Sunday, July 25, 2004


In part due to blogging, I have recently become interested in the Romantic notion of Symphilosophie, a tricky word whose meaning is difficult to pick up because it has no good equivalent in English. Symphilosophie is mutual or collaborative philosophy; but this gives the idea of collaboration in philosophical work the way we do it, which is not, I think, quite right. I'm completely new at this, but here's my thoughts on what's supposed to be involved. Symphilosophy as understood by the Romantics ideally included a group of friends in close fellowship whose work was (as it were) fused or aggregated into one work through give-and-take, dialogue, commentary, so that any precise individuation begins to be impossible. The philosophical work here is in a sense analogous to the way an excellent author or speaker can, by a sort of cooperation with the reader or listener, make the scene appear vividly in the reader or listener's mind - not quite the action of the author alone, not quite the action of the reader alone, but a melding of the two so that the two acts are actually inseparable. If you have ever had an intense intellectual discussion with a good friend, in which ideas move back and forth, being shaped and refined, blended and interlocked, corrected and extended, until you could not honestly say (and it would not seriously matter, anyway) exactly where your contribution ended and your friend's contribution began - then you know the sort of thing that was meant. The following are some fragments by Friedrich Schlegel that are of relevance, directly or indirectly, to this notion of symphilosophy.

These are all from Friedrich Schlegel, Philosophical Fragments. Firchow, tr. University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, 1991).

From Critical Fragments

9. Wit is absolute social feeling, or fragmentary genius.

16. Though genius isn't something that can be produced arbitrarily, it is freely willed -- like wit, love, and faith, which one day will have to become arts and sciences. You should demand genius from everyone, but not expect it. A Kantian would call this the categorical imperative of genius.

51. To use wit as an instrument for revenge is as shameful as using art as a means for titillating the senses.

56. Wit is logical sociability.

70. People who write books and imagine that their readers are teh public and that tehy msut educate it soon arrive at the point not only of despising their so-called public but of hating it. Which leads absolutely nowhere.

104. What's commonly called reason is only a subspecies of it: namely, the thin and watery sort. There's also a thick, fiery kind that actually makes wit witty, and gives an elasticity and electricity to a solid style.

From Pollen (i.e., included in Novalis's Pollen - the Jena Romantics often 'guest-posted')

1. Even philosophy has blossoms. That is, its thoughts; but one can never decide if one should call them witty or beautiful.

2. If in communicating a thought, one fluctuates between absolute comprehension and absolute incomprehension, then this process might already be termed a philosophical friendship. For it's no different with ourselves. Is the life of a thinking hman being anything else than a continuous inner symphilosophy?

From Athenaeum Fragments

52. There is a kind of person for whom an enthusiasm fo rboredom represents the beginning of philosophy.

54. One can only become a philosopher, not be one. As soon as oen thinks one is a philosopher, one stops becoming one.

112. Philosophers who aren't opposed to each other are usually joined only by sympathy, not by symphilosophy.

125. Perhaps there would be a birth of a whole new era of the sciences and arts if symphilosophy and sympoetry became so universal and heartfelt that it would no longer be anything extraordinary for several complementary minds to create communal works of art. One is often struck by the idea that two minds really belong together, like divided halves that can realize their full potential only when joined....

249. The poetizing philosopher, the philosophizing poet, is a prophet. A didactic poem should be and tends to become prophetic.

302. Jumbled ideas should be the rough drafts of philosophy. It's no secret how highly these are valued by connoisseurs of painting. For a man who can't draw philosophical worlds with ac rayon and characterize every thought that has a physiognomy with a few strokes of the pen, philosophy will never be an art and consequently never a science. For in philosophy the way to science lies only through art, just as the poet, on teh other hand, finds his art only through science.

344. Philosophy is a mutual search for omniscience.

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