Three Critics of the Enlightenment

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder
Vico, Hamann, Herder.gif
The 2000 hardback first edition
AuthorIsaiah Berlin
GenreHistory of philosophy
Publication date
Media typeHardcover, paperback

Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder is a collection of essays in the history of philosophy by 20th century philosopher and historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin. Edited by Henry Hardy and released posthumously in 2000, the collection comprises the previously published works Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History of Ideas (1976) – an essay on Counter-Enlightenment thinkers Giambattista Vico and Johann Gottfried Herder – and The Magus of the North: J. G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism (1993), concerning irrationalist Johann Georg Hamann.


Berlin's initial interest in the critics of the Enlightenment arose through reading the works of Marxist historian of ideas Georgi Plekhanov.[1] The historian Zeev Sternhell has raised questions concerning the editing of the work, pointing to Henry Hardy's replacement of Berlin's citations of secondary sources with primary sources on a number of occasions. He suggests that Hardy's editing "raises doubts as to Berlin's reading of his sources," and concludes with the following observation: "The question whether systematically omitting the secondary sources and replacing them with texts that Berlin himself did not mention, which probably means he did not read them, can be considered a legitimate procedure is highly dubious."[2]

Vico and Herder are portrayed by Berlin as alternatives to the rationalistic epistemology which characterized the Enlightenment.[3] Berlin held that the agenda of the Enlightenment could be understood in a number of ways, and that to view it from the perspectives of its critics (i.e. Vico, Herder and Hamann) was to bring its distinctive and controversial aspects into sharp focus.[4] Three Critics was one of Berlin's many publications on the Enlightenment and its enemies that did much to popularise the concept of a Counter-Enlightenment movement that he characterised as relativist, anti-rationalist, vitalist and organic,[5] and which he associated most closely with German Romanticism.

Berlin identifies Hamann as one of the first thinkers to conceive of human cognition as language – the articulation and use of symbols. Berlin saw Hamann as having recognised as the rationalist's Cartesian fallacy the notion that there are "clear and distinct" ideas "which can be contemplated by a kind of inner eye", without the use of language.[6] Herder, coiner of the term Nazionalismus (nationalism) is portrayed by Berlin as conceiving of the nation as a "people's culture," the unique way of life of a particular folk, bound by ties of kinship and ties to land, defined by their unique history.[7]

Publication history[edit]


  1. ^ Cherniss,, Joshua; Hardy, Henry (2008-02-01). "Isaiah Berlin". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  2. ^ Sternhell, Zeev (2010). The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition. Translated by David Maisel. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. p. 508 note 58. ISBN 978-0-300-13554-1.
  3. ^ Password, F. (2006). "Secularism, Criticism, and Religious Studies Pedagogy". Teaching Theology & Religion. 9 (4): 203–210. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9647.2006.00285.x. Suggesting in effect that it can be better to theorize boldly than to engage in circumscribed projects, Berlin characterizes the "creative imagination" and "imaginative reconstruction of forms of life" in Vico and Herder as legitimate criticisms of scientific rationalism and the Enlightenment…In theory as well as in art, imagination represents an alternative to arid rationality.
  4. ^ McGrath, A.E. (2001). A Scientific Theology: Nature. 1. Edinburgh; New York: T\&T Clark. ISBN 0-567-03122-5.
  5. ^ Darrin M. McMahon, "The Counter-Enlightenment and the Low-Life of Literature in Pre-Revolutionary France" Past and Present No. 159 (May 1998:77-112) p. 79 note 7.
  6. ^ Bleich, D. (2006). "The Materiality of Reading". New Literary History. 37 (3): 607–629. doi:10.1353/nlh.2006.0000. Retrieved 2008-06-19.
  7. ^ Cosgrove, Charles (2005). Cross-Cultural Paul. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. ISBN 0-8028-2843-4.