What Was Orphism?

Unknown.jpegBack in Ancient Greece, religion was a critical part of daily life. In addition to their rich, extensive mythology, the Greeks could be initiated into mysteries, secretive and occult groups, almost like secret societies, such as the infamous Eleusinian Mysteries. The groups all coexisted, and they all had unique rituals, and some taught different stories about the creation of the world. The idea of reincarnation, thought outlandish by some, is actually a commonly accepted belief practiced worldwide, and one particular creed in Greece, called Orphism, played a monumental role in Greek culture, not to mention philosophy, its teachings adopted by Pythagoras and even as far as Plato. Little can be said about the creation of the group, no less about the founder; further, the literature that is attributed to the society is scant, and authors have yet to be identified.

According to Orphic cosmological tradition, the universe was conceived of in a cosmic egg. In other words, the cosmos was initially an embryo, self-contained, which at a certain point hatched, the upper half of the egg forming the Heavens, the lower, Earth. There was chaos at first. Then, the three realms—Heaven, Earth, and Sea—were bound by Æther. This substance, described as the fifth element by Aristotle, was like a belt that held the three realms together tightly, creating a compact universe. The Orphics believed in an omnipotent creator, a demiurge, whom they called Phanes, who was the embodiment of both male and female, and thus the objective progenitor of humanity. img_phanes.jpgPhanes was the mightiest of the deities, the god of all gods, until he was devoured by Zeus—a common motif in Greek mythology. It is considered by scholars that this creation story was most likely inspired by contemporary civilizations like Egypt, India, and Babylon, each of which had a creation story of the almost exact structure. Orphism was named after the mythical musician Orpheus, who, so skilled at playing the lyre he could lull rocks and Hades’ three-headed dog Cerberus, tried to retrieve his wife from the Underworld under the condition that he not look at her. He failed in the end and was killed by mænads, passionate followers of Dionysus. The actual religious foundations for the society derive from another myth: that of Dionysus. Born to Zeus and Persephone, Dionysus was dismembered and eaten by the Titans. An angered Zeus struck the Titans with his thunderbolt, disintegrating them, and reviving from their ashes a reincarnated Dionysus, along with man.


Man, born divine and depraved, half-god and half-Titan, was therefore impure. His holy blood from Dionysus’ ashes was tainted with the blood of the corrupt Titans. This mirrors the Christian doctrine of original sin in that it assigns man an innate evil that is up to him to remove, through virtuous action. For this reason, the Orphics thought the body (soma, σωμα) was a tomb (sema, σημα). The body was an impediment, something of which to be ridden, as it reminded man of his corporeality, as opposed to his spirituality, his imperfection, as opposed to his perfection. Plato attested, “I have heard a philosopher [Pythagoras] say that at this moment we are actually dead, and that the body is our tomb…”.[1] To the Orphics, the body was on the same plane of being dead; so tainted is it, that it is like a sarcophagus. Only through certain religious rituals could an individual temporarily transcend his earthly tomb and become one with his divinity. During rituals, the goers would try to enter a state of “enthusiasm,” or an intense and passionate fervor, usually achieved through music, dance, or meditation. The objective of the participant was to escape his body, to relinquish his consciousness, to relieve his sense of self, and to unite with his divine side, in an attempt to reunite with God. Thus, Orphics tried to induce ecstasy, which means etymologically “to stand outside oneself”—literally to escape oneself. In the afterlife, said the Orphics, the soul would be put through judgment, where it would be subject to rigorous testing to see whether its bodily owner was virtuous or not. Sinners would be punished accordingly. The luckier ones had to face Hades, while those who were worse off would be reincarnated until they purified their soul. On the other hand, those who properly tended to their soul were able to be reunited with the World-soul, an overarching, all-inclusive spirit that permeated the world—a pantheistic spirit—from which they came. Central to Orphic doctrine was metempsychosis, a nice way of saying reincarnation, or transmigration of the soul. This concept is similar to the Buddhist idea of Samsara, the wheel of rebirth: If, when we die, we have not balanced our Karma, we are condemned to another life, ad infinitum, until we do so.

When one brings up Orphism, the next topic that will come up, most probably, would be Pythagoreanism, the philosophical brotherhood started by Pythagoras, inventor of the Pythagorean Theorem, since he took many of their doctrines and implemented them into his teachings. Historians accredit Pythagoras with being the first to call himself a philosopher; as such, he took philosophy seriously, considering it a way of life. To him, the happy life was one of contemplation; philosophy was a theoretical life, lived in Unknown-2.jpeginquiry, in discussion, in experimentation. He is said to have “intellectualized” Orphism, applying scientific thinking and reasoning to its beliefs, making it a viable way of life, rather than a mystery. Again, we have Plato to testify: “[T]hey say that the soul of man is immortal, and at one time has an end, which is termed dying, and at another time is born again, but never destroyed. And the moral is, that man ought to live always in perfect holiness.”[2] Here, Plato describes the ethical system of Orphism, explaining the idea of purification, which is required if one wants to join the World-soul. Moreover, he sets up the idea of the immortality of the soul advocated by Pythagoras—an idea that Socrates would have taught him and that would play a crucial role in his philosophy. The soul exists eternally and can never be destroyed; if it is impure at the end of its body’s life, it is to take the body of a new person, and then another, until purification; if, however, at death, the soul is pure, it can go to the World-soul. This last sequence can be detected in Platonic thought in the Phædrus. If Pythagoras considered philosophy a way of life, if a good life was one of purity, what then did purification look like, and what good did philosophy do anyone? For Pythagoreans, a virtuous life consisted of dutiful moral responsibility and ascetic self-constraint. The body, remember, was a tomb, but the soul was holy and needed to be pure if it wanted to return to divinity; hence, the life of the Pythagorean was dedicated to caring for and tending to the soul, cautious not to commit any vices. In the afterlife, the soul was judged by its scars, which of course were not physical, but spiritual, symbolic of the vices of which the body was guilty. Based on this belief, the soul was of paramount importance and took precedence over the well-being of the body.

One of the key beliefs of the Pythagoreans, derived from Orphism, was the transmigration of the soul. In fact, there are several stories about Pythagoras and his belief therein. “Once they said that he [Pythagoras] was passing by when a puppy was being whipped, and he took pity and said: Stop, do not beat it; for it is the soul of a friend that I recognized when I heard it giving tongue,” reported Xenophanes.[3] In this story, Pythagoras remembered the voice of a friend of his and reasoned that his soul must have been reincarnated as a dog. Pythagoras was famously a vegetarian. Anyone who joined qm1428642438.jpgthe Pythagorean creed was a vegetarian, on the basis that animals could be the host of either a friend’s or an ancestor’s soul. Similarly, beans were to be refrained from, for Pythagoras said they were the seeds from which humans were birthed. To eat a bean, was to eat a fellow human. Interestingly, it is worth pointing out that, according to legend, Pythagoras died because he was chased to a bean field by an angry mob, and, not wanting to trample the beans, decided to surrender himself to the mob instead. The eating of meat or beans was called Adikia (αδικια). It was a grave vice. Plato recounts, “[M]en are said to have lived a sort of Orphic life, having the use of all lifeless things, but abstaining from all living things.”[4] Orphism was practically synonymous with vegetarianism as a result. The Pythagoreans, it can be entertained, were pantheistic, insofar as they believed all life was interconnected, like a web, which was connected to Unknown-3.jpegthe World-soul, of which all living things were a part. Another story in Pythagorean tradition tells of a man named Æthalides who was bestowed by Hermes the gift of being able to remember his past lives. Upon passing, he was reincarnated as Euphorbus, who was slain by Menelaus in the Trojan War; his soul went to Hermotimus, who went to a temple and allegedly pointed out the shield used by Menelaus, proving he was Euphorbus in his previous life; then, Hermotimus died and became Pyrrhus; and finally, the soul went on to inhabit yours truly, Pythagoras. Pythagoras urged his followers every night to go through their previous day, recalling as much detail as possible, as a way of strengthening their memory, whereby they could eventually remember as far back as their own previous lives. Herodotus also mentions a strange ritual practiced by the Pythagoreans in his Histories:

Nothing of woolen, however, is taken into their temples or buried with them, as their religion forbids it. Here their practice resembles the rites called Orphic and Bacchic, but which are in reality Egyptian and Pythagorean; for no one initiated into these mysteries can be buried in a woolen shroud, a religious reason being assigned for the observance.[5]

Another Presocratic philosopher who borrowed from Orphic thought was Empedocles, the originator of the four elements, who claimed, “For by now I have been born a boy, girl, plant, bird, and dumb seafish.”[6] It is important to note how exactly Pythagoras—and Empedocles for that matter—came into knowledge, specifically, of the Orphic teachings, and generally, his own teachings. Scholar Theodor Gomperz suggested that Unknown-4.jpegPythagoras was influenced by nearby civilizations, like Egypt, Babylon, and India; as I explained earlier, the creation stories of the Orphics, Egyptians, Babylonians, and Indians were all related. Of these traditions, Gomperz said, India was most likely the connection. After all, it is not that unreasonable, seeing as Pythagoras was a contemporary of the Buddha through the 6th- and 5th-centuries BC. More evidence is that during this time, India and Greece were united under Cyrus’ Persian Empire, meaning there were definitive interactions between the two. The similarities between Pythagoreanism and Buddhism are numerous, from the shared tradition of vegetarianism to the theory of reincarnation.

Conclusively, Orphism, while now outdated, impacted ancient civilization on a considerable scale, having been used by Pythagoras, the Buddha, Empedocles, and Plato. Categorizing Orphism is as difficult as categorizing Buddhism, as it is neither a religion nor a philosophy in its proper sense, although it does share some characteristics of the ritualistic mysteries of Ancient Greece, along with its literature. The practices of vegetarianism, pantheism, and immortality and transmigration of the soul, while seemingly foreign to the Western world—the latter two more so—have undeniably defined Western culture.


[1] Plato, Gorgias, 493a
[2] Plato, Meno, 81a
[3] Diogenes Läertius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, 8.36.12-15
[4] Plato, Laws, VII, 782c
[5] Herodotus, Histories, II.81
[6] Empedocles, 117


For further reading: Philosophic Classics: Ancient Philosophy by Forrest E. Baird (2000)
A History of Ancient Western Philosophy by Joseph Owens (1959)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. 6 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. 7 by Paul Edwards (1967)
A History of Philosophy Vol. 1 by Frederick Copleston (1993)
The Greek Thinkers Vol. 1 by Theodor Gomperz (1964)
The Story of Civilization Vol. 2 by Will Durant (1966)
The Dream of Reason  by Anthony Gottlieb (2013)
History of Philosophy by Julian Marías (1967)
Socrates to Sartre by Enoch S. Stumpf (1982)

Athletics in Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece is remembered for many things, among them philosophy, science, architecture, and drama. Rich in culture and diversity, the Greek city-states were the perfect place for new innovations and achievements. In addition to the intellectual climate, the Greeks were famous for their athletics as well. In Ancient Greece, the athlete received just as much honor as the intellectual, and thus the mental and the physical flourished together. Of the athletic achievements in Greece, the most notable are the Olympics. The Games saw the coming together of the city-states in a collective embrace of the athlete and his feats. And outside of the Olympics, the Greeks continued their love for sport.

Unknown.jpegThe first Olympics, it is said, were held in 776 BCE, its purpose not athletic but religious. When the Olympics were first conceived, the Greeks intended for it to be a religious ceremony, a way for them to honor Zeus. Introducing athletics into the Olympics was a way of pleasing the Gods, as the performance, they hoped, would entertain the gods. However, the ceremony was not wholly religious in that the Greeks did it also to celebrate their humanism, specifically that of which the body was capable. Athletic achievement was one of the highest honors; it showed to what discipline and dedication could lead, and it inspired others by example. Originally, the competitions extended only to foot races and wrestling. Only later were horse and chariot racing, boxing, and javelin added. The popularity of the Games grew thereafter, and in 582 BCE Delphi initiated the Pythian Games; a year later, Corinth hosted the Isthmian Games; and in 573 BCE, Nemea had their own Olympic Games. Popular legend says the marathon is derived from the historical battle of the same name. The historian Herodotus recorded that the Greeks “sent off to Sparta a herald, one Pheidippides, who was by birth an Athenian, and by profession and practice a trained runner…. The Athenians… established in his honour yearly sacrifices and a torch-race.”[1] Pheidippides gave word to Sparta that Athens had defeated a massive Persian army, running 26 miles, it is said, in a day, which led to the creation of the modern-day marathon. In 394, the Olympic Games were outlawed by Theodosius.

