Erscheinung, Erscheinen (Manifestation)

The lexeme Erscheinung/Erscheinen (manifestation) is related to the formative process of Werden (becoming) that fascinated Goethe throughout his life and which, in turn, is part and parcel of his understanding of morphology in all its manifestations, from the most elementary chemical processes to the highest products of the human mind. Because he was convinced that every existent thing necessitates interpretation to be grasped in its changefulness, he employed a range of surrogates to express the meanings of Erscheinung/Erscheinen. Thus, the lexeme can be translated in different ways: foremost as manifestation, phenomenon, appearance, or illusion. Moreover, Goethe believed that each manifestation is the result of an unrecognized law in the appearing object that corresponds to an unknown regulating principle in the observing subject and that nothing in living nature is static or occurs in isolation; everything is interconnected. Thus, Goethe’s method of inquiry consisted of close empirical observation that included reflection on the observing subjects themselves—a form of phenomenology. Consequently, Anschauen and Gegenstand also enter into the semantic field. Finally, the following examination highlights a lesser-known signification of Erscheinung in Goethe’s usage, one for which he did not have a specific term: that of emergence. Emergence seems most apt to express Goethe’s “lebendiger Begriff” (living concept), which can be seen as the counterpart to nature’s “lebendiges Fließen” (living flow), which he repeatedly expressed in his literary and scientific writing.

  1. Introduction
  2. Contextualization
  3. Goethe’s Use of Erscheinung
  4. Emergence
  5. “Delicate Empiricism” and the “Pregnant Point”
  6. Interdisciplinarity and Experience of a Higher Kind
  7. Conclusion: Erscheinung as Process and Emergence
  8. Notes
  9. Works Cited and Further Reading


In “Einwirkung der neueren Philosophie” (1820; The Influence of Modern Philosophy), Goethe granted that he often lacked accurate conceptual terminology to name things that he described in detail. Not until his reading of Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1781; Critique of Pure Reason) did he find a philosophical rendering of what he thought analogically about evolution and epigenesis. His reference is to the old question of to what degree our “geistiges Dasein” (intellectual being) is eidetic and to what degree contingent on the external world? Thus, he proclaimed that the highest duty of the researcher is to examine each and every condition under which a phenomenon becomes manifest as fully as possible.1 His lament over the lack of rigorous terminology to describe the process is clearly expressed in the statement: “Für alles dieses jedoch hatte ich keine Worte, noch weniger Phrasen” (FA 1.24:443, 445; For all this, however, I had no words, even fewer expressions). He is even more specific in a later maxim titled Benamsung (naming) (FA 1.13:320).2

His search for conceptual fixity was, moreover, made more complex by his acknowledgement in Materialien zur Farbenlehre (1808; Material for the Theory of Color) that nothing in the history of humankind and science is static: “Nichts is stillstehend” (FA 1.23.1:515; nothing stands still). In referring to Gestalt and Bildung (form, formation) ten years later in Zur Morphologie (1817; On Morphology), he again concluded: “nirgend ein Bestehendes, nirgend ein Ruhendes.” Instead, in “Die Absicht eingeleitet” (The Purpose Set Forth) in On Morphology, he reiterated his belief, “daß vielmehr alles in einer steten Bewegung schwanke” (FA 1.24:392; nowhere is anything permanent, nothing at rest—on the contrary, everything wavers in constant motion). This dynamicity extended to the words themselves used to describe his observations. And that complicated the effort to fix conceptions, a point he underscored when he reflected on the instability of words and concepts: “Kein Wort steht still; [. . .] an der Wandelbarkeit des Worts läßt sich die Wandelbarbeit der Begriffe erkennen” (FA 1.13:99; No word is static; the changefulness of concepts is evident via this mutability of the word).

The inability of language to express manifestations exactly is rooted in its nature as itself a relational Erscheinung. Goethe contends in Theorie der Farbenlehre (1790–1807): “Alle Erscheinungen sind unaussprechlich, denn die Sprache ist auch eine Erscheinung für sich, die nur ein Verhältnis zu den übrigen hat, aber sie nicht herstellen (identisch ausdrücken) kann” (FA 1.23.2:252; All appearances are inexpressible because language is itself also a manifestation that exists only in relationship to other appearances. But language cannot recreate—not exactly express—what it describes). Consequently, he concluded in “Studie nach Spinoza” (1784–85; A Study Based on Spinoza) that “der Mensch nur meist zu unvollständigen Begriffe zu gelangen imstande ist” (FA 1.25:17; humankind is capable of achieving mostly only incomplete concepts).

On the other hand, his commentaries in his Geschichte der Farbenlehre (1808; History of the Theory of Color) and elsewhere professed little interest in Begriffe an sich (concepts in themselves) because they are too abstract. His manner of proceeding in describing phenomena was a contemplative one (“beschaulicher Weg”) that moved from poetry to painting to the natural sciences and back again to the arts (“Konfession des Verfassers,” FA 1.23.1:986). Thus, in his practice of delineating a morphology of knowledge that pays attention to both the object perceived and the perceiving subject, he poeticized (e.g., “Eins und Alles,” “Dauer im Wechsel”), performed (Faust), narrated (Wahlverwandschaften [1809; Elective Affinities]), or examined (Zur Morphologie, “Luke Howards Wolkenlehre”[1833; Luke Howard on the Modification of Clouds]) what fascinated him most: a fundamental formative and dynamic process.

In a series of progressive steps, I now turn to the general, historical context of the episteme Erscheinung/Erscheinen in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, whereby Erscheinung is used as a short form of the coupling of substantive and gerund. I then consider Goethe’s own use of the nomenclature, before exploring the historical roots of the singularly related scientific designation, “emergence.” To round out the argument, I relate Erscheinung/emergence to the Goethean concepts of zarte Empirie (delicate empiricism) and prägnanter Punkt (pregnant point), pointing out their relationship to Goethe’s notion of experience of a higher kind. I conclude with remarks on Erscheinung in terms of emergent process as an apt scientific description of Goethe’s search for appropriate terminology in his own scientific inquiries.


When Goethe first began his scientific studies, little conceptual information on the notion of Erscheinung was available in general reference works. Not until the 1790s did the theoretical fields open up. For example, Johann Christoph Zedler’s Grosses Universal-Lexikon (1754; Grand Universal Lexicon) contains no entry for Erscheinung (or Phänomen). Nor does Johann Georg Sulzer’s Allgemeine Theorie der schönen Künste (1771–74; General Theory of the Fine Arts). Johann Christoph Adelung offered very little information in his later Wörterbuch (1793; Dictionary) on the connotations of Erscheinung or Phänomen. Grimms’ Deutsches Wörterbuch (1854–1962; German Dictionary), on the other hand, is a rich source of condensed information for the general reader and can be fruitfully read in connection with more philosophical approaches to the subject such as Rudolf Eisler’s Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe (1904; Dictionary of Philosophical Concepts) and, specifically for Kant, his Kant-Lexikon. Nachschlagwerk zu Immanuel Kant (1930; Kant Lexicon. Reference Work to Immanuel Kant) or Friedrich Kirchner and Carl Michaëlis’ Wörterbuch der Philosophischen Grundbegriffe (1907; Dictionary of Fundamental Philosophical Terms) as well as more specific discussions of Goethe’s vocabulary. Goethe, of course, preceded these later works and perhaps influenced them.

