Johann Gottfried von Herder

HomePage | Recent changes | View source | Discuss this page | Page history | Log in |

Printable version | Disclaimers | Privacy policy

Johann Gottfried von Herder was born 1744 in Mohrungen, East Prussia.

This German philosopher, theologian and poet grew up with his father's bible and songbook. Herder studied at the University of Koenigsberg and after that with Immanuel Kant. In 1764 Herder went to Riga as a preacher and teacher. He was noticed with his writings of origins of language, 'Ursprung der Sprache'. While going on extensive travels, he met Goethe. This can be seen as the beginning of the 'Sturm und Drang' movement. In the meanwhile he took a position with Graf Wilhelm von Schaumburg-Lippe. By 1776 he had moved to Weimar and on Goethe's urging took a position as General superindendent.

Herder proclaimed support for the French Revolution, which did not endear him to the royalty. He also differed with Kant's philosophy and turned away from the Sturm und Drang movement, to go back to the poems of Shakespeare and Homer. Herder developed the idea of a folksy cultural identity, by which language and literature of a nation is expressed. For him the common folk, "Volk", was the carrier of history. Nature's history and history of mankind follow the same rules. He published letters to advance humanity and he collected folk songs. They were published in 1773 as voices of the people in their songs ('Stimmen der Voelker in ihren Liedern').

Poets Achim von Arnim and Clemens von Brentano used 'Stimmen der Voelker' as samples for 'the boys magic horn' (Des Knaben Wunderhorn).

Along with Wilhelm von Humboldt proposed what is now called the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis --that language determines thought. Early theoretician of ethnic nationalism with his concept of the German Volk.

Herder died 1803 in Weimar.