The Magus in New York

Johann Georg Hamann

Johann George Hamann, “the Magus of the North”, was a minor civil servant working in tax administration, a Lutheran pietist, prolific lettrist, and polyglot. He is best known for his short, rhapsodic, densely allusive and often pseudonymous dispatches – on everything from erotic love to the importance of the letter ‘h’ – and for his influence on later figures such as Herder, Goethe, and Kierkegaard.

Lisa Marie Anderson (who translated Hegel’s essay on Hamann) organised an international conference, Hamann and the Tradition, which took place in March at Hunter College, New York:

Recent years have witnessed a resurgence of scholarly interest in the work of Johann Georg Hamann, an interest which is spreading among scholars of world literature, European history, philosophy, theology, and religious studies. New translations of work by and about Hamann are appearing, as are a number of books and articles on Hamann’s aesthetics, theories of language and sexuality, and unique place in Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment thought. As such, the time has come to reexamine, in light of recent work, the legacy of Hamann’s writings, which have influenced such diverse thinkers as J.G. von Herder, F.H. Jacobi, J.W. von Goethe, G.W.F. Hegel, Søren Kierkegaard, and Walter Benjamin, to name only an obvious few.

Hamann, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein on the language of philosophers

I gave a paper looking at some of Hamann’s allegations regarding how philosophers misuse and misunderstand language. It also examined how his work anticipates later claims to this effect – in particular those made by Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. The slides are available at:

I am very grateful to the Conference of University Teachers of German in Great Britain and Ireland (CUTG) who awarded me a Postgraduate Travelling Scholarship to attend the conference.

Conference notes

Following are some partial, impressionistic notes from the conference. If you spot anything that you think should be amended, please get in touch! Full papers will be published in forthcoming conference proceedings.

