Kant and Goethe on the history of the modern Weltanschauung
Translated by Josef Bleicher
ANY SENSE of the wholeness of life we tend to attribute to cultures in a semi-developed state, and also to the one preceding the rise of Christianity. This wholeness was torn apart and turned into oppo-sites by later developments. However hard the struggle for physical survival, however mercilessly individuals may have been subjected to the demands of their social group, there only seem to have been very sporadic instances prior to the decline of the Classical era where there arose the intimation of a fundamental rift within human beings, within their world, or between them and their world.
Plato had separated a world beyond, that of ‘Ideas’, from the empirical one, in which the latter was conceived by him as a split-off part of the former, the only fully real world. But even this separation was initially revised again. It is only with the rise of Christianity that the opposition between spirit and ﬂesh, between the state of nature and ultimate values, between the self-willed individual and a God who considers any wilfulness a sin, that these oppositions were felt down to the bottom of the soul. But, being a religion, it offered reconciliation with the same hand that had created the rift. It was only after having lost its unconditional power over the soul, only after its solution to the problem had become questionable at the beginning of the modern period, that the issue could emerge in its full extent. Only after the Renaissance period did the recognition become dominant that humans are fundamentally dualistic beings; that separation and opposition represent the basic form through which they comprehend the constituents of their world, and which also underlie all its tragic aspects, as well as its whole development and dynamic nature. With the awareness that this opposition reaches down to the deepest and widest layers of our selves and to the way our existence is conceived of, the search for its reconciliation becomes all the more comprehensive and insistent. As the tension between our internal and external existence increases, so the quest for an all the more powerful and comprehensive bond increases also, one that allows us to comprehend once more that unity which we have sensed prevailing over and above our unfamiliarity with the elements of being.
Initially, it is the opposition between subject and object that, in modern times, gains the most incisive formulation. The cognising self considers itself sovereign in relation to the whole world as represented in thought. That ‘I think, therefore I am – and consequently the world exists also’, becomes the one indubitable theme, however much it may have been modiﬁed and developed. Yet, at the same time, this objective world possesses a relentless factuality. It is precisely after that separation that the Self appears to be its product, the result of forces that also brought into existence other forms, whether plants or clouds. This state of separation then characterises not just the realm of nature but also that of society. In it, indi-viduals may demand the right to liberty and to be accepted in their unique-ness, whereas society may only recognise them as a component, subject to its supra-individual laws. In both cases, the grandiose self is threatened either to be devoured by an external objectivity or to fall prey to anarchis-tic arbitrariness and isolation. Alongside, or above, this opposition, modern development has established another one, that between natural mechanism and the meaning and value of things.
Ever since Galileo and Copernicus, the natural sciences have interpreted the world increasingly as a mechanism governed by a causality that can be formulated mathematically. This may not have been, or may never be, carried out completely, and pressure and force, to which all events in the world seemed to be reducible to, may still allow other principles beside themselves. But at least until the more recent past and its schemes of interpretation, these events are in principle seen as a to-and-fro of matter and energy determined by natural laws. Unwinding clockwork, but one which does not reveal ideas or serve a purpose, just like the one constructed by human hands. The mechanistic principle appears, in fact, to have brought the reality into complete opposition to everything that had hitherto given meaning to the real world. No longer is there any room for ideas, values, purpose, religious signiﬁcance and moral choice. However, spiritual, emotional and metaphysical impulses had not ceased to assert themselves. As a consequence, philosophical thought in the 17th and 18th centuries acquired the enormous cultural task of regaining, at a higher level, the lost unity between nature and mind, mechanism and inner meaning, scientiﬁc objectivity and the subjective sense of the signiﬁcance of life and of objects.
There are two basic philosophical conceptions, which permeate cultural life in a manifold way, and on the basis of which two reductionist approaches are immediately available: materialism and spiritualism. The former denies the separate existence of any spiritual and mental phenomena and declares the physical reality with its external mechanism as the only reality and as absolute. The other, conversely, reduces all external-perceptual elements to insigniﬁcant appearances and considers the exclusive essence of existence to be the mind and its values and ordering schemes.
Alongside these conceptions, two Weltanschauungen emerged which contained notions of unity that could do better justice to the above dualism: those of Kant and Goethe. It is Kant’s monumental achievement to have raised the subjectivism of the modern period, the self-gloriﬁcation of the ‘I’ and its irreducibility to material factors, to the highest level – without relin-quishing the solidity and signiﬁcance of the objective world. He demon-strated that all objects of cognition can, for us, consist in nothing other than the cognising representations themselves. All objects exist for us only as the uniﬁcation of sense experience, that is, as subjective processes deter-mined by our sense organs. But, at the same time, he showed that the very reliability and objectivity of reality becomes comprehensible only on the basis of this presupposition. Only on the basis that objects are nothing but our representations can our acts of representing them, which we can never go beyond, be sure of gaining knowledge of them. Only in this way can we state something about them which is unconditionally necessary, and that is that the conditions of acts of representation must be unconditionally valid exactly because they are our representations. If we had to wait for the object, which is essentially different from ourselves, to be poured into our mind from outside as if into a passively receiving receptacle, then we could never go beyond individual cases. Since, however, the representing activity of the ego constitutes our world, then the laws of our mental activity are the laws governing the object, too. Kant expresses this with breathtaking boldness: the Understanding determines the laws operative in nature. This to say that the chaotic range of sense-impressions of a blind material can form into ‘nature’, that is, a comprehensible system, only after the ordering capacity of our Understanding arranges them into a structured series. It is the Ego, the unity of consciousness, which can not be explicated further, that forms sense impressions into the objects of experience that together make up objective reality in its entirety. Behind it, and beyond the realm of possible cognition, we may consider what these objects are like as ‘things-in-them-selves’, that is, as things which are beyond our cognitive range. In them may be realised all absolute positions of Reason, all demands of the emotions, all ideals developed by our imagination. But all this can ﬁnd no place in our world of sense experience, which alone can become an object of knowl-edge for us.
At a closer look, we notice that Kant’s solution to the main issue – the dualism of subject and object, mind and body – amounts to an underpin-ning of this dualism with the factuality of consciousness and cognition as such. Our world and all its unfamiliar content are characterised by the fact that we do have knowledge of it. Even the images through which we recog-nise ourselves and acquire our separate existence, they too are, just like corporeal world, Appearances of an object that remains hidden from us in regards to how it is in-itself. Body and mind are Appearances, experiences gained within a general system of consciousness and tied to each other through the fact that they both have to be represented and thus are subject to the same conditions of cognition. In the realm of Appearance itself, where they can alone become objects for us, they are mutually irreducible. Neither materialism, which aims to explain the mind through the body, nor spiritu-alism, which explains the body through the mind, are admissible. Each has to be explained in terms of laws applicable only to itself. Despite this, they do not fall apart but form the one world of experience because they are held together as a unit by the cognising mind as such in which they come to appear. Furthermore, beyond both there remain the things-in-themselves, conceivable but not knowable. We may wish to accept that their unity main-tains the common ground of appearances which are then grasped and dissected by our cognitive faculty and separated into the dualism of mind and body, empirical subject and empirical object. Even though external nature, as an object for us, may not contain even a trace of mind, so that its scientiﬁc depiction could ultimately only take the form of mechanics and mathematical science – and even though mind follows other, quite differ-ent, immanent laws – these two thoughts, of the overarching and knowing consciousness and of the thing-in-itself, in which intuitions of the Idea locate the common ground for all Appearances, do come together in a unitary world view. This way, the scientiﬁc-intellectual interpretation of our conception of the world reaches its highest point. It is not the objects as such but our knowledge of them which becomes for Kant the real issue. The uniﬁcation of the two grand dualities, nature and mind, body and soul, he achieves at the price of restricting himself to the uniﬁcation of their scien-tiﬁc representations only. Scientiﬁc experience with its uniform laws provides the framework that brings together all contents of existence into one form, that of intellectual comprehensibility.
Goethe combines these constituents in a quite different way, and arrives at an equally reassuring unity. But not only does he lack a system-atic framework, he does not even follow the basic intention of a philosophy striving to achieve the status of science: to elevate our sense of the value and the interconnectedness of the world as a whole into the sphere of abstract concepts. In systematic philosophy, our direct relationship to the world, the inner resonance and sensing of its power and its meaning, is mirrored in a thinking process that seemingly stands opposite it. It expresses in its own language a state of affairs with which it has no direct connection. But if I understand Goethe correctly, then with him it is always only a case of an unmediated expression of the way he experiences the world. He does not start by ﬁrst dealing with it within the medium of abstract thought before objectivating it there and forming it into a completely new mode of exist-ence. Instead, his incomparably strong sense of the world and its inner coherence based on Ideas brings forth his ‘philosophical’ utterances, just as a root gives rise to ﬂowers. Using a loose metaphor: Goethe’s philosophy resembles the sounds we emit when experiencing feelings of pleasure or pain. Scientiﬁc philosophy, in contrast, resembles the words with which these feelings are expressed verbally and conceptually. Since Goethe is from beginning to end an artist, so this natural way of presenting himself turns by itself into a work of art. He was able to ‘sing the way a bird sings’ without his expressions turning into a crudely insinuating naturalism, because they were formed at the outset, at source, by his art. In the same way, scientiﬁc cognition is preceded by speciﬁc categories of Understanding which can then be evidenced in a given item of knowledge as its form. Goethe himself draws on this comparison in order to explicate an earlier comment to Schiller: ‘Not only art objects, but already those objects to be turned into art, possess a certain ideality. As they come to be perceived in relation to art so they become transformed in that instant by the human spirit’. His way of contemplating objects already meant that they came to be taken up as artistic forms (in the widest sense of the word) and were transformed into them. They themselves, as they arose within him as representations, were artistic because his mode of representing was an artistic one. For this reason, it is completely correct – in view of his ultimate and decisive way of thinking even though it remains quite incomprehensible, taken superﬁ-cially – when he asserts that ‘I always kept clear of philosophy’. For this reason, an account of Goethe’s philosophy will to some extent unavoidably take the form of a philosophising about Goethe. It is not a matter of system-atising his thought, in relation to him a rather inferior activity, but of a direct continuation and expression of Goethe’s feelings for nature, the world and life. It is a matter of transposing it into the mediated, reﬂected form of conceptual thought, a form belonging to a completely different order and dimension.
There is a fundamental strand in his Weltanschauung that differen-tiates him absolutely from Kant, in that Goethe seeks the unity of the subjective and objective principles, of nature and mind, within their appearances. Nature herself, as she is vividly present in front of our eyes, is for him the immediate product and evidence of mental powers, of form-ative ideas. Put theoretically, his whole inner relationship to the world rests on the spirituality of nature, and the naturalness of spirit. Artists dwell in the appearance of objects as in their element. But spirituality, that which is more-than-matter and -mechanism, which alone gives meaning to their acceptance and treatment of the world, has to be sought in physical reality itself if it is to be available for them at all. This point deﬁnes their particu-lar signiﬁcance in the cultural conditions of today. It was as a reaction to speculative idealism at the beginning of the 19th century that materialism arose around the middle of that century. The perceived need for a synthe-sis that transcended both in their opposition to each other gave rise, in the 1870s, to the call: ‘Back to Kant!’. But the science-oriented solution, which he alone was able to provide, then demanded a balancing. This seemed to be offered by aesthetic interests. They had generally come to assume leadership in intellectual life at the beginning of the century and their further development, whatever forms it took, could not be effaced from coming changes within the German spirit. As they offered a way for reaccepting Spirit back into the real world, opposed to Kantianism but also somehow complementing it, these aesthetic interests condensed into the call: ‘Back to Goethe!’.
To Goethe, both the paths Kant pursued in order to overcome that fundamental dualism are unacceptable. He does not descend below appear-ances in order to declare them mere representations and let the ego or the cognitive functions encapsulate them; nor can he content himself with the idea of a thing-in-itself and its non-perceptible, absolute unity. The ﬁrst option is not available because of the immediacy of his intellectual self, which distances him from any theorising about cognition:
“Wie hast du’s denn so weit gebracht?
Sie sagen, du habest es gut vollbracht.”
“Mein Kind, ich habe es klug gemacht:
Ich habe nie über das Denken gedacht.”
(“How did you, then, advance so far?/They say that you did really well.”/“My child, I went about it right:/never gave thinking a second thought.”)
Ja, das ist das rechte Gleis,
Dass man nicht weiss, was man denkt,
Wenn man denkt:
Alles ist als wie geschenkt.
(Now, this is the right approach,/Not to know what one is thinking,/ When one thinks:/It will all just come to us.)
To his highly practical bent, any concern with the preconditions of thought was anathema, since this did not foster thinking itself in respect of its content and results. ‘The worst thing is’, he stated to Eckermann, ‘that all thinking does not help thought itself any; one just has to be on the level so that all good ideas always appear in the front of our mind as God’s free children and call out to us: here we are’. His disinclination towards epis-temology, arising for reasons such as these from his inner orientation, distanced him from Kant’s route of seeking in the conditions of cognition, in the consciousness that maintains the empirical world, that reconciliation of its discrepancies – even though Goethe in no way closed himself off from the depth and signiﬁcance of this argumentation. However, to transpose the Absolute, in which this reconciliation is found, away from Appearances and into the things-in-themselves, would render the world meaningless for him. ‘About the Absolute in a theoretical sense I would not presume to speak, but I would dare to assert this: that anyone who has recognised it in the appearance and has always kept on eye on it, will gain great beneﬁt from it’. Put differently another time: ‘I believe in a God. These are beautiful and laudable words; but to recognise and accept God how and where ever He is revealed, this is true bliss on earth’.
Not outside of, but within Appearances, do nature and spirit, the ego’s life principle and the object, come to coincide. This contemplative credo has acquired here its most extended consciousness, penetrating the whole sensuous awareness of world. The presupposition that nature and spirit, or reality and value, are not fundamentally torn asunder, but that their essen-tial unity achieves a particularly convincing distinctness in a work of art, this is what sustains the existence of every artist. It would be empty and meaningless if they were not convinced that the beauty and signiﬁcance that appearances acquire in their hands were not just an arbitrary addition but expressed the authentic truth, the essence of this reality cleansed of all falsi-ties. In this sense, all art is really ‘naturalism’ because for the artist as such, ‘nature’ signiﬁes from the outset the unity of the real and ideal. When Goethe, in his own words, can ‘see the Idea with his own eyes’, then this means that for him the value and perfection of things, which for others seemed to hover as a more or less dream-like construct above them, dwelled within their reality: he was able to behold them.
The deep opposition between both world-views, which nevertheless confront the same problematic, emerges in their position vis-a-vis a famed statement by Haller that ‘no created mind can penetrate inside of nature’. Both oppose it vehemently because it aims to perpetuate forever that gap between subject and object that needs to be bridged. But how their under-lying motives differ! For Kant, the whole statement is a logical contradic-tion since it deplores the unknowability of an object that is not even available to it as object of cognition. Since nature is, from the outset, only appearance, that is, a representation within a representing subject, it does not have an internal dimension. If one wanted to speak of the internal dimension of an Appearance it would have to be that which observation and analytical examination indeed reveal. If the grievance refers to some-thing lying behind all nature, and therefore forms neither its external nor internal aspect, then this would be no less foolish since it strives to gain knowledge of something that in its very concept fails to meet the conditions for knowledge acquisition. The Absolute behind nature is a mere Idea, which can never be viewed, and as such also not known. Goethe, in contrast, has no interest in such epistemological reﬂections. He dismisses Haller’s statement out of direct sympathy with the essence of Nature:
Natur hat weder Kern
Alles ist sie mit einem Male.
(Nature neither has core/Nor surface,/It is both all at the same time.)
Denn das ist der Natur Gestalt,
Dass innen gilt, was aussen galt.
(For this is Nature and the way it is formed/What is true for the outside is for the inside too.)
Müsset im Naturbetrachten
Immer eins wie alles achten,
Nichts ist drinnen, nichts is draussen,
Denn was innen, das ist aussen.
(When observing Nature/Must consider one and all,/Nothing is internal, nothing is external,/For what’s inside is on the outside, too.)
For him, it is virtually unbearable that the most profound, innermost, and signiﬁcant aspect that one can strive for should not be apprehensible within reality. The whole meaning of his artistic existence would be undermined by this. When he opposes that statement with:
Ist nicht der Kern der Natur
Menschen im Herzen –
(Do we not ﬁnd Nature’s core/already in our hearts –)
then it only seems to be the same as Kant’s view which transposes nature and its laws into the human capacity for knowledge acquisition as its own products. Goethe, in fact, wants to say the following: the principle of Leben, which is apparent in nature, also applies to the human soul. Both are givens with equal rights, and they emerge from the unity of Being, which develops the identity of the creative principle into manifold forms. In this way, human beings are potentially able to ﬁnd in their own hearts the whole secret of existence and maybe also its solution. The whole artistic ecstasy of the unity of internal and external, of God and world, erupts within him and from him.
Kant refrains from such assertions regarding the object as such. He will only assert that which follows from the conditions of their being known. It is not because nature and Mind are the same in their essence or substance that one can be read off the other. Rather, it is because nature is a repre-sentation within the soul, in such a way that the form and movement of the latter will come to determine the most general laws of the former. It is possible to formulate the opposition at issue here quite pointedly in refer-ence to Haller’s statement. If one enquires regarding the very essence of nature, then Kant’s answer would be: it is only something external, consist-ing exclusively of spatial and mechanical relationships. Goethe would say: it solely is something internal since the Idea, that spiritual principle of creativity, also encompasses its whole being. If we ask about its relation-ship to the human spirit, then Kant would answer: the essence of nature is only something internal since it consists of a representation within us; and Goethe’s answer: it is only something external because the visual percep-tion of objects, on which all art is based, must possess an unconditional reality. Goethe does not suppose, as Kant would, that the subject’s spiritual centre forms the core of nature; instead, the latter, because it is present everywhere, is also to be found in the human spirit. Both are, in a way, parallel expressions of the divine Being that evolves in Nature in the external dimension with the same reality as within the soul, the internal dimension. This way, Nature retains its unconditional, external, perceptible reality without relinquishing her essential unity with the human heart – without ﬁrst needing to be transformed, as with Kant, into a representation within the latter. Both situate themselves equally beyond the opposition of materialism and spiritualism. With Kant, it is because his principle subsumes matter and spirit, as mere representations, in equal measure and without them conﬂicting. With Goethe, it is because both, while absolute entities, nevertheless form a oneness. As he remarked to Schiller, materi-alist philosophers cannot reach the spirit, nor can Idealists reach the physical world, ‘so that one is always best advised to remain in a natural state regarding philosophy, and to make the best possible use of one’s undi-vided being’.
Were we to search for an objective unity of Being, however, one that lies over and above consciousness, then for Kant this could only be located in God, whom he explicitly evokes in his attempt to unify the most diver-gent elements of life, those of morality and happiness. This is a transcen-dent God, a thing-in-itself beyond all perceptibility of Being. For Goethe, however, it is crucial that this unity should not be located beyond the realm of objects of experience. He not only rejects the idea of a God ‘who solely comes into effect from an external position’ – Kant would do that, too. But, while accepting the idea of a God as it is manifested in Appearances, he nevertheless insists that we reduce ourselves if we ‘push it further away into a unity that vanishes from our external and internal senses’. He can hold on to the unity of the world only as long as it does not get projected into a unifying entity that, while providing for the unity of a world external to itself, would in effect draw it away from the latter.