Unknown-1.jpegThe standard performance was the Pentathlon, a five-event competition consisting of the broad jump, discus, javelin, wrestling, and 200-yard dash. Jumpers would begin at a stand still, dumbbells in hand, and leap; discus throwers used 12lb-weights; wrestlers were graded by referees based on takedowns and form; and the dash was called the stadion (σταδιον), since it was the length of a stadium. Running in Ancient Greece was comparably tantamount to today, with up to three events: the diaulos (διαυλος), a single lap around a stadium; the dolichos (δολιχος), 12 laps around a stadium; and the images.jpegarmor race, which was adapted from military training, and was a race in which the competitors sprinted with a full suit of armor on. Evidence of marble sprinting blocks can be found in stadiums, dilapidated, worn-down, from repeated usage. Boxing was a popular sport, more so than today, and attracted large audiences. Hide gloves that extended to the elbows were worn by boxers, and hits were restricted to the head alone. There were no rounds; the winner was determined by whoever surrendered first. Unlike modern boxing, the Greeks did not compete based on weight classes, so the competition devolved from a sport of skill to a sport of pure brawn and muscle. A hippodrome, built specifically for horse-racing, was constructed for the Olympics, the arena wide enough for 10 four-horse chariots to race at once, everyone scrambling around the 23 turns that awaited them at every corner. To the enjoyment of the crowd, this affair would usually end with one racer making it to the Unknown-2.jpegfinish line successfully—the others, due both to the lack of space and tight corners, all wiping out. Like today, this event caught the attention of rich bidders, who would bet on horses; if their bet paid off, they—not the racer—got the horse. More popular than all the other events combined was the pankration (παγκρατιον), which translates to “all-strength.” This event was a mix of boxing and wrestling. The only rules were no stomping and no finger-breaking. Gory tales of famous pankratiasts survive, some accounts telling of one who killed his opponent by ripping out his innards. Women were not allowed to compete in the Olympic Games, so they got their own version: the Heraea, which had but one event, which was running.

Today, athletes have four years to train for the Olympics, whereas the Greeks had 10-months of training. Athletes trained in gymnasiums (γυμνασιον) or xystos (ξυστος), a type of colonnade. Wrestlers had their own training grounds called palæstra (παλαιστρα). Runners, on the other hand, trained outside. “They [athletes] also set the Artist-re-creation-of-ancient-wrestling.jpgexample of contending naked, publicly stripping and anointing themselves with oil in their gymnastic exercises. Formerly, even in the Olympic contests, the athletes who contended wore belts across their middles,” wrote Thucydides [2]. A shocking fact to some, the Greeks competed naked, covering themselves in olive oil to prevent themselves from getting dirtied from the mud, as well as to make themselves more mobile and slippery. Married women were not allowed to spectate during the games, but girls were allowed to because then they could find future husbands. Every city-state came to a truce during the Games, even if they were in the middle of the war, because everyone looked forward to the games, which occurred every four years, like today. The city-states even had separate games for younger athletes, those who were not yet matured. Olympia and Pythia had a boys division, and Nemea and Isthmia had an intermediate (ageneioi, αγενειοι) competition. So competitive were the Greeks that they had only first place prizes; there was no second or third, nor was there a team prize; the individual athlete had his time to shine in the Olympics—it was, after all, a celebration of the body and human excellence. The Greek roots athlon-, meaning prize, and agon-, meaning game, from which comes agony and antagonist, all embodied suffering. The agonistic games were not meant for fun for the athletes; rather, they were vigorous, challenging tests that put them to their limits, forcing them to endure more. Each Game, it is estimated 40-50,000 spectators came from around Greece, and each athlete was announced by their name, followed by their home city.

Upon winning an event, the victor would be crowned. The Olympia gave out olive wreaths, Pythia laurel, and Isthmia and Nemea parsley. Those who won were awarded lavishly. Plutarch said Solon had a handsome reward for those who got first: “[T]he victor in the Isthmian games was to have for reward an hundred drachmas; the conqueror in the Olympian, five hundred.”[3] During the winner’s celebration they were showered in leaves (phyllobolia, φυλλοβολια), given free food for a lifetime by their home polis (sitesis, συτησις), awarded with all kinds of gifts, promised free seats at future Unknown-3.jpegGames (prohedria, προεδρια), praised by poets, made into sculptures, and bestowed the honor of having their name engraved into the corridors which led to the arena. The Persians, when they witnessed the Olympic Games, purportedly remarked that the Greeks were “men who contend with one another, not for money, but for honour!”[4] It was strange to them, that these people would commit themselves to such arduous training, to fight their brethren for their namesake, and not out of anticipation of compensation. But according to Homer, “there is no greater glory that can befall a man than what he achieves by speed of his feet or strength of his hands.”[5] Those who lost at the Olympics, understandably, fell victim to depression and carried with them tremendous shame, a stigma which stuck with them through life.

During childhood, children would play in ball rooms (sphairisteria, σφαιριστερια), where they would play, you might guess, ball. It is thought that they played a version of wall ball, in which they would bounce a ball, either on the wall or on the ground, catch it, then throw it back. Evidence also shows that they might have had their own version of lacrosse. With sticks with nets at the end, they would play on two teams, each trying to get the ball past the other. Youths had trainers of their own, paidotribai (παιδοτριβαι) and gymnastai (γυμνασται), who respectively were the equivalent of wrestling coaches and physical educators. Some other games they played were khytrinda, a variation of monkey-in-the-middle and tag; posinda, a guessing game; and drapinda, which was like duck-duck-goose, where the objective was to catch the other children, who pretended to be “runaway slaves.”

Amidst the philosophical contemplation, political strife, and cultural growth, the Ancient Greeks found the time to enjoy their four-yearly Olympic Games that united all the city-states, reminding them of the common joy they shared for athletic competitiveness and glory. Victory odes from poets are plenteous and tell of the greatest athletes, all of whom trained hard, fought hard, and won hard. Sometimes we forget how similar we are to the Ancients, who once you think about them, are not so far of from us as we think: We share the same love of athletics and the same appreciation for the wonders the body can do when put to the test.

[1] Herodotus, The Histories, VI.105
[2] Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, I.6
[3] Plutarch, Twelve Lives, p. 99
[4] Herodotus, op. cit., VIII.26
[5] Homer, The Odyssey, VIII.145

For further reading: Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History 2nd ed. by Sarah B. Pomeroy (2008)
The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization by Simon Hornblower (1998)
The Story of Civilization Vol. 2: The Life of Greece by Will Durant (1966)
Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture Vol. 1 by Werner Jaeger (1945)
The Story of Man: Greece and Rome by Paul MacKendrick (1977)
The Western Experience 6th ed. by Mortimer Chambers (1995)
The Founders of the Western World by Michael Grant (1991)
The History of the Peloponnesian War
by Thucydides (1990)

The Classical World by Robin Lane Fox (2006)
The Histories by Herodotus (1990)
Twelve Lives by Plutarch (1950)
The Odyssey by Homer (1990)
The Illiad by Homer (1990)

What is Sophism?

Fifth-century Athens, known as the Golden Age of Athens, oversaw the flourishing of Classical Greek Philosophy, dominated by the teacher-student duo of Plato and Socrates, two men dedicated to the pursuit of wisdom, who searched tirelessly for objective knowledge, who wanted to uncover the truth, who planted the seeds of knowledge that would influence ages to come. It was also during this period that a new breed of seekers came, whom Plato despised, whom we today connote with negativity: the Sophist. Nowadays, to call someone a sophist, or to say an argument is sophistic, is to call them deceitful, glib, and a fraud. However, while this figure is buried in stigma by history, there lies a greater story about this controversial lover of wisdom.


Before the word “sophist” acquired its negative connotations, it originally came from the Greek word for wisdom, σοφός, and was used to designate a wise man or sage, such as Thales, who was called one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece, or even just a craftsman or artisan who was highly skilled at his trade. It was an honor, then, to be called a Sophist (σοφιστής), so teachers were quick to adopt the name, proud to bear its glory as they spread their knowledge throughout the lands. The Sophists were traveling teachers. They had no place they called home, and they went from city-state to city-state, looking for pupils, stopping at every public festival, where they could gather a crowd and amaze them with their impressive rhetoric, where they could present speeches designed to attract customers and get their name known. To Gomperz, the Sophist reminded him of a “half professor and half journalist,” for he wasted no time jumping upon new opportunities, seeking a new job, a new student in whom he could invest his knowledge.[1] The Sophist was, early in his career, regarded as a true sage, and he was bestowed great honors and respected by his peers for his vast areas of expertise. In public the Sophist spoke through epideixis (ἐπιδεικτικός), a form of oration in which the speaker is able to exhibit his skills or to praise some particular thing; and in private study the Sophist taught through dialectic (διαλεκτική), the same question-and-answer technique made famous by Socrates. Evidently, the Sophist was highly adaptable, and because he was always on the move, he was able to attract a large following and gain a reputation of the same magnitude. paulathenssmall.jpgHowever, the Sophists taught by mouth alone, not pen, and none of their writings were written, as they were made with the intent of being performed in public, in front of an audience, not in private, for the delight of a reader. The fact that none of them established a school, too, contributes to a lack of primary sources regarding the Sophists’ ideas. Further, because no schools were made, and because their students were not permanent, there exist no student records. Other philosophers, like Socrates and Epictetus, despite not writing what they taught, have extant writings, because their students, Plato and Arrian, recorded them; the Sophists, contrarily, had no students to do so. Fortunately for the Sophist, he was able to prosper in a thriving intellectual climate, as Athens was, at the time, the center of philosophical thought, and it experienced a tremendous surge in intellectual pursuits brought forth by the leadership of Pericles. Education was therefore a major focus—perfect for the Sophists.

The targeted audience of the Sophists was select: their primary customers were young, eager-to-learn Athenian men, of whom there were plenty. Central to sophistic curriculum was political virtue, or areté (αρετέ). As Jaeger put it, “[T]he aim of the educational movement… was not to educate the people, but to educate the leaders of the people.”[2] Just as we in today’s education advertise school as a way of training our future leaders, so the Sophists in Athens’ education advertised their tutoring as a way of training their Unknown-1.jpegfuture leaders. Pericles was the paragon of democratic leadership, so it was important that youths were taught to emulate how he ruled. The best way to lead well, the Sophists believed, is through rhetoric, the art of speaking well (ευ λεγειν), of persuasion, of using language to the best of its abilities. Interestingly, the word “politician,” in Ancient Greece, was used interchangeably with “rhetor;” they were perfectly synonymous. Therefore, it was important that a good leader learn rhetoric, especially when he is young. So dedicated were they to their craft that the Sophists considered their teaching a techné (τέχνη), an art. For Sophist to refer to a trained craftsmen, and to have teaching be a craft, is to confirm that education, schooling, was first given its value in Ancient Athens, and for that we owe the Sophists. We find in Athens the idea that teaching is a delicate craft which requires perfecting and which is integral to a culture’s being. In addition to rhetoric, the Sophists tried to teach both practical and theoretical things, of the former day-to-day necessities, the latter liberal arts. So wide was their knowledge that they taught everything from natural science to metaphysics, grammar to poetry. For the most part, the Sophists accepted Pre-Socratic thinking, but they rejected Eleatic thought. Thus, cosmology was a popular subject, and students were taught the essentials, from Thales to Anaxagoras. Since grammar and rhetoric were taught, it was necessary that logic, too, was taught, meaning the Sophists were the inventors of the original trivium comprising grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Their lessons, for example, featured all kinds of logical problems and rules, and Unknown-2.jpegthey also taught about different fallacies and how to avoid them in reasoning. Of theoretical knowledge there were two types the Sophists taught: factual and formal knowledge. Factual knowledge was just as it sounds, consisting of general, wide-ranging facts, encyclopedic in extent; formal knowledge was specific, and its intent was not so much on learning but training, specifically how to use knowledge to think critically and practically. According to the Sophists, who viewed teaching as a craft, virtue was teachable. Political virtue, areté, as well as virtues like temperance and courage, were able to be taught and were not acquired specially. The Appeal to Nature is commonly associated with the Sophists, the argument that whatever is natural is good, whatever is unnatural is bad. While this does not apply to every Sophist, it does capture the essence of their conflicting views regarding Nature. The disagreement was between convention (νομος) and nature herself (φύση), man-made law and natural law. Thrasymachus thought self-interest was morally right and that the stronger is better than the weaker; Callicles thought our self-conscious is what is right; and Iamblichus chose convention, stating that we ought to do whatever state laws tell us.


