25 and 26 may 2001

S T Coleridge's essays on the principles of method.

For long curious to know what Coleridge means by 'method' I am at last actually reading this to me difficult text (one of those few of his writings that he valued and wished to preserve).

Unable as yet to comprehend the whole text I am reading as closely as I can only seven pages, selected by random number from the seventy-five pages of the version of C's philosophical newspaper 'The Friend' which he edited as a book in 1818*.

*The Collected works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, number 4, 'The Friend', edited by Barbara E Rooke, Volume 1, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1969, Bollingen Series LXXV, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

I began the following notes on paper before someone asked why I was not inscribing this directly into the digital diary, via the handheld - which I did for sample 7.

preliminary note:

In bed after lunch (and yoga etc.) after failing to do other than circular thinking about things that are too much for me today.

...so I decide to rest and digest for half an hour at least - especially as the salad (made of left-overs) was rather acidic and perhaps difficult to digest?

...as I rested I looked again at 'The Friend' - puzzled by its abstract density - especially in 'The Principles of Method' - the 75 pages from 448 to 523. Where is the concreteness?

I decide to try sampling it and realise that 1-3 pages would be too few to represent the whole and 10-20 pages would be too many for me to grasp. That led me to choose 5-8 pages for the sample - so I chose 7. And as his paragraphs are often page length, or longer, I decided to make the paragraph, and not the page, the sample I would read. So I added a random (decimal) number to determine which paragraph to read when a page includes more than one.

sample 1, page 505.3

'In the education of the mind of the race ... ... the momentary glitter has been lost in evaporation.'

an elaborate and well-formed statement of the contrast between the excellence of Greek philosophy and art (in their own terms) and their relative weakness, or uselessness, in practice.

C states this as an undisputed fact though to me it appears to be just an opinion ... not a fact at all.

sample 2, page 510.4

A quotation of about thirty lines from William Wordsworth's ode 'Intimations of Immortality'

again I detect a (desperate?, driven?) seeking after certainty where (to me) none is to be got!

sample 3, page 485.6

part criticism, part agreement, with Francis Bacon ... his apparently weak applications of theory and yet C's noting of the 'principles of method' to which they both apparently adhere(?). (I'm surprised by these holdings to apparent fact.)

sample 4, page 469.9

C's theory of vegetable and animal not as beginning and result (of organic evolution) but as streams flowing in opposite directions. (Again I'm surprised by C's tendency to fact and to science and to observation.)

sample 5, page 480.2

C contrasts the stasis of (early nineteenth-century theories of) magnetism with the liveliness of theories of electricity (apart from the compass). Here at last I get an idea of what he calls method - it is the idea or theory, derived from fact, that enables one to experiment intelligibly - ??

sample 6, page 517.3

I barely follow this (on first reading) but I infer that he is deeply engaging his thoughts in the rational and verified study of the immaterial complement of things - in ideas... Yes, a true way into complementarity, is what I'd call it now, more than dimly aware of what Niels Bohr and others have done since the time of Coleridge to extend and to realise this concept - and to destabilise science.

sample 7, page 462.9

This paragraph seems at first reading to contain the essence of 'method' (as C thinks of it):

In answer to the question

'what is the ground of the coincidence between reason and experience?' he re-states Plato's contention that

'the ground of this agreement is beyond reason' in 'a supersensual essence' - which, C infers, calls for a distinct science, which he calls METHOD,

'by which philosophy becomes scientific and the sciences philosophical'....

...Yes, this does indeed begin to tell me what C means by method and in doing so opens doors - as well as proposing religious fixity where I am happy to imagine only a constancy of unbounded change!

Yes, in these brief samplings, I'm getting the hang of it... They seem adequate to my grasping the essence and the extent of what C is proposing - in that inimitable extensiveness and inclusiveness of his writing.

But how to relate this to my very much more modest idea of method as a mnemonic, no more, for ways to change what exists so as to reflect the whole of itself - and not just the immediate circumstances of the changers?

Well, this little exercise has at least enabled me, in that last sentence, to redescribe designing in a sufficiently inclusive way to please mind and to please world. (with thanks to STC!)

I see that this could be the beginning of a huge theory of nearly everything - that I may never actually write. But at least it's a start.

Next day, 26 may:

My apologies for not including Coleridge's paragraphs - they are I think too long to reproduce here. But to give their flavour I decide to copy out a chance chosen part of one of them:

...but the chance process took me to sample 2, the poem by Wordsworth, so I choose instead to copy out some of what C wrote in the subsequent paragraph:

...In order therefore to (word missing?) the recognition of himself in nature man must first learn to comprehend nature in himself, and its laws in the ground of his existence. Then only can he reduce Phaenomena to Principles - then only will he have achieved the METHOD, the self-unravelling clue, which alone can securely guide him to the conquest of the former (by 'former' does he mean phenomena-and-principles as a unit?) - when he has discovered in the basis of their union the necessity for their differences; in the principle of their continuance the solution of their changes. It is the idea of the common centre, of the universal law, by which all power manifests itself in opposite yet in interdependent forces (here he quotes Zoroaster in Greek) that enlightening inquiry, multiple experiment, and at once inspiring humility and perseverance will lead him to comprehend gradually and progressively the relation of each to the other, of each to all, and of all to each.

As I contemplate these words, so obviously reflecting (if not fully articulating) a mind of vast coherence, I feel the presence of something divine in our existence as well as a most earthly and comprehensive understanding of the world. But as to METHOD - perhaps I'll have to read all 75 pages, both closely and repeatedly, if I am to grasp exactly what he means.

So what of my apparent disagreement with 'the principles of method', my perceiving of unnecessary fixity where I prefer to perceive and to rely on instability and chance? ... I suspect that if I study these essays more fully I will come closer to understanding and agreeing with what he wrote - but I am reminded of other notes re Coleridge that look beyond his perhaps divine philosophy to his sometimes demonic experience, and to his poems. I will write of this next.