The great significance of Goethe's morphological works is to be sought in the fact that in them the theoretical basis and method for studying organic entities are established, and this is a scientific deed of the first order.
If one is to do justice to this rightly, one must above all bear in mind the great difference existing between the phenomena of inorganic nature and those of organic nature. A phenomenon of the first kind, for example, is the impact of two elastic balls upon one another. If one ball is at rest and the other ball strikes it from a certain direction and with a certain velocity, then the first ball is likewise given a certain direction and velocity. If it is a matter then of comprehending such a phenomenon, this can be achieved only by our transforming into concepts what is directly there for the senses. We would succeed in this to the extent that nothing of a sense-perceptibly real nature remained that we had not permeated conceptually. We see one ball approach and strike the other, which then goes on moving. We have comprehended this phenomenon when, from the mass, direction, and velocity of the first ball, and from the mass of the second, we can determine the direction and velocity of the second ball; when we see that under the given conditions this phenomenon must necessarily occur. But this means nothing other than: that which offers itself to our senses must appear as a necessary consequence of what we have to postulate ideally beforehand. If this is the case, then we can say that concept and phenomenon coincide. There is nothing in the concept that is not also in the phenomenon, and nothing in the phenomenon that is not also in the concept. Now we must take a closer look into those relationships out of which a phenomenon of inorganic nature occurs as a necessary consequence. The important fact arises here that the sense-perceptible processes of inorganic nature are determined by factors that likewise belong to the sense world. In our example, mass, velocity, and direction — i.e., exclusively factors belonging to the sense world — come into consideration. Nothing further arises as a determining factor for the phenomenon. It is only the directly sense-perceptible factors that determine one another. A conceptual grasp of such processes is therefore nothing other than a tracing of something sense-perceptibly real back to something sense-perceptibly real. Spatial-temporal relationships, mass, weight, or sense-perceptible forces such as light or warmth call forth phenomena that themselves belong in the same category. A body is heated and increases thereby in volume; the heating and the expanding both belong to the sense world; both the cause and the effect do so. We therefore do not need to go outside the sense world at all in order to comprehend such processes. We merely trace, within the sense world, one phenomenon back to another. When we therefore explain such a phenomenon, i.e., want to permeate it conceptually, we do not need to take up into the concept any elements other than those which are observably perceptible to our senses. We can observe everything that we want to comprehend. And the congruence of perception (phenomenon) and concept consists in this. Nothing in the processes remains obscure to us, because we know the relationships from which they follow. With this, we have elaborated upon the character of inorganic nature and have shown at the same time to what extent we can explain inorganic nature out of itself, without going out of or beyond it. Now one has never doubted this explainability, ever since one first began to think about the nature of these things. One has not, to be sure, always gone through the above train of thought from which the possibility of a congruence of concept and perception follows; but still one has never hesitated to explain phenomena out of the nature of their own being in the way indicated. 31A few philosophers maintain that we can indeed trace the phenomena of the sense world back to their original elements (forces), but that we can explain these just as little as we can explain the nature of life. On the other hand, one can say that those elements are simple, i.e., cannot themselves be composed of still simpler elements. But to trace them, in all their simplicity, further back, to explain them, is an impossibility, not because our capacity for knowledge is limited, but rather because these elements rest upon themselves; they are present for us in all their immediacy; they are self-contained, cannot be traced hack to anything else.
But matters were different, up until Goethe, with respect to the phenomena of the organic world. In the case of an organism, sense-perceptible factors appear — form, size, colour, warmth conditions of an organ, for example — that are not determined by factors of the same kind. One cannot say of the plant, for example, that the size, form, location, etc., of the roots determine the sense-perceptible factors of the leaf or blossom. A body for which this were the case would not be an organism but rather a machine. It must be admitted that all the sense-perceptible factors of a living being do not manifest as a result of other sense-perceptible factors, 32This is precisely the contrast between an organism and a machine. In a machine, everything is the interaction of its parts. Nothing real exists in the machine itself other than this interaction. The unifying principle, which governs the working together of the parts, is lacking in the object itself, and lies outside of it in the head of its builder as a plan. Only the most extreme short-sightedness can deny that the difference between an organism and a mechanism lies precisely in the fact that the principle causing the interrelationship of the parts is, with respect to a mechanism, present only externally (abstractly), whereas with respect to an organism, this principle gains real existence within the thing itself. Thus the sense-perceptible components of an organism also do not then appear out of one another as a mere sequence, but rather as though governed by that inner principle, as though resulting from such a principle that is no longer sense-perceptible. In this respect it is no more sense-perceptible than the plan in the builder's head that is also there only for the mind; this principle is, in fact, essentially that plan, only that plan has now drawn into the inner being of the entity and no longer carries out its activities through the mediation of a third party — the builder — but rather does this directly itself. as is the case with inorganic nature. On the contrary, in an organism, all sense-perceptible qualities manifest as the result of a factor that is no longer sense-perceptible. They manifest as the result of a higher unity hovering over the sense-perceptible processes. It is not the shape of the root which determines that of the trunk, nor the trunk's shape which determines that of the leaf, and so on, rather, all these forms are determined by something standing over them that itself is not again a form observable by the senses; these forms do exist for one another, but not as a result of one another. They do not mutually determine one another, but rather are all determined by something else. Here we cannot trace what we perceive with our senses back to other sense-perceptible factors; we must take up, into the concept of the processes, elements that do not belong to the world of the senses; we must go out of and beyond the sense world. Observation no longer suffices; we must grasp the unity conceptually if we want to explain the phenomena. Because of this, however, a separation occurs between observation and concept; they no longer seem to coincide with each other; the concept hovers over what is observed. It becomes difficult to see the connection. Whereas in inorganic nature concept and reality were one, here they seem to diverge and actually to belong to two different worlds. The observation that offers itself directly to the senses no longer seems to bear within itself its own basis, its own being. The object does not seem explainable out of itself, but rather from something else. Because the object appears in a way not governed by the laws of the sense world, but is there for the senses nevertheless, appears to the senses, it is then as though we stood here before an insoluble contradiction in nature, as though a chasm existed between inorganic phenomena, which are comprehensible through themselves, and organic beings, in which an intrusion into the laws of nature occurs, in which universally valid laws seem suddenly to be broken. Up until Goethe, in fact, science generally considered this chasm to exist; he was the first to succeed in speaking the word that solved the riddle. Before him, one thought that only inorganic nature was explainable out of itself; man's ability to know ceases when confronted by organic nature. One can best estimate the greatness of the deed Goethe accomplished when one considers that the great reformer of philosophy in recent time, Kant, not only shared completely in that old error, but even sought, in fact, to find a scientific foundation for the view that the human spirit will never succeed in explaining organic entities. He saw the possibility, to be sure, of an intellect — of an intellectus archetypus, of an intuitive intellect — to which it would be granted to see into the relationship of concept and reality in organic beings just as it does in inorganic things; only, he denied to man himself the possibility of any such intellect (Verstand). 33Readers familiar with German philosophy in English will remember that the conventional translation of Verstand is “understanding.” — Ed. For Kant, it is supposedly characteristic of the human intellect that it can think of the unity, the concept of a thing, only as resulting from the interaction of its parts — as an analytical generalization gained by a process of abstraction — but not in such a way that each individual part manifests as the outflow of a definite concrete (synthetical) unity, of a concept in an intuitive form. For this reason, it is also supposedly impossible for the intellect to explain organic nature, because organic nature would have to be thought of, indeed, as working from the whole into the parts. Kant says about this: “It is characteristic of our intellect, therefore, with respect to our power of judgment, that it does not determine knowledge through itself, does not determine what is particular through what is general, and that therefore the particular cannot be traced back to the general.” 34Critique of Judgment (Kritik der Urteilskraft) According to this, we would therefore have to renounce all knowledge, with regard to organic entities, of the necessary connection between the idea of the whole — which can only be thought — and what manifests to our senses in space and time. According to Kant, we must limit ourselves to the recognition that such a connection exists; but the logical challenge to know how the general thought, the idea, steps out of itself and manifests itself as sense-perceptible reality, this supposedly cannot be fulfilled with respect to organisms. Rather we would have to assume that concept and reality confront each other here without mediation; and that some influence lying outside them both creates them in somewhat the same way a person, according to an idea he has thought up, constructs some composite thing or other — a machine, for example. In this way the possibility of an explanation of the world of organisms was denied, its impossibility in fact seemingly proven.
