Dr. C. George Boeree

Empiricism would continue on to the present day.  It would become increasingly materialistic in French philosophy, culminating in the reductionism of Auguste Comte (1798-1857), wherein all human experience is reduced to biology, chemistry, and ultimately physics.  Rationalism, too, continues to the present day, reaching its peak in Georg Hegel's (1770-1831) idealism of the Absolute.  Hegel held that all human activity is nothing more than the working of the universe as it slowly and inevitably progresses towards ultimate Godhood.

In both empiricism and rationalism (and materialism and idealism), the human, especially the individual human person, gets lost -- either in the eternal bumping of atoms or in the grand scheme of God-making.  Our thoughts and feelings are nothing of any importance either way!  We are just carbon molecules or the twitchings of eternity.

Some philosophers were taken aback by this tendency, both before and after Comte and Hegel.  They felt that, for human beings, it was our own day-to-day living that was the center of our search for the truth.  Reason and the evidence of our senses were important, no doubt, but they mean nothing to us unless they touch our needs, our feelings, our emotions.  Only then do they acquire meaning.  This "meaning" is what the Romantic movement is all about.

I will focus on several philosophers that I believe most influenced psychology.  First is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who is often considered the father of Romanticism.  And the last is Friedrich Nietzsche, who is sometimes considered the greatest Romantic.  Afterwards, we will look at the commonalities among these philosophers that let us talk of a Romantic Movement.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau


No history of psychology is complete without a look at Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  He has influenced education to the present day, philosophy (Kant, Schopenhauer...), political theory (the French Revolution, Karl Marx...), and he inspired the Romantic Movement in Philosophy, which in turn influenced all these things, and psychology, once again.

Plus, he’s one of the most colorful characters we have and, as an added bonus, he has left a particularly revealing autobiography in The Confessions.

He was born in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1712 to  the watchmaker Isaac Rousseau and his wife Suzanne Bernard Rousseau.  Athough a Calvinist, Isaac was also a bit unstable, and left his wife and first son, returned to father Jean-Jacques, then left again.  His mother died one week after Jean-Jacques was born, and he was raised by an aunt and uncle.

They sent him off to boarding school in the country where, he says, he learned “all the insignificant trash that has obtained the name of education.”  The experience did, however, serve as the start of his love-affair with rural life.

At twelve years old, he returned to his aunt and uncle.  There apprenticed to a watchmaker, he developed two other personal qualities:  The constant beatings from his master (as well as at school) led him to lying and idleness;  and adolescence led him to develop a rather bizarre romantic streak.  He would spend much of his life falling in love.

At sixteen, he ran away from home with no money nor possessions.  A priest led him to baroness Mme de Warens, a 29 year old beauty who apparently had a soft spot for losers and potential converts.  Her influence led him to convert to Catholicism, though he was not yet ready to give up his exhibitionism nor his desire to be spanked by lovely ladies.  He entered a seminary in 1729, but was promptly dismissed.  He eventually developed an on-again, off-again physical relationship with the lovely Mme Warens.

In the meantime, he walked all over the countryside, often long distances.  He loved the woods, mountains, and nature itself.  He served as an occasional tutor and music teacher, but spent much of his time reading Enlightenment authors.  Voltaire’s work turned him to a Nature worship quite congenial to his personality.

In 1742, when he was 30 years old, he left for Paris.  He quickly befriended the political writer Diderot , who managed to help him get a job as a secretary at the French Embassy in Venice.  He was dismissed because of his insolent nature.

In 1746 he met and fell in love with Therese Levasseur, a simple-minded laundress and seamstress.  They together had four children, all of whom were send to orphanages.  Keep in mind that that was a common response to poverty in those days (i.e. from the fall of Rome to World War II!).  He did feel considerable remorse about it later, but admitted that he would have made a really lousy father!  No one doubts him on that.

He worked as a secretary to various aristocrats and spent quite some time composing music.  He even rewrote an operetta by Voltaire and wrote to him.  A literary contest with a monetary prize caught his attention and, in 1750, he won with Discours sur les arts et les sciences -- a powerful attack on civilization.

