Three Critics of the Enlightenment

Last updated

Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder
Vico, Hamann, Herder.gif
The 2000 hardback first edition
Author Isaiah Berlin
Subject Counter-Enlightenment
Genre History of philosophy
Publisher Pimlico
Publication date
Media type Hardcover, paperback
ISBN 0-7126-6492-0
OCLC 611211986

Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder is a collection of essays in the history of philosophy by 20th century philosopher and historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin. Edited by Henry Hardy and released posthumously in 2000, the collection comprises the previously published works Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History of Ideas (1976) – an essay on Counter-Enlightenment thinkers Giambattista Vico and Johann Gottfried Herder – and The Magus of the North: J. G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism (1993), concerning irrationalist Johann Georg Hamann.



Berlin's initial interest in the critics of the Enlightenment arose through reading the works of Marxist historian of ideas Georgi Plekhanov. [1] The historian Zeev Sternhell has raised questions concerning the editing of the work, pointing to Henry Hardy's replacement of Berlin's citations of secondary sources with primary sources on a number of occasions. He suggests that Hardy's editing "raises doubts as to Berlin's reading of his sources," and concludes with the following observation: "The question whether systematically omitting the secondary sources and replacing them with texts that Berlin himself did not mention, which probably means he did not read them, can be considered a legitimate procedure is highly dubious." [2]

Vico and Herder are portrayed by Berlin as alternatives to the rationalistic epistemology which characterized the Enlightenment. [3] Berlin held that the agenda of the Enlightenment could be understood in a number of ways, and that to view it from the perspectives of its critics (i.e. Vico, Herder and Hamann) was to bring its distinctive and controversial aspects into sharp focus. [4] Three Critics was one of Berlin's many publications on the Enlightenment and its enemies that did much to popularise the concept of a Counter-Enlightenment movement that he characterised as relativist, anti-rationalist, vitalist and organic, [5] and which he associated most closely with German Romanticism.

Berlin identifies Hamann as one of the first thinkers to conceive of human cognition as language – the articulation and use of symbols. Berlin saw Hamann as having recognised as the rationalist's Cartesian fallacy the notion that there are "clear and distinct" ideas "which can be contemplated by a kind of inner eye", without the use of language. [6] Herder, coiner of the term Nazionalismus (nationalism) is portrayed by Berlin as conceiving of the nation as a "people's culture," the unique way of life of a particular folk, bound by ties of kinship and ties to land, defined by their unique history. [7]

Publication history

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Romanticism</span> Artistic, literary, musical, and intellectual movement

Romanticism was an artistic and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century. In most parts of Europe, it was at its peak from approximately 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism, clandestine literature, and paganism. Romantic thinkers idealized nature, were often suspicious of industrialization and rationalism, and frequently glorified the Middle Ages by depicting them in moralistic, idealized forms. Romanticism was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, and the prevailing ideology of the Age of Enlightenment, especially the scientific rationalization of Nature. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature; it also had a major impact on historiography, education, chess, social sciences, and the natural sciences. It had a significant and complex effect on politics: Romantic thinking influenced conservatism, liberalism, radicalism, and nationalism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Isaiah Berlin</span> British philosopher and social and political theorist (1909–1997)

Sir Isaiah Berlin was a Russian-British social and political theorist, philosopher, and historian of ideas. Although he became increasingly averse to writing for publication, his improvised lectures and talks were sometimes recorded and transcribed, and many of his spoken words were converted into published essays and books, both by himself and by others, especially his principal editor from 1974, Henry Hardy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Giambattista Vico</span> Italian philosopher (1668–1744)

Giambattista Vico was an Italian philosopher, rhetorician, historian, and jurist during the Italian Enlightenment. He criticized the expansion and development of modern rationalism, finding Cartesian analysis and other types of reductionism impractical to human life, and he was an apologist for classical antiquity and the Renaissance humanities, in addition to being the first expositor of the fundamentals of social science and of semiotics. He is recognised as one of the first Counter-Enlightenment figures in history.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Claude Adrien Helvétius</span> French philosopher (1715–1771)

Claude Adrien Helvétius was a French philosopher, freemason and littérateur.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Joseph de Maistre</span> Savoyard philosopher, writer, lawyer, and diplomat (1753–1821)

Joseph Marie, comte de Maistre was a Savoyard philosopher, writer, lawyer, and diplomat who advocated social hierarchy and monarchy in the period immediately following the French Revolution. Despite his close personal and intellectual ties with France, Maistre was throughout his life a subject of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which he served as a member of the Savoy Senate (1787–1792), ambassador to Russia (1803–1817), and minister of state to the court in Turin (1817–1821).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Johann Georg Hamann</span> German philosopher (1730–1788)

Johann Georg Hamann was a German Lutheran philosopher from Königsberg known as "the Wizard of the North" who was one of the leader figures of post-Kantian philosophy. His work was used by his student J. G. Herder as the main support of the Sturm und Drang movement, and is associated with the Counter-Enlightenment and Romanticism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Johann Gottfried Herder</span> German philosopher, theologian, poet (1744–1803)

Johann Gottfried von Herder was a German philosopher, theologian, poet, and literary critic. He is associated with the Enlightenment, Sturm und Drang, and Weimar Classicism.

