Interweaving past and present texts, The Challenge of Coleridge engages the British Romantic poet, critic, and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge in a "conversation" (in Hans-Georg Gadamer’s sense) with philosophical thinkers today who share his interest in the relationship of interpretation to ethics and whose ideas can be both illuminated and challenged by Coleridge’s insights into and struggles with this relationship.
In his philosophy, poetry, theology, and personal life, Coleridge revealed his concern with this issue, as it manifests itself in the relation between technical and ethical discourse, between fact and value, between self and other, and in the ethical function of aesthetic experience and the role of love in interpretation and ethical action.
Relying on Gadamer’s hermeneutics to supply a framework for his approach, Haney connects Coleridge’s ideas with, among others, Emmanuel Levinas’s other-oriented notion of ethical subjectivity, Paul Ricoeur’s view about the other’s implication in the self, reinterpretations of Greek drama by Bernard Williams and Martha Nussbaum, and Gianni Vattimo's post-Nietzschean hermeneutics.
Coleridge is treated not as a product of Romantic ideology to be deconstructed from a modern perspective, but as a writer who offers a "challenge" to our modern tendency to compartmentalize interpretive issues as a concern for literary theorists and ethical issues as a concern for philosophers. Looking at the two together, Haney shows through his reading of Coleridge, can enrich our understanding of both.