Notes on How Hegel put Goethe’s Urphänomen to Philosophical Use


Hegel: The Letters, (1984) Trans. C. Butler and C. Seiler, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Letter From Hegel to Goethe, 24 February 1821 (Excerpt)

“This spiritual breath – it is of this that I really wished to speak and that alone is worth speaking of – is what has necessarily given me such great delight in Your Excellency’s exposition of the phenomena surrounding entopic colours. What is simple and abstract, what you strikingly call the Urphänomen, you place at the very beginning. You then show how intervention of further spheres of influence and circumstances generates the concrete phenomena, and you regulate the whole progression so that the succession proceeds from simple conditions to the more composite, and so that the complex now appears in full clarity through this decomposition. To ferret our the Urphänomen, to free it from those further environs which are accidental to it, to apprehend as we say abstractly – this I take to be a matter of spiritual intelligence for nature, just as I take that course generally to be the truly scientific knowledge in this field. Newton and the entire community of physicists following him, on the other hand, lay hold of no matter what composite phenomenon, rush to fix themselves in it, and end up putting the cart before the horse, as the saying goes. It has happened in this connection that they have made out circumstances immaterial to the natural state [Urstand] of the matter to be its conditions, even when such circumstances were merely the result of the mishap of putting the cart before the horse. And then they force, botch, and falsify everything before and after wily-nilly into the mould. Yet they are not lacking for something Ur here. They bring on a metaphysical abstract entity. As created spirits they place an inner worthy of themselves into the phenomena – a content they have created for them. Ensconced in this centre, they are delighted by the wisdom and splendour – and are just as serious workmen – as the Freemasons in Solomon’s Temple.

“Regarding the Urphänomen, the story occurs to me which Your Excellency adjoins to the Theory of Colours – the story of how you looked with Büttner’s downward refracting prisms at the wall and still saw nothing but a white wall. This story greatly facilitated my access to the theory of colours. And whenever I now have to deal with this general subject, I see the Urphänomen before me: I see Your Excellency with Büttner’s prisms, observing the white wall and seeing nothing but white. But may I now still speak to you of the special interest that an Urphänomen, thus cast in relief, has for us philosophers, namely that we can put such a preparation – with Your Excellency’s permission – directly to philosophical use. But if we have at last worked our initially oyster-like Absolute – whether it be grey or entirely black, suit yourself – through towards air and light to the point that the Absolute has itself come to desire this air and light, we now need window placements so as to lead the Absolute fully out into the light of day. Our schemata would dissipate into vapour if we tried to transfer them directly into the colourful yet confused society of this recalcitrant world. Here is where Your Excellency’s Urphänomen appear so admirably suited to our purpose. In this twilight – spiritual and comprehensible by virtue of its simplicity, visible and apprehensible by virtue of its sensuousness – the two worlds greet each other: our abstruse world and the world of phenomenal being [Dasein]. Thus out of rocks and even something metallic Your Excellency prepares for us granite, which we can easily get a handle on because of its Trinitarian nature and which we can assimilate – no doubt more easily than your many somewhat degenerate children may allow themselves to be returned to your lap. For a long time we have gratefully had to acknowledge that you have vindicated the plant world in its simplicity – and ours.”

Goethe’s response to Hegel, 13 April 1821:

“Seeing that you conduct yourself so amicably with the Urphänomen, and that you even recognize in me an affiliation with these demonic essences, I first take the liberty of depositing a pair of such phenomena before the philosopher’s door, persuaded that he will treat them as well as he has treated their brothers.”

The two gifts were an opaque stained glass wine glass which Goethe had described in the Theory of Colours and a prism of the sort used in optics. The wine glass was dedicated:

“The Urphänomen very humbly begs the Absolute to give it a cordial welcome.”

According to André Breton, only a fragment of Hegel’s letter of thanks has survived:

“Wine,” said Hegel, “has always been a powerful ally of the philosophy of nature, because it has demonstrated conclusively to the world that spirit also resides in nature.”

But, he added, a wineglass as instructive as the one which Goethe had given him was a veritable cosmic glass in which the sinister Ahriman joined Ormuzd, the child of light, to serve the folly of revelation. It is this glass which Marcelle Loubchansky carries to her lips. (Surrealism and Painting, p. 346, André Breton et al.)

Hegel’s response 2 August 1821.

“It is precisely this many-faceted enjoyment, joined to the gladness over Your Excellency’s kind generosity, that has not allowed me to express appropriate words of appreciation earlier. Since glass for once plays a principal role in the abstract phenomenon of color, the drinking glass is in and for itself a so much more enjoyable piece of apparatus than the triangular glass rod with which Satan’s angel, wielding it in his fists, strikes out at the physicists. At least the wine connoisseurs among them should let themselves be enticed into removing from their flesh the thorn of that delicate instrument of three cutting edges, and to look instead into the glass and thus behold the objective emergence of color which here offers itself to sight in its full and free naïveté. The phenomena of the derived colors emerge in the same agreeable fashion when we proceed to lead the drinking glass via the multicoloured wine to fulfil its more specific destiny.

“As instructive as a glass of wine has always been, it has now gained infinitely through Your Excellency’s employment of it. If wine has already lent mighty assistance to natural philosophy, which is concerned to demonstrate spirit in nature and which thus finds in wine the most immediate and impressive testimony on behalf of its own teaching: and if the ancients already acknowledged and venerated old Bacchus essentially as the mystical Dionysius, no matter how much our old friend Voss may fly off the handle, bark, and flail against it, it would now seem to me that only through Your Excellency’s gift has any real understanding dawned on me of my friend Creuzer’s mystical cosmic cup. What can this cup be but the all-embracing transparent enclosure by the yellow belt of the Zodiac adorned with the Twelve Signs in gold. Turned as much toward the radiant Ahura-Mazda as toward the darkness of Ahriman, this zodiacal belt brings to manifestation he whole variegated world of colors. But this world is kept from being a world of phantoms by those golden leaves and fruit which fill the cup with the blood from which thee motley shadows drink up to full strength and health, much as the Elysian shadows did from the goat’s blood Ulysses gave them to drink. But it is to Your Excellency’s health that, upon each trial, I use this goblet so rich in meaning to make a toast. In this remembrance I draw still more sustenance than from primitive symbolic history. And I celebrate both proof of my faith in the transubstantiation of the inner and outer – of thought into the phenomenon and of the phenomenon into thought – and my gratitude toward the one who has provided this proof.