Starting around 1790, Goethe developed a concept of Erscheinung gradually and piecemeal, employing a kind of “philosophical heterogeneity” as he pursued the history of science in such fields as geology, zoology, minerology, botany, morphology, physics, optics, and chemistry.3 Grimms’ Deutsches Wörterbuch offers a useful orientation to three fundamental aspects of the term “in Erscheinung treten/kommen/bringen” with which Goethe was familiar: (1) becoming visible (sichtbarwerdung) with undertones of illusion; (2) the actual appearance of a thing (wirklicher eintritt); (3) a combination of empirical perception (empirische Anschauung) and the observer’s interaction with the manifestation.4 Of the three meanings of Erscheinung, the third with its emphasis on the interactive nature of perception proved to be philosophically more important to Goethe. It emphasizes a combination of empirical perception and the observer’s interaction with the manifestation.

Essentially, then, Erscheinung (phainomenon) designates any object that is communicated through the human senses. Thus, it is to be distinguished from mere Schein which does not correspond to anything in concrete reality outside the human mind. According to Aristotle, phenomena were intrinsically linked to the senses. For Hobbes, too, Erscheinungen (phaenomena) were Empfindungen (sensations) filtered through conscious reflection. So too for Descartes. Locke even suggested that the external world would appear differently to us if our senses were ordered in a different manner. These ideas are echoed in various ways by the likes of Hume, Condillac, Bonnett, Leibniz, and Baumgarten. Leibniz introduced the concept of an objective well-grounded appearance (“phaenomenon bene fundatum”), whereby “phaenomena realia” are distinct from “ph. imaginaria.”5

In his refined definition of Erscheinung, Kant similarly takes into account both the object and the observing subject, which the Grimms’ Deutsches Wörterbuch renders succinctly.6 And in his Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht (1798; Anthropology in a Pragmatic Sense), Kant stated even more decisively that manifestation is an empirical observation that becomes an inner experience and thereby truth through the ideational concepts resultant of reflection. “Erscheinung,” he asserts, “ist aber gar kein Urteil, sondern bloß eine empirische Anschauung, die durch Reflexion und die daraus entspringenden Verstandsbegriff zur inneren Erfahrung und hiermit Wahrheit wird” (Appearance is not at all a judgment, but merely an empirical observation that rises to inner experience and thus to the status of truth via reflection and the intellectual concepts resultant therefrom).7 In his Kritik der reinen Vernunft he argues, echoing John Locke, that our senses determine what we know of things; other creatures might perceive them differently depending upon their sense perceptors and ability to reflect upon them (“Wir kennen nichts, als unsere Art, sie [die Gegenstände] wahrzunehmen, die uns eigentümlich ist, die auch nicht notwendig jedem Wesen, ob zwar jedem Menschen, zukommen muß”).8 He also opines that every Erscheinung points to an essence (Sein), and whatever is not an Erscheinung according to his theory of sense perception cannot be an object of experience (Erfahrung). Furthermore, a physical appearance and its movement is only an Erscheinung, but when judged according to the unity of the categories (“nach der Einheit der Kategorien”) is classified as “Phaenomenon.” Hence, the objects of experience are manifestations whose possibility depends on the relationship of certain unknown things to something else, namely our senses (“Erscheinungen, deren Möglichkeit auf dem Verhältnisse gewisser an sich unbekannter Dinge zu etwas anderem, nämlich unserer Sinnlichkeit, beruht).”9 We can only know a thing by the way it appears to us, not as it actually is. This constitutes the basis of Kant’s phenomenology (Kant, Kr. d. r. V., 246; cited after Kirchner and Michaëlis, “Erscheinung,” 189) and forms the backdrop for Goethe’s understanding of Erscheinung (Schieren, Anschauende Urteilskraft, 29–66).

The encounter of subject and object is precisely what Goethe transforms into his own heterodox understanding of Erscheinung, which differs from Kant’s. In a maxim in “Betrachtungen im Sinne der Wanderer” (Observations Consistent with a Wanderer) from his Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (1821; Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years), Goethe saliently expresses this difference: “Bei Betrachtung der Natur im Großen wie im Kleinen hab’ ich unausgesetzt die Frage gestellt, ist es der Gegenstand, oder bist du es, der sich hier ausspricht?” (FA 1.13:50; In observing nature on a large or small scale, I consistently asked: Is it the object that speaks here or me projecting?). Goethe’s study of nature, in other words, made him realize that the fundamental question he needed to ask pertained to the relational aspect of the interaction between subject and object and that he needed to learn the “language” of natural phenomena themselves.

Goethe’s Use of Erscheinung

Wolfgang Schadewaldt, originator of Goethes Wörterbuch, classified Erscheinung as a foundational term, one of Goethe’s “Grund- und Wesenswörter” (foundational words) that exceeded 90,000 words.10 As such, these basic terms constitute the building blocks of knowledge within the poet’s vocabulary. In his entry on Erscheinung in Goethes Wörterbuch, Rüdiger Welter lists 2000 instances of the episteme in Goethe’s opus, about half in the poet’s scientific writings.11 Welter found another 1200 instances of Phänomen. He provides a highly detailed analysis with numerous subcategories of the three primary ones already noted in Grimm’s Deutsches Wörterbuch, albeit in reversed order, that speak to Goethe’s maxim cited above.

Not surprisingly, the first category of meanings is that of “das Erscheinende, Phänomen” (that which appears, phenomenon) which in turn is the “Gegenstand der Wahrnehmung, Erfahrung, Erforschung” (object of perception, experience, and research). Goethe limited Phänomen, on the other hand, more to empirical sense perception and experimentation, designating it an “Objekt der Anschauung” (object of perception; Welter, “Erscheinung,” 3:398). This first category includes instances of emotional, aesthetic reception or critical judgment, especially in identifying something exceptional and surprising (Welter, “Erscheinung,” 3:400). The second category of meanings encompasses the process or movement of becoming or making manifest (“B das Erscheinen, Sichtbar-, Gegenwärtig-, Wirklich-werden, Vor-Augen-Stellen, Darstellen;” 3:401), whereas the third category (“C der Schein, das Schein-, Vorstellungsbild, die Epiphanie;” 3:403) references purely mental projections or phantasmagoria without a grounding in the real world. Suffice it to say that Erscheinung has a range of meanings for the poet-scientist that draw on a semantic constellation of related terms enumerated in the Goethe-Wörterbuch (cf. also Goethe, WA 2.11:57).12 Of course, a specific meaning is context-dependent, thus allowing for translations as diverse as “become visible, appearance, manifestation, phenomenon, publication, illusion, vision, fata morgana, perception” (“Aussehen, Aufmachung, Vision, Gespenst, Veröffentlichung, Wahrnehmung”).13

To define Erscheinung as a specific philosophical or scientific concept nonetheless posed somewhat of a challenge. Goethe moved from a frequent indiscriminate use of the term in his early years to a more nuanced one later in life. His experiences during his Italian Journey and his subsequent exposure to Kantian philosophy together with his correspondence with Schiller represent a watershed moment in his transitioning to more philosophical rigor, a point he underscores in “Konfessionen des Verfassers” (Confessions of the Author) at the end of his Geschichte der Farbenlehre. In the subsection titled “Geschichte der Arbeiten des Verfassers in diesem Fache” (History of the Author’s Writings on this Subject) of his Farbenlehre 1790–1807 he offered rudimentary definitions of Erscheinung, Phänomen and Versuch (experiment) that can serve as a general guide to his understanding. In the following, they are explored further:

Erscheinung: allgemeine Benennung dessen, was wir nicht mit völliger Gewißheit gewahr werden.
Phänomen, eine Erscheinung, die einen spezifischen Charakter hat und unter gewissen Bedingungen sich gleich ist.
Versuch, ein Phänomen durch Kunstbedingung hervorgebracht. (FA 1.23.2:248)
Appearance: general term for that which we cannot perceive with total clarity.
Phenomenon: an appearance with a unique feature and remains the same under specific conditions.
Experiment: a phenomenon generated by the means of craft.

