Ideas of Novalis, by Theme

[German, 1772 - 1801, aka Friedrich von Hardenberg. Poet, story writer, philosopher, mining engineer.]

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1. Philosophy / C. History of Philosophy / 1. History of Philosophy
The history of philosophy is just experiments in how to do philosophy
     Full Idea: The history of philosophy up to now is nothing but a history of attempts to discover how to do philosophy.
     From: Novalis (Logological Fragments I [1798], 01)
     A reaction: I take post-Fregean analytic metaphysics to be another experiment in how to do philosophy. I suspect that the experiment of Husserl, Heidegger, Derrida etc has been a failure.
1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 1. Philosophy
Philosophy only begins when it studies itself
     Full Idea: All philosophy begins where philosophizing philosophises itself.
     From: Novalis (Logological Fragments I [1798], 79)
     A reaction: The modern trend for doing metaphilosophy strikes me as wholly admirable, though I suspect that the enemies of philosophy (who are legion) see it as a decadence.
1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 5. Aims of Philosophy / a. Philosophy as worldly
Philosophy is homesickness - the urge to be at home everywhere
     Full Idea: Philosophy is actually homesickness - the urge to be everywhere at home.
     From: Novalis (General Draft [1799], 45)
     A reaction: The idea of home [heimat] is powerful in German culture. The point of romanticism was seen as largely concerning restless souls like Byron and his heroes, who do not feel at home. Hence ironic detachment.
1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 5. Aims of Philosophy / c. Philosophy as generalisation
The highest aim of philosophy is to combine all philosophies into a unity
     Full Idea: He attains the maximum of a philosopher who combines all philosophies into a single philosophy
     From: Novalis (Logological Fragments II [1798], 31)
     A reaction: I have found the epigraph for my big book! Recently a few narrowly analytical philosophers have attempted big books about everything (Sider, Heil, Chalmers), and they get a huge round of applause from me.
Philosophy relies on our whole system of learning, and can thus never be complete
     Full Idea: Now all learning is connected - thus philosophy will never be complete. Only in the complete system of all learning will philosophy be truly visible.
     From: Novalis (Logological Fragments II [1798], 39)
     A reaction: Philosophy is evidently the unifying subject, which reveals the point of all the other subjects. It matches my maxim that 'science is the servant of philosophy'.
1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 5. Aims of Philosophy / d. Philosophy as puzzles
Philosophers feed on problems, hoping they are digestible, and spiced with paradox
     Full Idea: The philosopher lives on problems as the human being does on food. An insoluble problem is an indigestible food. What spice is to food, the paradoxical is to problems.
     From: Novalis (Logological Fragments II [1798], 09)
     A reaction: Novalis would presumably have disliked Hegel's dialectic, where the best food seems to be the indigestible.
1. Philosophy / E. Nature of Metaphysics / 3. Metaphysical Systems
Philosophy aims to produce a priori an absolute and artistic world system
     Full Idea: Philosophy ...is the art of producing all our conceptions according to an absolute, artistic idea and of developing the thought of a world system a priori out of the depths of our spirit.
     From: Novalis (Logological Fragments II [1798], 19)
     A reaction: A lovely statement of the dream of building world systems by pure thought - embodying perfectly the view of philosophy despised by logical positivists and modern logical metaphysicians. The Novalis view will never die! I like 'artistic'.
3. Truth / A. Truth Problems / 3. Value of Truth
If man sacrifices truth he sacrifices himself, by acting against his own convictions
     Full Idea: Man has his being in truth - if he sacrifices truth he sacrifices himself. Whoever betrays truth betrays himself. It is not a question of lying - but of acting against one's conviction.
     From: Novalis (Miscellaneous Observations [1798], 038)
     A reaction: Does he condone lying here, as long as you don't believe the lie? We would call it loss of integrity.
3. Truth / E. Pragmatic Truth / 1. Pragmatic Truth
Delusion and truth differ in their life functions
     Full Idea: The distinction between delusion and truth lies in the difference in their life functions.
     From: Novalis (Miscellaneous Observations [1798], 008)
     A reaction: Pure pragmatism, it seems. We might expect doubts about objective truth from a leading light of the Romantic movement.
5. Theory of Logic / A. Overview of Logic / 8. Logic of Mathematics
Logic (the theory of relations) should be applied to mathematics
     Full Idea: Ought not logic, the theory of relations, be applied to mathematics?
     From: Novalis (Logological Fragments II [1798], 38)
     A reaction: Bolzano was 19 when his was written. I presume Novalis would have been excited by set theory (even though he was a hyper-romantic).
5. Theory of Logic / L. Paradox / 2. Aporiai
A problem is a solid mass, which the mind must break up
     Full Idea: A problem is a solid, synthetic mass which is broken up by means of the penetrating power of the mind.
     From: Novalis (Logological Fragments I [1798], 04)
6. Mathematics / A. Nature of Mathematics / 4. Using Numbers / c. Counting procedure
Whoever first counted to two must have seen the possibility of infinite counting
     Full Idea: Whoever first understood how to count to two, even if he still found it difficult to keep on counting, saw nonetheless the possibility of infinite counting according to the same laws.