“Along with these toasts to long life an occasional death wish is, to be sure, also emitted for the Philistines. It seems to me that I remember Your Excellency letting it slip out that twenty years ago you still wanted to nail the asses’ ears of the physicists to the table. If subsequent leniency has restrained you from letting such justice take its course, still the history of how the Theory of Colors has been received might offer an interesting picture – a sort of counterpart to the reception of Werther. And detailed analysis and refutation of what has been brought forth against you might have considerable impact, and indeed might even appear necessary in exhibiting more the nature of a discussion of the pros and cons. Silence, the failure to give any notice, is the favorite weapon of the morgue and indolence, and is the most effective means of preserving authority via-à-vis the public. Still it is fortunate that a few have spoken out. Yet this supplies the dear guild with a read excuse for saying that Your Excellency’s so-called objections have been answered, and that there the matter lies, since nothing has been said in reply. I wish to see these distinguished gentlemen deprived of this consolation. This wish is now stirred up in me again due to a copy of a book by my colleague in Kiel, [Johann Erich] von Berger: General Fundamentals of Science, Part Two. It has just been given to me by a young man here. With regard to “the critique of experiments made to support or refute [Goethe’s theory of colors] and the results of those experiment,” the book simply says in parentheses: “in this regard we refer the reader to the illuminating exposition and critical judgment of the controversy by our friend [Christoph Heinrich] Pfaff in his publication [On Newton’s and Goethe’s Theories of Colors and the Chemical Opposition of Colors, 1813], etc..” If I still accurately recall this so-called publication of this Pfaff, he bases himself above all in it on an experiment with lenses. In any case. in the Theory of Colors you still did not fulfil your obligation with respect to this side of the Urphänomen’s reflection. This circumstance would strip of its polemical edge even your disposal of Pfaff, should you wish to tackle it not in prose but in verse. But such a simple reference to Pfaff [as von Berger’s] is surely all too confident and comfortable for Your Excellency to let it lie in rest. Moreover, the comfort is possible only so long as our friend retains the last word. ...”

pp. 700-02 of the Letters.

Mentions of the Urphänomen in Goethe’s Writings

Goethe To Herder, 17 May 1787. Italian Journey (1816-17), trans. W. H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer (1970), 310-11.

“The Primal Plant is going be the strangest creature in the world, which Nature herself must envy me. With this model and the key to it, it will be possible to go on for ever inventing plants and know that their existence is logical; that is to say, if they do not actually exist, they could, for they are not the shadowy phantoms of a vain imagination, but possess an inner necessity and truth. The same law will be applicable to all other living organisms.”

From §II. How Goethe’s Theory of Metamorphosis Arose.

From Goethean Science by Rudolph Steiner, originally published as introductions to Goethe’s Natural-Scientific Works in Kürschner’s Deutsche National Literatur, edited by Rudolf Steiner, with introductions, footnotes, and annotations in four volumes, 1883-1897. Also translated as Goethe the Scientist.

On November 9, 1785, he reports to Frau von Stein:

“I continue to read Linnaeus; I have to; I have no other book. It is the best way to read a book thoroughly, a way I must often practice, especially since I do not easily read a book to the end. This one, however, is not principally made for reading, but rather for review, and it serves me now excellently, since I have thought over most of its points myself.”

During these studies it becomes ever clearer to him, that it is after all only one basic form that manifests in the endless multitude of single plant individuals; this basic form itself was also becoming ever more perceptible to him; he recognized further, that within this basic form, there lies the potential for endless transformation, by which manifoldness is created out of oneness. On July 9, 1786, he writes to Frau von Stein:

“It is a becoming aware the ... form with which nature is always only playing, as it were, and in playing brings forth its manifold life.”

Now the most important thing of all was to develop this lasting, this constant element this archetypal form with which nature, as it were, plays – to develop it in detail into a plastic configuration. In order to do this, one needed an opportunity to separate what is truly constant and enduring in the form of plants from what is changing and inconstant. For observations of this kind, Goethe had as yet explored too small an area. He had to observe one and the same plant under different conditions and influences; for only through this does the changeable element really become visible. In plants of different kinds this changeable element is less obvious. The journey to Italy that Goethe had undertaken from Karlsbad on September 3 and that gave him such happiness brought him all this. He made many observations already with respect to the flora of the Alps. He found here not merely new plants that he had never seen before, but also plants he knew already, but changed.

“Whereas in lower-lying regions, branches and stems were stronger and thicker, the buds closer to each other, and the leaves broad, highest in the mountains, branches and stems became more delicate, the buds moved farther apart so that there was more space between nodes, and the leaves were more lance-shaped. I noticed this in a willow and in a gentian, and convinced myself that it was not because of different species, for example. Also, near the Walchensee I noticed longer and more slender rushes than in the lowlands.”

Similar observations occurred repeatedly. By the sea near Venice, he discovers different plants that reveal characteristics that only the old salt of the sandy ground, but even more the salty air, could have given them. He found a plant there that looked to him like “our innocent coltsfoot, but here it was armed with sharp weapons, and the leaf was like leather, as were the seedpods and the stems also; everything was thick and fat.”

Goethe there regarded all the outer characteristics of the plant, everything belonging to the visible aspect of the plant, as inconstant, as changing. From this he drew the conclusion that the essential being of the plant, therefore, does not lie in these characteristics, but rather must be sought at deeper levels. It was from observations similar to these of Goethe that Darwin also proceeded when he asserted his doubts about the constancy of the outer forms of genera and species. But the conclusions drawn by the two men are utterly different. Whereas Darwin believes the essential being of the organism to consist in fact only of these outer characteristics, and, from their changeability draws the conclusion that there is therefore nothing constant in the life of the plants, Goethe goes deeper and draws the conclusion that if those outer characteristics are not constant, then the constant element must be sought in something else that underlies those changeable outer aspects. It becomes Goethe’s goal to develop this something else, whereas Darwin’s efforts go in the direction of exploring and presenting the specific causes of that changeability. Both ways of looking at things are necessary and complement one another. It is completely erroneous to believe that Goethe’s greatness in organic science is to be found in the view that he was a mere forerunner of Darwin. Goethe’s way of looking at things is far broader; it comprises two aspects: 1. the typus, i.e., the lawfulness manifesting in the organism, the animalness of the animal, the life that gives form to itself out of itself, that has the power and ability – through the possibilities lying within it – to develop itself in manifold outer shapes (species, genera); 2. the interaction of the organism with inorganic nature and of the organisms with each other (adaptation and the struggle for existence). Darwin developed only the latter aspect of organic science. One cannot therefore say that Darwin’s theory is the elaboration of Goethe’s basic ideas, but rather that it is merely the elaboration of one aspect of his ideas. Darwin’s theory looks only at those facts that cause the world of living beings to evolve in a certain way, but does not look at that “something” upon which those facts act determinatively. If only the one aspect is pursued, then it can also not lead to any complete theory of organisms; essentially, this must be pursued in the spirit of Goethe; the one aspect must be complemented and deepened by the other aspect of his theory. A simple comparison will make the matter clearer. Take a piece of lead; heat it into liquid form; and then pour it into cold water. The lead has gone through two states, two stages, one after the other; the first was brought about by the higher temperature, the second by the lower. Now the form that each stage takes does not depend only on the nature of warmth, but also depends quite essentially on the nature of the lead. A different body, if subjected to the same media, would manifest quite different states. Organisms also allow themselves to be influenced by the media surrounding them; they also, affected by these media, assume different states and do so, in fact, totally in accordance with their own nature, in accordance with that being which makes them organisms. And one does find this being in Goethe’s ideas. Only someone who is equipped with an understanding for this being will be capable of grasping why organisms respond (react) to particular causes in precisely one way and in no other. Only such a person will be capable of correctly picturing to himself the changeability in the manifest forms of organisms and the related laws of adaptation and of the struggle for existence.

