Hamann, Johann Georg

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German philosopher of faith and of feeling; b. Königsberg, Aug. 27, 1730; d. Münster in Westphalia, June 21, 1788. Known as the "wise man (Magus) of the North," he was associated with J. G. herder and F. H. jacobi and was a precursor of S. A. kierkegaard. Though a friend of I. kant, Hamann was opposed to the cult of reason of the Aufklärung (see enlightenment, philosophy of). To him it seemed that the intellect merely succeeds in dissecting the universe into many unities, whereas in reality all is held together in a vital unity and even opposites are brought together in a coincidence of opposition. Hamann adopted this idea from G. bruno. It can be traced back from Bruno to nicholas of cusa, but Hamann was no more aware of Cusa than were other philosophers who profited from Cusa's thought. To arrive at this unity, Hamann used a concept of experience different from that of Kant, viz, an experience not based on perception and conceptualization but rather on lived experience and intuition, on faith and devotion. The absolute, in particular, is accessible only to faith. Man must live in God if he would find Him and the truth. Philosophy must not be directed to intellectual knowledge; rather, wisdom must lead one to see what the wise men from the East saw in the star; hence the title "Magus of the North." Hamann's philosophy can be regarded as a reaction against the rationalism of the Enlightenment, his theology as the foundation of the theology of the irrational (F. D. E. schleiermacher, A. ritschl), and his literary efforts as a manifestation of the Sturm und Drang period. Finally, Hamann's thought was rooted in Lutheran religious sentiment, for which reason G. W. F. hegel regarded him as a true Christian philosopher. He was, however, also influenced by D. hume and Lord Shaftesbury. Whether one sees in Hamann a mystic or a pietist depends on one's definitions; he certainly was not a mystic in the sense of Meister eckhart and J. tauler. Perhaps he can be regarded as a proponent of sin mysticism, for he was basically conscious of the "unclean spirit" of man in the sense of the Lutheran doctrine of original sin. While he was aware that man is affected in matters of sex, his teaching does not entail a "philosophy of the Mystical Body of Christ with sex at its center" (J. Nadler). There is merit in his philosophy of language: reason is language; sense and spirit come together in the word; philosophy is the grammar of the meaning-filled word. To understand Hamann one must read his correspondence, as well as his works; studies of his thought are sometimes colored by the enthusiasm of his followers.

Bibliography: Sämtliche Werke: Historisch-kritische Ausgabe, ed. j. nadler, 6 v. (Vienna 194957); Briefwechsel, ed. w. ziesemer and a. henkel, 7 v. (Wiesbaden 1955), 4 v. to date. Literature. f. c. copleston, History of Philosophy (Westminster MD 194663) v.6. f. blanke and l. schreiner, J. G. Hamanns Hauptschriften erklärt (Gütersloh 1956). j. nadler, J. G. Hamann: Der Zeuge des Corpus mysticum (Salzburg 1949). j. c. o'flaherty, Unity and Language: A Study in the Philosophy of J.G. Hamann (Chapel Hill, N.C. 1952). "Hamann in America," Hamann News-Letter (Winston-Salem, N.C. 1962). h. a. salmony, J.G. Hamanns metakritische Philosophie, v.1, Einführung in de metakritische Philosophie (Zollikon 1958). r. g. smith, J. G. Hamann: A Study in Christian Existence, with Selections from His Writings (New York 1960). m. seils, Wirklichkeit und Wort bei J.G. Hamann (Stuttgart 1961). r. knoll, J. G. Hamann und F. H. Jacobi (Heidelberg 1963).

[j. hirschberger]

Johann Georg Hamann

views updated May 23 2018

Johann Georg Hamann

The German philosopher Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788) was known as the "Magus of the North." He held that truth is a matter of subjective belief, and he sought to reveal the divine in things and people.

Born on Aug. 27, 1730, in Königsberg, East Prussia, Johann Georg Hamann was the son of the local surgeon-barber and heir of generations of Protestant pastors, and this background helps explain his interests in science, medicine, and especially religion. The young Hamann was tutored at home, and the remarkable range of his intellectual pursuits was largely a product of self-education. He displayed an aptitude for languages and mastered Greek, Latin, French, Italian, English, and Hebrew in addition to his native German.

In 1746 Hamann enrolled at the University of Königsberg as a student of theology and later of law. There he was influenced by Martin Knutzen, the philosophy teacher of his fellow townsman Immanuel Kant. He withdrew in 1752 and spent the next 7 years working as a tutor and then for a business concern, the House of Barens. In the latter capacity he traveled as far as London, where he underwent a spiritual crisis. Returning to Königsberg, he spent the next few years in study, writing, and translating. Kant introduced Hamann to Johann Gottfried von Herder and also secured him a position with the local government, which he held for the next 24 years. About the same time, 1763, he entered into a lifelong domestic arrangement and fathered four children. Hamann died on June 21, 1788, while visiting a group of his admirers in Münster.

The main intention of Hamann's writings was to state the relationship between faith and philosophy. His early unpublished works—Biblical Meditations (1758) and Thoughts on the Course of My Life (1759)—culminated in his first major work, Socratic Memorabilia (1759). His reputation was increased by the publication of a collection of essays, Crusades of the Philologian (1762), which included "Aesthetics in a Nutshell;" political satires such as LostLetter of a Savage of the North to a Financier at Peking (1773) and The Worm of the North (1774); and his thoughts on sexuality, Essay of a Sibyl on Marriage (1775). Konxompax (1779), Metacritique of the Purism of the Reason (1784), and Golgatha und Scheblimini (1784) are various critiques of works by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Kant, and Moses Mendelssohn. He managed, however, to cultivate and maintain the friendship of the major figures of the German Enlightenment while criticizing their philosophies.

Hamann's writings focused on the study of the whole man of reason, emotion, language, and history. He believed that the rationalist gospel of the Enlightenment was inferior to facts and to true philosophy, which is "Socratic" or critical in the awareness of its own ignorance. Hamann's aim was to understand divine revelation and its workings in nature and history.

Further Reading

There are only two complete works of Hamann translated and one major study of him available in English. Ronald G. Smith, J. G. Hamann, 1730-1788:A Study in Christian Existence— With Selections from His Writings (1960), includes the Metacritique, and James C. O'Flaherty's edition of Hamann's Socratic Memorabilia (1967) is an excellent translation with commentary and biographical introduction. W. M. Alexander, Johann Georg Hamann:Philosophy and Faith (1966), is a thorough and full study. □

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