John Betz

John Betz, Reading Sibylline Leaves: Hamann in the History of Ideas

  • After introductions from Lisa Marie Anderson and Saul Fisher the first talk was from John Betz, Assistant Professor of Theology, Loyola College, whose book on Hamann After Enlightenment: Hamann as Post-Secular Visionary was published last year.
  • His paper looked at the reception and influence of Hamann’s work in the history of ideas.
  • He alluded to Kierkegaard’s comment that Hamann was the “greatest humourist in Christendom” and discussed his influence on Hegel and Schelling – and his reception in the English speaking world via James O’Flaherty and Isaiah Berlin.
  • He asked why Hamann is still relatively obscure, despite his huge influence on 19th century thinkers – and posited that the most obvious explanation is the difficulty of his style.
  • Lessing: “I would not presume to understand Hamann in all respects”. If it was difficult for his contemporaries and immediate predecessors to understand him – it is much more difficult now, and this difficulty will only grow with time.
  • In reaction to what he saw as an overblown confidence in reason – Hamann emphasised fallenness, and strove to expose the blind spots and dogmas of modern rationalism. He saw the German enlightenment of his day as a ‘cheap’ enlightenment.
  • Early reviews of Hamann said that he was dark and impenetrable – that his allusions hung on his prose like ornaments. Hamann anonymously endorsed the ‘Hamburg review’, calling himself ‘dark, unintelligible, and deranged’.
  • Hamann confessed to Herder that he was addicted to his cryptic style. But was he a bad writer? He was perfectly capable of limpid prose. Scattered throughout writings are succinct jewels.
  • The next generation pored over them as oracles, worried for loss of his corpus. Hamann’s writings are powerful and strangely beautiful communications. Jean Paul said they were like ‘suns in patches of nebula’.
  • Goethe admired Hamann’s novelty in this regard: the totality of his style.
  • Light in darkness of Hamann’s style: the self understanding of a Christian author. Johannine light that shines in the darkness. Defies rational comprehension. Contains wisdom and power of God. His style is informed by his conversion. The form is Christological. Hamann is concentrated in a single word.
  • So how did he make his way into the history of philosophy? This was delayed, mediated by Herder and Jacobi.
  • Hamann introduced Kant to Hume and was an important influence on the critical turn of Kant’s philosophy. Questioned Kant’s critical philosophy. Emphasised that reason is product of tradition. Kant’s supposedly neutral critique is employed in service of prior political agenda.
  • In some respects he anticipates Nietzsche.
  • It is through Herder that Hamann reaches philosophy. Herder’s own Metacritique.
  • Jacobi and Hamann: represent two very different strands – like Hegel and Kierkegaard.
  • Hamann left a deep impression on Schelling. Schelling’s exploration of ‘relationship of plastic arts to nature’. Thanks Jabobi in a footnote for introducing him to Hamann. Urges him to publish an edition of Hamann’s writings. Schelling’s discovery of Hamann’s thought. Creation and revelation. Emphasis on passions – against Stoic tendency to denigrate them.
  • Difference between Hamann and Fichte in their views of nature.
  • The most important insight that Schelling picks up from Hamann: profound revelation. God who exceeds reason’s grasp.
  • The long awaited first edition. 1828 – Hegel’s two part review. Translation by Lisa Marie Anderson.
  • Lutheran faith. Theology based in feeling.
  • Hegel’s opinion of Hamann is mixed. He admires him calling him ‘an original’ but criticised him for failing to develop his ideas into genuine system. Hamann’s work could only result in humour: self-satisfaction, subjectivity, triviality.
  • Hegel fails to appreciate that Hamann’s prose is not self-centred. His writings are carefully crafted mirrors of introspection crafted for particular readers he has in mind.
  • Hamann is utterly relevant to Hegel’s philosophy. But Hegel doesn’t mention Hamann’s work on the history/genealogy of reason. Or the kinosis of the divine logos.
  • Hamann stands in background of whole of German idealism.
  • Kierkegaard was the most important interpreter of Hamann after Hegel. Keenly appreciated that Hamann’s work was grounded in Christianity – and Hamann’s sense of humour.
  • Examples of Hamann’s humour. His pseudonyms – e.g. ‘lover of boredom’. Anonymously reviewing his own pseudonymous works. Suggested the name ‘bathhouse quackeries’ for his collected works. Suggested the name ‘first little tub’ for the first volume.
  • For Kierkegaard the Christian world view is essentially humorous. Liked Hamann’s naturally humorous sensibility, his appreciation of genius, and so on. Said that Hamann was ‘the greatest humorist in the world’.
  • Later Kierkegaard turns away from this view – detecting a noble pride behind folly. He was troubled by Hamann’s humour. Why? Hamann seeks truth in the world, in the sensible, in the sinful. Kierkegaard thinks Hamann goes too far – indulging irony to the extent of blasphemy.
  • However one judges Hamann – his importance should be clear. He was by no means an irrationalist. The great luminaries of the age found him alluring.
  • What was content of message? It is impossible to reduce his work to any one particular thought.
  • To Kant he introduced Hume. To Herder and Hegel he indicated reason’s historical and linguistic basis. For Goethe he pointed towards a German literature away from French literature. To Jacobi he points beyond nihilism. To Hegel and Schelling he pointed to new and grander possibilities of philosophy. To Kierkegaard he gave pseudonymous authorship, the notion of indirect communication and the infinite difference between the human and the divine.


  • Did Hamann craft his style? For Hamann writing was like digestion. He used all his senses. Laborious and experimental. Deep silence some days, then burst out. We know about how he developed his writings as there are several versions of things he has written. He was a big letter writer. Not so much lyrical outpourings as very carefully crafted pieces.
  • Question about the general project of drawing parallels between Hamann and other thinkers. Apart from small mentions here and there, how far can we get in playing this kind of game? If we identify themes – we have something. Identify themes in Hamann, regardless of the extent to which people allude to him. At a certain level this remains very general – and must remain so. Subterranean. Hamann was like a dark centre of gravity – attracting other things, but remaining unseen. He was like a black hole – a powerful but invisible field.
  • But when it comes to textual connections, do we get citations of Hamann? Gwen Griffith Dickson: following on from that, he did all these pseudonymous writings. Readers are affected and internalise insights in Hamann. Not so much that there are concrete chunks you can lift out. Makes harder to cite quotations. Point taken but would argue that influence was much more internalised than fragments that can be quoted.
  • Hence, how far can we go vis a vis intellectual history? Another form of German philosophy. Sense of humour. Against big system builders.
  • How would you recover Hamann’s response to reconstructions? E.g. Jacobi/Kierkegaard. Logical extension of reason is nihilism. Ultimately concerned with faith, with heart. Not about a big system. More Socratic.
  • What is reason for Hamann? What is faith for Hamann? Light of revelation appropriated. So basically classic.
  • Hamann affecting Goethe’s theory of nature? Hamann certainly has notion of recovery of nature. Hamann is no Spinozist – and Goethe is a professed Spinozist. Possible influence through Princess Gallitzin – who Goethe knew.

