Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Comparative Literature and Literary Theory

First Advisor

Catriona MacLeod


Metaphysical Organs from Leibniz to Marx

Leif Weatherby

Catriona MacLeod, supervisor

This dissertation locates and treats the Early German Romantic project of finding or creating an "organ" for metaphysics. The Romantics derived their sense of Organ from a spectrum of meanings and etymological developments of the Greek organon, "instrument." Simultaneously physiological and metaphysical, what I call Romantic organology was meant to bridge the critical gap between thought and being, and to provide a transition from the speculative to the political. What resulted was a kind of technological imagination forming a major moment in modern metaphysics.

The term Organ had conceptual and metaphorical origins in German in the late 18th century--in biology, but also in the works of Leibniz, Kant, and Herder, it was always present but never semantically fixed. Indeed, its modern meaning ("functional part of a living being") was established in the German public sphere only in the 1790s. Aristotelian scholasticism had long described logic a set of tools for philosophy, an organon. The organon's etymological sibling, the organ, had a primarily physiological heritage ("sense-organ," "internal organ"). Intentionally conflating the medical and logical notions, the Romantics imagined their literary-philosophical efforts as the construction of an ideal yet concrete tool. This project has until now been missing from the intellectual historiography of the period (and especially from the important works of Hans Blumenberg and Michel Foucault).

Hölderlin, Schelling, and Novalis shared the project of determining what sort of knowledge can count as metaphysical in a world filled with antinomies created by the political and technological upheavals of the 18th century. A new metaphysics, they reasoned, would need a determinate means, and they exploited the term Organ's newness and attendant ambiguity to underpin their aesthetic and philosophical pretensions. Hölderlin used it to found a metaphysics of tragedy; Schelling to bridge gaps between epistemology, natural science, and theology; and Novalis to lend weight to his universal encyclopedia. Goethe and Marx, I argue, both inherited this project indirectly, revising the Romantic project for their own metaphysical and political programs. Organology is at the basis of a surprising metaphysical legacy of Romanticism, which the dissertation reconstructs both systematically and contextually.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."