GUSTAV GERBER AND ‘KANTIAN’ LINGUISTICS
PRESUPPOSITIONS OF THOUGHT AND LINGUISTIC USE
School for Business Administration and Economics, Arnhem
Gerber's motivation to write his three books on language (see the references) in relation to knowledge (or knowing), art and the role of the subject in man's world view (Weltanschauung) is mainly to criticise contemporary 19th century transcendental approaches towards the study of language. He therefore finds fault with Immanuel Kant's transcendental programme of epistemology which leaves hardly space for detailed linguistic studies:
When [...] nowadays scientific research, starting from mere concepts or abstractions is brought into discredit and taken up with disbelief when in fact empirical research is demanded as fundamental it is clear then that what Kant has begun to investigate as a critique of pure reason must be continued as a critique of impure reason, objectified reason, or as a critique of language. The difference of scientific, moral, religious concepts, the characteristic of the entire ethnic life, the different historical developments in different nations as such are signs clear enough to indicate that a general system of thought is the same abstraction as a general system of language. (Gerber 1871-74/I:244)
1. The life and work of Gustav Gerber
1.1 The Reception of Gerber's work. During the past thirty years or so the name of the Bromberg "Dirigenten [later: Directors] des Städtischen Realgymnasiums" Gustav Gerber, born 13 January 1820 and died 21 October 1901, appears in nearly every account on linguistic meaning, language use and the origins of language. This interest in Gerber's philosophy of language existed already shortly after the publication of his main books on language (among others Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920), Wilhelm Jerusalem (1854-1923) and Ludwig Tobler (1827-1895) reviewed at least one of Gerber's three books). On the other hand, although Wundt reviewed Gerber's Die Sprache und das Erkennen one will not find explicit references to Gerber in the first volume of his Völkerpsychologie, which explicitly deals with language. One might perhaps maintain that his position at the Realgymnasium in Bromberg and not being at the front of linguistic discussions at the universities of Leipzig and Berlin for instance had a negative impact on his Rezeption in late 19th century linguistics and philosophy - although he is mentioned in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and Anton Marty (1847-1914; cf. Meijers 1987).
1.2 Gustav Gerber. His Life and Linguistic Philosophy. Not much is known about Gustav Gerber himself. We know that he was a headmaster of a local secondary school (Städtische Realschule), later Royal secondary grammar school (Königliches Realgymnasium), in Bromberg. He came to Bromberg in 1851 after having finished his teacher training in Berlin and Leipzig. He did his teaching practice at his former grammar school, the Royal Friedrich-Wilhelms-Gymnasium in Berlin. He was allowed to teach German and philosophy on all levels and Latin and Greek, history, geography, and mathematics only at lower levels (Unterstufe).
Gerber wrote his PhD-thesis on the second book of Herodotes's Historiae in 1846 and he was promoted in Leipzig. In the second book of the Historiae Herodotus deals with the development of Egypt. He also refers to the experiment of the Egyptian King Psammetichus to solve the problem of the oldest language and of the oldest people. The problem concerning the origin of language returns several times in Gerber's Die Sprache als Kunst and in his two later books. He quotes for instance the discussion of the conventional character of language (kata suntheken) in Aristotle's Perihermeneias but also many quotations from Greek and Roman historians can be found throughout his Die Sprache als Kunst with regard to this problem.
According to Gerber the development of language starts with the individual who produces sounds. In these sounds individual expressions can be communicated to other individuals and only then language becomes a social phenomenon: it develops from the individual expression of the soul to a conventional instrument which allows man to understand and communicate with his fellow-men: so, language has a biological as well as a conventional origin:
Language begins with individuals. It develops from individual stimuli and by being uttered or articulated becomes the most powerful binder of the human species - which is shown by the many wars of nationality in our times. Therefore, one cannot distinguish between a language which is only individual or of the human species. It is, however, possible to maintain that there is a development of language symbolized by the concepts individual and species. [...]. It suffices to demonstrate the development of language as a social tool by giving the following schema:
I. The individual who produces language produces it only for itself. And by recognizing the effect of sounds on the other individuals it will use language as a tool to communicate with the species as far as this can be reached by his language: his family, his tribe or people.
