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Johann Gottfried von Herder
Full name Johann Gottfried von Herder
Born 25 August 1744
Died 18 December 1803 (aged 59)
Era Enlightenment philosophy
Region German philosophy
School Romantic nationalism
Main interests Sturm und Drang, philology, cultural anthropology
Notable ideas Volksgeist

Johann Gottfried von Herder (25 August 1744 – 18 December 1803) was a German philosopher, theologian, poet, and literary critic. He is associated with the periods of Enlightenment, Sturm und Drang, and Weimar Classicism.

Contents

Biography

The Johann Gottfried Herder statue in Weimar in front of the Peter and Paul church

Born in Mohrungen (Morąg) in the Kingdom of Prussia, Herder grew up in a poor household, educating himself from his father's Bible and songbook. In 1762, an introspective youth of seventeen, he enrolled at the local University of Königsberg, where he became a student of Immanuel Kant. At the same time, Herder became an intellectual protégé of Johann Georg Hamann, a patriotic Francophobe and intensely subjective thinker who championed the emotions against reason. His choice of Hamann over such luminaries as Immanuel Kant was significant, as this odd figure, a needy hypochondriac, delved back into the German mysticism of Jacob Böhme and others, pronouncing obscure and oracular dicta that brought him fame as the "Magus of the North". Hamann's disjointed effusions generally carried subtitles such as Hierophantic Letters or A Rhapsody in Cabbalistic Prose.

Hamann's influence led Herder to confess to his wife later in life that "I have too little reason and too much idiosyncrasy", yet Herder can justly claim to have founded a new school of German political thought. Although himself an unsociable person, Herder influenced his contemporaries greatly. One friend wrote to him in 1785, hailing his works as "inspired by God." A varied field of theorists were later to find inspiration in Herder's tantalisingly incomplete ideas.

In 1764, now a clergyman, Herder went to Riga to teach. It was during this period that he produced his first major works, which were literary criticism.

In 1769 Herder traveled by ship to the French port of Nantes and continued on to Paris. This resulted in both an account of his travels as well as a shift of his own self-conception as an author.

By 1770 Herder went to Strasbourg, where he met the young Goethe. This event proved to be a key juncture in the history of German literature, as Goethe was inspired by Herder's literary criticism to develop his own style. This can be seen as the beginning of the "Sturm und Drang" movement. In 1771 Herder took a position as head pastor and court preacher at Bückeburg under Count Wilhelm von Schaumburg-Lippe.

By the mid-1770s, Goethe was a well-known author, and used his influence at the court of Weimar to secure Herder a position as General Superintendent. Herder moved there in 1776, where his outlook shifted again towards classicism.

Towards the end of his career, Herder endorsed the French Revolution, which earned him the enmity of many of his colleagues. At the same time, he and Goethe experienced a personal split. Herder died in Weimar in 1803.

Works and ideas

Herder

In 1772 Herder published Treatise on the Origin of Language and went further in this promotion of language than his earlier injunction to "spew out the ugly slime of the Seine. Speak German, O You German". Herder now had established the foundations of comparative philology within the new currents of political outlook.

Throughout this period, he continued to elaborate his own unique theory of aesthetics in works such as the above, while Goethe produced works like The Sorrows of Young Werther – the Sturm und Drang movement was born.

Herder wrote an important essay on Shakespeare and Auszug aus einem Briefwechsel über Ossian und die Lieder alter Völker (Extract from a correspondence about Ossian and the Songs of Ancient Peoples) published in 1773 in a manifesto along with contributions by Goethe and Justus Möser. Herder wrote that "A poet is the creator of the nation around him, he gives them a world to see and has their souls in his hand to lead them to that world." To him such poetry had its greatest purity and power in nations before they became civilised, as shown in the Old Testament, the Edda, and Homer, and he tried to find such virtues in ancient German folk songs and Norse poetry and mythology.

