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Johann Georg Hamann

Johann Georg Hamann
Born (1730-08-27)27 August 1730
Königsberg, Kingdom of Prussia
Died 21 June 1788(1788-06-21) (aged 57)
Münster, Prince-Bishopric of Münster
Era 18th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy

Johann Georg Hamann (Template:IPA-de; 27 August 1730 – 21 June 1788) was a German philosopher, whose work was used by his student J. G. Herder as a main support of the Sturm und Drang movement, and associated by historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin with the Counter-Enlightenment. However, recent scholarship such as that by theologian Oswald Bayer places Hamann into a more nebulous category of theologian and philologist, less the proto-Romantic that Herder presented and more a premodern-postmodern thinker who brought the consequences of Lutheran theology to bear upon the burgeoning Enlightenment and especially in reaction to Kant.[1] Goethe and Kierkegaard were among those who considered him to be the finest mind of his time.


File:Johann Georg Hamann.jpg
Johann Georg Hamann (20th century drawing)

Hamann was born on 27 August 1730 in Königsberg. He was destined for the pulpit, but became a clerk in a mercantile house and afterward held many small public offices, devoting his leisure to intense study. His first publication was a study in political economy about a dispute on nobility and trade.[2] He wrote under the nom de plume of “the Magus of the North” (German: Magus im Norden). His translation of David Hume into German is considered by most scholars as the one that Hamann's friend, Immanuel Kant, had read and referred to as inspiration for awakening from "dogmatic slumber". Hamann and Kant held each other in mutual respect, although Hamann once declined an invitation by Kant to co-write a physics textbook for children.

Philosophical arguments

His distrust of autonomous, disembodied reason and the Enlightenment (“I look upon logical proofs the way a well-bred girl looks upon a love letter” was one of his many witticisms) led him to conclude that faith in God was the only solution to the vexing problems of philosophy. His most notable contributions to philosophy were his thoughts on language, which have often been considered as a forerunner to the linguistic turn in postmodern philosophy and also Wittgenstein's philosophy. He famously said that "reason is language".

Influences on Hamann

Hamann was greatly influenced by David Hume. This is most evident in Hamann's conviction that faith and belief, rather than knowledge, determine human actions. Also, Hamann asserted that the efficacy of a concept arises from the habits it reflects rather than any inherent quality it possesses. Hamann famously used the image of Socrates, who often proclaimed to know nothing, in his Socratic Memorabilia, an essay in which Hamann critiques the Enlightenment's dependence on reason.

Hamann's influence

Hamann was one of the precipitating forces for the counter-enlightenment. He was, moreover, a mentor to Herder and an admired influence on Goethe, Jacobi, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Lessing, and Mendelssohn. Hans Urs von Balthasar devoted a chapter to Hamann in his volume, Studies in Theological Styles: Lay Styles (Volume III in the English language translation of The Glory of the Lord series). Most recently, Hamann's influence can be found in the work of the theologians Oswald Bayer, John Milbank, and David Bentley Hart.

The character of Hamann's writing

Hamann's writings consist of small essays. They display two striking tendencies. The first is their brevity, in comparison with works by his contemporaries. The second is their breadth of allusion and delight in extended analogies. For example, his work Golgatha and Scheblimini! By a Preacher in the Wilderness (1784) was directed against Moses Mendelssohn's Jerusalem, or on Religious Might and Judaism (1782). His work was also significantly reactive and reparative: rather than advance a “position” of his own, his principal mode of thinking was to respond to others' work.


Hamann was a lutenist, having studied this instrument with Timofey Belogradsky (a student of Sylvius Leopold Weiss), a Ukrainian virtuoso then living in Königsberg.


Fragments of his writings were published by Cramer, under the title of Sibyllinische Blätter des Magus aus Norden (1819), and a complete edition by Roth (7 vols., 1821–25, with a volume of additions and explanations by Wiener, 1843). Hamann's des Magus in Norden Leben und Schriften, edited by Gildemeister, was published in 5 vols., 1857–68, and a new edition of his Schriften und Briefen, edited by Petri, in 4 vols., 1872-74.


  1. ^ Bayer, Oswald. A Contemporary in Dissent: Johann Georg Hamann as a Radical Enlightener. Roy A. Harrisville & Mark C. Mattes, trans. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010.
  2. ^ Christoph Meineke: „Die Vortheile unserer Vereinigung“: Hamanns Dangeuil-Beylage im Lichte der Debatte um den handeltreibenden Adel. [In German] In: Beetz, Manfred / Rudolph, Andre (Ed.). Johann Georg Hamann: Religion und Gesellschaft (2012), p. 46-64.


  • Hart, David Bentley, "The Laughter of the Philosophers", First Things. January 2005.
  • Isaiah Berlin, Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder; (London and Princeton), 2000, ISBN 0-691-05726-5
  • Dickson, Gwen Griffith, Johann Georg Hamann's Relational Metacriticism (contains English translations of Socratic Memorabilia, Aesthetica in Nuce, a selection of essays on language, Essay of a Sibyl on Marriage and Metacritique of the Purism of Reason); (Walter de Gruyter), 1995. ISBN 3-11-014437-9
  • Kenneth Haynes (ed.), Hamann: Writings on Philosophy and Language (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy); (Cambridge University Press), 2007, ISBN 978-0-521-81741-7
  • James C. O'Flaherty, Unity and Language: A Study in the Philosophy of Hamann; (University of North Carolina), 1952;
  • James C. O'Flaherty, Hamann's Socratic Memorabilia: A Translation and Commentary; (Johns Hopkins Press), 1967; Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 67-12424;
  • James C. O'Flaherty, Johann Georg Hamann; (Twayne Publishers), 1979, ISBN 0-8057-6371-6;
  • James C. O'Flaherty, The Quarrel of Reason with Itself: Essays on Hamann, Michaelis, Lessing, Nietzsche; (Camden House) 1988, ISBN 0-938100-56-4
  • 12px This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Hamann, Johann Georg". The American Cyclopædia. 1879. 

Further reading

  • Anderson, Lisa Marie (ed.), Hamann and the Tradition. Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2012 ISBN 978-0810127982
  • Alexander, W. M. (1966). Johann Georg Hamann: Philosophy and Faith. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
  • Beiser, Frederick (1987). The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press ISBN 0-674-29502-1
  • Betz, John (2009). After Enlightenment: The Post-Secular Vision of J.G. Hamann. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell ISBN 978-1-4051-6246-3
  • Smith, Ronald Gregor (1960). J.G. Hamann 1730-1788: A Study in Christian Existence. New York: Harper & Brothers.
  • Sparling, Robert Alan (2011). Johann Georg Hamann and the Enlightenment Project. Toronto: University of Toronto Press ISBN 978-1-4426-4215-7

External links

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