Readings For June 15th

Posted: June 13, 2017 in Readings

ATTENTION: These are for Thursday. I’m aware that this looks like a lot, but I will try not to overburden you. Consequently, let’s not bother with the two scholarly essays on Alexander von Humboldt. We’ll only read the relatively recent essay by Elinor Shaffer, and the primary texts by F.W.J. Schelling and Wilhelm von Humbolt, all of which are brief.

For the record, Alexander, Wilhelm von Humboldt’s younger brother, was one of the most famous and admired men in the world during 19th century, though scarcely anyone knows him now. I will discuss Alexander in class, but you don’t have to do any actual reading on him. OK, see you soon!

Elinor Shaffer

Elinor S. Shaffer
(living – University of London)
“Romantic Philosophy and The Organization of The Disciplines:
The Founding of The Humboldt University of Berlin”

F.W.J. Schelling
“The Scientific and Moral Functions of Universities”


Wilhelm von Humboldt
(1767 – 1835)
“Theory of Bildung”
“Linguistic Variability and Intellectual Development”


Alexander von Humboldt
(1769 – 1859)

FYI, the novel below, about von Humboldt and Gauss, is my nomination for the Honors summer reading selection.


Karl S. Zimmerer
“Humboldt’s Nodes and Modes of Interdisciplinary Environmental
Science in the Andean World”

Geographical Review, Vol. 96, No. 3, Humboldt in the Americas (Jul., 2006)

Caroline Schaumann
“Who Measures the World? Alexander von Humboldt’s Chimborazo
Climb in the Literary Imagination”

The German Quarterly, Vol. 82, No. 4 (Fall 2009)

Humboldt1805-chimborazo (1)


Frederick E. Church




  1. Cal Pape says:

    When we were discussing censorship today, I was reminded of a certain article I read last year; it was directed at young parents. The article argued that parents should allow their children to see them in the nude from a young age. As a result, the children can understand what an average body looks like and what physical changes to expect as they age. It also undermines the so-called “taboo” of seeing human genitals first-hand. I think this school of thought is a step in the right direction for America. That being said, I’m definitely an anti-censorship kind of person.

    • There are many different notions regarding how to raise a child, especially when it comes to bodies and sexuality. While in America we have tended greatly in the direction of modesty, in Europe things are very different. A quick trip to a beach in Europe will confirm this. I can’t say I think there should be any definitive rulebooks on how to teach children about bodies, sexuality, appropriate behavior, etc. I do imagine, however, that person slowly introduced to delicate subjects and powerful sensations run a much lower risk of being shocked by sudden exposure. This is something that no only Kant, but also Locke would suggest, at least in principle. One thing that did come up in our discussion today, however, was the thought that freedom of speech or inquiry, or freedom from censorship, were not things that all persons should expect immediately to enjoy. At least when it came to freedom of inquiry and debate and the public sphere, there were rights persons should expect to enjoy only if they have beforehand shown an ability to perform their duties faithfully, and if they have been able to demonstrate a genuine sense of moral vocation within their area of expertise. By right, all persons have the potential to earn this privilege. But it’s not something they should expect automatically and without effort. In this, Kant’s view of freedom differs a bit from the way we view it in America. While we tend to claim anybody, by natural inalienable right, can say anything they want without any repercussions, Kant would argue that persons of proven integrity may speak freely and without fear of censorship on issues about which they have prepared themselves to offer a informed opinion. What these two views do seem to have in common is the belief that public sources of information – i.e., the media – are absolutely vital to Enlightened and self-governing societies. If all exchange of information and opinions becomes controlled, blocked, or declared invalid by a governing power, tyranny will have begun.

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