J. G. v. Herder and W. v. Humboldt: Reflections upon the Origin of Language A Comparative Essay, with a Commentary on Recent Developments in the Philosophy of Language

Karl-Friedrich Kiesow


 In my essay I try to explore a parallel between Herder and Humboldt and some modern investigations into the origin of language. Herder favors a pan-psychistic account of nature, and he proposes a theory maintaining that only language can do the business to mediate between the abstract reasoning of man and the content delivered to him by his senses. Humboldt, in his turn, prefers a Kantian transcendental analysis of the form of language, the form being dependent on man’s mental activity and therefore dynamical in character. We may summarize this result in the thesis that Herder is speculating on the origin of language whereas Humboldt attempts to give a theory of the origination of language by synthetic acts. Problems connected with a narrative style of theorizing can also be demonstrated by contrasting two modern authors, namely R. G. Millikan and M. Tomasello.


Philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, origin of language, origination of language


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