These definitions are made more complex, however, by overlap with major related concepts such as Wahrnehmung (perception), Anschauen (examining), Erfahrung (experience), and Erkenntnis (insightful understanding). Important in understanding the semantic interconnections in Goethe’s vocabulary are the contrasting relations (“Gegensatzrelationen”) to a particular word. For instance, Wahrnehmung contrasts with scheinbar (apparent), eigentlich (actual), and wahr (true), which are employed to achieve greater accuracy (Gloning and Welter, “Wortschatzarchitektur,” 120). Without the family tree of connotations, the meaning of Erscheinung remains mono-dimensional: behind appearance is an objective action; behind manifestation and phenomenon lies something deeper (a noumenon); behind becoming visible also lies projection as in vision or fata morgana, and behind penetrating perception lies the enhanced role of the perceiving subject who is striving for Erkenntnis, the conceptual end stage of Erscheinung.15 Hence, semantics is a highly complex affair. For this reason, recourse to the contemporary science of complexity promises to capture the fullest meaning of Erscheinung for Goethe, even though (Hegel’s) phenomenology would appear at first sight to be a welcome, theoretically traditional approach.

For Goethe, neither a purely objective recognition nor a purely subjective one was possible.16 Both had to be fully involved simultaneously in a delicate empiricism (zarte Empirie) that enables an intimate identification of the observer with the object, if there is to be any hope of establishing a theory (FA 1.13:149), what Goethe referred to as a “Metaphysik der Erscheinungen” (FA 1.25:100; metaphysics of appearance). Schiller spoke of Goethe’s combination of delicate empirical observation and rumination on a possible common ground for phenomena as “gleichsam eine Philosophie des Geschäfts” (FA 1.23.2:547; a philosophical concern, as it were). It resonates with Goethe’s own remark concerning his method of investigation: “unser ganzes Geschäft ist nun die einfachste Erscheinung als die mannichfaltigste, die Einheit als Vielheit zu denken” (FA 1.13:317; Our entire concern is now to think of the simplest manifestation as the most multifaceted, unity as multiplicity). His “Schema der ganzen Farbenlehre” (1810; Sketch of the Entire Theory of Color) offers evidence of such complexity and shades over into a “Region der Philosophie” (region of philosophy) that integrates Anschauen, Durchschauen, and Theorie (FA 1.23.2:292–93; intently viewing, penetrating view, theory). What sets him apart from theories of phenomenology is the latter’s focus on the conscious experience of a manifestation, which Husserl was to designate “intentionality,” that is, experience of things filtered “through particular concepts, thoughts, ideas, images [. . .]. These make up the meaning or content of a given experience, and are distinct from the things they present or mean.”17 For Goethe, that approach granted too little room to the manifestations to “speak for themselves.”

Morphology offered him a solution. From the most elementary chemical processes to the highest products of the human mind, Goethe’s morphology is based on the conviction that knowledge of anything necessitates interpretation and empirical demonstration. Hence, he suggests the transformation of the word “Morphologie” into a theoretical doctrine—calling it the key—to explain the many attempts in the arts, humanities, and sciences to understand nature: “Die Lehre der Metamorphose ist der Schlüssel zu allen Zeichen der Natur” (FA 1.24:349; The doctrine of metamorphosis is the key to all natural signs [i.e., phenemona].). To arrive at a theory, however, requires repeated experiments and the accumulation of data “durch Fleiß und Methode” (FA 1.23.2:193; through diligence and method). Goethe concluded that “Gestaltenlehre ist Verwandlungslehre” (FA 1.13:205; the doctrine of forms is the doctrine of metamorphosis). In “Der Versuch als Vermittler zwischen Subjekt und Objekt” (1792/1823; The Experiment as Mediator between Object and Subject) he had earlier noted the interconnectedness of things: “In der Natur geschieht nichts, was nicht in einer Verbindung mit dem Ganzen stehe” (FA 1.25.1:33; nothing in nature occurs in isolation). This insight he reiterated over his long career. He preferred to speak about (Ur)phänomena and (Ur)formen that, in their later instantiations, are best described as metamorphoses (FA 1.23.1:80–81). All are subsumed under the notion of Werden which is itself rooted in the organic (e.g., “Die Metamorphose der Pflanzen” [1798; Metamorphosis of Plants]) and is often associated with “birthing” (FA 1.13:179–80).18

The two parts of Faust contain a full range of references to Erscheinung that illustrate this dynamic and the changing connotations. Because of the long gestation period of Faust (1773–1832), the references frequently require different albeit related epistemes and are revelatory as building blocks of knowledge. The opening lines of the “Zueignung” (Dedication), composed in 1797, when he renewed work on his opus after a long hiatus, but first published in 1808, are telling:

Ihr naht euch wieder, schwankende Gestalten,
Die früh sich einst dem trüben Blick gezeigt.
Versuch’ ich wohl, euch diesmal festzuhalten?
Fühl ich mein Herz noch jenem Wahn geneigt?
Ihr drängt euch zu! Nun gut, so mögt ihr walten,
Wie ihr aus Dunst und Nebel um mich steigt.
Once more, dim wavering figures from the past,
You come, who once rose to my troubled eyes.
Shall I attempt this time to hold you fast?
Does my heart tend where that illusion lies?
You crowd up. Good, then. Rule my will at last,
As from the mists around me you arise.19

His earlier vision(s) of the work and its growing cast of characters appear to him not as actual concretizations but as pure Schein, as mental images. Thus, his choice of terms: “schwankende Gestalten [. . .] dem trüben Blick zeigt [. . .] aus Dunst und Nebel steigt” (unstable figures present themselves dimly through a cloudy lens rising up out of haze and fog). He also characterizes the situation as a “Wahn” or illusion, but one motivated by lived experience: “Fühl ich mein Herz noch jenem Wahn geneigt?” (Does my heart tend where that illusion lies?). In Faust II, Act III, which Goethe labelled a “phantasmagoria,” Faust is eager to latch onto and hold fast Helena as “Die Gestalt aller Gestalten” (FA 1.7.1:348.8907; the highest of forms). In other words, he wishes to experience rather than simply to conceptualize her. Helena describes her own appearance as rising unsteadily out of enveloping desolateness: “schwankend aus der Öde, die im Schwindel mich umgab” (FA 1.7.1:348.8913; rising waveringly from the state of indistinguishability that surrounded me in confused manner). The “Schwindel” references the confusedness of the appearance, and the “Öde” points to the site of the Mothers, who themselves are wavering about indistinctly in a twilight zone.

Decisive for Goethe was the “Innesein” (inner being), the anchoring of experience in both object and subject (Adler, “Erkenntnis,” 4.1:278). Perception and insightful understanding relate to one another like external surface and interior core. Together they constitute what Goethe labelled “wahre anschauende Erkenntniß” (Farbenlehre, WA 2.5.1:286; genuine, closely viewed knowledge). On the other hand, Goethe did not share Kant’s conclusion that no congruence between any experience and its idea is possible (Adler, “Erkenntnis,” 4.1:280). However, none of the designations previously mentioned captures the semantic specificity and depth of connotation inherent in Goethe’s sense of Erscheinung as accurately as the special scientific term to designate how manifestations occur. That process is known as emergence. The most progressive aspect of Goethe’s scientific application of Erscheinung, as will be explored in the following, bears stunning similarity to the more distinctive contemporary designation of emergence in complexity theory. In a specifically scientific sense, Goethe’s use of Erscheinung goes a step further than Kant. Simultaneously, it adds a critical feature to phenomenology understood as a matter of subjective consciousness.