This is how matters stood when Goethe undertook to devote himself to the organic sciences. But he entered into these studies after preparing himself for them in a most appropriate way, through repeated readings of the philosopher Spinoza.
Goethe took up Spinoza for the first time in the spring of 1774. In Poetry and Truth, he says of this, his first acquaintance with the philosopher: “That is, after vainly looking around in the whole world for a means of educating my strange being, I finally happened upon the Ethics of this man.” In the summer of the same year, Goethe met with Friedrich Jacobi. The latter, who had come more thoroughly to terms with Spinoza — as his letters of 1785 about Spinoza's teachings show — was entirely qualified to lead Goethe more deeply into the essential nature of the philosopher. Spinoza was also very much discussed at that time, for in Goethe “everything was still in its first effects and counter-effects, fermenting and seething.” Somewhat later, he found a book in his father's library whose author heatedly opposed Spinoza, even distorting him, in fact, into a total caricature. This gave Goethe the stimulus to occupy himself seriously once more with the profound thinker. In Spinoza's writings he found elucidation on the deepest scientific questions that he was then capable of raising. In 1784, the poet reads Spinoza with Frau von Stein. On November 19, 1784, he writes to her: “I am bringing Spinoza along in Latin, in which everything is much clearer ...” The effect of this philosopher upon Goethe was now immense. Goethe himself was always clear about this. In 1816, he writes to Zelter: “Except for Shakespeare and Spinoza, I do not know that any departed soul has had such an effect upon me (as Linnaeus).” He regards Shakespeare and Spinoza therefore as the two spirits who have exerted the greatest influence on him. The manner in which this influence now manifested itself with respect to his studies of organic development becomes clearest to us if we consider a statement about Lavater from Goethe's Italian Journey; Lavater was also in fact a proponent of the view generally prevalent then that something living can arise only through an influence that does not lie in the nature of the entity itself, through a violation of the general laws of nature. Goethe then wrote the following words about this: “Recently I found, in a pitiful, apostolically monkish declamation of the Zürich prophet, the nonsensical words that everything that has life lives by something outside itself. Or it sounded something like that. Now a missionary can write down something like that, and when he is revising it no good spirit tugs at his sleeve.” Now that is expressed entirely in the spirit of Spinoza. Spinoza makes a distinction between three kinds of knowledge. The first kind is that in which upon hearing or reading certain words we recall certain things and form certain mental pictures of these things which are similar to the pictures by which we represent the things to ourselves pictorially. The second kind of knowledge is that in which, out of sufficient mental pictures of the characteristics of things, we form general concepts for ourselves. The third kind of knowledge, however, is that in which we advance from an adequate picture of the real being of certain attributes of God to an adequate knowledge of the being of things. Spinoza calls this kind of knowledge scientia intuitiva, knowledge in beholding. This last, the highest kind of knowledge, is that for which Goethe strove. One must above all be clear about what Spinoza meant by this The things are to be known in such a way that we recognize within their being certain attributes of God. Spinoza's God is the idea-content of the world, the driving principle that supports and carries everything. Now one can picture this either in such a way that one takes this principle to be an independent being — existing by itself, separated off from finite beings — that has these finite things outside itself, governs them, and causes them to interact. Or, on the other hand, one can picture this being as having merged into finite things in such a way that it is no longer over and outside them, but rather now exists only within them. This view in no way denies that primal principle; it acknowledges it entirely; only, it regards this principle as having been poured out into the world. The first view regards the finite world as a manifestation of the infinite, but this infinite remains with its own being intact; it relinquishes nothing of itself. It does not go out of itself; it remains what it was before it manifested itself. The second view also regards the finite world as a manifestation of the infinite, only it assumes that this infinite, in becoming manifest, has gone entirely out of itself, has laid itself, its own being and life, into its creation in such a way that it now exists only within this creation. Now since our activity of knowing is obviously a becoming aware of the essential being of things, and since this being can after all consist only in the involvement a finite being has in the primal principle of all things, our activity of knowing must then mean a becoming aware of that infinite within the things. 35Certain attributes of God within the things. Now, as we have described above, it was readily assumed, before Goethe, with respect to inorganic nature, that one could explain it out of itself, that it carries within itself its own substantiation and essential being, but that this is not the case with organic nature. Here one could not know, within an object itself, that essential being that manifests itself within the object. One therefore assumed this being to be outside the object. In short: one explained organic nature according to the first view and inorganic nature according to the second. As we have seen, Spinoza had proven the necessity for a unified knowledge. He was too much the philosopher to have been able also to extend this theoretical requirement out over the specialized area of organic science. It remained for Goethe to do this now. Not only his statement about Spinoza quoted above, but also numerous others show us that Goethe adhered decisively to Spinoza's views. In Poetry and Truth: “Nature works according to laws that are eternal, necessary, and so divine that even the Divinity Himself could change nothing about them.” And, in connection with Jacobi's book, Of Divine Things and their Manifestation, 36Von den göttlichen Dingen and ihrer Offenbarung ( 1811 ) Goethe remarks: “How could the book of such a beloved friend be welcome to me when I had to see developed in it the thesis that nature conceals God. With my pure, deep, inborn, and trained way of looking at things, which had taught me absolutely to see God in nature, nature in God, such that this way of picturing things constituted the foundation of my whole existence, would not such a peculiar, one-sidedly limited statement estrange me forever in spirit from this most noble man whose heart I revered and loved?” Goethe was completely conscious of the great step he was taking in science; he recognized that by breaking down the barriers between inorganic and organic nature and by consistently carrying through on Spinoza's way of thinking, he was giving science a significant turn. We find his knowledge of this fact expressed in his essay Power to Judge in Beholding (Anschauende Urteilskraft). After he had found, in the Critique of Judgment, the Kantian establishment of the in ability of the human intellect to explain an organism, as we described above, Goethe expresses his opposition to it in this way: “To be sure, the author (Kant) seems here to point to a divine intellect; but when we, in fact, lift ourselves in the moral sphere into a higher region through belief in God, virtue, and immortality and mean to draw near to the primal being, so likewise, in the intellectual realm, it could very well be the case that we would make ourselves worthy, through beholding an ever-creating nature, of participating spiritually in its productions. Since I had, after all, ceaselessly pressed on, at first unconsciously and out of an inner urge, toward that primal archetypal element, since I had even succeeded in building up a presentation of this which was in accordance with nature, nothing more could keep me then from courageously under taking the adventure of reason, as the old man of Königsberg himself calls it.”
