The Many Faces of Philosophy: Reflections from Plato to Arendt

By Amélie Oksenberg Rorty | Go to book overview

21
Culture and the Stages
of the Imagination

JOHANN GOTTFRIED HERDER

Born in Prussia, Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803) received a classical edu-
cation before studying theology at Koenigsberg. After traveling widely, he was
ordained as a Lutheran minister. Goethe's influence assured his appointment as
head of the Lutheran clergy in Weimar in 1776. An eclectic thinker with a wide
scope of interests, he wrote on the philosophy of language (Essay on the Origin
of Language
, 1772), the philosophy of history (Ideas for the Philosophy of the
History of Mankind
, 1784–1791), and philosophical psychology (Of the Cognition
and Sensation of the Human Soul
, 1778). A member of the Berlin Academy, he
took an active part in discussions about the relative merits of nationalism and
cosmopolitanism. A friend of Hamann, he speculated on the dynamic relation
between language and culture; a friend of Goethe, he developed theories about
the sources of thought in natural, organic processes. His influence extended
beyond Hegel and Schelling to the vitalism of Schopenhauer and Bergson, and
to Heidegger's nationalistic period.


Journal of My Voyage in the Year 1769

1. AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL REFLECTIONS

Every farewell is bewildering. One thinks and feels far less than one anticipated. The intensity with which the mind focuses on the future blurs the sensibilities towards what is left behind. If, in addition, the farewell is too drawn out, it also tends to become wearisome. Only after departing does one begin to reflect on the past and to regret lost opportunities. Thus I found myself confessing that I made far from the best use of the library. It would have been of obvious advantage to me had I drawn up a systematic plan of study in the subjects for which I was responsible and made the history of their respective domains my chief concern. O God, how infinitely fruitful, had I studied mathematics in its diverse aspects and surveyed from this base the other sciences—physics and natural history—in the most thorough fashion and with the aid of all the relevant data! Likewise, my studies could only have gained in illumination had I made fuller use of the books that were illustrated by engravings. Above all, I should have concentrated far more on the French language. That would have been making use of my position "as librarian" and proving worthy of it. It would have enriched my education in the most agreeable manner, and prevented it from being neglected or becoming wearisome. If only I had included in my studies mathematical drawing, historical exposition, practice in speaking French! God, how much one loses in those years through violent passions, through levity and through allowing oneself to be carried away into the paths of chance, years that can never be regained.

I deplore the loss of those years of my mortal life; yet was it not entirely up

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