Form (Form)

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David E. Wellbery


The concept of form today remains as indispensable to philosophical reflection as it was for Plato and Aristotle. In view of its centrality to Goethe’s work, the concept may thus be considered one of the privileged themes for assessing Goethe’s position in the Western philosophical tradition. The following remarks must pursue a more modest aim. Their purpose is to highlight sites of reflection in Goethe’s oeuvre in which the concept of form does irreplaceable intellectual work. It is important to stress the selectivity of such a project, for to examine the peculiar inflection the concept of form undergoes in Goethe’s work is to enter a field of intricately interwoven concepts. Kindred terms include Gestalt, (Um-) Gestaltung, Typus, Urbild; crucial explicating concepts are Organisation, Einheit, and Idee; syntactic and semantic linkages run inter alia to schaffen and Gewalt (in the sense of force, not violence); Morphologie is the science of form; negative concepts such as formlos and Chaos likewise have their place. The entire nexus is central both to Goethe’s aesthetics and to his scientific studies. Finally, nearly all the terms within the nexus are susceptible to poetic intensification, as exemplified in the verses from Pandora recalled at the outset. A brief entry such as this can do no more than carve a slender path through this variegated semantic terrain.

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How to Cite
Wellbery, D. “Form (Form)”. Goethe-Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts, Vol. 1, no. 1, Jan. 2021, doi:10.5195/glpc.2021.38.