Spring 2024 Lecture Series

Goethe’s Philosophical Lexicon

John H. Smith, Professor Emeritus
Dept of European Languages and Studies, Univ. of California-Irvine
March 19, 2024
4:30 pm
205 East Pyne
Four square images in variations of portrait Goethe

Goethe’s Philosophical Lexicon Lecture (Image credit: Andy Warhol’s Goethe series, 1982)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) published volumes of poetry, plays, novels, criticism, and natural scientific papers, but he never published a “philosophical lexicon”—indeed, he had a certain disdain for the very idea of a lexicon. Nevertheless, Prof. Smith and a number of co-editors have been involved for some five years in a digital project, the Goethe-Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts (GLPC), with the aim of demonstrating that Goethe did develop his own unique and often heterodox take on crucial philosophical issues of the Western tradition, and especially those of the heady years of German Idealism around 1800. By publishing interpretive entries on major, minor, and unexpected concepts, we make an argument that Goethe made his own contribution to philosophical thinking—a contribution that is relevant for pressing topics under discussion today.

Prof. Smith’s talk will present the GLPC and discuss some examples of Goethean conceptual thinking where even his literature is doing philosophical work.

John H. Smith is now a Professor Emeritus of German at the University of California, Irvine. He has published on a variety of topics, thinkers, and writers in the German literary and philosophical tradition from 1600 to the present. His intellectual touchstones are Goethe and Hegel, but he’s unabashedly eclectic in his tastes. At present and for the foreseeable future he is spending his time with the Goethe Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts, both as a co-editor and author of entries.