What are some arguments against pantheism

Pantheism in literature. The problem of love and nature in the poetry of the young Goethe

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Goethe and pantheism

3 Different interpretations and forms of pantheism

4 main part
4.1 Analysis and interpretation of the poem "Mailied" (1771)
4.2 The conflict between love and nature
4.2.1 Love in Goethe
4.2.2 Nature in Goethe

5 conclusion

6 Bibliography

1 Introduction

The concept of pantheism developed in the Age of Enlightenment. It was coined in 1709 by the Dutch theologian J. De La Faye in a pamphlet directed against the Irish free thinker John Toland (1670-1722). John Toland had the doctrine of the pantheists, of which he spoke for the first time in 1705, in his "Origines Judaicae" from 1709 to the formula:

“There is no divine being different from matter and this world structure, and nature itself, i. i. the totality of things, be the only and highest God. "(" nullum dari Numen a materia & compage mundi hujus distinctum, ipsamque naturam, sive rerum Universitatem, unicum esse & supremum Deum. ")[1]

The most important literary and philosophical representatives of pantheism are: Baruch de Spinoza, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottfried Herder, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Friedrich Schelling (in the broader sense).

The basic idea of ​​pantheism is that humans gain the insight to perceive the nature given to us with its laws or ideas (appearances / shapes) sensually and thereby perceive the "divine" that cannot be explained by any materialism and sensualism. This “divine” always eludes full knowledge. We have only a “pictorial representation” of him in the realm of poetry and only a “hypothetical explanation” in the realm of philosophy.[2] From a historical perspective of philosophy, the term serves to characterize the ancient philosophy of the Eleates (Xenophanes, Parmenides, Zenon).[3]

The term pantheism (from ancient Greek: “all God” or “all-God concept”) therefore denotes the view that God is one with the cosmos and nature, that the world and God are identical. The world or nature is God (Goethe's idea of ​​unity and origin). In the mind, there is a unity of the “I” (God) with the world. The "Lexicon of Philosophical Terms" by Alexander Ulfig provides the following definition:

“The only SUBSTANCE is God. Since God is omnipresent in the world, the idea of ​​the TRANSCENDENCE of God is rejected in pantheism. The worldly objects (including people) are modes of God. "[4]

To understand more precisely what this definition means, one must realize that there are attributes of substance: these would be thought and expansion. In Alexander Ulfig's "Lexicon of Philosophical Terms", this substance is defined as follows: “God is the sole cause of all beings. The being is causally dependent on the cause. "[5] Many describe their God as a person and his substance, transcendence, omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, but nobody knows him. So they believe in their ignorance.

But what does Goethe have to do with pantheism and what about the problem of love and nature? I would like to show that in this work using the “Mailied” from 1771.

2 Goethe and pantheism

"We are pantheists in natural research, polytheists in poetry, morally monotheists."[6]

(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

In this quotation the philosophical standpoint of Goethe (1749-1832) becomes clear, which is very often referred to as pantheistic. But which form of pantheism does Goethe actually represent among many?

Goethe's unified thinking is also evident in his ballads, which he describes as the archetypal forms of poetry, since in them the genre elements such as epic, lyric and drama are not yet separated and these also have stage character. They are suitable for ballet or puppet shows:

“Incidentally, the whole poetics could be presented on a selection of such poems, because here the elements are not yet separated but, like in a living primordial egg, are together, which may only be incubated to, as the most glorious phenomenon, arise Gold wings to soar into the air. "[7]

Goethe was critical of the setting of his ballads and the processing in the visual arts, such as painting. In his ballad “Der Fischer” (1779), which was received by many artists in a painterly manner, he criticizes as follows:

“Very few artists,” he continued, “are clear about this point and know what will help them to keep their peace. For example, they paint my fisherman and don't think that it can't be painted at all. In this ballad only the feeling of water is expressed, the graceful thing that attracts us to bathe in summer; further lies in it, and how can that be painted! "[8]

