Date of Award

May 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Frederick C. Beiser


Enlightenment, History of Ethics, History of Philosophy, Johann Gottfried Herder, Rationalism, Romanticism

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


This work is a study of the ethical thought of Johann Gottfried Herder. I examine the development of his ethics from 1765 through 1791. I contend that the earliest texts express a set of ideas that Herder modified and developed throughout the rest of his work. These are a perfectionist conception of the end of human life, a belief in the centrality of history for ethics, a form of naturalism, and a commitment to the idea that every individual ought to blend their characteristic powers into a harmonious whole. The study considers a set of texts in chronological order. I begin with an examination of the ideals espoused by Herder in two texts from the 1760s, "Wie die Philosophie zum Besten des Volks Allgemeiner und Ntzlicher Werden Kann" and Journal meiner Reise im Jahr 1769. I then look at an exchange of letters between Herder and Moses Mendelssohn concerning the highest good, or vocation of man. I then look at how the ideas sketched in these earlier works were filled out in Abhandlung ber den Ursprung der Sprache (1772), Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte zur Bildung der Menschheit (1774), Vom Erkennen und Empfinden der menschlichen Seele (1774-8), and Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit (1784-91).


Open Access