International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 141 30th January 2009


I. 'Altruistic Suicide' by Max Malikow

II. 'Herder and Hegel: Resolution in Pluralism' by Mark Westmoreland

III. Review of Matthew Del Nevo The Valley Way of the Soul, by Rachel Browne



The predominant theme in this issue might be described as humanism, not in the  narrow anti-theistic sense, but rather as raising the question what  it is to  be a human being or what it is to realize human values.

Consultant Psychiatrist Max Malikow, in his second article for Philosophy  Pathways looks at the phenomenon of altruistic suicide as a challenge to  psychological egoism, the theory which regards all actions as ultimately  motivated by self-interest, taking particular issue with Ayn Rand's provocative re-evaluation of altruism as a vice.

Mark Westmoreland in a continuation of his investigation of his 'Reflections on the Idea of Race' (Philosophy Pathways Issue 136) looks at the contrasting  philosophies of history of Herder and Hegel, rebutting Hegel's ethnocentric  view of European civilization as the pinnacle of human historical development.

Rachel Browne offers a reading of Matthew Del Nevo's new book, The Valley Way  of the Soul which makes clear that theists do not have a monopoly on the  notions of the soul or soulfulness. In a world increasingly dominated by  consumerism and the worship of technology, we need to find a way back to the  soul through art and poetry.

Geoffrey Klempner



     Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his
     life for his friends. -- The Gospel of John 15:13
For well or ill, my daughter's early childhood included a father who was  writing a doctoral dissertation on suicide. When she was five she asked the  inevitable question, 'Dad, what is suicide?' I told her that suicide is the  word for when someone decides to die and then does something to make it happen.

'Oh,' she responded, 'you mean like Jesus?'

The French sociologist Emile Durkheim classified suicide into four categories,  one of which he designated altruistic suicide (Durkheim, 1897). Self-sacrifice  is the defining feature of this type suicide. Durkheim characterized altruistic suicide as the opposite of egoistic suicide in which there is an extreme sense  of self and no sense of obligation to others. An altruistic suicide is a  self-determined death motivated by what is perceived as a service to another  person or other persons. This essay provides a description of three lethal  actions taken by individuals for the sake of others.

In her bestselling memoir, An Unquiet Mind, psychologist Kay Jamison provides  this moving description of a childhood memory.

     The noise of the jet had become louder, and I saw the
     children in my second-grade class suddenly dart their heads
     upward. The plane was coming in very low, and then it
     streaked past us, scarcely missing the playground. As we
     stood there clumped together and absolutely terrified, it
     flew into the trees and exploded directly in front of us...
     Over the next few days it became clear, from the release
     of the young pilot's final message to the control tower
     before he died, that he knew he could save his own life by
     bailing out. He also knew, however, that by doing so he
     risked that his unaccompanied plane would fall onto the
     playground and kill those of us who were there... The
     dead pilot became a hero, transformed into a scorchingly
     vivid, completely impossible ideal for what was meant by
     the concept of duty... The memory of that crash came back
     to me many times over the years, as a reminder both of how
     one aspires after and needs such ideals, and how killingly
     difficult it is to achieve them.
     Jamison, 1995, pp. 12-13
In 1995 a headline in The Washington Post read: 'Mother picks death to continue her life through son's birth.' The story that followed was that of mother who  chose to forego the aggressive treatment of her cancer that would have aborted  her baby.

     Clementine Geraci, three months pregnant, made the decision
     of her life when doctors told her last spring that her
     breast cancer had spread. She could fight the cancer
     aggressively and have an abortion, or she could take the
     less hazardous cancer drugs and carry the baby to term...
     Geraci, known as Tina, died Monday, March 6, at Washington
     Hospital Center, where she worked as a resident in
     obstetrics and gynecology. She was 34... During most of
     her pregnancy, Geraci took Taxol, which doctors thought
     would not harm Dylan (her son). She had to stop taking the
     drug in the seventh month of her pregnancy, and Dylan was
     born one month prematurely by Caesarean section, during
     which doctors discovered cancer in her liver. She resumed
     treatment, but it was too late.
     The Washington Post, March 7, 1995
In The Pursuit of Happiness psychologist David Myers provides the following  narrative.

     With Nazi submarines sinking ships faster than the Allied
     forces could replace them, the troop ship SS Dorchester
     steamed out of New York harbor with 904 men headed for
     Greenland. Among those leaving anxious families behind were
     four chaplains, Methodist preacher George Fox, Rabbi
     Alexander Goode, Catholic priest John Washington, and
     Reformed Church minister Clark Polling. Some 150 miles from
     their destination, a U-456 caught the Dorchester in its
     cross hairs. Within moments of a torpedo's impact, reports
     Lawrence Elliot, stunned men were pouring out from their
     bunks as the ship began listing. With power cut off, the
     escort vessels, unaware of the unfolding tragedy, pushed on
     in the darkness. On board, chaos reigned as panicky men came
     up from the hold without life jackets and leaped into
     overcrowded lifeboats.
     When the four chaplains made it up to the steeply sloping
     deck, they began guiding men to their boat stations. They
     opened a storage locker, distributed life jackets, and
     coaxed men over the side. In the icy, oily smeared water,
     Private William Bednar heard the chaplains preaching
     courage and found the strength to swim until he reached a
     life raft. Still on board, Grady Clark watched in awe as
     the chaplains handed out the last life jacket, and then,
     with ultimate selflessness, gave away their own. As Clark
     slipped into the waters he saw the chaplains standing --
     their arms linked -- praying, in Latin, Hebrew, and English.
     Other men, now serene, joined them in a huddle as the
     Dorchester slid beneath the sea.
     Myers, 1992, p. 196
Can a Suicide Be Altruistic?

