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Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767 – 1835)


Government functionary, diplomat, philosopher, founder of Humboldt Universität in Berlin, a friend of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, and elder brother of naturalist Alexander von Humboldt who is especially remembered as a linguist who made important contributions to the philosophy of language and to the theory and practice of education.
Wilhelm von Humboldt
True enjoyment comes from activity of the mind and exercise of the body; the two are ever united.
Humboldt quotes
The impetuous conquests of Alexander, the more politic and premeditated extension of territory made by the Romans, the wild and cruel incursions of the Mexicans, and the despotic acquisitions of the incas, have in both hemispheres contributed to put an end to the separate existence of many tribes as independent nations, and tended at the same time to establish more extended international amalgamation. Men of great and strong minds, as well as whole nations, acted under the influence of one idea, the purity of which was, however, utterly unknown to them. It was Christianity which first promulgated the truth of its exalted charity, although the seed sown yielded but a slow and scanty harvest. Before the religion of Christ manifested its form, its existence was only revealed by a faint foreshadowing presentiment. In recent times, the idea of civilization has acquired additional intensity, and has given rise to a desire of extending more widely the relations of national intercourse and of intellectual cultivation; even selfishness begins to learn that by such a course its interests will be better served than by violent and forced isolation. Language more than any other attribute of mankind, binds together the whole human race. By its idiomatic properties it certainly seems to separate nations, but the reciprocal understanding of foreign languages connects men together on the other hand without injuring individual national characteristics.
Humboldt
Governmental regulations all carry coercion to some degree, and even where they don't, they habituate man to expect teaching, guidance and help outside himself, instead of formulating his own.




Humboldt Wilhelm von quotes
Durch die gegenseitige Abhängigkeit des Gedankens, und des Wortes von einander leuchtet es klar ein, daß die Sprachen nicht eigentlich Mittel sind, die schonerkannte Welt darzustellen, sondern weit mehr, die vorher unerkannte zu entdecken. Ihre Verschiedenheit ist nicht eine von Schällen und Zeichen, sondern eine Verschiedenheit der Weltansichten selbst. Hierin ist der Grund, und der letzte Zweck aller Sprachuntersuchung enthalten. Die Summe des Erkennbaren liegt, als das von dem menschlichen Geiste zu bearbeitende Feld, zwischen allen Sprachen, und unabhängig von ihnen, in der Mitte; der Mensch kann sich diesem rein objectiven Gebiet nicht anders, als nach seiner Erkennungs- und Empfindungsweise, also auf einem subjectiven Wege, nähern.
Humboldt Wilhelm von
All political arrangements, in that they have to bring a variety of widely-discordant interests into unity and harmony, necessarily occasion manifold collisions. From these collisions spring misproportions between men’s desires and their powers; and from these, transgressions. The more active the State is, the greater is the number of these.
Wilhelm von Humboldt quotes
Providence certainly does not favor just certain individuals, but the deep wisdom of its counsel, instruction and ennoblement extends to all.
Wilhelm von Humboldt
Now, without directly altering the existing condition of things, it is possible to work upon the human mind and character, and give them a direction no more correspondent with that condition; and this it is precisely which he who is wise will endeavour to do. Only in this way is it possible to reproduce the new system in reality, just as it has been conceived in idea; and in every other method (setting aside the evils which arise from disturbing the natural order of human development) it is changed, modified, disfigured by the remaining influence of preceding systems, in the actual state of circumstances as well as in the minds of men. But if this obstacle be removed,—if the new condition of things which is resolved upon can succeed in working out its full influence, unimpeded by what was previously existing and by the circumstances of the present on which this has acted,—then must nothing further be allowed to stand in the way of the contemplated reform.
Humboldt Wilhelm von quotes
Freedom is but the possibility of a various and indefinite activity; while government, or the exercise of dominion, is a single, but yet real activity. The ardent desire for freedom, therefore, is at first only too frequently suggested by the deep-felt consciousness of its absence.
Humboldt
Setting aside the fact that coercion and guidance can never succeed in producing virtue, they manifestly tend to weaken power; and what are tranquil order and outward morality without true moral strength and virtue? Moreover, however great an evil immorality may be, we must not forget that it is not without its beneficial consequences. It is only through extremes that men can arrive at the middle path of wisdom and virtue.
Humboldt Wilhelm von
Owing to the vigorous and elastic strength of man’s original power, necessity does not often require anything save the removal of oppressive bonds. From all these reasons (to which a more detailed analysis of the subject might add many more) it will be seen, that there is no other principle than this so perfectly accordant with the reverence we owe to the individuality of spontaneous beings, and with the solicitude for freedom which that reverence inspires. Finally, the only infallible means of securing power and authority to laws, is to see that they originate in this principle alone.
Wilhelm von Humboldt
To the yoke of necessity every one willingly bows the head. Still, wherever an actually complicated aspect of things presents itself, it is more difficult to discover exactly what is necessary; but by the very acknowledgment of the principle, the problem invariably becomes simpler and the solution easier.




Wilhelm von Humboldt quotes
It is the principle of necessity towards which, as to their ultimate centre, all the ideas advanced in this essay immediately converge. In abstract theory the limits of this necessity are determined solely by considerations of man’s proper nature as a human being; but in the application we have to regard, in addition, the individuality of man as he actually exists. This principle of necessity should, I think, prescribe the grand fundamental rule to which every effort to act on human beings and their manifold relations should be invariably conformed. For it is the only thing which conducts to certain and unquestionable results. The consideration of the useful, which might be opposed to it, does not admit of any true and unswerving decision.
Wilhelm von Humboldt
In every remodelling of the present, the existing condition of things must be supplanted by a new one. Now every variety of circumstances in which men find themselves, every object which surrounds them, communicates a definite form and impress to their internal nature. This form is not such that it can change and adapt itself to any other a man may choose to receive; and the end is foiled, while the power is destroyed, when we attempt to impose upon that which is already stamped in the soul a form which disagrees with it.
Humboldt quotes
I am more and more convinced that our happiness or our unhappiness depends far more on the way we meet the events of life than on the nature of those events themselves.
Humboldt Wilhelm von
Man is naturally more disposed to beneficent than selfish actions. This we learn even from the history of savages. The domestic virtues have something in them so inviting and genial, and the public virtues of the citizen something so grand and inspiring, that even he who is barely uncorrupted, is seldom able to resist their charm.
Humboldt Wilhelm von quotes
Erst erfreuen, dann belehren.
Wilhelm von Humboldt
In order to bring about the transition from the condition of the present to another newly resolved on, every reform should be allowed to proceed as much as possible from men’s minds and thoughts.
Wilhelm von Humboldt quotes
The grand, leading principle, towards which every argument hitherto unfolded in these pages directly converges, is the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity; but national education, since at least it presupposes the selection and appointment of some one instructor, must always promote a definite form of development, however careful to avoid such an error. And hence it is attended with all those disadvantages which we before observed to flow from such a positive policy; and it only remains to be added, that every restriction becomes more directly fatal, when it operates on the moral part of our nature,—that if there is one thing more than another which absolutely requires free activity on the part of the individual, it is precisely education, whose object it is to develop the individual.
Wilhelm von Humboldt
To inquire and to create;—these are the grand centres around which all human pursuits revolve, or at least to these objects do they all more or less directly refer.
Humboldt Wilhelm von
Wherever the citizen becomes indifferent to his fellows, so will the husband be to his wife, and the father of a family toward the members of his household.


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