After the fifth-century, Sophism all but died out, but it was revived again in Rome during the Second Sophistic period, which ranges from approximately 60-230 A.D. The traveling teacher was brought back, and he became a sensation in a Roman-influenced Greece, where philosophy was going strong. However, the importance was shifted from philosophy to rhetoric, and as Will Durant writes, “It [philosophy] had been swallowed up in an ocean of rhetoric, and had ceased to think when it learned to speak.”[3] No longer was philosophy based on systematic thinking and the art of living; it had been replaced by rhetoric, and speech was valued above action, signaling the beginning of the decline of philosophy in the Western world. It was not all bad, though, and some good did come of the Second Sophistic; from it comes, like the value of education, arguably the first advocation of individualism. It was at this time that we saw men, without true homes, without anything to show for their work, traveling land to land, living off of that at which they were good, teaching whoever could pay them; we see true individualism—independent individuals making their way doing what they love, as though it were some kind of ancient American Dream. The Pre-Socratic philosophers philosophized about nature, the cosmos, and produced theories regarding that which was external to them; the Sophists, on the other hand, turned inwards, philosophizing about their fellow men. Consequently, there was a move from the theoretical to the practical, the cosmological to the humanistic, nature to man. The Sophists were “empirico-inductive” in their methods, examining what was before them and producing their theories from there, not from looking up at the stars, but at the society that surrounded them—humanity.[4]

So far, the Sophist seems a respectable figure responsible for the beginnings of higher education, humanism, and rhetoric; however, there is another side of the story, one that paints them in another, more sinister light. Probably the most distinctive thing about the Sophists was how they made money. As a pretty much homeless, traveling teacher, the Sophist had to make easy money, so he placed a fee on his lessons. While some Sophists were fair in their prices, most of them were not, pricing their lessons up to 10,000 Drachmas, equivalent to about $10,000 in today’s money. Because the prices were so high, only rich Athenians could afford lessons, a disadvantage to the poor and underprivileged. To exacerbate these conditions, Athens was the city-state with the most lawsuits, and since only rich men could get lessons in logic and rhetoric, it meant they could easily win. This is not to mention, of course, that it was considered dishonorable, ignoble, in Ancient Greece, to pay for another man’s knowledge. Many also thought professionalism boring and made fun of the Sophists for conducting their lessons accordingly, rebuking them for their private lessons taught in the privacy of one’s house. To say one’s argument is sophistic is an insult, for it means they have used cunning, deceitful, devious, and specious reasoning. This makes sense, because some Sophists could manipulate logic, easily able to win either side of an argument. Commonly, to show off, Sophists and later Skeptics would propose one side of an argument, present their case, then immediately switch to the other side and present an equally balanced argument. For this reason, the issue of lawsuits was even worse, for litigators could be taught unfair logical devices to beat their opponents.


Of the critics of the Sophists, Plato is the worst, evidenced by multiple of his dialogues, which make fun of the Sophists and poke holes in their reasoning. One thing Plato disapproved of was the fact that Sophists discounted objective knowledge, looking instead for relative knowledge, for according to the Sophists, only relative knowledge was possible. What is true for one person may not be true to another. Similarly, he scoffed at them for their phenomenalism. Plato believed in a higher realm, the world of Forms, in which all perfect entities exist, in which object knowledge resides; for the Sophists to claim that the phenomenal, or natural, world was the only existent thing, was, to Plato, distasteful and worthy of contempt. To believe that this imperfect world was the sole reality, thought Plato, is insane and an insult to objectivity. Regarding the lesson fees, Plato joked that if the fees were too low, it meant the lesson was just as worthless; and if they were too high, it meant it was outrageously expensive. One of the reasons Plato was repulsed by the Sophists was because they gave a bad name to Socrates. Socrates was considered a Sophist in its positive sense, and he used the dialectic properly in the search for truth; Unknown-7.jpegbut to compare him to the Sophists of Plato’s time was like comparing God to Satan—unthinkable, a downright insult. Plato blamed the Sophists, in part, for Socrates’ death, seeing as they gave him a bad name, tainting his reputation forever. Plato called the Sophists “anti-logical” and eristic, since they sought not actual knowledge, but argumentation. Like teacher like student, Aristotle, too, following in the footsteps of Plato, turned his pen against the Sophists. He wrote that the Sophists practiced “wisdom which exists only in semblance” and “what appears to be philosophy but is not.”[5] In his Sophistical Refutations, he adds, “[T]he sophist is one who makes money from an apparent but unreal wisdom.”[6] For a long time Aristotle waged a philosophical war against the Megarian School (also known as the Eristics), infamous for its paradoxes and logic problems, at one point calling them “sophists,” thus creating the first official usage of the word as a negative one. From that point on, even throughout Imperial times, philosophers began accusing each other of being “sophists.”

The Sophist is a polarizing figure, on one side an educational hero, on the other an anti-logical fraud. Whether he is one or the other cannot be solved by history, as there are always two sides. In the end, while we can frown upon them, laughing at their professional ways, exposing their deceiving logic, we must also be grateful for all that they have done, for making education as important as it is today in our culture, for creating the trivium to which we are dedicated in English, for living the true American Dream, and most of all, for angering Plato and Socrates.


[1] Gomperz, The Greek Thinkers, Vol. 1, p. 414
[2] Jaeger, Paideia, Vol. 1, p. 290
[3] Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 3, p. 489
[4] Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. 1, p. 83
[5] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1004b20-27
[6] Aristotle, Sophistical Refutations, 165a22-24


For further reading:
The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization by Simon Hornblower (1998)
A History of Ancient Western Philosophy by Joseph Owens (1959)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. 7 by Paul Edwards (1967)
A History of Philosophy Vol. 1 by Frederick Copleston (1993)
A Short History of Philosophy by Robert C. Solomon (1996)
The Greek Thinkers Vol 1. by Theodor Gomperz (1964)
The Story of Civilization Vol. 2 by Will Durant (1966)
The Story of Civilization Vol. 3 by Will Durant (1972)
Paideia Vol. 1 by Werner Jaeger (1945)

Battles of the Thirty Years’ War

The 17th century oversaw the modernization of war, from upgrades in weaponry to revaluations of battle tactics, from the replacement of old arms with new ones to the invention of new army procedures and formations. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), in particular, was one of the largest battles of the century, and it was responsible for creating new dynasties and destroying others, with improved weapons of destruction. Commanders thought of creative strategies to outwit their enemies and new ways to up their efficacy in battle. In this blog, I will be looking at 10 of the most decisive battles of the Thirty Years’ War.

Unknown.jpegThe first battle was fought at White Mountain on November 8, 1620, between the Catholic League and the Protestant Union, shortly after the deposition of Ferdinand II. Leading the Catholics was the Count of Tilly (1559-1632), a Catholic at birth who at one point considered becoming a Jesuit. With an army of 20,000 men, he went to White Castle to confront Protestant commander Christian of Anhalt, who had an army of 24,000. Tilly easily defeated the Protestants, banishing anything that was not Catholicism—a major setback to the Protestants.

The next major battle was fought six years later at Dessau Bridge on April 25. Albrecht von Wallenstein (1583-1634), general of the Catholics, was originally a Protestant but converted to Catholicism, quickly amassing a great wealth for his time, his riches in the billions, it is thought. Wallenstein derived his riches from the land he owned, taxing them, contributing to his power, which he used to raise a massive army, taking with him 20,000 soldiers to defeat the Protestants. Having arrived at the bridge early, Wallenstein stored his weapons and ammunition beneath the bridge, hiding his men there, too, so he could launch a surprise attack on the enemy when they crossed. Ernst von Mansfeld (1580-1626) had no idea what he was walking into when he and his 12,000-man army crossed the bridge. Wallenstein ambushed Mansfeld, utterly destroying his army, using his artillery to blast them, then sending his troops to finish them off. When the smoke cleared, Wallenstein gained an effortless victory, the casualties numbering 4,000. Mansfeld, unlike Wallenstein, went from being a Catholic to being a Protestant; yet like Wallenstein, he was a highly requested general, for he was able to muster up an army whenever he wanted. His loyalty to the Protestants was weak, as he joined only for the money.

Magdeburg_1631.jpgSo far, the Catholics looked as though they were going to win, having devastated the Protestants in two major battles without breaking a sweat. This changed, however, on May 20, 1626. Imperial forces were launching a full-on siege at the town of Magdeburg, and for months they hammered at it in vain with their cannons. Eventually they brought down the walls, and the soldiers, drunk, rushed in, brandishing their weapons, slaying every innocent civilian, setting fire to the houses, raping women, killing children, stealing everything they could find, leaving nothing but destruction in their wake. The massacre was horrendous, and it painted a bad picture of the Catholics. Tilly, who was on duty at the time, was blamed for the massacre, the event permanently tainting his reputation, labeling him a monster. Deaths are estimated to be between 20,000-25,000. It appeared the tides had changed.

Gustav “the Lion of the North” Adolf II of Sweden (1594-1632) had experience leading battles at a young age; upon taking the throne, he had to defend his kingdom from the Dutch and Polish. During that time, the Swedish army was pathetic, its navy even worse. But Gustav, ever the innovative commander, was able to take the untrained Swedish army and turn it into a war machine, hiring trained mercenaries, cutting down the army so that it consisted only of a select few men who were trained. When Wallenstein stepped foot in the Baltics, Gustav got worried and took action, sailing with his men to Pomerania to assist the townspeople at Magdeburg. The Swedish king liked to assemble his men into squadrons of 1,200-1,500 men, packing them six lines deep, alternating lines between pikes and muskets, backing them up with reserves. His tactics differed from other methods at the time, insofar as he prioritized mobility above all else, using only the lightest cannons, favoring the cavalry charge to break up his enemies. Meeting Tilly and Unknown-1.jpegPappenheim at Breitenfeld on September 15, 1631, Gustav set up two lines of soldiers, his Saxon ally John George preparing alongside him. Tilly commenced a slow yet steady barrage of artillery strikes in order, he hoped, to inflict heavy damage upon the Swedish. His cannons were too far to be effective. Tilly used the Spanish formation of the tercio, which consisted of 1,500 musketeers and pikemen in large blocks. The pike, despite being outdated, was extremely popular, as it allowed soldiers to attack from afar, letting them penetrate armor. Pappenheim was getting anxious, so he and his side charged without Tilly’s consent. Using armored horse riders armed with wheel lock pistols, a recent invention allowing the gun to be charged mechanically, called cuirassiers, Pappenheim forced John George, who barely put up a fight, to flee, leaving Gustav to finish the fight by himself. The Swedish army managed to repel the cuirassier charges with their cavalry and arquebuses, or matchlock muskets, which used lead bullets at the time. After taking out the Swedes’ left flank, Pappenheim charged them seven times in a row, each time being rejected by the highly disciplined forces. Gustav sent in his reserves, wounding both Pappenheim and Tilly, forcing them to surrender. Of the 35,000 Catholics that fought, 8,000 of them perished; and of the 42,000 Swedish, 4,000.

The next year, Tilly was hit by a cannonball and died. It was at this time as well that the Battle of Lützen was fought on November 16. Wallenstein was assigned the task of 300px-Battle_of_Lutzen.jpgdefeating the seemingly unstoppable Gustav, but, come winter, he decided to retreat, 6,000 cavalry on the left, 13,000 footmen on the right. Gustav took advantage of this movement and followed them with his 12,800 men and 6,200 horses. Thick fog had enveloped the area, blinding both forces; Gustav attacked anyway, diving into the battle. About halfway through, Gustav, who always enjoyed leading his cavalry without armor, charged the Imperial forces. The king was wounded during the charge and died, his fellow commander Bernard of Weimar taking over. John Forbes, a soldier who partook in the battle, wrote,

They seing us marching toward them, they advanced likewise toward us, and come so close to an another that joyning battalions together, wee came to pushe of pike and disputed the buysinesse so long, till it pleased God, that we routed them, and gave us the victorie [sic].[1]

The Swedish won the battle, despite losing their king, sustaining 5-6,000 deaths, whereas the Catholics lost 6-8,000 personnel.

Jan_van_der_Hoecke_-_The_Battle_of_Nördlingen,_1634.jpgDemoralized from the last battle, the Swedish lost again at Nördlingen in 1634. The date was September 6, and the Imperial Spanish had already set up their forces, half of them in front of the town, half of them situated on a hill. Their 20,000 men and 13,000 cavalry were to face off against the Swedes’ 16,000 men and 9,000 cavalry. The Swedish forces found themselves held up on a series of lower hills, and their plan was this: at daybreak, the forces would split up and attack through the valley and the town. Not to their aid was a wooded region through which they would have to traverse first. As they went through the woods, the army got confused, leading to friendly fire, the Swedish killing some of their own soldiers in the mix-up. Disoriented and weakened, the Swedish were like fish in a barrel, surrounded and taken out with ease by the Spanish. Friedrich Schiller said in his History of the Thirty Years’ War, “At this unfortunate moment a barrel of powder blew up, and created the greatest disorder amongst the Swedes. The imperial cavalry charged… and the flight became universal.” After the battle, 7,000 Swedes were dead, another 4,000 taken prisoner.