Emergence has a long history. It is traceable to Democritus, Anaxagoras, Pathagoras, and Aristotle and is related to the notion of evolution with which Goethe was clearly familiar. Philosophers and scientists more contemporary with Goethe who have written on the concept in evolutionary terms include John Stuart Mill (1806–73), Charles Darwin (1809–72), and, later, Julian Huxley (1887–1975).20

To be sure, Mill did not use the term, “emergence,” although he is the source of what Brian McLaughlin (“Rise and Fall,” 1992) would much later label “British emergentists.” The term itself was not coined until 1875 by the philosopher G. H. Lewes (1817–78) in The Problems of Life and Mind, where he drew a distinction between emergent and resultant effects. Effects are resultant if they can be calculated by the mere addition or subtraction of causes operating together, whereas emergent effects are not calculable in this manner, because they are qualitatively novel compared to the causes from which they emerge.21 Yet, Lewes is not numbered among the “British emergentists” in the second half of the nineteenth century for whom emergence formed the core of a comprehensive philosophical position that continued into the early twentieth century, e.g., with Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution (1907) and its emphasis on élan vital and C. Lloyd Morgan’s Emergent Evolution (1923), the source of the term, “emergent evolution.”

Most notable in the present context is perhaps the fact that Lewes had devoted considerable attention to Goethe, penning several treatises on the poet and publishing his works. One of the earliest is Lewes’ widely received, appreciative Life of Goethe (1855), which revealed his affinity to Goethe’s morphological thinking and scientific methodology. Of notable difference in Goethe’s position is, however, the fact that “emergence” designates a co-evolutionary phenomenon.22 This co-evolutionary aspect deserves emphasis in applying the concept to Goethe because for him—as well as for contemporary science—nature and organic beings are continually evolving, often in tandem. An additional difference between Goethe’s and Lewes’ views of nature is that Lewes believed that “molecular energy” infused everything and constituted the forces at work in consciousness, in the organism, and in the cosmos at large. “A stream of molecular energy flows through the organism from its great cosmic source, and returns to the ocean from which it came” (Lewes, Problems of Life, 2:214). For Goethe, neurological functions are not yet reduced to this same flow of energy. He did not yet think in terms of embodied cognition. His assigning its own agency to thought and consciousness along with the co-evolutionary aspect of emergence sets Goethe apart from the British emergentists as well as from contemporary notions of phenomenology with its focus on the perceiving subject (Eisler, Wörterbuch; Smith, “Phenomenology”).

This notion of emergence would appear to be a quintessential expression of Goethe’s “lebendiger Begriff” (living concept), which is itself the counterpart to nature’s evolutionary “lebendiges Fließen” (living flow) that he repeatedly expressed in his literary and scientific writing. A passage from Faust II, Act II, “Am untern Peneios,” offers a prime example:

Nie war Natur und ihr lebendiges Fließen
Auf Tag und Nacht und Stunden angewiesen.
Sie bildet regelnd jegliche Gestalt
und selbst im Großen ist es nicht Gewalt. (FA 1.7.1:313.7861–64)
Never was Nature in her living power
Dependent on the day or night or hour.
She shapes all forms and regulates their course,
But never, even in things huge, by force. (Passage, 7861–64)

The evolution of nature is neither linear nor straightforward. Nor is the movement abrupt or chaotic whether on the smallest or grandest of scales. Moreover, “emergent properties” refer to those properties that are entirely unexpected and include phenomena in materials and behavior in living creatures. They arise from the collaborative functionality of a system, but do not belong to any one discrete part of the system, neither just to the object nor just to the subject as cause for the manifestation.

For his part, John L. Casti, one of many contemporary scientists, remarks that “emergence” is the result of complex, collaborative, not fully understood natural laws and essentially constitutes a science of surprise.23 This is reminiscent of Goethe’s own remark in “Probleme” that nature, far from constituting a straightforward system, is much more like life itself that results from movement from an unknown center toward an indiscernible boundary: “Die Natur hat kein System, sie hat, sie ist Leben und Folge aus einem unbekannten Zentrum, zu einer nicht erkennbaren Grenze” (FA 1.24:582; Nature has no system. She has—she is—life and sequence [emanating] from an unknown center [and moving] toward an unknown boundary). Hence, observations of natural processes are “endlos” (endless). The “surprise” element arises when the researcher is guided by the phenomena themselves and not by her proclivity for the repetition of certain patterns. Nature according to Goethe often evolves in unpredictable ways despite everything. Not unlike the physicist John H. Holland’s fascination with system developments that surprised him, Goethe too sensed that the sum was greater than its parts.24 Because Goethe viewed instances of Gestalt as dynamical and evolutionary events, he advocated repetition of every individual experiment (“Versuch als Vermittler,” FA 1.25.1:32–33). Moreover, the doctrine of forms was for him equivalent to a doctrine of metamorphosis, the “key to all natural signs” as noted above (FA 1.13:205). Thus, despite recognizable patterns, perpetual novelty persists and can lead to a sense of awe.

“Delicate Empiricism” and the “Pregnant Point”

During his Italian journey Goethe cast aside everything that he had previously thought about art and nature in favor of seeking the truth of things in their “simplest elements” (Geschichte der Farbenlehre, “Konfession,” FA 1.23.1:971). Those simplest elements—reducing phenomena to an originating Urphänomen—proved nonetheless to be highly complex. Perhaps that is why Goethe speaks of the Mothers in the plural in Faust. They are, to use another Goethean term, like so many “prägnante Punkte” (“pregnant points”) from which new (life) forms emerge from the encounter of the “key” that Mephisto gives Faust as the guide to the originating source of Erscheinungen.

This idea is behind Goethe’s assertion in “Studie nach Spinoza” (1784–85) when he avers: “Jedes existierende Ding hat also sein Dasein in sich, und so auch die Übereinstimmung, nach der es existiert” (FA 1.13:309; every existent thing contains its own essence [entelechy] and is in harmony with the conditions of its existence). The manifestations are enormous in number and interact with other objects via countless relationships. To grasp these things in their multitudinous appearances and arrive at “Erkenntnis” requires an active “soul” (Seele) with its higher powers of discernment engaged in zarte Empirie (FA 1.25:15, also FA 1.13:310; sensitive empiricism). He called recognizing what lies at the heart of “Erscheinungen” Aperçu (FA 1.23.1:689; moment of becoming aware). Hence, the measurement of the manifest qualities of any object is mostly “eine grobe Handlung” (FA 1.13:309; a rough estimate). In the case of a living thing, measurement is almost futile because what is crassly measurable does not drive to the essence of the thing. Its inner essence is “höchst geistig” (highly intellectual) and cannot be comprehended by the senses. That is why “die innere Kraft” (inner potency) of an observing soul with its capacity for expanding and ordering observations is required for deep comprehension (FA 1.25:15). Regarding this process and the notion of theory, Goethe observes in another maxim: “Kein Phänomen erklärt sich an und aus sich selbst, nur viele, zusammen überschaut, methodisch geordnet, geben zuletzt etwas, was für Theorie gelten könnte” (FA 1.13:227; No phenomenon is explainable in and of itself. Only many [instances], taken together and methodically ordered, ultimately yield something that could be considered theory.). Finally, in “Zur Naturwissenschaft im Allgemeinen” (1798; On General Natural Science) he opines that each manifestation is the result of an unrecognized law in the appearing object that corresponds to an unknown regulating principle in the observing subject: “Es ist etwas unbekanntes Gesetzliches im Object, welches dem unbekannten Gesetzlichen im Subject entspricht” (WA 2.11:154; Some unknown law in the object corresponds to an unknown law in the subject.).25

In other words, experience (Erfahrung) is the form of our primary empirical encounters with the world and constitutes the sum of the individual’s encounters with the individuality of each manifestation (Erscheinung). Considered reflection on these encounters leads to deeper understanding (Erkenntnis). Such is Goethe’s explanation of the three stages of phenomena or “Facta” in “Erfahrung und Wissenschaft” (1798; Experience and Science) published as part of “Zur Naturwissenschaft im Allgemeinen” that range from “empirisch” (empirical) to “wissenschaftlich” (scientific) to “das reine Phänomen” (absolute). The first occurs naturally and is open to all humans, the second results from experimentation, while the third derives from all experiments carefully considered conjointly (FA 1.25:126; WA 2.11:38).

