German philosophy

German philosophy, here taken to mean either (1) philosophy in the German language or (2) philosophy by Germans, has been extremely diverse, and central to both the analytic and continental traditions in philosophy for centuries, from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz through Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein to contemporary philosophers. Søren Kierkegaard (a Danish philosopher) is frequently included in surveys of German (or Germanic) philosophy due to his extensive engagement with German thinkers.[1][2][3][4]

17th century


Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Bernhard Christoph Francke

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) was both a philosopher and a mathematician who wrote primarily in Latin and French. Leibniz, along with René Descartes and Baruch Spinoza, was one of the three great 17th century advocates of rationalism. The work of Leibniz also anticipated modern logic and analytic philosophy, but his philosophy also looks back to the scholastic tradition, in which conclusions are produced by applying reason to first principles or a priori definitions rather than to empirical evidence.

Leibniz is noted for his optimism - his Théodicée[5] tries to justify the apparent imperfections of the world by claiming that it is optimal among all possible worlds. It must be the best possible and most balanced world, because it was created by an all powerful and all knowing God, who would not choose to create an imperfect world if a better world could be known to him or possible to exist. In effect, apparent flaws that can be identified in this world must exist in every possible world, because otherwise God would have chosen to create the world that excluded those flaws.

Leibniz is also known for his theory of monads, as exposited in Monadologie. Monads are to the metaphysical realm what atoms are to the physical/phenomenal. They can also be compared to the corpuscles of the Mechanical Philosophy of René Descartes and others. Monads are the ultimate elements of the universe. The monads are "substantial forms of being" with the following properties: they are eternal, indecomposable, individual, subject to their own laws, un-interacting, and each reflecting the entire universe in a pre-established harmony (a historically important example of panpsychism). Monads are centers of force; substance is force, while space, matter, and motion are merely phenomenal.

18th century


Christian Wolff (1679–1754) was the most eminent German philosopher between Leibniz and Kant. His main achievement was a complete oeuvre on almost every scholarly subject of his time, displayed and unfolded according to his demonstrative-deductive, mathematical method, which perhaps represents the peak of Enlightenment rationality in Germany.

Wolff was one of the first to use German as a language of scholarly instruction and research, although he also wrote in Latin, so that an international audience could, and did, read him. A founding father of, among other fields, economics and public administration as academic disciplines, he concentrated especially in these fields, giving advice on practical matters to people in government, and stressing the professional nature of university education.


Immanuel Kant (painted portrait)
Immanuel Kant

In 1781, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) published his Critique of Pure Reason, in which he attempted to determine what we can and cannot know through the use of reason independent of all experience. Briefly, he came to the conclusion that we could come to know an external world through experience, but that what we could know about it was limited by the limited terms in which the mind can think: if we can only comprehend things in terms of cause and effect, then we can only know causes and effects. It follows from this that we can know the form of all possible experience independent of all experience, but nothing else, but we can never know the world from the “standpoint of nowhere” and therefore we can never know the world in its entirety, neither via reason nor experience.

Since the publication of his Critique, Immanuel Kant has been considered one of the greatest influences in all of western philosophy. In the late 18th and early 19th century, one direct line of influence from Kant is German Idealism.

Neo-Kantianism refers broadly to the revival of the type of philosophy explained by Immanuel Kant and of the interpretations of Kant provided by post-Kantian philosophers such as Schopenhauer, Jakob Friedrich Fries and Johann Friedrich Herbart. Major figures in the neo-Kantian movement, which began around the 1860s, include Friedrich Albert Lange and Hermann Cohen.

19th century

German idealism

Hegel portrait by Schlesinger 1831
G. W. F. Hegel

The three most prominent German idealists were Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814), Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775–1854) and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), who was the predominant figure in nineteenth century German philosophy.


Arthur Schopenhauer Portrait by Ludwig Sigismund Ruhl 1815.jpeg

An idiosyncratic opponent of German idealism, particularly Hegel's thought, was Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860). He was influenced by Eastern philosophy, particularly Buddhism, and was known for his pessimism. Schopenhauer's most influential work, The World as Will and Representation, claimed that the world is fundamentally what we recognize in ourselves as our will. His analysis of will led him to the conclusion that emotional, physical, and sexual desires can never be fulfilled. Consequently, he eloquently described a lifestyle of negating desires, similar to the ascetic teachings of Vedanta and the Desert Fathers of early Christianity.[6]

Karl Marx and the Young Hegelians

Karl Marx 001
Karl Marx, German economist and philosopher.