After becoming General Superintendent in 1776, Herder's philosophy shifted again towards classicism. Herder was at his best during this period, and produced works such as his unfinished Outline of a Philosophical History of Humanity which largely originated the school of historical thought. Herder's philosophy was of a deeply subjective turn, stressing influence by physical and historical circumstance upon human development, stressing that "one must go into the age, into the region, into the whole history, and feel one's way into everything". The historian should be the "regenerated contemporary" of the past, and history a science as "instrument of the most genuine patriotic spirit".

Herder gave Germans new pride in their origins, modifying that dominance of regard allotted to Greek art (Greek revival) extolled among others by Johann Joachim Winckelmann and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. He remarked that he would have wished to be born in the Middle Ages and mused whether "the times of the Swabian emperors" did not "deserve to be set forth in their true light in accordance with the German mode of thought?". Herder equated the German with the Gothic and favoured Dürer and everything Gothic. As with the sphere of art, equally he proclaimed a national message within the sphere of language. He topped the line of German authors emanating from Martin Opitz, who had written his Aristarchus, sive de contemptu linguae Teutonicae in Latin in 1617, urging Germans to glory in their hitherto despised language. Herder's extensive collections of folk-poetry began a great craze in Germany for that neglected topic.

Along with Wilhelm von Humboldt, Herder was one of the first to argue that language determines thought, a theme that two centuries later would be central to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Herder's focus upon language and cultural traditions as the ties that create a "nation" extended to include folklore, dance, music and art, and inspired Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in their collection of German folk tales.

Herder attached exceptional importance to the concept of nationality and of patriotism – "he that has lost his patriotic spirit has lost himself and the whole worlds about himself", whilst teaching that "in a certain sense every human perfection is national". Herder carried folk theory to an extreme by maintaining that "there is only one class in the state, the Volk, (not the rabble), and the king belongs to this class as well as the peasant". Explanation that the Volk was not the rabble was a novel conception in this era, and with Herder can be seen the emergence of "the people" as the basis for the emergence of a classless but hierarchical national body.

The nation, however, was individual and separate, distinguished, to Herder, by climate, education, foreign intercourse, tradition and heredity. Providence he praised for having "wonderfully separated nationalities not only by woods and mountains, seas and deserts, rivers and climates, but more particularly by languages, inclinations and characters". Herder praised the tribal outlook writing that "the savage who loves himself, his wife and child with quiet joy and glows with limited activity of his tribe as for his own life is in my opinion a more real being than that cultivated shadow who is enraptured with the shadow of the whole species", isolated since "each nationality contains its centre of happiness within itself, as a bullet the centre of gravity". With no need for comparison since "every nation bears in itself the standard of its perfection, totally independent of all comparison with that of others" for "do not nationalities differ in everything, in poetry, in appearance, in tastes, in usages, customs and languages? Must not religion which partakes of these also differ among the nationalities?"

He also predicted that Slavic nations would one day be the real power in Europe, as the western Europeans would reject Christianity, and thus rot away, and saying that the eastern European nations would stick to their religion and their idealism; and would this way become the power in Europe. One of his related predictions was that the Hungarian nation would disappear and become assimilated by surrounding Slavic peoples; this prophecy caused considerable uproar in Hungary and is widely cited to this day.[1]

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Germany and The Enlightenment

This question was further developed by Herder's lament that Martin Luther did not establish a national church, and his doubt whether Germany did not buy Christianity at too high a price, that of true nationality. Herder's patriotism bordered at times upon national pantheism, demanding of territorial unity as "He is deserving of glory and gratitude who seeks to promote the unity of the territories of Germany through writings, manufacture, and institutions" and sounding an even deeper call:

"But now! Again I cry, my German brethren! But now! The remains of all genuine folk-thought is rolling into the abyss of oblivion with a last and accelerated impetus. For the last century we have been ashamed of everything that concerns the fatherland."
Johann Gottfried Herder.jpg

In his, Ideas upon Philosophy and the History of Mankind he even wrote, "Compare England with Germany: the English are Germans, and even in the latest times the Germans have led the way for the English in the greatest things."