The essential thing about a process of inorganic nature — a process belonging merely to the sense world, in other words — consists in the fact that it is caused and determined by another process which likewise belongs only to the sense world. Let us assume now that the causal process consists of the elements m, d, and v (mass, direction, and velocity of a moving elastic ball) and that the resulting process consists of the elements m', d', and v'; then what m, d, and v are will always determine what m', d', and v' are. If I now want to comprehend the process, I must represent the whole process, consisting of cause and effect, in one common concept. But this concept is not of such a sort that it could lie within the process itself and determine the process. The concept now brings both processes together into one common expression: It does not cause and determine. Only the objects of the sense world determine each other. The elements m, d, and v are elements that are also perceptible to the external senses. The concept appears there only in order to serve man's spirit as a means of drawing things together; it expresses something that is not ideally, conceptually real, but rather is sense-perceptibly real. And that something which it expresses is a sense-perceptible object. Knowledge of inorganic nature is based upon the possibility of grasping the outer world through the senses and of expressing its interactions through concepts. Kant saw the possibility of knowing things in this way as the only way man has. He called this thinking “discursive.” What we want to know is an external perception; the concept, the unity that draws things together, is merely a means. But if we wanted to know organic nature, we would then have to consider the ideal element, the conceptual factor, not as something that expresses or signifies something else, but rather we would have to know the ideal element as such; it would have to have a content of its own, stemming from itself, and not from the spatial-temporal world of the senses. That unity which, in inorganic nature, man's spirit merely abstracts from the world, would have to build upon itself, would have to develop itself out of its own self, would have to be fashioned in accordance with its own being and not according to the influences of other objects. Man is supposedly denied the ability to apprehend such an entity as this that develops itself out of itself and that manifests itself out of its own power. Now what is necessary for such an apprehension? A power of judgment that can impart to a thought yet another substance (Stoff) than one merely taken up by the outer senses, a power of judgment that can apprehend not merely what is sense-perceptible, but also what is purely ideal, by itself, separated from the sense world. Now one can call a concept that is not taken from the sense world by abstraction, but rather has a content flowing out of itself and only out of itself, an “intuitive concept” and knowledge of this concept an “intuitive” one. What follows from this is clear: An organism can be apprehended only in an intuitive concept. Goethe shows, through what he does, that it is granted to the human being to know in this way.
What prevails in the inorganic world is the interaction of the parts of a series of phenomena; it is their reciprocal determining of each other. This is not the case in the organic world. There, one part of an entity does not determine the other, but rather the whole (the idea), out of itself and in accordance with its own being, determines each individual part. One can follow Goethe in calling this self-determining whole an “entelechy.” An entelechy is therefore a power that, out of itself, calls itself into existence. What comes into manifestation also has a sense-perceptible existence, but this is determined by that entelechical principle. From this also arises the seeming contradiction. An organism determines itself out of itself, fashions its characteristics in accordance with a presupposed principle, and yet it is sense-perceptibly real. It has therefore arrived at its sense-perceptible reality in a completely different way than the other objects of the sense world; thus it seems to have arisen in an unnatural way. But it is also entirely explainable that an organism, in its externality, is just as susceptible to the influences of the sense world as is any other body. The stone falling from a roof can strike a living entity just as well as an inorganic object. An organism is connected with the outer world through its intake of nourishment, etc.; all the physical circumstances of the outer world affect it. Of course this can also occur only insofar as the organism is an object of the sense world, a spatial-temporal object. This object of the outer world then, this entelechical principle that has come into existence, is the outer manifestation of the organism. But since the organism is subject not only to its own laws of development but also to the conditions of the outer world, since it is not only what it should be in accordance with the being of the self-determining entelechical principle, but also is what other dependencies and influences have made it, therefore the organism never seems, as it were, to accord fully with itself, never seems obedient merely to its own being. Here human reason enters and forms for itself, in idea, an organism that is not in accordance with the influences of the outer world, but rather corresponds only to that entelechical principle. Every coincidental influence that has nothing to do with the organism as such falls away entirely here. This idea, now, that corresponds purely to what is organic in the organism is the idea of the archetypal organism; it is Goethe's typus. From this one can also see the great justification for this idea of the typus. This idea is not merely an intellectual concept; it is what is truly organic in every organism, without which an organism would not be one. This idea is, in fact, more real than any individual real organism, because it manifests itself in every organism. It also expresses the essential nature of an organism more fully, more purely than any individual, particular organism. It is acquired in an essentially different way than the concept of an inorganic process. This latter is drawn from, abstracted from, reality; it is not at work within reality; the idea of the organism, however, is active, is at work as entelechy within the organism; it is, in the form grasped by our reason, only the being of the entelechy itself. This idea does not draw the experience together; it brings about what is to be experienced. Goethe expresses this in the following words: “Concept is summation, idea is result of experience; to find the sum requires intellect; to grasp the result requires reason” (Aphorisms in Prose). This explains that kind of reality which belongs to the Goethean archetypal organism (archetypal plant or archetypal animal). This Goethean method is clearly the only possible one by which to penetrate into the essential nature of the world of organisms.
