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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


HERDER

(1744 — 1803)

 

ANTI-RATIONALISM

Johann Gottfried Herder was born in Mohrungen, East Prussia, the son of a schoolmaster. He was educated at Königsberg University (where he met Kant and Hamann), studying medicine for a time before changing to theology. He became a teacher in Riga, and embarked on his writing career. In 1769 he travelled in France (meeting Goethe in Strasbourg). Having been ordained in 1765, he was appointed court preacher in Bückeburg. By this time he had broken away from the Enlightenment and had become one of the leaders of the Sturm und Drang ('Storm and Stress') movement. He moved to Weimar in 1776 (again to become court preacher) and despite financial difficulties and a large family maintained his prolific output of books and essays on literature and philosophy.

 

PHILOSOPHY OF MAN/ CULTURE

[1] Herder rejected 'faculty' psychology; for him reasoning, perceiving, feeling, desiring, and so on are all activities of a unitary organism. [See Treatise on the Origin of Language and Cognition and Sensation.] He was also critical of a priori forms of sensibility and understanding, and of any mind-body dualism [a], insisting that psychology could not be dissociated from physiology. He supposed that the psycho-physical organism exhibits in its thoughts and actions a fundamental force or energy (Kraft). This is also manifested in the phenomenal world in general, all things being interconnected. There is thus 'continuity' within and between the parallel orders of the natural and the spiritual or 'ideal' [b]. He later argued [Metacritique] — against Kant — that the judgements of mathematics are not synthetic but are 'identical' [c]; and he also criticized Kant's account of space and time; they are not forms of intuition [d]. Just as he had rejected faculty psychology so he was critical of faculty theories of art such as commonsense, conscience, taste [see Critical Forests, IV]. And while in his later work he seems to accept that there are common features in all forms of art (in so far as art is both an expression of the whole man and reflected in Nature — the ground of aesthetic and religious feeling), he yet regarded beauty as relative to a particular culture or period of culture [e]. He thus argued for a view of art that requires both a psychological and a historical approach [see, for example, Another Philosophy of History].

[2] As for the origin of language, Herder at various times accepted the view that language and thought were in some mysterious way given to man by God. But he later returned to the naturalist view that it is to be accounted for in terms of the development of human consciousness (and not as an 'invention') in the context of man as a social being; for without language thought (that is the use of symbols) and therefore communication is impossible. Reasoning cannot be separated from language, and neither can culture [Treatise on the Origin of Language] [a]. To reason is to think, for which language is indispensable. It is either inward (silent speech) or overt — expressed vocally. Herder also said there are different types of language. In particular he distinguished between scientific (including philosophical) language and poetic language. The various types are, he thinks, exhibited in the historical process [see especially Ideas for the Philosophy of History of Mankind]. And he points to four stages of development [b]: 'childhood', 'youth', 'manhood', and 'old age' — characterized respectively by the languages of passion (cries and gestures), poetry and song (metaphor), poetry and prose, and philosophical pedanticism. The implication is that in the course of time there is a decline in the creativity and vitality of language. Moreover, different languages, on account of their different 'physiognomies', present us with different ways of looking at the world (Weltanschauungen). And there is no single a priori underlying structure; formal logic only approximates to what languages may have in common [c].

Herder says that running parallel to the stages of language there are different stages in the history of human development. But he rejects any suggestion of historical inevitability, progress, or rationalistic schemes into which events must be forced. In all societies, though, man's moral 'purpose' is to achieve Humanitt, that is self-realization which involves the fulfilment of his spiritual, mental, and physical potential. Education is the key [see Letters for the Advancement of Humanity] [d].

Herder also says that different cultures reflect different geography, climates, human needs, and so on; but each has its own value and is united or integral by virtue of shared traditions expressed through its language in poetry and other cultural activities. No culture should be regarded as 'superior' to another. To understand different cultures we must study and interpret them from within: we must learn and empathize (einfhlen) with them [e].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Initially an Enlightenment thinker, Herder progressively moved away from both rationalism and the Kantian critical philosophy in the direction of Romanticism as he came to emphasize the central role played by language in human history — and indeed in culture in general. Accepting Hamann's views on the inseparability of language and reason, he regarded man as a unitary, active organism. However, by stressing that there are different types of language and corresponding cultures and rejecting absolute standards Herder lays himself open to the charge of relativism. At the same time his key concept of 'Humanity' as something to be realized carries with it the suggestion that it is an ideal of perfection towards which individual man can aspire. Whether or not these tendencies can be reconciled, Herder's wide-ranging thought was to influence significantly the subsequent development of the philosophy of culture and the emergence of hermeneutics.