This was the first time we see his ideas about the natural goodness of man.  And although we think of him as an Enlightenment thinker, this thesis was actually anti-Enlightenment, anti-philosophy, anti-reason, anti-Voltaire, and even anti-printing press!  The good life, he was saying, is the simple life of the peasants.  This conception of “back to nature” involved, of course, a romanticized notion of nature, and stands in stark contrast to the nature of jungles and deserts!

1752 was another active year.  He wrote his comedy Narcisse.  His operetta Le devin du village was successfully presented to the King.  Unfortunately, his illness -- he suffered from a variety of painful and humiliating bladder problems -- kept him from meeting the King, and he forfeited a pension.

In 1753, another competition was announced.  Rousseau’s entry, Discourse sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes, won and was published two years later.

In this piece, he accepted biological inequalities, but argued that there were no natural bases for any other inequalities -- economic, political, social, or moral!  These, he said, were basically due to the existence of private property and the need to defend it with force.  Man is good, he argued, but society, which is little more than the reification of greed, corrupts us all.

He admits that it is no longer possible for us to leave civilized society now.  It has, in fact, become a part of our nature!  The best we can do is to lead simpler lives with fewer luxuries with the simple morality of the gospels to guide us.

In his article on economics for the Encyclopedia, he suggest that it would help if we had a graduated income tax, a tax on luxuries (and none on necessities), and national free public education.

In 1756, he moved with Therese and her elderly mother into “the Hermitage,” a cottage lent to him by Mme d’Épinay.  There he wrote a novel (or “romance”) called Julie, ou la nouvelle Heloise, referring to the Heloise of Heloise and Abelard fame.  It became perhaps the most famous novel of the 1700s.

On the other side, he alienated his friends with unpleasant letters and his rudeness towards his benefactress Mme D’Epinay.  Even his oldest friend, Diderot, called him mad.  In a huff, he left the Hermitage.

In 1762, Rousseau published both Émile and The Social Contract.  The first line of The Social Contract is the most famous:  “Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains.”  The purpose of the rest of the book was to describe a society that would instead preserve that freedom.

“The social contract” is an admittedly mythological contract among individuals to surrender some of their freedoms to ensure a community which respects the individual and, thereby, preserves as much freedom as possible.  This idea, combined with Locke’s thoughts on government, were to inspire the founding fathers of the new United States.

It should be noted, though, that at the end of the book, Rousseau does prescribe death as the punishment for anyone who, by their actions, shows that they do not hold the common values of the community!  The French Revolution would show more clearly than the American what a double-edged sword a philosophy such as Rousseau’s can be!

Émile was far more sedate.  It is a treatise on child-rearing, from the man who sent his four children to orphanages!  Turns out, though, he had some pretty good advice.

He condemned all forms of education that use force.  Instead, he promoted education that nurtured the natural unfolding of a child’s potentials.  This in a time when it was thought that if you didn’t beat children regularly with a good sized stick, they would grow up spoiled!  And Nature, he said, is to be the child’s primary teacher, with freedom to explore the major teaching method.

Basically, he says, the child learns by gradual adaptation to necessities, and by imitation of those around him.  Education should be primarily moral until the child is twelve, when intellectual education begins.  Religious education should be held off until the child is 18.  This way, the child can develop reasonable religious beliefs, rather than unthinking acceptance of mythology and miracles.

The book is beautifully written, but many would say almost naively idealistic.  It would be a great influence in Europe and later in the United States.  Maria Montessori in Italy, for example, based many of her ideas on Rousseau, as did John Dewey in the US.  What we now call progressive education and learning by doing come basically from Émile!

The great philosophers of his time laughed at him -- but the clergy was outraged!  Rousseau’s friends warned him and encouraged him to flee.  In 1762, the French parlement ordered all copies of Emile confiscated and burned.  Rousseau fled to Switzerland, only to have both his books burned in Calvinist Geneva.

He begged Frederick the Great for asylum in Neuchâtel.  There he lived, more eccentric than ever.  And yet he was the idol of women everywhere, and his publishers begged him for more.  He gave them more, primarily in the form of essays or letters to his critics.