This quote is in opposition to Plato's thesis that a poem is like a painting (ut pictura poesis).[9] Plato postulates (according to the author of the book about Plato, Uwe Neumann) the existence of (unchangeable) ideas that exist separately from the objects (changeable reality of the sensory world) for which they are the model. An object that can be empirically experienced (observed) is therefore imitation (Mimesis) his idea; an object produced by art is merely an imitation of an imitation of the idea.[10] Therefore, there are not only ideas of natural conditions or of ethical qualities, but also of "products of human artistry" (Politeia 510a) ideas are also postulated of ugly, harmful and even bad things and even for properties.[11]

With Goethe, being is connected with everything that is present and can be grasped coherently. This way of thinking leads in his earliest poem “duration in change” (1803), which belongs to the flow of storm and stress, or in his work “Eins und alles” (1821) to many syntheses (associations) as paradoxes[12] (Above and below).[13] So it is not a question of dialectical thinking as in the idealist Friedrich Hegel or in Schiller's dramas, in which there are clear solutions and opposites are canceled. Goethe was not a systematic mind. He saw things together: "(...) he could never be a strict systematic (...) the interaction of the creative processes."[14]

As a poet, it would have been impossible for him to produce drama after drama using the same method as Schiller.[15] A very early discovery by Goethe, which, in addition to what has already been mentioned, also found its first expression in 1784 in the essay “On Granite”, is that "All natural things (...) are (are) closely related."[16] (WA II.9, 173). With Goethe there is no finality (dynamism and movement[17] ). Everything remains open - things are unsolvable - which has a positive connotation. The divine is seen in the construction and structure of the universe which is through naturalist Practices (Goethe himself was a natural scientist as " the first servant of the artist "[18]) to be examined. A personified, omnipotent, willing and explainable God does not exist and this God must therefore be thought of as impersonal. So the unconditional free will cannot be grasped.[19]

At this point I would like to come to Goethe's natural science side, since Goethe, in addition to his poetic activity, also functioned as a biologist - especially a botanist (plant metamorphosis) - and a geologist. Hidden or hidden poetics and thoughts about the visual arts can be found strangely in Goethe's scientific writings, which he himself valued more highly than his literary work (compare the poetological text "On the theory of colors" (1810)). Other noteworthy writings are the following: “About the Granite” (1784), “About the Intermaxillary Bones of Humans and Animals” (1786) and “Contributions to Optics”. Goethe, for example, criticizes science and was against Isaac Newton's (1642-1726) thesis of the spectral colors (decomposition), the prism colors and the "Mathematical optics"[20]because he saw the light as a whole. Lessing, however, takes a different view.

In contrast to Goethe, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing separates the arts. In his work “Laocoon or beyond the boundaries of Mahlerey and poetry” from 1766 Lessing tries to work out the fundamental artistic differences between visual art and literature. Goethe, on the other hand, sees what is common in the arts (production aesthetics) and connects nature with art. The Germanist Dieter Burdorf writes the following about it:

“In his Laocoon, Lessing describes poetry as the art whose means are“ articulated tones in time ”and which is therefore best suited to“ depicting objects that follow one another or parts of them follow one another ”, namely actions - in contrast on painting, the media of which are "figures and colors in the room" and which can therefore best represent the juxtaposition of objects, namely bodies (Lessing: WB 5.2., 116). "[21]

In the case of the ballad in general, genres such as epic, lyric and drama, for example, are not separated (I am not referring to Goethe or Lessing on this point). In the conversations with Goethe's close confidante and poet, Johann Peter Eckermann (“Conversations with Goethe in the last years of his life”), there are also references from the field of the visual arts. The inseparability of the genres basically means that which connects all peoples and arts with one another.

3 Different interpretations and forms of pantheism

To return to pantheism: There are different interpretations and forms of pantheism, which I would like to explain in more detail below.

