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Herder's critique of pure reason.

J.G. HERDER WROTE in 1799 a lengthy and stridently polemical work attacking Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. This work, entitled A Metacritique of the Critique of Pure Reason, complains, among other things, that "to make oneself independent of oneself, i.e. to place oneself beyond all original, inner and outer experience, to think beyond oneself, entirely free of the empirical: this no one can do." (1) While plausible in itself, such a claim at first seems odd as an objection to the Critique of Pure Reason, given that the latter expressly denies that concepts can function independently of sensuous content. Herder's Metacritique has been criticized for overlooking this essential point, as well as for failing to understand that Kant's treatment of the a priori in the first Critique constitutes an attempt to isolate the necessary conditions for experience in general, conditions which--being conditions--cannot themselves be derived from experience or reduced to it. (2) The suspicion arises here that Herder's Metacritique actually represents a precritical position, especially since it appeals to empiricists like Bacon, Locke, and Hume in articulating its counterposition. (3)

At the same time, one cannot so easily dismiss as "precritical" Herder's insistence on the dependence of thought upon language. With respect to the nature and status of reason, Herder's view that "from childhood onwards we receive and expand our thought through language," and that "the human soul thinks with words," (4) has two interrelated consequences:

1) we can never separate ourselves from the particularity of our received ideas to inspect the functioning of a "pure" reason;

2) no ideas exist in the mind prior to their acquisition through a language.

Thus, whereas Kant's rejection of metaphysics is directed only at the possibility of gaining knowledge of things beyond the perceptible world, Herder also rules out the possibility of achieving a position from which one could speak, as Kant does, of the universal structure of our experience and its objects. (5)

Yet it is true that Herder's own position on knowledge, formulated in opposition to Kant's transcendental idealism, involves some sort of empiricism, combined with some sort of realism. I believe the most fruitful way of understanding this position is to see it as offering a variant critique of pure reason, a critique that has some parallels with Kant's version (and perhaps stronger ones than Herder himself recognized), but that reaches quite different conclusions. I will explicate this thesis in the following pages, pointing out, first, that Herder does indeed espouse a brand of empiricism, for which the "given" consists not of immediate and neutral sense data, but of experiences shaped by specifically human powers and interests and already conditioned by the complex and shifting a priori of language. While several features of Herder's analysis of language are strikingly similar to claims later made by Nietzsche, Herder nonetheless eschews both skepticism and subjectivism. He manages to do this because his empiricism is accompanied by a rather peculiar brand of realism. Herder does not suggest that human faculties deliver knowledge of the ultimate nature of reality, nor does he think our representations correspond to things as they are independently of all observation. Knowledge, for Herder, is decidedly perspectival. Herder remains a realist, however, because of the relation he posits between the human subject and being. Here, I will argue, Herder's account anticipates that of Heidegger, and one can see in Heidegger's critical revision of Husserl a certain repetition of Herder's position vis-a-vis Kant.


Herder's Empiricism. Herder is an empiricist insofar as he clearly believes that all ideas are derived, originally, from experience. In his early work, "An Inquiry into Being," he states, in explicit agreement with Locke, that "all our concepts are sensuous." (6) They are formed through a process whereby selected characteristics of perceived objects are brought into relief, and marked with words. Like both Locke and Condillac, Herder notes that the selection of these characteristic--and, consequently, the meaning of the words that express them--is not, in the case of natural languages, the result of neutral observation. (7) Rather, "sensation" (Empfindung), upon which thought always depends, includes emotional response. (8) It is shaped by the depth and nature of our participation in our surroundings, a fact reflected in language. Surroundings vary from place to place, of course, and the world's many languages articulate the experiences of a specific community of people in their embodied, affective engagement with the things around them. (9)

This is the basic epistemological framework within which Herder's analysis of reason, along with his critique of pure reason, proceeds. There are, for Herder, no innate ideas. The soul derives no knowledge from itself, nor does it recall anything from prior acquaintance with a Platonic realm. (10) All thought depends upon sensation, (11) and we have no concept of anything lying entirely outside the circle of our sensations. (12) Herder therefore proposes that "reason" (Vernunft), which operates through concepts, "is only something acquired (Vernommenes), a learned proportion and direction of ideas and forces, in which people have been educated according to their organization and way of life." (13) Reason, in other words, is born from experience, although "this 'birth of our reason,'" Herder remarks, "mostly seems so indecent to the wise of our world that they entirely deny it, and worship their reason as an infallible oracle, self-established, eternal, and independent of everything." (14) Furthermore, because ideas, the medium and substance of reason, are nothing other than interpretations of the experiences of a particular community of people over the course of a given history, they are limited and variable. Herder was profoundly affected by his reading of the burgeoning travel and ethnographical literature of his day, with its descriptions, often surprising and unsettling, of the widely divergent customs, beliefs, mythologies, and values among the nations of the world. These descriptions form the basis for his observation that "representations which we often saw as the most universal principles of human reason disappear there and here with the climate of a place," (15) where the term Klima refers to physical environment, in the broadest sense. Too often, Herder thinks, we mistake our cultural prejudices for self-evident truths, with the consequence that "universal human reason, as we readily want to understand the word, is a cloak for our favorite little notions, for superstition, blindness and inertia." (16)

