Begriff (Concept)

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Clark S. Muenzer


The lexeme Begriff1 marks Goethe’s ongoing reconstruction of the traditional philosophical concept across a variety of disciplinary practices. In its most developed articulations, it also works transcendentally to establish the conditions of possibility for thought and intelligibility on a dynamic plane of verbal experimentation and reinvention that cuts immanently through the world. Unlike the clear and distinct concepts of rationalist metaphysics, which function as fixed universals beyond the reach of the senses, Goethe’s extensive usages and ongoing conceptualizations of Begriff draw on an expressive power within language to generate sequences of cognitive moves and moments of transitional understanding that stand in close relation to each other and can be gathered in graded series to be saved for further observation, description, reflection, and reconfiguration. Through its successive linguistic manifestations, moreover, and in line with Goethe’s heterodox approach to systematic philosophy, Begriff lays out force fields of verbal and philosophical activity and discovery with fluid and permeable borders. In ways comparable to the power of reflective judgment in Kant’s third critique, which dispenses with the categories of the understanding and their determining judgments to work intuitively within the world of living forms (Gestalten), Goethe’s lebendiger Begriff (living concept) proves to be a more encompassing structure of thought and its processes than the conceptual machinery of orthodox metaphysical systems with their regulatory regimes of limit-setting terms. Redeployed as an experimental object of experience, Begriff is, therefore, also anschaulich (visual, accessible to intuition). By offering a dynamic perspective onto the fugitive things of the world—including its thought things—it continually reveals the hidden secrets of its own perpetual becomings.

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How to Cite
Muenzer, C. “Begriff (Concept)”. Goethe-Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts, Vol. 1, no. 1, Jan. 2021, doi:10.5195/glpc.2021.34.