     From: Novalis (Logological Fragments I [1798], 84)
     A reaction: Presumably it is the discerning of the 'law' which triggers this. Is the key concept 'addition' or 'successor' (or are those the same?).
7. Existence / A. Nature of Existence / 3. Being / h. Dasein (being human)
Novalis thought self-consciousness cannot disclose 'being', because we are temporal creatures
     Full Idea: Novalis came to think that the kind of existence , or 'being', that is disclosed in self-consciousness remains, as it were, forever out of our reach because of the kind of temporal creatures we are.
     From: report of Novalis (Logological Fragments I [1798]) by Terry Pinkard - German Philosophy 1760-1860 06
     A reaction: It looks here as if Novalis kicked Heidegger's Dasein into the long grass before it even got started, but maybe they have different notions of 'being', with Novalis seeking timeless being, and Heidegger, influenced by Bergson, accepting temporality.
9. Objects / D. Essence of Objects / 3. Individual Essences
Refinement of senses increasingly distinguishes individuals
     Full Idea: The more our senses are refined, the more capable they become of distinguishing between individuals. The highest sense would be the highest receptivity to particularity in human nature.
     From: Novalis (Miscellaneous Observations [1798], 072)
     A reaction: I adore this idea!! It goes into the collection of support I am building for individual essences, against the absurd idea of kinds as essences (when they are actually categorisations). It also accompanies particularism in ethics.
11. Knowledge Aims / C. Knowing Reality / 3. Idealism / d. Absolute idealism
Poetry is true idealism, and the self-consciousness of the universe
     Full Idea: Poetry is true idealism - contemplation of the world as contemplation of a large mind - self-consciousness of the universe.
     From: Novalis (Logological Fragments I [1798], vol 3 p.640), quoted by Ernst Behler - Early German Romanticism
     A reaction: It looks like the step from Fichte's idealism to the Absolute is poetry, which embraces the ultimate Spinozan substance through imagination. Or something...
12. Knowledge Sources / C. Rationalism / 1. Rationalism
Experiences tests reason, and reason tests experience
     Full Idea: Experience is the test of the rational - and vice versa.
     From: Novalis (Miscellaneous Observations [1798], 010)
     A reaction: A wonderful remark. Surely we can't ignore our need to test claims of pure logic by filling in the variables with concrete instances, to assess validity? And philosophy without examples is doomed to be abstract waffle. Coherence is the combined aim.
12. Knowledge Sources / D. Empiricism / 5. Empiricism Critique
Empiricists are passive thinkers, given their philosophy by the external world and fate
     Full Idea: An empiricist is one whose way of thinking is an effect of the external world and of fate - the passive thinker - to whom his philosophy is given.
     From: Novalis (Teplitz Fragments [1798], 33)
     A reaction: Novalis goes on to enthuse about 'magical idealism', so he rejects empiricism. This is an early attack on the Myth of the Given, found in Sellars and McDowell.
14. Science / B. Scientific Theories / 1. Scientific Theory
General statements about nature are not valid
     Full Idea: General statements are not valid in the study of nature.
     From: Novalis (Last Fragments [1800], 17)
     A reaction: This is his striking obsession with the particularity and fine detail of nature. Alexander von Humbolt was exploring nature in S.America in this year. It sounds wrong about physics, but possibly right about biology.
15. Nature of Minds / C. Capacities of Minds / 6. Idealisation
Desire for perfection is an illness, if it turns against what is imperfect
     Full Idea: An absolute drive toward perfection and completeness is an illness, as soon as it shows itself to be destructive and averse toward the imperfect, the incomplete.
     From: Novalis (General Draft [1799], 33)
     A reaction: Deep and true! Novalis seems to be a particularist - hanging on to the fine detail of life, rather than being immersed in the theory. These are the philosophers who also turn to literature.
17. Mind and Body / A. Mind-Body Dualism / 8. Dualism of Mind Critique
The whole body is involved in the formation of thoughts
     Full Idea: In the formation of thoughts all parts of the body seem to me to be working together.
     From: Novalis (Last Fragments [1800], 20)
     A reaction: I can only think that Spinoza must be behind this thought, or La Mettrie. It seems a strikingly unusual intuition for its time, when almost everyone takes a spiritual sort of dualism for granted.
17. Mind and Body / E. Mind as Physical / 1. Physical Mind
The seat of the soul is where our inner and outer worlds interpenetrate
     Full Idea: The seat of the soul is the point where the inner and the outer worlds touch. Wherever they penetrate each other - it is there at every point of penetration.
     From: Novalis (Miscellaneous Observations [1798], 020)
     A reaction: I surmise that Spinoza's dual-aspect monism is behind this interesting remark. See the related idea from Schopenhauer.