 

READING

Herder: Kritische Wälder (1769) (Critical Forests); Abhandlung ber den Ursprung der Sprache (1770) (Treatise on the Origin of Language); Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte zur Bildung der Menschheit (1774) (Another Philosophy of History Concerning the Development of Mankind); Vom Erkennen und Empfinden der menschlichen Seele (1778) (Of the Cognition and Sensation of the Human Soul); Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit (1784-01) (Ideas for the Philosophy of History of Mankind); Briefe zur Befrderung der Humanitt (1793-7) (Letters for the Advancement of Humanity); 'Metakritik' zur Critik der reinen Vernunft (1799) (Metacritique of the Critique of Pure Reason); and many others. Most of these are included in Herder: Philosophical Writings, ed. and trans. M. N. Forster, et al.; and his Ideas for a Philosophy of History are translated by T. Churchill as Outlines of a Philosophy of the History of Man. See also G. Moore (ed. & trans.), Selected Writings on Aesthetics.

Studies

I. Berlin, Vico and Herder.

I. Berlin, Three Critics of the Enlightenmen:t Vico, Hamann, Herder.

R. T. Clark, Herder: His Life and Thought.

J. H. Zammito, Kant, Herder, and the Birth of Anthropology.

 

 

 

CONNECTIONS

Herder

 

[1a d] Man as unitary organism; rejects 'faculty psychology', dualisms, space and time as a priori forms; empirical approach to knowledge

   Descartes

   Leibniz

   Hume

   Kant

   Hamann

Dilthey

   Husserl

[1d 2b 3g]

[2e 6b c]

[1b c]

[2a b]

[1b]

[1a b]

[6a]

 

[1b] Concept of force/ energy (Kraft); all things thereby interconnected; continuity between and within the natural and the spiritual

   Leibniz

   Spinoza

   Condillac

Fichte

Schelling

[2c-e]

[3a]

[4b]

[2b]

[1a-c e 2b]

 

[1c] Judgements of mathematics 'identical', not synthetic

   Leibniz

   Hume

   Kant

[1b]

[1g]

[1b]

 

[1e; cf. 1a 2e] Rejection of 'faculty' theories of art; art as expression of whole man and reflected in Nature; beauty relevant to the cultural context; understanding requires empathy (Einfhlen)

   Shaftesbury

   Kant

Schleiermacher

Dilthey

[1e]

[9c]

[3c]

[1b 2b]

 

[2a] (Later) 'naturalist' view of origin of language; reason and culture inseparable from language

   Rousseau

   Condillac

   Hamann

[1d]

[1a 1b]

[1c]

 

[2b] Different types/ modes of language ('symbolic forms') — poetry, science, etc.; exhibited in stages in historical process

   Vico

   Berkeley

   Schelling

   Wittgenstein

[2b]

[1b]

[5d]

[2d]

 

[2c] Different languages govern different world-views; no single underlying logical structure

   Russell

   Wittgenstein

[1d]

[2b 3a]

 

[2d] Human development in different historical stages but no 'inevitable progress' (rationalistic schemes); man's purpose self realization/ 'Humanitt'

   Posidonius

   Vico

   Shaftesbury

   Hamann

Fichte

Schleiermacher

   Hegel

   Mill

[2d]

[2a]

[1a]

[1d]

[3b]

[2a 3a]

[9a]

[4b]

       [perhaps via W. von Humboldt]

 

[2e] Different societies/ cultures as function of climate, geography, human needs but united through shared traditions/ language; each has its own unique value; interpretation through empathy

   Protagoras

   Vico

Fichte

Schleiermacher

   Hegel

Dilthey

[3a]

[2a]

[4a]

[3d]

[9b]

[1b 3a]