We prosecute our grasp of reality by a combination of analysis and synthesis, of discrimination and integration. We discern ever finer differences and we apprehend ever wider similarities. We are enabled to isolate discrete features of experience but also to create more ambitious combinations of them. We switch our attention from the part to the whole and from the whole to the part. In this dialectic of analysing and integrating, of attention to the part and to the whole, the analytic and fiduciary traditions place their emphases differently. Rationalistic modernity gives priority to the first part of the equation, concentrating its attention on the analysis and interaction of the parts, especially their mechanical interaction in the manner of Bacon, Hobbes and Locke. The alternative tradition privileges the second: we only know particulars because we apprehend the wholes in which they subsist; we can engage in analysis because we already hold the complete picture in a tacit synthesis. Gestalt theory, holistic philosophies and systems theory contribute to a consensus that pertains here. In a system the parts are arranged within the whole and subsist in mutual connection rather than as an aggregate of discrete components. We do not know the components without the connections or the contents apart from the framework. We respond to the symmetry within the whole pattern and we respond as whole persons.
Burke suggested in his essay On the Sublime and the Beautiful that 'the mind of man has naturally a far greater alacrity and satisfaction in tracing resemblances than in searching for differences' and the reason for this is 'because by making resemblances we produce new images; we unite, we create, we enlarge our stock; but in making distinctions we offer no food at all to the imagination' (Burke, 1834, p.26). Shelley states in A Defence of Poetry that 'reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things' (Shelley, 1888, vol. 2, p.1). Wordsworth, similarly, awards to imagination the
.. .observation of affinities
In objects where no brotherhood exists
To passive minds.
(The Prelude , Part II, ll. 384-6, in Wordsworth, 1971)
For Coleridge—the supreme theorist of the imagination among the Romantics— imagination is the faculty that perceives connections, creates combinations and extrapolates from these to new insights. He calls it variously 'the coadunating power', 'the shaping spirit', 'the esemplastic gift', 'the reconciling and mediatory power', 'the completing power'. In Biographia Literaria Coleridge gives his most powerful account of imagination, distinguishing it from mere fancy, just as reason soars above understanding:
the imagination, or shaping or modifying power: the fancy, or the aggregative and associative power: the understanding, or the regulative, substantiating and realizing power; the speculative reason—vis theoretica et scientifica, or the power by which we produce, or aim to produce, unity, necessity and universality in all our knowledge by means of principles a priori.
(Coleridge, 1965, p.160)
Coleridge distinguishes—but, as he would be the first to insist, distinguishes without dividing—the primary from the secondary imagination. The first is our complicity with God: 'the living power and primary agent of all human perception' and 'a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM'. The second is the source of human creativity: 'an echo of the former', differing only in degree and mode of operation, it 'dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to re-create' (ibid., p. 167).
Coleridge operates with the old distinction, which he drew from Hooker and Milton
(among others), between intuitive and discursive rationality, the former being vastly superior to the latter—just as the intellect of angels excels that of humans (Paradise Lost, Book V, ll. 485-90, in Milton, 1913; Coleridge, 1965, p.93). Reason, Coleridge writes in Aids to Reflection, 'is the Power of universal and necessary Convictions, the Source and Substance of Truths above Sense, and having their evidence in themselves'. It is the faculty of 'Contemplation': in words that Coleridge quotes from Hooker, reason is 'a direct Aspect of Truth, an inward Beholding'. Understanding, on the other hand, is discursive, lacks authority in itself and is dependent on a higher judgement; it is the 'Faculty of Reflection' rather than 'Contemplation'. Understanding is 'the Faculty judging according to Sense'. Reason is spiritual, understanding material (Coleridge, 1993, p.216ff., 223).
J.S.Mill, in a celebrated essay, took Bentham as representative of the Enlightenment and the power of reason, on the one hand, and Coleridge as representative of Romanticism and the power of imagination, on the other. The strength of the first was in analysis; of the second in synthesis. Mill justly pointed out that no one's synthesis could be more complete than his analysis (Mill, 1950, p.58). Coleridge had some observations on analysis and synthesis. In effect, he is countering Mill and asking what is the use of analysing without then integrating? 'It is a dull and obtuse mind, that must divide in order to distinguish; but it is a still worse that distinguishes in order to divide' (Coleridge, 1993, p.33: Introductory Aphorism XXVI).
In his Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, Newman argued that 'our most natural mode of reasoning is not from propositions to propositions, but from things to things, from concrete to concrete, from wholes to wholes' (Newman, 1903, p.330). To explain the phenomenon that it is the whole mind—indeed the whole person—that reasons, Newman postulated the 'illative sense'. This is 'the living mind' on the track of truth. We grasp innumerable particulars—whether in empirical science, historical research, or theological interpretation—and arrive at a judgement without being able to specify how we have reached it. The mind itself, asserts Newman, is 'more versatile and vigorous than any of its works [i.e. functions].' It contemplates the ingredients of its own thought 'without the use of words, by a process that cannot be analyzed' (ibid., pp.353, 359, 360f.). Newman's holistic epistemology takes its place in that 'common tradition' discerned by John Coulson (Coulson, 1970), a tradition that runs from Coleridge through Maurice and Newman in the nineteenth century, and was renewed by Polanyi and his followers in the twentieth (cf. Grene, 1966; Crewdson, 1994).
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