To say that reason arises from, and is continuously shaped by, ideas rooted in experience is also to say that reason depends upon language. Herder believes, crucially, that the ideas with which reason operates cannot be distinguished from words, so that a people has no idea for which it has no word. (17) Reason then functions only through language, where language is in turn ultimately derived from sensation, in the sense described above. Any analysis of reason, therefore, has to involve an analysis of words, and Herder repeatedly postulates the need, in this context, for a kind of genealogy of language. In Plastik, his essay on sculpture, Herder asks: "Will a practical doctrine of reason ever be written, a philosophical lexicon of language, the senses, and the fine arts that traces each word and each concept back to its origin and uncovers the processes whereby a word or concept is carried over from one sense to another, and from the senses to the mind?" (18) A particular worry for Herder is that language is prone to ever increasing levels of abstraction. Over time, words tend to get divorced from the experiences out of which they evolved. In late societies, they then become mere empty containers. (19) Worse, they are used and put together in such a way as to represent, hazily, nonexistent things. They cast shadow pictures, but these very shadows come to be mistaken for existing realities, Herder suggests, in a reversal of Plato's allegory of the cave. (20) The worst offenders are the abstractions of philosophy, and Herder echoes Locke's complaints about the misuse of words in metaphysical discourse. "All our metaphysics is metaphysics," he argues in the Ideas, "i.e. an abstracted, ordered list of names after observations of experience." (21) No knowledge of real things can be derived by combining such phantoms. In a sense, the meaning of a word is, for Herder, fixed by reference, but the "referent" is not an extramental object; it is a thing or state of affairs as encountered within experience. Consequently, the "meaning" of metaphysical terms can be determined only by tracing the process through which they were constructed on the basis of some original sensations, in a psychology accompanied at every step by physiology. (22) At best, such terms may be schematizations of experience, or analogies. At worst, they are simply nonsense. (23)

Herder might have acknowledged, in the Metacritique, that Kant's Critique of Pure Reason also rejects the possibility of acquiring knowledge of reality from concepts alone, and is no friend to speculative metaphysics. Unfortunately, Herder ignores this point. He also does not engage explicitly with the reasons behind Kant's rejection of empiricism. These shortcomings seriously weaken the quality of the Metacritique's overall confrontation with Kant. Nonetheless, one can take a more measured approach than Herder himself, in showing why, for him, Kant's critique of pure reason does not go far enough, and why he believes that an empiricist account of our most basic concepts is in fact possible.

At first, Herder's diatribes against the emptiness of the concepts Kant associates with pure reason do seem entirely to miss the point. For instance, when he has the Kantian "sorceress" say, at the beginning of the Metacritique, "take this little reed; out of it you can blow forms; forms of sensuousness and every possible thinking before all thinking," (24) he seems not to recognize the force of the claim that some forms of organization need to be projected in advance, in order for a coherent world of phenomena to appear and to be intelligible. In fact, though, there are organizing forms which anticipate experience within Herder's epistemology as well--only, these are not universal categories, existing a priori in the mind, but words, naming and distinguishing things in diverse ways across different languages. Since Herder's empiricist account of the origin of these words wants to trace them back to sensations, his account might seem to be circular, positing the need for language in order to make sense of impressions, while at the same claiming that language arises from impressions.

The key to understanding this apparent circularity is Herder's notion of Besonnenheit, "reflectivity," a capacity that Herder sees as definitive of being human. In his essay on language, Herder describes Besonnenheit as the ability to step back from a flood of sensations so as to become reflectively aware of significant patterns within that flood. (25) These patterns, whose shape is very much determined by human interests, are what language articulates, and language in turn furnishes the concepts of reason. Two features of this analysis are particularly noteworthy. First, Herder does not provide any account of how this capacity for reflection comes about among human beings, nor does he wish to. Strictly speaking, Besonnenheit cannot be appropriately described as coming about among human beings at all, since it is what makes them human to begin with. It is basic to human understanding and is the capacity that makes language, as the institution of representative signs, possible. Second, existing human beings are never actually in a position where they experience the "origin" of their language. While Herder argues that all language is ultimately derived from sensations, existing thinkers--which is to say, language users-inherit the words through which they think, and their experience is shaped in advance by these.

