Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 February 2013
During a conversation with H. E. G. Paulus that took place some time between 1794 and 1800, Goethe is reported to have expressed reservations about what Paulus refers to as the “damals gepriesene ‘absolute Spekulieren’” associated with German idealism — particularly the notion that both nature and human activity may be understood through the deployment of supersensuous or transcendental ideas (GG 1:777–78). Goethe is said to have asked how this notion of the “Übersinnliche” or supersensuous fits together with both human nature and “Naturphilosophie,” observing that the more humans labor, in spite of all Kant's warnings, on speculations about “das Übermenschliche,” the more would philosophizing eventually be finally directed towards “das Menschliche” and towards that which is intellectually and physically knowable about nature. Only through a combination of theoretical speculation and empirical investigation, suggested Goethe, could a true “Naturphilosophie” be comprehended (GG 1:778).
Goethe's use of the term Naturphilosophie suggests that this conversation may have taken place either during or after 1797, the year in which Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling's Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur (Ideas towards a Philosophy of Nature) appeared. Boyle reports that in November 1797, upon returning from a journey to Switzerland, Goethe obtained a copy of Schelling's Ideen. Half a year later, in May 1798, Goethe met with Schelling for the first time, one month prior to the publication of what Boyle calls “Schelling's first systematic essay in the new Naturphilosophie,” Von der Weltseele (On the World Soul; BGA 2:593).