Despite all the apparent analogies between Goethe and Kant, there is a core difference that must not be overlooked: Goethe solves the equation between object and subject from the side of the object, Kant from the side of the subject – even though not an arbitrary and personalised one, but a subject that is the supra-individual bearer of objective knowledge.
From the scientiﬁc-methodological point of view Kant is, of course, the objective, impartial thinker; Goethe is the subjective one, whose concep-tion of human existence is informed by his passionate individuality. Regard-ing the substantive outcome of their worldviews, Kant is the subjectivist who locates the world within human consciousness, which constitutes its forms.
Goethe, in contrast, can accept only the self-sufﬁcient objectivity of existence, within which the subject and his life are but a pulse beat of the all-encompassing life of Nature. Thus, when Goethe says that
Wär’ nicht das Auge sonnenhaft,
Wie könnt’ ich es erblicken?
Wär’ nicht in uns des Gottes eigne Kraft,
Wie könnt’ uns Göttliches entzücken?
(Were the eye not like the sun,/How could my eye then see it?/Were we not endowed with God’s own power,/How could the divine delight us?)
then this may appear as a paraphrasing of Kant’s idea that we only come to know objects in the world because, and to the extent to which, their forms are present in us a priori. But this is not so. Goethe reaches below the oppo-sition between subject and object and grounds the relationship pertaining to cognition in their shared essence. Empedocles had already done so in a more simplistic way when he taught that we can gain knowledge of objects because their constituents are already within us: water through water; ﬁre through ﬁre; the conﬂicts in nature through conﬂicts within us; love through love. It is not that the eye forms the sun and can therefore come to know it
– as a Kantian interpretation of the poem would suggest. Rather, eye and sun are of the same essence, equally privileged children of God’s Nature, and thus enabled to communicate and partake of each other. The Kantian and Goethian solutions to this core problematic are in one case epistemo-logical, and in the other metaphysical, whereby Goethe not so much espouses a metaphysics as lives it. They correspond to the reciprocal relation between people who on the outside seemingly possess the same content and signiﬁcance. The one is sustained by the suggestive activity of that member who, as it were, shapes the other in accordance with his own image and idealisation of this relationship. The other party is, however, sustained by the rooted unity and natural harmony between both.
Especiallyinviewoftherelationshipbetweenthepre-givenimmanence of mind and the externality of its object do the polarities of both Weltanschau-ungen become more signiﬁcant the more a certain formal similarity may hide them. When Kant does not recognise any objective world unless it is given in consciousness, then this does not accord that which is most profound, unique and decisive in us any power other than to provide the forms which the passively accepted sense material has to conform to and which it shapes into our world of objects. Where this material ultimately derives from is of no importance to Kant. It is just given, and that ‘from outside’, even though this outsideisnottobeseeninaspatialsensebutonlysigniﬁesitsoriginexternal to the realm where mind reigns, and though the speciﬁc quality of these impressions is also determined by the constitution of our sense organs. Knowledge arises from a necessarily unique mental formative power together with something that has merely been given to it.
How differently Goethe weights the contributions of the internal dimension and externally derived elements. This is shown most clearly by a statement that is initially a self-confession but announces, quite gener-ally, his thoughts on knowledge acquisition: ‘Had I not already carried the world within me through its anticipation, I would have remained blind while seeing, and all research and experience would have been nothing more than a lifeless and vain effort’. Here it is thus not just the form but the whole of existence, the unity of form and content, which, in a mysterious way, are derived from within. The ‘law set for you at the outset’ leads each individ-ual to develop a conception of the world in accordance with his potential and requirements. Goethe describes the seal and realisation of inner maturity – initially only applied to ‘specially gifted individuals’ – in this way: ‘They, furthermore, seek in the world outside of themselves the corre-sponding images to whatever Nature has placed within them, and thus they elevate their internal Self to a position of completeness and certainty.’ What lies outside the self does not provide the material for its formal mental func-tions but evidences the wholeness of real existence as the reﬂection of the mental world. The effort of uniting the formative activity from inside and the external material is not required ‘because what is inside is also on the outside’. This is possible because there is the one life of divine Nature that manifests more or less completely in the constructions of the mind, as it does in the reality perceived. Goethe accords to Mind both more and less than does Kant. He does not separate it from its rootedness in Nature, just to give Mind a somewhat singular and, left to its own device, still empty, formative power. Goethe allows the known wholeness of existence to develop from within Mind, but only to the extent to which the objective wholeness of Being comes to expression in and through it. The opposition of inner and outer, which Kant reconciles within the Mind by drawing from the outside only the ‘blind’ material which the Understanding forms into ‘nature’, this Goethe supersedes at the outset. For him, the inner and outer are merely two beats of the pulse of Leben that is ‘both natural and divine’. The fact that for both Kant and Goethe, Being arises from consciousness, in this way merely appears as a conceptual cover that seems identical but below which are hidden two completely different conceptions of the relationship between Being and consciousness.
At this point, the direction of Goethe’s own personality emerges most clearly as the carrier of his Weltanschauung. It can be considered a most fortunate gift in someone’s relationship to nature, in his own development, that follows only the unique self and its needs and tendencies, and leads to a pure assimilation and depiction of nature. It is as if both came to express themselves in what seems a predetermined harmony with one being index-ical for the other. This constellation applies to Goethe in a most complete way. In everything that he ever expressed or effected he only ever furthered his own personality. Because he lived to the full, he imbued the whole range of his contemplations and interpretations of existence with signiﬁcance. His image of nature exhibits, in spite of all factual objections, an incomparable coherence, observational accuracy and high-mindedness. One gains the impression that it evolved as if by Goethe just unfolding the direction of his innate capacity to think and act. In this vein, he writes at the beginning of his Italian Journey: ‘At times, it scares me that so much impresses itself upon me that I cannot fend off – and yet, everything develops from inside of me.’ Because of this, he is so delighted when he can hear in Schiller’s comments about the master ‘that, on the whole, what I produced accords both with my own nature and also with the nature of the work’.
For this reason only can he call on the artist – as will be explicated further on – to proceed ‘selﬁshly in the highest degree’. This fortunate tendency of his subjective being, that it should harmonise with objective nature, justiﬁes the following statement: Goethe developed his own self fully and freely and, while turning nature everywhere into the mirror to reﬂect his own spiritual development, he could always claim that he devoted himself to nature selﬂessly and faithfully, and simply articulated what she had herself dictated, avoiding any subjective contribution that might cloud the immediacy of its depiction.
We know of many of the greatest artists, including those who employed the strictest stylisation, the most self-willed transformation of the given material,thattheyconsideredthemselvesNaturalistpainterswhoonlyrepro-duced what they actually saw. In fact, their way of seeing is such from the outset that the opposition existing within non-artistic people between inner seeing and outer object never even arises for them. Due to a mysterious inter-connectedness between the genius and the essence of all Being, their wholly individualistic, self-directed seeing is for themselves – and, according to the measure of their genius for others, too – at the same time the full depiction of the objective content of the subject-matter. In Goethe’s case, this was in fact a unitary process. From the one side, it presents itself as the develop-ment of his own mental trajectory, from the other, as the appropriation and cognition of nature. For this reason, the Kantian notion that Reason deter-mines Nature’s general laws must have been alien to him, if not repulsive, and the opposition of subject and object seemed an immense exaggeration. The former appears much too self-assertive: instead of a devoted, humbly receptive attitude towards nature, it is forcibly subjected to a premature grasping at it. The object, in turn, will not come to full expression in the subject,deridingthesubject’simmenseeffortsatappropriatingit.ToGoethe, who had always sensed his self as being in something of a parallel relation-ship with nature, it must have seemed that the Kantian solution accorded the subject both too much and too little; as if, on the one hand, maltreating the object instead of loyally devoting himself to it, it in turn evaded his grasp and remained something incomprehensible, a thing-in-itself.
Just as markedly, the two Weltanschauungen, while appearing to be similar, exhibit the same opposition in respect of the limits of knowledge. Kant continually stresses the unknowabilty of the world outside of our experience of it. For Goethe, beyond all that can be explored there lies something unfathomable that we can only ‘quietly venerate’; something ultimate, unspeakable, where our wisdom reaches its limits. This, for Kant, signiﬁes the absolute limit set by the make-up of our cognitive processes. Goethe considers it to be the barrier that arises from the depth and myste-rious occlusion of the ultimate grounding of reality, just as the believer resigns himself never to be able to behold God in this life; not really because He remains in principle removed from our vision but because our capabil-ity to behold would need to be enhanced, strengthened and deepened: some-thing that would only be granted to us in the next world. Goethe consequently states:
Sieh, so ist Natur ein Buch lebendig,
Unverstanden, doch nicht unverständlich.
(Look, thus nature is a living book,/Not understood, yet comprehensible.)
We remain inﬁnitely distanced from Nature’s ultimate mysteries, but these still lie on the same plane as that which we can know of it because there is nothing but Nature which, at all and the same time, also is Spirit, Idea, divinity. For Kant, the thing-in-itself is located in a dimension completely different from nature as the realm of the knowable. We may explore this realm to its ends, yet never encounter it. Goethe once wrote to Schiller, ‘Nature is unfathomable because no single human being can grasp it even though humanity, as a whole, would be able to. But because dear humanity never acts in accord, so Nature can make easy play of hiding from our eyes’. On the basis of Kantian presuppositions, the coming together of humanity, which Goethe misses, is already in existence. The forms and norms that constitute knowledge, since it is only through them that an object to be represented arises for us, are not personal attributes but represent general humanity within each individual. They encompass the whole relationship that humanity can establish in relation to its objects of knowledge. In respect of nature in general, there are no individual inadequacies that Goethe suggests can be overcome through humanity coming together. Therefore, for Kant, nature is in principle completely transparent and it is only our empiri-cal knowledge of it that is incomplete. Since, for Goethe, nature is itself permeated by the Idea, the Absolute, the limits of our knowledge of it are encountered within it in respect of the intensity and depth of what occurs there. But because Kant placed the extra-sensory dimension wholly outside of nature, the limits of knowledge lie not within nature but at the point where it ceases to be nature. In Goethe’s case, it is thus an inconsistency of degree rather than of principle when he remarks on one occasion to Schiller that nature does not possess any secrets which it does not reveal fully at some point to an attentive observer, and then also states at another time that ‘Isis reveals herself without a veil – but as regards humans, their eyes are clouded’. By contrast, Kant becomes absolutely inconsistent when he does allow us a glimpse into the realm of the intelligible – but this is not the place to examine whether he is correctly attributed with this position or not.
If one attempted to deﬁne the rhythm of the inner movement of these two great thinkers in relation to their ultimate goal, then in the case of Kant it would be demarkation; and for Goethe, oneness. It should here be kept in mind, however, that such ultimate goals arise from inner impulses and deter-minants and are not consciously arrived at. What is central to Kant, and this would serve to summarise all his efforts, is to establish the boundary lines between the competences of the inner faculties that determine knowl-edge and action: to set the boundaries between sensuality and Understand-ing; between Understanding and Reason; between Reason and the striving for happiness; between individual and universal validity. Through this, the lines of demarkation regarding the capabilities, claims and meaning of given objects themselves are drawn within the objective existence of the world and of life. Kant is concerned with guarding the practical and theoretical dimensions of life from transgressive, unjustiﬁed and blurred elements that arise from a lack of clear boundaries between subjective and objective factors. However fundamental he may regard the importance of synthesis to be, it nevertheless just remains for him a natural fact, something he ﬁnds in front of him. It is from this point that his real task commences, that is, the analysis and boundary deﬁnition between the constituents of Being. To attempt this grand project of establishing a unitary relationship between subject and object, he provides from within himself tools for detailed work in the form of the instruments of a boundary surveyor. It is evident that the artist relates to phenomena in exactly the opposite way. However much he has to disentangle the confusing mix of qualities, activities and meanings inherent in a subject matter, his inner impulses will nevertheless not come to rest until he has uniﬁed them again. Against this unity, all boundary setting is only of secondary interest and is only the reverse image of a cosmic unity, pre-existing and infusing the whole process. For sure, an eventual unity of the constituent elements, and thus of a Weltanschauung, is also the deﬁning moment for Kant. But the personal note, which in a way established the key for the development towards it, is still the concern with demarkation. This is the grand gesture that characterises his work, just as Goethe’s inner impulse ﬁnds its ultimate expression in the uniﬁ-cation of the disparate elements. ‘Separating and counting has never been in my nature’, Goethe confesses, and stresses that Dich im Unendlichen zu ﬁnden, musst unterscheiden und dann verbinden (‘To ﬁnd your way within the inﬁnite, you need to differentiate and then unite’). Kant, in contrast, ﬁnds the unity already given, and then considers its separation his most urgent task. For Goethe, unity is luminous, separateness is opaque; for Kant it is the reverse.
Just as for Kant it is the principle of demarkation, so for Goethe it is that of oneness which extends from the general perception of Nature into all its component parts. As the unity of Nature documents itself in these, they must exhibit within and between themselves an afﬁnity that could, at the most, give room to a gradation in the levels of development but not to fundamental differences. ‘God-Nature’, the ‘divine power that is at work everywhere; eternal love that is effective everywhere’, does not leave out any part of existence from being encompassed by its absolute value. Kant also does not admit of any differences in value within nature – not, however, because everything possesses equal value, but because values do not have any place in it. This follows from his mechanistic perspective, which places all value outside of nature, something that applies even to human beings in respect of anything that lies outside of their ‘natural being’.
At this point, I wish to highlight some of Goethe’s comments regard-ing the essential relatedness of all existence, which is grounded in the divinity of Nature, and thereby also to reject the crass misunderstanding that he embraced a haughty aristocratic Weltanschauung. Goethe stresses at one point that there is really only a very small difference between the genius and the ordinary person compared to what they actually have in common. ‘Poetic talent’, he states at another time, ‘is given to the peasant as much as it is to the nobleman. What matters is that everyone realises their true state of being and gives it the proper attention it deserves’.
Wollen die Menschen Bestien sein,
so bringt nur Tiere zur Stube herein;
Das Widerwärtige wird sich mindern,
Wir sind eben alle von Adams Kindern.
(If people wish to act like beasts,/Then just allow some animals into the room;/Any loathing will then be lessened,/We, after all, together derive from Adam.)
Finally, his most encompassing statement: ‘Even that which is most unnat-ural is still nature. Even the crassest philistinism contains an element of genius. If one does not see it on all sides, one will never note it properly anywhere.’ For Goethe, the unity of Nature extends even to the most extreme positions on the scale of values. Because outside and inside are of the same essence, and it is not possible to draw a clear line between their ultimate reasons for being, so the difference in the degree to which they are assem-bled in any given appearance can not substantiate any essential difference. That which pertains between human beings also applies within them. Goethe expresses his ‘annoyance’ occasioned by the doctrine of lower and higher forces of the soul. Neither in the human spirit nor in the universe is there a higher and a lower: all can lay claim to the same right at the shared core that manifests its mysterious being precisely through the relationship of all its constituent parts to it:
All the disputes between the Ancients and the Moderns up to the present time arise from the separation of what God has created as a oneness in his Nature. Someone who is not convinced that he has to bring into decisive unity all the manifestations of human essence, sensuality and reason, imagination and understanding, will unendingly labour within a disagree-able limitation.
All this, Kant would accept in principle also, yet it is in relation to this point that the divergence in their ways of thinking emerges most distinctly. For Goethe, what matters is the oneness that exists over and above all limitations of the soul’s capacities; for Kant, it is these limitations that exist despite their unity. Demarkation is for him the direct correlate of unity. As he said on the occasion when he had drawn a sharp line of demarkation: ‘This separ-ation also has the particular appeal which the unity of knowledge brings with itself, as long as one avoids the boundaries of science merging into each other and instead keeps them within their allocated ﬁelds.’ It will always remain a spectacle with a great symbolic quality and of world-historical import, how two of the greatest minds of all times strove to unify a fragmented world. How the likeness of the formulations they arrived at present themselves as twinned, so to speak, and how this similarity was achieved by one through a directedness of his being and striving which, to the other, must seem deeply alien and contrary. So contrary that we ought to speak of animosity if the sphere of highest mental activity did not encom-pass even the most irreconcilable divisions in a peaceable coexistence. Nobody, however, would take it upon himself to decide whether underlying these polarities there did not lie a ﬁnal oneness of all spiritual life, which is indicated from afar by those occasional congruencies. Thus, both argue against the separation of the powers of cognition underlying traditional epis-temologies. Sense impressions, which alone serve the external world for making itself known, were considered by Sensualists the sole source and guarantee regarding our knowledge of the world. Rationalism, in contrast, declares all knowledge derived through the senses as mere appearance, as it seeks truth solely in a mode of thinking that searches for logical necessity, which accords with our faculty of Reason. In contrast to these positions, Kant evidenced experience as the only route available to us for acquiring knowledge of the world – while adding that experience is not merely the passive reception of sense impressions, but the latter are being formed by the necessary structure of the Understanding. It is only when the Under-standing enacts a synthesis in respect of the empirically given, according to its own categories, that we gain a reliable cognitive depiction of the object over and above all subjectivity and arbitrariness. As mentioned above, Goethe also ﬁnds any separation of the forces of the soul highly objection-able and he can accept their activity only as a unitive one. Therefore, the fundamental difference between the two thinkers is reﬂected in this: for Goethe, cognition is an immediate, organic function of Leben, which is adequate and true to the extent to which it arises from the unitary ground and the mode of being in the world of this very Leben. One may conceive of Leben as the differentiation of the various forces of the soul, but they still work together in the cognitive act, and within each the whole of Leben is operative and its unitive root is still the vital and determining element. For Kant, knowledge is a synthesis of forces that remain unrelated to each other and derive from disparate components of the Mind. This notion does not accord with Goethe’s account of cognition even though he does describe his approach as synthetic. He does not rejoin what had been separated but asserts a primordial oneness prevailing prior to any separation that would necessitate a subsequent synthesis. In contrast to Sensualism and Rational-ism, they both consider cognition to be based on the mental unity of the Mind – which in Kant’s case is to be regarded as a mechanistic one, while Goethe’s could be called vitalistic.