With respect to the inorganic, the fact should be regarded as essential that the phenomenon, in all its manifoldness, is not identical with the lawfulness that explains it, but rather points, merely, to this lawfulness as to something external to it. The observation (the material element of knowledge, given us by the outer senses) and the concept (the formal element, by which we recognize the observation as necessitated) confront each other as two elements that objectively require each other, it is true; but they do so in such a way that the concept does not lie within the individual parts of a series of phenomena themselves but rather within a relationship of these parts to each other. This relationship, which brings the manifoldness into a unified whole, is founded within the individual parts of the given, but as a whole (as a unity) it does not come to real, concrete manifestation. Only the parts of this relationship come to outer existence — in the object. The unity, the concept, first comes to manifestation as such within our intellect. The intellect has the task of drawing together the manifoldness of the phenomenon; it relates itself to the manifoldness as its sum. We have to do here with a duality: with the manifold thing that we observe, and with the unity that we think. In organic nature the parts of the manifoldness of an entity do not stand in such an external relationship to each other. The unity comes into reality in the observed entity simultaneously with the manifoldness, as something identical with the manifoldness. The relationship of the individual parts of a phenomenal whole (an organism) has become a real one. It no longer comes to concrete manifestation merely within our intellect, but rather within the object itself, and in the object it brings forth the manifoldness out of itself. The concept does not have the role merely of summation, of being a combiner that has its object outside itself; the concept has become completely one with the object. What we observe is no longer different from that by which we think the observed; we are observing the concept as the idea itself. Therefore, Goethe calls the ability by which we comprehend organic nature the power to judge in beholding (Anschauende Urteilskraft). What explains (the formal element of knowledge, the concept) and what is explained (the material, the beheld) are identical. The idea by which we grasp the organic is therefore essentially different from the concept by which we explain the inorganic; the idea does not merely draw together — like a sum — a given manifoldness, but rather sets forth its own content out of itself. The idea is the result of the given (of experience), is concrete manifestation. Herein lies the reason why in inorganic natural science we speak of laws (natural laws) and explain the facts by them, and in organic nature, on the other hand, we do this by types. The law is not one and the same with the manifoldness of the observed that the law governs; the law stands over it; in the typus, however, the ideal element and the real element have become a unity; the manifoldness can be explained only as going forth from a point of the whole, the whole that is identical with the manifoldness.
In Goethe's knowledge of this relationship between the science of the inorganic and that of the organic lies what is so significant in his research. One is in error, therefore, when today one often explains his research as a forerunner of that monism which wants to found a unified view of nature — comprising both the organic and the inorganic — by endeavoring to trace what is organic back to the same laws (mechanical-physical categories and laws of nature) by which the inorganic is determined. We have seen how Goethe conceives a monistic view to be. The way he explains the organic is essentially different from the way he proceeds with respect to the inorganic. He wants to be sure that the mechanistic way of explaining things is strictly avoided with respect to what is of a higher nature (see his Aphorisms in Prose). He criticizes Kieser and Link for wanting to trace organic phenomena back to inorganic activity.
What gave rise to the erroneous view about Goethe indicated above was the relationship into which he brought himself to Kant with respect to the possibility of a knowledge of organic nature. But when Kant asserts that our intellect is not able to explain organic nature, he certainly does not mean by this that organic nature rests upon mechanical lawfulness and that he is only unable to grasp it as resulting from mechanical-physical categories. For Kant, the reason for this inability lies, rather, precisely in the fact that our intellect can explain only mechanical-physical things and that the being of the organism is not of this nature. Were it so, then the intellect, by virtue of the categories at its command, could very well grasp its being. It is definitely not Goethe's thought now to explain the organic world as a mechanism in spite of Kant; but rather he maintains that we by no means lack the ability to know that higher kind of nature's working which establishes the essential being of the organic.
As we consider what has just been said, we are confronted right away by an essential difference between inorganic and organic nature. Since in inorganic nature any process whatever can cause another, and this in turn yet another, and so on, the sequence of occurrences seems nowhere to be a closed one. Everything is in continuous interaction, without any one particular group of objects being able to close itself off from the effects of others. The sequences of inorganic activity have nowhere a beginning nor an end; there is only a chance connection between one happening and the next. If a stone falls to earth, the effect it produces depends upon the chance form of the object on which it falls. It is a different matter now with an organism. Here the unity is primary. The entelechy, built upon itself, comprises a number of sense-perceptible developmental forms of which one must be the first and another the last; in which one form can always only follow the other in an altogether definite way. The ideal unity puts forth out of itself a series of sense-perceptible organs in a certain sequence in time and in a particular spatial relationship, and closes itself off in an altogether definite way from the rest of nature. It puts forth its various states out of itself. These can therefore also be grasped only when one studies the development of successive states as they emerge from an ideal unity; i.e., an organic entity can be understood only in its becoming, in its developing. An inorganic body is closed off, rigid, can only be moved from outside, is inwardly immobile. An organism is restlessness within itself, ever transforming it self from within, changing, producing metamorphoses. The following statements of Goethe refer to this: “Reason is oriented toward what is becoming, the intellect toward what has become; the former does not bother itself about purpose (wozu?); the latter does not ask about origin (woher?). Reason rejoices in development; intellect wishes to hold everything fixed in order to use it” (Aphorisms in Prose) and: “Reason has rulership only over what is living; the world that has already come about, with which geognosy concerns itself, is dead.” (Ibid.)
The organism confronts us in nature in two main forms: as plant and as animal, in a different way in each. The plant differs from the animal in its lack of any real inner life. This last manifests in the animal as sensation, arbitrary movement, etc. The plant has no such soul principle. It still consists entirely in its externality, in its form. By determining its life, as it were, out of one point, that entelechical principle confronts us in the plant in such a way that all its individual organs are formed according to the same developmental principle. The entelechy manifests here as the developmental force of the individual organs. These last are all fashioned according to one and the same developmental type; they manifest as modifications of one basic organ, as a repetition of this organ at different levels of development. What makes the plant into a plant, a certain form-creating force, is at work in every organ in the same way. Every organ appears therefore as identical to all the others and also to the whole plant. Goethe expresses this as follows: “I have realized, namely, that in that organ of the plant which we are usually accustomed to address as ‘leaf,’ the true Proteus lies hidden that can conceal and reveal itself in every formation. Anyway you look at it, the plant is always only leaf, so inseparably joined with the future germ (Keim) that one cannot think the one without the other.” (Italian Journey) Thus the plant appears, as it were, composed of nothing but individual plants, as a complex individual consisting in turn of simpler ones. The development of the plant progresses therefore from level to level and forms organs; each organ is identical to every other, i.e., similar in formative principle, different in appearance. The inner unity spreads itself out, as it were, in the plant; it expresses itself in manifoldness, loses itself in this manifoldness in such a way that it does not gain — as the animal does, as we will see later — a concrete existence which is endowed with a certain independence and which, as a center of life, confronts the manifoldness of the organs and uses them as mediators with the outer world.