Among those influenced by Hegel was a group of young radicals called the Young Hegelians, who were unpopular because of their radical views on religion and society. They included Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–72), Bruno Bauer (1809–82) and Max Stirner (1806–56) among their ranks.

Karl Marx (1818–83) often attended their meetings. He developed an interest in Hegelianism, French socialism and British economic theory. He transformed the three into an essential work of economics called Das Kapital, which consisted of a critical economic examination of capitalism. Marxism became one of the major forces on twentieth century world history.



Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) was initially a proponent of Schopenhauer. However, he soon came to disavow Schopenhauer's pessimistic outlook on life and sought to provide a positive philosophy. He believed this task to be urgent, as he believed a form of nihilism caused by modernity was spreading across Europe, which he summed up in the phrase "God is dead". His problem, then, was how to live a positive life considering that if you believe in God, you give in to dishonesty and cruel beliefs (e.g. divine predestination of some individuals to Hell), and if you don't believe in God, you give in to nihilism. He believed he found his solution in the concepts of the Übermensch and Eternal Recurrence. His work continues to have a major influence on both philosophers and artists.

20th century

Analytic philosophy

Frege, Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle

In the late 19th century, the predicate logic of Gottlob Frege (1848–1925) overthrew Aristotelian logic (the dominant logic since its inception in Ancient Greece). This was the beginning of analytic philosophy. In the early part of the 20th century, a group of German and Austrian philosophers and scientists formed the Vienna Circle to promote scientific thought over Hegelian system-building, which they saw as a bad influence on intellectual thought. The group considered themselves logical positivists because they believed all knowledge is either derived through experience or arrived at through analytic statements, and they adopted the predicate logic of Frege, as well as the early work of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) as foundations to their work. Wittgenstein did not agree with their interpretation of his philosophy.

Continental philosophy

While some of the seminal philosophers of twentieth-century analytical philosophy were German-speakers, most German-language philosophy of the twentieth century tends to be defined not as analytical but 'continental' philosophy – as befits Germany's position as part of the European 'continent' as opposed to the British Isles or other culturally European nations outside of Europe.


Phenomenology began at the start of the 20th century with the descriptive psychology of Franz Brentano (1838–1917), and then the transcendental phenomenology of Edmund Husserl (1859–1938). It was then transformed by Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), whose famous book Being and Time applied phenomenology to ontology, and who, along with Ludwig Wittgenstein, is considered one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century. Phenomenology has had a large influence on Continental Philosophy, particularly existentialism and poststructuralism. Heidegger himself is often identified as an existentialist, though he would have rejected this.


Hermeneutics is the philosophical theory and practice of interpretation and understanding.

Originally hermeneutics referred to the interpretation of texts, especially religious texts.[7] In the 19th century, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911) and others expanded the discipline of hermeneutics beyond mere exegesis and turned it into a general humanistic discipline.[8] Schleiermacher wondered whether there could be a hermeneutics that was not a collection of pieces of ad hoc advice for the solution of specific problems with text interpretation but rather a "general hermeneutics," which dealt with the "art of understanding" as such, which pertained to the structure and function of understanding wherever it occurs. Later in the 19th century, Dilthey began to see possibilities for continuing Schleiermacher's general hermeneutics project as a "general methodology of the humanities and social sciences".[9]

In the 20th century, hermeneutics took an 'ontological turn'. Martin Heidegger's Being and Time fundamentally transformed the discipline. No longer was it conceived of as being about understanding linguistic communication, or providing a methodological basis for the human sciences - as far as Heidegger was concerned, hermeneutics is ontology, dealing with the most fundamental conditions of man's being in the world.[10] The Heideggerian conception of hermeneutics was further developed by Heidegger's pupil Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900–2002), in his book Truth and Method.

Frankfurt School

Jürgen Habermas

In 1923, Carl Grünberg founded the Institute for Social Research, drawing from Marxism, Freud's psychoanalysis and Weberian philosophy, which came to be known as the "Frankfurt School". Expelled by the Nazis, the school reformed again in Frankfurt after World War II. Although they drew from Marxism, they were outspoken opponents of Stalinism. Books from the group, like Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment and Adorno’s Negative Dialectics, critiqued what they saw as the failure of the Enlightenment project and the problems of modernity. Postmodernists consider the Frankfurt school to be one of their precursors.

