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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Principles of Human Development
By Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803)
From the ‘Philosophy of the History of Man’: Translation of T. Churchill

NOT only has the philosopher exalted human reason to an independency on the senses and organs, and the possession of an original simple power; but even the common man imagines, in the dream of life, that of himself he has become everything that he is. This imagination is easily explained, particularly in the latter. The sense of spontaneity given him by the Creator excites him to action, and rewards him with the pleasing recompense of a deed performed in obedience to his own will. The days of his childhood are forgotten; the seeds which he then received and still daily receives are dormant in his mind; he sees and enjoys only the budding plant, and is pleased with its flourishing growth, with its fruitful branches. The philosopher, however, who studies the origin and progress of a man’s life in the book of experience, and can trace through history the whole chain of the formation of our species, must, I think, as everything brings dependence to his mind, soon quit his ideal world, in which he feels himself alone and all-sufficient, for our world of realities.  1
  As man at his natural birth springs not from himself, equally remote is he from being self-born in the use of his mental faculties. Not only is the germ of our internal disposition genetic, as well as our bodily frame, but every development of this germ depends on fate, which planted us in this place or in that, and supplied us with the means by which we were formed, according to time and circumstances. Even the eye must learn to see, the ear to hear; and no one can be ignorant with what art language, the principal instrument of our thought, is acquired. Nature has evidently calculated our whole mechanism, with the condition and duration of each period of our lives, for this foreign aid. The brain of infants is soft, and suspended from the skull; its strata are slowly formed; it grows firmer with increasing years, and gradually hardens till at length it will receive no more new impressions. It is the same with the organs and with the faculties of a child: those are tender and formed for imitation, these imbibe what they see and hear with wonderfully active attention and internal vital power. Thus man is an artificial machine: endued with a genetic disposition, it is true, and plenitude of life; but the machine does not work itself, and the ablest of mankind must learn how to work it. Reason is an aggregate of the experiences and observations of the mind; the sum of the education of man, which the pupil ultimately finishes in himself, as an extraneous artist, after certain extraneous models.  2
  In this lies the principle of the history of mankind, without which no such history could exist. Did man receive everything from himself and develop everything independently of external circumstances, we might have a history of an individual indeed, but not of the species. But as our specific character lies in this,—that born almost without instinct, we are formed to manhood only by the practice of a whole life, and both the perfectibility and corruptibility of our species depend on it,—the history of mankind is necessarily a whole; that is, a chain of socialness and plastic tradition, from the first link to the last.  3
  There is an education therefore of the human species, since every one becomes a man only by means of education, and the whole species lives solely in this chain of individuals. It is true, should any one say that the species is educated, not the individual, he would speak unintelligibly to my comprehension; for species and genus are only abstract ideas except so far as they exist in individuals: and were I to ascribe to this abstract idea all the perfections of human nature,—the highest cultivation and most enlightened intellect that an abstract idea will admit,—I should have advanced as far towards a real history of our species as if I were to speak of animal-kind, stone-kind, metal-kind, in general, and decorate them with all the noblest qualities, which could not subsist together in one individual.  4
  Our philosophy of history shall not wander in this path of the Averroëan system; according to which the whole human species possesses but one mind, and that indeed of a very low order, distributed to individuals only piecemeal. On the other hand, were I to confine everything to the individual, and deny the existence of the chain that connects each to others and to the whole, I should run equally counter to the nature of man and his evident history. For no one of us became man of himself: the whole structure of his humanity is connected by a spiritual birth with education, with his parents, teachers, friends; with all the circumstances of his life, and consequently with his countrymen and their forefathers; and lastly with the whole chain of the human species, some link or other of which is continually acting on his mental faculties. Thus nations may be traced up to families; families to their founders; the stream of history contracts itself as we approach its source, and all our habitable earth is ultimately converted into the school of our family, containing indeed many divisions, classes, and chambers, but still with one plan of instruction, which has been transmitted from our ancestors, with various alterations and additions, to all their race. Now, if we give the limited understanding of a teacher credit for not having made a separate division of his scholars without some grounds, and perceive that the human species everywhere finds a kind of artificial education, adapted to the wants of the time and place,—what man of understanding, who contemplates the structure of our earth and the relation man bears to it, would not incline to think that the Father of our race, who has determined how far and how wide nations should spread, has also determined this, as the general teacher of us all? Will he who views a ship deny the purpose of its builder? and who that compares the artificial frame of our nature with every climate of the habitable earth, will reject the notion that the climatic diversity of various man was an end of the creation, for the purpose of educating his mind? But as the place of abode alone does not effect everything, since living beings like ourselves contribute to instruct us, fashion us, and form our habits, there appears to me an education of the species and a philosophy of the history of man, as certainly and as truly as there is a human nature; that is, a co-operation of individuals, which alone makes us men.  5