But the local ministers in Neuchâtel were also upset about his writings, and a local sermon led to an attack on Rousseau’s house.  He and Therese moved again, to a lone cottage on a tiny island in a lake in Switzerland.  But he was again ordered to leave, which he did, first to Strasbourg, then to England at the invitation of David Hume in 1766.

At first in London he was the talk of the town, and everyone wanted to meet him.  But he tired of this quickly and asked Hume to find him a place in the country.  There, Rousseau, Therese, and their dog Sultan put quite a strain on their hosts’ hospitality.

Rousseau began to read critical articles in the British press.  Already rather paranoid, he responded to them as if there were a conspiracy against him, and even accused Hume of being a part of it.  He and Therese “escaped” from England back to France.

Although technically still in danger of arrest in France, he nevertheless enjoyed the reception his fans gave him.  But fearing for his life, he fled into the countryside to wander anonymously.  In 1768, he finally married his Therese.

She begged him to go back to Paris, so they did (under pseudonyms).  There he copied music for a living, and also finally finished, in 1770, his autobiography.

He continued to write, some of his most beautiful work as well as some of his most paranoid, until 1778.  He had moved into a cottage offered by the Marquis de Girardin, where he happily studied the local flora, when he suffered a stroke.  Therese tried to move him onto his bed, but he fell again and cut his head.  By the time the Marquis got to him, he was dead.

He was buried on the estate, and his grave become a pilgrimage site.  He was later moved to the Pantheon in Paris, and laid to rest not far from, of all people, Voltaire.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe. -- Goethe

Goethe was born in 1749 in Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany, the oldest of six children -- although only he and a sister survived into adulthood. His father, Johann Kaspar Goethe, was a well-to-do lawyer and amateur scholar, but a failure in politics and with an unpleasant disposition.  His mother, Katharina Elisabeth Textor was considerably more pleasant, and was the daughter of the bürgermeister (mayor) of Frankfurt.

Young Goethe was a handsome and talented youth, learned languages easily, and was interested in music and art.  He entered the University of Leipzig to study law, but a disappointment in love led him to sickness and depression, and he left school.  In 1771, however, he received his law degree from the University of Strasbourg.

His early reading of Bayle's Dictionary led him to renounce his Christianity as a teenager and become an atheist.  He later mellowed a bit, and adopted a pantheism modeled after Spinoza's.

In 1774, he wrote Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (the Sorrows of Young Werther), a tragic love story that, though panned by the critics, was wildly successful, especially among young romantic intellectuals.  The book concludes with a suicide which was, sadly, imitated by a number of lovesick readers.  Like many of his works, the story emphasized the tensions between the nature of the individual and the restrictions of society.

The following year, he was invited to join the Duke of Saxony-Weimar at court.  At first, he was just an "ornament" there, but later he performed various real political duties, including inspections of mines and the establishment of weather observatories.

In 1782, he was inducted into the nobility, which permitted him to add "von" to his name.  Because of his fame and status in Weimar, he met and befriended a number of young poets, including Schiller and Herder.

Since his teens, Goethe was given to falling in love, yet apparently unable to commit himself to one woman or the institution of marriage.  His longest and most intense relationship began around 1775 with Charlotte von Schardt, a married woman who had had seven children (though only four survived).  He would write long and romantic letters to her for most of his life.

He did eventually set up a household with a young working-class girl named Christiane Vulpius.  She bore a child on Christmas day in 1789.

In 1801, Goethe became quite ill, and his recovery took many years.  Toward the end of his illness, Napoleon defeated the Prussians at Jena and marched into Weimar.  His troops attempted to take over Goethe's house, and Christiane physically protected him.  He finally married her.

Goethe was a strong admirer of Napoleon, and visited him in 1808 at the emperor's invitation. Goethe also visited with Beethoven in 1812.

Goethe's greatest work is his two-part play Faust.  Although he began writing it in 1773, it would not be finished until 1831.  The first part, however, could stand alone, and it was completed in 1808.  Its theme was human freedom and the power of passion, which Faust discovers after he wagers his soul in a devil's bargain with  Mephistopheles.

[An interesting aside:  Goethe's Faust creates an artificial man in his laboratory.  This influenced a certain Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein (perhaps the first science fiction novel).  She even places her story in a 13th century castle she had seen which belonged to the old (and colorful) German family Frankenstein, a castle Goethe was also quite familiar with!]

