How did German idealism influence early German romanticism?

We can read that there were intrinsic links between German idealism and early German romanticism.

In (Bowie 2003), Chapter 2 "Aesthetics and subjectivity", the author synthesizes the view of Manfred Frank that romantics' 'true world' can be "assimilated to the metaphysical realist idea that the world independent of our finite, fallible knowledge of it" :

Much depends here upon how the notion of truth is conceived. The significance of Romantic aesthetic thinking lies not least in its incorporation of a normative sense of the need to attend to all our relations to the world in terms of truth, rather than merely to our cognitive relation to the world of objects investigated by science. Manfred Frank’s recent work (for example, 1997) has tended to interpret the Romantics rather too much in terms of their links to contemporary ‘metaphysical realism’, thereby restricting the interpretative perspective to epistemology.

I find it a bit confusing because, if the romantics were to be heavily influenced by idealism, how could their understanding of reality be a metaphysical realistic one?


Bowie, A. (2003). Aesthetics and subjectivity. Manchester University Press.

  • In wiki list the major philosophical figures of Romanticism ARE the German idealists. Aug 24, 2023 at 16:46
  • 1
    @MauroALLEGRANZA Thanks. I don’t have access to this book. Bowie says one page earlier that the romantics, in line with Kant but in contrary to the German idealists, believed we do not have access to the Absolute. So it may be that their approach to reality is significantly different from the German idealists except Kant
    – Starckman
    Aug 25, 2023 at 3:17
  • At the level of the quote above is hard to answer... "realism", "idealism" are too vague labels. Roughly speaking Romantic literature "was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism". Here individualism is relevant: the subject has a central role: Werther. From the philosophical side, we can see that the subject [the I (das Ich)] plays a central role also in Fichte's philosophy. Aug 25, 2023 at 6:44
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA I was also thinking that what in Fichte influenced the romantics is his theory on the subject (the I (das Ich). I asked a question about individualism/autonomy in romantism here: literature.stackexchange.com/questions/25283/…
    – Starckman
    Aug 25, 2023 at 8:58

2 Answers 2


To give a precise univocal definition of German Idealism is rather difficult since the doctrines put forth by Kant in 1781 are of a very different nature to the Hegelian doctrines that culminate this period several years later. We can essentially split German Idealism into two separate forms. Firstly we have the Transcendental Idealism started by Kant and continued by Fichte, which we could also describe as "formal" idealism since the subject is the source of the form of experience. Secondly we have Absolute Idealism, which the German Romantics develop chiefly in reaction against the problems identified within Kant and Fichte.

Thus, in one way the German Romantics are the German Idealists, specifically Hölderlin, Novalis and Shlegel who as early as 1795 we can trace the origins of Absolute Idealism. Alternatively, your reference to German Idealism is strictly focusing on the Kantian-Fichtean Idealism, which certainly influenced the romantics and led them towards the doctrines of Absolute Idealism.

Through arguments put forth by Hamann, Jacobi and Maimon the idealism of Kant and Fichte is left entwined in its own paradox by the early 1790's. We are dealing with the problem of grounding the critical philosophy which begs the need of metaphysics, which is prohibited by the critical philosophy itself. Hölderlin is the first followed shortly by Novalis and Shlegel to answer this challenge.


Manfred Frank, The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism (2004), page 28:

The thought of Hölderlin and that of Hardenberg (Novalis) and Schlegel cannot be assimilated to the mainstream of so-called German idealism, although these philosophers developed their thought in close cooperation with the principle figures of German idealism, Fichte and Schelling (Hegel, a latecomer to free speculation, played at that time only a passive role). The thought of Hölderlin, Novalis, and Schlegel implies a tenet of basic realism, which I will provisionally express by the formula, that that which has being— or, we might say, the essence of our reality—cannot be traced back to determinations of our consciousness. If ontological realism can be expressed by the thesis that reality exists independently of our consciousness (even if we suppose thought to play a role in structuring reality) and if epistemological realism consists in the thesis that we do not possess adequate knowledge of reality, then early German Romanticism can be called a version of ontological and epistemological realism. Early German Romanticism never subscribed to the projects of liquidating the thing in itself (Ding an sich), which are characteristic of the beginnings of idealism from Salomon Maimon to Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel.

  • Does Manfred Frank agree with the fact that, although for him reality exists independently of consciousness (= realism), nonetheless, it remains inaccessible as is to human beings (including poets)? I think this is what is said in "Fichte and the emergence of early german romanticism" (Millan 2020), but I am not really sure since I can't read Frank's book directly...
    – Starckman
    Aug 25, 2023 at 9:00

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