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Johann Gottfried Herder “Ideas for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind”

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Herder, Johann Gottfried 1969. Ideas for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind. – Herder, Johann Gottfried. Herder on Social and Political Culture. Cambridge University Press: 253-326

Whilst animals on the whole remain true to the qualities of their kind, man alone has made a goddess of choice in place of necessity. (256)

No creature, that we know of, has departed from its original organization or has developed in opposition to it. It can operate only with the powers inherent in its organization, and nature knew how to devise sufficient means to confine all living things to the sphere allotted to them. In man everything is adapted to the form he now bears; from it, everything in history is explicable; without it, we are left completely in the dark … (257 – of the uproght posture)

[…] the most casual reflection tells us that these faculties are not locally separated as if judgment resided in one part of the brain, memory and imagination in another, the passions and sense perceptions in a third. For the thought processes of our mind are undivided entities, producing in their totality the diverse effects or manifestations which we treat as separate faculties. (259)

If, then, we arrive at the conclusion that man’s superiority can be attributed to the structure of his brain, what can be said to determine the latter? Evidently, I would say, the more developed organization of his whole being, and, in the last analysis, his erect posture. (260-261)

For every creature is in all its parts one living co-operating whole (zusammenwirkendes Ganze). (261)

Art is the most powerful weapon; man is all art and in this sense the very personification of organized defence. To be sure, he lacks claws and teeth for attack; but, then, he was designed to be a peacable creature. Man was not meant to be a cannibal. (262)

Only by speech did the eye and the ear, nay the perceptions of all senses, become united, thus giving rise to creative thought, to which the hands and the other members were subservient tools … The delicate organs of speech must, therefore, be considered as the rudder of our reason, and speech itself as the heavenly spark that gradually kindled our thoughts and senses into flame … (263)

Far from being an innate automaton […] reason, in both its theoretical and practical manifestations, is nothing more than something formed by experience, an acquired knowledge of the propositions and directions of the ideas and faculties, to which man is fashioned by his organization and mode of life. (264)

Man’s reason is the creation of man. (264)

In error and in truth, in rising and in falling he still remains man: feeble indeed, but freeborn; not fully rational, though capable of reasoning. His human essence – Humanität – is not ready made, yet it is potentially realizable. (266)

All the instincts of a living being are reducible to self-preservation and sympathy. The whole organic structure of man is by superior guidance most carefully adapted to these two basic instincts. (268)

It must be conceded, however, that man’s body is primarily geared for defence and not for attack. In defence man is by nature the most powerful creature upon earth. But for purposes of attack he needs artificial aids. Thus his very structure teaches him to live in peace and not from robbery, murder and destruction. It is the first characteristic of humanity. (268)

The father becomes the instructor of his son, as the mother had been the nurse of the infant. In this way a new link in the chain of humanity is forged. Here lies the essential basis of human society, without which no man would grow and develop and no collectivity of men could emerge. Man, then, is born for society. (270)

It is the rule of true and false, of the idem et idem, of reciprocity, founded on the system of all our propensities, and attributable perhaps also to man’s upright posture. If I press someone to my bosom, he presses me also to his; if I risk my life for him, he risks his for mine. It is on this principle of reciprocity that the laws of man and of nations are founded … (270)

[…] man is actually formed in and for society, without which he could neither have come into existence, nor grown to maturity. He starts to be unsociable when his own natural interests clash with those of other men. (304)

Peace, then, and not war is the natural state of unoppressed humanity. War rises from exceptional pressures, from emergency situations, but not from a sense of enjoyment, a love of fighting. (305)

The very concept of ’happiness’ implies that man is capable of neither experiencing not creating pure and lasting bliss. He is the child of chance; it is a matter of luck where he comes to live, when and under what cisrcumstances. The country, the time, the total constellation of circumstances happen to decide both his capacity of enjoyment and the manner and measure of his joys and sorrows. (307)

Every living being enjoys its existence; it does not inquire into, or brood over, the reasons of its existence. Its purpose is intrinsic to itself. No savage commits suicide, no animal destroys itself. They propagate their species without knowing why, and submit to every toil and exertion under the severest climate merely in order to live. This simple, deep-rooted feeling of existence, this something sui generis is happiness … (308)

Father and mother, husband and wife, son and brother, friend and man: these are natural relationships in which we may be happy. The state can give us many ingenious contrivances; unfortunately it can also deprive us of something far more essential: our own selves. (310)

The very thought of a superior European culture is a blatant insult to the majesty of Nature. (311)

If happiness is to be found on this earth, it has to be looked for within every sentient being. Every man has the standard of happiness within himself. He carries it within the form in which he has been fashioned, and it is only within this sphere that he can be happy … (311)

Since our specific character derives from being born almost without instinct, it is only by training and experience that our lives as men take shape; they determine bot the perfectibility and the corruptibility of our race. Thus the history of mankind is necessarily a whole, i.e. a chain formed from the first link to the last by the moulding process of socialization and tradition. (312)

We can speak, therefore, of an education of mankind. Every individual only becomes man by means of education, and the whole species lives solely as this chain of individuals. (312)

Education, which performs the function of transmitting social traditions, can be said to be genetic, […] and organic, by virtue of the manner in which that is being transmitted is assimilated and applied. We may term this second genesis, which permeates man’s whole life, enlightenment, by the light it affords to understanding, or culture, in so far as it is comparable to the cultivation of the soil. (313)

The natural state of man is society. […] The first forms of government arose out of these natural social relationships. They were, essentially, family rules and regulations without which human groupings could not persist; laws formed and limited by nature. We could regard them therefore as representing natural government of the first order. It is the most basic political organization, and has proved the most lasting if not best. (317-318)

Where in these areas paternal and domestic governments cease to be effective, the extension of political organization usually takes the form of ad hoc arrangements contractually made for a given task. […] A political organization of this type we may classify as natural government of the second order. It will be found among those peoples whose chief concerns are common material needs and who are said to live therefore on a state of nature. (318)

Yet how different is the third type of political order, hereditary government! […] Nature does not distribute her noblest gifts in families. The right of blood, according to which one unborn has a legitimate claim to rule over others yet unborn by right of his birth, is to me one of the most puzzling formulae human language could devise. (318-319)

The inequality of men is, however, not so great in nature as it has become through education; the nature of the very same people under different political regimes clearly bears this out. Even the noblest nation loses its dignity under the yoke of despotism. (322)

Man is an animal as long as he needs a master to lord over him; as soon as he attains the status of a human being he no longer needs a master in any real sense. Nature has designated no master to the human species; only brutal vices and passions render one necessary. (323)

[…] all governments of man arose, and continue to exist, because of some human deficiency. (323)

It is nature which educates families: the most natural state is, therefore, one nation, an extended family with one national character. […] Nothing, therefore, is more manifestly contrary to the purpose of political government than the unnatural enlargement of states, the wild mixing of various races and nationalities under one sceptre. (324)

Mutual assistance and protection are the principal ends of all human associations. For a polity, too, this natural order is the best; it should ensure that each of its members be able to become what nature wanted him to become. (325)