In addition to his poetry, novels, and plays, Goethe spent considerable time on science.  He studied medicine, anatomy, physics, chemistry, botany, and meteorology.

In 1792, he completed the two part Beiträge zur Optik (Contributions to Optics), and in 1810 the three part Zur Farbenlehre (On the Theory of Colors).  He truly believed that it was these works that would be his greatest contributions.  Instead, few scientists approved of them, and they were to make little serious impact on the field.  His work would make an impression on various artists, though, including Turner, Klee, and Kandinsky.  His approach was really more phenomenological than experimental, and his work reflected more on the subjective experiences of color and light than on their physics.

He also wrote a book called The Metamorphosis of Plants, which suggested that all plants are just variations on a primitive plant he called the Urpflanze.  He coined the term morphology along the way, and showed the relationship of human beings to animals with his discovery of the human intermaxillary bone (just above your upper teeth), just where it is in lower animals.

His wife Christiane died in 1816.  His lifelong love Charlotte died in 1827.  The Duke died the following year.  And his last remaining child died in 1830.  Suffering from sickness and depression, Goethe himself finally died, March 22, 1832, one year after finishing the second half of his masterpiece Faust.

Arthur Schopenhauer


Arthur Schopenhauer was born February 22, 1788 in Danzig, Prussia (now Gdansk in Poland).  His father was a successful businessman, and his mother a novelist.  Young Arthur was moved around Europe quite a bit, which allowed him to become fluent in several languages, and to develop a deep love of nature.

In 1805, his father died, and he tried a business career.  He lived with his mother for a while in Weimar, and she introduced him to Goethe.  He went on to study medicine at the University of Göttingen and philosophy at the University of Berlin, and ultimately received his doctorate from the University of Jena in 1813.  Later, he worked with Goethe on Goethe's studies on color.

In 1819, he published his greatest work, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Idea).

To Schopenhauer, the phenomenal world is basically an illusion.  The true reality, Kant's "thing-in-itself," he refers to as Will.  Will, perhaps an odd term to us today, is more like the Tao in Chinese philosophy:  It is out of the Will that everything derives.  But it has more the qualities of a force, and pushes or drives what we perceive as the phenomenal world.

Will is, you could say, the inner nature of all things.  So, if you want to understand something's -- or someone's -- inner nature, you need only look within yourself.  So the Will also drives us, through our instincts.  This concept would influence a young Sigmund Freud a generation later.

Schopenhauer, profoundly influenced by his reading of Buddhist literature, saw life as essentially painful.  We are forced by our natures, our instincts, to live, to breed, to suffer, and to die.  Schopenhauer is often described as "the great pessimist!"

For the world is Hell, and men are on the one hand the tormented souls and on the other the devils in it....

If you imagine... the sum total of distress, pain, and suffering of every kind which the sun shines upon in its course, you will have to admit it would have been much better if the sun had been able to call up the phenomenon of life as little on the earth as on the moon....

To our amazement we suddenly exist, after having for countless millennia not existed; in a short while we will again not exist, also for countless millennia.  That cannot be right, says the heart.

The question, of course, is how does one get past this suffering?  One way he recommends is esthetic salvation -- seeing the beauty in something, or someone.  When we do this, we are actually looking at the universal or essence behind the scene, which moves us in turn towards the universal subject within ourselves.  This quiets the will that forces us into the phenomenal world.  Schopenhauer believed that music was the purest art -- one step from will.

A second way to transcend suffering is through ethical salvation -- compassion.  Here, too, it is the recognition of self-in-others and others-in-self that leads to a quieting of the will.

But these are only partial answers.  The full answer requires religious salvation -- asceticism, the direct stilling of all desires by a life of self-denial and meditation.  Without the will, only nothingness remains, which is Nirvana.

Schopenhauer lived many years of his life a bitter and reclusive man, unable to deal with his lack of success in life.  He began publishing his works again in 1836, and intellectuals all over Europe began to develop an interest in him.

Sadly, Schopenhauer developed heart problems and on September 21, 1860, he died.  After his death, he would powerfully influence such notables as the composer Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Mann and many other writers.

