Johann Gottfried Herder

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Johann Gottfried Herder

Johann Gottfried von Herder (August 25, 1744December 18, 1803), German poet, critic, theologian, and philosopher, is best known for his influence on authors such as Goethe and the role he played in the development of the larger cultural movement known as romanticism



Born in Mohrungen (Polish: Morag) in the Kingdom of Prussia, Herder grew up in a poor household learning from his father's Bible and songbook. Starting in 1762 he studied at the University of Knigsberg, where he was influenced by Johann_Georg_Hamann and Immanuel Kant before he took his 'critical turn'. Now a preacher, in 1764 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 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 he traveled to Strassbourg, where he met a 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. and 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 Bckeburg under Count Wilhelm von Schaumburg-Lippe. Throughout this period he continued elaborating his own unique theory of aesthetics in works such his famous Essay on the Origin of Language 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 ber Ossian und die Lieder alter Vlker (Extract from a correspondence about Ossian and the Songs of Ancient Peoples) published in 1773 in a manifesto along with contributions from Goethe and Justus Mser. 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.

By the mid-1770s Goethe was a well-known author, and used his influence at the court of Weimar to secure Herder as position as General Superintendent. Herder moved there in 1776, where his outlook 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. Towards the end of his career Herder endorsed the French Revolution, which earned him the enmity of many of his colleauges. At the same time, he and Goethe experienced a personal split. Herder died in 1803 in Weimar.

Works and ideas

Along with Wilhelm von Humboldt, he proposed what is now called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis - that language determines thought. 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 Germanic folk tales.

Herder 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, which did not endear him to the 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 Voelker in ihren Liedern). The poets Achim von Arnim and Clemens von Brentano later used Stimmen der Voelker as samples for The Boy's Magic Horn (Des Knaben Wunderhorn).



  • How Philosophy Can Become More Universal and Useful for the Benefit of the People (essay)


  • Fragments on Recent German Literature (literary criticism)


  • Critical Forests (literary criticism)


  • Treatise on the Origin of Language


  • This Too a Philosophy of History for the Formation of Humanity (1774)


  • 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)


  • Theological Letters (1780-1)
  • On the Influence of the Beautiful Sciences on the Higher Sciences (1781)
  • On the Spirit of Hebrew Poetry (1782-3);
  • God. Some Conversations (1787)


  • Ideas for the Philosophy of History of Humanity (1784-91)
  • Letters for the Advancement of Humanity (1793-7) (political philosophy)


  • Christian Writings (1794-8) (on the New Testament gospels)
  • Metacritique (1799) (against the theoretical philosophy of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason)
  • Calligone (1800) (against the aesthetics of Kant's Critique of Judgment)

External links


de:Johann Gottfried von Herder es:Johann Gottfried von Herder fr:Johann Gottfried von Herder nl:Johann Gottfried von Herder no:Johann Gottfried von Herder pl:Johann Herder sk:Johann Gottfried von Herder


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