In the Anglophone world, the ethics of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) are often seen as a particularly callous form of stoicism, hostile to our sensuous needs. The recent publication ‘Coleridge and Kantian Ideas in England, 1796-1817‘ (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012) uncovers a different story, hidden in pamphlets and periodicals. It shows that especially Kant’s conceptualization of the highest good that promised happiness in proportion to virtue attracted the attention of the late eighteenth-century English readers.
The monograph by Monika Class excavates, among other connections, that the first independent public lecturer on Kantian philosophy in England, the German expatriate and former student of Kant, Friedrich August Nitsch mediated a more sensuously inclined version of Kantian ethics that interested the English audience, particularly the radical and religious dissenting circles in 1790s London and Bristol. Nitsch’s book A General and Introductory View of Professor Kant’s Principles Concerning Man, the World, and the Diety, published in London in 1796, did much to prime the most famous nineteenth-century mediator of Kantian philosophy Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834, see image left) for his study of Kant’s works. Yet for political and personal reasons, Coleridge chose to obscure the beginnings of his life-long fascination with transcendental philosophy. Coleridge’s construction of Kantian ‘moonshine’ in Biographia Literaria (1817) and elsewhere was astutely assessed by John Stuart Mill in his essay ‘On Bentham and Coleridge’ (1840), which is one, if not the, first to contain the term ‘Continental’ philosophy. Mill’s essay made what he called the ‘Germano-Coleridgean school’ widely known as inherently conservative.
A very short summary of Coleridge and Kantian Ideas in England, 1796-1817 is available here: