Goethe and Kant

Knowledge Ecology

Here’s another short take in my sequence on German idealist philosophers (see Kant and Fichte here and Fichte and Schelling here). This time I examine briefly the role of the idea in Kant’s and Goethe’s understanding of nature. I also note Schelling’s influence on Goethe’s later philosophy, closing with a few comments on how the contemporary scientific image complicates Schelling’s response to Kant’s transcendental idealism.

Goethe’s account of nature differs from Kant’s precisely over the ontological status of the archetype (the idea) in the world. Kant’s critical philosophy had argued against positions such as Goethe’s early view that the human possessed some faculty for peering directly in nature’s process as it is. Goethe in this sense was more the Platonist: For the order of nature to be comprehensible, Goethe held, some real transcendental structure must be available to the human mind. However, Goethe’s own view, as Robert J. Richards shows, would itself undergo significant transformation. This…

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