Since the 1960s the Frankfurt School has been guided by Jürgen Habermas' (born 1929) work on communicative reason,[11][12] linguistic intersubjectivity and what Habermas calls "the philosophical discourse of modernity".[13]

See also


  1. ^ Lowith, Karl. From Hegel to Nietzsche, 1991, p. 370-375.
  2. ^ Pinkard, Terry P. German philosophy, 1760-1860: the legacy of idealism, 2002, ch. 13.
  3. ^ Stewart, Jon B. Kierkegaard and his German contemporaries, 2007
  4. ^ Kenny, Anthony. Oxford Illustrated History of Western Philosophy, 2001, p.220-224.
  5. ^ Rutherford (1998) is a detailed scholarly study of Leibniz's theodicy.
  6. ^ The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 2, Ch. 48 (Dover page 616), "The ascetic tendency is certainly unmistakable in genuine and original Christianity, as it was developed in the writings of the Church Fathers from the kernel of the New Testament; this tendency is the highest point to which everything strives upwards."
  7. ^ "Foundationalism and Hermeneutics". Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2010-09-10.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2010-09-10.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Mantzavinos, C. (22 June 2016). Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. Retrieved 22 March 2018 – via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  11. ^ Habermas, Jürgen. (1987). The Theory of Communicative Action. Third Edition, Vols. 1 & 2, Beacon Press.
  12. ^ Habermas, Jürgen. (1990). Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, MIT Press.
  13. ^ Habermas, Jürgen. (1987). The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. MIT Press.

External links

Andrew Bowie

Andrew S. Bowie (born 1952) is Professor of Philosophy and German at Royal Holloway, University of London and Founding Director of the Humanities and Arts Research Centre (HARC).He has worked to promote a better understanding of German philosophy in the Anglophone analytical tradition - including the works of Johann Georg Hamann, Johann Gottfried von Herder, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg), Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Theodor W. Adorno, Jürgen Habermas, Albrecht Wellmer and Manfred Frank.

Frank and Habermas have spoken highly of his work in this area - with Habermas calling his work "masterly" and Frank calling him an "exceptional scholar", whose work represents "the most knowledgeable presentation in English of the history of the German contribution to so-called continental philosophy". The philosopher Charles Taylor has described his work on music as "excellent and densely argued".He has translated the works of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling and Friedrich Schleiermacher. His recent work has focused on music and philosophy, and Adorno on the nature of philosophy. In addition to his philosophical work on music, he is a keen jazz saxophonist and has played with leading contemporary jazz musicians such as

Al Casey and Humphrey Lyttelton.He did his doctoral research on "History and the Novel" (1980) at the University of East Anglia, where he was taught by the renowned German writer and scholar W. G. Sebald (who later cited Bowie's work on Alexander Kluge in his Campo Santo). He studied German philosophy at the Free University of Berlin. He was Professor of Philosophy at Anglia Ruskin University until 1999. He was also Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow at the Philosophy department of Tübingen University. He is on the Advisory Council for the Institute of Philosophy.

His elder brother, Angus, is a classicist.

Classical Marxism

Classical Marxism refers to the economic, philosophical and sociological theories expounded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as contrasted with later developments in Marxism, especially Leninism and Marxism–Leninism.

Common sense

Common sense is sound practical judgment concerning everyday matters, or a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge that is shared by ("common to") nearly all people. The first type of common sense, good sense, can be described as "the knack for seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done." The second type is sometimes described as folk wisdom, "signifying unreflective knowledge not reliant on specialized training or deliberative thought." The two types are intertwined, as the person who has common sense is in touch with common-sense ideas, which emerge from the lived experiences of those commonsensical enough to perceive them.In a psychology context, Smedslund defines common sense as "the system of implications shared by the competent users of a language" and notes, "A proposition in a given context belongs to common sense if and only if all competent users of the language involved agree that the proposition in the given context is true and that its negation is false."The everyday understanding of common sense derives from historical philosophical discussion involving several European languages. Related terms in other languages include Latin sensus communis, Greek αἴσθησις κοινὴ (aísthēsis koinḕ), and French bon sens, but these are not straightforward translations in all contexts. Similarly in English, there are different shades of meaning, implying more or less education and wisdom: "good sense" is sometimes seen as equivalent to "common sense", and sometimes not.