Goethe’s thought about the archetypal plant (Urpflanze) takes on ever clearer and more definite shape in his mind. In the botanical garden in Padua (Italian Journey, September 27, 1786), where he goes about in a vegetation strange to him, “The thought becomes ever more alive to him that one could perhaps develop for oneself all the plant shapes out of one shape.” On November 17, 1786, he writes to Knebel:

“My little bit of botany is for the first time a real pleasure to have, in these lands where a happier, less intermittent vegetation is at home. I have already made some really nice general observations whose consequences will also please you.”

On February 19, 1787 (see Italian Journey), he writes in Rome that he is on his way

“to discovering beautiful new relationships showing how nature achieves something tremendous that looks like nothing: out of the simple to evolve the most manifold.”

On March 25, he asks that Herder be told that he will soon be ready with his archetypal plant. On April 17 (see Italian Journey) in Palermo? he writes down the following words about the archetypal plant:

“There must after all be such a one! How would I otherwise know that this or that formation is a plant, if they were not all formed according to the same model.”

He had in mind the complex of developmental laws that organizes the plant, that makes it into what it is, and through which, with respect to a particular object of nature, we arrive at the thought, “This is a plant”: all that is the archetypal plant. As such, the archetypal plant is something ideal something that can only be held in thought; but it takes on shape, it takes on a certain form, size, colour, number of organs, etc. This outer shape is nothing fixed, but rather can suffer endless transformations, which are all in accordance with that complex of developmental laws and follow necessarily from it. If one has grasped these developmental laws, this archetypal picture of the plant, then one is holding, in the form of an idea, that upon which nature as it were founds every single plant individual, and from which nature consequentially derives each plant and allows it to come into being. Yes, one can even invent plant shapes, in accordance with this law, which could emerge by necessity from the being of the plant and which could exist if the necessary conditions arose for this. Thus Goethe seeks, as it were, to copy in spirit what nature accomplishes in the forming of its beings.

On May 17, 1787, he writes to Herder:

“Furthermore, I must confide to you that I am very close to discovering the secret of plant generation and organization, and that it is the simplest thing one could imagine ... The archetypal plant will be the most magnificent creation in the world, for which nature itself will envy me. With this model and the key to it, one can then go on inventing plants forever that must follow lawfully; that means: which, even if they don’t exist, still could exist, and are not, for example? the shadows and illusions of painters or poets but rather have an inner truth and necessity. The same law can be applied to all other living things.”

A further difference between Goethe’s view and that of Darwin emerges here, especially if one considers how Darwin’s view is usually propounded. It assumes that outer influences work upon the nature of an organism like mechanical causes and change it accordingly. For Goethe, the individual changes are the various expressions of the archetypal organism that has within itself the ability to take on manifold shapes and that, in any given case, takes on the shape most suited to the surrounding conditions in the outer world. These outer conditions merely bring it about that the inner formative forces come to manifestation in a particular way. These forces alone are the constitutive principle, the creative element in the plant. Therefore, on September 6, 1787 (Italian Journey), Goethe also calls it a hen kai pan (a one and all) of the plant world.

If we now enter in detail into this archetypal plant itself, the following can be said about it. The living entity is a self contained whole, which brings forth its states of being from out of itself. Both in the juxtaposition of its members and in the temporal sequence of its states of being, there is a reciprocal relationship present, which does not appear to be determined by the sense-perceptible characteristics of its members, nor by any mechanical-causal determining of the later by the earlier, but which is governed by a higher principle standing over the members and the states of being. The fact that one particular state is brought forth first and another one last is determined in the nature of the whole; and the sequence of the intermediary states is also determined by the idea of the whole; what comes before is dependent upon what comes after, and vice versa; in short, within the living organism, there is development of one thing out of the other, a transition of states of being into one another; no finished, closed-off existence of the single thing, but rather continuous becoming. In the plant, this determination of each individual member by the whole arises insofar as every organ is built according to the same basic form.

On May 17, 1787 (Italian Journey), Goethe communicates these thoughts to Herder in the following words:

“It became clear to me, namely, that within that organ (of the plant) that we usually address as leaf, there lies hidden the true Proteus that can conceal and manifest itself in every shape. Any way you look at it, the plant is always only leaf, so inseparably joined with the future germ that one cannot think the one without the other.”

Whereas in the animal that higher principle that governs every detail appears concretely before us as that which moves the organs and uses them in accordance with its needs, etc., the plant is still lacking any such real life principle; in the plant, this life principle still manifests itself only in the more indistinct way that all its organs are built according to the same formative type – in fact, that the whole plant is contained as possibility in every part and, under favorable conditions, can also be brought forth from any part. This became especially clear to Goethe in Rome when Councilor Reiffenstein, during a walk with him, broke off a branch here and there and asserted that if it were stuck in the ground it would have to grow and develop into a whole plant. The plant is therefore a being that successively develops certain organs that are all – both in their interrelationships and in the relationship of each to the whole – built according to one and the same idea. Every plant is a harmonious whole composed of plants. When Goethe saw this clearly, his only remaining concern was with the individual observations that would make it possible to set forth in detail the various stages of development that the plant brings forth from itself. For this also, what was needed had already occurred. We have seen that in the spring of 1785 Goethe had already made a study of seeds; on May 17, 1787, from Italy, he announces to Herder that he has quite clearly and without any doubt found the point where the germ (Keim) lies. That took care of the first stage of plant life. But the unity of structure in all leaves also soon revealed itself visibly enough. Along with numerous other examples showing this, Goethe found above all in fresh fennel a difference between the lower and upper leaves, which nevertheless are always the same organ. On March 25 (Italian Journey), he asks Herder to be informed that his theory about the cotyledons was already so refined that one could scarcely go further with it. Only one small step remained to be taken in order also to regard the petals, the stamens, and the pistil as metamorphosed leaves. The research of the English botanist Hill could lead to this; his research was becoming more generally known at that time, and dealt with the transformation of individual flower organs into other ones.

