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Only through the interplay of these oppositions, which Rousseau never came to recognize, could one attain classical perfection. Although educated in a basically Leibnizian-Wolffian worldview, it was Spinoza from whom Goethe adopted the view that God is both immanent with the world and identical with it.
While there is little to suggest direct influence on other aspects of his thought, there are certain curious similarities. Both think that ethics should consist in advice for influencing our characters and eventually to making us more perfect individuals.
And both hold that happiness means an inner, almost stoically tranquil superiority over the ephemeral troubles of the world. Yet Goethe only came to read him seriously in the late s, and even then only with the help of Karl Reinhold While he shared with Kant the rejection of externally imposed norms of ethical behavior, his reception was highly ambivalent.
The critique of reason was like a literary critique: Goethe considered his scientific contributions as important as his literary achievements.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
But court life in Weimar brought Goethe for the first time in contact with experts outside his literary comfort zone. His directorship of the silver-mine at nearby Ilmenau introduced him to a group of mineralogists from the Freiburg Mining Academy, led by Johann Carl Voigt His discovery of the intermaxillary bone was a result of his study with Jena anatomist Justus Christian Loder Increasingly fascinated by botany, he studied the pharmacological uses of plants under August Karl Batsch at the University of Jena, and began an extensive collection of his own.
He has alternately been received as a universal man of learning whose methods and intuitions have contributed positively to many aspects of scientific discourse, or else denounced as a dilettante incapable of understanding the figures— Linnaeus and Isaac Newton—against whom his work is a feeble attempt to revolt.
Positivists of the early twentieth century virtually ignored him. Plants were classified according to their relation to each other into species, genera, and kingdom. The problem for Goethe was two-fold. Although effective as an organizational schema, it failed to distinguish organic from inorganic natural objects.
And by concentrating only on the external characteristics of the plant, it ignored the inner development and transformation characteristic of living things generally. Goethe felt that the exposition of living objects required the same account of inner nature as it did for the account of the inner unity of a person.
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But whereas their versions dealt with the generation and corruption of living beings, Goethe sought the common limitations imposed on organic beings by external nature. But he only fully lays out the position as an account of the form and transformation of organisms in the Zur Morphologi e. In the plant, for example, this determination of each individual member by the whole arises insofar as every organ is built according to the same basic form.
As he wrote to Herder on May 17, Any way you look at it, the plant is always only leaf, so inseparably joined with the future germ that one cannot think the one without the other. Through the careful study of natural objects in terms of their development, and in fact only in virtue of it, we are able to intuit morphologically the underlying pattern of what the organic object is and must become. The morphological method is thus a combination of careful empirical observation and a deeper intuition into the idea that guides the pattern of changes over time as an organism interacts with its environment.
While the visible transformations are apparent naturalistically, the inner laws by which they are necessary are not. To do that, the scientist needs to describe the progressive modification of a single part of an object as its modification over time relates to the whole of which it is the part. Polarity between a freely creative impulse and an objectively structuring law is what allows the productive restraint of pure creativity and at the same time the playfulness and innovation of formal rules.
But rather than a fanciful application of an aesthetic doctrine to the nature, Goethe believed that the creativity great artists, insofar as they are great, was a reflection of the purposiveness of nature. As with a plant, the creative forces of life must be guided, trained, and restricted, so that in place of something wild and ungainly can stand a balanced structure which achieves, in both organic nature and in the work of art, its full intensification in beauty.
The early drafts of Torquato Tasso begun in the s , for example, reveal its protagonist as a veritable force of nature, pouring out torrential feelings upon a conservative and repressed external world. By the time of the published version in , the Sturm und Drang character of Tasso is polarized against the aristocratically reposed and reasonable character of Antonio. Only in conjunction with Antonio can Tasso come into classical fullness and perfection.
As the interplay of polarities in nature is the principle of natural wholeness, so is it the principle of equipoise in the classical drama. Only from the polarized tension does his drive to self-formation achieve intensification and eventually classical perfection. I take no pride in it At the same time, it was the source of perhaps his greatest disappointment. Like his work on morphology, his theory of colors fell on mostly deaf ears. Thus, while Goethe esteems Newton as a redoubtable genius, his issue is with those half-witted apologists who effectively corrupted that very same edifice they fought to defend.
The refraction of pure white light projected at a prism produces the seven individual colors. Pragmatically, this allowed Newton to quantify the angular bending of light beams and to predict which colors would be produced at a given frequency.
That frequency could be calculated simply by accounting for the distance between the light source and the prism and again the distance from the prism to the surface upon which the color was projected. But by reducing the thing itself to its perceptible qualities, the Newtonians had made a grave methodological mistake.
The derivative colors produced by the prismatic experiments are identified with the spectrum that appears in the natural world. But since the light has been artificially manipulated to fit the constraints of the experiment, there is no prima facie reason to think that natural light would feature the same qualities. Effects we can perceive, and a complete history of those effects would, in fact, sufficiently define the nature of the thing itself.
The colors are acts of lights; its active and passive modifications: A light beam is no static thing with a substantial ontological status, but an oppositional tension that we perceive only relationally. Through careful observation of their interplay alone do we apprehend color. Color arises from the polarity of light and darkness. Darkness is not the absence of light, as both Newton and most contemporary theorists believe, but its essential antipode, and thereby an integral part of color.
Through a series of experiments on his thesis that color is really the interplay of light and dark, Goethe discovered a peculiarity that seemed to confute the Newtonian system. The "Intensive 2 — Language and Culture" course at our summer location in Vienna will take you to one of Europe's most beautiful cities. For many college and university programs in Germany, prospective students must demonstrate adequate German skills. In our courses you will receive instruction from specialized teachers to provide optimal preparation for studying in Germany.
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