From Dualism to a “Higher” Monism

Romantic philosophy’s insistence that, all things properly viewed, there is no real distinction between thinking and acting; just as there is no real distinction between mind and body. In a word, the Romantic philosophers and scholars are attempting to close the famous dualism gap between mind and body which was first opened by the French philosopher Rene Descartes. Descartes dualism, between ego and world, is something Kant tried to close down. But he was only able to overcome this gap by replacing one form of dualism with another, that between the phenomenal (world of appearances) and the noumenal (inaccessible realm of things-in-themselves).

Kant’s theory cautions against the perils of believing we can ever directly understand metaphysical realities, but he does argue that works of true genius offer powerful intimations of the noumenal. Romantics, such as F.W.J. Schelling, found great inspiration in Kant. But they deliberately threw away the residual constraints that kept Kant within the Enlightenment, claim that there is, for certain gifted individuals, a possible direct intellectual intuition of the thing-in-itself. And this reality, once glimpsed, reveals itself as the perfect identity of mind and body, Soul and World. If properly grasped, this not perspective, no longer a dualism but now a monism, allows to see all phenomena, physical and mental, anew. Here, the mind does not merely think, but in the very act of thinking creates a body suitable to itself; while, simultaneously, the body does not merely function, but in the very act of functioning, gives direct evidence of making intelligent choices with regard to the direction of its development. Again, succinctly, for the Romantics, the mind moves and grows within time and space, indeed creates time and space for itself in the form of a physical body; while the body, simultaneously, actually thinks itself into every more highly evolved anatomical forms, forms capable of supporting higher levels of consciousness.

Finally, if one really wants to understand things from the Romantic perspective, one will need to recognized that these two substances, or the mutually preconditioning processes of mind and body, do not merely mirror one another, but are in fact simply two different way of viewing one identical developmental activity. The implications of this astonishing insight will exert a profound influence on a variety of new sciences which will begin to emerge along with the rise of the new German university – among them and in particular: psychology, embryology, obstetrics, evolutionary biology, and anthropology.

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