As the forces that organize the being of the plant come into actual existence, they take on a series of structural forms in space. Then it is a question of the big concept that connects these forms backwards and forwards.

When we look at Goethe’s theory of metamorphosis, as it appears to us in the year 1790, we find that for Goethe this concept is one of calculating expansion and contraction. In the seed, the plant formation is most strongly contracted (concentrated). With the leaves there follows the first unfolding, the first expansion of the formative forces. That which, in the seed, is compressed into a plant now spreads out spatially in the leaves. In the calyx the forces again draw together around an axial point; the corolla is produced by the next expansion; stamens and pistil come about through the next contraction; the fruit arises through the last (third) expansion, whereupon the whole force of plant life (its entelechical principle) conceals itself again, in its most highly concentrated state, in the seed. Although we now can follow nearly all the details of Goethe’s thoughts on metamorphosis up to their final realization in the essay that appeared in 1790, it is not so easy to do the same thing with the concept of expansion and contraction. Still one will not go wrong in assuming that this thought, which anyway is deeply rooted in Goethe’s spirit, was also woven by him already in Italy into his concept of plant formation. Since a greater or lesser spatial development, which is determined by the formative forces, is the content of this thought, and since this content therefore consists in what the plant presents directly to the eye, this content will certainly arise most easily when one undertakes to draw the plant in accordance with the laws of natural formation. Goethe found now a bush-like carnation plant in Rome that showed him metamorphosis with particular clarity. He writes about this:

“Seeing no way to preserve this marvelous shape, I undertook to draw it exactly, and in doing so attained ever more insight into the basic concept of metamorphosis.”

Perhaps such drawings were often made and this could then have led to the concept we are considering.

Outline for a General Introduction to Comparative Anatomy (1795), §II

Source: p. 117ff, CW vol. 12. This is the earliest exposition of the Urphänomen

“The similarity of animals to one another and to man is obvious and widely known, but more difficult to see in practice, not always directly apparent in detail, frequently misunderstood, and sometimes even denied. Differing view are therefore difficult to reconcile, for there is no norm to which the different parts may be compared, no set of principles to profess.

“All the work of comparing animals to man and to one another was directed to some particular end; the accumulation of detail made it increasingly difficult to attain some sort of overview. Many would find examples of this in Buffon, Josephi’s work, and that of others, should be equally considered. Thus it was found necessary to compare all animals with every animal with all animals – and we can see the impossibility of reconciling things in this manner.

“Hence, an anatomical Urphänomen will be suggested here, a general picture containing the forms of all animals as potential, one which will guide us to an orderly description of each animal. As much as possible, this Urphänomen must be established physiologically. The mere idea of an Urphänomen in general implies that no particular animal can be used as our point of departure; the particular can never serve as a measure for the whole.

“With all his exalted perfection as an organism – in fact, just because of this perfection – the human being cannot serve as a gauge for the imperfect animals. Instead let us proceed as follows.

“Empirical observation must first teach us what parts are common to all animals, and how these parts differ. The idea must govern the whole, it must abstract the general picture in a genetic way. Once such an Urphänomen is established, even if only provisionally, we may test it quite adequately by applying the customary methods of comparison.

“Animals have been compared to one another, as have animals to man, the races of man to one another, the two genders to each other, the principal parts of the body (e.g. upper and lower extremities), and the subordinate parts (e.g. one vertebra to another).

“We may still make any of these comparisons after we have established the Urphänomen, but then more consistently and with more meaning for the whole of science. They can even serve to test earlier results and organize observation found to be true

“Comparison to the established Urphänomen may be undertaken in two ways. First, by describing individual species in terms of the Urphänomen. Once this is done there is no need to compare animal with animal, for when the descriptions are placed side by side the comparison will be made. Second, a particular part of the Urphänomen may be traced descriptively through all the major genera, thus giving us a thorough and instructive comparison. But if studies of either sort are to bear fruit, they must be as complete as possible. ...


“The above really refers only to the comparative anatomy of mammals, and ways of making this study easier. But in establishing the Urphänomen, we must look further afield in nature; we will be unable to form a general picture of mammals without such an overview, and by calling on all of nature, when we construct this picture we will be able to modify it by regression to produce pictures of less perfect creatures. ...”

Experience and Science, 1798

Source: excerpts from Goethe, J. W. v., (1996) Goethe on Science. An Anthology of Goethe’s Scientific Writings, Selected and introduced by Jeremy Naydler, With a foreword by Henri Bortoft, Edinburgh, UK: Floris. Sources on Urphänomen.

According to Jeremy Naydler and Henri Bortoft, the pure phenomenon (das reine Phänomen) is Goethe’s earlier term for Uphänomen.

“Empirical breaks must often be disregarded in order to preserve a pure, constant phenomenon. However, as soon as I permit myself to do this, I am establishing a kind of ideal.

“Nevertheless, a vast difference exists between disregarding whole sequences in favour of a hypothesis, as theorists often do, and the sacrifice of a single empirical break in the interest of preserving the idea of the reine Phänomen.

“Since we, therefore, as observers never see pure phenomena with our eyes, since much depends instead upon our own state of mind, on the state of the organ itself at the moment, on light, air, weather, bodies, treatment, and a thousand other things, it would be like attempting to drink up the ocean if we were to fasten upon each and every phenomenon with the intention of observing, measuring, judging, and describing them individually.

“In my observation and contemplation of Nature, especially of late, I have remained as faithful as possible to the following method. ...

“... (3) the pure phenomenon now standing forth as the result of all experiences and experiments. It can never be isolated, appearing as it does in a constant succession of forms. In order to describe it, the human intellect determines the empirically variable, excludes the accidental, separates the impure, unravels the tangled, and even discovers the unknown.