Gwen Griffith Dickson, God, I & Thou: Hamann and the Personalist Tradition

  • Next talk from Gwen Griffith Dickson, author of Johann Georg Hamann’s Relational Metacriticism, Director at Lokahi Foundation, Visiting Professor at King’s College London and Emeritus Gresham Professor of Divinity.
  • Gwen specialises in philosophies and theologies of different faiths. Wonderful thing to have Hamann conference in US.
  • Core of the thesis in a few sentences, which will be expanded. Like speed dating, if you don’t fancy it you can nod off.
  • Hamann’s picture of the human being. Human beings are fundamentally related to others (humans and god). Part of a fundamental ontology. Relational ontology – from sexuality to textuality. Above all seen in phenomenon of language.
  • These particular ideas about language come into their own in 20th century. First part of talk will be about Hamann and the second part about other thinkers.
  • Approach to understanding human person. Language and the divine. Relationships and relatedness are fundamental features of our being. We are created for and by our relationships.
  • Area treated by philosophers. Self-knowledge. In order to make easier knowledge of own self – my own self is reflected in every neighbour. God and my neighbour are part of self knowledge/self love.
  • Socrates via St. Paul. Self knowledge comes from being known by another. Divine other – being known by god is ground of self knowledge.
  • Sibyl. Self knowledge only came through love, sexual knowledge, knowledge of another. Principle remains: self knowledge through other
  • Socratic Memorabilia: midwife/sculptor. Aesthetica in Nuce: self knowledge through tradition. Revelation and tradition.
  • Hamann: human nature consists of gaps and lacks. Gaps and lacks demonstrate inter-dependence. Relates us to nature and one another.
  • Flurry of metaphors – knowledge as promiscuity. Truth defending herself against highwaymen.
  • Knowledge less epistemological mechanics than ethics. Principal vocation of epistemic nature. Encounter with Hume.
  • Pure idealism to separate feeling from thinking. Companionship. Things without relations, relations without things.
  • Testimony of sense convinces neither rationalist nor sceptic. Knowledge/faith rest on foundation of trust, not indubitability. Both are perpetually provisional and contain contradictions. Our knowledge is piecemeal. Through reason skepsis itself becomes dogma.
  • Language is not a system of universal signs, but images. Images – later formal abstraction. To trade in abstraction is to deal a death blow to true language.
  • Hamann introduces critical aspect – against Herder’s close association of language and instinct.
  • Relation of language to thought and reason. Language and philosophy are grounded in tradition – community in its temporal aspect. Relationship with nature and relationship with author of nature. Easy exchange between human and divine. Reasoning relates us to God.
  • God, relation and reason = light, eye, what the eye sees = text, author, reader.
  • Unbridgeable chasm between us and god is replaced with easy intimacy. Because of God’s grace and compassion.
  • Language arises on God’s side to address his children and on human side to understand God’s address. To facilitate relationship.
  • Fast forward to personalists, philosophers of encounter: Martin Buber, Ferdinand Ebner, Franz Rosenzweig, …
  • Salient features: human person cannot be viewed in isolation, being is constituted by relationships.
  • Buber in I & Thou. Entering relations with other persons. Rejection of essence or substance as philosophical categories. ‘In the beginning is relation’.
  • Rosenzweig. Only scholastic reason divides itself – contradicts its unity.
  • Opened his mouth: became human being. In and through language that we are human. ‘I speak therefore I am’ or ‘I am spoken to therefore I become’.
  • Theological significance. Mere existence of human other reveals existence of divine other. From experience of meeting another.
  • All these thinkers confess a powerful dependence on Hamann. Hamann’s reaction to these thinkers may be like his reaction to Herder and Jacobi. They absorb something but also miss something.
  • Anecdote of Picasso and Braque hanging a picture and asking: do her armpits smell? In Ebner there are no smelly armpits whereas in Hamann there are lots. Better stop the metaphor.
  • Relationship with divine is constituted in language.

