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  • Herder: Philosophy and Anthropology eds. by Anik Waldow and Nigel DeSouza
  • Vicki A. Spencer
Anik Waldow and Nigel DeSouza, editors. Herder: Philosophy and Anthropology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. xiv + 266. Cloth, $75.00.

Herder: Philosophy and Anthropology is an important and refreshing contribution to the growing literature in English on the philosophy of Johnann Gottfried Herder. Anik Waldrow and Nigel DeSouza have brought together an impressive array of contributors—a number who are well-established within Herder scholarship and others newer to his thought—to produce an interesting collection of essays exploring Herder's philosophical anthropology.

The implications of Herder's attempt to place the human agent at the core of philosophy is a broad theme, with the collection offering reflections on his metaphysics, his philosophy of language, his philosophy of history, his philosophy of science, his hermeneutics, as well as the role of aesthetics and religion in his thought. The book is divided into two main parts, with the first dedicated to his philosophical naturalism, and the second taking up the themes of language, history, and culture.

What unites many of these essays and often produces perspectives not hitherto evident in the literature is, however, the authors' serious engagement with the anti-dualism at the core of Herder's philosophical approach. It is a positive sign of the current state of Herder scholarship, and how far it has come from the days in which Herder's sustained commitment to the universal and the particular was routinely dismissed as contradictory, [End Page 564] that the editors even fail to note this commonality among their contributors. But, whether the distinction is mind/soul and body, nature and culture, science and art, or religious and secular, in various ways many of the authors make a significant contribution to examining the implications of Herder's rejection of these standard dichotomies.

At a more critical level, certain editorial lapses are apparent. One chapter fails to include a bibliography, for example, so that one has to wonder about the standard of Oxford University Press's copyeditors. I was also unclear about the usage of certain terms. To take just one example, die Seele (the soul) is mentioned by a number of authors, but it is unclear whether they understood it in the same way; at times it seemed synonymous with psychology, at others it appeared to possess a spiritual dimension. Some discussion of these differences in the editorial introduction would have been useful—as would the editors insisting on greater definitional clarity with the usage of key terms by their contributors. Similarly, I found the application of the modern term 'human rights' to debates over natural rights, and more specifically "the Rights of Man," in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries somewhat problematic.

Putting these minor quibbles aside, there is much to praise in this book. Those like myself who were attracted to Herder through Charles Taylor's work on Herder's philosophy of language will be pleased to see Taylor interviewed in the first chapter. Placing Herder's ideas in context, Stefanie Buchenau provides a fascinating account of the history of anthropology as a discipline, with its links to medicine and philosophy, in chapter 4. Dalia Nassar meanwhile shows, in chapter 6, how Herder's anti-dichotomous approach to the human and natural sciences stands in stark contrast to Wilhelm Dilthey's sharp distinction between the methodologies of the sciences and the arts that has been so influential since the 1880s. This theme is continued in Kristin Gjesdal's excellent outline of Herder's hermeneutics, in chapter 9.

In chapter 10, Johannes Schmidt provides a spirited and original challenge to the divide in the current literature on Herder's religious views between those who interpret him either in secular terms, or in strictly theological, hence Christian terms, by showing how his religious anthropology enables him to accept other beliefs as legitimate alternatives to Protestantism. The collection ends, in chapter 12, with Frederick C. Beiser offering a highly thoughtful and balanced reply to yet another recent challenge to Herder's credentials as a pluralist and humanitarian, namely, his alleged anti-Semitism. Beiser's deep engagement with Herder's texts is on full...


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pp. 564-565
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