Wilhelm Von Humboldt quotes

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Wilhelm Von Humboldt

Birthdate: 22. June 1767
Date of death: 8. April 1835
Other names: Вильгельм фон Гумбольдт

Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand von Humboldt was a Prussian philosopher, linguist, government functionary, diplomat, and founder of the Humboldt University of Berlin, which was named after him in 1949 .

He is especially remembered as a linguist who made important contributions to the philosophy of language, ethnolinguistics and to the theory and practice of education. In particular, he is widely recognized as having been the architect of the Humboldtian education ideal, which was used from the beginning in Prussia as a model for its system of education and eventually in countries such as the US and Japan. Wikipedia

Photo: Unknown author / Public domain

„The interdependence of word and idea shows clearly that languages are not actually means of representing a truth already known, but rather of discovering the previously unknown. Their diversity is not one of sounds and signs, but a diversity of world perspectives. … The sum of the knowable, as the field to be tilled by the human mind, lies among all languages, independent of them, in the middle. Man cannot approach this purely objective realm other than through his cognitive and sensory powers, that is, in a subjective manner.“

—  Wilhelm Von Humboldt

As quoted in The Linguistic Relativity Principle and Humboldtian Ethnolinguistics : A History And Appraisal (1963) by Robert Lee Miller, and The Linguistic Turn in Hermeneutic Philosophy (2002) by Cristina Lafont
Context: The interdependence of word and idea shows clearly that languages are not actually means of representing a truth already known, but rather of discovering the previously unknown. Their diversity is not one of sounds and signs, but a diversity of world perspectives [Weltansichten]. … The sum of the knowable, as the field to be tilled by the human mind, lies among all languages, independent of them, in the middle. Man cannot approach this purely objective realm other than through his cognitive and sensory powers, that is, in a subjective manner.

„Owing to the vigorous and elastic strength of man’s original power, necessity does not often require anything save the removal of oppressive bonds.“

—  Wilhelm Von Humboldt

The Limits of State Action (1792)
Context: Owing to the vigorous and elastic strength of man’s original power, necessity does not often require anything save the removal of oppressive bonds. From all these reasons (to which a more detailed analysis of the subject might add many more) it will be seen, that there is no other principle than this so perfectly accordant with the reverence we owe to the individuality of spontaneous beings, and with the solicitude for freedom which that reverence inspires. Finally, the only infallible means of securing power and authority to laws, is to see that they originate in this principle alone.

„The grand, leading principle, towards which every argument hitherto unfolded in these pages directly converges, is the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity“

—  Wilhelm Von Humboldt

Source: The Limits of State Action (1792), Ch. 6
Context: The grand, leading principle, towards which every argument hitherto unfolded in these pages directly converges, is the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity; but national education, since at least it presupposes the selection and appointment of some one instructor, must always promote a definite form of development, however careful to avoid such an error. And hence it is attended with all those disadvantages which we before observed to flow from such a positive policy; and it only remains to be added, that every restriction becomes more directly fatal, when it operates on the moral part of our nature,—that if there is one thing more than another which absolutely requires free activity on the part of the individual, it is precisely education, whose object it is to develop the individual.

„Man is naturally more disposed to beneficent than selfish actions.“

—  Wilhelm Von Humboldt

Source: The Limits of State Action (1792), Ch. 8
Context: Man is naturally more disposed to beneficent than selfish actions. This we learn even from the history of savages. The domestic virtues have something in them so inviting and genial, and the public virtues of the citizen something so grand and inspiring, that even he who is barely uncorrupted, is seldom able to resist their charm.

„It is only through extremes that men can arrive at the middle path of wisdom and virtue.“

—  Wilhelm Von Humboldt

Source: The Limits of State Action (1792), Ch. 8
Context: Setting aside the fact that coercion and guidance can never succeed in producing virtue, they manifestly tend to weaken power; and what are tranquil order and outward morality without true moral strength and virtue? Moreover, however great an evil immorality may be, we must not forget that it is not without its beneficial consequences. It is only through extremes that men can arrive at the middle path of wisdom and virtue.