Lori Yamato, Hamann’s Fables of Dismemberment

  • Fables of dismemberment. Role of the fable in the 18th century.
  • Enigmatic contribution. Hamann’s comments on fables are indirect contributions to direct comments. Protests categorisation of fable.
  • Lessing takes up legend of Tarquinius. He looks at action, not narrative.
  • Hamann is also very keen on legend. Brings back literary aspect of fable – rather than using it as an illustration. Features in Aesthetica in nuce.
  • Book on the way crusaders constructed labyrinths.
  • Story without set moral – allowable for any usage. Symbolic story that admits interpretation – moral – but also an enigma. Story in its brevity. Acts in similar manner to Nuce. Little piece that is supposed to sprout.
  • Playfulness – beheading flowers and the decapitation of citizens.
  • ‘[The rhapsodist] has with the petit-maîtres and sophmores of his time written ******** and ——— obelisks and asterisks.’
  • Footnoting and marginalia gets dragged out into page. Distinction between obelisks and asterisks is not so important? Dashes, obelisks, asterisks are cuts, daggers and stitches.
  • Disjecti membra poetae has become a common phrase. In Horace, Satires, I.iv.56-62. Come to mean ‘scattered fragments’, but Hamann re-introduces a macabre connotation.

Kamaal Haque, Hamann, Goethe and the West-östlicher Divan

  • Kamaal is Visiting Assistant Professor at Dickinson College.
  • Goethe’s admiration for Hamann. Notion of unity.
  • Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan. Collection of poems.
  • End of Hamann’s Cloverleaf of Hellenistic Letters. Misri Effendi and the Mufti. Misri was accused of secretly harbouring Christian thoughts.
  • Aesthetica in Nuce – “by making pilgrimages to Arabia ..”
  • Henkel on Goethe and Hamann.
  • Superiority of Ancient East to Classical West. Greece is relegated to forming sculpture. Eastern poet can create poems out of water, dynamic poetry.
  • In part an attack on Michaelis. Arbitrary convention of human language. Hamann and Herder on language.
  • In a 1823 essay Goethe states: ‘motifs, legend, ancient stories, impressed upon me that I kept them in my mind’. Aesthetica in Nuce is one of those works that he kept in his mind.

Katie Terezakis, Is Theology Possible After Hamann?

  • Katie is Assistant Professor at Rochester Institute of Technology and author of Immanent Word: The Turn to Language in German Philosophy, 1759-1801.
  • If theology is writing about God, then Hamann is writing about theology. Hamann denies that he is doing theology – which he says is hubris. If Hamann says his work is not theological – can his work be appropriated by theology?
  • Characteristic of Hamann to take theological notions seriously as a point of departure for epistemology.
  • Self-limitation. We can say nothing about what motivates or exists before self-limitation.
  • How can our claims to knowledge be established? Hamann challenges the ground of any theory of knowledge.
  • Hegel’s system attempts to integrate Hamann’s metacritical position.
  • The possibility of theology.
  • Kant inappropriately flushes out contingencies from reason.
  • Language is shared root of sensibility and intuition. Language’s credentials are tradition and usage.
  • Turn to language is the distinguishing theme of Hamannian authorship.
  • Primacy of language. Any attempt to transcend linguistic traditions can only revert back to these traditions. Any formal system attempting to act as a metalanguage will fail.
  • Hamann not only rejects theology, but says all God talk is just talk. We will find with certainty only a reflection of ourselves. We can’t know from what being has been translated to appear to us as it does.
  • Three different types of theology: traditional theology, negative theology, radical orthodoxy. Not making claim that these are exhaustive, nor chosing them just because they allude to Hamann.
  • Radical orthodoxy – John Milbank, very detailed reading. Interest in Hamann stems from his critique of philosophy. Dualism of reason and revelation.
  • Linguisticality of reason, existence before essence. Looks as though assimilated within philosophical tradition.
  • Hamann tackles dependence of his thought on language.
  • One does need faith to eat an egg.
  • Cognitive instinct.
  • Analogy and regulative positing.
  • Hamann has difficulty with Kant’s claims of certainty for moral law.
  • When metaphors do their work, they achieve condescension. Multitude of meanings condensed into single image.
  • Language is root between beings and being.
  • Hamann’s sensuousness, tradition, desire.
  • Milbank rejects Hamann’s notion of the regulative based on his own theological conservatism.
  • Hamann learns, following Hume, that one can never know absent things or connection between things.
  • Nihilism is result of independent secular reason reserving a space apart from God. Grounding disciplines on nothing. Transcendental categories are illusion thrown up by the void. In Hamann there is no void – hence no need for defensive posturing against nihilism. Milbank repeats cliche about Ding-an-Sich.
  • Hamann read Kant more carefully. Regulative as act of human freedom.
  • Though Hamann ruthlessly challenges Kant’s certainty, and argues for linguistic bases of reasoning. Deepens thrust of critical project.
  • Radical Orthodoxy urges us not to reserve space outside of theology.
  • Mediating participatory sphere – led by knowers, elite class of mediators.
  • Milbank on radical orthodoxy: “a project made possible by the self conscious superficiality of today’s secularism”. He says the “nihilistic drift of postmodernism is unprecendented opportunity”. But far from being radical it is reactionary and ultraconservative.
  • If Hamann candidly rejects theology – how can we explain his allusion to the theological? Revelation happens in and through tradition and language. Brash humility and demanding epistemic constraint.

