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Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von (1749–1832)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC030-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 24, 2019, from

Article Summary

Goethe was a statesman, scientist, amateur artist, theatrical impresario, dramatist, novelist and Germany’s supreme lyric poet; indeed he provided the Romantic generation which followed him with their conception of what a poet should be. His works, diaries and about 12,000 letters run to nearly 150 volumes. His drama Faust (1790–1832) is the greatest long poem in modern European literature and made the legend of Dr Faust a modern myth. He knew most of the significant figures in the philosophical movement of German Idealism (though he never met Kant), but he was not himself a philosopher. His literary works certainly addressed contemporary philosophical concerns: Iphigenie auf Tauris (Iphigenia in Tauris) (1779–86) seems a prophetic dramatization of the ethical and religious autonomy Kant was to proclaim from 1785; in his novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften (The Elective Affinities) (1809) a mysterious natural or supernatural world of chemistry, magnetism or Fate, such as ‘Naturphilosophie’ envisaged, seems to underlie and perhaps determine a human story of spiritual adultery; in Faust, particularly Part Two, the tale of a pact or wager with the Devil seems to develop into a survey of world cultural history, which has been held to have overtones of Schelling, Hegel or even Marx. But whatever their conceptual materials, Goethe’s literary works require literary rather than philosophical analysis. There are, however, certain discrete concepts prominent in his scientific work, or in the expressions of his ‘wisdom’ – maxims, essays, autobiographies, letters and conversations – with which Goethe’s name is particularly associated and which are capable of being separately discussed. Notable among these are: Nature and metamorphosis (Bildung), polarity and ‘intensification’ (Steigerung), the ‘primal phenomena’ (Urphänomene), ‘the daemonic’ (das Dämonische) and renunciation (Entsagung).

Citing this article:
Boyle, Nicholas. Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von (1749–1832), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC030-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

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