Project research abstract
‘A human being may be dishumanised’: Coleridge and Human Life
From his middle to his late career, Coleridge was convinced that there is a ‘wide chasm between man and the noblest animals of the brute creation, which no perceivable or conceivable difference of organization is sufficient to overbridge’ (SW 2 “Theory of Life” 501); most importantly because non-human creatures are governed by “externalInfluence”, while humans are endowed free Will, “having its Law within itself” (AR 98). However, despite his overall conviction of the “glaring difference” between Man and Beast (SW 2, “The Races of Men” 1410), he admits that a “human being may be dishumanised … by his own act” (OM, 11). This statement looks like a contradiction in terms. How can a human act dishumanise its human agent? And what becomes of humans if they are dishumanised?
The present essay takes as its starting point the notion of akrasia (Pfau), this “riddle of humanity”, which is, according to Coleridge, “to transgress [the principles of reason], but still to acknowledge [them]” (OM 9–10). Then, examining the difference between the human as a person having conscience and the human as a species, it traces down how “irritability”, “sensibility”, and “habit”, which are proper to humans and animals alike (cf: “Theory of Life” and “On the Passions”, and also: Webster, Timár) may dissever human “volition” from the “Will”, and thereby complicate Coleridge’s idea of human life.