This introductory chapter sets out the central question that the book is seeks to answer: why was Coleridge privately, and sometimes publicly, sceptical about his own theory of symbolism? It argues that in order to understand Coleridge's doubts, his writings must be situated in relation to two important intellectual traditions. The first is a tradition of epistemological ‘piety’, which informs the work of predecessors such as Kant, Hume, Locke, and Boyle, and is connected to Protestant critiques of post-lapsarian natural reason. The second is a tradition of theological voluntarism, which emphasizes the omnipotence of God, at the expense of His other attributes, and posits an arbitrary and contingent relationship between God and His creation: the natural world. It is argued that Coleridge was familiar with both of these interrelated intellectual traditions, and that together they served to undermine his confidence in his ability to read the symbolic language of God in nature.
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