II. The language of the species or of the people thus becomes a language of the individual and then again the fixed tradition of a particular language is split up, because it can be directed towards the individuals or the species. (Gerber 1871-74/I:246f.)
Only in the second phase language develops as a conventional or cultural phenomenon. A national language and a particular culture develops. Language is released from its subjective role. With this development the free, creative expression of language diminishes and the rich and flooding formative power or faculty (Bildekraft) becomes less and less important in social communication (cf. Gerber 1871-74/I:247).
Of course many problems of the socialization of language and subject which are dealt with by later authors, for instance by Wilhelm Wundt, George Herbert Mead (1863-1931) and Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934), i.e. how the I and later on the Me is able to take the role of the other by using signs and by interpreting them in a behavioral situation are only indicated by Gerber but not analyzed in detail. The 'I', however, is conceptualized as something which has an effect in a real context of language use but then again the scientific interest in the subject or 'I' determines its status in Gerber's analyses.
1.3 Gerber's Affinities with Hermeneutics. When reading Gerber's work, not yet verified links to the Berlin linguistic and philological circles arise. In Berlin Gerber might have studied with among others August Friedrich Boeckh (1785-1867). Between 1806 and 1865 Boeckh lectured about 26 times (cf. Grondin 1991:101f.) on topics related to and the methodology of philology. He elaborated on Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher's (1768-1834) hermeneutic ideas. In his preface to Die Sprache als Kunst Gerber explicitly mentions Boeckh's article "Von dem Übergange der Buchstaben ineinander" (published in 1808). Next to the alpha and omega of contemporary grammar, etymology and syntax, Boeckh maintains that a serious study of language should also consider the ethical dimension, i.e. the value, meaning, effect, and use of language to users of language. The real task of philology, therefore, is knowledge of the products, i.e. the known, of the human mind. Philology in this sense is reproductive. It tries to understand (verstehen) the products or ergae of man. What can be understood has already been produced and known by others. This expression of knowledge or hermeneia forms (gestaltet) every possible thought of man. Hermeneutic reconstruction is to acknowledge this reproductive or perhaps better: reproducable character of human thought in (linguistic) expressions:
Hermeneutically important is Boeckh's thesis that the recognition of the already known is the starting-point of new research, of intruding the word deeper and deeper and the soul of every hermeneutic: 'To investigate the spoken or written word is the most original philological motive'. This indicates that communication by signs and symbols symbolizes just part of or the final aspect respectively of that which is recognized by the author. (Grondin 1991:101)
1.4 Language and art in Gerbers "Die Sprache als Kunst". But also, Boeckh asked himself, why wasn't the artistic use of language never made a serious topic of philological or linguistic research? This made Gerber think of a possible systematization of arts and to outline the artistic character of language. In this system Gerber gave language its own place. He reduced the arts into visual and audible ones. The different forms of works of art, of the product or ergon, show this immanent division without, however, serving any practical or purposeful interest of the producing artist or the Beobachter (observer) in works of art; Gerber refers here to Immanuel Kant's (1724-1804) "'interesseloses Wohlgefallen'" which accompanies us enjoying works of art:
In the domain of art the question concerning the purposes we have by acting so or so, what advantages we have, would hardly be asked. In other domains of human practical practice activities or labour without success would count as lost. (Gerber 1871-74/I:2)
Concerning the systematization of arts Gerber distinguishes visual and audible arts: language, analyzed from a historical perspective, pleases man through the ear. This sense-organ is distinguished from the eye. Through the eye man can be pleased by visual stimuli. In his triadic representation of the system of audible and visual arts Gerber distinguishes the following:
1. Künste des Auges (arts of the eye; visual arts):
a. Baukunst. b. Bildnerkunst. c. Malerei.
architecture sculpture painting
2. Künste des Ohrs (arts of the ear; audible arts):
a. Tonkunst. b. Sprachkunst. c. Dichtkunst.