Taking up the first point, for Herder, only Besonnenheit needs to be posited as truly a priori, as its existence suffices to explain the development of our most general ideas. Herder's description of the construction of our concepts of time and space, intended to be a critical alternative to Kant's understanding of these as a priori, provides an example. Of the concept of space, he says:
 As sensuous awareness, space (Raum) is first making room
 (raumen)--i.e, a privative concept. Our limits, that is to say,
 have led understanding to note the there, where we are and are not,
 and to determine, to measure, to describe it in a thousand fine
 distinctions, until it finally wanted to be elevated to a pure,
 i.e. entirely non-sensuous, concept of reason. It is, however, not
 such a pure concept. (26)

"Space" is first encountered through the self-reflexive, interested awareness of being able to be here or there, an awareness grounded in the experience of limits defined by embodiment, essential to the sense of being in this place or that. Thus, space is, in a sense, "subjective"; "it is placed and given with our limited Dasein in the universe." We brought space into the world "with our selves," bringing at the same time a soul that could become aware (inne werden) and make note (bemerken) of it as a multiplicity of possible places. (27)

Herder's analysis of the concept of time is similar:
 For a long time, it seems, man was inattentive to the sequence of
 changes within and around him; he enjoyed the duration of his
 existence, without placing a measure upon it. Only when the moment
 came, that something needed to happen, did he say: "now it is
 time!" The commanding moment (Augenblick) simultaneously shook him
 from his sleep. He let the fruits grow; then he plucked them and
 said: "now they are ripe (zeitig)." When something arrived
 inconveniently, i.e. too late or too early; then he said: "that is
 inopportune (unzeitig)." (28)

In truth, the form of awareness this story describes at the start is not yet distinctly human. Animals are also aware of themselves and their environment, and have some relation to time, but here Herder is characterizing the explicit grasp enabled by reflectivity, which permits the highlighting of significant moments that can subsequently be abstracted into a concept of empty time.

There is an unmistakable similarity between these genealogies of the concepts of space and time, and the phenomenological descriptions of temporality and spatiality provided by Heidegger in Being and Time. (29) Both accounts emphasize the primacy of practical and interested engagement, as opposed to the theoretical inquiry characteristic of science, in the origination of these basic forms of understanding. At the same time, both locate their source--and the source of fundamental concepts generally--in everyday familiarity with the world, rather than in abstract reason. Herder's analyses suggest that the universality of general concepts, to the extent that it exists, is explained by the presence of common features of human experience, the most common of which is the capacity for Besonnenheit itself. At the same time, Herder repeatedly argues for an appreciation of cultural variation in the construction and evolution of concepts, and he stresses the difficulty this variation poses for any attempt to determine the principles of an allegedly "pure" reason. (30)

What emerges is a largely nominalist position on concept construction, stressing the foundational role of embodied experience, combined with an insistence on the unity between thought and language. "We only experience what our nerves give us," Herder says; "only subsequently and on that basis can we also think." (31) We think only in words, moreover, and words name a thing with respect to the characteristic that has been noted as significant about it. Herder fully agrees with Kant that concepts do not give the "thing in itself." But he rejects as an illusion the view that the content of some of our concepts is such that it could not have been derived from sense perception and must precede it. Concepts arise through a remarking of the one in the many. They are precipitates of a process of abstraction whereby a feature displayed repeatedly within a flux of impressions is identified and represented in a word, which in turn is supposed to stand for a thing. The concepts that result from isolating such features at a primary sensuous level, Herder argues, form the basis for further acts of abstraction, generating concepts that are increasingly general and increasingly empty:
 ... the more abstract a concept is, the more the pictorial content
 of its expression is reduced, until finally it seems entirely to
 disappear. The higher ordering of concepts, that is, demanded that
 by and by the characteristics of the lower orderings were isolated,
 so that one distinguishing characteristic out of many was brought
 into relief; at the same time the expression was divested of the
 multiple and the sensuous. (32)

That is how we eventually arrive at the highly abstract concepts of metaphysics, given, for instance, in words like "substance," "subject" and "quality." Such words express the being of a thing in general, answering the question, "how does a thing exist (wie bestehet ein Ding)?" They do not explain anything; they only recognize, and characterize in a particular manner, a broad feature of our experience. Concepts like these are then neither a priori nor necessary; they are constructed. The act of positing a self-subsisting power supposed to be an underlying ground of properties does not spontaneously precede perception, but reflects upon it, noting what is constant within it. (33)

In so doing, this act constitutes the extreme end of a process of naming whose remarking of the one in the many seeks to stabilize and fix in categories the flux of particulars given in perception. Original naming fixes this flux from an interested perspective, identifying things on the basis of significant occurrences:
 So the snake (Schlange) [gets its name] from its twisting
 (schlingenden), winding movement, the river (Fluff) from flowing
 (FlieBen), the stream from streaming, the lightning (Blitz) from
 its quick flash (Blick), the thunder from its crash, and so
 forth--It is instructive to compare the languages of different
 peoples in this naming, i.e. substantivizing. Such a comparison
 shows not only the different characters of the inventors, but also
 the different aspects of things that can be noted and the moment of
 characterization itself. (34)