  Hence the principles of this philosophy become as evident, simple, and indubitable as the natural history of man itself is; they are called tradition and organic powers. All education must spring from imitation and exercise, by means of which the model passes into the copy; and how can this be more aptly expressed than by the term “tradition”? But the imitator must have powers to receive what is communicated or communicable, and convert it into his own nature as the food by means of which he lives. Accordingly, what and how much he receives, whence he derives it, and how he uses, applies it, and makes it his own, must depend on his own, the receptive powers. So that the education of our species is in a double sense genetic and organic: genetic, inasmuch as it is communicated; organic, as what is communicated is received and applied. Whether we name this second genesis of man cultivation from the culture of the ground, or enlightening from the action of light, is of little import: the chain of light and cultivation reaches to the end of the earth. Even the inhabitant of California or Tierra del Fuego learns to make and use the bow and arrow; he has language and ideas, practices and arts, which he learned as we learn them: so far therefore he is actually cultivated and enlightened, though in the lowest order. Thus the difference between enlightened and unenlightened, cultivated and uncultivated nations, is not specific; it is only in degree. This part of the picture of nations has infinite shades, changing with place and time: and like other pictures, much depends on the point of view from which we examine it. If we take the idea of European cultivation for our standard, this is to be found only in Europe; and if we establish arbitrary distinctions between cultivation and the enlightening of the mind,—neither of which, if it be genuine, can exist independently of the other,—we are losing ourselves still more in the clouds. But if we keep close to the earth and take a general view of what Nature—to whom the end and character of her creatures must be best known—herself exhibits to our eyes as forming man, this is no other than the tradition of an education to some form or other of human happiness and the economy of life. This is as general as the human species; and often the most active among savages, though in a narrower circle. If a man remain among men, he cannot avoid this improving or vitiating cultivation: tradition lays hold of him, forms his head, and fashions his limbs. As that is, and as these are fashioned, so is the man, so is he formed. Even children whom chance has thrown among beasts have acquired some human cultivation when they have lived for a time among men, as most known instances show; while a child brought up from the moment of his birth by a brute would be the only uncultivated man upon earth.  6
  What follows from this fixed point of view, confirmed as it is by the whole history of our species? First a principle consolatory and animating to our lives, and inspiring this reflection: namely, that as the human species has not arisen of itself, and as there are dispositions in its nature for which no admiration can be too high, the Creator must have appointed means, conceived by his paternal goodness, for the development of these dispositions. Is the corporal eye so beautifully formed in vain? does it not find before it the golden beams of the sun, which were created for it as the eye for them, and fulfill the wisdom of its design? It is the same with all the senses, with all the organs: they find the means of their development, the medium for which they were created. And can it be otherwise with the spiritual senses and organs, on the use of which the character of man, and the kind and measure of his happiness, depend? Shall the Creator have failed here of attaining his purpose; the purpose, too, of all nature as far as it depends on the use of human powers? Impossible! Every such conjecture must arise from ourselves; either attributing erroneous ends to the Creator, or endeavoring as much as in us lies to frustrate his purposes. But as this endeavor must have its limits, and no design of the All-wise can be thwarted by a creature of his thoughts, let us rest secure in the certainty, that whatever is God’s purpose with regard to the human species upon earth remains evident even in the most perplexing parts of its history. All the works of God have this property: that although they belong to a whole which no eye can scan, each is in itself a whole, and bears the Divine characters of its destination. It is so with the brute and with the plant: can it be otherwise with man? Can it be that thousands are made for one? all the generations that have passed away, merely for the last? every individual, only for the species,—that is, for the image of an abstract name? The All-wise sports not in this manner; he invents no fine-spun shadowy dreams; he lives and feels in each of his children with paternal affection, as though it were the only creature in the world. All his means are ends; all his ends are means to higher ends, in which the Infinite, filling all, reveals himself. What every man, therefore, attains or can attain must be the end of the species; and what is this? Humanity and happiness, on this spot, in this degree, as this link and no other of the chain of improvement that extends through the whole kind. Whatever and wherever thou wast born, O man, there thou art and there thou shouldst be: quit not the chain, set not thyself above it, but adhere to it firmly. Life and happiness exist for thee only in its integrity, in what thou receivest or impartest, in thy activity in each.  7