Thus, Goethe engaged in rewrites (Umschreibungen) of a process for which he had no single, encompassing term, turning to such principles as Polarität and Steigerung. The closest he came to describe in a word his own reflective powers on the phenomenon, which goes beyond mere Erscheinung and its Erkenntnis, were Urphänomen (a term he coined), Aperçu, and most aptly Morphologie. “Phenomenon” he tended to use in his scientific studies, although not absolutely consistently. Johann Christian Friedrich August Heinroth (1773–1843) prompted Goethe to reconceptualize his empirical perceptual experience in a new direction with his remarks on the difference between the empirical (“empirisch”), the analytical (“analytisch”), and the “combinatory” (“ausgleichend”) researcher. Whereas the empirical and the analytical thinkers are each correct in according the object and the subject its own distinct qualities, only the “combinatory” researcher recognizes the uniqueness of their interaction. The latter approach encapsulates what Heinroth considers the form of most advanced thinking (“des reifsten Denkens”), labelling its instance as “gegenständliches Denken” (thinking directed by the object). He then cites as an example Goethe’s unorthodox method as “ein hohes Denkvermögen [. . .], welches [. . .] gegenständlich täthig ist” (that his highly developed reflective method consists of intently observing things).26

In his reaction to Heinroth, Goethe explained that Heinroth meant that his thinking was not separate from the elements of the objects examined, but that his observations of them entered into the object itself, becoming intimately intertwined with it (“daß die Elemente der Gegenstände, die Anschauungen in dasselbe eingehen und von ihm auf das innigste durchdrungen werden”). The oft cited chiasmus, “daß mein Anschauen selbst ein Denken, mein Denken ein Anschauen sei” (that my looking was itself thinking, my thinking a looking) succinctly expresses this “durchdrungen sein” (interconnectedness).27 Thus, Anschauen and Gegenstand enter into the semantic field of Erscheinung.

Struck by the word “gegenständlich” (objective), Goethe began to reflect upon his investigative method over the preceding fifty years. He clearly disavowed induction, stating that he allowed the “facts” to stand in isolation, preferring an analogical approach to understand them and in this manner developed a morphology of plants: “Ich ließ die Fakten isoliert stehen. Aber das Analoge suchte ich auf. Und auf diesem Wege z.B. bin ich zum Begriff der Metamorphose der Pflanzen gelangt” (FA 1.13:247; I let the facts stand on their own. But I had recourse to analogy and, in this way, for instance, I arrived at a morphology of plants. See also 1.13:245). He did not stop investigating until he had arrived at a “pregnant point,” the source from which all individual instances could be derived. He granted:

daß mein ganzes Verfahren auf dem Ableiten beruhe; ich raste nicht, bis ich einen prägnanten Punkt finde, von dem sich vieles ableiten läßt, oder vielmehr der vieles freiwillig aus sich hervorbringt und mir entgegenträgt, da ich denn im Bemühen und Empfangen vorsichtig und treu zu Werke gehe (FA 1.24:598; emphasis added).
that my entire method is based on derivation; I do not rest until I have found a pregnant point, from which much can be deduced, or rather which freely offers much and presents it to me on its own. Thus, I proceed cautiously and fastidiously in my striving to know and my openness to receiving what presents itself.

The allusion to consensual lovemaking is not by happenchance. The “pregnant point” is the juncture of striving to understand (which is analogous to eros) and simultaneous openness to what the object freely offers on its own (analogous to agape). Often marked by an “aha-reaction,” they together give rise to “emergence,” itself a science of surprise. It was Goethe’s hope that ceaseless investigation would gradually raise awareness to such a high degree. For example, he states in “Nachbarliche Verhältnisse – Verhältnis zur allgemeinen Physik” (Neighborly Relations – Relation to General Physics) of his Zur Farbenlehre “daß es nicht unmöglich scheint, die grenzenlose Empirie an einen methodischen Mittelpunkt heranzuziehen” (FA 1.23.1:239; that is does not seem improbable to tie boundless empiricism to a methodological center). This “methodische[r] Mittelpunkt” is closely related to the “prägnanten Punkt” (pregnant point).

Interdisciplinarity and Experience of a Higher Kind

As a poet and scientist Goethe partook of two methods in perceiving nature. Ultimately, however, those two worlds turned out to be inherently related, like two sides of a coin, just as pneuma (Word, spirit) and physis (materialized man, sign) are complementary. The poet’s mode of thought is more analogous to what Heidegger would later call “meditative thinking;” that is, thinking that allows the contemplated object itself to speak, whereas the scientific mode would align with Heidegger’s “calculative thinking;” that is, seeking to confirm a preconceived notion.28 In Goethe’s terminology they appear respectively as “essayistic” and “mathematical” (“Versuch als Vermittler,” FA 1.25.1:26–36). “Essayistic” is a broader term for Goethe’s bisociative, open, and closely attentive attitude toward natural processes, i.e., his zarte Empirie (delicate empiricism) attained via anschauendes Denken (intuitive thinking). Essayism could easily serve to designate Goethe’s fundamental literary as well as modern scientific methodology.29 By contrast, the “mathematical” approach amounted to system building with an eye to proving a point.

Later, in seeking to clarify the essential thesis of his own Farbenlehre, Goethe explains that he is not an opponent (“Widersacher”) of mathematics.30 Rather, he criticizes the growing tendency to reduce mathematical inquiry to exact calculations (“Calcul”) with rigid outcomes. He disavows the equally dominant tendency to disciplinary overspecialization. Goethe calls both tendencies expressions of “Selbstgenügsamkeit” (self-satisfaction). They are not tantamount to an experience (Erfahrung) of a manifestation (Erscheinung) but, more importantly, threaten the inquirer’s ability to achieve deep understanding (Erkenntnis) by distorting the true relationship of the parts to the whole. Great advances in mathematics led, he laments, to an abuse of the essential method of inquiry by privileging hypotheses over observations. It devolves into self-referentiality (WA 2.11:85) which obscures the essence of physics (“Konfession des Verfassers,” FA 1.23.1:974, 978). Goethe mirrors this point in his scientific studies such as “Versuch als Vermittler” as well as in his literary creations, e.g., Faust I with Mephisto’s satire on the collegium logicum as a “Gedankenfabrik” (thought factory) and in the contortions of the “Hexen-Einmal-Eins” (the witch’s 1×1).  In a number of maxims under the rubric “Erkenntnis und Wissenschaft,” he emphasizes how the human spirit, freed from the bonds of hypothetical thinking, can see things more clearly without brooding or sophistry (FA 1.13:59, 76, 80, 107, 191, 244, 267, 406).

Far from disavowing the mathematical approach entirely, he acknowledged in later years that he needed to be an “ethical-asethetic mathematician” to achieve universal formulae: “als ethisch-ästhetischer Mathematiker muß ich in meinen hohen Jahren immer auf die letzten Formeln hindrängen, durch welche ganz allein mir die Welt noch faßlich und erträglich wird“ (Letter to Boisserie from Nov. 3, 1826; WA 4.41:221; as an ethical-aesthetic mathematician I am forced at my advanced age to press on to final formulae by means of which alone the world can become understandable and bearable to me). One is tempted to ask how this later notion of universal formulae might relate to the function of the Mothers as the source of appearances?

