...the path of mystery leads inwards...

The Romantic period occured during the 1800's, was focused in Germany, and was filled with new ideas, theories, and artistic experimentation. Unlike the rational philosophers before them, Romantics focused on strengthening their relationships with nature, learning more about the "world soul", and flourishing creatively. Other Romantics were more interested in learning about the history, language, and culture of the people. These two perspectives on Romanticism were united in the idea that everything is a living "organism". Not only are spiders, lilies, and kittens "organisms", but so are things like poetry, language, art, the nation, and even the world itself.
Many of the Romantics during this time were college students who wanted an excuse to skip studying. Instead, they waited for inspiration and lived by the maxim: "Idleness is the ideal of genius, and indolence the virtue of the Romantic" (348). The Romantics were searching for the freedom to interpret life in their own way. Since most of the Romantics during this period were students at the university, it makes sense that this search for freedom and personal imagination led to Europe's first student uprising: the Romantic Movement.
Many Romantics held an anti-middle class side to their beliefs, and felt that their time was better spent lazing about and yearning for artistic genius to fall on them than working for a living. Romantics were preoccupied with the dark side of life, and as a result, many died young, of either tuberculosis or suicide.

Romantic Philosophy: Idealism

Most Romantics believed in idealism, or the belief that everything comes from the mind of the individual. They felt that relying on their senses and experiencing everything in their own way was the only way to be free. Each individual was allowed to interpret life in his own way, using his imagination and experiences to show him what was right. The Romantics longed for distant and unattainable things. They wished that life was like that of the past, especially the Middle Ages, and revered distant cultures and their beliefs, like the mysticism of the Orient. Romantics were also drawn to dark, night, ruins, and the supernatural.
Romantics viewed nature as one being, known as the cosmic consciousness. They felt that one could experience a divine 'ego' in nature, and believed in pantheism, the belief that everything is some part of one divine being. This belief is shown in their view of a world soul/world spirit, where everything in nature is a whole, an organism, a "unity which is constantly developing its innate potentialities" (351).

Representative Philosophers

  • Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling 1775-1854
    • It was Schelling's goal to show how mind and matter could unite as one entity. He was a classic Romantic in that he believed that one "Absolute" exists in nature and that the world spirit does indeed exist. He also suggested that the world spirit is not only found in nature, but in the human mind as well.

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  • Johann Gottfried von Herder 1744-1803
    • Herder focused on the function of history in our lives. He saw history as a ongoing process, characterized by "continuity, evolution, and design" (351). His advice to fellow Romantics was that in order to fully understand people of other cultures, we need to identify with them and try to see the world through their eyes. This was a new idea for the time, and helped to create a sense of national identity, even helping along Norway's fight for independence (352).

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  • Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 1770-1831
    • As one of the major philosophers of the Romantic period, Hegel organized and expanded upon many of the ideas held by various philosophers during that time. He looked down on other philosophers, however, especially Schelling, partly because of their differing beliefs in the definition of "world spirit". Hegel saw the "world spirit" as "the sum of human utterances", instead of the belief that this "spirit" was in everything. Hegel believed that humans were the only life form that contributed to the "world spirit" (361). He put still more value on human reason, saying that "All knowledge is human knowledge" (362).
    • Hegel's main philosophy has such a wide range that he is mostly known for the method he devised in order to understand history better. He said that what is true today may or may not be true tomorrow or the next day or far into the future. Our truths are in a "constant state of change", and therefore there are not "eternal truths" that stay correct for generation after generation (362). However, Hegel added that the process is also "progressive", which means that as new things happen throughout history, the truths are more correct. Previous ideas are added to and changed throughout history, creating more complete ideas.
    • Hegel called this process of formulating ideas through opposition and compromise dialectic. Someone will come up with an idea and create a claim, or thesis. Another person will come along with an opposing idea, called the negation, or antithesis. Then, the two will reach a compromise, called either negation of the negation or synthesis. Then the process continues, with the synthesis acting as the new thesis, being subjected to opposition. According to Albert, this process will bring out the best idea possible, because "that which is right survives" (365-66).
    • Unlike most other Romantics, Hegel placed more value on society, the state, and family, than on the individual. Instead, he felt that individuals could not "resign from society"; it is the "world spirit" that "finds itself", not the individual. The "world spirit" goes through three stages on its way to discovering itself: subjective spirit, where it manifests itself within the individual; objective spirit, where it realizes itself on a higher level within society; and absolute spirit, where the 'spirit' is conscious of art, religion, and philosophy (370-71).


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Additional Links
Visit this site and follow the links to learn more about Romanticism and associated philosophers.
This site includes a complete history of Romanticism, covering everything from the period's roots to its most popular philosophers.
Check out this in depth introduction to Romanticism.
Sponsored by PBS, this site has a wealth of information on Romanticism in general, as well as related artists, poets, philosophers, and more!

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