“Here we would reach the ultimate goal of our powers, if human beings knew their place. For we are not seeking causes but the circumstances under which the phenomenon occurs. Its logical sequence, its eternal return under a thousand conditions, its uniformity and mutability are considered and accepted; its definiteness is recognized and redefined by the human intellect. And in my opinion such work is certainly not mere speculation, but rather the practical and self-correcting operation of ordinary common sense as it ventures out into a higher sphere.” (Experience and Science, 1798)

Theory of Colours

Source: Goethe. The Collected Works, Scientific Studies, Volume 12, Edited and translated by Douglas Miller, 1988.

NB. Published 1810; c.f. Contributions to Optics (1791/2) and On Coloured Shadows (1793)

§174. The principal phenomenon outlined in the above discussion might be called a fundamental or Urphänomen. With the reader’s permission we will proceed at once to clarify what is meant by this.

§175. In general, events we become aware of through experience are simply those we can categorize empirically after some observation. These empirical categories may be further subsumed under scientific categories leading to even higher levels. In the process we become familiar with certain requisite conditions for what it manifesting itself. From this point everything gradually falls into place under higher principles and laws revealed not to our reason through words and hypotheses, but to our intuitive perception through phenomena. We call these phenomena Urphänomen because nothing higher manifests itself in the world; such phenomena, on the other hand, make it possible for us to descend, just as we ascended, by going step by step from the Urphänomen to the most mundane occurrence in our daily experience. What we have been describing is an Urphänomen of this kind. On the one hand we see light or a bright object, on the other, darkness or a dark object. Between them we place turbidity and through his mediation colours arise from the opposites: these colours, too, are opposites, although in their reciprocal relationship they lead directly back to a common unity.

§176. In this sense we consider the error (reasoning from the decomposition of white light by a prism) which has sprung up in scientific research on colour to be a grievous one. A secondary phenomenon has been placed in a superior position and an Urphänomen in an inferior one; moreover, the secondary phenomenon itself has been turned upside down by treating what is compounded as simple and what is simple as compound. In this manner the most bizarre complications and confusions have come topsy-turvy into natural science, and science continues to suffer from them.

§177. But even where we find such an Urphänomen, a further problem arises when we refuse to recognize it as such, when we seek something more behind it and above it despite the fact that this is where we ought to acknowledge the limit of our perception. It is proper for the natural scientist to leave the Urphänomen undisturbed in its eternal repose and grandeur, and for the philosopher to accept it into his realm. There he will discover that a material worthy for further thought and work has been given him, not in individual cases, general categories, opinions and hypotheses, but in the basic and Urphänomen.

§718. Earlier ... we mentioned this important observation in passing, and we are now at an appropriate place to repeat it. There is no worse mistake in physics or any other science than to treat secondary things as basic and (since basic things cannot be derived from what is secondary) to seek an explanation for the basic things in secondary ones. This gives birth to endless confusion, jargon, and a constant effort to find a way out when the truth begins to emerge and assert itself.

§719. There the observer, the scientific researcher, will be bothered by the fact that the phenomena always contradicts his notions. This philosopher however, can continue to operate with a false conclusion in his own sphere, for no conclusion is so false that it could not somehow be valid as a form without content.

§720. But the physicist who can come to an understanding of what we have called an Urphänomen will be on safe ground, and the philosopher with him. The physicist will find safety in the conviction that he has reached the limit of his science, the empirical summit from which he can look back over the various steps of empirical observation, and glance forward into the realm of theory, if not enter it. ...

§918. We can also sense that colour is open to mystical interpretation. The scheme depicting the multiplicity of colours points to archetypal relationships which are as much a part of human intuitive perception as they are of nature. These associations could no doubt be used as a language to express archetypal relationships which are not so powerful and diverse in their effect on us. The mathematician values the worth and utility of the triangle, the mystic venerates it. ...

From Morphology. The Content Prefaced (1817)

“I surrounded myself with a collection of older and more recent remains, and on trips I carefully looked through museums and small collections for creatures whose formation as a whole, or in part, could prove instructive to me.

“In the process I was soon obliged to postulate a prototype against which all mammals could be compared as to points of agreement or divergence. As I had earlier sought out the archetypal plant I now aspired to find the archetypal animal; in essence, the concept or idea of the animal.” (p. 69, CW Volume 12)

1827-1830. Goethe on Science, continued

Letter to von Buttel 3 May 1827

“The Urphänomen is not to be regarded as a basic theorem leading to a variety of consequences, but rather as a basic manifestation enveloping the specifications of form for the beholder. Contemplation, knowledge, divination, faith – all these feelers with which human beings reach out into the universe must set to work jointly if we are to fulfil our important but difficult task.” (3 May 1827)

“... Nature understands no jesting; she is always true, always serious, always severe; she is always right, and the errors and faults are always those of the human being. The person incapable of appreciating her she despises; and only to the apt, the pure, and the true, does she resign herself, and reveal her secrets.

“The Understanding (Verstand) will not reach here; one must be capable of elevating oneself to the highest Reason (Vernunft) to come into contact with the Divine, which manifests itself in the Urphänomen which dwell behind them and from which they proceed.” (12 Conversations with Eckermann 13 February 1829)

“The highest thing a person can attain to is to marvel. When the Urphänomen makes one marvel, let one be content. It cannot afford one an experience beyond this, and to seek something else behind it is futile. Here is the limit. But as a rule people are not satisfied to behold an Urphänomen. They think there must be something beyond. They are like children who, having looked into a mirror, turn it around to see what is on the other side.” (9 Conversations with Eckermann, 18 February 1829)

“If ultimately I rest content with the Urphänomen, it is, after all, but a kind of resignation; yet it makes a great difference whether I resign myself at the boundaries of humanity, or within a hypothetical narrowness of my small-minded individuality.” (10 Maxims and Reflections §577)

“The Urphänomen I hit on long ago. No organic being wholly corresponds to the underlying idea. The higher idea lurks behind each. That is my God; that is the God we all seek and hope to set our countenance upon; but we can only divine him, not see him.” (11 Conversations with Müller 7 May 1830)

Selections from “Maxims and Reflections,” Collected Works Vol. 12

Urphänomen: ideal, real, symbolic, identical.

Empirical realm: endless proliferation of these, thus hope of succour, despair of perfection.


ideal as the ultimate we can know,
real as what we know,
symbolic, because it includes all instances,
identical with all instances.

The direct experience of Urphänomen creates a kind of anxiety in us, for we feel inadequate. We enjoy these phenomena only when they are brought to life through their eternal interplay in the empirical.