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard


There are, as is known, insects that die in the moment of fertilization. So it is with all joy: life's highest, most splendid moment of enjoyment is accompanied by death. -- Kierkegaard

Søren Kierkegaard was born in Copenhagen on May 5, 1813, the youngest of seven children.  His father, Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard, was in the hosiery business.  He was a powerful man who held to a particularly gloomy Christianity, obsessed with guilt over having once cursed God.  His mother was Ane Sørensdatter Lund, a servant of the Kierkegaard's.

Two of Søren's brothers and two of his sisters died.  By 1834, his mother had died as well, and Kierkegaard became nearly as depressed as his father.  He lost his faith and turned to a hedonistic life-style, but had a religious experience in 1838.  He received his theology degree in 1840, and proposed to Regine Olsen, daughter of a prominent Copenhagen government official.

No one knows precisely why, but in late 1841, he broke off the engagement, which led to considerable negative social press.  It seems to have been the pivotal crisis in his life, and he abruptly left to Berlin to study.

When he returned, he finished a manuscript he had been working on, and in 1843 published Either/Or.  It takes the form of an argument about how to live life between an "aesthetic" man and an "ethical" man -- very probably reflecting two aspects of Kierkegaard's own soul.

The aesthetic man is basically a hedonist and an atheist.  Although he is portrayed as a refined gentleman, his sections of the book are rambling, suggesting that his life is likewise without focus.  The ethical man is a judge, and his arguments are far more orderly and eloquent:  He spends considerable time analyzing the ancient Roman emperor Nero and his mental states.

Also in 1843, he published his famous book Fear and Trembling, which retells the story of Abraham and his near-sacrifice of his son.  This time, Kierkegaard compares the ethical response -- it is clearly wrong to kill one's own son -- with a religious response, which is reflected in Abraham's faith in his God.

In his various books, Kierkegaard develops his three "stages" or competing life philosophies:  The aesthetic person, who lives in the moment and lacks commitment;  the ethical person, who is in fact committed to his ideals; and the religious person, who recognizes the transcendent nature of true ideals.  Notice the similarity to Schopenhauer, although for Schopenhauer "aesthetic" refers to a love of art and music, not hedonism.

Throughout his work, he was concerned with passions.  He defined anxiety, for example, as "the dizziness of freedom." Despair is what the hedonist feels when he finally recognized the emptiness of his life.  Guilt is what the ethical man feels when he inevitably discovers his inability to forgive himself. These definitions would profoundly influence a number of later philosophers and writers.

In 1849, he published Sickness unto Death, which was his strongest call to the conventional Christians of Copenhagen to take what Kierkegaard called "a leap of faith" into a more personal kind of religion.  But his community is not quite ready for this passionate brand of Christianity, and he was severely criticized by the religious powers of Denmark.

Kierkegaard is often considered the first existentialist, mostly because of the way he used the word existence.  He said that God doesn't exist because he is eternal.  Only people exist, because they are always an unfinished product.  And the nature of existence is, first, that it is the domain of the individual, and second, that individual must take responsibility for his or her own creation.

But Kierkegaard noted that his was not a "system" of philosophy.  Human existence is an  ongoing process of creation, and cannot be encompassed by any "system."  This has been a central theme in existentialism ever since.

Kierkegaard died on October 2, 1855, of spinal paralysis.  He would not take communion, and he asked that no clergy participate in his funeral.  His epitaph reads "The Individual."

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

1844 - 1900

I fear animals regard man as a creature of their own kind which has in a highly dangerous fashion lost its healthy animal reason - as the mad animal, as the laughing animal, as the weeping animal, as the unhappy animal. -- Nietzsche

Second only to Rousseau in the impact he had on Psychology is Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.  He was born in Röcken, in Prussia Saxony, on October 15, 1844, named after Friedrich Wilhelm IV, King of Prussia, who had the same birthday.  Nietzsche's father was a minister -- one of many in the family -- who had tutored several members of the royal family.  His mother was a puritanical housewife.

When Friedrich was 18, he lost his faith -- which would remain a central issue for the rest of his life.  And he said his life was changed as well by his reading of Schopenhauer a few years later while a student at the University of Leipzig.