"Common sense" also has at least two specifically philosophical meanings. One is a capability of the animal soul (ψῡχή, psūkhḗ) proposed by Aristotle, which enables different individual senses to collectively perceive the characteristics of physical things such as movement and size, which all physical things have in different combinations, allowing people and other animals to distinguish and identify physical things. This common sense is distinct from basic sensory perception and from human rational thinking, but cooperates with both.

The second special use of the term is Roman-influenced and is used for the natural human sensitivity for other humans and the community. Just like the everyday meaning, both of these refer to a type of basic awareness and ability to judge that most people are expected to share naturally, even if they cannot explain why.

All these meanings of "common sense", including the everyday ones, are interconnected in a complex history and have evolved during important political and philosophical debates in modern Western civilisation, notably concerning science, politics and economics. The interplay between the meanings has come to be particularly notable in English, as opposed to other western European languages, and the English term has become international.Since the Age of Enlightenment the term "common sense" has frequently been used for rhetorical effect, sometimes pejorative, and sometimes appealed to positively, as an authority. It can be negatively equated to vulgar prejudice and superstition, it is often positively contrasted to them as a standard for good taste and as the source of the most basic axioms needed for science and logic. It was at the beginning of the eighteenth century that this old philosophical term first acquired its modern English meaning: "Those plain, self-evident truths or conventional wisdom that one needed no sophistication to grasp and no proof to accept precisely because they accorded so well with the basic (common sense) intellectual capacities and experiences of the whole social body"

This began with Descartes' criticism of it, and what came to be known as the dispute between "rationalism" and "empiricism". In the opening line of one of his most famous books, Discourse on Method, Descartes established the most common modern meaning, and its controversies, when he stated that everyone has a similar and sufficient amount of common sense (bon sens), but it is rarely used well. Therefore, a skeptical logical method described by Descartes needs to be followed and common sense should not be overly relied upon. In the ensuing 18th century Enlightenment, common sense came to be seen more positively as the basis for modern thinking. It was contrasted to metaphysics, which was, like Cartesianism, associated with the Ancien Régime. Thomas Paine's polemical pamphlet Common Sense (1776) has been described as the most influential political pamphlet of the 18th century, affecting both the American and French revolutions. Today, the concept of common sense, and how it should best be used, remains linked to many of the most perennial topics in epistemology and ethics, with special focus often directed at the philosophy of the modern social sciences.

Communicative action

In sociology, communicative action is cooperative action undertaken by individuals based upon mutual deliberation and argumentation. The term was developed by German philosopher-sociologist Jürgen Habermas in his work The Theory of Communicative Action.


Dasein (German pronunciation: [ˈdaːzaɪn]) is a German word that means "being there" or "presence" (German: da "there"; sein "being"), and is often translated into English with the word "existence". It is a fundamental concept in the existential philosophy of Martin Heidegger, particularly in his magnum opus Being and Time. Heidegger uses the expression Dasein to refer to the experience of being that is peculiar to human beings. Thus it is a form of being that is aware of and must confront such issues as personhood, mortality and the dilemma or paradox of living in relationship with other humans while being ultimately alone with oneself.

Frederick C. Beiser

Frederick Charles Beiser (; born November 27, 1949) is an American philosopher who is professor of philosophy at Syracuse University. He is one of the leading English-language scholars of German idealism. In addition to his writings on German idealism, Beiser has also written on the German Romantics and 19th-century British philosophy. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship for his research in 1994, and was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2015.


Geist (German pronunciation: [ˈɡaɪst]) is a German noun with a degree of importance in German philosophy. Its semantic field corresponds to English ghost, spirit, mind, intellect. Some English translators resort to using "spirit/mind" or "spirit (mind)" to help convey the meaning of the term.Geist is also a central concept in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's 1807 The Phenomenology of Spirit (Phänomenologie des Geistes). Notable compounds, all associated with Hegel's view of world history of the late 18th century, include Weltgeist "world-spirit", Volksgeist "national spirit" and Zeitgeist "spirit of the age".