When Urphänomen stand unveiled before our senses we become nervous, even anxious. Sensory man seeks salvation in astonishment, but soon that busy matchmaker, Understanding, arrives with her efforts to marry the highest to the lowliest.

The magnet is an Urphänomen: this is clear the instant we say it. Thus is also comes to symbolize all else for which no words or names must be sought.

It is not easy to grasp the vast, the supercolossal in Nature; ... However, since Nature is always the same, whether found in the vast or the small, and every piece of turbid glass produces the same blue as the whole of the atmosphere covering the globe, I think it right to seek out prototypical examples and assemble them before me. ...

Wisdom and Experience, p76, from Conversation with von Müller, May 7, 1830.

“The Urphänomen which I hit on long ago. No organic being wholly corresponds to the underlying idea. The higher idea lurks behind each. That is my God; that is the God we all seek and hope to set our countenance upon; but we can only divine him, not see him.”

Comments on the Urphänomen by various authors

Clark Butler

“Goethe’s Urphänomen become for Hegel sensory actualizations – or at least analogues – of the abstract schemata of his Logic. And Goethean ‘natural science’ is thus transformed into Hegelian ‘natural philosophy’. Hegel is aware that the shadowy world of pure imageless thought in the Logic, which grounds Goethean natural science just as Goethean science in turn lends tangibility to the same logical abstractions, is considered inaccessible by Goethe. But he requests the poet’s indulgence for philosophy.” (p. 693 of The Letters)

Jeremy Naydler

Of all the concepts employed by Goethe in the pursuit of his scientific researches, the concept of Urphänomen is the most central. The Urphänomen is to be understood as having a status embracing both idea and sensory experience: it is something grasped in conjunction with sensory experience, yet it lies beyond it as a spiritual or ideal quality informing a phenomenon or set of phenomena. The Urphänomen is experienced when a group or sequence of phenomena reveal an underlying meaningfulness and internal coherence which is grasped by the intellect in a moment of intuitive comprehension (aperçu). It is thus revealed to intuitive perception through phenomena, but cannot be reduced to these phenomena alone.

This is not to say that the Urphänomen is an abstract concept arrived at by a process of merely selecting out the common elements of a group of phenomena. Goethe refers to it as ‘manifestation’: a manifestation of the spiritual ground of phenomena observed by the senses. The intuitive grasp of the Urphänomen is a higher kind of experience than what we normally attain to in our observation of nature. It is, in fact, the highest kind of experience a scientist can aim for and, having attained it, one has reached a limit beyond which one should not go. ‘When the Urphänomen makes one marvel’, Goethe says, ‘let one be content’.

Goethe on Science, p. 103

Fritz Heinemann

Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 1934. vol. 9 No,. 33, p. 75-80.

The pure phenomenon is the purified, clarified, constant phenomenon that is apprehended by pure intuition. Like the Hegelian Absolute, it lies at the end of the enquiry, not at the beginning. It is the final result of experience and experiment. It lies beyond the external, empirical data, for it is that which appears in them, that which is revealed in a continuous series of appearances. It is the form that persists through the alternation of he species, constantly recurring, yet presenting a thousand variations. The relationship to Hegel is closer here than is apparent at first sight; for Goethe’s pure phenomenon is also Idea. For him concept is a summary, but Idea is the product of experience. For both a mental process is comprehended in the Idea, for the one a perceptual, observational one, for the other a process that is at once historical and reflective. But the fundamental difference remains that for Hegel the movement (Gang) of reflection is the movement of the thing-in-itself. “Quantitatively,” Schiller points out, “the pure phenomenon must include the totality of instances, for it is what is constant in all of them.” Qualitatively, we might add, it is the Idea.

Only at this stage is it possible to understand what is meant by the “Urphänomen.” It is the pure phenomenon; yet not every pure phenomenon may assume this title, but only the purest. It is also referred to as the “basic phenomenon” (Grundphänomen), the “basic experience” (Grunderfahrung), or the “original experiment” (Urversuch). Its primary function is unification. An innumerable multitude of phenomena is embraced within its unity, and becomes apprehensible through its synthesis. “Urphänomene are basic phenomena, “in which the manifold can be contemplated.”

Thus in being one and undivided they are simple. “We must learn to see that what we have seen and recognized in the most simple must also be supposed and believed in the complex. For the simple conceals itself in the manifold.” But the simple is not, as with Descartes, the result of analysis; it is what is apprehended in the simple glance of a purified perception. If experiment and the synthesis of a series of experiments in one fundamental experience are the means of guaranteeing experience itself, its warrant is not the cogito of Cartesian or Kantian rationalism, it is intuition (Anschauung) – additional evidence of the far-reaching divergence between Goethe and Kant. ...

Albeit the Urphänomene are said to fulfil these functions of unification, simplification, and validation by virtue of being phenomena, it will be clear that they thereby transcend the sphere of the merely phenomenal. The transition from the phenomenon to the Urphänomen has thus the following implications:

(1) That “experience is only half of experience,” i.e., that he who desires to attain to knowledge cannot rest in one phenomenon.

(2) That such a transition must take place first of all within the phenomenon itself; it must reveal the connecting principles that are concealed within it, and require to be exhibited.

(3) That free activity of mind is required to effect this transition, for nature does not reveal itself to an unintelligent stare, but only to a mind that is able to break through its surface appearance and penetrate to its depths.

(4) This transition can be effected because every phenomenon is more than a phenomenon.

An appearance is always the appearance of something. ...

“... For ‘things’ exist only from the human point of view, which posits a diversity and a multiplicity. All is actually only one, but who is able to speak of this One as It is in Itself?” Appearances are not appearances of things-in-themselves, because there are no such things: things are merely the fragments into which our human weakness breaks up reality, wrongly representing the infinite in this finite form.

The One-in-Itself is the centre of this world view. Urphänomene differ from ordinary phenomena in manifesting the One in a specific manner. In them the creative and synthesizing forces of the universe become apparent in an unusual way. This Theory of Urphänomene is so difficult, because the term covers many – at least seven – different meanings:

(1) The Urphänomen is an appearance, for it appears, as an image, if not to the outer at least to the “inner eye.”

(2) The Urphänomen is the thing that appears (das Erscheidende), insofar as it does appear. If we take it, not in isolation, but in relation to the class of phenomena with which it is associated, it appears in these.

(3) The Urphänomen is the thing that appears, insofar as it cannot appear, because it is infinite, and thus exceeds what can be included in a single appearance.