Unlike Goethe, the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer evaluates pantheism as one "Polite atheism"[22] (Disbelief or "Demeaning of the world", instead of "Deification of the world"[23]). So one can certainly observe a change in the reflection on pantheism. He wrote the following in "Parerga and Paralipomena I" (1851):

“In general, one might be surprised that pantheism did not achieve a complete victory over theism as early as the 17th century; (...) how, on the contrary, in our day pantheism, although only presented in the eclectic and confused Schelling‘schen refreshment, has become the dominant way of thinking of the learned and even of the educated; because Kant had preceded the defeat of theistic dogmatism and had given way to it, whereby the spirit of the time was prepared for it like a plowed field for the seed. "[24]

The first The form of pantheism is that of theomonistic pantheism (Indian philosophy). In this acosmism (God without a world) the world is regarded as null.

The second Form is the - originated in the 19th century - physiomonistic pantheism. There the existence of a god is abolished. Nature exists and she is called God.

The form closest to the Church is that third - namely the Panentheism. The universe or nature are in God and at the same time manifestations of the same. Here there is a clear tendency towards the mystical - the ultimate experience of God.

This is widespread - among others also with Goethe and Spinoza fourth and last form of pantheism: The immanent-transcendent pantheism. There is a unity of monism here[25] to dualism. The diversity is tied to the divine unity that shows itself in this world. This can be seen very clearly in Goethe's “Zahmen Xenien” (1827). There are individual temporal aspects that are switched off, recurring again and again - that is, eternal similes - and spatial aspects. The parable of the particular becomes eternal. There is talk of immediate emotionality and rationality[26]that are visualized and testify to passivity and activity. Man is always to be seen in relation to things. However, this all-nature as an ideal also poses a problem.


[1] Historical Dictionary of Philosophy 1989, p. 59.

[2] Compare Walther 1930, p. 56 (ibid., P. 242).

[3] Compare Essen / Danz 2012, p. 93.

[4] Ulfig 2003, p. 302.

[5] Ulfig 2003, p. 302.

[6] Walther 1930, p. 56 (Soph. II, 42, p. 211) / Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Maximen und Reflexionen and Historical Dictionary of Philosophy 1989, p. 61.

[7] Goethe 1970, p. 592.

[8] Eckermann 1986, p. 60.

[9] Compare Horace (published in 2005), p. 26f.

[10] Compare Neumann 2001, p. 36f. (Criticism of the poetry): “For example, the painter will paint us a shoemaker, a carpenter and the other craftsmen without understanding anything of the art of any of these people; nevertheless, if he is a good painter and has painted a carpenter, whom he now shows at a proper distance, he will deceive children and fools into believing that he is a real carpenter. "(Politeia 598bc) (...)" Imitators of imitations of virtue and of the other things they deal with in their poetry, but they have nothing to do with the truth ”(Politeia 600e).

[11] Compare Neumann 2001, p. 123.

[12] Compare Ulfig 2003, p. 303: "From the Greek paradox," counter-opinion ": If the paradox is in the form of a contradictory contradiction, one speaks of ANTINOMY: the dialectical paradoxes form a different kind (for example the paradox of movement that was established by Zenon)."

[13] Compare simultaneity and unity of opposites in one person: one is inconceivable without the other (compare “Faust” and “Mephisto”). With his Mephisto there is no longer a negative connotation with regard to hell, but he only plays the role of the devil. He is no longer a personification of evil, but represents a character that is inherent in certain people. He shows a clear tendency towards material goods and the sensual life par excellence.

[14] Noé-Rumberg 1993, p. 11f.

[15] Compare Ermatinger 1932, p. 25.

[16] Noé-Rumberg 1993, p. 112.

[17] Compare "kinesiology" as kinetics in alternative medicine.

[18] Ermatinger 1932, p. 13f.

[19] Compare Spinoza.

[20] Ermatinger 1932, p. 11 (compare metaphysics).

[21] Burdorf 1997, p. 173.

[22] Historical Dictionary of Philosophy 1989, p. 60.

[23] Neuwirth 1894, p. 1.

[24] Schopenhauer 1988, p. 13.

[25] All phenomena can be traced back to a basic principle.

[26] Compare "Werther".

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