Johann Gottfried von Herder

Herder, Johann Gottfried von (yōˈhän gôtˈfrēt fən hĕrˈdər) [key], 1744–1803, German philosopher, critic, and clergyman, b. East Prussia. Herder was an enormously influential literary critic and a leader in the Sturm und Drang movement. After an impoverished childhood, he studied theology at Königsberg and came under the influence of Kant. During an appointment at Riga, Herder gained attention with his Fragmente über die neuere deutsche Literatur [fragments concerning current German literature] (1767). In 1776 he became court preacher at Weimar through the influence of Goethe, whose work was greatly affected by Herder's ideas, particularly by his Über den Ursprung der Sprache [on the origin of language] (1772). In this treatise Herder held that language and poetry are spontaneous necessities of human nature, rather than supernatural endowments. At Weimar, Herder became the leading theorist of German romanticism and a contributor to the most brilliant court of the era. There he produced his anthology of foreign folk songs, Stimmen der Völker (1778–79) and also made some of the earliest studies of comparative philology, comparative religion, and mythology. His vast work Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit (1784–91; tr. Outlines of the Philosophy of Man, 1800) developed a major evolutionary approach to history in which he propounded the uniqueness of every historical age.

See biography by W. Koepke (1987); study by F. M. Barnard (1965, repr. 1989).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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