Once more, a reversal came on November 12, 1642 at the Second Battle of Breitenfeld. Catholics Archduke Leopold Wilhelm and Ottavio Piccolomini had 20,000 men, compared to the new Swedish commander Lennart Torstennson’s (1603-1651)  22,000 men. Similar to the first battle, the Catholics began with artillery fire, proceeding to send their cavalry. Torstensson fought off the invading forces in the left but in doing so lost the right side. He then wrapped around, using his remaining forces to strike the center, finishing off the Catholics. Outraged, Leopold court-martialed his commanding officers, decapitated those below them, and did the Roman tradition of decimation, killing every tenth soldier in line.

rocroi-a.jpgThe Battle of Rocroi occurred on May 19, 1643, between French commander Duc d’Enghien (1621-1686) and Spanish commander Francisco de Melo. De Melo attacked the left flank and succeeded, while d’Enghien did the same to de Melo’s right. The French then struck the center, but the Spanish regrouped, resisting all further attacks. Determined to break their defenses, d’Enghien charged the Spanish four times, consecutively, until he finally broke them. Now surrounded the Spanish had no choice but to surrender. As the Spaniards were letting down their weapons, though, a stray gun fired, and the French, startled, slaughtered half of the Spanish soldiers on the spot. The Spanish had 8,000 men and 19,000 horses, of which 8,000 died and 7,000 were held captive; the French had 15,000 men and 7,000 horses. Rocroi proved d’Enghien’s battle skills—it should be noted, too, that he was only 22 at the time when he won the battle. He fought after the Thirty Years’ War, participating in the war against Louis XIV but was then recruited by him.

March 5, 1645 was the Battle of Jankov, where Torstensson beat the Imperial forces in an evenly matched battle of 15,000 men.

Finally, on March 17, 1648, the Battle of Zusmarshausen was fought. Peter Melander and Raimondo Montecuccoli went up against Henri, Vicomte de Turenne, by whom they were outnumbered. While retreating, Melander was killed and Montecuccoli was arrested. Later that year, the Treaty of Westphalia was signed, ending the war.



[1] Grant, Battle: A Visual Journey Through 5,000 Years of Combat, p. 151


For further reading:
100 Battles: Decisive Conflicts That Have Shaped the World by Martin J. Dougherty (2012)
Battle: A Visual Journey Through 5,000 Years of Combat by R.G. Grant (2005)
Commanders: History’s Greatest Military Leaders by R.G. Grant (2010)
Weapons: A Visual History of Arms and Armor by Paula Regan (2006)
War: The Definitive Visual History by Saul David (2009)


Overview of the Thirty Years’ War


European history is full of wars, religious and secular, all of which have decided which nations became superpowers and which died out, impacting the course of history. Among the numerous battles fought over religion is the Thirty Years’ War, fought between 1618 and 1648, the result of which would determine the course of history, establishing new nations, weakening others, and undermining the Catholic Church. Fought primarily in Germany, the war saw the rise of new and improved armies and tactics, and it would inflict severe damage upon the Holy Roman Empire.

Prior to the war was the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, after nailing his 95 theses to a church door in 1517, sparked a massive conflict, practically declaring war against the Catholic Church by refuting their practices, with new denominations of Christianity springing up as a result, such as Lutheranism and Calvinism, founded by John Calvin. Soon after, more people began converting from Catholicism to Protestantism, to the dismay of the German Princes, and especially to the Emperor, Charles V. Tensions grew as the map01_1648.jpgcountry was divided, and riots and wars broke out between the provinces. Eventually, in 
1555, the Peace of Augsburg was signed, instating the “cuius regio, eius religio” principle, which allowed each prince to choose what religious sect he wanted to be; whatever religion he aligned with, the citizens would have to as well. However, while many in the North chose Lutheranism and Calvinism, the latter was not officially recognized and thus was not allowed. The Peace of Augsburg worked, until the Protestants felt they were under threat of the Habsburgs, a powerful dynasty that ruled in both Germany and Spain. Worried that their freedom of religion was to be infringed upon presently, the Protestants revolted in 1607. In response, Maximilian I was sent to take care of the rebellion, successfully quelling it and retaining peace. The Protestants were horrified and created the Protestant Union in 1618 to protect themselves against Maximilian’s force; and to counter this new union, Maximilian, a year later, founded the Catholic League. Problems arose once more when the Holy Roman Emperor 
Unknown.jpegMatthias chose Ferdinand II to be his successor. Several emissaries went to Hradschin castle in Prague for Matthias, hoping to negotiate with the Protestants. The Protestants were suspicious of the messengers, whom they knew were not visiting in their favor, and so seized and threw them out the third-story window, although they survived. This “Defenestration of Prague” (another occurred in the 15th century) was one of the catalysts for the war, the other being the election. When Matthias died in 1619, Ferdinand II, devout Catholic king of Bohemia, was made Holy Roman Emperor; the Protestant Bohemians thought otherwise, refusing to bow to Ferdinand, crowning instead Frederick V to retaliate. Ferdinand II was not pleased to hear that he was deposed, so he asked for assistance from the Spanish Habsburg king Philip III.

e5cf89143b21a7739959066bcf1e74e8.jpgOn November 8, 1620, the first battle of the Thirty Years’ War was fought at White Mountain. The Catholic League easily beat the Protestant army. Ferdinand, now having control over Bohemia, completely outlawed Protestantism, imposing Catholicism on everyone. From 1618 to 1625 the war was limited to Germany, where the two leagues were fighting. Sensing that the Protestants were losing, having ended his previous war with Spain, Christian IV of Denmark joined the war, mostly out of commercial and political reasons, not for religious ones. At the same time, Albrecht von Wallenstein was recruited by Ferdinand to lead the Catholics. Albrecht was unbelievably wealthy, so he was able to acquire a large, able army that was loyal to him alone. Despite winning several battles, Wallenstein was dismissed by the Emperor in 1630, for he feared that Wallenstein would turn against him. The end of the Danish phase was 1619, also when the Edict of Restitutions was released. All property of the Church since 1555 had to be paid for by the Protestants, and the Holy Roman Empire got to re-appropriate the land. It appeared as though the Protestants were going to lose—that is, until 1630, when the Swedish phase began. Before Wallenstein was removed, he and his troops had marched on Baltic soil. Unknown-1.jpegGustavus “the Lion of the North” Adolphus II, King of Sweden, took much offense to this, afraid that the Catholics might advance into his homeland. In 1631 he won the Battle of Breitenfeld with his superior army, equipped with modern weaponry and disciplined with brilliant stratagems. He went on to conquer Denmark, Poland, and Finland, destroying any hopes of German unity. The desperate Ferdinand called Wallenstein back to repel Gustav. During the Battle of Lützen in 1632, though, Gus was killed in a courageous feat, yet his army, in the end, won, notwithstanding the tragic loss. Thereafter, the Swedes experienced a stroke of bad luck, losing miserably at Nördlingen in 1634. Wallenstein, who was now conspiring behind Ferdinand’s back, was assassinated when the latter found out. The Peace of Prague was signed in 1635, when Ferdinand offered to repeal the Edict of Restitutions, only if the Germanic princes agreed to help expel the Swedes. Over in France, Cardinal Richelieu disapproved of the Peace, as he wanted to continue the war, hoping to overthrow the Habsburg dynasty and establish France as a superpower; as a result, he decided enough was enough and declared war, both on the Holy Roman Empire and on Spain, initiating the French phase (1635-1648). Also known as the international phase, this period saw the involvement not only of the French but the Scottish and Finnish. The Thirty Years’ War was truly international: Germany, Spain, Sweden, France, Denmark, and Scotland were the main forces. French commander Duc d’Enghien beat the Spanish at Rocroi in 1643; thenceforth, the Spain’s military splendor began to decline. Talk of peace began in 1644. For the first time in 200 hundred years, all the international nations met in one place to discuss peace terms. Negotiations continued for another four years, each nation changing its terms as the war progressed. Finally, in 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia was signed, concluding the Thirty Years’ War.

Unknown-2.jpegIn the end, Germany got it worst, while the international forces got it best. The Habsburg dynasty lost tremendous land and lost just as much influence in Germany, surrendering most of their power to the local princes; therefore, all central power was lost, along with it the idea of unity, the nation more divided than ever. Calvinism was finally accepted as a legitimate religion, though not too many princes chose it. The decline of the Church became apparent, the war being only the beginning of its fall. Church and state were no longer one, but separate entities, neither influencing the other. It is estimated that about seven million German lives alone were lost. Edward Calamy reported in 1641, “Germany… is a place of dead men’s skulls… and a field of blood.”[1] The German’s experienced a devastating depression, as their agriculture was completely ruined. When the Imperial forces were not busy fighting the Protestants, they were busy getting drunk, massacring towns; when Gus was not busy beating the Imperial forces, he was busy touring Germany, wreaking havoc wherever he went, destroying fields, slaughtering civilians, raiding towns. In my blog about Romanticism, I mentioned that the rise of the movement was inspired by the Thirty Years’ War, particularly the intense hatred the Germans had toward the French, Europe_1648-eng_590.jpgwho invaded and ravaged their land. After the Thirty Years’ War, Germany despised France, understandably. Spain was weakened alongside Germany, and it lost its position as a superpower. France, however, became not quite as strong as England, but perhaps the strongest nation in Central Europe. The warring between France and Spain was perpetuated after the war and continued for several more years during the Fronde, out of which France came victorious. Denmark and Sweden were made independent. Sweden and France, further, could intervene in German affairs and aid princes whenever they felt it was necessary. A result of the Thirty Years’ War that I have touched on was what the Germans called Staatensystem:

Europe was understood to consist in a large number of unconnected sovereigns, free and detached atoms, or states, which acted according to their own political interests, forming and dissolving alliances, exchanging embassies and legations, alternating between war and peace, shifting position with a shifting balance of power.[2]

In the next post, I will be explaining the important battles of the Thirty Years’ War in depth.



[1] Hart-Davis, History: The Definitive Visual Guide, p. 262
[2] Palmer, A History of the Modern World 5th ed., p. 142


For further reading: Western Civilization: Paleolithic Man to the Emergence of European Power by William R. Langer (1968)
 A History of Western Society Vol. B 2nd ed. by John P. McKay (1983)
History: The Definitive Visual Guide by Adam Hart-Davis (2007)
The Western Experience 6th ed. by Mortimer Chambers (1995)
A History of the Modern World 5th ed. by R.R. Palmer (1978)
The Story of Civilization Vol. VII by Will Durant (1961)



What is Humorism?

Unknown.jpegPsychology and medicine, finding their beginnings in Greek culture, have come a long way; and since their speculative foundations, their influence has become larger, more pertinent, and more accurate than ever before, with the invention of prosthetics in the field of medicine and cognitive studies in psychology, for example. It seems as though anything is possible, as though nothing cannot be achieved. One may wonder, then, from where psychology came, from whom modern medicine developed. Small questions, like why, when someone is in a bad mood, we say they are in bad humor; or why, when someone is angry, we say they are hot-blooded, or short-tempered, never fail to come up regarding the origins of either discipline. A glance through history, to the invention of psychology, can show us the foundations of both psychology and medicine—the ancient system of humorism.

The theory of the four humors is derived from the Pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles (c. 490-430 BC) who posited the existence of the four basic elements that constituted all of reality: air, fire, earth, and water. Everything in the world, he explained, was a synthesis of all four, each contributing their unique characteristics and properties to create everyday objects. For this reason, early theory in medicine was based on philosophical theory, so the two subjects were closely intermingled, the cause of many a medical error in ancient times. The man whom we ought to credit for the beginnings of modern medicine is the Unknown-4.jpegGreek physician Hippocrates (c. 460-370 BC), who is most renown for the Hippocratic Oath, which is still used today. Despite the countless contributions he has made to medicine, there is difficulty when it comes to pinpointing which works he actually wrote and which works were written by either his student Polybus or perhaps even rival doctors of his. Some of his works, furthermore, seem to diverge in content, contradicting earlier theories. Central to Hippocrates’ method was a holistic approach to the body. “Hippocrates the Asclepiad says that the nature even of the body can only be understood as a whole,” remarked Plato [1]. Each part of the body was to be examined against every other part, so as to treat everything as one. He wrote of a popular principle at the time: “Certain sophists and physicians say that it is not possible for any one [sic] to know medicine who does not know what man is.”[2] Such importance placed upon the human body and its composition made the humoral theory possible, as well as the secularization of medicine itself. Apollo and Asclepius, the Gods of medicine, were thought to be the causes of disease up until Hippocrates, who, diagnosing epilepsy—once thought the work of the Gods—said it “appears… to be nowise more divine nor more sacred than any other disease, but has a natural cause from which it originates like other affectations.”[3]

The natural cause of which Hippocrates spoke was the humors. From the Latin word umor, meaning fluid, the humors were four fluids within the body, each aligning with one of the four elements of Empedocles. Hippocrates identified blood with fire, phlegm with water, black bile with earth, and yellow bile air. During the Scientific Revolution, the 16th-century physician William Harvey performed studies on the circulatory system, when he would eventually disprove Hippocrates and Galen. Acknowledging the two physicians and Aristotle (he supported the humoral theory), he wrote in his book regarding animal Unknown-2.jpeggeneration, “And thus they [the Ancients] arrived at their four humors, of which the pituita [phlegm] is held to be cold and moist; the black bile cold and dry; the yellow bile hot and dry; and the blood hot and moist.”[4] According to Hippocrates, one could tell whether the upcoming season would be one of sickness or health by analyzing the weather; if there were extreme conditions, like extreme coldness during winter or heavy rains during spring, then more diseases were to be expected, whereas normal conditions foretold of health and prosperity. Cold seasons exacerbated the cold humors, phlegm and black bile; while warm seasons exacerbated the warm humors, yellow bile and blood. Alchemist Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, or Paracelsus (1493-1541), was a notorious physician during his time, often burning the works of Galen in public to disrespect him and his theories. Instead of the four humors, Paracelsus preferred a more alchemical approach, diagnosing based on saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, and sourness, adding a fifth property, life. In addition, he gave these elements their own properties, such as combustibility, solidness, fluidity, and vaporousness. The human body has a balance to it, what Hippocrates judged as a body’s krasis (κρασις), or mixture. A healthy body has a good mixture, eucrasia (ευκρασια), meaning it has an even amount of all four humors. Pausanias, a doctor in The Symposium, explains that,

The course of the seasons is also full of both these principles; and when, as I was saying, the elements of hot and cold, moist and dry, attain the harmonious love of one another and blend in temperance and harmony, they bring to men,… health and plenty, and do them no harm.[5]

Unknown-3.jpegWhile one should strive for an ideal balance, eucrasia, one should stay as far away as possible from dyscrasia (δυσκρασια), or bad mixture, for if it is extreme, it can result in death. Too much phlegm (mucus), warns Hippocrates, can clog the throat, choking off airflow, resulting in asphyxiation, for instance. Another Renaissance physician, shortly after Paracelsus, named Santorio Santorio (1561-1636), calculated that between the perfect balance of eucrasia and the imperfect balance of dyscrasia lie 80,000 unique diseases stemming from different combinations of humors. Determined to prove Hippocrates and Galen right, Santorio carried out extensive experiments, measuring the body’s temperature before and after diagnosis with a thermoscope, then measuring it daily thereafter, comparing each new temperature to the healthy one.