The question now arises: What brings about that difference in the appearance of plant organs which, according to their inner principle, are identical? How is it possible for developmental laws that all work according to one formative principle to bring forth at one time a leaf and at another a petal? In the case of plant life, which lies entirely in the realm of the external, this differentiation can also be based only upon external, i.e., spatial, factors. Goethe regards an alternating expansion and contraction as just such external factors. As the entelechical principle of plant life, working out from one point, comes into existence, it manifests itself as something spatial; the formative forces work in space. They create organs with definite spatial forms. Now these forces either concentrate themselves, they strive to come together, as it were, into one single point (this is the stage of contraction); or they spread themselves out, unfold themselves, seek in a certain way to distance themselves from each other (this is the stage of expansion). In the whole life of the plant, three expansions alternate with three contractions. Everything that enters as differentiation into the plant's formative forces which in their essential nature are identical — stems from this alternating expansion and contraction. At first the whole plant, in all its potential, rests, drawn together into one point, in the
seed (a). It then comes forth and unfolds itself, spreads itself out in leaf-formation (c). The formative forces thrust themselves apart more and more; therefore the lower leaves appear still raw, compact (cc'); the further up the stem they are, the more ribbed and indented they become. What formerly was still pressing together now separates (leaf d and e). What earlier stood at successive intervals (zz') from each other appears again in one point of the stem (w) in the calyx (f). This is the second contraction. In the corolla, an unfolding, a spreading out, occurs again. Compared with the sepals, the petals (g) are finer and more delicate, which can only be due to a lesser intensity at one point, i.e., be due to a greater extension of the formative forces. The next contraction occurs in the reproductive organs (stamens (h), and pistil (i)), after which a new expansion takes place in the fruiting (k). In the seed (a) that emerges from the fruit, the whole being of the plant again appears contracted to a point. 37The fruit arises through the growth of the lower part of the pistil, the ovary (1); it represents a later stage of the pistil and can therefore only be sketched separately. With the fruiting, the last expansion occurs. The life of the plant differentiates itself into an organ — the actual fruit — that is closing itself off, and into the seeds; in the fruit, all the factors of the phenomenon are united, as it were; it is mere phenomenon, it estranges itself from life, becomes a dead product. In the seed are concentrated all the inner essential factors of the plant's life. From it a new plant arises. It has become almost entirely ideal; the phenomenon is reduced to a minimum in it.
The whole plant represents only an unfolding, a realization, of what rests in the bud or in the seed as potentiality. Bud and seed need only the appropriate external influences in order to become fully developed plant forms. The only difference between bud and seed is that the latter has the earth directly as the basis of its unfolding, whereas the former generally represents a plant formation upon the plant itself. The seed represents a plant individuality of a higher kind, or, if you will, a whole cycle of plant forms. With the forming of every bud, the plant begins a new stage of its life, as it were; it regenerates itself, concentrates its forces in order to unfold them again anew. The forming of a bud is therefore an interruption of vegetation. The plant's life can contract itself into a bud when the conditions for actual real life are lacking, in order then to unfold itself anew when such conditions do occur. The interruption of vegetation in winter is based on this. Goethe says about this: “It is very interesting to observe how a vegetation works that is actively continued and uninterrupted by severe cold; here there are no buds, and one only learns now to comprehend what a bud is.” 38Italian Journey, December 1,1786. What lies hidden in the bud where we are is open to the day there; what lies within the bud, therefore, is true plant life; only the conditions for its unfolding are lacking.
Goethe's concept of alternating expansion and contraction has met with especially strong opposition. All the attacks on it, however, originate from a misunderstanding. One believes that these concepts could be valid only if a physical cause could be found for them, only if one could demonstrate a way of working of the laws at work in the plant from which such expansion and contraction could proceed. This only shows that one is setting the matter down on its tip instead of its base. There is not something there that causes the contraction and expansion; on the contrary, everything else is the result of these; they cause a progressive metamorphosis from stage to stage. One is just not able to picture the concept in its own characteristic form, in its intuitive form; one requires that the concept represent the result of an external process. One can only think of expansion and contraction as caused and not as causing. Goethe does not look upon expansion and contraction as resulting from the nature of the inorganic processes occurring in the plant; rather he regards them as the way that inner entelechical principle shapes itself. He could therefore not view them as a sum, as a drawing together, of sense-perceptible processes and deduce them from such processes, but rather had to see them as proceeding from the inner unified principle itself.
The plant's life is maintained by metabolism. With respect to this, an essential difference sets in between those organs closer to the root — i.e., to that organ which sees to the taking in of nourishment from the earth — and those organs that receive the nourishment which has already passed through the other organs. The former appear directly dependent upon their external inorganic environment; the latter, on the other hand, upon the organic parts that precede them. Each subsequent organ thus receives a nourishment prepared, as it were, for it by the preceding organ. Nature progresses from seed to fruit through a series of stages in such a way that what follows appears as the result of what precedes. And Goethe calls this progressing a progressing upon a spiritual ladder. Nothing more than what we have indicated lies in his words, “that an upper node — through the fact that it arises out of the preceding one and receives its sap indirectly through it — must receive its sap in a more refined and more filtered state, must also enjoy the effects of what the leaves have done with the sap in the meantime, must develop itself more finely and bring a finer sap to its leaves and buds.” All these things become comprehensible when one applies to them the meaning intended by Goethe.
The ideas presented here are the elements inherent in the being of the archetypal plant — inherent in a way that conforms, in fact, only to this archetypal plant itself, and not as these elements manifest in any given plant where they no longer conform to their original state but rather to external conditions.
Something different occurs now, to be sure, in animal life. Life does not lose itself here in its external features, but rather separates itself, detaches itself from its corporeality and uses its corporeal manifestation only as a tool. It no longer expresses itself as the mere ability to shape an organism from within outward, but rather expresses itself within an organism as something that is still there besides the organism, as its ruling power. The animal appears as a self-contained world, a microcosm in a much higher sense than the plant. It has a centre that each organ serves.
Thus is every mouth adept at grasping the food
That is right for the body, be now weak and toothless
The jaw, or mighty with teeth; in every instance
An adept organ conveys food to each member.
Also every foot does move — be it long or a short one —
All harmonious to the sense and need of the creature.
In the case of the plant, the whole plant is in every organ, but the life principle exists nowhere as a particular center; the identity of the organs lies in their being formed according to the same laws. In the case of the animal, every organ appears as coming from that center; the center shapes all organs in accordance with its own nature. The form of the animal is therefore the basis for its external existence. This form, however, is determined from within. The way an animal lives must therefore take its direction from those inner formative principles. On the other hand, the inner development in itself is unrestricted, free; within certain limits, it can adapt itself to outer influences; but this development is still determined by the inner nature of the typus and not by mechanical influences from outside. Adaptation cannot therefore go so far as to make an organism seem to be only a product of the outer world. Its development is restricted to certain limits.
These limits no god can extend; nature honors them;
For only thus restricted was ever the perfect possible.
If every animal being existed only in accordance with the principles lying within the archetypal animal, then they would all be alike. But the animal organism members itself into a number of organ systems, each of which can arrive at a definite degree of development. This is the basis now for a diverse evolution. Equally valid among the others as idea, one system can nevertheless push itself forward to a particular degree; it can use for itself the supply of formative forces lying within the animal organism and can deprive the other organs of it. The animal will thus appear as particularly developed in the direction of that organ system. Another animal will appear as developed in another direction. Herein lies the possibility for the differentiation of the archetypal organism in its transition to the phenomenal realm in genera and species.
The real (factual) causes of this differentiation, however, are still not yet given thereby. Here adaptation and the struggle for existence come into their own right — the former causing the organism to shape itself in accordance with the outer conditions surrounding it, the latter working in such a way that only those entities survive that are best adapted to existing conditions. Adaptation and the struggle for existence, however, could have absolutely no effect upon the organism if the constituting principle of the organism were not of such a kind that — while continuously maintaining its inner unity — it can take on the most manifold forms. The relationship of outer formative forces to this principle should in no way be regarded as one in which, for example, the former determine the latter in the same way one inorganic entity determines another. The outer conditions are, to be sure, the stimulus for the typus to develop in a certain form; but this form itself cannot be derived from the outer determining factors, but only from the inner principle. In explaining the form, one should always seek the outer factors, but one should not regard the form itself as resulting from them. Goethe would have rejected the derivation of the developmental forms of an organism from the surrounding outer world through mere causality, just as much as he rejected the teleological principle according to which the form of an organ is traced back to an external purpose it is to serve.
