Call For Papers

In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), Richard Rorty gives prominent mention to Goethe as a philosophical contrarian who is situated “on the margins of the history of modern philosophy.” According to Rorty, Goethe, along with other heterodox thinkers (like Kierkegaard, Santayana, James, Dewey, and Heidegger) typically shocked systematic philosophy by waging war on its foundational principles, including the conceptual structures, or universals, that have traditionally supported it. Taking a cue from Rorty’s inclusion of Goethe in his lineage of “edifying” philosophers, this series of panels will consider the writer’s re-invention of philosophical concepts as part of his own philosophical edification (Bildung). If Goethe’s relation to the received opinions (doxa) of the professors of philosophy around 1800 was fraught, as he documents in “Einwirkung der neueren Philosophie” (1820), it also prompted him to pursue an alternative kind of philosophical method, “durch die ich die Meinungen der Philosophen, eben auch als wären es Gegenstände, zu fassen und mich daran auszubilden suchte.”

Each of the four panels focuses on conceptual investments in Goethe’s oeuvrethat are envisioned as possible “entries” in a Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts for Goethe. By exploring the semantic range of various linguistic markers, the panels include papers that identify and explore (1) concepts as they intersect with the philosophy of language, e.g., Geist and Buchstabe or Begriff; (2) signature words that Goethe coined or adapted for his own purposes: e.g.Urphänomen and Tätigkeit; (3) formal features (such as prosody) that resonate conceptually: e.g., the use of iambs in Iphigenieor the distich in the elegies; and (4) words that surprise, because at first glance they do not seem conceptually invested, eg., irrlichtilieren, Gipfel, or ungeheurlich.

This group of four panels, which is sponsored by the Goethe Society of North America, marks the start of work by an international team of scholars on a Lexicon of Goethe’s Philosophical Concepts.