Friday, October 31, 2014

Error of Imagination

It can only be with an imagination that has exclusively given itself up to a scientific direction that we can have to do in discussing the question, What false system, and what error in science generally, or in physical science especially, can have proceeded from a perverted use of this faculty of fancy? This, it appears to me, can be no other than the well-known materialism—the atomistic view of nature, and, what is so closely connected with it, that atomistic thinking whose deadening character is far more dangerous and fatal to philosophy than that much-decried "system of nature," which, for the most part, has outlived its day, and, in its former shape, at least, is obsolete and out of fashion. This atomistic view of nature can not, for one moment, be regarded as or explained by an error of the reason. For the reason seeks every where for an absolute unity.

Schlegel, Philosophy of Life, Morrison, tr., p. 520. The "system of nature" to which he is referring is Naturphilosophie. Schlegel has identified four faculties of human life -- reason, imagination, understanding, and will. He argues that each faculty is potentially subject to a particular kind of error that can become the foundation of an entire defective system of thought. The kind of system the error of reason reaches is the general kind of idealist philosophy of the absolute for which the Germans were famous, Fichte, Hegel, and the like, in which everything is taken to unfold by pure necessary consequence, as rational idea is mistaken for reality. Materialism is the corresponding error for imagination, based on mistaking an imaginative picture for reality. He takes the two together, the error of reason and the error of imagination, to constitute the major philosophical deviations of his day.


  1. Chance Woods4:08 PM

    This is really interesting. The place of imagination in Christian philosophical reflection has long intrigued me. I wonder if we might be able to think about Schlegel's comments in relation to Simone Weil's arguments against the notion of imagination. I recall Louis Dupré arguing that the Enlightenment necessarily forced religious speculation away from material philosophy into the realm of the symbolic, thus necessitating the role of the imagination for modern theology. Your post here would suggest that it is not quite so simple, or at least that the implications of such a move are far graver that Dupré was willing to grant.

    Thanks for posting this.

  2. branemrys3:22 PM

    I'm not familiar enough with Weil on imagination to say. Schlegel has a very positive view of imagination -- it just needs to be in its proper place, doing what is appropriate to it. But he does think that the modern age is a kind of constant struggle between a sickness of reason and a sickness of imagination, in which each attempts to dominate over everything else absolutely.


Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.