German Romanticism

German Romanticism was the dominant intellectual movement of German-speaking countries in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, influencing philosophy, aesthetics, literature and criticism. Compared to English Romanticism, the German variety developed relatively late, and, in the early years, coincided with Weimar Classicism (1772–1805). In contrast to the seriousness of English Romanticism, the German variety of Romanticism notably valued wit, humour, and beauty.

The early period, roughly 1797 to 1802, is referred to as Frühromantik or Jena Romanticism. The philosophers and writers central to the movement were Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder (1773–1798), Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775–1854), Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel (1772–1829), August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767–1845), Ludwig Tieck (1773–1853), and Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis) (1772–1801).The early German romantics strove to create a new synthesis of art, philosophy, and science, by viewing the Middle Ages as a simpler period of integrated culture; however, the German romantics became aware of the tenuousness of the cultural unity they sought. Late-stage German Romanticism emphasized the tension between the daily world and the irrational and supernatural projections of creative genius. In particular, the critic Heinrich Heine criticized the tendency of the early German romantics to look to the medieval past for a model of unity in art and society.

German idealism

German idealism (also known as post-Kantian idealism, post-Kantian philosophy, or simply post-Kantianism) was a philosophical movement that emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It began as a reaction to Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. German idealism was closely linked with both Romanticism and the revolutionary politics of the Enlightenment.

The most notable thinkers in the movement were Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and the proponents of Jena Romanticism (Friedrich Hölderlin, Novalis, and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel). Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Gottlob Ernst Schulze, Karl Leonhard Reinhold, Salomon Maimon and Friedrich Schleiermacher also made major contributions.


Historism is a philosophical and historiographical theory, founded in 19th-century Germany (as Historismus) and especially influential in 19th- and 20th-century Europe. In those times there was not a single natural, humanitarian or philosophical science that would not reflect, in one way or another, the historical type of thought (cf. comparative historical linguistics etc.). It pronounces the historicity of humanity and its binding to tradition.

Historist historiography rejects historical teleology and bases its explanations of historical phenomena on sympathy and understanding (see Hermeneutics) for the events, acting persons, and historical periods. The historist approach takes to its extreme limits the common observation that human institutions (language, Art, religion, law, State) are subject to perpetual change.Historism is not to be confused with historicism, nevertheless the English habits of using both words are very similar. (The term historism is sometimes reserved to identify the specific current called Historismus in the tradition of German philosophy and historiography.)

James F. Conant

James Ferguson Conant (born June 10, 1958) is an American philosopher who has written extensively on topics in philosophy of language, ethics, and metaphilosophy. He is perhaps best known for his writings on Wittgenstein, and his association with the New Wittgenstein school of Wittgenstein interpretation initiated by Cora Diamond. He is currently Chester D. Tripp Professor of Humanities, Professor of Philosophy, and Professor in the College at the University of Chicago, he is Humboldt Professor of Philosophy and co-director of the Center for Analytic German Idealism (FAGI) at the University of Leipzig. He is also Director of the Center for German Philosophy at the University of Chicago. Under his leadership, these two research centers form the main axis of an international philosophical network, spanning Germany, Israel and the United States.


Lebensphilosophie (German: [ˈleːbn̩s.filozoˌfiː], "philosophy of life") is a philosophical school of thought which emphasises the meaning, value and purpose of life as the foremost focus of philosophy.


Lifeworld (German: Lebenswelt) may be conceived as a universe of what is self-evident or given, a world that subjects may experience together. For Edmund Husserl, the lifeworld is the fundamental for all epistemological enquiries. The concept has its origin in biology and cultural Protestantism.The lifeworld concept is used in philosophy and in some social sciences, particularly sociology and anthropology. The concept emphasizes a state of affairs in which the world is experienced, the world is lived (German erlebt). The lifeworld is a pre-epistemological stepping stone for phenomenological analysis in the Husserlian tradition.

Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy

Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (German: Ludwig Feuerbach und der Ausgang der klassischen deutschen Philosophie) is a book published by Friedrich Engels in 1886.

According to Engels, the seed for this book was planted 40 years before, in The German Ideology written by Marx and Engels, but unpublished in their lifetime. The undertaking is performed to deal critically with German philosophy from a dialectical materialist position. Here Engels emphasized the importance of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach for their own theories.