Names denote how things appear to people in their interaction with the world. The names within different languages therefore express differences in the character--and the "world"--of diverse peoples. Names do not, in that case, give the "essence" of a thing apart from a definite, living perspective. If this is true of names responding directly to sensuous observations, how much more so of abstract terms, constructed on the basis of these observations and standing at a still further remove from the things they observe. Metaphysics, therefore, as the rational science which works with such terms, is useful as a system of registering and ordering concepts, but in no way corresponds to the things themselves. In fact, Herder claims, "All our science calculates with abstracted individual external marks, which do not touch the inner existence of any single thing"; and "our poor reason is thus only a marking calculator (bezeichnende Rechnerin), as its name says in many languages." (35) When engaging in abstract reasoning, the soul calculates "with counting coins (Rechenpfennigen), with sounds and figures," with external symbols torn away things and cloaked in other arbitrary symbols, resulting sometimes in empty nutshells. (36) Finally, among philosophical sects and religions, "only empty sounds echo around the ears of men." (37)

While Herder's description of the development of the concepts of space and time anticipates Heidegger, these remarks on language, science, and reason are reminiscent of Nietzsche's similarly nominalist account of concept construction in "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense." (38) In this early work, Nietzsche proposes that concepts are formed through a series of "metaphorical" transferences. The subject first receives a nerve stimulus which is transferred into an image. The image is then imitated in the sound of a word. Finally, these word-sounds become concepts through the equation of unlike things. Like Herder, Nietzsche stresses the close relation between names and subjective interest, even giving the same example of the German word for "snake" as indicating a twisting motion. The existence of various languages, he adds, demonstrates that the creator of language does not name things in themselves; he "only designates the relations of things to men." (39)

This view of concepts provides the foundation for Nietzsche's skeptical claim that "truth" is only "a movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms." The concept, after all, in which the truth of things is supposed to be conveyed, is "merely the residue of a metaphor," distilled by transference from sense perception. But this fact gets forgotten. "Truths" are therefore "metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins." (40) In later ages, the labor of concept construction, originally the task of language, is taken over by science, which then "works unceasingly on this great columbarium of concepts, the graveyard of perceptions." (41) Nietzsche's analysis suggests, as Herder's does, that the senses are closest to things, and they communicate a constantly changing world of particulars. This world is steadied and made comprehensible, but also falsified, by being translated into words standing for kinds of things. Herder writes at one point that "the creator of all things does not see as man sees ... He knows no classes; each thing resembles only itself." (42) Nietzsche, to be sure, deliberately refrains from making such statements about how things are independently of human perception. In his claim that "every concept arises from the equation of unequal things," the "thing" in question is not a transcendent object, but "the unique and entirely individual original experience" to which a concept owes its origin. (43) Yet he does also assert that "nature is acquainted with no forms and no concepts, and likewise with no species," (44) betraying a sense that original experiences, while still not delivering things in themselves, are at least more closely in touch with the real than are the abstractions derived from these experiences. Likewise, in Nietzsche's statement that the edifice of concepts is constructed "as it were, on running water," (45) the "running water" is actually the stream of perception, but the statement also suggests a Heraclitean picture of the really real. Nietzsche often proposes that the human mind fixes in place the subjects of its knowledge, a process reflected in (or perhaps caused by) the structure of language. In On the Genealogy of Morals, for instance, he adduces the example of "lightning" to illustrate this point: "the popular mind separates the lightning from its flash and takes the latter for an action, for the operation of a subject called lightning." (46) Herder's discussion of this example, among others, does not go so far as to deny the existence of real things, but it also wants to show, through an examination of language, how subjects are designated on the basis of perceived motions. Utterances about the world will then indeed consist of "a movable host of metaphors, metonymies and anthropomorphisms," as Nietzsche puts it in his essay on truth.

Herder and Nietzsche seem to share, then, a nominalist and broadly empiricist view of concepts, according to which concepts are constructed from, and reflect, human perspectives on things. To this position is added the insight that ideas and ways of combining them are inherited with a language, which then shapes beforehand the way things are interpreted by the speakers of that language. My purpose in drawing this comparison is not, however, merely to reveal the fact of similarities between Herder and Nietzsche. My purpose in drawing this comparison is to highlight the extent to which Herder's analysis resembles Nietzsche's skeptical and subjectivist position, which in turn exhibits a continuity with some of the most fundamental tenets put forward in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Nietzsche agrees with Kant's thesis that the human subject introduces specific kinds of order into the world, in line with its own nature, and that its understanding is limited to the phenomena constituted by these. He also accepts that human experience is shaped by some necessary and universal forms, proper to the species as such. In Truth and Lies, he identifies space and time as examples, (47) while proposing a naturalistic speculative account, influenced by Darwin, about how basic ordering principles like these might have evolved under pragmatic pressures. (48) While this latter move is decidedly un-Kantian, the underlying position accords with transcendental idealism in its affirmation of subjective forms that structure all experience, and that are, in the case of human beings as we know them, a priori.

