Friday, October 14, 2011

On Herder

Here are some quotes on Herder or of Herder from Isaiah Berlin's Three Critics of the Enlightenment Vico, Hamann, Herder
Herder is one of the originators of the secular doctrine of the unity of fact and value, theory and practice, ‘is’ and ‘ought’, intellectual judgment and emotional commitment, thought and action. (p. 178)
I'm wondering if this view can be connected to Damasio's conception of emotions as almost like value judgments attached to perceptions, hence they cannot be separated. Perhaps it can be argued that fact and value cannot be separated because we are wired the way we are. Perhaps Kant was right when he wrote about judgments instead of statements or truth.
 [against Kant] Herder would have none of this. He found such dualism totally unintelligible. The hard and fast distinctions between orders of experience, mental and corporeal faculties, reason and imagination, the world of sense and the worlds of understanding or the ethical will or a priori knowledge, seemed to him so many artificial partitions, ‘wooden walls’, built by philosophers, to which nothing corresponded in reality. His world is organic, dynamic and unitary: every ingredient of it is at once unique and interwoven with every other by an infinite variety of relationships which, in the end, cannot be analysed or even fully described. ‘Similarities, classes, orders, stages’, he wrote in 1775, ‘are only…houses of cards in a game. The creator of all things does not see as a man sees. He knows no classes; each thing resembles only itself.’ ‘I am not sure that I know what “material” and “immaterial” mean. I do not believe that nature erected iron walls between these terms…I cannot see them anywhere.”... Like Hamann he is convinced that clarity, rigour, acuteness of analysis, rational, orderly arrangement, whether in theory or practice, can be bought at too high a price.   (p. 188)
I like this because it helps me think anti-Cartesian. The next quote implies something akin to relationality but for humans only, which can be extended to other things, for instance,  the Gestalt relationship between specific genres and the individual texts. Relationality is an ecological concept but I have to think about it more. Not to mention the emphasis on action which is quite an ecological concept. However, I think the notion action is too subject oriented and at least to me, implies consciousness. Hmm, something to think about. Any ideas?
Words, by connecting passions with things, the present with the past, and by making possible memory and imagination, create family, society, literature, history. He declares that to speak and think in words is to swim in an inherited stream of images and words; we must accept these media on trust: we cannot create them. The notion of a wholly solitary—as opposed to an artificially self-isolated—man is to him as unintelligible as it is to Aristotle or so some linguistic philosophers of our own time. Mere contemplation yields no truth; it is only life, that is, action with or against others, that does this. For Herder man is shaped by, and must be defined in terms of, his association with others. (p. 192)
This passage from the text struck me because I swear I have thought of this 'the lowest common denominator" metaphor before reading this book. Well, I have thought of it in the context of universal grammar but hey, it's nice to see your thought on the pages of a book. (Besides you can see the connection between universals and uniformity.) It's kind of meeting a kindred spirit.

Attempts to bring manifestations so complex and so various under some general law, whether by philosophers seeking knowledge, or by statesmen seeking to organize and govern, seemed to Herder no better than a search for the lowest common denominator—for what may be least characteristic and important in the lives of men—and, therefore, to make for shallowness in theory and a tendency to impose a crippling uniformity in practice. Herder is one of the earliest opponents of uniformity as the enemy of life and freedom. (p. 200) 

All understanding is necessarily historical. (p. 212)

For Herder, to be a member of a group is to think and act in a certain way, in the light of particular goals, values, pictures of the world: and to think and act so is to belong to a group. The notions are literally identical. To be a German is to be part of a unique stream of which language is the dominant element, but still only one element among others. (p. 220)
The last two quotes are quite useful to me too. Since both historical (or developmental approach) and belonging to discourse communities have place in an ecological approach.  

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