Herder, Johann Gottfried

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Herder, Johann Gottfried


Born Aug. 25, 1744, in Mohrungen, East Prussia; died Dec. 18, 1803, in Weimar. German philosopher, writer, and educator.

Upon graduating from the theology department of the University of Königsberg, Herder became a pastor in Riga and remained there from 1764 to 1769. In 1770-71 he came into close contact with the young Goethe in Strassburg. In 1771 he became court preacher in Bückeburg and in 1776, in Weimar. His work Ideas for a Philosophy of the History of Mankind (parts 1-4, 1784-91; abridged Russian translation, 1829) is imbued with the idea of the distinctiveness of different epochs of human history. He sought to understand history as something that develops organically on a particular national soil and out of the specific intermingling of natural conditions and cultural traditions. Herder considered the realization of humaneness—that is, reason and justice—to be the highest principle in the development of humanity (Letters to Encourage Humaneness, 1794-97). Seeing humaneness as the distinctive principle of man, inherent in him and characterizing his nature, Herder looked on the position of man in the organic world as “the first emancipated slave of nature,” having a two-fold origin—natural and spiritual. From the viewpoint of these ideas Herder drew a broad picture of the development of mankind from ancient times (China, India, and other countries of the ancient East) to the 14th century.

In his works Fragments on Modern German Literature (1766-68) and Critical Woods (1769), Herder examined the literary process and its dependence on the historical and spiritual development of each nation. In his works An Investigation Into the Origins of Language (published 1772; Russian translation, 1909) and “Shakespeare” and “Fragment From Correspondence on Ossian and From Songs of Ancient Peoples” (published in the collection On the German Character and Art, 1773; published jointly with Goethe), Herder put forward the theory of national poetry, which became the literary manifesto of Sturm und Drang. In the collection Popular Songs (1778-79; 2nd ed. published as Voices of the People in Songs in 1807), Herder included popular songs of the entire world, arranged thematically, to demonstrate the equality of all peoples in their poetic self-expression. In On the Influence of the Art of Poetry on the Morals of Peoples in Ancient and Recent Times (1781), Herder proposed the theory that the creativity of genius is always original. Although his studies laid the groundwork for the movement of romanticism, in the 1790’s Herder opposed the idealization of the Middle Ages that was characteristic of romanticism. In the last years of his life, Herder held an empiricist viewpoint and polemicized sharply with the theory of cognition and aesthetics of I. Kant of the “critical period” (Metacritique of the Critique of Pure Reason, 1799; Calligone, parts 1-3, 1800).

In Russia, Karamzin’s circle took a great interest in Herder’s work. This is explained in part by the fact that Herder devoted a great deal of attention to the study of the culture of the Slavic countries, and in particular, to Slavic folklore.

Herder’s historicophilosophical ideas played a prominent role in the establishment of the principles of historicism and influenced German romanticism and Hegel’s philosophy of history. The sensualist-empiricist character of Herder’s anthropology was further developed by L. Feuerbach.


Sämtliche Werke, vols. 1-33. Edited by B. Suphan. Berlin, 1877-1913.
Werke, vols. 1-5. Weimar, 1957.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. sochineniia. Foreword by V. M. Zhirmunskii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1959.


Haym, R. Gerder, ego zhizn’ i socheneniia, vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1888. (Translated from German.)
Mering, F. “Iogann Gotfrid Gerder.” In his book Literaturno-kriticheskie stat’i, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1934.
Gulyga, A. “Gerder kak kritik esteticheskoi teorii Kanta.” Voprosy filosofii, 1958, no. 9.
Gulyga, A. Gerder (1744-1803). Moscow, 1963.
Reiman, P. Osnovnye techeniia v nemetskoi literature 1750-1848. Moscow, 1959.
Istoriia nemetskoi literatury, vol 2. Moscow, 1963.
Begenau, H. Grundzüge der Ästhetik Herders. Weimar, 1956.
Dobbek, W. J. G. Herders Weltbild. Cologne-Vienna, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Herder, Johann Gottfried "The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry," ebook.
HERDER, Johann Gottfried. Tambem uma filosofia da historia para a formacao da humanidade.