Now, Herder's position on, for instance, space and time also does not, in a sense, deny their subjectivity. His analysis of how we arrive at the notions of empty space and time within scientific discourse is presented in explicit opposition to Kant, but it nonetheless grants that these, beginning as forms of intuition locating objects here or there, are brought into the world "with us." Similarly, Herder insists on the ultimately empirical derivation of all concepts, with serious consequences for the character of reason, but he does not reject the claim that some concepts are necessitated by the fundamental character of human experience. Otherwise, he could not offer alternative tables of categories himself in the Metacritique. Moreover, the process of abstraction does not, on Herder's account, yield forms corresponding to the structure of real things. It produces only empty subjective idealizations, and these compose the lens through which science views its objects. Everyday understanding is in no better position with respect to the possibility of grasping things in themselves, since it is shaped by languages that only record superficial characteristics and anthropomorphic relations. One gets the impression, then, that Herder's position is as skeptical and subjectivistic as Nietzsche's, as so many of his remarks on language, concepts and reason appear to indicate.

Yet Herder is a realist. The target of his ire in the Metacritique is not only Kant's transcendentalism but also, and equally, his idealism. What then, one might wonder, is there in Herder's position, as distinct from Nietzsche's, that supports this realism? And what sort of realism is it? These are the questions I wish to address in the second part of this paper.


Herder's Realism. Karl Menges notes that, for Herder, "if there is any given a priori, it is, in his view, not consciousness but being which appears--since the Versuch uber das Sein (1764)--as the mantle into which we are literally 'wrapped.'" (49) "An Inquiry into Being," the work Menges is alluding to here, maintains that the world of things revealed through the senses is the primary datum of our experience, against those who would take the isolated ego as their starting point and foundation. (50) "Being," which Herder claims is the most sensuous of all concepts, names the sheer givenness of the real. As such, he writes, it cannot be, but also does not need to be, proven:
 Being is indemonstrable ... entirely uncertain--no not uncertain,
 also not uncertain within a demonstration: but certain and yet not
 to be demonstrated. Being, as we have understood it, no one has
 denied: the thought of doubt came only to over-learned
 philosophers, and they sought to prove it. (51)

In the Metacritique, Herder returns to this point, now asserting it in opposition to Kant's critical philosophy. "Being is the ground of all knowledge," (52) he insists, and he takes special issue with Kant's reduction of all phenomena to the status of "appearance" (Erscheinung). "As a total concept for the objects of our sensuous perception," he observes, "this word is unknown in our language, which leads rather, in the case of every sensuous given, not to seeming (Schein) but to being." The words with which we normally describe our experience, like "object" and "perception," indicate things of which we become aware (Innewerden), whereas "with the word appearance ... one thinks of something that is not an object, but a seeming (Schein) and makes the whole of experience (Erfahrung)--a significant word!--into a seeming, contrary to nature and language." (53) Moreover, if one pays attention to the original meaning of the Greek terms, "Phanomenon means, what appears; Noumenon, what understanding (nous) thinks." Here, erscheinen clearly does not have the sense of a deceptive seeming, but only indicates more neutrally the appearing of a thing. Understanding then thinks "not behind and outside, but from (an) the phenomenon." (54)

Anyone familiar with Being and Time is sure to be reminded at this juncture of Heidegger's response to skepticism in that work, as well as of his explication of the term "phenomenon." (55) Heidegger does not understand the term "being" in quite the same way that Herder does, and he would not describe it as a "sensuous" concept. Nonetheless, he also claims that the existence of the "external world" cannot, and does not need to be, proven, for it is presupposed along with our own being, which is always already wrapped up in the things with which we are concerned. (56) Accordingly, in confrontation with both Kant and Husserl, Heidegger rejects the idea that we are ever confined to the sphere of consciousness and the objects constituted within it, to "phenomena" understood as how things seem to us as opposed to how they are in themselves. The "phenomena" appropriately studied by a phenomenology whose rallying cry is "back to the things themselves!" are not, as Husserl supposed, the intentional objects of consciousness. Rather, careful and free-sighted attention to the character of being in the world, Heidegger thinks, reveals phenomena to be, as the Greek understanding of the term suggests, entities. Appearing, that is, is the shining forth or stepping into the light of what is, it is becoming evident. "Seeming" is then only a special mode of appearance, one in which something is taken to be what it is not; this concept cannot be applied to phenomena as a whole. (57)

A question that naturally arises, in response to both Herder and Heidegger on the issue of appearance, is whether their positions make an illegitimate assumption about the relation between our representations and things in themselves, the very assumption that Kant undertook to challenge in The Critique of Pure Reason. Ulrike Zeuch criticizes Herder on these grounds:
 Herder presupposes, without admitting it, that the world orients
 itself in accordance with our subjective representations. In fact,
 he goes so far as to conceal this presupposition. Kant, on the
 other hand, not only openly states that "we can know a priori of
 things only what we ourselves put into them" but actually views
 this as a new idea consisting in the presupposition that "objects
 must conform to our knowledge." (58)

The contrast between Herder and Kant that Zeuch is highlighting here could be more precisely stated. Herder does not think we know much of anything a priori, and that is central to his dispute with Kant. Furthermore, as we have seen, Herder frequently stresses the necessarily partial and anthropomorphic character of human representations.

