“Kant” Revisited: Johann Georg Hamann

This is it. The very last Kant Revisited.

I promise this time.

When I was desperately trying to find something, anything, to post…to keep this blog going because there is only so much time in the day to write….thankfully I found this one. It wasn’t my finest hour, but it was good enough.

I did edit somewhat, because there was a lot of bullshit in this episode.

But when I was assessing my “Kant” episodes, I discovered a sad truth: I am missing much of my writings. They’re gone. Lost to time. They’ll never be seen again.

Probably for the better.

But thank you for taking the time to read these. Although I did edit somewhat, I absolutely did not spellcheck. Please forgive me once again.



But this guy’s name is Johann George Hamann, and he lived in Konigsberg, which was then in Prussia but is now just Russia, at the same time as Immanuel Kant. In fact, according to Frederick C. Beiser in his book ‘The Fate of Reason’, he claims that Hamann introduced Hume’s works to Immanuel Kant, which in turn provoked him to write the Critique. So, we wouldn’t have Kant without Hamann. And better yet, we probably wouldn’t have this podcast.

Although the two were friends, or acquaintances at the very least, they didn’t necessarily see eye to eye. In fact, Hamann is perhaps best known for reacting AGAINST the enlightenment. You see, Kant viewed the enlightenment as and I quote from Ted Kinnaman from George Mason University, who said that “In his essay also entitled “What is Enlightenment’ Kant defines enlightenment as the “the departure of human beings from their self-incurred incapacity”, It’s slogan, he says, is sapere aude! — Dare to think!” End quote. As where Hamann viewed the enlightenment as, also a quote from Kinneman which also provides a sort of biographical background “But during a business trip to London (on behalf of the firm of the Berens family, who also published Kant’s works), Hamann underwent a sort of conversion that involved giving up his commitment to secular Enlightenment in favor of a more orthodox view of Protestant Christianity. As a consequence, he embarked on a career of trenchant and often scathing criticism of the Enlightenment. This change in world views coincided with his reading of the British empiricist philosophers George Berkeley and David Hume. Hamann saw the idealism of the former and the skepticism of the latter as constituting a reductio ad absurdum of Enlightenment thought: Scientific reason leads us inevitably either to doubt or deny the reality of the world around us.” End quote.

And his works were apparently, notoriously short. And at least according to the Stanford encyclopedia, they were mostly in response to other people’s work. So in many ways, he was sort of like a blogger. He wasn’t an academic, unlike most of his peers, so none of his work is really structured in that way. So it’s easy to see how he might have appeared today. (…) He’s the guy who’s trying to rain on everybody’s parade. He’s being the contrarian, or even a provocateur.

It’s easy to dismiss this guy as just being the equivalent of a right-wing fanatic, but there’s a lot more to his philosophy than what he’s given credit for. In fact, according to Beiser, he is known within the German speaking world, but not so much with English speaking readers. Case in point is his ideas on language, which is still a major concern within philosophy today, most notably within the analytic tradition, which is the dominant field of study within most philosophy departments at this very moment. However, I’m not so sure that his idea that language is sourced directly from God, and is not a result of human cognition, is really taken all that seriously nowadays. But he did put language at primary importance when discussing philosophy, which is pretty much what analytic philosophy is doing today. At least according to my readings.

Hamann is also known for his critique of Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’. He called his critique, at least in the English translation, the “Metacritique on the Purism of Reason.” Which, I don’t know about you, and perhaps I’m reading a little bit too much into it, but that sounds like he might be mocking Kant with that title. Now that may not be solidifying my theory that he might have been a provocateur, but there are other readings that seem to be giving that impression.

For example, and I’m reading this from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as it describes the “Essay of Sibyl on Marriage”, but it states, quote “He plays with the Christian idea of God as a Trinity to depict a trinity of woman-man-God in the moment of love-making; and reworks the account of the creation of Adam in Genesis to describe the act of coitus itself. The woman on perceiving her lover in his excitement sees ‘that rib’ and cries out in enthusiastic appropriation, ‘That is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!’ the man then ‘fills the hole of the place with flesh’ (as Genesis describes God doing with Adam after the creation of Eve). In doing so the lover also acknowledges that the origin of a man is in woman’s body: the Sibyl’ describes this moment of lovemaking as “he entered in whence he once came forth.” End quote. So it seems to me that, although he has taken up the banter of Protestant Christianity by pretty much saying that the source of all knowledge is God, there still seems to be a degree of being somewhat challenging with his reading.

However, Hamann is also known for his influence within the ‘Sturm und Drang’ movement meaning, Storm and Stress in English. And what was the Storm and Stress movement? Well if you read Beiser’s book “The Fate of Reason” where he explains that this movement was bourn, in part, out of Hamann’s interactions with Kant. (…) it might have been a response to the rise of rationalism or objectivity in everyday life that might have taken out human emotion, and as the name implies, the movement was an attempt to reintroduce those characteristics back into the equation often by emphasizing the violent or dramatic. So Hamann was influential in the literary aspect of that movement and then it eventually spread out into other forms of art. We did briefly discuss existentialism in the last episode, and this appears to me to be a precursor to that movement. In fact, Soren Kierkegaard, considered the founder of existentialism, was also heavily influenced by Hamann.

So with the introduction of Kant and Hamann, this brings up the specific era of philosophy known as German Idealism.

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