Erin Flynn: “Intellectual Intuition in Emerson and the Early German Romantics”

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There is an essay by Erin Flynn (Philosophy, Ohio Wesleyan University) entitled “Intellectual Intuition in Emerson and the Early German Romantics” in the new issue of Philosophical Forum (Vol. 40, Issue 3, pp. 367-389) that may interest some of you. You can access the article by clicking here.

Here is how Flynn’s essay begins:

Encouraging our philosophical acknowledgement of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Stanley Cavell has written of Emerson’s engagement with Kant. The engagement is defined by what Cavell calls Emerson’s “most explicit reversal of Kant”: his reversal of Kant’s denial of intellectual intuition. If such a reversal is true of Emerson, it certainly does not originate with him. Among the first generation of Kant’s successors, especially among the romantics, some such reversal was rather common. But the curious thing about encouraging our philosophical reconsideration of Emerson in light of this sort of engagement with Kant is that those writers, especially those most likely to be acknowledged as Emerson’s forebears, now tend to be taken as marginal figures in the history of philosophy. And prominent among the reasons for their philosophical obsolescence is surely their insistence on a faculty of intellectual intuition, which to some makes them look less engaged with Kant than simply reactionary, or pre-Kantian. But whatever the merits of such a dismissal, before we level this kind of criticism against Emerson it makes sense to ask whether the early romantic revival of intellectual intuition resonates at all with Emerson’s alleged reversal. I will argue that there is indeed a substantial likeness between Emerson and the philosophical convictions of the early German romantics Hölderlin and Novalis, indicating a possible line of critical engagement with Emerson’s philosophical vision.

Of course, no one denies a certain kinship between Emerson and the romantics, forged largely by way of Coleridge. Indeed, Emerson’s earliest critics damned him explicitly as too “German.” But it is a slightly different matter to argue that a specific philosophical doctrine, or at least aspiration, made its way to Emerson and that reading him in light of this aspiration will be fruitful. That is the cue I wish to take from Cavell. Recent scholarship detailing the philosophical foundations of early German romanticism has helped considerably in this regard. On the other hand, no one to my knowledge claims a specific scholarly link between Emerson and Hölderlin or Novalis, nor do I wish to do so. My claim might instead be regarded as conceptual: There is an important and quite particular likeness between Emerson and the early German romantics that is rooted in a kind of reversal of Kant’s denial of intellectual intuition.

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