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Goethean Intuitions

from Special Section on Goethe and Idealism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2013

Daniel Purdy
Affiliation:
University of Pennsylvania
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Summary

MY ESSAY PROPOSES TO MAKE a modest down payment on a much-needed narrative of Goethe's philosophical development that refutes some widely held views. The first kind of account claims that Goethe was philosophically naive, unschooled, and uninterested. A second characterization I would want to counter, which might be called the “condescending neo-Kantian” narrative, is one in which Goethe began as a naive realist, was taken in hand by Schiller, and finally converted grudgingly to a kind of poorly understood Kantianism. Both these accounts are very far from the truth.

Goethe's philosophy and relationship to other philosophers can be characterized generally as “intuitive”—in all the senses of that (intentionally) ambiguous term. As a thinker, Goethe was inspired rather than methodical. Moreover, he was “intuitive” in his ability to size up philosophical issues and individual philosophers quickly, getting to the heart of the matter on surprisingly short acquaintance. And Goethe's philosophical work is focused specifically on the role of the faculty of intuition (Spinoza's scientia intuitiva; Kant's “produktive Einbildungskraft” and “intellectus archetypus”; Fichte's “intellektuelle Anschauung”) in epistemology, ethics, and scientific discovery.

As a philosopher of science, Goethe progresses through three phases, which one might call Realist, Idealist, and Romantic. The major influence in the first phase is Spinoza as interpreted by Herder; in the second, Fichte. In the third phase, Goethe develops an original epistemology that might be termed a kind of gesteigerter Spinozismus.

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Goethe Yearbook 18 , pp. 35 - 50
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2011

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