Correspondingly, they both reject the notion of ‘purpose within nature’. This would entail the view that there is an intelligent force operative in nature, of a kind that corresponds in a real sense to human purposive action: that the construction and function of organisms indicate the intentions of a master builder who constructed them analogous to the functioning of human systems; that the universe has been designed by a divine consciousness to serve the well-being of humanity. Their mutual opposition to the Weltan-schauung from which these positions derive reveals the shared orientation of both Kant and Goethe. Yet, the respective reasons for their common oppo-sition also reveal their differences. In Kant’s view, to speak of purpose within nature in any concrete sense can only be possible with regard to the inner structure of living beings. These are characterised by the fact that an indi-vidual part and its efﬁcacy can only be understood in view of its relation to the whole; each part reciprocally serves every other, and that means the whole. Only if we conceive of the existence and maintenance of the whole as an end does the functioning of each part become comprehensible. This differs from a mechanistic structure in which each element performs on the basis of the energy contained within it, in such a way that a whole arises as the sum of its component parts and effects. This whole, however, does not have to be presupposed as such in order to understand the operation of its constituent elements. We cannot, however, conceive in any real sense of a whole that in a way existed prior to its parts and determined their operation on the basis of its own needs and purpose. Such a whole, one that exists for its own purpose, only emerges as an Idea formed by the human observer who employs it in order to come to grips with organic functions. As objec-tive and valid in empirical perception, the only admissible principle is the mechanistic one. Were we to enquire as to how each part served the whole, then this would be a subjective aid. This alone allows us gradually to under-stand the structure of organisms in a way that accords with the workings of our mind. But we cannot claim that it was operative in nature itself objec-tively, as a determining intention within it. Goethe acknowledges that he owes this Kantian theory ‘a most joyous period’ in his life – but maybe only because he interpreted it rather too much in his own way. He did not sense the actual ideal which, once realised, would for Kant have provided a full understanding of organic nature too, one still related to the actual mechan-ism of the processes involved. But Kant also admitted that this would remain impossible on account of the way our mind worked, and therefore had to draw on teleology as a working hypothesis, as we would say today. Goethe, however, rejects the existence and efﬁcacy of a purpose within nature for very different reasons. Nature, he asserts, ‘is too grand to be directed at a purpose, and doesn’t need to [be] either’. Reasons for or against teleology based on our mode of cognition are not decisive for him. His judgement is based on the essence of Nature itself. Since he considered knowledge to be rooted within it, he felt no need to enquire into any of its preconditions, which did not directly coincide with the essence of Nature. Such a convic-tion does not contradict another held by him regarding the individualisa-tion and ceaseless modiﬁcation of human understanding, precisely because for him, Nature was itself a Leben in constant ﬂow and eternally creative and transforming. He can supersede the opposition between mechanistic and purposive explanation in that he sees Leben, whether that of an organism or of the whole world, as something unique, incomparable and indivisible, and which remains beyond such partial, abstracted concepts. He does ﬁnd within Nature ‘grand maxims’, such as polarity and development, metamor-phosis and type-formation, and others. These, however, are merely used to describe the forms the Leben of Nature takes but do not constitute its creative impulses, which themselves amount to just one: All-Leben. This all-encompassing Life admits of no further description or of being covered by a single concept. Goethe is so far removed from any mechanistic account that he can admit ‘exceptions’ within the laws of nature as he conceives them. Yet, these are also encompassed by an ‘ultimate, inexpressible law that manifests itself in its appearances only in the shape of exceptions’. At the same time, he is equally distanced from any teleological account, so that he can accord meaningfulness even to something useless or detrimental within ‘the necessary cycle of existence’. In this way, the rejection of a purpose within nature by both thinkers derives from their fundamental posi-tions and the difference between them. Kant speaks from the vantage point of the possibility of scientiﬁc knowledge, which, for him, includes Being; Goethe does so from within Being, which for him also includes knowledge.
All analogies in their results encounter an inherent limitation which derives from their ultimate motive, and it is this which gives rise to their respective modes of viewing the world: in the one, it is science-based; in the other, it is artistic. Science is always on the way towards the absolute unity of its concept of the world, but it can never attain it. Wherever it has got to, it still needs to take that leap into another mode of thought, whether it be religious, metaphysical, moral or aesthetic, in order to complement and encompass the inevitably fragmentary character of its results within a completed whole. Kant knew this very well. He consequently determined very decisively the boundaries both within his conception of the world and also, to the extent to which he considers it as a scientiﬁc one, in relation to the idealisation of an unconditional unity of all things. As for Goethe, the limit to which he allows scientiﬁc analysis to proceed is established by a criterion that is no less well deﬁned. It becomes unacceptable from that point at which it begins to destroy the beauty of the object. To follow his way of thinking, we could say that beauty is the form in which substance and idea, matter and spirit, interpenetrate each other. When there is beauty, when we can sense it, when we can create it, then we can be sure that there is that oneness of all the component parts of the world that had been sought by the movements of thought of his epoch. It provides the warrant that thinking subject and objective nature have come together. Furthermore, to interpret Goethe further, we can say that they can come together if and because they are identical from the outset. We would have to go back to Leonardo da Vinci to ﬁnd another person who appreciated the world in such a completely aesthetic way, and who also perceived all reality as beautiful. Beauty is the embodiment of ideal content in real being. Its pervasive reign signiﬁes the dissolution of that fundamental opposition between the spiri-tual and natural, the subjective and the objective principles of existence, and also the realisation of its futility. For this reason, Goethe ﬁnds in beauty the unfailing hallmark of the validity of a cognition. The moment that the external or internal analysis of an object leads an object to lose its beauty also directly indicates the invalidity of its ﬁndings. Any approach that dismembers Nature is theoretically invalid because it is wrong in aesthetic terms. He ﬁnds it difﬁcult to accept geognosology because it ‘fragments the impression of the earth’s beautiful surface in front of the mind’s eye’. This also explains his outrage at the cutting-up of Homer’s work; Goethe wants to ‘keep it in mind as a complete whole’ since that would be the only way to preserve its beauty. He writes of those analytical minds who destroy the poetic-synthetic conception of the object:
Was wir Dichter ins Enge bringen,
Wird von ihnen ins Weite geklaubt.
Das Wahre klären sie an den Dingen,
Bis niemand mehr dran glaubt.
(What the poet has condensed,/They proceed to pull apart./They demonstrate the truth of the object,/until none believe it anymore.)
Goethe’s little poem ‘Die Freude’ shows this in a profound way. He takes delight in the colours of a dragonﬂy; he wants to view it close up; he pursues and grabs it – and sees a sad, dark blue. ‘That’s what you get for dismem-bering your joy’. Once we go too far in dismembering, and thus destroy aesthetic appreciation, we lose not something illusory but the entirely real sight of the object. Even Goethe’s dislike of reading glasses is, in the end, really only directed against the pulling-apart of what appears in front of our eyes, against the destruction of a naturally beautiful relationship between the object and the receptive organ. Helmholtz is at least partially right when he suggests that the ultimate motive in his polemic against Newton’s theory of colour is revealed in the passages where he throws scorn upon the spectra of light being forced through many narrow gaps and prisms. In contrast, he praises experiments carried out in sunshine under blue skies as not only highly enjoyable but also as possessing a particular validity. To destroy the aesthetic quality of an object is for him tantamount to destroying truth. The quantifying account of objects that the mathematical natural sciences arrive at through disassembling them into their elements, which may also be devoid of any qualitative aspects, is abhorrent to Goethe because it lacks aesthetic-visual value. For Kant, the same applies in reverse, should aesthetic criteria be employed in relation to the objects we study in nature.
Various attempts at reconciling the deep duality regarding the physical world have contributed to the formation of the modern Weltanschauung. Paralleling this duality, another one has been worked through much earlier, but it is similar in the way it evolved. It is the practical dualism between the self and the social totality, which generally has been the source of problems in the ﬁeld of ethics. Here, too, consequent developments issue from a state of indifferentiation: the interests of the individual and the totality do not yet show any signiﬁcant or conscious conﬂict. Plain egoism was occasionally, but not principally, of a different substance compared to the egoism of the group. Quite quickly, and in the course of the developing individualisation of persons, they start to become counterposed, however. With this arises the demand that individual interests be subordinated to the general one. What one may want is confronted by what one ought to be doing, naturalistic subjectivity by an objective moral law. So here the quest for unity arises again to overcome this dualism by either repressing one side of it or by doing justice to both equally, which would offer a solution that could enhance the value of human life in the highest degree.
Kant and Goethe respond in ways that parallel almost exactly the relationship that holds for their respective theoretical Weltanschauung. Kant offers an objective law beyond any particularistic interest that is rooted in Reason. Goethe refers to the immediate, internal oneness of the ethical-practical elements of life – of the nature of humanity and of objects – which overarches all opposites. Kant’s central idea rests on the complete separ-ation of sensuousness and Reason. Actions attain moral value only by conforming solely to the latter, with absolute disregard to the former. Reason contains two dimensions: ﬁrst, the autonomy of the individual, which is negated as soon as we are inﬂuenced by sensuous motives that arise and are satisﬁed externally and depend on the availability of certain objects; second, the completely objective status of the ethical command that does away with any individualistic reserves, particularities and strivings, and which bases the moral value of a human being exclusively on the fulﬁlment of duty. This must take place not just formally but for the sake of duty itself. As soon as any other motive intrudes into conduct it no longer possesses any merit. Should this condition be met, however, then the individual is elevated to a high, supra-empirical order and thus gains worth, absolute signiﬁcance that leaves mere thinking and knowledge – which only relate to something empirical and relative – far behind itself.
This last point, so characteristic of Kant’s teaching, that of the ‘primacy of Practical over Theoretical Reason’, Goethe can completely agree with. Unceasingly he stresses that acting ethically has to be our main concern. Just as he declares that the highest form of wisdom is to engage fully with daily life, and identiﬁes the human being with the ﬁghter, so he states that he himself can only think in the course of being active and that he abhors mere instruction if it does not also enhance his activities. Just as Kant, he is convinced of the primacy of ethical-practical virtue ahead of all mere intellectuality and theorising.
In respect of their ethical outlooks, this represents the same corre-spondence of views as the one that exists in their supersession of the dualism between inner and outer nature in the case of their general Weltanschau-ung. Yet right away, their paths separate here too: beyond, or below, their accord, which does not seem to extend beyond a speciﬁc point. For Kant, the unknowable in Being is something that lies absolutely beyond us, sepa-rated totally from what is given to us. But for Goethe, it is the depth of the world we behold losing itself in the mystical realm, one that can be reached without requiring any leap, even though the path to it remains unending. Equally, moral value is located for Kant in a realm essentially different from any other mode of existence and its meanings, and from here can be accessed only through a radical change of direction and inner ‘revolution’. In Goethe’s view, moral value is linked with all the other elements of Leben in a unitive, continually ascending series. Its indubitable primacy regard-ing these is one of a primus inter pares.