  Secondly: Much as it may flatter man that the Deity has admitted him as an assistant, and left the forming him here below to himself and his fellow-creatures, the very choice of these means shows the imperfection of our earthly existence, inasmuch as we are not yet men, but are daily becoming so. How poor must the creature be who has nothing of himself, but receives everything from imitation, instruction, and practice, by which he is molded like wax! Let the man who is proud of his reason contemplate the theatre of his fellow-beings throughout the wide world, or listen to their many-toned dissonant history. Is there any species of barbarity to which some man, some nation, nay, frequently a number of nations, have not accustomed themselves,—so that many, perhaps most, have even fed on the flesh of their fellow-creatures? Is there a wild conception the mind can frame, which has not been actually rendered sacred by hereditary tradition in one place or another? No creature therefore can stand lower than man; for throughout his whole life he is not only a child in reason, but a pupil of the reason of others. Into whatever hands he falls, by them he is formed; and I am persuaded, no form of human manners is possible which some nation or some individual has not adopted. In history every mode of vice and cruelty is exhausted, while here and there only a nobler train of human sentiments and virtues appears. From the means chosen by the Creator, that our species should be formed only by our species, it could not possibly be otherwise; follies must be inherited, as well as the rare treasures of wisdom: the way of man resembles a labyrinth, abounding on all sides with divergent passages, while but few footsteps lead to the innermost chamber. Happy the mortal who reaches it himself or leads others to it; whose thoughts, inclinations, and wishes, or even the beams of whose silent example, have promoted the humanity of his brethren! God acts upon earth only by means of superior, chosen men; religion and language, art and science, nay, governments themselves, cannot be adorned with a nobler crown than the laurels gathered from the moral improvement of human minds. Our body molders in the grave, and our name soon becomes a shadow upon the earth; but incorporated in the voice of God, in plastic tradition, we shall live actively in the minds of our posterity, even though our name be no more.  8
  Thirdly: The philosophy of history, therefore, which follows the chain of tradition, is, to speak properly, the true history of mankind, without which all the outward occurrences of this world are but clouds or revolting deformities. It is a melancholy prospect to behold nothing in the revolutions of our earth but wreck upon wreck, eternal beginnings without end, changes of circumstance without any fixed purpose. The chain of improvement alone forms a whole of these ruins, in which human figures indeed vanish, but the spirit of mankind lives and acts immortally. Glorious names, that shine in the history of cultivation as genii of the human species, as brilliant stars in the night of time! Be it that with the lapse of ages many of your edifices decay, and much of your gold is sunk in the slough of forgetfulness: the labors of your lives were not in vain, for such of your works as Providence thought fit to save have been saved in other forms. In any other way, no human monument can endure wholly and eternally upon earth; being formed in the succession of generations by the hand of time for temporal use, and evidently prejudicial to posterity as soon as it renders unnecessary or retards their further exertion. Thus the mutable form and imperfection of all human operations entered into the plan of the Creator. Folly must appear, that wisdom might surmount it; decaying fragility even of the noblest works was an essential property of their materials, that men might have an opportunity of exerting fresh labors in improving or building upon their ruins; for we are all here in a state of exercise. Every individual must depart; and as it will then be indifferent to him what posterity may do with his works, it would be repugnant to a good mind to condemn succeeding generations to venerate them with inactive stupidity, and undertake nothing of their own. This new labor he wishes them; for what he carries with him out of the world is his strengthened power, the internal ripe fruit of his human activity.  9
  Golden chain of improvement, that surroundest the earth and extendest through all individuals to the throne of Providence, since I perceived thee and traced thee in thy finest links, the feelings of the parent, the friend, and the preceptor, history no longer appears to me what it once did,—an abominable series of desolations on a sacred earth. A thousand deeds of shame stand there veiled with detestable praise, and thousands in their native ugliness, to set off the rare true merit of active humanity; which has ever proceeded on its way quietly and obscurely, seldom aware of the consequences that Providence would educe from its life, as the leaven from the dough. Only amid storms can the noble plant flourish; only by opposing struggles against false pretensions can the sweet labors of man be victorious. Nay, men frequently appear to sink under their honest purposes; but it is only in appearance: the seed germinates more beautifully in a subsequent period from the ashes of the good, and when irrigated with blood seldom fails to shoot up to an unfading flower. I am no longer misled, therefore, by the mechanism of revolutions; it is as necessary to our species as the waves to the stream, that it become not a stagnant pool. The genius of humanity blooms in continually renovated youth, and is regenerated as it proceeds, in nations, generations, and families.  10

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