Herder, who hated absolutism and Prussian nationalism, but who was imbued with the spirit of the whole German Volk, yet as historical theorist turned away from the light of the eighteenth century. Seeking to reconcile his thought with this earlier age, Herder sought to harmonize his conception of sentiment with reason, whereby all knowledge is implicit in the soul; the most elementary stage is sensuous and intuitive perception which by development can become self-conscious and rational. To Herder, this development is the harmonizing of primitive and derivative truth, of experience and intelligence, feeling and reason.

Herder is the first in a long line of Germans preoccupied with this harmony. This search is itself the key to much in German theory. And Herder was too penetrating a thinker not to understand and fear the extremes to which his folk-theory could tend, and so issued specific warnings. Herder's attitude toward Jews is complex. He argued that Jews in Germany should enjoy the full rights and obligations of Germans, and that the non-Jews of the world owed a debt to Jews for centuries of abuse, and that this debt could be discharged only by actively assisting those Jews who wished to do so to regain political sovereignty in their ancient homeland of Israel.[2] Herder refused to adhere to a rigid racial theory, writing that "notwithstanding the varieties of the human form, there is but one and the same species of man throughout the whole earth".

He also announced that "national glory is a deceiving seducer. When it reaches a certain height, it clasps the head with an iron band. The enclosed sees nothing in the mist but his own picture; he is susceptible to no foreign impressions." And:

"It is the apparent plan of nature that as one human being, so also one generation, and also one nationality learn, learn incessantly, from and with the others, until all have comprehended the difficult lesson: No nationality has been solely designated by God as the chosen people of the earth; above all we must seek the truth and cultivate the garden of the common good. Hence no nationality of Europe may separate itself sharply, and foolishly say, "With us alone, with us dwells all wisdom."

The passage of time was to demonstrate that while many Germans were to find influence in Herder's convictions and influence, fewer were to note his qualificatory stipulations.

Herder had emphasised that his conception of the nation encouraged democracy and the free self-expression of a people's identity. He proclaimed support for the French Revolution, a position which did not endear him to royalty. He also differed with Kant's philosophy and turned away from the Sturm und Drang movement to go back to the poems of Shakespeare and Homer.

To promote his concept of the Volk, he published letters and collected folk songs. These latter were published in 1773 as Voices of the People in Their Songs (Stimmen der Völker in ihren Liedern). The poets Achim von Arnim and Clemens von Brentano later used Stimmen der Võlker as samples for The Boy's Magic Horn (Des Knaben Wunderhorn).