When he was 23, he was drafted into the Prussian army -- but he fell off a horse, hurt his chest, and was released.

He received an appointment as professor of philology (classical languages and literature) at the University of Basel at the tender age of 24, a year before he received his Ph.D.  Near Basel lived the famous Richard Wagner, and Nietzsche was invited to Christmas dinner in 1869.  Wagner’s grandiose and romantic operas were to influence Nietzsche’s view of life for some time to come.

He served a brief stint as a volunteer medical orderly during the Franco-Prussian War, during which he contracted diphtheria and dysentery, which damaged his health permanently.

After returning to Basel, he published his first book in 1872 -- inspired by Wagner -- called The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music.  It was in this book that he introduced the contrast of the Dionysian and Apollonian.  Dionysus was the god of wine and revelry, living for the moment.  Apollo was the god of peace, order, and art.  The one lacks discipline, but the other lacks, as we would say today, soul.

In 1879, because of his seriously deteriorating health, he was forced to retire from teaching. He published Human, All Too Human -- an analysis of emotion -- in parts from 1878 through 1880.  During this time also, he fell in love, although briefly, with the famous Lou Salomé (later a confident of Sigmund Freud’s!).

Heartbroken, and perhaps recognizing that he was destined for bachelorhood, he retired high into the Alps to write his master work, Thus Spake Zarathustra, published in 1883 through 1885.  Here, he made a heroic effort at addressing the pessimism of Schopenhauer.  Nietzsche felt that religion had failed miserably to provide man with meaning. So now that God was “dead,” we needed to stop looking to the skies and  start providing that missing meaning ourselves.  The people he saw as having accomplished this transition he called “Über-menschen,” usually translated as supermen.  But, he notes, supermen have not arrived as yet, and we must be satisfied to serve as a bridge to that future.

The book is a masterpiece by any standard, yet Nietzsche remained an unknown.  His health continuing to deteriorate, he was cared for by his sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche.  She, however, married an anti-semite who Nietzsche abhorred and moved to a commune in Paraguay!

Nietzsche then lived in various rooming houses all over Italy and Switzerland.  His eyesight went from bad to worse, and his headaches overwhelmed him.  He stopped writing books and instead wrote aphorisms (short comments), which he then collected into books.

Beyond Good and Evil (the best introduction to his ideas) came out in 1886, and The Genealogy of Morals in 1887. In these books, he makes clear his great distinction between Herren-Moral and Herden-Moral, that is, the morality of lords and the morality of the herd.

The morality of the herd is what he calls traditional Judeo-Christian morality:  It is, he says, an ethic of helplessness and fear.  With this morality, we keep the powerful and talented under control by appealing to virtues such as altruism and egalitarianism.  Secretly, it is, like all motives, a “will to power” -- but a sly, manipulative one.  We cry “I am weaker than you, but I am still better than you!”

The morality of lords, on the other hand, is based on the manly virtues of courage, honor, power, and the love of danger.  It is pagan, western, teutonic.  The only rule, he said, is do not betray a friend.

Although he was not anti-semitic, his choice of words would lead the Nazis to use some of them in ways he never intended many years after his death.  Ask yourself if the masses of people shouting “Heil Hitler!” and the acts of rounding up minority civilians for work camps and slaughter in any way make you think of courage and honor!

The contrast between these two moralities is in fact a very productive one:


human rights



Nietzsche become increasingly ill and bitter, blind and paranoid.  In Turin in January of 1889 he had attempted to protect a horse that was being whipped when he suffered an apoplectic stroke (just like Rousseau) which sent him to an asylum.  Some believe his collapse was the result of syphilis, but it could just as well have been due to years of medication. His mother claimed him and took care of him until she died in 1897, when his sister, now back in Germany, took him in.

He was seldom lucid after that.  He died August 25, 1900 at the age of 55, of stroke and pneumonia.

A number of his works were published after his collapse, including The Will to Power in 1889, which is a collection of aphorisms found in his notebooks, and his autobiography Ecce Homo in 1908.  Ecce Homo illustrates both his brilliance and his insanity very dramatically.  Freud called him the most brilliant psychologist who ever lived.