In the case of those organ systems of an animal in which what matters is more the external aspect of the structure — in the bones, for example — there that law which we saw in the plants appears again, as in the forming of the skull bones. Goethe's gift for recognizing the inner lawfulness in purely external forms manifests here quite especially.
The difference between plant and animal established by these views of Goethe might seem meaningless in face of the fact that modern science has grounds for justifiable doubt that there is any definite borderline between plant and animal. Goethe, however, was already aware of the impossibility of setting up any such borderline. In spite of this, there are specific definitions of plant and animal. This is connected with Goethe's whole view of nature. He assumes absolutely nothing constant, fixed, in the phenomenal realm; for in this realm everything fluctuates in continuous motion. But the essential being of a thing, which can be held fast in a concept, cannot be derived from the fluctuating forms, but rather from certain intermediary stages at which this being can be observed. For Goethe's view, it is quite natural that one set up specific definitions and that these are nevertheless not held to in one's experience of certain transitional forms. In fact, he sees precisely in this the mobile life of nature.
With these ideas, Goethe established the theoretical foundations of organic science. He found the essential being of the organism. One can easily fail to recognize this if one demands that the typus, that self-constituted principle (entelechy), itself be explained by something else. But this is an unfounded demand, because the typus, held fast in its intuitive form, explains itself. For anyone who has grasped that “forming of itself in accordance with itself” of the entelechical principle, this constitutes the solution of the riddle of life. Any other solution is impossible, because this solution is the essential being of the thing itself. If Darwinism has to presuppose an archetypal organism, then one can say of Goethe that he discovered the essential being of that archetypal organism. 39In modern natural science one usually means by “archetypal organism” (Urorganismus) an archetypal cell (archetypal cytode), i.e., a simple entity standing at the lowest level of organic development. One has in mind here a quite specific, actual, sense-perceptibly real entity. When one speaks in the Goethean sense about the archetypal organism, then one does not have this in mind but rather that essence (being), that formative entelechical principle which brings it about that this archetypal cell is an organism. This principle comes to manifestation in the simplest organism just as in the most perfect one, only differently developed. It is the animalness in the animal; it is that through which an entity is an organism. Darwin presupposes it from the beginning; it is there, is introduced, and then he says of it that it reacts in one way or another to the influences of the outer world. For him, it is an indefinite X; Goethe seeks to explain this indefinite X. It is Goethe who broke with the mere juxtaposing of genera and species, and who undertook a regeneration of organic science in accordance with the essential being of the organism. Whereas the systems before Goethe needed just as many different concepts (ideas) as there were outwardly different species for which no intermediary existed, Goethe maintained that in idea all organisms are alike, that they are different only in their manifestation; and he explained why they are so. With this, the philosophical foundation for a scientific system of organisms was created. It was then only a matter of implementing this system. It would have to be shown how all real organisms are only manifestations of an idea, and how they manifest themselves in a given case.
The great deed thus accomplished for science was also widely acknowledged by those more educated in the field. The younger d'Alton writes to Goethe on July 6, 1827: “I would regard it as my greatest reward if Your Excellency, whom natural science has to thank not only for a total transformation through magnificent perspectives and new views in botany, but also for many first-rate contributions to the field of osteology, should recognize in the accompanying pages an endeavor worthy of praise.” Nees von Esenbeck, on June 24, 1820, wrote: “In your book, which you called An Attempt to Explain the Metamorphosis of Plants, the plant has spoken about itself among us for the first time, and, in this beautiful anthropomorphism, also captivated me while I was still young.” And finally Voigt, on June 6, 1831: “With lively interest and humble thanks I have received your little book on metamorphosis, which now so obligingly includes me historically also as one of the early adherents of this theory. It is strange: one is fairer toward animal metamorphosis — I do not mean the old metamorphosis of the insects, but rather the new kind about the vertebrae — than toward plant metamorphosis. Apart from the plagiarisms and misuses, the silent recognition of animal metamorphosis may rest on the belief that one was risking less there. For, in the skeleton the separate bones remain ever the same, whereas in botany, metamorphosis threatens to topple the whole terminology and consequently the determining of species, and there weak people are afraid, because they do not know where something like that might lead.” Here there is complete understanding for Goethe's ideas. The awareness is there that a new way of viewing what is individual must take place; and the new systematics, the study of particulars, should only first proceed then from this new view. The self-supporting typus contains the possibility of assuming endlessly manifold forms as it enters into manifestation; and these forms are the object of our sense perception, are the genera and species of the organism living in space and time. Insofar as our spirit apprehends that general idea, the typus, it has grasped the whole realm of organisms in all its unity. When now our spirit beholds the development of the typus in each particular form of manifestation, this form becomes comprehensible to it; this form appears to our spirit as one of the stages, one of the metamorphoses, in which the typus realizes itself. And the nature of the systematics to be founded by Goethe was to consist in demonstrating these different stages. In the animal, as well as in the plant realm, there holds sway an ascending evolutionary sequence; organisms are divided into highly developed and undeveloped ones. How is this possible? It is characteristic of the ideal form of the typus of the organisms, in fact, that it consists of spatial and temporal elements. For this reason, it also appeared to Goethe as a sensible-supersensible form. It contains spatial temporal forms as ideal perception (intuitive). When the typus now enters into manifestation, the truly (no longer intuitive) sense-perceptible form can correspond fully to that ideal form or not; the typus can come to its full development or not. The lower organisms are indeed lower through the fact that their form of manifestation does not fully correspond with the organic typus. The more that outer manifestation and organic typus coincide in a given entity, the more highly developed it is. This is the objective basis of an ascending evolutionary sequence. It is the task of any systematics to demonstrate this relationship with respect to the form of every organism. In arriving at the typus, the archetypal organism, however, no account can be taken of this; in arriving at the typus it can only be a matter of finding a form that represents the most perfect expression of the typus. Goethe's archetypal plant is meant to provide such a form.
One has reproached Goethe for taking no account of the world of cryptogamia in arriving at his typus. We have indicated earlier that this could only have been so out of the fullest consciousness, since he did occupy himself also with the study of these plants. This does have its objective basis, however. The cryptogamia are in fact those plants in which the archetypal plant only comes to expression in a highly one sided way; they represent the idea of the plant in a one-sided sense-perceptible form. They can be judged according to the idea thus set up; but this idea itself only bursts forth fully in the phanerogamia.
