Hans-Georg Gadamer on Education, Poetry, and History: Applied Hermeneutics

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Chapter4

THE UNIVERSITY OF HEIDELBERG AND THE BIRTH OF MODERN SCIENCE

The spectacular success of the Bibliotheca Palatina exhibition this year, in connection with the six hundredth anniversary of Heidelberg University, informs us of what the historical depth of one's own past can mean to people today. No individual can wish to compete with the comprehensiveness of this documentation, although it can only attest to the older history of our university. Our Ruperto-Carola has, however, a special justification of its double name ' Ruperto-Carola.' It alludes to something like a second founding, to the initiation of the university's reconstruction in the beginning of the nineteenth century. At that time, after a period of decay, a new epoch opened which would raise Heidelberg to world renown. This epoch will be our subject in so far as time limitations permit.

That modern Heidelberg and modern science, one of whose centers is here, belong to the great movement of the Enlightenment does not require explication. We recognize in the reconstruction of Heidelberg University, as the first university of the newly formed state of Baden (beginning in 1803), the fundamental victory of the Enlightenment's central demand to guarantee intellectual freedom in opposition to throne and altar. Admittedly it still took a long time until censorship and politically motivated interference stopped having a massive influence on the intellectual task of science.

The reconstruction of Heidelberg University occurred at the same time as Heidelberg blossomed as one of the cult centers of Romanticism. Enlightenment and Romanticism -- one asks oneself how these forces could cooperate. Clearly the negative, pejorative tone in the expression "Romanticism" is a result of the later development of the pragmatic, dispassionate way of thinking, an antagonistic image propagated by the new religion of hard currency. In any case, the relationship between the two concepts 'Enlightenment' and 'Romanticism' remains an expression for a precarious antagonism. There will always be something unreal in the invocation of the Romantic past, although the Romantic movement saw this as its final goal. Against this, I maintain: the spirit of Romanticism belongs itself to the Enlightenment movement in the West. This is

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Essay first published in Heidelberg, 1987.

-37-

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