“Those diseases which medicines do not cure, iron cures; those which iron cannot cure, fire cures; and those which fire cannot cure, are to be reckoned wholly incurable,” stated Hippocrates confidently [6]. Should some poor soul suffer from dyscrasia, there were several cures with which he could proceed, and there was a cure for each type of imbalance. Hippocrates invested his faith in incisions, stating that iron, by which he means knife, is the next step up from remedies; if surgery does not work, he says one should proceed to cauterize; but if fire does not work, then one is out of luck. Other proposed cures were sweating and vomiting, which would either excrete or purge any excess humors. Of course, then there was bloodletting, the deadly, inaccurate method of making a cut in the skin and cleansing the blood. So popular was bloodletting that by the 1500’s, “[t]reatment was still based on the Hippocratic theory of humors, and bloodletting was a panacea.”[7] Virtually any disease could be cured by bloodletting—that is, until William Harvey. Besides these cleansing methods, there was an easier, more efficient way of handling humoral diseases, one which did not require knives or fire: using opposites to counteract. If there was too much blood, a doctor could counteract it with black bile, opposing the hotness and moistness of the former with the coldness and dryness of the latter; similarly, too much yellow bile could be countered with phlegm, and vice versa. Hippocrates was also famous for prescribing his patients varying diets that would in the same way counter the excess humor, usually advising the replacement of wheat with bread, of water with wine.

This raises the question, though: Why does humorism matter, why is it relevant at all, considering it is outdated and completely incorrect, and why should we be interested? As I said at the beginning, humorism was the foundation for psychology; specifically the foundation for the psychology of personality, a much-studied and much-debated area of research today. Roman physician Galen (c. 130-200) was arguably the first person to attempt a formal study of personality. A studied physician of Hippocratic writings, a learned student of Stoic logic, Galen was an empiricist at heart, emphasizing experience over speculation, what he called demonstrative knowledge (επιστημη αποδεικτικη). Neither Hippocrates nor Galen studied the interior of the human body, as the dissection of humans was taboo; thus, their findings were purely theoretical, which is rather ironic for Galen, who did cut open animals, just not humans. Galen identified two types of passions: irascible passions, those which are negative, and concupiscible, those which are positive [8]. He observed four Unknown-1.jpegtemperaments arising from the four humors. (Temperament, interestingly, translates to mixture!) In fact, “Before the invention of the clinical thermometer and even for some time afterwards, bodily ‘temperature’ was only a synonym for ‘temperament.’”[9] His theory of the four temperaments is so influential that their adjectives have carried over today: too much blood creates a sanguine character who is cheerful; too much phlegm a phlegmatic who is calm; too much yellow bile a choleric who is angry; and too much black bile a melancholic who gloomy; and for the latter two, one can say bilious. Hippocrates noticed these characteristics in his time and attested, commenting, “Those who are mad from phlegm are quiet, and do not cry nor make a sound; but those from vile are vociferous, malignant, and will not be quiet, but are always doing something improper.”[10]

One may dissent again: Why is this relevant? for it is outdated. Although Galen’s theory of the four temperaments is largely out of use [11], it has spawned interest in following Hans_Eysencks_4_Personality_Types.gifpsychologists of personality. The infamous Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI (1943), can be seen as a derivative. It utilizes different traits to arrive at a certain personality. Those who wish to know their personality have to decide if they are introvert or extrovert, if they intuit or sense, think or feel, and perceive or judge. Another option, the Big Five, or Big Three (1949), identifies people based on their levels of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Big Three limits the scales to neuroticism, extraversion, and openness. Lastly, the direct descendant is psychologist Hans J. Eysenck (1916-1997), whose method of deducing personality was influenced entirely by Galen. Eysenck created a dichotomy between extraversion and introversion, neuroticism and psychoticism, recognizing several character traits reminiscent of Galen.

[1] Plato, Phaedrus, 270c
[2] Hippocrates, On Ancient Medicine, p. 13b*
[3] Hippocrates, On the Sacred Disease, p. 326a
[4] Harvey, Anatomical Exercises on the Generation of Animals, p. 435b*
[5] Plato, The Symposium, 188a
[6] Hippocrates, Aphorisms, §7, 87
[7] Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 5, p. 532
[8] This is a very superficial description; for a more detailed one, read Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, 1.81.2,ad.1
[9] Boorstin, The Discoverers, p. 341

[10] Hippocrates, On the Sacred Disease, 337a
[11] Read Florence Littauer’s Personality Plus for a modern perspective

For further reading: 
Greek Thought: A Guide to Classical Knowledge by Jacques Brunschwig (2000)
The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization by Simon Hornblower (1998)
Anatomical Experiments on the Generation of Animals by William Harvey

An Intellectual History of Psychology by Daniel N. Robinson (1995)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. 3 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. 4 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. 6 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Story of Civilization Vol. 2 by Will Durant (1966)
The Story of Civilization Vol. 3 by Will Durant (1972)
The Story of Civilization Vol. 5 by Will Durant (1953)
The Psychology Book by Wade E. Pickren (2014)
The Story of Psychology by Morton Hunt (1993)
The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin (1983)
On the Sacred Disease by Hippocrates
On Ancient Medicine 
by Hippocrates
On the Natural Faculties
 by Galen

Extra reading for fun: Personality Plus by Florence Littauer (1992)

*Pages referenced to Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 9, 26, by Mortimer J. Adler (1990), respectively

The German Romantic Philosophers (5 of 5)

And so at last we arrive at the finale of the overview of German Idealism, and, more generally, Romanticism. In the previous part, I looked at Humboldt, whose work in linguistics and education has carried over to today, and Schleiermacher, whose notion of Absolute dependence advocated a unique sense of individualism, a common theme throughout Romanticism, along with the already-discussed opposites, such as faith and reason, intuition and logic. Finally, we look at philosophy itself and the defining nature of it with Schlegel and Schelling.

Unknown-4.jpegIt is safe to say that Karl Friedrich Wilhelm von Schlegel (1772-1829), brother to August Wilhelm von Schlegel, another eminent Romantic figure, is more literary critic than philosopher; yet I have included him, for his contribution to philosophy, albeit small in extent, has indelibly directed the trajectory in which philosophy itself was heading. Because there is a lack of information regarding his philosophical background, I feel it appropriate to focus more on his career, which played out as follows: Schlegel was born to a literary family, evidenced by his and his brother’s place in Romanticism, with Friedrich studying European history, Ancient and Modern literature, and the philosophy of history, all of which plays a part in his role as a philosopher. Schiller classified two types of poets: the Naïve and the Sentimental, the former practical, the latter idealistic; Schlegel studied Schiller, and he took this distinction further, applying it to the Romantic and the Classicist, perhaps the turning point in the self-consciousness of Romanticism, insofar as Schlegel was one of the first Romantics to lead the movement by defining it against something else, in this case Classicism, which was identified with the rational Enlightenment period. Of all philosophical branches, there exists one which is incredibly introspective: metaphilosophy. Metaphilosophy, associated with Schlegel, who is sometimes called the first “metaphilosopher,” is quite literally the philosophy of philosophy. Schlegel began by dismissing first principles–the fundamental proposition on which all other propositions are founded. For example, Fichte’s pure ego and Descartes’
cogito ergo sum are all first principles, in that it is impossible to assert anything without first asserting the pure ego or cogito, as they are the foundations of philosophy, at least in the systems of Fichte and Descartes, respectively. It was pointed out by Schlegel that first principles are misleading, since they are not truly first principles: they too are propositions that require another, prior proposition, therefore creating an infinite regress, an infinite sUnknown-7.jpegeries of statements with no clear, reducible beginning. “Philosophizing was primarily a matter of intuitive insights, not of deductive reasoning or of proof.”[1] Once more there is the valuing of intuition contra “deductive reasoning,” inasmuch as proofs will always require proof, whereas intuition is direct and without need of explanation. Reasoning is to intuition as conception is to perception. Another notion Schlegel was enthralled by was irony, the intentional contradiction of that which is reasonable, of that which is real, of that which is ordered. If one statement must be built upon another before it, then it goes without saying that there exist other statements contrary to it, tens of them. In this sense, the ironist transcends his limits; the ironist rises above order, above the world. Just as every person can have a separate opinion, so every statement can have a contradiction; therefore, we arrive at the conclusion that there is no absolute answer, no starting point of philosophy, for philosophy “must start in the middle…. It is no straight line but a circle.”[2] Schlegel is saying that philosophy has no starting line; philosophy is not linear; it does not go from one point to the other; and for that matter, there is no end point, rather a loop that connects it all, running round and round, with no real goal in mind. Metaphilosophy, then, serves as the first holistic analysis of philosophy, the first check of many on the limits of philosophy and its intentions.