Bibliography

  • To Cyrus, the grandson of Astyages (1762)
  • Essay on Being (1763-64)
  • On Diligence in Several Learned Languages (1764)
  • Treatise on the Ode (1764)
  • How Philosophy can become more Universal and Useful for the Benefit of the People (1765)
  • Fragments on Recent German Literature (1767-68)
  • On Thomas Abbt's writings (1768)
  • Critical Forests, or Reflections on the Science and Art of the Beautiful (1769-)
  • Journal of my Voyage in the Year 1769 (first published 1846)
  • Treatise on the Origin of Language (1772)
  • Selection from correspondence on Ossian and the songs of ancient peoples (1773) See also: James Macpherson (1736–1796).
  • Of German Character and Art (with Goethe, manifesto of the Sturm und Drang) (1773)
  • This Too a Philosophy of History for the Formation of Humanity (1774)
  • Oldest Document of the Human Race (1774-76)
  • Essay on Ulrich von Hutten (1776)
  • On the Resemblance of Medieval English and German Poetry (1777)
  • Sculpture: Some Observations on Shape and Form from Pygmalion's Creative Dream (1778)
  • On the Cognition and Sensation of the Human Soul (1778)
  • On the Effect of Poetic Art on the Ethics of Peoples in Ancient and Modern Times (1778)
  • Folk Songs (1778-79; second ed. of 1807 titled The Voices of Peoples in Songs)
  • On the Influence of the Government on the Sciences and the Sciences on the Government (Dissertation on the Reciprocal Influence of Government and the Sciences) (1780)
  • Letters Concerning the Study of Theology (1780-81)
  • On the Influence of the Beautiful in the Higher Sciences (1781)
  • On the Spirit of Hebrew Poetry. An Instruction for Lovers of the Same and the Oldest History of the Human Spirit (1782-83)
  • God. Some Conversations (1787)
  • Ideas for the Philosophy of History of Humanity (1784-91)
  • Scattered Leaves (1785-97)
  • Letters for the Advancement of Humanity (1791-97 or 1793-97? (various drafts))
  • Christian Writings (1794-8)
  • Terpsichore (1795-6) (translations & commentary of the Latin poet, Jakob Balde)
  • Persepolisian Letters (1798) (fragments on Persian architecture, history & religion)
  • Luther’s Catechism, with a catechetical instruction for the use of schools (1798)
  • Understanding and Experience. A Metacritique of the Critique of Pure Reason. Part I. (Part II, Reason and Language.) (1799)
  • Calligone (1800)
  • Adrastea: Events and Characters of the 18th century (6 vols.)
  • The Cid (1805; a free translation of the Spanish epic El Cid)

Works in English

  • Selected Writings on Aesthetics. Edited and translated by Gregory Moore. Princeton U.P. 2006. pp. x + 455. Edition makes many of Herder's writings on aesthetics available in English for the first time.
  • Another Philosophy of History and Selected Political Writings, eds. Ioannis D. Evrigenis and Daniel Pellerin (Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2004). A translation of Auch eine Philosophie and other works.
  • Philosophical Writings, ed. Michael N. Forster (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002). The most important philosophical works of the early Herder available in English, including an unabridged version of the Treatise on the Origin of Language and This Too a Philosophy of History for the Formation of Mankind.
  • Sculpture: Some Observations on Shape and Form from Pygmalion's Creative Dream, ed. Jason Gaiger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002). Herder's Plastik.
  • Selected Early Works, eds. Ernest A. Menze and Karl Menges (University Park: The Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1992). Partial translation of the important text Über die neuere deutsche Litteratur.
  • On World History, eds. Hans Adler and Ernest A. Menze (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1997). Short excerpts on history from various texts.
  • J. G. Herder on Social & Political Culture (Cambridge Studies in the History and Theory of Politics), ed. F. M. Barnard (Cambridge University Press, 2010 (originally published in 1969)) ISBN-10: 0521133815; ISBN-13: 978-0521133814 Selected texts: 1. Journal of my voyage in the year 1769; 2. Essay on the origin of language; 3. Yet another philosophy of history; 4. Dissertation on the reciprocal influence of government and the sciences; 5. Ideas for a philosophy of the history of mankind.
  • Herder: Philosophical Writings, ed. Desmond M. Clarke and Michael N. Forster (Cambridge University Press, 2007) ISBN-13: 9780521790888; ISBN: 0521790883 Contents: Part I. General Philosophical Program: 1. How philosophy can become more universal and useful for the benefit of the people (1765); Part II. Philosophy of Language: 2. Fragments on recent German literature (1767–8); 3. Treatise on the origin of language (1772); Part III. Philosophy of Mind: 4. On Thomas Abbt's writings (1768); 5. On cognition and sensation, the two main forces of the human soul; 6. On the cognition and sensation, the two main forces of the human soul (1775); Part IV. Philosophy of History: 7. On the change of taste (1766); 8. Older critical forestlet (1767/8); 9. This too a philosophy of history for the formation of humanity (1774); Part V. Political Philosophy: 10. Letters concerning the progress of humanity (1792); 11. Letters for the advancement of humanity (1793–7)

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ Transylvania - Title
  2. ^ Barnard, F. M., “The Hebrews and Herder’s Political Creed,” Modern Language Review,” vol. 54, no. 4, October 1959, pp. 533-546.