Professor Daniel Robinson is among those who have pondered the question: Is an  act of undiluted altruism even a possibility (Robinson, 2007)? Those who  maintain that altruism is a concept without a corresponding reality have argued that every act of benevolence is tainted by self-interest. They would posit that if Mother Teresa experienced satisfaction from obedience to her calling and joy  in her work then her concern for others was mixed with self-gratification.  Further, it is possible that she carried on her laudable work without any sense of self-sacrifice.

Such reasoning is specious. Altruism is defined as 'concern for the welfare of  others, as opposed to egoism' (American Heritage Dictionary, 1973). There is  nothing in this definition that suggests that altruistic acts must be  unadulterated. It is significant that the word is in common usage and readily  understood. Altruistic is a word that describes the spirit in which an act is  performed.

The philosopher Ayn Rand has posited that altruism's actual existence does not  establish it as a virtue.

     Altruism holds death as its ultimate goal and standard of
     value -- and it is logical that renunciation, resignation,
     self-denial, and every other form of suffering, including
     self-destruction, are the virtues it advocates. And,
     logically, these are the only things the practitioners of
     altruism have achieved and are achieving now.
     Rand, 1964, pp. 37-38
     The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not
     require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the
     sacrifice of anyone to anyone. It holds that the rational
interests of men do not clash -- that there is no conflict
     of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who
     do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one
     another as traders, giving value for value.
     Rand, 1964, p. 34
However intellectually appealing Rand's position might be, consider your  visceral reaction to the pilot, Tina Geraci, and the four chaplains. Do you  consider their actions deserving of commendation or condemnation? It is  selflessness -- not egoism -- that is the ubiquitous virtue. Can you think of a culture that recognizes and honors absolute self-preservation and simultaneously derides actions like the three that are cited in this essay?

What motivates an altruistic suicide?
A suicide can be motivated by a sense of duty. The Indian practice of suttee in which the widow at a Hindu funeral could express her devotion to her husband by  throwing herself on the pyre was a dutiful suicide. (This ritual was outlawed  under British rule in 1826.) Americans became familiar with another form of  suicide in the line of duty during World War II when Japanese kamikaze pilots  intentionally flew their explosive laden planes into targets. The term kamikaze came from the combination of the Japanese words for divine or God (kami) and  wind (kaze).

A self-determined death can motivated by love. When Jesus spoke the words,  'Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends'  (John 15:13) he was anticipating his crucifixion. Jesus also spoke of his  imminent death as part of his mission and therefore his duty: 'Now my heart is  troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour?' No, it was  for this very reason that I came to this hour' (John 12:27).

The psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg's moral stages theory consists of six stages of moral reasoning ranging from simplistic and concrete to abstract and  principled. Stage six moral reasoning is characterized by what an individual  personally perceives as unqualified ethical principles. The United States  Marine Corps motto, 'Death before dishonor' and its Japanese Samurai warrior  counterpart, Seppuku, are military ethical principles that place honor above  the preservation of life. Obedience to these codes of conduct could result in  death in the line of duty as well as death on behalf of a comrade.

Are the three self-determined deaths presented in this essay altruistic  suicides?

Words have both definitions and usages; the former are found in dictionaries  and the latter in lexicons. The three aforementioned deaths meet the criteria  for suicide (the act or instance of intentionally killing one's self) and  altruistic (characterized by a concern for the welfare of others as opposed to  one's own).

History speaks favorably of those who have sacrificed their lives for others.  In the Gettysburg Address Abraham Lincoln honored soldiers 'who gave their last,
full measure of devotion.' During the Battle of Britain, Winston Churchill  expressed his nation's debt to the pilots of the Royal Air Force with these  words: 'Never was so much owed by so many to so few.' The Reverend Dr. Martin  Luther King went so far as to say, 'I submit to you that if a man has not  discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.'

If altruistic suicides exist, are they morally right actions?
Ethical philosophy has two general categories of ethical systems: teleological  and deontological. Derived from the Greek word for 'end' (telos), a  teleological approach to ethics determines moral right and wrong in terms of  the desired goal. In the case of the Air Force pilot, his goal was to avert a  tragedy. By staying with the plane it did not crash in the schoolyard.  Therefore, teleologically, he did the right thing. The same can be said of Tina Geraci. If the goals of the four chaplains were to save lives other than their  own, actualize their faith, and encourage men facing imminent death then the  chaplains displayed moral uprightness.

Derived from the Greek word for duty (deon), a deontological approach to ethics measures rectitude in accordance with ethical principles or code of moral  conduct. Deontologically, the pilot, Tina Geraci, and the four chaplains showed moral uprightness -- each in accordance with a different principle. The pilot  acted a soldier who is responsible to protect and serve. Tina Geraci displayed  a mother's self-sacrificial love for her child. As clergymen, the four  chaplains conducted themselves as men called to human service, who acted in  obedience to their understanding of what God required of them.


As a mental health professional I have spent many hours with suicidal patients. Over the years, many times I have said, 'You will never get my encouragement for you to kill yourself.' But then, I have never been with a pilot in a plane  bearing down on a schoolyard; cancer ridden, pregnant woman; or chaplains on a  sinking ship. The words you are reading were written in my study, where I was  physically and emotionally distant from the six people described in this essay  who chose to die that others might live. Any philosophy that does not challenge us to apply it to our own lives is a philosophy not worthy of study. It would  please me to die as these six people died. What about you?