Unknown-3.jpegWhat is more fitting than to end this series with a look at its most shaping character, one whose philosophy encompasses all others I have previously explained, whose philosophy captures the true definition of Romanticism, whose philosophy has influenced countless poets and philosophers after him? I speak here of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854), the last German Idealist we will be looking at. The other major metaphysician beside Fichte, Schelling created the more accepted of the two theories and has thus been welcomed with open arms. The philosophy of Schelling is appropriately called Naturphilosophie, as it revolves around the core concept of, you guessed it: Nature. Should you seek to read more about Schelling, you will find that historians tend to describe his system of thought in stages, four of them in most cases, each describing a different change in his thought since he did change his thought quite a bit; however, in organizing this section, about which I thought heavily as to how I should best explain it, I decided to go chronologically in terms of the creation of the world to the goal of the world; as such, I will be explaining one aspect, then jumping to a new one which builds upon it. Accordingly, Schelling begins with the creation of the world, a Cosmic Fall, as it is referred. Mirroring the Fall of Man outlined in the Bible, Schelling identifies this period as Man’s break with God. This God, which is sometimes used interchangeably with Nature in Schelling, is essentially the physical manifestation of chaos, ungrund, initially. At this stage God is indistinguishable, for He is literally an amorphous energy, with a great evil lurking within Him. Essence, or spirit, and ground, or matter, dual elements, compose God. In the beginning, there is more ground in God than essence, and hence there is a lack of balance, resulting in evil. When spirit is subordinate to ground, there can be no good, just pure anarchy and amorality. Evil has a reason for existing, though: evil exists solely to 'Adam's_Creation_Sistine_Chapel_ceiling'_by_Michelangelo_JBU33cut.jpgbe separated, inasmuch as there can be no good unless there is evil from which it can spring forth. Man then separates from God in a period of Genesis, where Man is expelled, cast out, broken off, an act called Abbrechen, or Sprung, from God. Since God is evil, since Man springs from God, Man is inherently evil, and so there exists deep within him a great darkness. From this point on, I will be referring to God as the Absolute spirit, or the Absolute, which at this stage is synonymous with Nature. The Absolute comprises a symbiosis between life and spirit, matter and nature, all of which are equivalent. If this is the case, then the Absolute pervades all, is all, thereby making Schelling’s philosophy one of pantheism. The goal of the Absolute is ultimate self-recognition. The Absolute does not know itself, yet it seeks to; within it is a yearning, a desire for self-consciousness, for recognition, for actualization. Were the Absolute to reach its end, were it to become aware of itself eventually, there would be no distinction between that which is the Absolute and that which is not, meaning everything would be made void; hence self-recognition is impossible for the Absolute, so its striving for awareness is infinite, with no end; while it can get closer and closer to recognizing itself with each adaption, it will never completely grasp itself. Such is a metaphor for Romanticism itself and the atmosphere it created–a yearning for something, something that is missing yet unknowable, a never-ending ambition for that which can never be attained, an unquenchable feeling known as Sehnsucht. As a result, the Absolute is never static but dynamic, in constant flux, more like the flowing river than the immobile rock. The process whereby the Absolute seeks itself is what Schelling calls Absolute abstraction, a process in which the Absolutes ego finds itself in opposition to the non-ego in hopes of finding itself. It is pretty much ripped right out of Fichte’s writing, this absolute abstraction, and not by accident, as Schelling read and was remarkably influenced by Fichte, but the former eventually divorced himself from the latter in his later writings. From the viewpoint of humans, the Absolute is not knowable through reason but intuition. “The nature of the Absolute itself… cannot be known by explanation, but only through intuition. For it is only the composite which can be known by description. The simple must be intuited.”[3] Jacobi is brought to mind here, his use of faith instead of reason to perceive things-in-themselves, his insistence on the simple rather than the complex. We arrive now at perhaps one of the most fascinating stages of images-1.jpegSchelling: the idea of a primitive evolution of sorts. He explains it in this way: “History as a whole is a continual revelation of the Absolute, a revelation which gradually discloses it.”[4] Tying in with the notion of self-recognition, the entire course of history has, since its beginning, worked its way up to now, constantly evolving, never stopping, increasingly becoming more and more sentient, more receptive. “Gradually,” Schelling says, the Absolute “discloses” as its complexity grows greater than before. Evolution moves from death to life, from the inorganic to the organic, and from the organic to spirit, and from spirit to freedom, which the highest point of an organism’s potential. Interestingly, while he is not correct according to today’s scientific standards, Schelling based this creation of his on the latest scientific findings of his day, making his idea of evolution, albeit prototypical, the most accurate for his time. The world began, then abiotic (inorganic) things, like rocks, began to spring up, followed by biotic (organic) things, like trees, leading to animals (spirit), and finally freedom (what the manifestation of this stage is will be saved for later). After this, Schelling, angered by Hegel, whom he accused of stealing his ideas, inspiring an irresoluble grudge between the two despite their being roommates in college, thought it necessary to distinguish two types of philosophies: positive philosophy, the correct type, in which Schelling placed himself, and negative philosophy, the wrong type, in which he placed Hegel. The difference between the two was that positive philosophy was dedicated to existence, whereas negative philosophy was dedicated to the speculative, the logical, which as we know, was considered contemptible during the Romantic period. Schelling has led some to think him an early proponent of Existentialism as a result of this stage in his philosophy, stage characterized by his question of “Why is there anything at all? Why not nothing?”[5] Schelling’s epistemology consisted of a four-part flow: sensation, perception, reflection, and will. Starting with sensation, the individual, á la Fichte, limits himself, opening himself to the world, to that which he is not; i.e., he differentiates his self from the world, therefore receiving it. This leads to perception, where the individual then recognizes the external world and makes sense out it. Now that the individual has a sense of the external, he must engage in the internal, or introspection, looking inside of himself. It is with this dual knowledge, inside and out, that he can will, which allows for him to act upon this knowledge as well as interact with other minds, other people. Schelling’s metaphysics, I said, have impacted many a fine Unknown-6.jpegpoet, most notably, mayhap, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was enchanted with this image of a living, pantheistic Nature, serving as the impetus for a number of his poems. Now we will talk about Schelling’s views on aesthetics and how Man fits into it all. We have spoken about God, the Absolute, and we have touched on the individual, specifically his origin and his source of knowledge; howbeit, we have not actually talked in depth about the nature of Man himself. In Schelling’s evolution, the final stage is freedom. Just below freedom is spirit, which is the creation of animals. Freedom, then, this final step in evolution, the most perfect organism, that which can have no superior, is none other than Man. But what makes humans different from animals? Are not we animals, after all? What makes humans different from and superior to animals is his ability to introspect. Recall that humans, through reflection, can internalize empirical information. Remember, too, that matter and nature are synonymous. Man happens to be actualized matter in the ladder of evolution, giving us the following syllogism:

Matter is Nature
Man is actualized Matter
Therefore Man is Nature

Man can thus do what the Absolute can only wish of doing: become self-aware. According to Schelling’s evolution, Man is the physical manifestation of freedom; Man is freedom in the physical embodiment of freedom! Since Man is self-conscious, and Man is Nature, it means Nature, too, is conscious; so Man, Nature, is able to discover himself, Nature. We come to the conclusion that Man is the highest being, evidently, and is necessary for the Absolute. “Nature is nothing more than the lifeless aggregate of an indeterminable crowd of objects…. Or the space in which… he [the artist] imagines things placed,”[6] writes Schelling. Nature is defined here as the place in which the artist acts, similar to Fichte’s theory of the world. He adds: “To philosophize about nature is to create nature.”[7] For this reason, Nature exists so we can shape it, so we can mold it to our liking. Just as there can be perfect art, so there can imperfect art, asserts Schelling. Imitation is seen as deplorable, like Plato said in the Republic, since it shames and blemishes Nature. Even worse are frauds, who say Nature is “not merely a dumb, but an altogether lifeless image.”[8] Such are enemies of beauty. Fine art, on the other hand, Schelling pairs with a Unknown-8.jpegbalance of form and soul, each of which are essential, meaning no one can be more dominant than the other. (As in the preponderance of ground over essence in God, imbalance results in evil.) The balance between the two necessities is achieved by grace, which Schelling finds to be the most important part of a work of art. On the act of creating art, of being a divine artist, Schelling writes: “Art springs only from that powerful striving of the inmost powers of the heart and spirit, which we call inspiration.”[9] Heart and spirit can be likened to the very relation of form and spirit, with emotion paired with faith. “Art, therefore, prefers to grasp immediately at the highest and most developed, the human form.”[10] Unfortunately, the greatest artists of the past, be they Homer, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, or van Gogh, will only come around once, according to Schelling. No one will ever emulate their greatness, nor will anyone be able to do what they did; but there will be new ones, now and in the future. While we may not recreate the great Greek sculptures or Sistine frescoes, we can create new works of art that will be looked upon and admired. The final sentence of Schelling’s essay “On the Relation of the Plastic Arts to Nature” is equally haunting as it is inspiring: “Nature never repeats herself.”[11]



[1] Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. 7, p. 19
[2] Schlegel, Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe, Vol. 18, p. 518
[3] Schelling, Werke, Vol. 4, pp. 15-6
[4] Schelling, Werke, Vol. 2, p. 603
[5] Edwards, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 7, p. 309
[6] Adams, Critical Theory Since Plato, p. 446
[7] Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind, p. 369
[8] Adams, op. cit., p. 446
[9] Id., p. 457
[10] Id., p. 450
[11] Id., p. 468



For further reading: 
The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Nietzsche by Lawrence Cahoone (2010)
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud
 by Peter Watson (2006)
Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
 3rd ed. by Simon Blackburn (2016)
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
 by Ted Honderich (1995)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 7 by Paul Edwards (1967)
A History of Philosophy
 Vol. 7 by Frederick Copleston (1994)
The Passion of the Western Mind 
by Richard Tarnas (1993)
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Friedrich Schlegel
Dictionary of Philosophy 
by Thomas Mautner (2005)
Critical Theory Since Plato
 by Hazard Adams (1971)
The Roots of Romanticism 
by Isaiah Berlin (1999)

History of Philosophy by Julian Marías (1967)
Story of Philosophy by Brian Magee (1998)

The German Romantic Philosophers (4 of 5)

Having gone over Schiller’s writings on aesthetics and their relation to humanity and freedom, having examined Fichte’s extensive metaphysical and ethical theories, which were inspired by Kant, we will briefly look at the educational and religious advancements made during Romanticism. Schiller thought art was humanity’s greatest achievement and was integral to being free, and in Fichte we saw a move toward the subjective and active, with emphasis on the individual and the world he creates for himself. Now we discuss Humboldt and Schleiermacher.

Unknown.jpegWilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) was the esteemed brother of Alexander von Humboldt, an explorer and scientist, with Charles Darwin being an admirer of his, who traveled the world collecting new plants and studying temperatures around the globe. This blog is not about his brother, though; but it does not go without saying that the Humboldts were a talented bunch, given that Wilhelm was a philosopher, educator, diplomat, political theorist, and linguist. The most lasting impression left by Wilhelm is his contribution to education, earning him the title of “the Francis Bacon of revival learning,”[1] in the words of Will Durant. During Wilhelm’s time, there were several high-ranked universities, the famous University of Jena, where Fichte and Schiller studied, among them. Assigned the duty of reforming the Prussian education system, Humboldt sought to secularize the university, taking the emphasis off of religious studies and placing it on more liberal arts. The Humboldt University of Berlin, formerly the University of Berlin, was founded by Humboldt in 1811. A fan of the Humanities, Humboldt required their teaching in his school, his interests in Ancient Greece prevailing, especially with the introduction of philosophy as a main course. In addition to philosophy, Humboldt required within the curriculum chemistry, history, and various other social sciences which he felt were more practical, more beneficial to the student, so as to prepare them for life, to educate them thoroughly and revitalize their curiosity. History was largely neglected, but by making it a mainstream topic, Humboldt allowed for more development in the subject. Hegel likely would have never systematized his theory of history had Humboldt not done this, and for this we owe a great respect to Humboldt. The school was no longer a place for students to merely listen to lectures and take notes but was now transformed into a Unknown-1.jpegprofessional, top-quality institution, with students now partaking in actual research that got them involved, that got them to see their work firsthand. Humboldt also made it incredibly hard to become a teacher without credentials, therefore ensuring that students got a quality education, one that taught them memorably, effectively. It was around this time, too, that the Ph.d. was created, although it cannot be said to be created by Humboldt himself. Not only did Humboldt introduce new material into schools, but he also pioneered a new subject: philology–the interpretation of texts. As avid a linguist as Herder, Humboldt was fascinated by different languages, studying the classics, both Western and Eastern, for there was a massive surge of interest in the East at this time while their works were being discovered and passed around. In particular, Humboldt, and Schleiermacher too, was intrigued by Indian texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita, which he translated and thereby popularized. This interest in experimenting with different languages led to his studies in comparative linguistics, a study continued today. Like Herder, Humboldt thought language’s place in civilization was unique, likening it to a Volksgeist, a spirit of the people (he never used Volksgeist, but it is attributed to him). He served as the Prussian diplomat to Rome and subsequently to Vienna, and he played a large role in the Napoleonic Wars toward the end, persuading several nations to unite against the French, greatly influencing the rest of the war. Humboldt was a liberal, and like Mill, he valued individual rights above the government, which he thought should be small and limited so it would not infringe on the people’s rights.

Unknown-2.jpegThe greatest theologian of Romanticism was Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768-1834). At the core of Schleiermacher’s philosophy is Absolute dependence, Abhängigkeitsgefühl, what he calls the “religious feeling,” since the feeling, once achieved and properly perpetuated, inspires awe and a deep sense of faith. This faith is invested entirely in God and in nothing else, like Martin Luther. He reserved religious practice, not for transcendental knowledge but Absolute dependence; in other words, were a Neoplatonist or Christian to meditate with the end of reaching the Good, of seeing God, or of awakening to reality as, say, a Buddhist would, then they are doing it for the wrong reason, insofar as Schleiermacher thought religious activity was meant to strengthen one’s belief, to establish one’s piety, to place one’s life in the hands of God, i.e., to make them dependent on Him, absolutely, wholly; therefore, dependence is not to be placed on anything outside of the world, on some other reality, but on God Himself. Absolute dependence can only be achieved by looking inward, not by rationalizing, nor by acting. It is a sensation deep within the individual, and it must be found through self-consciousness and intuition. Faith and faith alone is the tool for being pious to God. If thought comes to fruition in being, as in knowledge, then it becomes Nature; and if being comes to fruition in thought, as in moral law, then it becomes spirit. Essentially, God is a combination of Nature and spirit who can be depended upon by means of intuition, for he is so vast that reason cannot envisage Him. Intuition allows us to embrace the Absolute, to feel it, and to understand the Universe, notwithstanding its infinitude. The relation between God and Universe is complicated, as God is not synonymous with Universe, yet He is also not anonymous with Universe; rather, they are correlative and work in the same sphere, so to speak. Schleiermacher can be considered a pantheist, in that he believed God is immanent; God permeates our reality. In fact, he says we are each unique parts of God Himself, Eigentümlichkeit, individual descendants of His, with special characteristics and talents. This individualistic doctrine is interesting coming from a theologian, for he not only expressing our relation with God, but he is also expressing our uniqueness, both in personality and in talent, which he thought we should look for, perfect, and flaunt in our own ways. Furthermore, this sets up an axiomatic relationship between the individual and the community: uniqueness implies that it is unique compared to other things, meaning there must be a community of other unique individuals, and community implies there are different people within it, meaning there must be uniqueness. Both Schleiermacher and Humboldt innovated their own disciplines: Humboldt innovated philology, and Schleiermacher hermeneutics, which has the same premise as philology, except that it focuses primarily on religious, spiritual, and philosophical works than language in general. Another similarity between Humboldt and Schleiermacher is their love of Eastern images.jpegtexts. “For Schleiermacher… the source of all religion ‘can be found’ in the unconscious or in the Orient, from whence all religions came.”[2] Hermeneutics is all about interpretation, be it of the book, the history, or the author. Schleiermacher is credited with engineering the hermeneutic circle, a method whereby an interpreter can study the work effectively. The first step is to understand the background or context of the work. One must find when the work was written, where it was written, and why it was written. Once the background is researched, one then studies the grammatical and psychological aspects of it, which means analyzing the language, syntax, and grammar of the work and the mental attitude of he who wrote it. Understanding what beliefs the author had at the time and what he was thinking allows for a personal connection with the text and allows the reader deeper within the text. Lastly, the interpreter looks at the piece in sections and holistically, switching between the two to get a better grasp of the general structure and specific details. This method has been adapted into editing in writing, for it has proved effective in finding organization and finding information the writer is trying to convey.


