antithesis). Both of these positions are unsatisfactory, and progress will only occur when a superior understanding (the synthesis) occurs.
A un-Hegalian example may help us to understand the dialectic. Lets suppose that you have a motor bike, but only have a limited understanding of it. The point of a motor bike is to enable you to travel (the thesis). You begin on your motor bike in a state of ignorance; all you know is how to drive it. Sooner or later, you will run out of fuel, the bike will stop: i.e. the opposite of going (the antithesis). It is only when your understanding about the way that the motor bike works includes the notion of refuelling (you achieve a synthesis and understand the bike at a higher level) that you can get the thing to work.
Marx took from Hegel the notion of dialectical historical development, for Marx it was societies that were developing rather than Geist.
Marx asserts that he wants to start from the "real" empirical world to produce a scientific understanding of history. History progresses through a number of epochs, each epoch having a particular economic arrangement. Examples of epochs include feudalism (the economy being based on land ownership) and capitalism (characterised by wage labour and the existence of capital).
Marx thought that each epoch contains economic contradictions that could only be resolved by a movement to a new economic form. In capitalism for example, there is the thesis of growing productive forces (technology and the work place becoming more efficient). Marx thought that the factory system would create unemployment and poverty as an antithesis. It is only when a revolution takes place and replaces capitalism with socialism that the synthesis takes place.
Marx's most important contribution to philosophy, rather than social theory, is his theory of ideology: that the dominant ideas in every epoch reflect the economic system. In liberal capitalist societies, the emphasis on notion of individual freedom is seen by Marx to be a consequence of the economic free market. Individuals who have been seduced by this notion are said to have "False Consciousness".
For Schopenhauer life itself is an expression of an ultimate force or energy, he called "will". The self, he argues, is a manifestation of "will", although many of our motivations are unknown to our conscious mind. This idea became known as the notion of the "unconscious" which has been influential in Freudian and Jungian psychology. He is often referred to as a philosopher of pessimism as he thinks that this "will" has no purpose or aim: it is blind striving. His ideas are similar to Buddhism as he feels that existence always entails suffering.
There are three ways that man can attempt to overcome this blind cosmic will and achieve salvation. The first is to develop sympathy for others (a quality singularly lacking in Schopenhauer's own life), secondly through the development philosophic understanding and thirdly in the aesthetic contemplation of works of art. It is this last route which has been most influential.
For Nietzsche the "will to power" is the most basic human drive, unlike Schopenhauer he thought that this will to power is a creative force and that human beings will progress to a new level of being.
Nietzsche is critical of philosophy since the Greeks and of Christianity. He says that we have separated two important aspects of ourselves: The "Dionysian" (celebratory and unconscious) and the "Apollonian" (conscious and rational). It is only when the creative individual expresses his will to power by synthesising these elements the he can progress.
Nietzsche is critical of any philosophy that claims to show us a final truth. All "truths" for Nietzsche are interpretations of the world, necessitated by biology. Language always approximates to reality; it is through language that the will to power makes sense of its existence.