(c) Max Malikow 2008




     To go back to the Encyclopaedists and the Marxists and all
     the other movements the purpose of which is the perfect
     life: it seems as if the doctrine that all kinds of
     monstrous cruelties must be permitted, because without
     these the ideal state of affairs cannot be attained -- all
     the justifications of broken eggs for the sake of the
     ultimate omelette, all the brutalities, sacrifices, brain-
     washing, all those revolutions, everything that has made
     this century perhaps the most appalling of all since the
     days of old, at any rate in the West -- all this is for nothing,
     for the perfect universe is not merely unattainable
     but inconceivable, and everything done to bring it
     about is founded on an enormous intellectual fallacy.[1]
In my previous essay, I made the claim that the twenty-first century confronts  us with at least two questions: How do we respond to the horrific events of the previous century, and how do we ensure that such atrocities do not occur again?  My hope was that 'Reflections on the Idea of Race' would encourage our  generation to read through the history of the racial discourse. The essay  traced the idea of Race from the years of global expansion through worldwide  trade and colonization to the work of Kant and Herder. Since the publication of 'Reflections,' I have received many emails requesting more discussion of Herder  and Hegel, particularly with respect to philosophy of history. The current  essay will attempt to offer more insight into the work of Herder and Hegel with such an emphasis in mind.

If we are to respond to the occurring globalization (associated with European  dominance) and the effects therefrom, it is essential that we understand our  past.[2] This essay will highlight the post-Kantian philosophies of Johann  Herder and G.W.F. Hegel, beginning with a description of philosophy of history  and concluding with the thought that Herder, not Hegel, can assist us in our  movement into this new century. The goal of this essay is to lay a foundation  for further discussions of how Herder's pluralism may benefit today's  'philosophers of history.'

Although more well-known for their philosophy of mind and language (Herder) and idealism (Hegel), both Herder and Hegel spent much of their careers discussing  history and the way in which cultures relate to/ with other cultures.[3] Herder considered peoples as each having their own cultural movement, or continuous  history. Hegel argued for a history according to Spirit, a history in which the Spirit moves from one culture to another. We may consider Hegel's philosophy of  history as being ethnocentric; whereas, Herder offers a nationalistic, or  pluralistic, notion of history.[4]

We may recall one of our contemporaries discussed in the previous essay, Isaiah Berlin, and his claim that there is a plurality of objective values.[5] Berlin  grounded his pluralism in the work of Vico, Hamann, and, particularly, Herder.  As an ethical theory, his pluralism calls for human understanding, cooperation, and toleration despite the impossibility of compatible and commensurable values.

However, Richard Norman argues, 'This accommodating pluralism is all very well; but the problem is that... it seems to imply that some moral conflicts, those  between incommensurable values, are bound to be irresolvable.'[6] Can the  pluralism of Berlin (and Herder) account for such conflict? What does this mean for us in the twenty-first century? What aid can Herder give in light of  globalization or Hegel in a world that is post-Germanic? Perhaps we will not  find a concrete answer to our 'international' dilemma. But, what we may find is a starting point for ourselves and for those who want our world to embrace  pluralism. That starting point is the philosophy of history, the pluralism, of  Johann Herder.

First, we need to understand what exactly is meant by a philosophy of history  according to both Herder and Hegel. Herder asks, 'For what other purpose would  humans have joined together, but that thereby they might become more perfect,  better, happier human beings?'[7] Similarly, 'Historical change in the abstract sense,' Hegel states, 'has long been interpreted in general terms as embodying  some kind of progress towards a better and more perfect condition.'[8]  Furthermore, Hegel claims, 'In our understanding of world history, we are  concerned with history primarily as a record of the past. But we are just as  fully concerned with the present.'[9] Herder, on the other hand, remains  skeptical of the contemporary historiography and questions whether or not the  'general, philosophical, philanthropic tone of our century [should] so  generously and readily bestow '[its] own ideal' of virtue and happiness on  every remote nation, every ancient age of the world.'[10]

Certainly the ideas of Herder and Hegel were situated within a given period in  Germany. However, their ideas, their philosophies of history, may aid us in  understanding our world today.

Hegel introduces his Lectures on the Philosophy of World History with a  discussion of three forms of historiography: original history, which displays a direct acquaintance with detailed events; reflective history, which illustrates  the present looking back at the past more generally; and philosophical history, or philosophy of history, which is 'concrete and absolutely present.'[11] Both  Hegel and Herder emphasize this third form. So, what do we mean by philosophy  of history?

Perhaps it is best to think of such philosophy as the investigation of method - - both the reformulation of historical events and the interpretation of such  events. As a philosopher of history, one investigates the historical data in  terms of pattern, cycle, and/ or telos. Both Herder and Hegel held to the  position that a purpose could be found within history. For Herder, the goal of  history was for each individual to become truly human and for human beings to  achieve humanity [Humanitat], which will be discussed later. 'Perfection in an  individual human being,' Herder writes, 'is found in that he, in the course of  his existence, be himself and continue to become himself.'[12] Hegel, however,  argued for a history, which culminates in the state that allows for each  individual to become free and whose 'highest duty is to be members of the state. '[13]

Historically, Herder precedes Hegel; in fact, Herder was a great influence on  Hegel's philosophy of history. For our purposes, however, we shall first  briefly discuss the philosophy of history of Hegel and then more intensely look at the ideas of Herder.