But what is to be said here is that Goethe never accomplished this implementation of his basic thought, that he entered too little into the realm of the particular. Therefore all his works remain fragmentary. His intention of also shedding light here is shown by his words in the Italian Journey (September 27, 1786) to the effect that it will be possible, with the help of his ideas, “truly to determine genera and species, which until now has occurred in a very arbitrary way, it seems to me.” He did not carry out this intention, did not make a specific presentation of the connection of his general thoughts to the realm of the particular, to the reality of the individual forms. This he himself regarded as a deficiency in his fragments; with respect to this he writes to Soret von de Candolle on June 28, 1828: “It is also becoming more and more clear to me how he regards my intentions, in which I am persisting and which, in my short essay on metamorphosis, are stated definitely enough, it is true, but whose connection with botany based on perception does not emerge clearly enough, as I have known for a long time.” This is certainly also the reason why Goethe's views were so misunderstood; they were misunderstood only because they were not understood at all.
In Goethe's concepts we also gain an ideal explanation for the fact, discovered by Darwin and Haeckel, that the developmental history of the individual represents a repetition of the history of the race. For, what Haeckel puts forward here cannot after all be taken for anything more than an unexplained fact. It is the fact that every individual entity passes, in a shortened form, through all those stages of development that paleontology also shows us as separate organic forms. Haeckel and his followers explain this by the law of heredity. But heredity is itself nothing other than an abbreviated expression for the fact just mentioned. The explanation for it is that those forms, as well as those of the individual, are the manifest forms of one and the same archetypal image that, in successive epochs, brings to unfoldment the formative forces lying within this image as potentiality. Every higher entity is indeed more perfect through the fact that, through the favorable influences of its environment, it is not hindered in the completely free unfolding of itself in accordance with its inner nature. If, on the other hand, because of certain influences, the individual is compelled to remain at a lower stage, then only some of its inner forces come to manifestation, and then that which is only a part of a whole in a more highly developed individual is this individual's whole. And in this way the higher organism appears in its development as composed of the lower organisms, or too the lower organisms appear in their development as parts of the higher one. In the development of a higher animal, we must therefore also see again the development of all the lower ones (biogenetic law). Just as the physicist is not satisfied with merely stating and describing-facts, but also seeks out their laws — i.e., the concepts of the phenomena — so, for the person who wants to penetrate into the nature of organic entities, it also does not suffice for him merely to cite the facts of kinship, heredity, struggle for existence, etc.; but rather he wants to know the ideas underlying these things. We find this striving in Goethe. What Kepler's three laws are for the physicist, Goethe's ideas of the typus are for the organic scientist. Without them, the world is a mere labyrinth of facts for us. This has often been misunderstood. One declares that the concept of metamorphosis in Goethe's sense is merely a picture that basically occurs only in our intellect through abstraction. That Goethe was not clear about the fact that the concept of the transformation of leaves into flower organs makes sense only if the latter, the stamens, for example, were once real leaves. However, this turns Goethe's view upside down. A sense-perceptible organ is turned into a principally primary one and the other organ is then derived from it in a sense-perceptible way. Goethe never meant it this way. For him, what is first in time is absolutely not also first with respect to the idea, to the principle. It is not because the stamens were once true leaves that they are now related to the leaves; no, but rather because they are related ideally, in accordance with their inner nature, they appeared at one time as true leaves. The sense-perceptible transformation is only the result of the ideal relatedness and not the other way around. Today, it is an established empirical fact that all the lateral organs of the plant are identical; but why does one call them identical? According to Schleiden, because these all develop on the axis in such a way that they are pushed forth as lateral protuberances, in such a way that lateral cell formation remains only on the original body and that no new cells form on the tip that is formed first. This is a purely external relatedness, and one considers the idea of identity to be the result of this. Again the matter is otherwise for Goethe. For him the lateral organs are identical in their idea, in their inner being; therefore they also manifest outwardly as identical formations. For him, sense-perceptible relatedness is a result of inner, ideal relatedness. The Goethean conception differs from the materialistic one in the way it poses its questions; the two do not contradict one another; they complement one another. Goethe's ideas provide the foundation for the other view. Goethe's ideas are not merely a poetic foreshadowing of later discoveries but rather independent principle discoveries that have not by far been valued enough and upon which natural science will still draw for a long time. Even when the empirical facts that he used shall have been far surpassed, or in part even disproven, by more exact and detailed research. still the ideas he set up are fundamental once and for all for organic science, because they are independent of those empirical facts. Just as, according to Kepler's laws, every newly discovered planet must revolve around its star, so must every process in organic nature occur according to Goethe's ideas. Long before Kepler and Copernicus, people saw the occurrences in the starry heavens. These two first found the laws. Long before Goethe, people observed the realm of organic nature; Goethe found its laws. Goethe is the Copernicus and Kepler of the organic world.
One can also clarify for oneself the nature of the Goethean theory in the following way. Besides ordinary empirical mechanics, which only collects the facts, there is also a rational mechanics, which, from the inner nature of the basic mechanical principles, deduces the a priori laws as necessary ones. As empirical mechanics relates to rational mechanics, so the theories of Darwin, Haeckel, etc., relate to the rational organic science of Goethe. About this aspect of his theory, Goethe was not at once clear from the beginning. Later, to be sure, he expressed it quite emphatically. When he writes to Heinrich Wilhelm Ferdinand Wackenroder, on January 21, 1832: “Continue to acquaint me with everything that interests you; it will connect somewhere with my reflections,” he means by this only that he has found the basic principles of organic science from which everything else must be derived. At an earlier time, however, this all worked unconsciously in his spirit and he just treated the facts according to it. 40Goethe often experienced this unconscious behavior of his as dullness. It first became objectively clear to him through that first scientific conversation with Schiller which we will describe later. Schiller recognized right away the ideal nature of Goethe's archetypal plant and declared that no reality could be consistent with such a plant. This stimulated Goethe to think about the relationship of what he called “typus” to empirical reality. He encountered a problem here that belongs to the most significant problems of all human investigation: the problem of the relationship between idea and reality, between thinking and experience. This became ever clearer to him: No one single empirical object corresponds entirely to his typus; no entity of nature was identical to it. The content of the typus concept cannot therefore stem from the sense world as such, even though it is won in the encounter with the sense world. Its content must therefore lie within the typus itself; the idea of the archetypal entity could only be of a kind which, by virtue of a necessity lying within itself, develops a content out of itself that then in another form — in the form of a perception — manifests within the phenomenal world. it is interesting in this regard to see how Goethe himself, when meeting empirical natural scientists. stood up for the rights of experience and for keeping idea and object strictly separated. In 1786, Sömmerring sends him a book in which Sömmerring makes an attempt to discover the seat of the soul. In a letter that he sends to Sömmerring on August 28, 1796, Goethe finds that Sömmerring has woven too much metaphysics into his views; an idea about objects of experience has no justification if it goes beyond these, if it is not founded in the being of the object itself. With objects of experience, the idea is an organ for grasping, in its necessary interconnection, that which otherwise would be merely perceived in a blind juxtaposition and succession. But, from the fact that the idea is not allowed to bring anything new to the object, it follows that the object itself, in its own essential being, is something ideal and that empirical reality must have two sides: one, by which it is particular, individual, and the other by which it is ideal-general.