[1] Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 10, p. 606
[2] Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance: Europe’s Discovery of India and the East, 1680-1880, p. 219

For further reading:
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud by Peter Watson (2006)
Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
 3rd ed. by Simon Blackburn (2016)
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
 by Ted Honderich (1995)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 4 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 7 by Paul Edwards (1967)
A History of Philosophy
 Vol. 7 by Frederick Copleston (1994)
The Passion of the Western Mind 
by Richard Tarnas (1993)
The Story of Civilization 
Vol. 10 by Will Durant (1967)
Dictionary of Philosophy 
by Thomas Mautner (2005)
The Roots of Romanticism 
by Isaiah Berlin (1999)


The German Romantic Philosophers (3 of 5)

With Jacobi we found a scathing attack against the rationality of the Enlightenment. He found it sickly, believing instead we should stick to our emotions and our faith. The theme of faith, of intuition, will appear several more times, the former appearing in Fichte. Similarly, Jacobi popularized the idea of activity over speculation. This we shall see in Fichte as well. In this post we will look at Romanticism from an aesthetic and metaphysical position.

Unknown-6.jpegOne of the greatest aesthetes of the Romantic period, Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) was a prolific writer, his On the Aesthetic Education of Man a series of letters that explain his views on art, on society, and on how the two must be put together, which we will be assessing. Continuing the tripartite tradition of the human mind, inspired by Plato and inspiring Freud, Schiller said there were three drives that actively shaped the mind. The first drive was the sense-drive, the Stofftrieb. Like Freud’s Id, the Stofftrieb is primordial, the one inherent at birth which seeks out the material and is instinctive. This drive is uncivilized, but it seeks out change; it seeks out its place in time. As follows, the sense-drive looks for the limited, that which is finite, that which is subject to change. In contrast the form-drive, the Formtrieb, Freud’s superego, is rational and assumes a moral position. “It insists on truth and on the right.”[1] It gives us obligations; it binds us to reason, to logic. Unlike the sense-drive, the Formtrieb desires the infinite, that which is intemporal. While the Stofftrieb is practical, the Formtrieb is recondite and obscured. Out of necessity, though, both drives cannot peacefully coexist, so there must exist a third drive, a drive that will balance them out: the play-drive, or Spieltrieb–Freud’s ego. Without this fundamental drive, humans would lack a sense of beauty. The Spieltrieb is the aesthetic sense that allows us to recognize, rationalize, and emotionalize beauty. Further, it balances out the opposing two drives, since “it will… annul all constraint too, and set man free both physically and mentally.”[2] By “play,” in play-drive, Schiller refers to pure activity, not just games. Because the play-drive is the ultimate drive, the most coveted of them, it removes all limitations from the person, allowing for them to actualize themselves, to express themselves. If beauty is to exist, Schiller maintains, there must be balance, for balance is the key to beauty. Lamenting the good ole’ days, Schiller explained that Greece was exemplary for its balance, both in its art, captured in sculptures, pottery, and paintings, and in its humanity–the perfect balance between individualism and collectivism, rationality and passion. Greek culture was united, in that there was a perfect blend of mind, sense, and intellect, which Schiller thought was paramount. Modernity, contrariwise, he felt was divided, with no clear trajectory, either in art or in humanity. Time, in Schiller’s thought, is flux. Like Heraclitus, Schiller believed time was just present moment after present moment, a continuous stream that always flowed. From there Schiller develops the balance between Stofftrieb and Formtrieb. On the surface the two drives prove to be opposing forces, but they are not, reasons Schiller, because where sense
does not require the principles of form, form does not require the sensation of sense; therefore, they do not cancel each other out; rather, they 
limit each other, so as to prevent Unknown-8.jpegone from dominating the other, thereby maintaining an equilibrium. Were the sense-drive to dominate, it would result in hedonism, turning the person into pure force, rendering us a part of time; were the form-drive to dominate, our moral duty would be corrupted, our “selves” reduced to mere objects to be acted upon. The Stofftrieb receives, and the Formtrieb creates. Schiller also identifies different classes of artists: the naïve poet, who accepts and represents nature as it is, and the sentimental poet, who seeks nature as an ideal. There are three more divisions thereafter: the poet who is repelled from life is satirical; the poet who believes the ideal cannot be found is elegiac; and the poet who thinks the ideal present is idyllic. Aesthetics are the basis of Schiller’s system, and he suggests existentialist themes, as will Fichte. “The external world is known only as man constructs an image of it for himself,”[3] he writes, suggesting the phenomenal world is relative, implying we see the world how we choose. And in the following quote he sets up the idea that, when we embrace our sense of art, we can shape our life–we can choose who we become:

By means of aesthetic culture,… the personal worth [of man], or his dignity,… remains completely indeterminate;… he is henceforth enabled… to make of himself what he will–that the freedom to be what he ought to be is completely restored to him.[4]

Unknown-7.jpegAt last we arrive at the most influential philosopher of Romanticism: Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814). In Fichte we find a turning point in Modern philosophy, his metaphysics a divergence from his predecessor Kant towards future systems of thought. An amusing anecdote about Fichte–which can be found in pretty much every book in which he is mentioned–recounts how, upon publishing his first book, An Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation (1792), his name was not put on the book, leading readers to think the book was written by Kant, a follow-up critique on religion; but once Fichte’s name was revealed, he rose meteorically, although his image was tarnished by his beliefs about God as supplying us with our moral sense and by his contentious personality. Fichte begins by identifying philosophy as the Wissenschaftslehre, basically calling it the science of sciences, as it provided the basis for all other studies. Many books tend to complicate Fichte’s metaphysics, leaving the readers confused, so I will try my best to simplify and make the summary as concise, readable, and comprehensible as possible. His system is founded upon three starting principles. The first principle states that there is a pure–or transcendental, in Husserlian terminology–ego, or self. What is most important to understand about this Absolute ego is that it is objective; it is the highest form of self, and this means it cannot be known. When I say I am doing an action, the “I” represents my self, but there is still an “I” that, while I know that it exists, cannot be identified. This is what Fichte calls the first principle of philosophy. It, like Descartes’ Cogito, is the starting point of philosophy, insofar as without it, nothing else can be known for certain; therefore, we must start with the fact that there exists a pure ego. Another misconception is the idea that the Absolute ego is an entity, something that exists; the transcendental ego is, like Schiller’s Spieltrieb, pure activity, tathandlung. It is not; instead it does. Peter Watson write, “On this account, Fichte portrays the self as: ‘It wills, alters, carves up the world both in thought and in action, in accordance with its own concepts and categories.’”[5] Fichte was an admirer of Kant, so this principle is clearly reminiscent of Kant’s idea that the mind actively conceives and shapes the world according to its categories. The second principle is as follows: “The ego posits itself and in doing so posits the non-ego.”[6] At this point Fichtean metaphysics gets incredibly confusing with its talk of “pure egos,” normal “egos,” and “non-egos.” The above quote, simplified, states: the pure ego (the higher, objective self) sends out the ego (the self of which we are aware, of which we can speak) and a non-ego, which I will explain presently. “The ‘I,’ the ‘self’ in that sense of the word, is not the same as ‘me,’”[7] writes Isaiah Berlin. What Berlin is saying is that there are two understandings of the self: the pure ego (who we are) and the ego (who can be acted upon, who can be talked about). If someone hits me, they hit my ego, my subjective self, but not my pure ego, my objective self. Now to the non-ego. The non-ego, simply put, is the world; the non-ego is nature. Without the non-ego, we are just bodies with nothing to interact with–we are just selves. As we explained with Jacobi, the self can only be known through resistance. Black is only black if compared to white; cold only cold if compared to hot; and night only night if compared to day; therefore, the ego is only the ego if compared to that which is not the ego: reality, the physical world.

I became aware of myself, not as an element in some larger pattern but in the clash of the not-self, the Anstoss (Anstoß), the deadly impact of collision with dead matter, which I must resist and subjugate to my free creative design.[8]

In this quote Fichte explains that the ego cannot be known by looking at itself (“some larger pattern”), but rather when compared to the non-ego (“the not-self”), which is synonymous with nature (“dead matter”). In German, Anstoß (Anstoss) means “impetus,” or “kick-off,” and is extremely important to Fichte, as it denotes self-realization. When the ego recognizes itself through nature, through resistance, the Anstoß, the kick-off, occurs. Fichte writes in another work, “Who am I? Subject and object in one–the conscious being and that of which I am conscious.”[9] The subject is the ego, Unknown-9.jpegthe object the non-ego. A helpful way of thinking of the ego and non-ego is in terms of grammar: the subject is the one who acts, and the object is that which is acted upon; therefore, the ego acts on the non-ego. The self is nominative (“I”), and the non-ego is accusative (“me”). Fichte was accused of creating a system of subjective idealism, i.e., solipsism, by saying that the mind creates reality. He responded with his third and final principle, completing his dialectic. (It should be noted that the dialectic found in Hegel [thesis-antithesis-synthesis] was taken from Fichte’s writing.) In the third principle, the Absolute ego posits a finite ego and finite non-ego. This does not look much different from the second principle; all Fichte did was put a limitation on the ego and non-ego, which prevented him from falling into solipsism. The ego has a so-called productive power of imagination, says Fichte. This power allows the ego to experience the world, resulting in sensation, or empfindung. From this sensation we understand, creating concepts in the mind, then we make judgments, which commit those concepts to our thought.

[Fichte] proceeded to construct a system without any thing-in-itself, and therefore rejected the assumption of anything but what was our presentment pure and simple, making the knowing subject all in all, or at least making it produce everything from its own resources… he declared everything to be a priori.[10]

Unknown-11.jpegKant’s idea of the noumenal thing-in-itself was rejected by Fichte, who, as seen in Schopenhauer’s quote above, completely removed it in favor of the ego’s creation of the world. Schopenhauer criticized this movement in Fichte’s thought because he posited that everything comes from the mind. Whereas Kant’s ego shaped the world, Fichte’s ego created it. When Schopenhauer denounces Fichte for making “everything… a priori,” he is referring to the fact that Fichte, borrowing from Kant, said that the mind has innate categories; that is to say, the mind will automatically make sense of the natural world, or the non-ego, by nature. For example, scientific laws, according to Fichte, are not discovered and applied but are already prefigured and thus applied. We do not see objects fall and declare it the work of gravity; the concept of gravity is already hardwired into our minds, actively shaping, actively influencing our conceptions. “Knowledge is not in us, rather we are in knowledge.”[11] Therefore, knowledge of the world is within us; we understand the world inherently. Later in his thought, Fichte shifted from knowledge to faith in The Vocation of Man, which we will be exploring next.