music art of language poetry
The artist gives the form of the work of art a particular meaning and thereby animates (beseelen) it. This activity or energeia is, according to Gerber, the essence of the work of art; the creation of it is its real (wirkliche) sense. The creation and re-creation of the work of art by the observers frees it from any practical purpose which characterizes other human actions like giving a paper on Gerber's linguistic thought. A work of art can be observed and aesthetic judgements can be made without considering irrelevant aspects like the intention of the artist, its value, etc. In terms of Kant's third Critique of Judgement:
Kant saw the aesthetic judgement as intermediate between, and mediating between, the understanding and practical reason; its domain is the faculty of feeling. [...]. The problem is to reconcile the conditions of judgement and of feeling. Unlike feeling, judgement normally involves concepts; but if that were how it was in the aesthetic realm, a decision on the validity of a judgement could be made in terms of the conditions of applicability of those concepts - and that does not seem to be how it is. [But how then can we legitimately make aesthetic judgements? ...T]he object of an aesthetic judgement is a particular which is regarded for its own sake, in abstraction from any interests that the observer may have in regard to it. It is that abstraction which makes possible a legislation for others when I make an aesthetic judgement about a particular. (Hamlyn 1987:239ff.)
Gerber tried to develop a critical account of the artistic (künstlerisch) use of language on the one hand and of several problems concerned with a Kantian critique of pure reason on the other. Not abstract concepts but the empirical foundation of linguistic use was Gerber's point of departure. He therefore had to develop a critique of impure reason, i.e. of language as the empirical foundation of the Kantian objectified reason (Verstand). This implicitly meant a reorientation of Kant's philosophical terminology: a scientific approach to speech as an objectification of mental acts had to deal with the function of articulated sounds in creation ("Schaffen"), communication ("Mitteilen"), and knowledge ("Erkenntnis"). This reorientation, however, is not quite original. It reflects earlier attempts to cope with Kant's "hidden" linguistic programme in his three Critiques, for example in Wilhelm von Humboldt's philosophy of language and his schema of the arts (cf. Humboldt 1797).
In his development of this "system of arts" one might call Gerber an eclectic - one finds concepts of Kant, Schiller, Herder, Hume and many others in his work -, although he is not uncritical of aspects of mainly all the authors he refers to. Especially the developmental aspects, dominant in the empirical tradition (from Locke to the later Wittgenstein; cf. Schmidt 1968), are criticized by Gerber. It is his opinion that in linguistic and philological matters one cannot freely choose an empirical or a cognitive point of view without mutilating the role of language in the development of the human species, a fact he often stresses in his works, and which reminds of the Humboldtian studies of the anthropological presuppositions of the different characters of language: the study of languages reveals the nature of mankind. One might call this the hidden Humboldtian programme in Gerber's linguistic studies.
Gerber seems to be a victim of the gradually developing sciences during the second half of the 19th century and the specialization scientific research. In fact, he was critical of many scientific developments in this period but as an intellectual outsider he was not able to follow the methodological differentiation of philosophy, linguistics, aesthetics, epistemology, the natural sciences or psychology. This might explain why his view on for instance the origin of language is closer to Wilhelm von Humboldt's realist-idealist philosophy of language than to the contemporary empirical traditions as Knobloch maintains (cf. Knobloch 1988:120). One more reason to study Gerber's work is his attempt to describe the use of language without explicitly defining the area or domain of linguistic research - because to him language is a multidisciplinary phenomenon. This seems to be quite unusual by the time Gerber wrote his work as was already noticed by Knobloch (1988). To grasp language as a scientific phenomenon one should consider the Gestalten or Erscheinungsformen, the forms of appearance of language; therefore, Gerber departed from literary, rhetorical, philosophical, psychological and several other ways to explore language methodically without, however, always adequately distinguishing these methodological approaches (cf. Wundt 1886). This fairly multifacetted approach to language might also explain the relative obscurity of his work, although his work was used by classical scholars as a book of reference.
With the growing interest in the history of language sciences, the study of the history of the philosophy of language and the growing interest in pragmatics and its history in the late 1960s Gerber's work was re-read and re-interpreted, for instance in the tradition of language-critical philosphy (Cloeren 1988); and today "a forgotten chapter in the philosophy of language" (Schmidt 1976:682) seems to be inadequate regarding Gerber's studies of language. One must conclude then that Gerber's diverse interest in language makes it worthwhile to read Gerber's work in the 1990s and to unravel his Unzeitgemäße Betrachtungen.
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