Of obvious interest to Goethe are the often referenced “gemeineren Kräfte und Elemente” (more fundamental forces and elements of nature) which are caught up in an endless chain of “Wirkung und Gegenwirkung” (action and reaction). It is the interweaving of these fundamental agonal forces on the nano, meso, and macro levels which gives rise to the whole. As previously recognized, nothing in nature occurs in isolation. All seemingly separate phenomena are interconnected with the whole (“Versuch als Vermittler,” FA 1.25.1:33). But how is one to measure the unity of such a whole? First, Goethe recommended taking a protracted, polyperspectival view to assess the nature of the developments and arrive at insights of a “higher kind” (FA 1.25:34–35). This happens only with repeated experiments and accumulated information which are essential conditions of Erkenntnis. While the laws of the evolving, interactive “kinetics of life”31 being examined for their hidden and emergent qualities “are not obvious from the equations” in mathematical solutions,32 Goethe nonetheless valued the distinct advantage of the mathematical method itself with its penchant for formulae, which other researchers can objectively test, confirm, augment, or correct (FA 1.25.1:34). Repeated experiments (with forms) are tantamount to those formulae which lead to “Erfahrungen der höheren Art” (FA 1.25:35; experiences of a higher order). The highest duty of the natural scientist—and of the artist—is to abide by this essayistic method (34). That is a major point of the “Einleitung zu den Propyläen” (1798; Introduction to the Propyläen; FA 1.18:460–61, 471) and of the Geschichte der Farbenlehre (FA 1.23.1:660–61, 666–67) (McCarthy, “Pregnant Point,” 27–30).

Goethe’s sympathy lay with interdisciplinary inquiry, for it alters the focus from a disciplinary center and from mechanical causality to the shifting nonlinear boundaries of neighboring disciplines. Such an approach seeks to understand how individual phenomena and systems interrelate dynamically and nonlinearly. For that very reason he lauded in “Nachbarliche Verhältnisse” in his Materialien zur Geschichte der Farbenlehre (“Neighborly Relations” in the Materials on the History of the Doctrine of Color) the cooperation between chemists and biologists who collaboratively were able to achieve pathbreaking insights. He would like to see philosophers and physicists collaborate in similar fashion in deepening our sense perception (FA 1.23.1:232, 660–61).

The horizon of active deed encompasses more than the sense organs, the imagination, and the power of reflection (FA 1.18:257). Thus, he writes in “Schlussbetrachtung über Sprache und Terminologie” (Concluding Remark on Language and Terminology) that we are confined to (poetic) approximations in our search for clarity of the inner workings of kinetic nature (and genius) (FA 1.23.1:244).

Interdisciplinarity is thus tantamount to an increase in perspective and, hence, of information. And a criterion of the complexity of a phenomenon (Erscheinung) is the “amount of information necessary to define it and the practical difficulty in obtaining that information.”33 Physicist Richard Haglund calls Goethe’s insistence on the “visualization” of natural processes (anschauendes Denken) the “real link” to contemporary science that is now aided by information perception extenders such as the spectroscopy of nuclear-spin-polarized atoms on surfaces and the scanning microscope that “makes possible an emergent scheme for visualization” (Haglund, “Visualization and Emergence,” 62, 68). All that was unavailable to Goethe as he looked for what might emerge from his observations as he gathered ever more information without recourse to telescope or microscope about a “single” phenomenon at the beginning of the information explosion and the introduction of the uncertainty principle. Hence, “the emergent perspective is substantially more consistent with Goethe’s view of Nature and the role of the human observer” (Haglund, 60).

The more vantage points one has, Goethe argued in the Einleitung zu den Propyläen (1798; Introduction to the Propylaea), the more likely one is to fathom the essence of “das Fundament der Erscheinung” (FA 1.18:462; the grounding of appearance), which is mirrored in the themes of Welt und Gott and the structure of Faust. For his part, then, he ultimately claims the “right to observe, study, and understand nature without the aid of [reductive] mathematics in the simplest, most secret impulses as well as in its most striking phenomena” (WA 2.11:78). By intently observing a single natural phenomenon (under altered conditions!), he felt it possible ultimately to connect “die elementaren Naturphänomene” (elemental natural phenomena) with one another, as he put it in “Schlussbetrachtung über Sprache und Terminologie” (FA 1.23.1:246; Concluding Remark on Language and Terminology). In “Anschauende Urteilskraft” (intuitive judgment in perceiving) from “Zur Morphologie,” Goethe opines, moreover, that it is possible to arrive at a valuable, synthesizing assessment of mind (intellect) and matter (the objective world) “durch das Anschauen einer immer schaffenden Natur” (FA 1.24:448; via observation of continuously creative nature). And in “Ferneres über Mathematik und Mathematiker” (1826; Additional Remarks on Mathematics and Mathematicians), he stated flatly that phenomena are worthless when they do not allow for a deeper, richer insight into nature and that they cannot be dealt with via calculations or words (WA 2.11:98).

This is the essence of his heterodoxic thinking and poetic method. It evidently informs the philosophico-religious reflections in Faust I and Act V of Faust II that perform “Entwicklung aus einem lebendigen, geheimnisvollen Ganzen” (unfolding from a living, mysterious whole), as he phrased it in “Einwirkung der neueren Philosophie” (FA 1.24: 444). They are full of pregnant points that equate to thresholds and to phases of creative expansion. The evolution from a vital mysterious whole is, I contend, an allusion to The Mothers at the end of Act I of Faust II whose realm represents the originating pregnant point, for it is a gateway to existence, the threshold of emergent forms, an example of self-organization in multi-agent systems.

Conclusion: Erscheinung as Process and Emergence

Lewes characterized motion as “process in the object,” whereas feeling (mind, consciousness; i.e., “sentient phenomena”) was a sign of “process in the subject” (Lewes, Problems of Life, 2:411, 415). He also called a phenomenon a “process” and “its causation . . . its procession (Lewes, Problems of Life, 2:376). For Goethe phenomena are similarly dynamic, involving both processes. Because of the way Goethe approached the episteme Erscheinung, then, it is appropriate to speak of Faust I and II as process art (McCarthy, “Cognitive Mapping”)—what Schöne calls a “Metamorphosenspiel” (FA 1.7.2:52, 793; metamorphic play).34 It, in turn, is a variation of “process philosophy” (Alfred North Whitehead; Leibniz, Nietzsche), “process theology” (Charles Hartshorne, John B. Cobb), and “process science” (J. S. Mill, Lewes, Goethe himself). “Process philosophy,” as Johanna Seibt succinctly states, “is based on the premise that being is dynamic and that the dynamic nature of being should be the primary focus of any comprehensive philosophical [– and for Goethe—artistic] account of reality and our place within it.”35 It asks, even as Goethe had regarding Erscheinung: what is the dynamicity of becoming?

In the material world, Goethe discerns this multivalent process mirrored in meteorological phenomena. In “Versuch einer Witterungslehre” (1825; Towards a Theory of Weather) he applies the principles of dynamic interplay elaborated upon in his organic and artistic studies to inorganic matter with its binding and releasing elements of gravity, attraction and repulsion, cold and contraction, heat and expansion (i.e., Schwere/Anziehungkraft :: Erwärmung/Ausdehnung). In other words, Goethe’s striving for deep understanding (Erkenntnis) of his experience (Erfahrung) of natural Phenomena pays special attention to the conditions under which phenomena become manifest (Erscheinung) rather than to specific causes. This is a main contention of the British emergentists. The three modi are combined in the notion of an event or perhaps singularity (Ereignis) (WA 2.11:40). He adds “ein gewisses Pulsieren” and “Bändigung und Entlassen der Elemente” (FA 1.25:292, 295; a certain pulsating rhythm, a confining and releasing of elemental forces) without which vitality would be unthinkable. In addition to the four elements (fire, earth, water, air), he factors “die höchste Kraft des Geistes” (the highest force of mind) into the dynamics of existence. Hence, the agonal struggle for “dominance” in nature extends into the human sphere of the spirit as well. This is what he suggests in Faust I with the progression from the sign of the Macrocosm to the Earth Spirit and to Mephisto, who, in turn, directs Faust to the Mothers. (And of course, Mephisto had a hand in the genesis of Homunculus.)

