Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder

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Overview

Isaiah Berlin was deeply admired during his life, but his full contribution was perhaps underestimated because of his preference for the long essay form. The efforts of Henry Hardy to edit Berlin's work and reintroduce it to a broad, eager readership have gone far to remedy this. Now, Princeton is pleased to return to print, under one cover, Berlin's essays on Vico, Hamann, and Herder. These essays on three relatively uncelebrated thinkers are not marginal ruminations, but rather among Berlin's most important studies in the history of ideas. They are integral to his central project: the critical recovery of the ideas of the Counter-Enlightenment and the explanation of its appeal and consequences—both positive and (often) tragic.

Giambattista Vico was the anachronistic and impoverished Neapolitan philosopher sometimes credited with founding the human sciences. He opposed Enlightenment methods as cold and fallacious. J. G. Hamann was a pious, cranky dilettante in a peripheral German city. But he was brilliant enough to gain the audience of Kant, Goethe, and Moses Mendelssohn. In Hamann's chaotic and long-ignored writings, Berlin finds the first strong attack on Enlightenment rationalism and a wholly original source of the coming swell of romanticism. Johann Gottfried Herder, the progenitor of populism and European nationalism, rejected universalism and rationalism but championed cultural pluralism.

Individually, these fascinating intellectual biographies reveal Berlin's own great intelligence, learning, and generosity, as well as the passionate genius of his subjects. Together, they constitute an arresting interpretation of romanticism's precursors. In Hamann's railings and the more considered writings of Vico and Herder, Berlin finds critics of the Enlightenment worthy of our careful attention. But he identifies much that is misguided in their rejection of universal values, rationalism, and science. With his customary emphasis on the frightening power of ideas, Berlin traces much of the next centuries' irrationalism and suffering to the historicism and particularism they advocated. What Berlin has to say about these long-dead thinkers—in appreciation and dissent—is remarkably timely in a day when Enlightenment beliefs are being challenged not just by academics but by politicians and by powerful nationalist and fundamentalist movements.

The study of J. G. Hamann was originally published under the title The Magus of the North: J. G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism. The essays on Vico and Herder were originally published as Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History of Ideas. Both are out of print.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
All three essays in this collection have appeared elsewhere at other times in the past 40 years; Berlin himself proposed publishing a trilogy of essays on Herder, Vico, and de Maistre in 1960, though that book never appeared. This is the first time that these three particular essays have been published together. Hardy, one of Berlin's literary trustees, has made editorial revisions on the Vico essay for its appearance here; the Herder essay is essentially the same as it appeared in The Proper Study of Mankind. The Hamann study has an additional foreword written by Berlin in 1994 for the German edition. Berlin saw Vico, Herder, and Hamann as antipathetic to the underlying ideas of the French Enlightenment, and in these three essays, he delineates the reasons for that antipathy. In them, and particularly in Hamann, Berlin sees the first cogent criticisms of the movement. He also clarifies what he feels is misdirected in each writer's thinking and what effect their ideas had on the thought of the centuries that followed. Hardy has performed a sterling service here by reviving these three essays and collecting them in one volume. Not only does it provide some access to the thought of the three writers, but it helps to place them more properly within the intellectual movements of their own times. Recommended for academic libraries with programs in philosophy, the history of ideas, and Western intellectual development.--Terry C. Skeats, Bishop's Univ. Lib., Lennoxville, Quebec Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691057279
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 9/11/2000
  • Pages: 382
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

Isaiah Berlin was, until his death in 1997, a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He was renowned as an essayist and as the author of many books, among them "Karl Marx, Four Essays on Liberty, Russian Thinkers, The Sense of Reality, The Proper Study of Mankind," and from Princeton, "Concepts and Categories, Personal Impressions, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, The Roots of Romanticism, The Power of Ideas," and "Three Critics of the Enlightenment". Henry Hardy, a Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, is one of Isaiah Berlin's literary trustees. He has edited several other volumes by Berlin, and is currently preparing Berlin's letters and remaining unpublished writings for publication.

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Table of Contents

Editor's preface vii

Note on references Xi

VICO AND HERDER

Author's preface 3

Introduction 5

The Philosophical Ideas of Giambattista Vico 21

Vico's Theory of Knowledge and its Sources 122

Herder and the Enlightenment 168

THE MAGUS OF THE NORTH 243

Editor's preface 245

Foreword to the German edition 249

Author's preface 253

1. Introduction 255

2. Life 258

3. The central core 272

4. The Enlightenment 276

5. Knowledge 280

6. Language 313

7. Creative genius 330

8. Politics 341

9. Conclusion 346

Appendix: Excursus to chapter 6 359

Bibliographical note 363

Index 36 5

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