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Herder, Johann Gottfried (1744–1803)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DB038-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Herder was a central figure in the German intellectual renaissance of the late eighteenth century. His achievement spanned virtually every domain of philosophy, and his influence, especially upon Romanticism and German idealism, was immense. In social and political philosophy he played a prominent role in the development of historicism and nationalism. In metaphysics he developed the doctrine of vitalist pantheism, which later became important for Goethe, Schelling and Hegel. In the philosophy of mind he formulated an organic theory of the mind-body relationship, which was crucial for Schelling and Hegel. And in aesthetics he was among the first to defend the value of ethnic poetry and the need for the internal and historical understanding of a text.

Herder’s main aim was to extend the powers of naturalistic explanation to the realm of culture, so that characteristic human activities, such as art, religion, law and language, could be included within the scientific worldview. But he also wanted to avoid reductivistic forms of explanation that viewed such activities as nothing more than matter-in-motion or stimulus-response mechanisms. He insisted that explanation in the cultural sphere had to be holistic and internal as well as mechanical and external. An action had to be understood in its historical context and according to the intention of the agent and not simply as another instance of a causal regularity between events. Herder’s programme, then, was to develop naturalistic yet non-reductivistic explanations for the realm of culture. He attempted to realize this programme in many spheres, especially language, history, religion and the mind.

Citing this article:
Beiser, Frederick. Herder, Johann Gottfried (1744–1803), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DB038-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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