The Counter-Enlightenment refers to a loose collection of intellectual stances that arose during the European Enlightenment in opposition to its mainstream attitudes and ideals. The Counter-Enlightenment is generally seen to have continued from the 18th century into the early 19th century, especially with the rise of Romanticism. Its thinkers did not necessarily agree to a set of counter-doctrines but instead each challenged specific elements of Enlightenment thinking, such as the belief in progress, the rationality of all humans, liberal democracy, and the increasing secularisation of society.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Zeev Sternhell</span> Israeli historian (1935–2020)

Zeev Sternhell was an Israeli historian, political scientist, commentator on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and writer. He was one of the world's leading theorists of the phenomenon of fascism. Sternhell headed the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and wrote for Haaretz newspaper.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Henry Hardy</span> British academic, author and editor (born 1949)

Henry Robert Dugdale Hardy is a British academic, author and editor.

In ethics, value pluralism is the idea that there are several values which may be equally correct and fundamental, and yet in conflict with each other. In addition, value-pluralism postulates that in many cases, such incompatible values may be incommensurable, in the sense that there is no objective ordering of them in terms of importance. Value pluralism is opposed to value monism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Friedrich Meinecke</span> German historian

Friedrich Meinecke was a German historian, with national liberal and antisemitic views, who supported the Nazi invasion of Poland. After World War II, as a representative of an older tradition, he criticized the Nazi regime, but continued to express antisemitic prejudices.

Thomas Blackwell the younger was a classical scholar, historian and "one of the major figures in the Scottish Enlightenment."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cartesian linguistics</span>

The term Cartesian linguistics was coined by Noam Chomsky in his book Cartesian Linguistics: A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought (1966). The adjective "Cartesian" pertains to René Descartes, a prominent 17th-century philosopher. As well as Descartes, Chomsky surveys other examples of rationalist thought in 17th-century linguistics, in particular the Port-Royal Grammar (1660), which foreshadows some of his own ideas concerning universal grammar.

Mark Lilla is an American political scientist, historian of ideas, journalist, and professor of humanities at Columbia University in New York City. A self-described liberal, he frequently, though not always, presents views from that perspective.

Christian Tobias Damm was a renowned German Classical philologist, and the less than orthodox theologian who was rector (1730) and prorector (1742) of the Köllnische Gymnasium, the oldest in Berlin, but prematurely pensioned off in 1766, in the wake of scandalized accusations of trends towards Socianian doctrines in some of his work, to his lasting bitterness.

<i>The New Science</i>

The New Science is the major work of Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico. It was first published in 1725 to little success, but has gone on to be highly regarded and influential in the philosophy of history, sociology, and anthropology. The central concepts were highly original and prefigured the Age of Enlightenment.

<i>Karl Marx: His Life and Environment</i> 1939 book by Isaiah Berlin

Karl Marx: His Life and Environment is a 1939 biography of the philosopher Karl Marx by the historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin.

<i>Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas</i> Book by Isaiah Berlin

Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas (1979) is a collection of essays by the 20th-century philosopher and historian Isaiah Berlin.

Fascist syndicalism was a trade syndicate movement that rose out of the pre-World War II provenance of the revolutionary syndicalism movement led mostly by Edmondo Rossoni, Sergio Panunzio, A. O. Olivetti, Michele Bianchi, Alceste De Ambris, Paolo Orano, Massimo Rocca, and Guido Pighetti, under the influence of Georges Sorel, who was considered the "'metaphysician' of syndicalism". The Fascist Syndicalists differed from other forms of fascism in that they generally favored class struggle, worker-controlled factories and hostility to industrialists, which lead historians to portray them as "leftist fascist idealists" who "differed radically from right fascists." Generally considered one of the more radical Fascist syndicalists in Italy, Rossoni was the "leading exponent of fascist syndicalism"., and sought to infuse nationalism with "class struggle".


  1. Cherniss, Joshua; Hardy, Henry (1 February 2008). "Isaiah Berlin". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy .
  2. Sternhell, Zeev (2010). The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition. Translated by David Maisel. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. p. 508 note 58. ISBN   978-0-300-13554-1.
  3. Password, F. (2006). "Secularism, Criticism, and Religious Studies Pedagogy". Teaching Theology & Religion. 9 (4): 203–210. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9647.2006.00285.x. Suggesting in effect that it can be better to theorize boldly than to engage in circumscribed projects, Berlin characterizes the "creative imagination" and "imaginative reconstruction of forms of life" in Vico and Herder as legitimate criticisms of scientific rationalism and the Enlightenment…In theory as well as in art, imagination represents an alternative to arid rationality.
  4. McGrath, A.E. (2001). A Scientific Theology: Nature. 1. Edinburgh; New York: T\&T Clark. ISBN   0-567-03122-5.
  5. Darrin M. McMahon, "The Counter-Enlightenment and the Low-Life of Literature in Pre-Revolutionary France" Past and Present No. 159 (May 1998:77-112) p. 79 note 7.
  6. Bleich, D. (2006). "The Materiality of Reading". New Literary History. 37 (3): 607–629. doi:10.1353/nlh.2006.0000. S2CID   144957435.
  7. Cosgrove, Charles (2005). Cross-Cultural Paul. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. ISBN   0-8028-2843-4.