All these are examples and symbols of the collaboration between willful spirit and giving nature and are fully in tune with the first sentence of “Versuch einer Witterungslehre”: “Das Wahre, mit dem Göttlichen identisch, lässt sich niemals von uns direkt erkennen, wir schauen es nur im Abglanz, im Beispiel, Symbol” (FA 1.25:274; We can never perceive Truth, which is identical to the Divine, directly. We see it only indirectly as reflection, example, symbol.). That is, of course, the major message of “Bergschluchten” (Mountain Gorges), the final act of Faust II, with its pointed references to striving (eros) and giving (agape), and birthing. There inadequate transitory representations become event as Faust’s immortal remains rise up through the atmosphere. Consequently, the most appropriate reflection of ultimate truth is captured in the process of atmospheric change itself  Schöne, “Kommentare,” FA 1.7.2:793–95, 801–2). Telluric movement constantly rises and falls through complex interactions of speed, gravitational pull and caloric energy. In this regard, the theoretical British scientist, David Bohm, aptly remarked on the kind of empirical observation that Goethe advocated: “One has to be sensitive to the eternally changing differences that are actually to be observed within each thing, and to the unceasing emergence of new similarities and relationships across the boundaries of various things.”36 Goethe was obviously ahead of his time.

Goethe referred to these self-similar, eternally changing differences as mirrorings—“wiederholte Spiegelungen”—his own label for process art (Secker, “Wiederholte Spiegelungen,” passim; Noé-Rumberg, Naturgesetze, 13, 214). It was a kind of “Stoffwechsel Mensch-Natur” (Böhme, Natur und Subjekt, 162; metabolism of the human and non-human) that formed the structural principle of Faust as expressed in the lines “Gestaltung, Umgestaltung, / Des ewigen Sinnes ewige Unterhaltung” (1.7.1:257.6287–88; Configuration, reconfiguration / The eternal discourse of endless reflection). In sum, then, the complex semantic fields of Erscheinung are a clear prompt for understanding the designation as containing “emergent properties” in the meaning of emergence in contemporary complexity theory (Winning and Bechtel, Being Emergence).37 The gerund, Erscheinen, draws particular attention to this active feature. Clearly, the architecture of vocabulary meaning is a matter of complex ordering (Gloning and Welter, “Wortschatzarchitektur,” 118). While there would appear to be overlap here with phenomenology, the latter lacks the co-evolutionary dimension and, moreover, focuses on the subject as agent and embodied cognition and in doing so ignores the agency of phenomena themselves (Smith, “Phenomenology”). Goethe’s “heteropathic” approach therefore helped crystalize philosophical and scientific uses of his key insight into what is now known as emergence.