Still, Herder is emphatic in his rejection of idealism. Heidegger is more ambivalent, in Being and Time, about the issue of "idealism," a point to which I will return, but he is equally emphatic in rejecting the view that sees appearances as representations of a subject which is itself represented as substantially cut off from the world. In part, Herder and Heidegger are simply challenging the idea that the sense of being in a world with things, reflected in our ordinary ways of thinking and speaking, involves a "presupposition." Involvement with things within the world is too basic to be "presupposed," they suggest, and to believe otherwise is to make a highly artificial move. But they also question, in various ways, the picture of the subject, in its relation to objects, that this move involves. In spite of his claim that "along with Dasein as Being-in-the-world, entities within-the-world have in each case already been disclosed," Heidegger does not, in the end, endorse realism. That is primarily because he thinks "realism" leaves the notion of "reality" unanalyzed, and does not recognize the dependence of this notion upon a prior understanding of being. (59) For Heidegger, it is only through such understanding, which involves projection of one sort or another, that things show up within the world.

This sounds like idealism, because it makes the appearance of what we encounter within the world dependent upon our own existence, and upon projects and ideas that are sketched out in advance. Heidegger actually accepts "idealism," defined in this way, but says that in that case Aristotle was no less an idealist than Kant. (60) He objects, on the other hand, to the position that grounds all being in a subject whose own being remains unanalyzed, claiming that "this idealism is no less naive in its methods than the most grossly militant realism." (61) In other words, Heidegger is complaining about theories that maintain the subject-relativity of what is perceived and understood, without investigating the nature of this "subject." In Being and Time, Heidegger claims that Dasein, "the entity that I myself am," is not a self-enclosed subject at all, but a "clearing" in which the truth of what is within the world is disclosed. (62) It seems unlikely, though, that such a conclusion, based on phenomenological observations, would satisfy the idealist, who could surely object that Heidegger is either falsely reducing a metaphysical question about our relation to reality to a semantic one about what we mean by "being," or simply begging the question.

Herder's argument against idealism has a further component, one not based either on the ordinary meaning of words or on the intuitive force of experience. Is it not, he asks, the same nature in which I find myself and the object? (63) If so, why should I imagine that I am inescapably separated from things? Kant's transcendental idealism, Herder thinks, illegitimately posits precisely such a separation:
 We are there as parts of the world; no one of us is an isolated
 worldwhole. We are human beings, conceived in the body of a mother,
 and as we stepped into the larger world, we found ourselves
 immediately knotted to a universe with the thousand bands of our
 senses, our needs and our drives, from which no speculative reason
 can separate itself. (64)

Thus, while Herder agrees with Locke and Condillac that words describe the relations of things to human beings, he does not reach the skeptical conclusions Nietzsche draws in his essay on truth. That is because Herder sees these relations as real ones. They are relations between two "pieces" of the same nature; they do not involve a transposition of elements from one sphere into a wholly foreign one. For Herder, the forces that build the things we apprehend are the same forces that build us with all our faculties. Besonnenheit is the reflective capacity that enables us to put into words, and thus bring to the level of explicit awareness, the impressions of a living being embedded in a reality first registered through senses and affects. The latter are not vehicles of distortion, but, as Theodor Litt notes, the threads that bind us with the world. (65) Through them, the world plays upon us, as it were; we are, in Herder's metaphor, a Saitenspiel, (66) a kind of stringed instrument that resounds in accordance with the way it is touched. The human being does not, then, project its character upon the world, thereby falsifying it. It clarifies a bit of the world, from a limited perspective, and it does so through language. The human drive for linguistic articulation, which is at the same time a drive for understanding, seeks "from the vast whole of the universe to clear (entwolken) a part for oneself." (67) The critical remarks Herder makes about the partial, culturally relative, and anthropocentric character of names, then, do not arise from a full-fledged subjectivism. They are directed against the human tendency to mistake the limited perspective for the whole, and to fix in place what is constantly evolving. Herder's limited skepticism about words, therefore, actually has the same target as some of his complaints against Kant. Whether placed in the subject or the object, he thinks, categories claiming for themselves universal application and eternal validity are mistaken about the character of the human relation to reality. They attribute to the human power that invents these categories an autonomy from the shifting sands of embodied experience which it never truly possesses. (68)

Yet it is clear how Herder would answer the following question, posed by Charles Taylor in "Theories of Meaning":
 Is the expression which makes us human essentially a
 self-expression, in that we are mainly responding to our way of
 feeling/experiencing the world, and bringing this to expression? Or
 are we responding to the reality in which we are set, in which we
 are included of course, but which is not reducible to our
 experience of it? (69)

For Herder, these alternatives are not mutually exclusive. Expression is indeed self-expression, but the "self" is intimately related to the world it experiences. (70) By way of clarification, one might consider here how this position would regard what Locke described as "secondary properties." It would not reject the subject-dependence of a property such as, for instance, color. It would accept that color emerges only through the medium of a particular organ, belonging to some living beings, organized in a particular way. But it would argue that this organ is a product of the same nature as what it perceives. That same nature, after all, builds the organ and the things around it, and it is also present in the communication between them. Consequently, while the senses can be said to "translate" reality into the perspective of a given living being, there is no reason to describe this "carrying across" (the literal meaning of "translation") as a process that falsifies or obscures the "real" properties of nature, rather than revealing them.