References

  • Barnard, Frederick Mechner (1965). Herder's Social and Political Thought. Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198271514. 

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Johann Gottfried Herder or von Herder (1744-08-251803-12-18) was a German poet, philosopher, literary critic and folksong collector. He is remembered as a theorist of the Sturm und Drang movement, and as a decisive influence on the young Goethe.

Sourced

  • Wir leben immer in einer Welt, die wir uns selbst bilden.
    • We live in a world we ourselves create.
    • Übers Erkennen und Empfinden in der menschlichen Seele (1774); cited from Bernhard Suphan (ed.) Herders sämmtliche Werke (Berlin: Weidmann, 1877-1913) vol. 8, p. 252. Translation from Roy Pascal The German Sturm und Drang (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1959) p. 136.
  • Am sorgfältigsten, mein Freund, meiden Sie die Autorschaft darüber. Zu früh oder unmäßig gebraucht, macht sie den Kopf wüste und das Herz leer, wenn sie auch sonst keine üblen Folgen gäbe. Ein Mensch, der die Bibel nur lieset, um sie zu erläutern, lieset sie wahrscheinlich übel, und wer jeden Gedanken, der ihm aufstößt, durch Feder und Presse versendet, hat sie in kurzer Zeit alle versandt, und wird bald ein blosser Diener der Druckerey, ein Buchstabensetzer werden.
    • With the greatest possible solicitude avoid authorship. Too early or immoderately employed, it makes the head waste and the heart empty; even were there no other worse consequences. A person, who reads only to print, to all probability reads amiss; and he, who sends away through the pen and the press every thought, the moment it occurs to him, will in a short time have sent all away, and will become a mere journeyman of the printing-office, a compositor.
    • Briefe, das Studium der Theologie betressend (1780-81), Vierundzwanzigster Brief; cited from Bernhard Suphan (ed.) Herders sämmtliche Werke (Berlin: Weidmann, 1877-1913) vol. 10, p. 260. Translation from Samuel Taylor Coleridge Biographia Literaria (London: Rest Fenner, 1817) vol. 1, ch. 11, pp. 233-34.
  • Der Appetit nach einer schönen Frucht ist angenehmer als die Frucht selbst.
    • The craving for a delicate fruit is pleasanter than the fruit itself.
    • Christoph Martin Wieland (ed.) Der deutsche Merkur vol. 20 (1781) p. 214; cited from Bernhard Suphan (ed.) Herders sämmtliche Werke (Berlin Weidmann, 1888) vol. 15, p. 307. Translation from Maturin M. Ballou Pearls of Thought (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1881) p. 13.
  • Tapfer ist der Löwensieger,
    Tapfer ist der Weltbezwinger,
    Tapfrer, wer sich selbst bezwang.
    • Brave the tamer of the lion;
      Brave whom conquered kingdoms praise;
      Bravest he who rules his passions.
    • "Die wiedergefundenen Söhne" (1801); cited from Bernhard Suphan (ed.) Herders sämmtliche Werke (Berlin: Weidmann, 1877-1913) vol. 28, p. 237. Translation from The Monthly Religious Magazine vol. 10 (1853) p. 445.
  • Was in dem Herzen andrer von Uns lebt,
    Ist unser wahrestes und tiefstes Selbst.
    • Whate'er of us lives in the hearts of others
      Is our truest and profoundest self.
    • "Das Selbst, ein Fragment", cited from Bernhard Suphan (ed.) Herders sämmtliche Werke (Berlin: Weidmann, 1877-1913) vol. 29, p. 142. Translation from Hans Urs von Balthasar (trans. Graham Harrison) Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988) vol. 1, p. 504.
  • Sag' o Weiser, wodurch du zu solchem Wissen gelangtest?
    "Dadurch, daß ich mich nie andre zu fragen geschämt."
    • "Tell me, O wise man, how hast thou come to know so astonishingly much?"
      By never being ashamed to ask of those that knew!
    • "Der Weg zur Wissenschaft"; cited from Bernhard Suphan (ed.) Herders sämmtliche Werke (Berlin Weidmann, 1887-1913) vol. 26, p. 376. Translation by Thomas Carlyle, from Clyde de L. Ryals and Kenneth Fielding (eds.) The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995) vol. 23, p. 160.

Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit (1784-91)

German quotations are cited from Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit (Leipzig: Johann Friedrich Hartknoch, 1841); English quotations from T. Churchill (trans.) Outlines of a Philosophy of the History of Man (London: J. Johnson, 1803).

  • Die zwei größten Tyrannen der Erde, der Zufall und die Zeit.
    • The two grand tyrants of the Earth, Time and Chance.
    • Vol. 1, p. x; translation vol. 1, p. xi.
  • Jeder liebt sein Land, seine Sitten, seine Sprache, sein Weib, seine Kinder, nicht weil sie die besten auf der Welt, sondern weil sie die bewährten Seinigen sind, und er in ihnen sich und seine Mühe selbst liebt.
    • Every one loves his country, his manners, his language, his wife, his children; not because they are the best in the World, but because they are absolutely his own, and he loves himself and his own labours in them.
    • Vol. 1, p. 13; translation vol. 1, p. 18.
  • Das Maschinenwerk der Revolutionen irret mich also nicht mehr: es ist unserm Geschlecht so nötig, wie dem Strom seine Wogen, damit er nicht ein stehender Sumpf werde. Immer verjüngt in neuen Gestalten, blüht der Genius der Humanität.
    • I am no longer misled, therefore, by the mechanism of revolutions: it is as necessary to our species, as the waves to the stream, that it becomes not a stagnant pool. The genius of humanity blooms in continually renovated youth.
    • Vol. 1, p. 294; translation vol. 1, p. 416.
  • Wie hinfällig alles Menschenwerk, ja wie drückend auch die beste Einrichtung in wenigen Geschlechtern werde. Die Pflanze blühet und blühet ab; eure Väter starben und verwesen: euer Tempel zerfällt: dein Orakelzelt, deine Gesetztafeln sind nicht mehr: das ewige Band der Menschen, die Sprache selbst veraltet; wie? und Eine Menschenverfassung, Eine politische oder Religionseinrichtung, die doch nur auf diese Stücke gebauet sein kann: sie sollte, sie wollte ewig dauern?
    • How transitory all human structures are, nay how oppressive the best institutions become in the course of a few generations. The plant blossoms, and fades: your fathers have died, and mouldered into dust: your temple is fallen: your tabernacle, the tables of your law, are no more: language itself, that bond of mankind, becomes antiquated: and shall a political constitution, shall a system of government or religion, that can be erected solely on these, endure for ever?
    • Vol. 2, p. 79; translation vol. 2, pp. 113-14.
  • Die Natur des Menschen bleibt immer dieselbe; im zehntausendsten Jahr der Welt wird er mit Leidenschaften geboren, wie er im zweiten derselben mit Leidenschaften geboren ward, und durchläuft den Gang seiner Thorheiten zu einer späten, unvollkommenen, nutzlosen Weisheit. Wir gehen in einem Labyrinth umher, in welchem unser Leben nur eine Spanne abschneidet; daher es uns fast gleichgültig sein kann, ob der Irrweg Entwurf und Ausgang habe.
    • The nature of man remains ever the same: in the ten thousandth year of the World he will be born with passions, as he was born with passions in the two thousandth, and ran through his course of follies to a late, imperfect, useless wisdom. We wander in a labyrinth, in which our lives occupy but a span; so that it is to us nearly a matter of indifference, whether there be any entrance or outlet to the intricate path.
    • Vol. 2, p. 186; translation vol. 2, pp. 266-7.

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