Fortunate Event (Glückliches Ereignis)
Power to Judge in Beholding (Anschauende Urteilskraft)
Reflection and Devotion (Bedenken und Ergebung)
Formative Impulse (Bildungstrieb)
Apologies for the Undertaking (Das Unternehmen wird entschuldigt)
The Purpose Introduced (Die Absicht eingeleitet)
The Content Prefaced (Der Inhalt bevorwortet)
History of My Botanical Studies (Geschichte meines botanischen Studiums)
All these essays express the thought already indicated above, that every object has two sides: the direct one of its manifestation (form of manifestation), and the second one that contains its being. In this way, Goethe arrives at the only satisfactory view of nature, which establishes the one truly objective method. If a theory regards the ideas as something foreign to the object itself, as something merely subjective, then it cannot profess to be truly objective if it ever uses the idea at all. But Goethe can maintain that he adds nothing to the objects that does not already lie in the objects themselves.
Goethe also pursued the detailed factual aspects of those branches of science to which his ideas were related. In 1795, he attended lectures by Loder on the ligaments; during this period, he did not at all lose sight of anatomy and physiology, which seems all the more important since it was precisely then that he was writing his lectures on osteology. In 1796 attempts were made to grow plants in darkness and under coloured glass. Later on, the metamorphosis of insects was also investigated.
A further stimulus came from the philologist F.A. Wolff who drew Goethe's attention to his namesake Wolff who, in his Theoria Generationis, had already expressed ideas in 1759 that were similar to those of Goethe on the metamorphosis of the plants. Goethe was moved by this fact to concern himself more deeply with Wolff, which he did in 1807; he discovered later, however, that Wolff, with all his acuity, was not yet clear on precisely the main points. Wolff did not yet know the typus as something non-sense-perceptible, as something that develops its content merely out of inner necessity. He still regarded the plant as an external, mechanical complex of individual details.
Goethe's exchanges with his many scientist friends, as well as the joy of having found recognition and imitation of his endeavors among many kindred spirits, led Goethe to the thought, in 1807, of publishing the fragments of his natural-scientific studies that he had held back until then. He gradually abandoned his intention of writing a more comprehensive natural-scientific work. But the individual essays did not yet reach publication in 1807. His interest in the colour theory pushed morphology into the background again for a time. The first booklet of these essays first appeared in 1817. By 1824, two volumes of these essays had appeared, the first in four booklets, the second in two. Besides the essays on Goethe's own views, we also find here discussions of significant literary publications in the realm of morphology, and also treatises of other scholars, whose presentations, however, are always complementary to Goethe's interpretation of nature.
On yet two further occasions, Goethe was challenged to occupy himself more intensively with natural-scientific matters. Both of these involved significant literary publications — in the realm of science — that related most deeply to his own strivings. On the first occasion, the stimulus was given by the studies of the botanist Martius on the spiral tendency in plants, on the second occasion, by a natural-scientific dispute in the French Academy of Sciences.
Martius saw plant form, in its development, as comprised of a spiral and a vertical tendency. The vertical tendency brings about growth in the direction of the root and stem; the spiral tendency brings about the spreading out of leaves, blossoms, etc. Goethe saw in this thought only an elaboration of ideas he had already set down in 1790 in his book on metamorphosis, but here focusing more on spatial elements (vertical, spiral). For proof of this assertion, we refer you to our comments on Goethe's essay, On the Spiral Tendency of Vegetation, 44Über die Spiraltendenz der Vegetation from which the fact emerges that Goethe, in this essay, does not bring forward anything essentially new with respect to his earlier ideas. We want to direct this statement particularly to those who assert that there is evident here, in fact, a retrogression of Goethe from his earlier clear views back into the “deepest depths of mysticism.”
Even at a most advanced age (1830-32), Goethe still wrote two essays on the dispute between the two French natural scientists, Cuvier and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. In these essays we find yet once more, in striking conciseness, a synthesis of the principles of Goethe's view of nature.
Cuvier was altogether an empiricist of the old school of natural science. For each species of animal he sought a particular corresponding concept. He believed he had to take up into the conceptual edifice of his system of organic nature as many individual types as there are animal species present in nature. But for him the individual types stood there side by side without any mediation. What he did not take into consideration is this. Our need for knowledge is not satisfied with the particular as such in the way it approaches us directly as phenomenon. But since we approach an entity of the sense world with no other intention, in fact, than of knowing it, we should not assume that the reason we declare ourselves unsatisfied with the particular as such is to be found in the nature of our ability to know. On the contrary, the reason must lie within the object itself. The essential being of the particular itself, in fact, by no means consists only in this, its particularness; it presses, in order to be understood, toward a kind of being that is not particular, but rather, general (ein Allgemeines). This ideal-general is the actual being — the essence of every particular entity. Only one side of the existence of a particular entity lies in its particularness; the other side is the general — the typus (see Goethe's Aphorisms in Prose). This is how it is to be understood when the particular is spoken of as a form of the general. Since the ideal-general is therefore the actual being, the content, of the particular, it is impossible for the ideal-general to be derived, abstracted, from the particular. Since it has nowhere from which to borrow its content, it must give this content to itself. The typical-general is therefore of such a nature that, in it, content and form are identical. But it can therefore also be grasped only as a whole, independent of what is individual. Science has the task with every particular entity of showing how, according to the entity's essential being, the entity subordinates itself to the ideal-general. Through this the particular kinds of existence enter the stage of mutually determining and depending upon each other. What otherwise can be perceived only as spatial-temporal juxtaposition and succession is now seen in necessary interconnection. But Cuvier wouldn't hear of any such view. This view, on the other hand, was the one held by Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. This is actually the aspect that aroused Goethe's interest in this dispute. The matter has often been misrepresented because one saw the facts, through the glasses of most modern views, in a completely different light than that in which they appear if one approaches them without preconceptions. Geoffroy referred not only to his own research, but also to a number of German scientists of like mind, among whom Goethe is also named.
Goethe's interest in this matter was extraordinary. He was extremely happy to find a colleague in Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire: “Now Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire is also definitely on our side and with him all his significant students and adherents in France This event is of inconceivably great value to me, and I am right to jubilate about the final victory of something to which I have dedicated my life and which is pre-eminently also my own,” he says to Eckermann on August 2, 1830. It is altogether a strange phenomenon that in Germany Goethe's research found a response only among philosophers and but little among natural scientists, whereas the response in France was more significant among the latter. De Candolle gave Goethe's theory of metamorphosis his closest attention and treated botany generally in a way that was not far from Goethean views. Also, Goethe's Metamorphosis had already been translated into French by F. de Gingins-Lassaraz. Under such conditions, Goethe could definitely hope that a translation of his botanical writings into French, carried out with his collaboration, would not fall on barren ground. Such a translation was then provided in 1831, with Goethe's continuous assistance, by Friedrich Jakob Soret. It contained that first Attempt of 1790, the history of Goethe's botanical studies, and the effect of his theories upon his contemporaries, as well as something about de Candolle, — in French, with German on the opposite page.