„If we would indicate an idea which, throughout the whole course of history, has ever more and more widely extended its empire, or which, more than any other, testifies to the much-contested and still more decidedly misunderstood perfectibility of the whole human race, it is that of establishing our common humanity — of striving to remove the barriers which prejudice and limited views of every kind have erected among men, and to treat all mankind, without reference to religion, nation, or color, as one fraternity, one great community, fitted for the attainment of one object, the unrestrained development of the physical powers.“

—  Wilhelm Von Humboldt

Kosmos (1847)
Context: If we would indicate an idea which, throughout the whole course of history, has ever more and more widely extended its empire, or which, more than any other, testifies to the much-contested and still more decidedly misunderstood perfectibility of the whole human race, it is that of establishing our common humanity — of striving to remove the barriers which prejudice and limited views of every kind have erected among men, and to treat all mankind, without reference to religion, nation, or color, as one fraternity, one great community, fitted for the attainment of one object, the unrestrained development of the physical powers. This is the ultimate and highest aim of society, identical with the direction implanted by nature in the mind of man toward the indefinite extension of his existence. He regards the earth in all its limits, and the heavens as far as his eye can scan their bright and starry depths, as inwardly his own, given to him as the objects of his contemplation, and as a field for the development of his energies. Even the child longs to pass the hills or the seas which inclose his narrow home; yet, when his eager steps have borne him beyond those limits, he pines, like the plant, for his native soil; and it is by this touching and beautiful attribute of man — this longing for that which is unknown, and this fond remembrance of that which is lost — that he is spared from an exclusive attachment to the present. Thus deeply rooted in the innermost nature of man, and even enjoined upon him by his highest tendencies, the recognition of the bond of humanity becomes one of the noblest leading principles in the history of mankind.

„There are undeniably certain kinds of knowledge that must be of a general nature and, more importantly, a certain cultivation of the mind and character that nobody can afford to be without.“

—  Wilhelm Von Humboldt

As quoted in Wilhelm von Humboldt (1970), by P. Berglar, p. 87, and "Profiles of Educators: Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835)" by Karl-Heinz Günther, in Prospects, Vol. 18, Issue 1 (March 1988)
Context: There are undeniably certain kinds of knowledge that must be of a general nature and, more importantly, a certain cultivation of the mind and character that nobody can afford to be without. People obviously cannot be good craftworkers, merchants, soldiers or businessmen unless, regardless of their occupation, they are good, upstanding and – according to their condition – well-informed human beings and citizens. If this basis is laid through schooling, vocational skills are easily acquired later on, and a person is always free to move from one occupation to another, as so often happens in life.

„The incapacity for freedom can only arise from a want of moral and intellectual power; to elevate this power is the only way to counteract this want; but to do this presupposes the exercise of that power, and this exercise presupposes the freedom which awakens spontaneous activity.“

—  Wilhelm Von Humboldt

Source: The Limits of State Action (1792), Ch. 16
Context: The incapacity for freedom can only arise from a want of moral and intellectual power; to elevate this power is the only way to counteract this want; but to do this presupposes the exercise of that power, and this exercise presupposes the freedom which awakens spontaneous activity. Only it is clear we cannot call it giving freedom, when fetters are unloosed which are not felt as such by him who wears them. But of no man on earth—however neglected by nature, and however degraded by circumstances—is this true of all the bonds which oppress and enthral him. Let us undo them one by one, as the feeling of freedom awakens in men’s hearts, and we shall hasten progress at every step. There may still be great difficulties in being able to recognize the symptoms of this awakening. But these do not lie in the theory so much as in its execution, which, it is evident, never admits of special rules, but in this case, as in every other, is the work of genius alone.

„To inquire and to create;—these are the grand centres around which all human pursuits revolve,“

—  Wilhelm Von Humboldt

Source: The Limits of State Action (1792), Ch. 8
Context: To inquire and to create;—these are the grand centres around which all human pursuits revolve, or at least to these objects do they all more or less directly refer.

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„The impetuous conquests of Alexander, the more politic and premeditated extension of territory made by the Romans, the wild and cruel incursions of the Mexicans, and the despotic acquisitions of the incas, have in both hemispheres contributed to put an end to the separate existence of many tribes as independent nations, and tended at the same time to establish more extended international amalgamation. Men of great and strong minds, as well as whole nations, acted under the influence of one idea, the purity of which was, however, utterly unknown to them. It was Christianity which first promulgated the truth of its exalted charity, although the seed sown yielded but a slow and scanty harvest. Before the religion of Christ manifested its form, its existence was only revealed by a faint foreshadowing presentiment. In recent times, the idea of civilization has acquired additional intensity, and has given rise to a desire of extending more widely the relations of national intercourse and of intellectual cultivation; even selfishness begins to learn that by such a course its interests will be better served than by violent and forced isolation. Language more than any other attribute of mankind, binds together the whole human race. By its idiomatic properties it certainly seems to separate nations, but the reciprocal understanding of foreign languages connects men together on the other hand without injuring individual national characteristics.“

—  Wilhelm Von Humboldt

Kosmos (1847)

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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