(4) The Urphänomen is that which becomes apparent, i.e., it is that which is in transition to actual appearance, and this connects the appearance with what appears. The two factors just distinguished here coalesce. The term phenomenon thus receives a new meaning: it is that which appears (das Erscheidende), that which comes to appearance (das in die Erscheinung Tretende), which exhibits its nature, which reveals itself by itself (as sich von sich selbst her Zeigende). ... the Word made flesh ... both fact and symbol. ...

(5) But there is also a subjective moment in the Urphänomen, a specific attitude to reality. “... It is a revelation, developing from within, that gives man a presentiment of his kinship with the Divine.” ...

(6) Whilst the Urphänomen embraces both the appearance and the thing that appears, it also includes the law of appearance of that which was before invisible. ...

(7) Finally, the Urphänomene are also the laws of the appearances themselves. ...

This plurality of meanings of the Urphänomen makes its relation to the Idea very difficult to determine. That the two are not identical is evident form the fact that there are a number of Urphänomene but only one Idea. Why only one Idea? Because there are no things-in-themselves, but only the One-in-Itself. It is possible for Goethe to conceive the Idea as one, because he has the inestimable privilege to find the true the beautiful, the good and the Holy coincident, ... The one Idea means nothing else other than the unity of this formal principle. ... “... the Divine, which reveals Itself in Urphänomene, physical and moral, behind which it dwells, and which proceed from It.” (To Eckermann, February 13 1829)

But it is also true that, in another sense, the Urphänomen is the Idea. It is the Idea immanent and active in the appearance, the creative central point, in which man, nature and God are united. In it as a perceived order we become aware of the internal relationship of phenomena to each other, to the creative mind of man, and to God. With this Urphänomen, as the ultimate object of knowledge, Goethe’s enquiry after truth is satisfied.

We have seen that his method is genuinely phenomenological. It begins with phenomena, proceeds through them, and ends with them, returning at the last from the Urphänomene to the particulars who claims have not at any point been abrogated. This method is a personal achievement in the double sense that it issues from Goethe’s own personality, and that it reacts upon it in a manner that it would need a separate enquiry to demonstrate.

Erich Heller in “The Disinherited Mind,” pp. 222-23

“Goethe’s Theory of Colours which appeared in 1810 and of which he said one year before his death that it was as old as the world, is based – as all his scientific theories – on what he calls an Urphänomen, an idea so fundamental to the quality of a group of phenomena that the human mind is ill-advised to penetrate beyond it. It is that idea which, manifesting itself through the phenomena themselves, Goethe can, as he said to Schiller, see ‘with his own eyes’. One step further, and we have lost sight of the world in which man actually lives, of everything that matters to him as a human being, of the sights, sounds, tastes, loves and hatreds – finding ourselves instead in an unrealizable infinity of potential abstractions. Thus the Urphänomen marks for Goethe the point where the observer is still in contact with what he observes, and beyond which the real relationship between a human being and an object of nature ceases, with the object no longer being what it is and the human mind establishing itself as a subjective tyrant: the physicist becomes the task-master of nature, collects experiences, hammers and screws them together and thus, by ‘insulating the experiment from man, and attempting to get to know nature merely through artifices and instruments’, engineers what Goethe calls ‘the greatest disaster of modern physics’. Goethe regards it as his own scientific mission to ‘liberate the phenomena once for all from the gloom of the empirico-mechanico-dogmatic torture chamber’. After him, he hopes scholars will refer to the Newtonian interlude in science as ‘the pathology of experimental physics’.”

Douglas Miller in Volume 12 of CW, p. xx:

“Spinoza leads to the goal of Goethe’s efforts in science: perception of the Urphänomen, penetration to the realm where divine forces are at work in creation, participation in what Kant called the intellectus archetypus (1817). The Urphänomen lies at the limit of our perceptual ability, at the border between science and philosophy; it is the wellspring of all myriad forms found in nature. Goethe first identified the plant Urphänomen in leaf metamorphosis during his Italian journey of 1786-88. “With this model and the key to it an infinite number of additional plants can be invented” (Letter to Herder May 1787). Later Goethe discovered a skeletal Urphänomen in vertebral metamorphosis when he picked up a broken sheep’s skull from the Lido in Venice; a clear treatise on the Urphänomen is found in “Outline for a General Introduction to Comparative Anatomy” (1795) where he postulates an anatomical Urphänomen “containing the forms of all animals as potential,” and then builds up the Urphänomen bone by bone.

“The most comprehensive development of the Urphänomen is in Theory of Color, where the phenomenon of the passage by light or dark through a turbid medium is traced from the entire realm of color.”

Goethe’s Way of Science, a phenomenology of Nature. Edited by David Seaman and Arthur Zajonc. State University of New York Press 1988.

Henri Bortoft

§12. Counterfeit and Authentic Whole. Finding a Means for Dwelling in Nature.

Bortoft likens Goethe’s approach to whole/part relations to holograms (in which the whole image is held in every par of the plate, though with less resolution) and the hermeneutic circle.

“The notion of the Urphänomen is an invaluable illustration of the concrete nature of Goethe’s way of thinking that dwells in the phenomenon. The Urphänomen is not to be thought of as a generalization from observations, produced by abstracting from different instances something that is common to them. If this result were the case, one would arrive at an abstract unity with the dead quality of a lowest common factor. For Goethe, the primal phenomenon was a concrete instance – what he called “an instance worth a thousand, bearing all within itself.” In a moment of intuitive perception, the universal is seen within the particular, so that the particular instance is seen as a living instance of the universal. What is merely particular in one perspective is simultaneously universal in another way of seeing. In other words, the particular becomes symbolic of the universal.

“In terms of the category of wholeness, the Urphänomen is an example of the whole that is present in the part. Goethe himself said as much when he called it “an instance worth a thousand,” and described it as “bearing all within itself.” It is the authentic whole that is reached by going into the parts, whereas a generalization is the counterfeit whole that is obtained by standing back from the parts to get an overview. Looking for the Urphänomen is an example of looking for the right part – that is, the part that contains the whole. This way of seeing illustrates the simultaneous, reciprocal relationship between part and whole, whereby the whole cannot appear until the part is recognized, but the part cannot be recognized as such without the whole.