Today, we have difficulty sympathizing with Hegel and his ethnocentrism. We  also do not share the same presuppositions as Hegel. With political borders  losing their definition (due to technology such as the internet) and the growth of the 'international community,' Hegel's philosophy of history appears to be a  regression from the thought of his predecessor, Herder.

As previously discussed, presuppositions are brought before any historical  investigation; therefore, the relationship between the historian and  historiography is never one of impartiality. This is true for Hegel as well:  'The history of the world accordingly represents the successive stages in the  development of that principle whose substantial content is the consciousness of freedom.'[14] In other words, all of world-history is 'the development of the  Spirit in the form of progress.'[15]

For Hegel, world-history develops in accordance with reason: 'The only thought  which philosophy brings with it to the contemplation of history, is the simple  conception of reason; that reason is the sovereign of the world; that the  history of the world, therefore, presents us with a rational process.'[16] As a rational process, world-history is also attached to Spirit. The World-Spirit, or Weltgeist, acting on reason, 'gradually' becomes conscious of its own freedom.  'The history of the world,' Hegel claims, 'is none other than the progress of  the consciousness of freedom; a progress whose development according to the  necessity of its nature, it is our business to investigate.'[17]

For Hegel, the Spirit must eventually become conscious of itself as freedom.  The Weltgeist, as we may understand Hegel to be describing, is displayed by  various national states. Each state has its Volkgeist, or national spirit, that contributes to the World-Spirit. However, the Weltgeist only displays itself in  one nation at a time, disregarding all other peoples.[18]

To move quickly, we shall briefly note the general outline of Hegel's  philosophy of history. In the Elements of the Philosophy of Right, Hegel  discusses the constituent principles of world-history. His formulation is as  follows:

     341. World history is a court of judgment [die Weltgeshicte
     ist das G
     342. Since Spirit in and for itself [an sich und fur sich]
     is reason, and since the being-for-itself of reason in
     Spirit is knowledge, world-history is the necessary
     development, from the concept of the freedom of Spirit
     alone, of the moments of reason and hence of Spirit's
     self-consciousness and freedom.
     343. Its deed is to make itself -- in this case as Spirit --
     the object of its own consciousness, and to comprehend
     itself in its interpretation of itself to itself.
     344. The states, nations [Volker], and individuals involved
     in this business of the world-Spirit emerge with their own
     particular and determinate principle.
     347. The nation [Volk] to which such a moment is allotted
     as a natural principle is given the task of implementing
     this principle in the course of the self-development of the
     World-Spirit's self-consciousness. This nation is the
     dominant one in world-history for this epoch, and only once
     in history can it have this epoch-making role.
     354. The world-historical realms are four in number.[19]
We should recall that in the Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Hegel states, 'World history travels from east to west; for Europe is the absolute end of history, just as Asia is the beginning.'[20] The four world-historical realms are the Oriental, the Greek, the Roman, and the Germanic; each realm has its own principle. Hegel discusses these four realms in depth in The Philosophy of  History.[21]

The Oriental world, which includes China, India, Persia, Syria, Judaea, and  Egypt, has the principle of substantial unity. The child-like Volkgeist of this realm is strongly associated with nature. It is a world of theocracy. In the  Oriental world, only the despot has individuality and is free. According to  Hegel, it is in Persia that 'we first enter on continuous history.'[22]

In the Greek world, the Spirit has reached its adolescence. Here, there are  some, though not all, who are free. Its principle is that of an ideal unity. In Greece, there is a separation between nature and the individual.

The Roman world, the adulthood of the Weltgeist, has the principle of  subjective inwardness [Innerlichkeit]. In the Roman world, the individual and  the state are in opposition.

However, the reconciliation of such opposition is found in the Germanic world.  The principle of this world is freedom. Hegel ends The Philosophy of History by stating, 'This is the point which consciousness has attained... the principle of freedom has realized itself; for the history of the world is nothing but the  development of the idea of freedom.'[23] History ends here in the Germanic  world. Now, shall we turn to Herder?

Often, both philosophers and historians situate Herder either in opposition to  the Aufklarung or within the Enlightenment as one of its strongest promoters.  No doubt, Herder was strongly influenced by the German Enlightenment and the  ideas of Immanuel Kant. However, if we were to investigate Herder's thought  alongside the Enlightenment ideas of, for example, Christian Wolff, which  Herder learned while attending Kant's lectures, we would quickly realize the  sharp contrast between Wolff and Herder and situate the latter in opposition to the Enlightenment.

Frederick Beiser reminds us, 'Rather than seeing other cultures as ends in  themselves having their own sui generis values, the Aufklarer (and Hegel)  consider the values of eighteenth-century Europe to be the purpose of history  itself.'[24] However, Herder never accepted the notion of European superiority  over the other peoples of the world. Instead, Herder promotes any and all  societies in which people can live happy, full lives [Humanitat].

Herder was a philosopher 'ahead of his time' in that he argued for the notion  of belonging (within a people), openly embraced diversity, and promoted  pluralism on a worldwide scale.[25] Together, these ideas encourage both the  happiness of the individual within one's culture and as a 'citizen of the world [Weltburger].'[26] Just a few years later, Hegel would write that a human being  'possesses an impulse of perfectibility.'[27] Yet, unlike Herder, who thought  that perfection was the achieving of Humanitat, Hegel regarded perfection as  the result of the Spirit's activity in history. Berlin, in discussing Herder's  pluralism, writes:

     [Herder] is interested not in nationality but in cultures,
     in worlds, in the total experience of peoples; and the
     aspects of this experience that he celebrates are personal
     relationships, friendship and enmity, attitudes to nature,
     war and peace, art and science, ways in which truth,
     freedom and happiness are pursued, and in particular the
     relations of the great civilizing leaders to the ungrateful
Whereas most historians emphasize the political and military activity of nation,
Herder stressed that people should be understood through all of their  cultural productions, i.e., politics, art, music, etc. We should, in a sense,  empathize [Einfuhlen] with other peoples.