The Kantian ethic is based on a fundamental and irreconcilable value difference between the senses and Reason. This must be abhorrent to Goethe, just as he saw his archenemy in the Christian dualism that tears apart the visual world and its value. For him, the metaphysical oneness of all elements of life had to translate practically into their value being the same. We saw that he felt unable to separate the inner and the outer and argued for a shared core in psychic existence in place of ‘higher and lower’ activities of the soul. This position derives from the ultimate depth of his personality and a sense that was impervious to any proofs or refutations of the unity and harmony between all dimensions of our being in respect of the value that each possesses. In the perceivable outer world, there was nothing so small, ﬂeeting or peripheral that it could not gain his full atten-tion. Everything, in his view, mirrored eternal laws and represented the universe as a whole. Correspondingly, the imposing integrity of his attitude to life did not admit in the subjective world of a basic difference in value between the various expressions of his energies. Goethe’s being is charac-terised by a most fortuitous balance between the three channels of our energies which in their varying proportions shape each life: the receptive, transformative and expressive. The human being relates to the world in this tripartite mode: centripetal currents relay the external to the internal, and make available to it the external world as material and as a stimulant; centrally-located processes transform what has been received into mental life and lead something externally derived to be formed into the Self and become its property; centrifugal activities discharge the energies and content of the self back into the world. This tripartite schema may have a direct physiological basis and the psychic reality of its harmonious fulﬁl-ment corresponds to a given distribution of nervous energy into the three channels of activity. Recognition of the fact that an imbalance in one unset-tles life as a whole, leads one on to see the wondrous balance in Goethe’s nature as the physical and physiological expression of its beauty and vigour. He never, as it were, drew off his capital because his mental activity was continuously replenished by the receptive attentiveness towards the world and all that it offered. His inner activities never conﬂicted because his immense capacity to express himself in words and deeds provided the outlet through which they could fully come into their own. In this sense, he once expressed his gratitude that a God had given him the means to express his suffering. Therefore, following his line of thought, we could state that if any one life energy was in principle subordinate to any other, it still remained as valuable as the higher one precisely because it fulﬁlled the role assigned to it. The latter can also do no more than perform its function, and that it can do only in conjunction with the former. The anti-aristocratic position regarding the approximately equal value of all human beings ﬁnds its analogy within each one in relation to the elements of their true selves. This need not imply, however, that he overlooks the obvious factual difference in real existence, assessed in accordance with received standards, between the stupid crowd and the great individual. It was stressed above that the harmony of inner and outer, the ideal and the real, forms the basis of an artistic Weltanschauung. We may thus be arriving at an ever deeper level, the grounding of the foundation of Goethe’s thought. That interrelation and co-ordination of the constituent elements of the world may only be the expression – one could say the metaphysical justiﬁcation – of their equal value that Goethe senses. This may also account for the reason why the Classical earthiness of his sensuous directness can still appear artistic, because it makes extremely clear the equal value of all the dimensions of his essential self which, once formed into a general Weltanschauung, consti-tute a metaphysics of art as such.
In all of this, Goethe’s model of living, oriented on his own, sensuous fortune, is at one with the ideals of Reason; he can transcend the opposi-tion between eudemonistic and rationalistic morality that had provided the basis for Kant’s ethics. To counter a frequent misunderstanding, it must be stressed that his aversion to the logical strictness of rationalistic ethics in no way whatsoever implies that he wanted to subject life to the ideal of sensuous enjoyment. Indeed, to realise his distantiation from such a position we have his own direct statement, dating from 1818, that it was to Kant’s eternal merit that he pitted morality ‘against the vacillating calculus of eude-monism’ and that he conceived of it in its most elevated supra-sensuous signiﬁcance.
This point does not at all contradict the exclamation in the Lehrjahre: ‘Oh the needless strictures of morality, given that nature forms us in its own gentle way into whom we should be’. The supra-sensuous level he refers to there is precisely not the Kantian one which, on the one hand, means the exclusive reign of Reason and, on the other, our being placed within a transcendental order. The Goethean trans-sensuous is intended to refer to all-encompassing Nature, which is neither one-sided sensuousness nor one-sided rationality. This he quite unambiguously expressed a few years later in a letter to Carlyle:
Some have assumed egoism to be the driving force of all ethical conduct; others chose to consider the striving for comfort and happiness to be the operative one; others, yet again, posited the apodictic command of duty as paramount. Yet neither of these suppositions could achieve general accept-ance and it appeared in the end most appropriate to derive ethics and aesthetics from the whole complexity of a sound human nature.
Goethe, however, never fully grasped the actual grandeur of Kant’s moralism, which always provides some consolation for his narrow and partial account of the spheres of value. Kant places the value of human existence entirely under the sway of ethical command – and this had to strike Goethe as doing immense violence to all other dimensions of life. ‘All ethical command is despotic’, he once uttered, as someone who held the view that the profound oneness of being gave rise to free scope to all its component parts in equal measure. That Kant’s position should appear intolerable to him is due to his failure to explore the depths of Kant’s teachings where this ‘thou shalt’ reveals itself as according the Self the most extensive and uncon-ditioned freedom. This is because that ‘despotism’ of ethical command cannot be imposed upon us by God or State, by another human being or by custom, but only by ourselves. Life in its entirety appears to Kant as at least partially determined by forces located outside of the true Self. It is only at the point of ethical freedom, that is, the command that we willingly impose upon ourselves, that it comes into view. Here, of course, lies the irreconcil-able difference with the artist, for whom all that appears as something external becomes the site for the exercise of the deepest powers of his personality.
Since our nature is unitive, because Nature as such is so too, then this evidences ethical-practical conﬂicts within and outside ourselves as void. It is called upon to reconcile the self and its interests with the social totality in the same manner, as is the case with sensuality and Reason. This position accounts for Goethe’s very distanced stance towards any actual social problems, even in their most general forms. Here it is always a matter of establishing a balance between individual and social environment where it was inadequately established or had shifted. In this, Goethe is a child of his times – when it was expected of the individual that he just exercised, quite individualistically, his own potential and interests. Completely in keeping with prevalent Liberalism, he remarks, in opposition to Saint-Simonism, that each one has to start with oneself and pursue his own happi-ness, out of which would arise without fail the common good. There is, however, a profound metaphysical motive underlying this view. ‘Happiness’ for Goethe does not mean isolated well being, but a harmonious relation-ship with the whole of existence that is itself a precondition for the full development of the individual. ‘If we are at one with ourselves then we are so with others’, he once remarked. His sense of the unity of all our lives and the world cannot accept that, ultimately and ﬁnally, the full development of one individual should contradict that of any other. Conversely, it is imposs-ible for someone to achieve deep happiness in the sense that it fulﬁls the whole of their being, without their social environment, which for them constitutes their particular world, undergoing the same development. This transposition of an all-encompassing metaphysical feeling onto empirical conditions may be too rash and is, in my opinion, complemented by an aesthetic component. On one occasion, he exhorts the artist to be ‘selﬁsh in the highest degree’ and only to undertake what he ﬁnds enjoyable and worth doing. As regards artistic production, this kind of liberalism may be wholly appropriate because here maximum total value is created by all artists pursuing their own individual ideals. In addition, what is objectively of value in art, which stands outside of the opposition of the ‘I’ and the ‘Thou’, manifests within the artist in the form of a passionate personal ambition. With aesthetically inclined characters of lesser ability, this may of course lead to a libertarian attitude that cultivates aesthetic values exclusively for the purpose of self-gratiﬁcation, deceiving themselves that because they are aesthetic they must for that reason alone be supra-individual and contain objective value. Such orientation to pleasure as the decisive factor is far removed from Goethe’s emphasis on the egoistic principle. He was aware of his concern with developing an integrated personality – and expected that of others equally – but also that this had both a subjective as well as an objective dimension. Which one became prevalent at any one point was then, so to speak, only a technical issue. The egoism of the artist, conscious of producing objective values, maintains a distanced attitude towards the tasks that arise out of the division between individuals, the reconciliation of which would require any egoism being put aside. Rather than attempting to give social antagonism a particular form or trying to overcome it, what interested Goethe was the ‘shared human element’ as the immediate expression or, as it were, the human form, of the metaphysical oneness of Nature. Human nature can not readily be corrected but can only be helped to develop; and in the same way, our theorising about it should not rely on contrived experiments that lead to a modiﬁcation of its essence, but on the steadfast observation of its unforced unfolding. ‘In every particular case’, he hopes, ‘one can see the general dimension shining through someone’s national origins and personality’. Nietzsche’s mode of thought later on simi-larly exhibited an absolute indifference towards all social issues despite, or because of, a passionate concern for the human being and the general development of humanity. In contrast, for the sociologist or politician, the human being as such is not of concern, but only individuals in the plural. As Schleiermacher stated, Kant’s moral law is ‘solely a political one’; it provides a precise and exhaustive formula for the individual who is by nature negatively inclined towards his social obligations and who tries to ﬁnd a way of co-existing with others. The internal and external dualism in human beings remains at the forefront of Kant’s practical and theoretical considerations, and the solution he offers remains always a provisional one as he takes into account the continuing reality of this conﬂict. Goethe, on the other hand, deﬁnes as his highest aim ‘to disseminate a certain consen-sus based on morally-grounded free thought’; and this would presuppose the negation of any such division and opposition between individual and group, and that between groups, which is the source of all social problems. Goethe’s cosmopolitan ideal is the expression and reﬂection of a unitary human nature whose essential traits interpenetrate in equal measure and are an expression of one metaphysical meaning, in the same way as are the constituent elements of society and the world as such.