“For example, Goethe was able to “read” how colors arise in the way that the colors of the sun and the sky change with the atmospheric conditions throughout the day. Because there were no secondary, complicating factors, this was for him an instance of the Urphänomen of the arising of colors. This phenomenon was perceived as a part that contained the whole, and is was in fact through the observation of this particular phenomenon that Goethe first learned to see intuitively the law of the origin of color. Yet, the way that the colors of the sun and sky change together foes not stand out as a phenomenon until it is seen as an instance of how colors arise. The search for the Urphänomen is like creative writing, where the need is to find the right expression to let the meaning come forth. By analogy, we can say that Goethe’s way of science is “hermeneutical.” Once the Urphänomen has been discovered in a single case, it can be recognized elsewhere in nature and in artificial situations where superficially it may appear to be very different. These varying instances can be compared to the fragments of a hologram.

“Newton, in contrast, tried to divide light into parts: the colors of the spectrum from red to blue. But these are not true parts because each does not contain the whole, and hence they do not serve to let the whole come forth. Colorless light, or white light, is imagined to be a summative totality of these colors; whole and parts are treated as separate and outside of each other. Newton tried to go analytically from whole to parts (white light separated into colors), and from parts to whole (colors combined to make white light). In contrast, Goethe encountered the wholeness of the phenomenon through the intuitive mode of consciousness, which is receptive to the phenomenon instead of dividing it according to external categories.”

David Seamon

“Goethe argued that, in time, out of commitment, practice, and proper efforts, the student would discover the Urphänomen, the essential pattern or process of a thing. Ur- bears the connotation of primordial, basic, elemental, archetypal; the Urphänomen may be thought of as the “deep down phenomenon,” the essential core of a thing that makes it what it is an what i becomes. For example, in his botanical work, Goethe saw the Urphänomen of the plants as arising out of the interplay between two opposing forces: the “vertical tendency” and “horizontal tendency.” The former is the plant’s inescapable need to grow upward; the latter, the nourishing, expanding principle that gives solidity to the plant. Only when these two forces are in balance can the plant grow normally.

Goethe believed that the powers of human perception and understanding cannot penetrate beyond the Urphänomen. It is “an ultimate which can not itself be explained, which is in fact not in need of explanation, but from which all that we observe can be made intelligible.” The key procedural need in discovering the Urphänomen, Goethe argued, is maintaining continuous experiential contact with the thing throughout the course of investigation – to intellectualize abstractly as little as possible. “Pure experience,” he wrote, “should lie at the root of all physical sciences ... A theory can be judged worthy only when all experiences are brought under one roof and assist in their subsequent application.

“Yet, Goethe saw no inherent conflict between experience and idea or between fact and conception. He believed that genuine understanding entailed a mutual interplay of both fact and theory. Their resolution is to be found in the Urphänomen, which marks out the things in the foreground and brings all other phenomena into relation with it. ...”

Arthur Zajonc

“Goethe considered the Urphänomen to be the highest level of experience attainable. He writes that the natural scientist: should forebear to seek for anything behind it: her is the limit. But the sight of an Urphänomen is generally not enough for people; they think they must go still further; and are thus like children who after peeping into a mirror turn it around directly to see what is on the other side.” Although Urphänomene are the fixed points from which one can “descend to the commonest case of everyday experience,” Goethe distinguishes them from first principles from which all else is derived. Rather, it is a question of seeing, within nature’s multiplicity, the single Urphänomenische instance. Five years before his death, Goethe wrote in this vein to Christian Dietrich v. Buttel: “Moreover, an Urphänomen is not to be considered as a principle from which manifold consequences result; rather it is to be seen as a fundamental appearance within which the manifold is to be held.”

“These descriptions indicate how heavily Goethe relies on the metaphor of seeing. Understanding, he believed, is not so much a discursive, explanatory processes as a moment of seeing – what he called “aperçu,” or “insight.” Once this insight is attained, its formal elaboration in discursive or mathematical terms is of strictly secondary interest. In a letter of 1823 to Frederic Sorel, he wrote, “In science, however, is the treatment null, and all efficacy lies in the aperçu.” Once we realize this, we can read the Theory of Colors differently. We should not search for the explanation of the phenomena in the usual sense, but, more importantly, we should relive the experiments and experiences he describes so that we, too, may have the insight – the aperçu that weds together subsequent experiences.”

Frederick Amrine

“The resulting intuition constitutes a ‘pregnant point’ from which it is possible to ‘deduce’ all the phenomena in their idea relationships. Yet, the word point is misleading, for what is accessed in this moment is a pure activity that is nevertheless saturated with empirical content and thus not abstract. It is an immediate intuition of unity-in-diversity. Like the Hegelian absolute, it is the concrete universal that emerges at the end of one’s cognitive labors, bearing its full empirical content within – the oak tree, not the acorn. It is a living idea rather than a dead hypothesis because it is generated, plastic, multidimensional – a series of structured activities rather than a static structure.

“And just as the ‘point’ Goethe indicates as the proper goal of scientific hypothesis-formation is nothing static, the ‘deduction’ that we then perform from this intuited ground is not any kind of logical entailment but, rather, a synchronic seeing. The ‘pregnant point’ – let us now call it the name Goethe usually employs, the Urphänomen – is ideal without being abstract. From this vantage point, all possible lawful phenomena can be immediately intuited. Hence, Goethe’s claim in a letter to Johann von Herder that his Urpflanze would enable him to invent plants that exhibited an inner necessity even if they did not actually exist. ...

“As the Urphänomen is not an abstract terminus (in either sense of the word) but a pure activity, it can be accessed and realized only through practice. Thus Goethe conceives of the scientific experiment as the systematic exploration, practice, and elaboration of a mode of representation. In the hypothetico-deductive method, one begins by projecting a structure upon one’s observations, then isolates what is held to be the crucial factor, thereby cutting oneself off entirely from the phenomenal context. As we have seen, what takes the place of an abstract hypothesis in Goethe’s method is an intuition that arises within the graded series. It is the pattern of the phenomena as a whole. The source and guide of one’s thinking is the energeia of the phenomena. ...

“The goal of experimentation in Goethe’s sense can be viewed as a kind of empirical counterpart to the ‘intellectual intuition’ of post-Kantian philosophy – an experience at the phenomenal pole that is otherwise remarkably like Johann Fichte’s “activity into which an eye has been inserted.” Universal and particular, idea and experience enter into a relationship that transcends logical subsumption. They become reciprocally determinative and, in that sense, a unified and organic whole. The context of discovery becomes simultaneously the context of justification, and that same congruence and simultaneity becomes the basis of explanation. Universal and particular each appear within and through the other – or, rather, the universal shines through the particular, while inseparable from it as in a symbol. Hence, Goethe’s contention that inquiry should cease with the apprehension of the Urphänomen; abstracting further can only lead away from this fullness of understanding to reduction. ...”