It is because Herder sees the human subject as bound up with the reality it perceives and thinks that he can claim: "[T]he thing in itself means cognizable truth" which exists "in you, in me, as in all objects." (71) The capacity to recognize and express this truth is, in turn, grounded in the human ability to establish a distance from the flood of instincts and impressions within which animals are wholly immersed. This separation from oneself and the world, which Herder describes as freedom, establishes a sphere within which human beings can mirror things, and mirror themselves to themselves. (72) It might be that a position similar to this one lies behind Heidegger's brand of antisubjectivism as well. Heidegger also describes Dasein's understanding of being as grounded in a self-relation, which he associates with freedom, (73) and he defines Dasein as a clearing in which truth is unconcealed. (74) The central theme of Heidegger's later works, moreover, is the intrinsic relatedness of man and being. His understanding of this relatedness underlies his claim that language is a response to being--"the house of being" as he puts it in the "Letter on Humanism" (75)--and it motivates his repeated engagement with Parmenides' sentence, "Knowing and being are the same." (76) While I cannot explore these parallels any further in this essay, I would suggest that they point to a form of realism like that of Herder, one that even affirms a qualified version of the idea that the mind is a mirror of nature. For his part, Herder, in drawing attention to the oddity of the view that human awareness is self-contained, and some kind of foreign element within reality, challenges the idealist assumption that realism is the position that makes the illegitimate presupposition. At the same time, his emphasis on the dependence of all thought on the givenness of an experience which is, in practice, always limited and always already shaped by language, rejects the view that some one set of concepts provides the absolute measure of being, whether real or ideal.

University of Ottawa

Correspondence to: University of Ottawa, Faculty of Arts--Philosophy, 70 Laurier, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5, Canada.

(1) Johann Gottfried Herder, Eine Metakritik zur Kritik der reinen Vernunft, in Johann Gottfried Herder: Werke in zehn Banden, vol. 8, ed. Gunter Arnold, Martin Bollacher et al., vol. 8 (Frankfurt: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1985-), 303-640, here 324-5. Henceforth, Metacritique.

(2) Rudolf Haym's well known account, for instance, accuses Herder of not comprehending the most basic elements of the transcendental philosophy. See Haym, Herder. Nach seinem Leben und seinem Werken dargestellt (Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 1954), 709-26.

(3) Thomas M. Seebohm raises this criticism, without endorsing it, in "Der systematische Ort der Herderschen Metakritik," Kant-Studien 63 (1972): 59-73, here 61.

(4) Herder, Metacritique, 520-1, here 320.

(5) See Karl Menges, "'Sinn' and 'Besonnenheit': The Meaning of 'Meaning' in Herder," Herder Yearbook 4 (1998), 157-75, here 171. Also Ulrich Gaier, Herders Sprachphilosophie und Erkenntniskritik (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, 1988), 207: "A third metacritical argument is the principal linguisticality of reason, and consequently its ties to experience, interest and history; any idea of a 'pure' reason is thereby excluded."

(6) Herder, "Versuch uber das Sein," in Werke 1:9-21, here 10.

(7) See Hans Aarsleff, From Locke to Saussure: Essays on the Study of Language and Intellectual History (London: Athlone, 1982), 30-1, 219-21; Bob Chase, "John Locke and Cultural Relativism," Interpretation 25 (1997): 59-90, here 63-6; and Sonia Sikka, "Herder on the Relation between Language and World," History of Philosophy Quarterly 21 (2004): 183-200, here 185-8.

(8) Herder, "Vom Erkennen und Empfinden der menschlichen Seele" ("On Cognition and Sensation in the Human Soul"), in Werke 4:327-94, here 339-40. Henceforth, Cognition.

(9) For a detailed analysis of this point, see my "Herder on the Relation between Language and World," cited in note 7.

(10) Herder, Cognition, 351.

(11) Ibid., 365.

(12) Herder, Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit, in Werke 6:294. Henceforth, Ideas.

(13) Ibid., 144.

(14) Herder, Cognition, 361.

(15) Herder, Ideas, 304.

(16) Herder, Cognition, 372.

(17) Herder, Ideas, 347.