Morality, in the generally accepted sense of the word, arises out of the division within and between human beings that Kant had recognised. If so, then Goethe’s Weltanschauung can, in this sense, not be called moral. This, of course, does not render it immoral, but only places it beyond this opposition. Since Nature is itself the locus and the representation of the Idea, then the highest goal human beings can attain and the substance of the highest demand that can be placed upon them is this: that they develop as completely and clearly as possible all that Nature has endowed them with. Morality, in the narrow sense, forms one side of this, but since it is only one side, it may have to give precedence to another one if that was required for a more complete development of the nature, or the idea, of the person. Goethe once said of Klopstock, ‘that in respect both of his sensuous being and his ethics, he remained an untarnished youth’. By differentiating between sensuous and ethical purity in this way, he evidences his notion of ethics which goes beyond morality in the narrow sense. He implies here that purity of the senses need not be ethical, and maybe even that ethical purity need not entail the senses. Similarly, his views about the relationship between the sexes, or Napoleon’s deeds, or the relationship between the individual and his country, really do not conform to prevailing ethical ideals. These are, in Goethe’s case, completely subordinated to the more elevated Ideal of Nature. This is to say, following Goethe’s thinking, that human beings are called upon to develop their drives and potentials selectively and in such a way as to achieve the maximum development of the whole person. Since being and value are not divorced – ‘let your being be your source of joy’ – so the greatest enhancement of being entails that of value also.
Goethe’s supra-moral morality seems to me to ﬁnd its most profound expression in a curious sentence that has its origin in classical antiquity: ‘What human beings have established (in the form of laws) will never ﬁt, it may be right or wrong; but what the Gods have established, this is always appropriate, be it right or wrong’. Over and above the opposition of right and wrong that derives from moral criteria, he places a higher concept, that of ‘beﬁtting’; that is, the capacity of a singular entity to place itself within the ultimate, highest coherence and harmony. This shows most decisively how far he goes beyond Kant’s moralism. For Kant, the moral person represents the ultimate purpose in the world, its sole and absolute value. The moral person is characterised by something inﬁnite because he represents the solution of a conﬂict that is actually unresolvable. Goethe does not accept this fundamental dichotomy. For this reason, morality cannot for him be an absolute and ﬁnal position but only one of the problematics encoun-tered in life and, as such, co-ordinated with other ones. For Kant, however, morality is placed on a level all of its own; it alone can reach from the sphere of everyday life into a transcendental one when the individual, in acting morally, leaves behind all sensuous-empirical impulses. He is in accord with Goethe on the negative aspect of the value question where both reject the feeling of happiness as the deﬁnitive value in life. But Kant remains with his opposition to this view, whereas Goethe moves beyond this oppo-sition in its entirety and recognises the harmonising oneness of Being as the meaning, the absolute measure of all Leben. Within this unity, happi-ness and misfortune, morality and immorality, are but mere isolated aspects. Here, again, is one of the instances in which conclusions that appear similar, or a shared opposition, should not hide the different direc-tion they both take from the sources that lead eventually to what appear as their similar conclusions. It is not for me to consider the above quota-tion to be one of the profoundest and most outstanding interpretations of the meaning of human existence. But it does allow a glimpse at a fundamental connectedness, a mutual relatedness of all things, which makes up or reveals the oneness of Nature. Over against it, it would be petty anthropo-morphism to regard that arbitrary segment we call morality as the highest point of Being.
Nobody would want to deny the power and greatness of Kant’s convic-tion that nothing exists within or even beyond this world that could without any reservation be regarded as good – except a good intention. Further, that religious faith can have a rightful place only as a consequence and requirement of morality, and should one want to conceive of a ﬁnal purpose in nature, that this could only be the human being submitting to the laws of morality. Yet it is not possible to dismiss out of hand the view that what surfaces here could be some kind of anthropomorphic megalomania. It is one thing to elevate the dignity and sanctity of moral freedom and duty to as high a position within human existence as possible, but it is another to go beyond this sphere and to allow it to dominate one’s metaphysical conception of the world. Such an approach represents a peculiar hyper-bole that can be understood as deriving from a philosophy that considers the world to be the contents of consciousness, and the Mind to be formu-lating the laws of nature. Goethe, at all times, expressed his admiration of Kantian ethics; but in my view, this was only directed at its human-moral import and not at its metaphysical import. In fact, the latter must have seemed to him impious and presumptuous. There is quite a different meaning attached when Goethe, on one occasion, refers to human beings as the ultimate purpose of the world. After describing the roundly accomplished individual whose ‘sound nature was active as a harmonising whole’, he continues:
[T]hen, the universe would rejoice and if it could sense its own feelings would be jubilant and admire the peak of its own becoming and essence. What use, after all, would all the effort of sun and planets be, of past and future worlds, if there was not a happy human being who could delight unselfconsciously in his own existence.
It appears that the trajectory of the sense of value is the reverse of Kant’s. For him, nature acquires value via the human being. For Goethe, it is the move from Nature to the human being, whose position of eminence rests on this: that Nature has evolved upwards towards him as its highest point of creation. Mankind, as the ﬁnal goal of the development of the world, places it, in Kant’s view, at the apex in relation to all other forms of existence. The vast gap that prevails between mankind and nature is not really reduced, even if it is not the human being as an empirical entity that assumes this position but rather the idea of him – because it is still his Idea. The same notion of mankind as the ultimate goal of the development of the world, in Goethe’s conception, places humankind wholly within it and allows it to derive that position of value from the whole of the being of Nature. Kant, conversely, can attribute meaning to the latter only in the shape of some kind of pale reﬂection of human-rational dignity that remains completely unrelated to it.
Both thinkers agree on this: that human activity possesses a value and meaning that exceeds its mere theoretic content. Through it, our vantage point within the world is grounded more deeply and is woven into the ultimate interconnectedness of things more ﬁrmly than in just acquiring knowledge as such, however accurately that may mirror reality. We may term this position with Kant the ‘primacy of practical over theoretical reason’. Yet, this expression has to mean something different for him than it would for Goethe. In Kant’s view, we can derive from our ethical concerns a belief in God, in freedom, even in a life after death, all of which is denied us as a reality, that is, as an object of knowledge. Ethics already places us within a transcendent order. Through the selﬂess submission to duty and through morally based belief it allows us a glimpse of the realm of justice, the balance of virtue and happiness, that is not of this world and which remains beyond the reach of knowledge limited to the appearance of reality. For Goethe, the important point is that through active engagement and the values realised through it we fully establish our relationship to the totality of the world as it appears, the real one. Kant’s primacy of practical over theoretical Reason enshrines the fathomless otherness between the moral values guiding our existence and the reality of our being in the world. Only the former allow us to get close to the realm of Ideas, moral imperatives, metaphysical goodness: a realm which our cognition, oriented as it is on the real world, cannot begin to reach. Goethe’s conviction, however, bridges that hiatus, in that for him, proper human effectiveness inserts us within the totality of our existence, in which the senses and what goes beyond them, experience and Idea, form an undivided whole. With Kant, human action has two sides: the inner, belonging to the ‘thing-in-itself’, and the outer, which alone is knowable. Thus they inhabit two irreconcilable realms. For Goethe, puriﬁed activity takes place in the visible realm and has an effect on the empirical world; and through this reveals what is the Idea of the human being. With it, our existence becomes a part and a force within the world, and it inte-grates our deepest and most authentic self into it. It indeed realises the absolute meaning of our existence in the measure of our own moral value, that is, our ‘pureness’. In this case, activity has primacy over cognition since it helps to enhance the world both physically and metaphysically, and of this, knowledge can only provide a retrospective account.
It could here be pointed out that Goethe’s Weltanschauung, in the last instance, not only goes beyond moralism but beyond aestheticism also. To be sure, the aesthetic motive predominates in its efﬁcacy compared to any other on the same level, and can at all times be referred to in order to inter-pret Goethe’s standpoint – as has been done here also. All the details converge upon this point of intersection. Yet, below it there lies a still more profound dimension, one more elemental, his real self, so to speak. In relation to it, even his aesthetic motivation is only an appearance of it, its empirical representation. Goethe’s life could be characterised in such a way that the identity of Nature and Mind, the pantheistic One in All and All in One, comes to be seen as a consequence of his core aesthetic tendency; but in the ﬁnal analysis, the reverse relationship may well be obtaining. The core of his nature, primary and absolute, the ground for all that can be stated about his personality, may be a sense of the elementary interconnectedness of all beings, himself included. More than in the case of anyone else we know of, including Spinoza, that mysterious oneness of all existence which philosophy has forever been trying to come close to, formed for Goethe the content of his sense of Leben. Just as one says of people imbued with religious fervour that God dwells within them, so in his subjective sense of existence something was operative that, to express it in some way, could be called the metaphysical oneness of all things. Indeed, because it was this which dwelled within him in this particular way, it made him the person he was. In respect of this deﬁning characteristic, which self-awareness merely mirrors; his artistic mode of perception and his activities only really appear as a relationship that a person thus naturally endowed establishes in regard of the speciﬁc directedness of his talents, with his culturally and histori-cally determined environment, and with the external stimuli received and the available scope for expression. These aspects are then just manifesta-tions of his true self, but do not account for that self as such. As an existing being, as substance, as it were, as which he enters the formative inﬂuences and activities of the world, he remains beyond the aesthetic realm. That only came into being through the co-joining of the core self with these forma-tions and processes and shaped his empirical self. This ultimate signiﬁ-cance of Leben that can only be hinted at from an unbridgeable distance, and which cannot be grasped in unambiguous concepts, may underlie a curious remark made to Eckermann. Goethe talks of his time as theatre director and the many years lost through it for his artistic work, and then he states that, in the end, he does not regret this waste of his time. ‘I have always considered my activities and efforts only as symbolic. Basically, it did not matter to me whether I produced pots or pans.’ In this way, his artistic work appeared to him merely as the self-expression, the trans-position, of a deeper reality rather than being something ultimate, really true or effective in its own right. On the basis of this, we can understand more thoroughly his ceaseless striving for practical engagement, his self-perception and self-evaluation as an active self. Being active is the form in which that absolute core of a person’s being emerges into the visible reality. Therefore, it constitutes in the most comprehensive sense the unity of all subjective and objective factors, which in mere theorising are kept apart and placed in opposition to each other.