18. Thought / E. Abstraction / 2. Abstracta by Selection
Everything is a chaotic unity, then we abstract, then we reunify the world into a free alliance
     Full Idea: Before abstraction everything is one - but one as chaos is - after abstraction everything is again unified - but in a free alliance of independent, self-determined beings. A crowd has become a society - a chaos is transformed into a manifold world.
     From: Novalis (Miscellaneous Observations [1798], 094)
     A reaction: Personally I take (unfashionably) psychological abstraction to one of the key foundations of human thought, so I love this idea, which gives a huge picture of how the abstracting mind relates to reality.
19. Language / F. Communication / 4. Private Language
Every person has his own language
     Full Idea: Every person has his own language. Language is the expression of the spirit.
     From: Novalis (Logological Fragments I [1798], 91)
     A reaction: Nice to see someone enthusiastically affirming what was later famously denied, and maybe even disproved.
21. Aesthetics / A. Aesthetic Experience / 5. Natural Beauty
Only self-illuminated perfect individuals are beautiful
     Full Idea: Everything beautiful is a self-illuminated, perfect individual.
     From: Novalis (Miscellaneous Observations [1798], 101)
     A reaction: It is a commonplace to describe something beautiful as being 'perfect'. Unfinished masterpieces are interesting exceptions. Are only 'individuals' beautiful? Is unity a necessary condition of beauty? Bad art fails to be self-illuminated.
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 1. Nature of Ethics / b. Defining ethics
Morality and philosophy are mutually dependent
     Full Idea: Without philosophy there is no true morality, and without morality no philosophy.
     From: Novalis (Logological Fragments I [1798], 21)
     A reaction: Challenging! Maybe unthinking people drift in a sea of vague untethered morality, and people who seem to have a genuine moral strength are always rooted in some sort of philosophy. Maybe. Is the passion for philosophy a moral passion?
23. Ethics / F. Existentialism / 7. Existential Action
Life isn't given to us like a novel - we write the novel
     Full Idea: Life must not be a novel that is given to us, but one that is made by us.
     From: Novalis (Logological Fragments I [1798], 99)
     A reaction: The roots of existentialism are in the Romantic movement. Sartre seems to have taken this idea literally.
24. Political Theory / C. Ruling a State / 2. Leaders / b. Monarchy
The whole point of a monarch is that we accept them as a higher-born, ideal person
     Full Idea: The distinguishing character of the monarchy lies precisely in the fact of belief in a higher-born person, of voluntary acceptance of an ideal person. I cannot choose a leader from among my peers.
     From: Novalis (Fath and Love, or the King and Queen [1798], 18)
     A reaction: Novalis was passionately devoted to the new king and queen of Prussia, only a few years after the French Revolution. This attitude seems to me unchanged among monarchists in present day Britain. Genetics has undermined 'higher-born'.
25. Social Practice / E. Policies / 5. Education / c. Teaching
If the pupil really yearns for the truth, they only need a hint
     Full Idea: If a pupil genuinely desires truth is requires only a hint to show him how to find what he is seeking.
     From: Novalis (Logological Fragments I [1798], 02)
     A reaction: The tricky job for the teacher or supervisor is assessing whether the pupil genuinely desires truth, or needs motivating.
25. Social Practice / E. Policies / 5. Education / d. Study of history
Persons are shaped by a life history; splendid persons are shaped by world history
     Full Idea: What is it that shapes a person if not his life history? And in the same way a splendid person is shaped by nothing other than world history. Many people live better in the past and in the future than in the present.
     From: Novalis (Last Fragments [1800], 15)
     A reaction: Clearly there is a lot to be said for splendid people who live entirely in the present (such as jazz musicians). Some people do have an awesomely wide historical perspective on their immediate lives. Palaeontology is not the master discipline though!
26. Natural Theory / A. Speculations on Nature / 1. Nature
Nature is a whole, and its individual parts cannot be wholly understood
     Full Idea: Nature is a whole - in which each part in itself can never be wholly understood.
     From: Novalis (Last Fragments [1800], 18)
     A reaction: This doesn't seem right when studying some item in a laboratory, but it seems undeniable when you consider the history and future of each item.
26. Natural Theory / A. Speculations on Nature / 4. Mathematical Nature
The basic relations of nature are musical
     Full Idea: Musical relations seem to me to be actually the basic relations of nature.
     From: Novalis (Last Fragments [1800], 10)
     A reaction: Novalis shows no signs of being a pythagorean, and then suddenly comes out with this. I suppose if you love music, this thought should float into your mind at regular intervals, because the power of music is so strong. Does he mean ratios?
29. Religion / D. Religious Issues / 1. Religious Commitment / a. Religious Belief
Religion needs an intermediary, because none of us can connect directly to a godhead
     Full Idea: Nothing is more indispensable for true religious feeling than an intermediary - which connects us to the godhead. The human being is absolutely incapable of sustaining an immediate relation with this.
     From: Novalis (Miscellaneous Observations [1798], 073)
     A reaction: I take this to be a defence of priests and organised religion, and an implied attack on protestants who give centrality to private prayer and conscience.