Herder stressed the failure of his predecessors and their notions of history  because they portray peoples only by generalities (and in comparison to their  own culture) and fail to realize that peoples develop differently and do so at  different rates, by different means, and in different manners. Herder  continually attacked the historiography of the Aufklarung (and the ideas that  would later be developed by Hegel), which was grounded in presuppositions such  as the idea that history progresses upward from the primitive and superstitious to the advancement of a morality without mysticism, to the advancement of  absolute freedom. With this thought, Enlightenment thinkers demonstrated their  ethnocentric philosophies of history. Herder, however, rejected any notion that history could or would culminate in the Enlightenment or a modern state.[29]  Each Volk has its own (individual) significance in the world, despite, for  example, religion (either mysticism or morality without religion).

Barnard writes, 'No effort should therefore be spared, Herder urged, to study  each culture historically, within its own particular interrelations, its own  shapes and structures.'[30] Today, more than ever before, we should not judge  one culture based on our standards; but rather, we have to develop an  understanding of a given culture in light of its own values. We must empathize  [Einfuhlen].

In Another Philosophy of History, Herder embarks on a tour de force against the championing of reason in history and against the claim that Europe could and  would forever be the pinnacle of culture. No doubt, for Herder, reason holds  its place in history.[31] If indeed, every culture shares a common ambition, it is that 'progression towards greater virtue and happiness of individual human  beings.'[32] All of humankind [Menschheit] shares the quality of adaptation.  Furthermore, history is the progression of peoples striving (adapting) for  Humanitat (see below).

Herder, rejecting the notion of race, continually stresses the idea of peoples, whereas Kant held to a notion of race based on skin color. Unlike Kant, Herder  argued that a culture held greater importance than geographical location. No  one people is superior to another. No people is without culture. No culture is  better than another. Cultures differ from one another, 'but these differences [ are] of degree, not of kind.'[33] 'Overall and in the end,' writes Herder,  'everything is only a shade of one and the same great portrait that extends  across all the spaces and times of the earth.'[34] Every people contributes to  humankind and encourages the progression toward Humanitat, 'not as straight,  nor as uniform, but as stretching in all directions, with all manner of turns  and twists.'[35]

John Zammito writes that Herder was not interested in 'trac[ing] the trajectory of 'progress' but [in] discriminate[ing] the varieties of human excellence.'[36] Furthermore, as Herder writes, 'Every nation has its center of happiness within  itself, as every ball has its center of gravity!'[37] In other words, Herder  was interested in the internal and external influences on a culture and  emphasized the individuality of a given culture.

Hegel, on the other hand, disregards various other (non-European) peoples such  as those from America and Africa.[38] Hegel thought that the peoples of America,
'a vanishing, feeble race,' were 'dying out' and need not be discussed since  they would offer nothing to world-history.[39] The Negroes of Africa 'are to be regarded as a race of children... [that] do not show an inherent striving for  culture.'[40] According to Hegel, these peoples, or at least their land, will  sooner or later be dominated by those of European descent. This disregard is,  furthermore, encouraged by providence, in light of which Hegel understands the  development of history. Hegel states:

     The truth, then, that the world's events are controlled by
     a providence, indeed by divine providence, is consistent
     with the principle in question. For divine providence is
     wisdom, coupled with infinite power, which realizes its
     ends; i.e., the absolute and rational design of the world;
     and reason is freely self-determining thought.[41]
The Volk that Hegel ignores in his philosophy of history are those people who  do not have a place in the 'rational design' of the world.

However, for Herder, Humanitat -- briefly mentioned above -- remains an  immature potential within all human beings and needs to be developed over time. Herder states, 'All your questions concerning the progress of our species, which really would call for a book in response, are answered, it seems to me, by one  word, humanity, to be human.'[42] As previously noted, the goal of history, for Herder, is for each individual to become truly human, living a full life  (Humanitat). 'Perfection in an individual human being,' Herder writes, 'is found in that he, in the course of his existence, be himself and continue to become  himself.'[43] Such development concretizes in the perfection of humankind [ Menschheit] and the harmonization (plurality) of cultures so that 'we are  friends to all men and citizens of the world [Weltburger].'[44]

As a possibility for all peoples, Humanitat can be developed in any place and  at any time, given the conditions of the people -- Bildung and Tradition -- are properly manifest. (Hegel defined Bildung -- education/ culture -- as the  development of the spirit in becoming self-conscious of itself.) This clearly  distinguishes Herder from Kant and, especially, Hegel in that all peoples  contribute to history, not just those (whom Hegel) deemed as world-historical.  Herder argues:

     The word humanity stands for the character of our kind; but
     [all of us] are born with this character only in terms of
     disposition, and, to become actual it must be developed. We
     do not bring this character with us ready-made into the
     world; but, in this world, it is to be the goal of our
     strivings, the sum of our endeavors, of our worthiness.[45]
This character, humanity [Humanitat], is developed through Bildung and  Tradition. Barnard reminds us that Bildung ('building up'), for Herder, refers  to the idea of education or unstructured formation (of social norms and  practices); likewise, Tradition ('passing on') relates to a more  institutionalized sharing of norms, etc., and the continual process of this  'passing on.'[46]

Both Bildung and Tradition should be thought of in terms of process. This  'building up' takes place in each individual. Bildung, as discussed by Barnard  (and Herder), is 'the interactive process in which humans draw from and add to  their particular social heritage.'[47] Furthermore, Tradition is the  'intergenerational transmission' of that heritage from one generation to the  next.[48] As philosophers of history, we, alongside Herder, must investigate  cultures based along these two constituents for development.