Knowledge is not this organ: no knowledge can be its own foundation, its own proof; every knowledge presupposes a higher knowledge on which it is founded,… it is faith,… because only through this view can we fulfill our vocation.[12]

This skeptical idea of knowledge, which we will see later with Schlegel, expresses an infinite regress, so far as knowledge always builds on other knowledge, infinitely, until we reach a first principle, in Fichte’s case the pure ego. Once more we see a parallel with Jacobi in that faith is necessary to find truth. We now move to Fichte’s ethical and political theory. Fichte dedicated himself to creating a system of transcendental idealism rather than dogmatism, the belief that there is another world, a noumenal world, because the latter, he thought, introduced atheism (which he was ironically accused of), determinism, and materialism. The medial was of paramount concern for Fichte, for he, like Kant, wanted to find a way to justify free will in an apparently deterministic world. Fichte and Herder are credited as the great fathers of German nationalism, as we explored in the previous post. From 1807 to 1808, Fichte gave a series of orations called the “Addresses to the German Nation” after the reign of Napoleon to persuade the German people to unite, to rejoice in their common greatness. Another work of his, on the Closed Commercial State (1800), he wrote of the ideal state, incorporating trade with foreign nations, surpluses of food so the nation was well fed, a division of labor, and a social contract. Almost prophetically he wrote:

Until the existing culture of every age shall have been diffused over the whole inhabited globe, and our species becomes capable of the most unlimited inter-communication with itself,… then, without further interruption,… humanity shall move onward to a higher culture.[13]

So far as Fichte’s ethical theory is concerned, he placed great importance on the conscience as the force that allows us to carry out our individual duties. “Conscience is the immediate awareness of a particular obligation,”[14] he says. That little voice in our heads, that gut feeling, which tells us if something is right or wrong is our conscience. Fichte says we must adhere to this voice every time, since it has a moral sense. To be an ethical person, he says, “Act always according to your best convictions of your duty or Act according to your conscience.”[15] We individuals, when faced with a situation that endangers us naturally, as in hunger, and spiritually, as in duty, must always satisfy our spiritual above our natural needs, to the extent that our spiritual, moral obligations are of Unknown-12.jpegutmost importance. Freedom is equated with law–moral law, that is–in Fichte’s view. Jacobi, Fichte, and Schelling are surprisingly existential for their time, perhaps inspiring future existentialists such as Kierkegaard, who happened to attend several of Fichte’s lectures and was a student of Schelling, and Jean-Paul Sartre; the latter in particular seems to have been influenced by the following meditations on freedom from Fichte: “I am wholly my creation.”[16] This is an audacious quote, and he thus explains it: “My whole mode of thought, and the cultivation that my understanding receives, as well as the objects to which I direct it, depend entirely on myself.”[17] This quote is oft-cited when speaking of Fichte, occurring most often in the form of “My philosophy depends on what kind of Man I am.”[18] By this Fichte means we shape the world and we act according to who we are and what we choose to do–very Sartrean. One may think back to Fichte’s metaphysics and ask, Why is there a non-ego? Fichte explains: “From the necessity of action proceeds the consciousness of the actual world; and not the reverse way,”[19] and “my world is the object and sphere of my duties, and absolutely nothing more.”[20] In short, the ego requires activity and somewhere to act, so it posits the non-ego; and because the non-ego is nature, it means the ego has somewhere to act as a moral agent. Lastly, Fichte addresses the problem of other minds and how we ought to act toward others:

But the voice of my conscious thus speaks: “Whatever these beings may be in and for themselves, you shall act towards them as self-existent, free, substantive beings, wholly independent of you. Assume it as already known that they can give you a purpose to their own being wholly by themselves, and quite independently of you; never interrupt the accomplishment of this purpose but rather further it to the utmost of your power. Honor their freedom, lovingly take up their purposes as if they were your own.”[20]


[1] Adams, Critical Theory Since Plato, p. 420
[2] Id., p. 424
[3] Edwards, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 8, p. 313
[4] Adams, op. cit., p. 427
[5] Watson, Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, From Fire to Freud, p. 610
[6] Marías, History of Philosophy, p. 310
[7] Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism, p. 108
[8] Watson, op. cit., p. 610
[9] Beardsley, The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche, p. 492
[10] Bax, Philosophy of Schopenhauer, p. 195
[11] Marías, op. cit., p. 312
[12] Beardsley, op. cit., pp. 495-6
[13] Id., pp. 508-9
[14] Fichte, Sämtlichte Werke, Vol. 4, pp. 173-4
[15] Id., p. 59
[16] Beardsley, op. cit., p. 497
[17] Ibid.
[18] Watson, op. cit., p. 611
[19] Beardsley, op. cit., p. 500
[20] Ibid.
[21] Id., p. 499

For further reading:
The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Nietzsche by Lawrence Cahoone (2010)
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud
 by Peter Watson (2006)

The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche by Monroe Beardsley (1992)
Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
 3rd ed. by Simon Blackburn (2016)
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
 by Ted Honderich (1995)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 3 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 7 by Paul Edwards (1967)
A History of Philosophy
Vol. 7 by Frederick Copleston (1994)
The Passion of the Western Mind 
by Richard Tarnas (1993)
The Story of Civilization 
Vol. 11 by Will Durant (1967)
Dictionary of Philosophy 
by Thomas Mautner (2005)
Critical Theory Since Plato
by Hazard Adams (1971)
Philosophy of Schopenhauer
by Belfort Bax (1949)
The Roots of Romanticism 
by Isaiah Berlin (1999)

History of Philosophy by Julian Marías (1967)
Story of Philosophy by Brian Magee (1998)


The German Romantic Philosophers (2 of 5)

As we have seen, Romanticism was a revolt against the rational, ordered view of the world, an outlook championed by the Enlightenment, particularly in France. The Germans responded vehemently with their own revolution, inspiring a surge in faith, in the visceral, the emotional. Intuition was favored above knowledge, perception above conception, passion above reason. Part two shall analyze the first two figures of German Romanticism, Jacobi and Herder, the former in favor of faith, the latter nationalism.

Unknown-2.jpegFriedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819) was a controversial figure, partly because he wrote several polemics, many of which sought to challenge the status quo established by the Enlightenment, and partly because of his fiery personality, the cause of many a bitter friendship (like the pantheism controversy), despite befriending several vanguards of the time. Recognized primarily as a polemicist, Jacobi was an obstinate critic of the Enlightenment. He saw the apotheosis of reason as distasteful, as reason was, in his view, subordinate to faith, an opinion held by a fellow Romantic and, at one time, friend, Johann Georg Hamann. Science, obtained by observation, supposedly based on reason, had its foundations built upon empiricism, thus making it not objective, as it is so advertised. Jacobi detested science, not only because it aided the Enlightenment in forming a logical theory of the universe, but because it deified the objective, the so-called “true reality.” In all reality, all the scientists were doing was watching phenomena through their senses, then turning those observations into laws, laws that put boundaries on the world, limiting it, depriving it of its beauty, supplanting faith with reason. This, Jacobi thought, led to nihilism, a term actually first used by Jacobi himself. The Enlightenment was nihilistic in that it was fatalistic–it condemned humanity, the entire universe, to a predetermined course, all of its occurrences explainable by scientific laws, thereby reducing all values to science. Immanuel Kant was one of the biggest influences on the German philosophers, on modernity, and at one point, on Jacobi; yet this did not last long, for Jacobi later criticized Kant, dismissing his theory of things-in-themselves, imputing Kant with creating a system of subjective idealism. Faith, as I have said, was central to Jacobi, and the definition of faith, in German glaube, caused some problems for Jacobi when it was interpreted in different ways. Hence Jacobi identified faith with both its traditional definition and with belief, since he felt both were necessary. Intuition was an experienced truth supported with faith, according to Jacobi. If we drop an object, it will fall. But just seeing this truth in action is not enough; we must also have faith in this empirical observation, because without it, there still exists doubt, uncertainty. Further, faith and feeling are superior to reason simply for the fact that reason is formed after sensation, after feeling. First we see the object drop, then we formulate the notion that there is an effect which draws the object downward. In order for faith to work, Jacobi invites us all to take a salto mortale, a leap of faith, a concept mistakenly contributed to Unknown-4.jpegKierkegaard. Faith is almost like a blind trust, for we must put our whole certainty into something, regardless of whether we are certain or not. This leap, then, signifies our trust in the world. This is the first principle upon which philosophy is based for Jacobi. Critiquing Kant, Jacobi wrote that the thing-in-itself, existing in the transcendental noumenal realm, cannot be grasped by reason, precisely as Kant said. If that is so, how can Kant be sure the things-in-themselves exist? Jacobi says that we know they exist not through reason, but through faith. Faith in the phenomenal world means faith in the noumenal world, it follows. Jacobi can hardly be called an Existentialist, but he did place emphasis on the person, rather than speculative metaphysics. In an idea we will further investigate with Fichte, Jacobi said there is an I and a Thou, in other words a subject and an object. Only through the object can the subject be known, for the subject, by resisting something outside of itself, is revealed. With too much emphasis on theory in philosophy, Jacobi turned to action, stating that we are identifiable through action; we are what we do.

Unknown-3.jpegWhile arguably one of the most influential Romantics yet also one of the most unheard of, Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) has made a lasting contribution to civilization, not only as a philosopher, but as a historian, a debatable nationalist, a psychologist, and a linguistic theorist. Nationalism can be traced neither exactly nor accurately to Herder, but he definitely is responsible for a different type: Cultural nationalism. In his four-volume series Ideas for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind (1784-1791), Herder sets up the idea of a creative consciousness. This consciousness is a historical process, one that has shaped, shapes, and will shape society, its work seen throughout history. Creative consciousness is not exactly a forerunner of evolution, yet it is similar, inasmuch as it relates society to a species of some sort, constantly evolving, adapting, assimilating, progressing. As this consciousness progresses, cultures come and go, cultures being different groups of people sharing in common beliefs and practices. Every culture is unique from its contemporaries, exhibiting its own characteristics, the likes of which have never been seen before nor will be seen again. Cultures, therefore, are unique, and there exists no blueprint, no recognizable pattern, for them, as they cannot be predicted, so far as there is no objective framework on which they are to be based; cultures are blank slates, each able to have a special impress made on them. Herder believes in world peace. He thinks cultures should coexist without encroaching on one another. He thinks cultures should respect one another. Based on these beliefs, Herder did not like empires, nations that conquered other nations: by removing a culture and reorienting it, empires are removing an entire past, an entire history distinct to that culture alone; and that history can never be recovered, for it has already been disrespected. Moreover, it removes the identity of the culture itself, practically wiping it clean from the world. The discipline of historicism was also influenced by Herder. To understand a certain aspect of a culture, Herder said, you must understand the entire culture. For example, I took a similar approach when researching this topic: So that I could understand the environment in which the Romantics were operating, I had to study not just the philosophy of the period, but the history, the art, the literature, the music, and the people. Reserved for every culture is a specific goal, a main focus, what Herder calls the schwerpunkt of a culture. Identifying this central idea will help you envisage the context into which you are delving. And what is culture without people? The people, volk, constitute a collective spirit, a volksgeist, that is immanent in that culture. A culture is created by the nature of humans, their expression, and their environment. Regarding the first, humans are sociable; second, Herder praises art, seeing Unknown-5.jpegit as the expression of not just a person but of a people, where there is no objective beauty, allowing cultures to figuratively speak to one another; third, he sets up environmental studies, asserting that the development of a culture is dependent upon its environment. “We live in a world we ourselves create,”[1] and, “Nature has separated nations not only by woods and mountains, seas and deserts, rivers and climates but most particularly by languages, inclinations, and character…,”[2] he says. Also a psychologist, Herder can be called an eliminativist, a view I explain here. Simply put, Herder rejects all “folk psychology,” meaning he discredits any claims about sensations like “reason,” “will,” or “desire.” He also believes that Man is entirely physical, entirely discarding Cartesian dualism, stating that only the brain and the body make up the individual. The idea that the brain is compartmentalized, with individual sections hooked up to individual functions like eating, is also rejected. Herder thought it ridiculous, mystical even, that one part of the brain could do one thing and another something else. Predating Gestalt theory, he says, “The inner man, with all his dark forces, stimuli, and impulses, is simply one.”[3] The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, in other words. Man is not identified with his desires, with his thinking, with his instincts, but with all of them; Man is not a single part but a collection. Within every man is an animating force, Kraft. Herder theorized this living force as fundamental to being, to existence; without it, there would be no life. Kraft is what allows us to function, to live, to interact with the real world, with objects outside of us, phenomena. Moving onto his linguistic theory, we find a revolutionary view, one that gave me an epiphany. Language developed and evolved alongside humans–that much is evident, and it was accepted. Each culture had a language that was different from its neighbors, for they progressed differently, and their language had to fit their specific needs. This led Herder to create a theory that inspired the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Because language was relative to each culture, it followed that language must accordingly affect how cultures experienced the world. Insofar as there is no such thing as a perfect translation, it must mean that words will have different connotations to different people; therefore, we all see the world differently based on our language. What made me really think was Herder relating the conscience to an “inward speaking.”[4] This, coupled with Wittgenstein’s picture theory of language, makes up the internal dialogue of the mind. We tend to think in pictures, and when we talk to ourselves in our heads, there is an inaudible voice, but a voice that we can altogether understand, as it uses language–it speaks.


[1] Smith, The Norton History of the Human Sciences, p. 337
[2] Meinecke, Cosmopolitanism and the National State, pp. 25-26
[3] Herder, Sämtlichte Werke, Vol. 8, p. 179
[4] Herder, Sämtlichte Werke, Vol. 21, p. 88


For further reading:
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud by Peter Watson (2006)
Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy 3rd ed. by Simon Blackburn (2016)
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
 by Ted Honderich (1995)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 3 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 4 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Passion of the Western Mind 
by Richard Tarnas (1993)
The Story of Civilization 
Vol. 10 by Will Durant (1967)
Dictionary of Philosophy 
by Thomas Mautner (2005)
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Friedrich Jacobi
The Roots of Romanticism 
by Isaiah Berlin (1999)