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Essay Writing - Goethe and Wordsworth - The Romantic Self - Assessment Answer

January 16, 2017
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Essay Question - Using Goethe and Wordsworth, critically discuss the romantic self in terms of reason, nature and freedom.

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The Romantic Self in terms of Reason, Nature and Freedom

The romantic Self-conception contrasts with the empirical view of the Self. Four elements that are core to the romantic Self are the value of art, creativity, imagination and the Self. Romanticism takes a subjective view of the world, contrary to Empiricism and Rationalism that view the world objectively. Freedom, Nature and the Self are central elements of the philosophy of Romanticism. There are varying views on the relationship between man and nature. Even the focus on nature varies among different views where others focus on the philosophy while others focus on the intellect. Freedom is seen as an ideal that man should strive to obtain although the approaches also differ. Romanticism seeks to exploit creativity of the Self rather than limit it to a mechanical view of the world. This essay discusses the romantic Self in terms of Reason, Nature and freedom.


Reason, science and logic hold little value in the romantic view of the Self. On the other hand, imagination, intuition and emotion are of greater significance. The potentialities of the human mind are equally of great concern in the romantic view of the self. In contrast to Classism, Romantics seeks to exploit mysterious abilities of the intellect (Edwards, 2014). Man is seen as being able to achieve greater satisfaction by favouring emotion, imagination and intuition over reason. This view is quite reasonable considering that reason cannot answer all of the questions that pester man. Reason is also constrained to what is known so far. Hence, the mind cannot venture into experiences that are yet to be exploited by science and reason. However, imagination is limitless; and as postulated by the romantic view of the self, the world out there is created by our mind (Cladis, 2014). Therefore, by abandoning reason in favour of the imagination, one is able to attain greater satisfaction by shaping the world out there according to their needs.


Although romantic views of nature differ among different views, the underlying common understanding is that nature is an important feature. There is a great emphasis on nature and the harmony that can be derived from it. Nature is seen as a powerful source of control in the equation that delivers harmony. In fact, Wordsworth perceived nature as a living thing capable of guiding a person into a specific shelf. Nature is also a source of artistic inspiration which is one of the tenets of the romantic self. Man and nature are unified through a dependency where nature can provide joy and pleasure or man can react to nature according to his disposition and mood. Although the beliefs on the relationship vary, the common understanding is that there exists a relationship.

Encounters with Nature create disharmony individually; but when discordant experiences come together, they blend harmoniously. This view makes a comparison with the composition of music where different notes are brought together to make unified harmonious music. Similarly, different encounters with Nature can create anxiety and discord when they are alone, but a combination of these encounters creates harmony (Li, 2016). The power behind this unification of discordant elements is described as Invisible Workmanship. This contrasts to Empiricism, which would seek the logical progression in any intellectual endeavour. At the beginning of such an endeavour there is disharmony, then there is a mysterious middle and then at the end, there is harmony. This mysterious middle is guided by Nature. Nature reconciles all the discordant experiences and guides a person into a specific Self.


Those who fallaciously believe that they are free, according to Goethe, are the most enslaved. Goethe had a desire for intellectual freedom as he was a freethinker. This idea of freedom is such freedom should be pursued even if it deforms established order. The romantic Self prioritises freedom over order (Weisman, 2012). For instance, one can be Christian even without belonging to any church. This view of the Self seeks to pull down all impediments to intellectual freedom. One could choose a few elements from a system and abandon others which he thinks they would limit his freedom. Goethe’s view of Christianity is among the most suitable examples of this defiance of the established order. Although he denied being anti-Christian or un-Christian, he still insisted that he was non-Christian. This notion is further seen through his defence on pederasty. The argument that such love is as old as man himself should justify that it is natural enough to be acceptable. Goethe is attributed to the quote “I like boys a lot, but the girls are even nicer. If I tire of her as a girl, she’ll play the boy for me as well”. This is clearly expressing his approval for same-sex relationships, although they were such dishonour at his time.

In the romantic view of the Self, freedom is seen as an absolute essential that must be obtained at any cost. Wordsworth too perceives freedom as an ideal that man should pursue. However, civilisation is an enemy of freedom and therefore postulates that a restoration of traditional ethical values can promise this freedom. Slavery is seen as a result of pursuing material desires that end up enchaining the mind into a web of insatiable desires (Kraut, 2013). In such a situation, one cannot free up themselves unless they exit from that system; and the only way out of the system is by retreating to traditional ethical values.

Both approaches to freedom have a common factor: freedom is an absolute essential that man should pursue. However, their approaches differ intrinsically. The latter view of freedom is more practicable in the modern society. It neither conflicts with social norms nor legal obligations. However, the concept of freedom according to Goethe may not be workable in the modern society. Today, societies are well established on law and order. If a man shall pursue freedom at the expense of established order, disharmony would be created and that would be retrogressive. Goethe argued that because the freedom was sought on oneself, it does not disrupt social order. Even so, sticking by this philosophy, today one would find himself contravening the law.

The Self

Wordsworth initially looked at himself as being mortal and hence having few options of response and restricted by experience. However, he later notes that it is only his body that is mortal. He notes that his spirit is immortal and can transcend beyond his body’s mortal being. The Self responds to every encountered circumstance. The immortality of the soul becomes an important development of the Self. The notion of infinity is closely associated with the Self and hence it is perceived as continuous. What this implies is that the Self is not limited by experiences or time, but rather it has the freedom to be guided in growth by nature. The identity of the Self as it is developed by Nature is an ideal that people need to desire and work towards. According to Wordsworth, the Self is not limited by experiences; instead, experiences grow and expand it.

Self-realisation is an important concept where discovering oneself offers them the opportunity to attain joy and pleasure through nature. One can be saved alone, even without the intervention of society; thus, emphasising the need for self-realisation. Development of a free being can be attained through freedom of the spirit and self expression. Art is seeing a way through which the mind can attain its full awareness. There is a great emphasis on understanding reality. When there is a vague conception of reality, one is unable to judge freely. Hence, they will force their equivocal judgment on hard reality in vain. The self belongs to a greater consciousness and therefore, one should just act rationally ignoring individual freedom. Through understanding and following reality or acting rationally, one can easily attain fulfilment of the Self.


The romantic self completely contrasts with Empiricism in that it favours imagination, intuition and emotion over reason and logic. Nature also forms a central part of the romantic view of the Self where it is seen a source of joy and pleasure. This view is likely superior to Empiricism considering that it is able to deliver greater satisfaction to oneself than logic and reason would. Romanticism allows the Self to recreate the world according to its particular wishes and not what has already been established by others.

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