According to Herder, we should empathize [Einfuhlen] with each culture from the point of view of the respective peoples. A culture should be evaluated based on  its own terms by its own values. Even within a given culture, one should seek  to grasp the culture in terms of the specific stage of development in which it  exists at a given point. This, however, was the exact thing that philosophers  in the Enlightenment failed to do. Their ethnocentrism corrupted the  possibility for them to study any other culture on its own terms.

Today, we can see that Hegel's philosophy of history is too restricting for the twenty-first century, given that (even by his own time) it disregards all  cultures except for the Germanic world. We may not be able to have a 'perfect'  world, but we can strive for a harmonious pluralistic world in which every  culture is understood and appreciated. If there exists any such characteristic  as perfection, perhaps Herder's Humanitat is such a thing. Let us conclude with a quote from Zammito on Herder:

     His thoughts on the physical anthropology of race are, for
     modern eyes, vastly less painful than Kant's. Herder was
     skeptical of the fixture of distinct racial groups,
     precisely for the fear that this would lead to hypostasis
     of distinctions in their capacities.'[49]

Barnard, Frederick M. Herder on Nationality, Humanity, and History. Ithaca:  McGill-Queen's UP, 2003.

Beiser, Frederick C. The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987.

Berlin, Isaiah. The Power of Ideas. ed. Henry Hardy. Princeton: Princeton UP,  2000.

________. Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder. ed. Henry  Hardy. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000.

Hegel, Georg Wilhem Friedrich. ''Anthropology,' from the Encyclopedia of the  Philosophical Sciences,' in The Idea of Race. ed. Robert Bernasconi and Tommy L.
Lott. Translated by A.V. Miller. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000.

________. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. ed. Allen W. Wood. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York: Cambridge UP, 2003.

________. Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York: Cambridge UP, 2002.

________. The Philosophy of History. Translated by J. Sibree. New York:  Prometheus Books, 1991.

Herder, Johann Gottfried. Another Philosophy of History and Selected Political  Writings. Translated by Ioannis D. Evrigenis and Daniel Pellerin. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004.

________. On World History, 'On the Character of Humankind.' eds. Hans Adler  and Ernest A. Menze. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1997.

________. Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind. ed. Frank E. Manuel. Translated by T.O. Churchill. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1968.

Norman, Richard. The Moral Philosophers: An Introduction to Ethics. 2nd. Ed.  Oxford University Press, 1998.

Zammito, John H. Kant, Herder, and the Birth of Anthropology. Chicago: U of  Chicago P, 2002.


1. Isaiah Berlin, The Power of Ideas, ed. Henry Hardy (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000), 23. 'Perfect' refers to the utopian idea that all values can be fully and equally displayed.

2. See Kant's 'On the Use of Teleological Principles in Philosophy' and 'Idea  for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose' regarding cosmopolitanism.

3. Herder does not speak of 'cultures' but rather 'culture' in the singular.  The world 'cultures' is used loosely throughout this essay as synonymous with  'peoples.'

4. Unfortunately, Herder's nationalism has often been criticized as being  political and even linked to fascism. However, Herder's notion of nationalism  is more related to 'belonging' in that it is involved with culture (people) and not a particular state.

5. Isaiah Berlin lived 1909-1997.

6. Richard Norman, The Moral Philosophers: An Introduction to Ethics. 2nd. Ed.  (Oxford University Press, 1998), 201.

7. Johann Gottfried Herder, On World History, 'On the Character of Humankind,'  eds. Hans Adler and Ernest A. Menze (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1997), 100.

8. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History:  Introduction, trans. H.B. Nisbet (New York: Cambridge UP, 2002), 124.

9. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, 150.

10. Johann Gottfried Herder, Another Philosophy of History and Selected  Political Writings, trans. Ioannis D. Evrigenis and Daniel Pellerin  (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004), 30.

11. G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction,  trans. H.B. Nisbet (New York: Cambridge UP, 2002), 24.

12. Herder, On World History, 'On the Character of Humankind,' 100. This course,
or continuation, is through Bildung, which will be discussed below in further detail.

13. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, ed.  Allen W. Wood, trans. H.B. Nisbet (New York: Cambridge UP, 2003), 258.

14. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, 129.

15. Ibid., 125.

16. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Philosophy of History, trans. J. Sibree  (New York: Prometheus Books, 1991), 9. The subtitle of Hegel's Lectures on the  Philosophy of World History: Introduction is Reason in History.

17. Ibid., 19.

18. See Hegel, Philosophy of Right, 347; and Philosophy of History p.221.

19. Ibid., sections 341-360. Hegel quotes Schiller in 341.

20. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, 197.

21. See also Hegel's Lectures on the Philosophy of World-History, pp. 130-131.

22. Hegel, Philosophy of History, 173.

23. Ibid., 456.

24. Frederick C. Beiser, The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to  Fichte (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987), 143.

