Enlightenment Salon: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is recognized as one of the greatest and most versatile European writers and thinkers of modern times but it is difficult to label him as a philosopher. He was not a philosopher like his contemporaries, “builder[s] of self-grounding systems of thought”, but a man reminiscent of the classical and renaissance philosophers (Schweitzer, 1949). He was man of great learning and wisdom and one of the greatest influential figures of German literature, science, music, and philosophy.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe has been called the Shakespeare of the German language (Lombardi, 2013). He was also later known for his scientific contributions. Many in the nineteenth century ignored Goethe’s scientific discoveries as the amateur efforts of a poet and novelist. He would later be recognized for advancing biology by discovering morphology, which is fundamental to the theory of evolution and his work with color theory, which sought to disprove Newtonian physics (Seamon, 1998).
His philosophical ideas also alienated him from his contemporaries. There are two kinds of philosophy: the dogmatic and the nondogmatic. Goethe was one of the few of his time that allied himself with nondogmatic philosophy also known as natural philosophy. “Nondogmatic philosophy starts from nature, attaches itself to nature, and tries to interpret it according to observations and experiments which are being constantly enlarged and deepened” (University of Bergen). During his time dogmatic philosophy was more popular but Goethe was convinced of the worth of his own ideas and was able to separate himself from the influence of others (Spiro).
Goethe had a great distaste for organized religion and dared to refer to God as Nature. Goethe once said “I am not anti-Christian, nor un-Christian, but decidedly non-Christian” (Goethe, 1749-1832). Instead Goethe believed in nature and all the powers of the human spirit, and was a spiritual man, “we are in nature-research pantheists, in poetry polytheists, [and] morally monotheists” (Goethe, 1749-1832).
Goethe believed that man must live in reality and when man remains in constant contact with reality, “and never wavers in his fidelity, he can reach convictions, through research and reflection, which will permit him to lead a truly spiritual existence” (Seamon, 1998). Thus in his own way...