Goethe and Hegel discuss Hamann at a tea party

On October 18, 1827, Goethe gave a tea party in honor of the philosopher Hegel, who had come to Weimar to visit him. Although each of the men genuinely respected the achievements of the other, we know from a first-hand report of the discussion that the radical difference in their basic philosophical positions emerged in sharp outline in the course of the dialogue. The poet’s deep distrust of abstract reasoning and the philosopher’s uncompromising commitment to such reasoning scarcely provided the basis for any real congeniality. Indeed, the only subject on which they discoursed with obvious mutual pleasure was that of the life and work of Johann Georg Hamann. “A great deal was said about Hamann,” reports Eckerman, “with respect to whom Hegel was chief spokesman, displaying a deep insight into this extraordinary mind, such as could only have arisen from a most earnest and scrupulous study of the subject.” In this part of the discussion Goethe played the role of willing listener, for in general he respected Hegel’s ability as a critic; in the latter part, however, Goethe launched upon a polite but nevertheless barbed attack on “dialectics,” an attack which Hegel accepted in good spirit, no doubt out of respect for his venerable host. The truth is that both Goethe and Hegel had important connections with Hamann; the former had been considerably influenced by the Magus in his youth through the mediation of Johann Gottfried Herder, and the latter was just then preparing to publish an exhaustive and brilliant review of Hamann’s collected works, a review which appeared the following year.

James C. O’Flaherty, Hamann’s Socratic Memorabilia: A Translation and Commentary (Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1967), pp. 17-18.


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