For Goethe, the requirement placed on the individual is to develop all talents by making maximum use of available resources, in order, as it were, to allow Nature within to come to its fullest expression. However, just one glance at real life shows that only very few, if indeed anyone, will have the time and the circumstances required to reach such full development. In truth, this is one of the great tragedies of human life, that inner potential cannot achieve full expression and unfold within prevailing conditions. Whatever we possess in the way of talents and nervous energy, and dis-regarding half-hearted striving here, would necessitate the most remarkable good fortune to make it possible for them to be put fully to the test. It is apparent here, more than anywhere else, that what is missing in this case is either a pre-determined harmony or a subsequently conditioning adapta-tion. It is not just a matter of gaining gratiﬁcation from the successful completion of a task, but it concerns the actual indispensable satisfaction that we gain from the release of pent-up energies and their exercise to the full extent of our abilities. When this incommensurability comes into full consciousness, then the human being is doomed. Faust gives expression to this: were he to remain within his prevailing circumstances he would devour himself; his unrealised energies would destroy him. The pact with Mephisto and the completion of his life’s work with the help of demonic powers is merely the positive rendition of this: supra-empirical conditions have to be put in place in order to enable his energies to ﬁnd expression. From the call on Nature to amend this contradiction stems Goethe’s statement to Eckerman regarding life after death: ‘If I do not cease to be active until the end, then Nature owes it to me to assign me another form of existence once the current one can no longer support my spirit.’ A later remark emphasises again the speciﬁc meaning and reason for immortality: we are indeed immortal, but not all of us ‘in the same way, but according to the amount of energy that we can still draw on and need to exercise’.
It is curious how Kant’s argumentation on this point shows a superﬁ-cial similarity with Goethe, while their underlying ways of thinking are completely divergent. Kant recognised that, as both ﬁnite and natural beings, we ﬁnd within us the drive towards happiness as a given that can neither be denied nor eliminated. The same applies to us as moral beings regarding the demands of the laws of ethics. These two facts are overarched by a need for harmony: the world order would be nothing but a great disson-ance if the amount of happiness experienced did not correspond in the same measure to our ethical perfection. However, in our life on this earth these two are not proportionate. Our experience shows that there is no equal or harmonious relationship between morality and happiness. Because we cannot remain within this intolerable situation and cannot project it on to the order of things as something inevitable, Kant for this reason postulates the immortality of the soul. It can ﬁnd perfection only in a life beyond and through God’s will, and there achieve harmony between its moral and eude-monistic being. Kant and Goethe thus employ the same schema, so to speak, in regards of their account of immorality. Both see certain claims embedded in human nature that cannot be met under empirical conditions. Because it is not possible to rest in this state, they then both require from the order of things that the promise contained in the way it organised our essential being should, at least, be fulﬁlled in the life beyond. At this point emerges the profound difference in their worldviews. As for Goethe, Nature could not engage in anything as senseless as to endow us with potentials only to stymie them subsequently. For Kant, it could not commit such an act of immoral-ity as to deprive ethics of its equivalent. He postulates immortality because actual human development does not accord with the Idea; Goethe does so because it does not allow existing potential to be realised. For Kant, because the discrete elements, morality and happiness, should really achieve unity; for Goethe, because fully integrated individuals ought to become, in their actual existence, what they already are potentially. One notices here again how wide Kant drives apart the elements of human essence so that they can only unite again in very distant and different dimensions and orders. In contrast, for Goethe this unity is already given to us in present reality, and the issue of immortality is only the consequential development along already established trajectories. The transition of the soul from its mortal to its transcendental state is, for Kant, as radical as his thinking will allow; for Goethe, it is a progression along a direct path, a mere freeing of existing energies. This outpost of their Weltanschauung mirrors the rhythm of Kant’s nature, which separates the constituents of our being from one another and from their value, only to reconcile them again above or beneath real exist-ence. In Goethe’s case, this outpost is reﬂected in the view that our being from the outset forms a oneness within itself and with its value. Here, as everywhere else, the schema of their differences is this: Kant traces the development of an analytical state, Goethe that of a synthetic one or, more precisely, one that precedes the opposition of analysis and synthesis. Goethe, with the highest possible awareness and profoundest reasoning, is located on the ground of undifferentiated oneness, the point from which all intellectual process emanates. Kant accentuates the state of dividedness that follows on from there. Over against the paradisiacal state, so to speak, that scientes bonum et malum has, with Kant, reached its most acute formulation, and the unity he achieves still bears the traces of that division with the seams that hold it together still visible.
But this very ascent towards a most highly developed stage of contem-plating and perceiving the world led Goethe to skip over a number of issues which the slower pace of historical progression cannot overlook. There may well be episodes on the convoluted path of intellectual history that will run in a direction completely opposite to the one Goethe had taken, even though it may be the deﬁnitive and objectively correct one. This has been the case in the sciences over the last hundred years. Science tries, or at least has tried, to access the secrets of nature by hook or by crook. Its interest in ﬁnding the truth is really completely unconcerned with whether or not it destroys the beauty of what appears in front of it. It really does not want to start from the idea of a whole, but instead from its elements in their most atomised form; it really views the soulless mechanism of substances and forces that are devoid of any purpose as the sole principle for gaining a depiction of the world. For science, any meaningfulness, any signiﬁcance beyond mechanistic accounts, is situated beyond the way they appear to us within the realm of the Intelligible that can never and nowhere reach into the world of the visible and of experience. It does not possess in its theo-retic or ethical system that conﬁdence in an immediate, harmonic relationship between nature and our Ideals. In all this, however, Kant is a co-founder and companion of the modern scientiﬁc spirit. On the one hand, he judged knowledge to be scientiﬁc only to the extent to which it contained mathematics; on the other, he limited the validity of mathematics to our mode of perception and denied all knowability to anything that could not become a direct appearance. He declared references to spirit and purpose in nature to be merely a ‘subjective maxim’ in its study, which had no impact whatsoever on its own being. He recognised with uncompromising incisive-ness the vast rift between our deepest existential needs and then ultimately granted the quest for harmony only the meagre alms of transcending belief.
But we cannot deny that the equation between these two Weltanschau-ungen has not yet been found, even though it would provide us with all that we are striving for in the relationship between thought and reality. Perhaps it is erroneous to search for a stable balance between them; maybe it char-acterises the actual rhythm and formula of modern life that the boundary between the mechanistic conception of the world and the Goethean – whether we term that metaphysical, artistic or vitalistic – remains in constant ﬂux. In this way, the shifting balance between them, their changing claim on individual phenomena, the development of their reciprocal reactions ad inﬁnitum – all this could endow life with that appeal we had hoped to ﬁnd in the unreachable, deﬁnitive decision for or against one or the other solution.
This, of course, would mark us out as Epigoni, though we could avail ourselves of the favour that the nature of the subject bestows on such. While late followers may lack the greatness of one-sidedness, they avoid the onesidedness of greatness in return. But there may be more to it. It is not, ﬁrst of all, a case of an arbitrary wavering between the mechanistic and artistic-vitalistic principles, but of the application of one or the other to separate problematics. What is lacking here, of course, is a unifying, deﬁnitive dimension. But the necessity of such remains a mere dogma and contrary to a conception that is pluralistic even in its principles. Even admitting this, the sought-after unity could still remain a goal for the distant future, one that is out of reach not in principle but only in actuality. Yet, the struggle and the alternation between the two conceptions would acquire a more profound justiﬁcation if one pursued certain ultimate intentions in phil-osophy, which place the concept of Leben at their metaphysical core. In this way, the alternating turning towards one or the other motive would corre-spond directly to pulsating Leben, its reliable rhythm and its most simple sign, that of breathing in and out. Put another way, the struggle between them could evidence the belligerent character of all the turbulence of Leben, the ineluctable differentiations that represent its external and internal form. Yet, even without any actual struggle being involved, it is the essence of Leben to engender opposition to each and every of its moments and to comp-lement each law with its opposite, and vice versa. What one could regard as their unitive dimension would then be located in the Leben that brings forth and experiences them: a unity that does not in any way detract from their contrariness but realises itself through it. This would have the beneﬁt of avoiding any compromise, any half-this and half-that which would relocate the unity again within the subject matter instead of in our experi-encing it. For the Weltanschauung of the epoch seemingly coming to a close, what remains for us regarding these two camps connects with the slogan: Kant or Goethe! The coming epoch may be under the sign of Kant and Goethe, rejecting any half-hearted mediation between them; not ‘reconcil-ing’ their conceptual differences, but negating them through the fact of the lived experience of them.
I) The text: The source text employed is Kant und Goethe. Zur Geschichte der modernen Weltanschauung. 3. Auﬂage, Berlin: Kurt Wolff Verlag, 1916 (modiﬁed edition of the ﬁrst version published in 1906). It is also available in Volume 10 of the Georg Simmel Gesamtausgabe, ed. Otthein Rammstedt, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1995 (this publication contains extensive and excel-lent editorial comments from Michael Behr, Volkhard Krech and Gert Schmidt). II) The translation: A number of paragraphs have been added in addition to the ones in the source text to break up some of the very long passages. For the sake of clarity, and to draw on the differentiations of meaning avail-able within and between the source and target language, the following renderings have been made and are hoped to meet with the approval of the reader:
Natur is rendered as:
1. ‘nature’, if used in a general, non-speciﬁc sense;
2. ‘Nature’, in the context of Goethe’s thought, as a metaphysical notion, usually as correlate of Spirit or Mind, and objectivation of Leben.
Leben is rendered in three forms:‘life’, in its general sense; ‘Life’, as philosophical category; ‘Leben’, philosophically speciﬁc concept in Goethe, denoting an Idea; ‘constant ﬂow, and eternally creative and transforming’, etc.
Einheit is rendered as:‘unity’, when used in its general sense, and in the case of Kant, where it denotes a synthesis of component elements; ‘oneness’, used solely in reference to Goethe to denote the primordial ground of all Being; the All in One and One in All; as ontological a priori.
‘Mind’ is offered as a translation of the Kantian Gemüt, and for Seele, the term used by Schiller and Goethe.