- Active Individuality and the Language of Confession: The Figure of the Beautiful Soul in the Lehrjahre and the Phänomenologie
- Journal of the History of Philosophy
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 21, Number 4, October 1983
- pp. 437-466
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Active Individuality and the Language of Confes,sion: The Figure of the Beautiful Soul in the Lehrjahreand the Phi~nomenologie BENJAMIN C. SAX THE NAMESOF Goethe and Hegel have too often, and even too easily, been linked together as the co-founders of a particularly German tradition in literature and thought. More often than not such common characteristics as genetic development and the ideal totalities of Faust ant the Phiinomenologie, have been the basis of these comparisons.' But basing such comparisons upon the similarities of these final, "grand" systems often blurs the differences both between their ideas and between their authors' independent lines of intellectual development. Such an approach also screens the diverse and rich cultural melieu in which they worked. A comparison of the formative years of Goethe and Hegel reveals new points of comparison between them as well as some of the common cultural features of their age. One such feature for both of them was the figure of the Beautiful Soul (die sch6ne Seele). This figure was at the center of much of Goethe's work in the 177os ' See, tor instance, Johannes Hoffmeister, Goethe und der deutsche ldealismus, (Leipzig, 1932); Karl LOwith, From Hegel to Neitzsche, (New York, 1967); Hans Mayer, Goethe, (Frankfurt, 1973). Marxist writers also emphasize the relatiol) between Hegel and Goethe as well. See Oeorg Luk~cs, Goethe and his Age, (New York, 1967), and Ernst Bloch, A Philosophy of the Future, (New York, 197o). An attempt to break away from this coupling has recently been offered by Riidiger Bubner, "Hegel und Goethe," in Euphorion, le Beiheft, (1978).  438 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 21:4 OCT i983 and of the writings of the young Hegel in the 179os. This common feature derives from a mutual indebtedness to the same tradition and cannot be explained by sequential influence, since the Beautiful Soul was widely known as a type in eighteeth-century Germany both in the form of living models of Pietistic "saints" and through the well-known literature of Pietistic autobiographies. In fact it might be more difficult to establish who among the educated in Protestant Germany did not feel the influence of the Pietistic religious revival either in its strictly confessional mode or through the various popular expressions of it in such forms as the poetry of Klopstock? In addition to its appearance in the writings of Goethe and Hegel, the Beautiful Soul has a place in the works of Jacobi, Schiller, and Schleiermacher/ Through this figure as well as through Peitism as a whole, fundamentally Christian values and ideas became one of the bases of German Classicism and Idealism and thus of modern German thought and culture as a whole. Initially both Goethe and Hegel came to an understanding and definition of human existence through the figure of the Beautiful Soul. This figure was not just the starting point for a psychology, for it became a way of understanding the relation of the self to the world, the shape of its consciousness , its mode of being, as well as with a form of language which was appropriate to it. In this and each in his own way, they were reacting against the notions of the self developed by the Enlightenment. They rejected the various reformulations of Lockean psychology held by Voltaire, d'Holbach, and Helvetius, among others, which posited the self as a simple bundle of mechanically associated sense impressions. 4 Such sensationalism not only downplayed the inner depth and creative unity of the self but also obscured the central moral questions of human freedom and individual reponsibility since it denied any independent activity to the mind. Helvetius is perhaps the most extreme on this point. He argues in De l'homme that only a complete control of" the environment would lead to a complete control over the development of the personality, a manipulation of external stimuli which slowly builds up the internal processes would form the behavioral pattern of" the individual.5 Even Rousseau, who went so much further in his analysis both Ernst Troehsch, "Leibnizund die Anf~ngedes Pietismus,"in GemmmeltsSchriflen, 4 vols. (Ttibingen, a925),4:488-53 I. KarlJ. Weintraub, The Value of the Individual, (Chicago...