  1. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Einwirkung der neueren Philosophie,” in Zur Morphologie I: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Sämtliche Werke. Briefe, Tagebücher und Gespräche, eds. Hendrik Birus, Dieter Borchmeyer, Karl Eibl, et. al., 40 vols. (Frankfurt a. M.: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1987–2013), 1.24:442–46, here 442, 443 and 445. Hereafter cited as FA in body of text.
  2. To be sure, scholarship has recognized Goethe’s search for accurate nomenclatures in morphological terms. The poet dreaded both abstractions, with their disregard of objective fields of reference and the formalized language of mathematics. Instead, he advocated a morphology of knowledge, that is, the accounting for both the object perceived and the perceiving subject. That is the thrust of my reflections here on Erscheinung, which departs somewhat from the trodden pathway. On the above, see e.g., Uwe Pörksen, “‘Alles ist Blatt.’ Über Reichweite und Grenzen der naturwissenschaftlichen Sprache und Darstellungsmodelle Goethes,” Wissenschaftsgeschichte 11, no. 3 (1988): 129–92; Dorothea Kuhn, “In Naturerscheinungen verstrickt,” Goethe-Jahrbuch 10 (1998): 175–84; Chad Wellmon, “Morphology of Knowledge, or the Overgrowth of Nomenclature,” Goethe Yearbook 17 (2010): 153–77.
  3. He refined his thinking via engagements with philosophers and scientists at the universities of Jena and Göttingen and elsewhere (Fichte, Hegel, Schelling, Büttner, Loder, J. T. Mayer, Sömmering, Göttling, Wolf, Forster; Blumenbach, Lichtenberg, Oken, and others). At Jena he was instrumental in its reform, having helped to establish a chemical laboratory as well as zoological and botanical collections. He also created professorships for botany, chemistry, and minerology. Jost Schieren, Anschauende Urteilskraft. Methodische und philosophische Grundlagen von Goethes naturwissenschaftlichem Erkennen (Düsseldorf: Parerga, 1998), 9, speaks of Goethe’s “philosophische Heterogenität.” Hereafter cited as Schieren, Anschauende Urteilskraft in body of text.
  4. See entry for “Erscheinung” in Jakob and Wilhlem Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, ed. Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften and Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, 33 vols. (Leipzig and Munich: S. Hirzel and Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1854–1972), 3: column 958., accessed 26 May, 2020.  Hereafter cited as Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch in body of text.
  5. For this overview of historical development see the entries under “Erscheinung” in Rudolf Eisler, Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Berlin: E. S. Mittler & Sohn, 1904). See also R. Eisler, Kant-Lexikon. Nachschlagwerk zu Kants sämtlichen Schriften, Briefen und handschriftlichem Nachlass (Berlin: E. S. Miller & Sohn, 1930); and Friedrich Kirchner and Carl Michaëlis, “Erscheinung,” in Wörterbuch der Philosophischen Grundbegriffe (Leipzig: Dürr, 1907), 189–90; and “Phänomen,” 432–33. Hereafter cited as Kirchner and Michaëlis in body of text.
  6. “im gegensatz zur zweiten bedeutung, welche die verwirklichung einer sache oder eines zustandes ausdrückt, und im anschlusz an die erste, die den bloszen teuschenden schein enthalten kann, verwendet der philosophische sprachgebrauch erscheinung von den gegenständen, insofern sie nicht als dinge an sich selbst, sondern als sinnliche anschauungen erfaszt werden. so bei Kant häufigst: der unbestimmte gegenstand einer empirischen anschauung heiszt erscheinung. 2, 60; was gar nicht am objecte an sich selbst, jederzeit aber im verhältnisse desselben zum subjecte anzutreffen und von der vorstellung des ersteren unzertrennlich ist, ist erscheinung.” (Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, 3:column 958.3; In contrast to the second meaning which expresses the realization of a thing or of a condition and in connection to the first meaning which can designate merely the deceptive quality of an appearance, the philosophical use denotes the manifestation of objects in so far as they do not refer to the thing in itself but only captures them as empirical observations via the senses. It is thus often by Kant. The indeterminate object of an empirical observation is called “Erscheinung.”). Whatever is not an attribute of the object itself but results from the relationship between subject and object and is inseparable from the subject’s idea of the first, is “Erscheinung.”
  7. Immanuel Kant, Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht, in Werke in zehn Bänden, ed. Wilhelm Weischedel, 10 vols. (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1983), 10:430 §7.
  8. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, in Werke 3:87. Hereafter cited as Kant, Kr. d. r. V. in body of text.
  9. Immanuel Kant, Prologomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik, die als Wissenschaft wird eintreten können, in Werke 5:149, §13. In Kritik d.r.V. he also states: “Der unbestimmte Gegenstand einer empirischen Anschauung heißt E r s c h e i n u n g” (3:69). On the foregoing, see Rudolf Eisler, “Erscheinung - Kant,” in Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe. Hegel had a different take: “Für HEGEL ist die ‘Erscheinung’ nur ein Moment (s. d.) im dialektischen Prozesse der Wirklichkeit, deren Wesen durch den Begriff erfaßt wird. Erscheinung ist das Wesen in seiner Existenz (Log. II, 144);” Eisler, “Erscheinung - Fichte, Schelling, Hegel.”
  10. Thomas Gloning and Rüdiger Welter, “Wortschatzarchitektur und elektronische Wörterbücher: Goethes Wortschatz und das Goethe-Wörterbuch,“ in Chancen und Perspektiven computergestützter Lexikographie: Hypertext, Internet und SGML/XML für die Produktion und Publikation digitaler Wörterbücher, eds. Ingrid Lemberg, Bernhard Schröder and Angelika Storrer (Berlin: DeGruyter, 2001), 117–32, here 120–21. Hereafter cited as Gloning and Welter, “Wortschatzarchitektur” in body of text.
  11. See Rüdiger Welter’s entry on “Erscheinung,” Goethe-Wörterbuch, ed. Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen, and the Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1978), 3:columns 398–404. Hereafter cited as Welter, “Erscheinung” in body of text.
  12. Goethes Werke, ed. im Auftrage der Großherzogin Sophie von Sachsen, 4 Abteilungen, 133 vols. in 143 parts (Weimar: H. Böhlau, 1887-1919), 2.11:57. Hereafter cited as WA in body of text.
  13. See entry on “Erscheinung” in  Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Deutschen (1993), ed. and digitized by Wolfgang Pfeifer.
  14. See also Dorothea Michaela Noé-Rumberg, Naturgesetze als Dichtungsprinzipien: Goethes verborgene Poetik im Spiegel seiner Dichtungen (Freiburg: Rombach, 1993), hereafter cited as Noé-Rumberg, Naturgesetze in body of text; and Schieren, Anschauende Urteilskraft.
  15. See Hans Adler, “Erkenntnis,” in Goethe Handbuch in vier Bänden, eds. Bernd Witte et al., 4 vols. (Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler, 1996–99), 4.1: 277–80. Surprisingly, this Handbuch has no entry for “Erscheinung.” Hereafter cited as Adler, “Erkenntnis” in body of text.
  16. See Hartmut Böhme, Natur und Subjekt (Frankfurt a.M: Suhrkamp, 1988), 145–78, here 145–47, 159–60. Hereafter cited as Böhme, Natur und Subjekt in body of text.
  17. David Woodruff Smith, “Phenomenology,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta, 1.
  18. Scholarship has devoted much attention to this dynamic aspect of Goethe’s thinking. See e.g., Böhme, Natur und Subjekt; Noé-Rumberg, Naturgesetze; Schieren, Anschauende Urteilskraft; Günther Schnitzler und Gottfried Schramm, Ein unteilbares Ganzes. Kunst und Wissenschaft (Freiburg i.Br.: Rombach, 1997); Astrida Orle Tantillo, The Will to Create. Goethe’s Philosophy of Nature (U of Pittsburgh Press, 2002); Margrit Wyder, Goethes Naturmodell. Die Skala Naturae und ihre Transformationen (Köln: Böhlau, 1998).
  19. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, I & II, trans. Charles E. Passage (New York: Macmillan, 1987), lines 1–6. Hereafter cited as Passage by verse number in body of text.
  20. On the history of emergence, see Elly Vintiadis, “Emergence,” in Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Lewes discusses “emergents” in Problems of Life and Mind, 2 vols. (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Turbner, & Co., 1875), 2: 412. Hereafter cited in text body as  Lewes, Problems of Life. 
  21. Hence, the distinction is essentially between quantity and quality. Mill’s heteropathic effects are then the equivalent of Lewes’ emergent effects, whereas homeopathic effects are quite similar to Lewes’ resultants. On the foregoing see Elly Vintiadis, “Emergence,” in Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  22. The natural-scientific term “emergence” seems more adequate than “affordances” popular in AI and design circles because the latter, rooted in visual perception, does not address the coevolution of organs and environment as does the former. Hans Adler speaks of “Gegenstandsadäquatheit” (objective adequacy) in Adler, “Erkenntnis,” 4.1:273.
  23. John L. Casti, Complexification: Explaining a Paradoxical World Through the Science of Surprise (New York: Harper Collins, 1994).
  24. M. Mitchell Waldrop, Complexity. The Emerging Science at the Edge of Chaos and Order (New York & London: Touchstone, 1993), 152.
  25. Here, notes 22–23 to p.163 and notes 18–19 to 154 of the “Nachgelassenen Schriften,” in WA: 2.11:163, n. 154.
  26. Christian Friedrich August Heinroth, Lehrbuch der Anthropologie (Friedrich Christ. Wilh. Vogel: Leipzig, 1822), 386–87. Heinroth was a renowned Professor of Psychiatry in Leipzig.
  27. All quotations from Goethe, “Bedeutende Fördernis durch ein einziges geistreiches Wort,” (FA 1.24:596-98). See also Farbenlehre, “Konfession des Verfassers,” FA 23.1:971.
  28. Martin Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking. A Translation of Gelassenheit, eds. and trans. John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), 44.
  29. John A. McCarthy, “The ‘Pregnant Point’: Goethe on Complexity, Interdisciplinarity, and Emergence,” in Goethe, Chaos, and Complexity, ed. Herbert Rowland (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001), 19–31, esp. 22. Hereafter cited as McCarthy, “Pregnant Point” in body of text. With his “essayistic” approach Goethe adopted a very modern form. See Dillon, Essayism (London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017); Alan Wall, “Essayism and Modernity,” Fortnightly Review (May 29, 2014); Michael Ansel, Jürgen Egyptien, Friedrich, eds., Der Essay als Universalgattung des Zeitalters (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2016); and John A. McCarthy, Crossing Boundaries: A Theory and History of Essay Writing in Germany 1690–1815 (Philadelphia: U of Penn Press, 1989).
  30. See his review essay of mathematical treatises by de l’Ambert and Desetz, “Über Mathematik und deren Missbrauch, sowie das periodische Vorwalten einzelner wissenschaftlicher Zweige” (dated Nov. 12, 1826): FA 1.25:65–76. See also the editor’s commentary on Goethe’s knowledge of mathematics: FA 1.25:908–12.
  31. Karl J. Fink, Goethe’s History of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1991), 153.
  32. Richard F. Haglund Jr., “Visualization and Emergence in Contemporary Physics,” in Goethe, Chaos, and Complexity, ed. Herbert Rowland (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001), 57–68, at 62 and 68. Hereafter cited as Haglund, “Visualization and Emergence” in body of text.
  33. A. Favre, H. Guitton, J. Guitton, A. Lichnerowicz & E. Wolff, Chaos and Determinism (Johns Hopkins Press, 1995), 7.
  34. Albrecht Schöne, “Faust-Kommentare,” in FA 7.2:11–62. Hereafter cited as Schöne, “Kommentare” in body of text.
  35. Johanna Seibt, “Process Philosophy,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Cf. John A. McCarthy, Remapping Reality. Chaos and Creativity in Literature and Science (Goethe – Nietzsche – Grass) (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006) 76–84, 11–16, 169–86.
  36. David Bohm, On Creativity (London: Routledge, 1998), 101. On Goethe’s modernity and contemporary science in general, see M. Wenzel, “Rezeptions- und Wirkungsgeschichte,” in Goethe Handbuch, 2:251–89.
  37. See Jason Winning and William Bechtel, “Being Emergence vs Pattern Emergence,” in The Routledge Handbook of Emergence, ed. Sophie Gibb et. al. (London: Routledge, 2019) 134–44.

Works Cited and Further Reading

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