Oswald Bayer, God as Author: The Theological Foundation of Hamann’s Autorpoetik

  • Dr. Oswald Bayer is Professor of Systematic Theology & Philosophy of Religion, Universität Tübingen, author of Vernunft ist Sprache: Hamanns Metakritik Kants, and co-editor of a book of Hamann’s Londoner Schriften.
  • What is it in Homer that makes up for ignorance of Aristotle? Or Shakespeare’s transgression of critical laws? Genius!
  • Forerunner of romanticism and Strum und Drang.
  • Freedom of genius is creative genius. Structured genius.
  • Authorial poetics is theologically grounded.
  • God himself is an author!
  • Learning by suffering. Genius is a crown of thorns.
  • Compelled to name the animals – contradiction to Platonic idea of preformed.
  • Hamann was acquainted with notion of mimesis.
  • Hamann expresses his authorship in three classic passages.
  • Aesthetica: analogy of human being with creator… divine seal, that we are his offspring.
  • Philological Ideas and Doubts: political animal – human stands in relation to animals like prince to subjects
  • Aside: ‘This theology is given to me. It is a sign of the divine. It is given. This passivity.’
  • Misuse of language and its natural testimony is perjury.
  • Authorial poetics.
  • Kierkegaard’s concept of indirect communication. Continuity that obtains within.
  • Hamann expreses importance of self knowledge from early writings and continues to do so throughout his authorship.
  • Deep fountain of truth that resides in the spirit.
  • ‘Speak that I may see you’
  • Authorial poetics of human beings. Authorship of God himself.
  • Analogy of human and divine: invisibility of man and God only becomes visible in the world.
  • Only communicated in speaking and writing in space and time.
  • Human life seems to consist in a series of symbolical actions …
  • Sturm und Drang could see this as a manifesto.
  • Faculty of judgement arising from the head and the heart.
  • Hamann’s unique concept of style in way he understands style of God himself.
  • God’s style remains for Hamann the only style, and God the only truly original author.
  • Authorial poetics – recognises it in gratitude and not embarrassment.
  • Brides from virgins, authors from readers.
  • Idea of reader is author’s muse.
  • Could Hamann could be described as a postmodern thinker? Though on face of it is an anachronism. Masks, collage, allusion – alienating effect.
  • On the one hand Hamann ensures distance between author and reader. Also avoids either/or with respect to authorship.
  • One would also have to point out embodiment, senses, incorporality.
  • Hamann’s Metacritique of modernity. Nachprüfung – re-examination. Also pre-modern. Hamann is both author and reviewer, both creative writer and art critic.