Romanticism in General

Beneath all the variety represented by the Romantics lies a common theme: Passion.  While the empiricists were concerned with sensory data, and the rationalists were concerned with reason, the romantics looked at consciousness and saw first and foremost its dynamics, purposefulness, striving, desire... passion!

Goethe has Faust say, ''Gefühl ist alles."  Feeling is everything!

In fact, they saw passion in all life, as a basic category... life as a Darwinian struggle, not just to survive, but to overcome.  As such, it could be called instinct; but in humanity, it goes further, and involves an overcoming of nature itself.

"The only reality is this:  The will of every center of power to become stronger -- not self-preservation, but the desire to appropriate, to become master, to become more, to become stronger," said Nietzsche.

Along with their love of passion came an impatience with, even disgust at, the mediocre, the weak, the irresponsible, the unpassionate.

The romantic's view of the world is a reflection of their view of humanity:  The world is rich, full of qualities -- color, sound, flavor, feeling -- thick, you might say, and not the thin, gray, empty thing as pictured by modern science.  They tended to ignore metaphysical speculation as an intellectual game.  And for Schopenhauer, passion became the basic form of all reality:  a universe pressing to be realized.

A passionate metaphysics requires a passionate epistemology (as opposed to an intellectual or empirical one).  First, there is a preference for intuition or insight:  As Pascal put it, "the heart has reasons that reason knows nothing of."  A holistic understanding is more satisfying than logical, analytical, or experimental explanations.  The world is too big for those and has to be embraced rather than picked apart.

And the importance of the subjective is emphasized.  All experience is subjective as well as objective.  This is a sort of "uncertainty principle" that applies to all sciences, and philosophy, and certainly psychology.  Objectivity is simply a meaningless goal.  So subjectivity is not something to eliminate, but to understand.

Hence we must go back to life as it is lived, the Lebenswelt.  We must study whole, meaningful experiences.  We might want to go back to ordinary people, perhaps children or primitives, to understand the lived world before it is tainted by our perpetual intellectualization.  These tendencies would eventually lead to phenomenology and related methodologies.

Last (and far from least), we must have a passionate morality.  The romantics tend to admire the heroic, taking a stand against nature, against the mediocre, against nothingness or meaninglessness.  To some extent, the heroic is closely tied to futility:  It is often Quixotic, or picaresque.  There is an affection for the foolish or unconventional.

Romantic morality is more stoic than epicurean.  Meaning, as expressed by virtue, purpose, and courage, is the highest value, not pleasure or happiness as we usually conceive of them.

Some romantics are suspicious of Asian philosophy to the extent that it represents surrender.  Nietzsche, among them, considers even the Judeo-Christian tradition "Asian" and weak.  Their suspicion is not entirely well-founded:  In traditions such as Taoism and Zen Buddhism, for example, "surrender" is valued precisely for the strength it imparts, as demonstrated physically in judo ("gentle way").  Schopenhauer understood this, and his work is clearly colored by Buddhism in particular.

A passionate morality requires freedom, which Goethe considered the greatest happiness, and which was quickly disappearing from empiricist, rationalist, and even religious philosophy.  I have to be free to take that courageous stand; to be determined is to be nothing at all.

A little Buddhism sneaks in when Nietzsche speaks of amor fati, love of fate:  When choices are taken from you, you can still conquer the moment with your attitude.

Nietzsche said "God is dead!"  Now, anything goes.  You don't have to do anything.  Be nice?  Why?  Be selfish?  Why?  As Sartre put it, we are "condemned" to freedom.  Even when we choose to allow ourselves to be determined, it is our choice.  Even Kierkegaard asks us to take a leap of faith that has no justification.  So, we have nothing to lean on, no crutch, no "opiate," no excuses.

Freedom means responsibility.  We create ourselves, or better, we overcome ourselves, or at least we should.  Others just play out their "programs."  Freedom requires that we be truly aware, fully conscious.  It requires that we be fully feeling, that we not deny but experience our passion.  It requires that we be active, involved.

Freedom means creativity, and the romantic prefers the artist over the scientist.  These ideas are the foundation for the concept of self-actualization.

The heirs of the romantics are the phenomenologists, existentialists, and humanists of today.

© Copyright 1999, C. George Boeree.  All rights reserved.