25. Herder, no doubt, enjoyed his European heritage and culture, but not as  philosophical dogma.

26. Herder, Another Philosophy of History, 65.

27. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History, 125.

28. Isaiah Berlin, Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder, ed.
Henry Hardy (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000), 207. See notes 4 and 5.

29. Herder's interest is in peoples, as culture, and not in political states.

30. Barnard, Herder on Nationality, Humanity, and History, 137.

31. See Johann Gottfried Herder, Reflections on the Philosophy of the History  of Mankind, ed. Frank E. Manuel, trans. T.O. Churchill (Chicago: U of Chicago P,
1968), 96. Like Hegel, Herder values reason, only to a less degree in that  Hegel argued that reason was the goal of history where as Herder champions the  happiness of peoples.

32. Herder, Another Philosophy of History, 30.

33. Barnard, 134.

34. Herder, Reflections, 7.

35. Herder, On World History, 'On the Character of Humankind,' 101.

36. John H. Zammito, Kant, Herder, and the Birth of Anthropology (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2002), 333.

37. Herder, Another Philosophy of History, 29.

38. Non-European because, for Hegel, all world-historical people have centered  around the Mediterranean sea.

39. Georg Wilhem Friedrich Hegel, ''Anthropology,' from the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences,' in The Idea of Race, ed. Robert Bernasconi and Tommy L. Lott, trans. A.V. Miller (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000), 43, 39.

40. Ibid., 40, 41. Hegel distinguishes between those of northern Africa (Egypt) and the majority of the continent, the Negroes.

41. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, 35.

42. Herder, On World History, 'On the Character of Humankind,' 99.

43. Ibid., 100.

44. Herder, Another Philosophy of History, 64.

45. Herder, On World History, 'On the Term and the Concept 'Humanity,''106.

46. See Barnard, 145-148.

47. Ibid., 146.

48. Ibid., 146.

49. Zammito, 345.

(c) Mark Westmoreland 2008




The Valley Way of the Soul Melancholy, poetry and soul-making By Matthew Del Nevo Published by St Paul's Publications 2008

     No human is an island, although our modern society leads
     us to believe human beings are and that we have rights
     pertaining to this separateness, but that is not how it is,
     as all great literature testifies. (p.138)
A question often put to philosophers, is 'what is the meaning of life'? Del  Nevo's answer seems to be that it is in meaning, in the very poignancy of life. Poignancy is not to be found in the shopping mall or in artifice, but in the  beauty and in the human soul. Poignancy is very much to be found in this book,  too.

Matthew Del Nevo is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Sydney College of Divinity,
and as such he is bound to talk about the soul, as a psychologist is bound to talk about the self. But while the author has a commitment to the idea of soul  as other related, non-materialistic and anti-technological, in contrast to the  self, there is no religiosity to turn away an atheist (such as myself). The  soul, here, is a way of being; or 'soulfulness'. This cannot be defined but can be found in 'deep subjectivity' and the 'poetic spirit', in the appreciation of  beauty, and through melancholic attitude and pathos. This is, apparently, where the divine is to be found. This is not argued for, but seems to be assumed. So I take this is as a humanist book, especially as it seems influenced by classical  philosophy, the modern philosopher Martin Heidegger and poetry, rather than the Catholic Church.

Del Nevo admits that 'There is a potentially religious angle to this book for  many would say -- and have said -- that soul-seeking is not far from  God-seeking... [but] My sense is that, even among the religious, whether  Christian or Western Buddhist, there is little or no sense of soul'. Apparently this is the 'dark age', poetry is dead, and we live in times of 'crass  sensationalism' (p.84) as well as being dominated by technology which is the  antithesis of humanity. Luckily, modernity is recent, and we are not beyond a  return to soulfulness.

There is enormous history behind this book. Keats, speaking only in 1819, was  stating something 'ancient and theological' when he said 'Call the world a  valley of soul-making and you will find out the use of the world' (p.53). A  relation between melancholy, beauty and soul has it's roots in both the  Scholastic, Augustine, and in the Ancient, Plotinus.

Given the weight of history and the suspect notion of progress (involving the  dominance of technology), modernity seems to be off the track of meaning in  it's commitment to the self rather than the soul. 'We live in a world of  science and technology, and of unbridled rationalism.' We are soul dead, where  this refers to 'lack or absence of imagination'. (P.53).

The book does contain quite a lot of criticism of Western consumer society --  but this is perhaps rather timely given the economic crisis which began in the  United States and is spreading endemically.

Del Nevo seems to be very seriously worried about this. His response is not to  write a pop book. This book might not be widely read. This is a philosophical  book about the soul and how poetry is the best way to show us how to be soulful.
Poetry, it is claimed, allows us to get in touch with the melancholy in our  nature. Melancholy is not to be equated with sadness or depression, which are  psychological states of the individual self. Through the melancholic nature of  the soul we can also experience joy in, say, the beauty of poetry.  'Christianity recognises... joyful tears' which is a 'spiritual gift' and so  shows that melancholy and joy belong together. In contrast, and more amusingly, at the beginning of the book, Del Nevo notes that 'Contemporary consumer culture defines melancholy along with other supposedly 'negative' moods in opposition to all that is regarded as 'positive' as if metaphor of positive and negative,  derived from electronics, helpfully categorises something as human as a mood.'