Kenneth Haynes, Tradition and Testimony in Hamann

  • Kenneth Haynes is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Classics at Brown University and editor of Hamann: Writings on Philosophy and Language on Cambridge University Press.
  • Kierkegaard quote about ‘poor Hamann’: “With all his life and soul, to the last drop of blood, he is concentrated in a single word, the passionate protest of a highly gifted genius against an existential system. But the System is hospitable; poor Hamann, you have been reduced to a paragraph by Michelet. Whether any monument has ever marked your grave, I do not know; whether it is now trodden under foot, I do not know; but this I know, that you have been with satanic might and main forced into the paragraph-uniform, and stuck into the ranks.” (Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846), trans. Swenson and Lowrie).
  • Talk will look at how Hamann was incorporated into history of philosophy. His reception in textbooks, history, lectures. Reception history.
  • Rift between 18th century philosophy and subsequent histories. Hamann shared reception fate of other 18th century writers.
  • Michelet – Hegelian philosopher and historian of philosophy.
  • Parallels between ‘poor Hamann’ and ‘poor Jacobi’ (“Poor Jacobi! Whether anyone visits your grave I do not know, …”). Hamann assimilated to Jacobi. Hamann is a kind of Jacobi with a weirder style.
  • Intense personal/philosophical encounters and history of philosophy.
  • Mentioned in 1846 by Kierkegaard in Concluding Unscientific Postscript.
  • After 19th century see him linked with Herder (Dilthey …).
  • History of philosophy used to served anti-Enlightment ends.
  • Hamann polemically described as unique expression of the German spirit.
  • Herman Nohl – student of Dilthey – ‘most irrational man that ever lived’ (compliment).
  • Rudolph Unger – counter enlightenment polemic.
  • Berlin drew on Nohl.
  • Why study historiography of philosophy?
  • Natural bent towards reception history.
  • To count as philosophy means you have to have a place in the history of philosophy. In past you have to insert yourself into master/disciple relationship – a sect. If not you would be an isolate.
  • Hamann rather than being failed resistance, turns out to be prophet of true resistance.
  • History of philosophy has a history. Bibliographical work.
  • Brooker – canon for 19th century.
  • History of philosophy as gradual development of reason. Scepticism is engine that drives philosophy through development.
  • “Manual of the history of philosophy”.
  • Reconstructive and logical history.
  • Retrospectively evaluating philosophers – how far did they succeed in reacting to scepticism.
  • Hamann shows up in 5th edition – linked to Jacobi.
  • Wit and wisdom of Hamann. Sloppy historian.
  • Philosophical histories of Schelling and Hegel.
  • For Hegel recent German philosophy depends on Jacobi.
  • Hamann’s absence noticable since Hegel gives Hamann has such detailed treatment later.
  • 1833-34. Hamann gets 3 paragraphs.
  • Evoked along with Pascal as isolated figure.
  • 5th edition of Tenemann’s manuel – Michelet.
  • Took over lectures upon Hegel’s death. History of latest philosophy in Germany.
  • Michelet does a bettter job as an encyclopedist than as a philosopher.
  • Danger for distortion comes from with what Michelet takes for granted.
  • Hamann, Herder, and Jacobi (counter-enlightenment). Michelet’s 1837 edition of The History of the Latest System of Philosophy in Germany from Kant to Hegel mentions them together under Glaubensphilosophie – ‘faith-philosophy’.
  • The term ‘faith-philosophy’ applied to Jacobi and others – but doesn’t seem to appear in Jacobi or very much in 18th century.
  • Irrationalist mystics and faith-philosophers.
  • Projection of German Idealism on 18th century.
  • ‘Subject-centred epistemology’ doesn’t work for Hamann.
  • Unbelief and superstition.
  • Further distortions: Seeing trio as trio (Hamann, Herder, Jacobi). They disagreed more often than they agreed. Trio as nationalist claim. Schelling has chapter on this. Michelet says they unify Prussian state.
  • “The stamina and the menstrua of our reason are thus in the truest understanding revelations and traditions which we accept as our property, transform into our fluids and powers…” (Philological ideas and doubts)
  • “Is all your human reason anything other than tradition and inheritance…” (New apology of the letter h)
  • “It all comes down to tradition in the end, as all abstractions to sense impressions.” (letter to Herder, April 20, 1782)