Hegel's idealist, conservative system must be distinguished from his materialist, revolutionary method of dialectics. Feuerbach had turned to law against Hegel's idealistic system and "the fundamental question of philosophy": the relation of thinking and being. But Feuerbach rejected Hegel's dialectical method, which is why his view of man and nature remained abstract and unhistorical. Marx only kept the "rational" content from the dialectical method and freed it from their idealistic form.

Sturm und Drang

Sturm und Drang (German pronunciation: [ˈʃtʊɐ̯m ʊnt ˈdʁaŋ], literally "storm and drive", though usually translated as "storm and stress") was a proto-Romantic movement in German literature and music that occurred between the late 1760s and early 1780s. Within the movement, individual subjectivity and, in particular, extremes of emotion were given free expression in reaction to the perceived constraints of rationalism imposed by the Enlightenment and associated aesthetic movements. The period is named for Friedrich Maximilian Klinger's play of the same name, which was first performed by Abel Seyler's famed theatrical company in 1777.

The philosopher Johann Georg Hamann is considered to be the ideologue of Sturm und Drang; other significant figures were Johann Anton Leisewitz, Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz, H. L. Wagner, and Friedrich Maximilian Klinger. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller were notable proponents of the movement early in their life, although they ended their period of association with it by initiating what would become Weimar Classicism.

Sublime (philosophy)

In aesthetics, the sublime (from the Latin sublīmis) is the quality of greatness, whether physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual, or artistic. The term especially refers to a greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement, or imitation.


Vergangenheitsbewältigung (German: [fɛɐ̯ˈɡaŋənhaɪtsbəˌvɛltɪɡʊŋ], "struggle to overcome the [negatives of the] past" or “working through the past”) is a German term describing processes that since the later 20th century have become key in the study of post-1945 German literature, society, and culture.

The German Duden lexicon defines Vergangenheitsbewältigung as "public debate within a country on a problematic period of its recent history—in Germany on National Socialism, in particular"—where "problematic" refers to traumatic events that raise sensitive questions of collective culpability. In Germany, and originally, the term refers to embarrassment about and often remorse for Germans' complicity in the war crimes of the Wehrmacht, Holocaust, and related events of the early and mid-20th century, including World War II. In this sense, the word can refer to the psychic process of denazification. With the absorption into the current Federal Republic of Germany of East Germany since 1990 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Vergangenheitsbewältigung can also refer to coming to terms with the excesses and human rights abuses associated with that former Communist state.


Verstehen (German pronunciation: [fɛɐˈʃteːən], literally: "to understand"), in the context of German philosophy and social sciences in general, has been used since the late 19th century – in English as in German – with the particular sense of the "interpretive or participatory" examination of social phenomena. The term is closely associated with the work of the German sociologist, Max Weber, whose antipositivism established an alternative to prior sociological positivism and economic determinism, rooted in the analysis of social action. In anthropology, Verstehen has come to mean a systematic interpretive process in which an outside observer of a culture attempts to relate to it and understand others.

Verstehen is now seen as a concept and a method central to a rejection of positivistic social science (although Weber appeared to think that the two could be united). Verstehen refers to understanding the meaning of action from the actor's point of view. It is entering into the shoes of the other, and adopting this research stance requires treating the actor as a subject, rather than an object of your observations. It also implies that unlike objects in the natural world human actors are not simply the product of the pulls and pushes of external forces. Individuals are seen to create the world by organizing their own understanding of it and giving it meaning. To do research on actors without taking into account the meanings they attribute to their actions or environment is to treat them like objects.


The Zeitgeist (, German pronunciation Zeitgeist ) is a concept from 18th- to 19th-century German philosophy, translated as "spirit of the age" or "spirit of the times". It refers to an invisible agent or force dominating the characteristics of a given epoch in world history.The term is now mostly associated with Hegel, contrasting with Hegel's use of Volksgeist "national spirit" and Weltgeist "world-spirit",

but its coinage and popularization precedes Hegel, and is mostly due to Herder and Goethe. Other philosophers who were associated with such ideas include Spencer and Voltaire.Contemporary use of the term may, more pragmatically, refer to a schema of fashions or fads which prescribes what is considered to be acceptable or tasteful for an era, e.g. in the field of architecture.

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