So the main factual claim of the book is that in this materialistic and  technological age, poetry is dead, where once the poet was a person of great  stature. While the book concentrates on poetry, especially Keats, who first  described the soul as a valley and connected melancholy and joy, Del Nevo isn't obsessive about poetry, but is more concerned with soulfulness and melancholy.  However, he says he thinks 'Popular culture is chock-full of soulfulness. To  start with I think of the blue note in jazz... the record label named after it, and all the music published under that label... Rhythm and blues wants to go  electric and up-tempo, but does not want to lose the blue heart which is its  soul' (p.48).

There is a therapeutic purpose in the book in that Del Nevo also aims to  discuss poetry in such a way that we can begin to enter the valley way of  melancholy, where this is in contrast to the sort of 'high' achieved by playing a computer game or finding more friends on Facebook. That sort of high is  selfish, not other involving, whereas the beauty to be found through reading  poetry is essentially other involving because it evokes the possibility of  shared experience and our common humanity. Poetry also draws us into the  meaningful, which is the good life. 'Only from the valley do we desire the  everlasting hills; only from the valley can we even see them' (P.49). We need  to be humble and appreciate ordinary things -- everyday objects can be  beautiful if we observe them with poetic spirit, think of them in terms of the  history with which they are imbued, or the meanings they have for us. This  humbleness is in contrast to the way in which we are 'boastful' about our new  world of technology even though it is out of touch with the history of humanity.

I wonder if you could write poetry about technology which has poignancy? Now  there's a challenge! For sure, the everyday is poetic in itself when seen  poetically. Read these simple words of Bonnefoy:

     'And always to the waterfronts at night, to pubs... To
     these ordinary rooms, for the maintaining of the gods among
     us.' (quoted p.130).

I understand 'maintaining of the gods among us' to mean the human togetherness  that pubs on the waterfront at night mean to the person outside in the cold.

But returning to the more general thesis of the book, as above, Keats thought  that if we call the world a valley of soul-making we shall find out the use for the world. This will guide us in how to live. The answer is that melancholy is  the 'Portal' of the good life (P.86). It is an attitude through which we can  find poignancy and meaning in the every day. This is precisely what the poet  does, by bringing things into presence, through the poet and reader's  imaginative activity. The book claims that attention to pictorial art and music are also means to a spiritual state (although I cannot think how music could  bring presence of every day things into imagination; my failing, no doubt).

Bringing into presence is contrasted with narrow perception of objects, an  analysis of which leads to individuation and nominalism. The word and object  come apart. The word is just a label which only has attached to it a definition or essence. In contrast, with presence comes meaningfulness. In the above quote, the pub is set within an evocative sentence so that 'pub' doesn't just signify a pub because through the poem we 'feel the cosmological dimensions of things'  through bringing imagination to bear. This could have been made clearer, but  you understand what is being said when you read the book. You cannot define.  You can show inter-related ideas, which can be grasped, though vague.

As an atheist, I found mention of 'God' and 'divinity' unnecessary. The  analyses of the poems are as beautiful as the poems themselves. The book is  exceptionally moving. I responded to the therapeutic purpose, but still have no understanding of what 'God' and 'divinity' are. You can surely be soulful in the sense of the melancholic without thinking this is divine. It seems simply human.

Of course a consequence of discussing the soul and poetry is that where is soul, there is not method. You cannot be taught to write beautiful and original  poetry any more than Miles Davis could be taught soulfulness.

This is very much against analytical philosophy, which CAN be taught, and is  all about method and logic. No-one, Del Nevo claims, cares for the dry academic nature of academic philosophy or 'pretentious language games that are carried on in philosophy departments and nowhere else'. Philosophy should, rather, be a  guide to how to 'be' or to live. It should be existential.

Del Nevo shows an obvious bias towards continental over analytical philosophy.  He agrees with Adorno that 'philosophy has lapsed into intellectual neglect,  sententious whimsy and finally oblivion.' In my view, this can't really be  truly said of academic analytical philosophy, which is actually going strong.  It might well be the case with continental philosophy, though, unless it can  withstand total relativism and Derrida's influence.

It is not clear that engagement with analytical philosophy and method excludes  the possibility of being soulful. 'One of the greatest modern French poets  worked in advertising (Edmond Jabes)' (P.135). If being in advertising,  engaging in the capitalist consumer society, which is criticised here, is  compatible with being soulful, why not analytical philosophy? How bad is  analytical philosophy? In its lack of soulfulness it seems to be on a par with  technology. This is because if we separate and analyse we lose sight of the  whole. A thought about a pub is an abstracted idea, but when described by  Bonnefoy, it is infused with warmth and humanity, contrasted with being alone,  outside humanity, in the cold night. On the bigger picture, if we separate the  self from humankind, we lose soul.

In separating bits of the world off, we are left with 'enigmas', according to  Bonnefoy (P.141). He is talking of the analysis of a visual perception of a  salamander(!). But by analogy, analytical philosophers have created enigmas and this has been partly due to use of language as objectifying. For instance,  losing sight of the idea of humanity, we think of a 'person', we individuate,  and then we ask about 'personal identity' and find we have no answer. We are  looking at a 'concept' and this is not what it is to be a person.

But I don't think analytical philosophy is futile. We have the ability to  appreciate beauty and to be soulful, but we also have an ability to analyse and I think a wider humanism should recognise this.

This is an extremely thought-provoking book, and for me, challenging. It is to  be recommended for this, as well as its beauty. Del Nevo describes his own book as being on the 'fringe' of philosophy. This is humble indeed. It would be good  if it was also on the fringe of literary criticism as well. This, given post  modernism and post structuralism, has also lost soul.

(c) Rachel Browne 2009


© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020