Herder Quotes

A few minutes ago a good friend and I discussed some aspects of Mill’s relationship to developments within German liberalism. I made the claim that, despite the disclaimers proffered by anglo-american political thought, Mill and other British and American liberals display an incredible reliance on the work of a number of German liberals, most specifically von Humboldt and Herder. After a number of comments tossed back and forth, I glanced quickly at a number of quotes on a PDF copy of Herder’s Letters for the Advancement of Humanity, a text to which I’ve not returned since Dan Breazeale’s German Philosophy course. Here’s the two quotes which came to mind. After some searching I found them:

“Should not the voice of each citizen, even assuming that it appeared in print, be considered a freedom of the fatherland? Especially valuable for the man of understanding are the hints and looks of those who see further. They inspire to activity when everyone is asleep; they sigh perhaps when everyone is dancing. But they do not only sigh; they show higher results in simpler equations by means of a certain art. Do you want to make them be silent because you calculate merely according to the common arithmetic? they go silent easily and continue to calculate; but the fatherland counted on these quiet calculators. A single step of progress that ehy successfully indicated is worth more than ten thousand ceremonies and eulogies”.

“Free investigation of the truth from all sides is the sole antidote against delusion and error of whatever sort they may be…The river current of human cognition always purifies itself through oppositions, through strong contrasts. here it breaks off, there it starts; and in the end a long and much purified delusion is regarded by human being as truth”.

“Let the deluded person defend his delusion, the person who thinks differently his thought; that is their business. Even if both of them fail to be corrected, for the unbiased person there certainly arises out of every criticized error a new reason, a new view of the truth”.

Also, in On the Ability to Speak and to Hear there’s this gem:

“We see everywhere that men in whom there was a great drive to become acquainted with the truth from all sides sought even on remote sides intercourse with people who dared to speak freely.”

I’d like to thank my good friend Brad Johnson for inspiring the Herder search.

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