Quotes by Wilhelm von Humboldt

"I am more and more convinced that our happiness or unhappiness depends far more on the way we meet the events of life, than on the nature of those events themselves."

"…man never regards what he possesses as so much his own, as what he does; and the labourer who tends a garden is perhaps in a truer sense its owner, than the listless voluptuary who enjoys its fruits…In view of this consideration, it seems as if all peasants and craftsman might be elevated into artists; that is, men who love their labour for its own sake, improve it by their own plastic genius and inventive skill, and thereby cultivate their intellect, ennoble their character, and exalt and refine their pleasures. And so humanity would be ennobled by the very things which now, though beautiful in themselves, so often serve to degrade it…But, still, freedom is undoubtedly the indispensable condition, without which even the pursuits most congenial to individual human nature, can never succeed in producing such salutary influences. Whatever does not spring from a man’s free choice, or is only the result of instruction and guidance, does not enter into his very being, but remains alien to his true nature; he does not perform it with truly human energies, but merely with mechanical exactness…

…we may admire what he does, but we despise what he is."

"How a person masters his fate is more important than what his fate is."

"As soon as one stops searching for knowledge, or if one imagines that it need not be creatively sought in the depths of the human spirit but can be assembled extensively by collecting and classifying facts, everything is irrevocably and forever lost."

"All growth toward perfection is but a returning to original existence."

Wilhelm von Humboldt
  • Wilhelm von Humboldt

  • Date of birth: June 23, 1767
  • Died: April 08, 1835
  • Born: in Postdam, Germany.

  • Description: Wilhelm (Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand) von Humboldt, German man of letters extraordinary, close friend of the poets Goethe and Schiller, whose life's work encompasses the areas of philosophy, literature, linguistics, anthropology, education, and political thought as well statesmanship was born in Potsdam on June 23, 1767 and died at Tegel near Berlin on April 8, 1835. Although there has always been strong interest in Humboldt expressed by political and cultural historians and educationists in Germany, it is only in recent decades that his contributions to the formation of modern linguistics, to semiotics, hermeneutics and language philosophy have given rise to renewed attention to his pioneering achievements in these areas, even though much of his work in linguistics has remained unknown or unexplored until recently. Yet numerous linguists beginning with Pott and Steinthal in Germany and the American Brinton in the nineteenth century to Boas, Sapir, Bühler, Weisgerber, and Chomsky in the twentieth century derived or claimed to have derived important insights from Humboldt. But their interest in Humboldt was partial at best and limited to those aspects of his work that could be utilized to reinforce or to legitimize their own projects and methodologies. It is quite misleading to associate the term “Humboldtian linguistics” or “Humboldtian language philosophy” with any one specific direction, for example with the Whorfian thesis of “linguistic relativity” or with Chomsky's opposite notion of a universalist “generative grammar” because these tend to ignore other equally or more important dimensions of Humboldt's work. After his death in 1835 his linguistic work was effectively disregarded by mainstream linguists in Germany whose primary interest was focused on the Indo-European language group Thus a prominent figure like Franz Bopp would maintain that the languages of the South Pacific represented but decayed forms of Sanskrit despite the fact that Humboldt had already thoroughly disproved this opinion in his Kavi Work and demonstrated that these languages constituted what is called today the Austronesian language group (Mueller-Vollmer 1991). Even the linguist Heyman Steinthal who published in 1884 a two volume edition of Humboldt's writings entitled Die Sprachphilosophischen Werke Wilhelm's von Humboldt (Humboldt's works in language philosophy) (see “Works”, bibliography) in his introduction and commentaries criticises Humboldt from a reductionist psychologistic position and neither here or anywhere in his other writings made a serious attempt to discuss Humboldt's own arguments and to investigate his actual philosophical position. In France, on the other hand, we find throughout the 19th century a comparatively sustained interest in Humboldt that was confined chiefly to his work in the Asian languages and to his Basque studies. As a member of the Société Asiatique in Paris he published a number of articles in the society's official journal, the Journal Asiatique (For a list of these articles, see Bösch 2006, p. 234) and the latter in turn carried reviews of some of his writings. It has to be noted that this French reception resulted largely from the personal contacts and scholarly exchanges that he maintained with a number of prominent French linguists such as Jean-François Champollion, Jean-Pierre Abél Rémusat, Eugène Jacquet, and Eugène Burnouf Yet Humboldt's French reception, while including some of his important linguistic studies, all but omitted their philosophical concerns and underlying principles. Typical is the review of Humboldt's groundbreaking treatise from 1827, “On the Dual” that appeared in the Nouvelle Revue Germanique, I: 378–381 (1829), where the reviewer blended out entirely the philosophical intent and key argument of the piece (Ibid. 105/6) and thus distorted beyond recognition Humboldt's integration of linguistic research and language philosophy which lies