Manfred Kuehn, Hamann on Reason, Hume, and Kant

  • Manfred Kuehn is Professor of Philosophy at Boston University.
  • Hamann on reason, Hume and Kant.
  • Kant’s notion of ‘good will’ is just as questionable as ‘pure reason’.
  • No extended discussion in Hamann that would treat ‘good will’ in the same way that he treats ‘pure reason’.
  • No extended metacritique of critique of practical reason.
  • He was ill and died before he could write it, but it is doubtful if he would have written it if he did.
  • Hamann took interest in literary feuds (his main distraction, like TV).
  • He speaks of another chimera – ‘good will’.
  • Language is at root of moral concepts. Morality is nothing but syntax. Correct language is a fundamental feauture of ethics.
  • Deeds are more important than maxims.
  • Hamann is accused of being an egoist.
  • Hamann anticipates Hegel’s critique of Kant.
  • Kant is one of our sharpest minds – but his acuity is as evil demon.
  • Kant’s moral philosophy is not essentially different from Mendelssohn, Lessing, …
  • Very different from the way Kant is usually seen. Most think Kant’s moral philosophy is a radical departure from all that went before. Hamann indicates that this isn’t the case. Kant’s moral philosophy must be seen as the continuation of a tradition.
  • Hamann must have thought that he criticised Kant’s moral philosophy in critique of Berlin enlightenment.
  • Mendelssohn – rights based account. Kant – duty based account.
  • No inner dignity in our nature.
  • Idea that maxims could be conceived of as containing virtue by means of categorical imperative is flawed.
  • There are no necessary truths of reason. Just rational beliefs.
  • Hamann approvingly cites Herder.
  • Did Kant or Mendelssohn hate Christianity?
  • Open intolerance for concealed intolerance of Enlightenment.
  • Successfully creates alternative to Enlightenment.
  • His alternative became irrelevant to philosophers.

Johannes von Lüpke, Metaphysics and Metacritique. Hamann’s Understanding of the Word of God in the Tradition of Lutheran Theology

  • Dr. Johannes von Lüpke is Professor for Systematic Theology at Kirchliche Hochschule Wuppertal.
  • Metaphysics and metacritique in tradition of Luther.
  • Concept of metacritique – invention of Hamann. In response to Kant.
  • 7th July 1782 – first appearance of term in letter from Hamann to Herder. Then brought into philosophical discourse primarily by Herder.
  • Commonly used when first level critique is subject to second level critique. Hence critique of critique.
  • Hamann’s goes beyond this. Hamann’s conception is claim of theological truth. Both analogy and antithesis.
  • Hamann in tradition of Martin Luther’s theology.
  • Hamann re-iterates a critique of metaphysics.
  • God’s perfectness based on word.
  • Luther did not condemn philosophy along metaphysical preconceptions.
  • Reformatory theology perceives tensions in this relationship – and seeks to enlighten reason by light of word of God.
  • Contrasts message of God with God’s first translation.
  • Athens and Jerusalem.
  • Last sheets commemorates Pascal’s last memorial.
  • Reason starts to idolise itself.
  • Misses true God who descends to lowliness of his creation. God at beginning of sentence. Underlines God as an individual. God discloses himself in human language.
  • Agreements between Hamann and Luther. Both are theologians of the cross. Challenge wisdom of world with foolishness of the cross. True relationship between God and man. Cross is place where reason is judged and ordered.
  • Luther: without God best things used as worst. Hamann applies this to language
  • Reason and commandments are God given assistance for mankind. Both reason and law can be corrupted and can become corrupted.
  • Hamann’s goal is to point out the inner lies and contradictions.
  • Theologians recognise reality of God, mankind and the cross.
  • Hamann aims at realism that restores correct relationship between God and mankind.
  • Hamann is not against reason, but he tries to restore true relational reason.
  • Make use of reason. Reason knows nothing but the law.
  • Reason connected with law is supposed to enable to great things – science, technology and art. But gives nothing but that which is earthly.
  • In order to witness reality of God and God’s action in and with his creation.
  • Different kind of word, different kind of reason required.
  • Reason requires enlightenment by light of gospel.
  • Supreme individual reality of God – only possible by listening to his word.
  • Not enthusiasm (sturmerei).
  • Metacritical enlightenment of reason.
  • Reason itself is aware of limited scope of its methods.
  • This can only succeed in comprehensive understanding if perceives word of God.

Concluding remarks

  • First Hamann conference in US. Next Internationales Hamann-Kolloquium will take place in Halle.

Related links

This entry was posted in events, hamann, nietzsche, philosophy, talks, wittgenstein and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
  • To receive new posts via email, you can sign up here


  1. Posted February 15, 2010 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    Sounds like a delightful conference…are there plans to publish the papers?

  2. Chatov
    Posted January 26, 2011 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    I’m deeply thankful for these notes. There’s a wealth of references to pursue here. Bravo!

One Trackback