(18) Herder, Sculpture: Some Observations on shape and Form from Pygmalion's Creative Dream, trans. Jason Gaiger (Chicago University of Chicago Press, 2002), 90. See Journal meiner Reise im Jahr 1769 (Journal of My Voyage in the Year 1769), in Werke 9/2:9-126: "It is a difficult thing to trace every science in all its concepts and every language in all its words back to the senses, in which and out of which they arise, and yet that is necessary for every science and language" (119).

(19) Herder, Abhandlung uber den Ursprung der Sprache (An Essay on the Origin of Language), in Werke 1:754. Henceforth, Language.

(20) Herder, Journal, 15.

(21) Herder, Ideas, 349.

(22) Herder, Cognition, 340.

(23) See Lia Formigari, "The Mind-Body Problem in Herder's Theory of Language," in La Linguistique entre mythe et histoire, ed. Droixhe and Chantal Grell (Munster: Nodus Publikationen, 1993), 168.

(24) Herder, Metacritique, 307.

(25) Herder, Language, 722.

(26) Herder, Metacritique, 352.

(27) Ibid., 353.

(28) Ibid., 357.

(29) See Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell, 1962), [section][section] 23-4, 78-81. Henceforth, BT.

(30) Herder, Metacritique, 326, 568.

(31) Herder, Cognition, 351.

(32) Herder, Metacritique, 422.

(33) Ibid., 406.

(34) Ibid., 403-4.

(35) Herder, Ideas, 349.

(36) Ibid., 350.

(37) Herder, Metacritique, 350.

(38) Friedrich Nietzsche, "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense," in Philosophy and Truth: Selections from Nietzsche's Notebooks of the Early 1870's, ed. and trans. Daviel Breazale (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1979), 79-100.

(39) Ibid., 81-3.

(40) Ibid., 84.

(41) Ibid., 88.

(42) Herder, "Vom Erkennen und Empfinden, den zwo Hauptkraften der Menschlichen Seele" ("On Cognition and Sensation, the two Principal Powers of the Human Soul"), Johann Gottfried Herder: Samtliche Werke, ed. Bernhard Suphan, vol. 8 (Hildescheim, Georg Olms, 1967), 315.

(43) Nietzsche, "Truth and Lies," 83.

(44) Ibid., 83.

(45) Ibid., 85.

(46) Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Books: 1967), 45.

(47) Nietzsche, "Truth and Lies," 87.

(48) See Maudemarie Clark, Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 87, 121.

(49) Menges, "'Sinn' and 'Besonnenheit'," 162.

(50) Herder, "Inquiry into Being," 10-11.

(51) Ibid., 19.

(52) Herder, Metacritique, 364.

(53) Ibid., 346-7.

(54) Ibid., 469.

(55) Heidegger, BT, [section][section] 7a and 43a.

(56) Ibid., [section] 249.

(57) Ibid., [section][section] 49-55.

(58) Ulrike Zeuch, "Sentio, Ergo Sum," Herder Yearbook 4 (1998): 143-55, here 152.

(59) Heidegger, BT, [section] 251.

(60) Ibid.

(61) Ibid., 251-2.

(62) Ibid., 171.

(63) Herder, Metacritique, 389.

(64) Ibid., 508.

(65) Theodor Litt, Kant und Herder als Deuter der geistigen Welt (Leipzig: Verlag Quelle und Meyer, 1930), 66.

(66) Herder, Cognition, 339.

(67) Herder, Metacritique, 509.

(68) See Marion Heinz: "That human reason is set into the unity of the overall life of nature and its laws means, for thing, that it is essentially bound to the body and the senses, and shaped through this bond; this is the ground for the plurality and historicity of reason." "Kulturtheorien der Aufklarung: Herder und Kant," in Nationen und Kulturen: zum 250. Geburtstag Johann Gottfried Herders, ed. Regine Otto (Wurzburg: Konigshausen & Neumann, 1996), 148.

(69) Charles Taylor, "Theories of Meaning," in Human Agency and Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 238.

(70) Herder's position might be similar to the Romantic expressivist one which Taylor claims was grounded in pantheism (Taylor, "Theories of Meaning," 238). But the term "pantheism" would then need some further analysis. Like Spinoza, Herder can just as easily be described as a kind of "naturalist."

(71) Herder, Metacritique, 599.

(72) Herder, Language, 717.

(73) See Heidegger, BT, [section][section] 32-3; also On the Essence of Truth, trans. R. F. C. Hull and Alan Crick, in Existence and Being (London: Vision Press, 1968), 332-3; and The Essence of Human Freedom, trans. Ted Sadler (London: Continuum, 2002), 205-6.

(74) Heidegger, BT, [section] 171.

(75) Heidegger, Basic Writings, 2d ed., ed. David F. Krell (New York: Harper & Row, 1993), 217.

(76) For one such discussion, see Martin Heidegger, What is Called Thinking?, trans. J. Glenn Gray (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 240-2.
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Title Annotation:Johann Gottfried von Herder
Author:Sikka, Sonia
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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