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Paideia as Bildung in Germany in the Age of Enlightenment

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Paideia as Bildung in Germany in the Age of Enlightenment

ABSTRACT: There have been many interpretations of Bildung in the history of German philosophy, from the Medieval mystics to the secularization of the Enlightenment. Wilhelm von Humboldt's work at the end of the 18th century is a good example. He placed the idea of Bildung at the center of his work because it was rooted in a dynamic, transforming idea of the natural and human worlds while also being oriented toward a model of balance and perfection. Von Humboldt's interpretation of modernity is characterized by a strong emphasis on change as well as the need to find criteria for guiding such a transformation that has no intrinsic or predetermined end. Love of classical antiquity was not merely nostalgia for a lost world, a normative current that placed the idea of perfection and balance foremost in order to achieve the ideal of Humanitas in an attempt to overcome the unilaterally of modernity.

Now, I can truly say that life today has a value for me only because of this; it does not matter what force has to be put in motion, what results can be obtained. The development of all the germs that are present in the individual conformation of human life, this is what I consider the true goal of man on earth, not precisely happiness. (1)

The idea of Bildung,-one of the possible interpretations of Paideia-stated here with great neatness by Wilhelm von Humboldt, has to be considered the quintessence of his history.

The exemplary laicization of his formulation is first of all a result. Bildung is not an eighteenth century neologism even though it becomes a key word which gives voice to the new intellectual attitude of which the men of the Enlightenment were bearers; Bildu...

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...ne Freudin, Leipzig 1861-65, p.495.

(2) F.Rauhut, Die Herkunft der Worte und Begriffe "Kultur", "Zivilisation" und "Bildung", in F.Rauhut-I.Schaarschmidt, Beiträge zur Geschichte des deutschen Bildungsbegriffs, Weinheim 1965; E.Lichtenstein, Von Meister Eckhart bis Hegel. Zur philosophischen Entwicklung des deutschen Bildungsbegriffs, "Pädagogische Forschung", 34, 1966, R.Vierhaus, Bildung, in Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe. Historisches Lexikon zur politischen-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland, Stuttgart 1972, I, pp.508-551.

(3) Wilhelm und Caroline von Humboldt in ihren Briefen, Berlin 1935, p. 87. On the subject see also my book: Formazione e trasformazione. "Forza" e "Bildung" in W.von Humboldt e la sua epoca, Milano 1988.

(4) W.v.Humboldt. Ideen zu einem Versuch die Grenzen der Wirksamkeit des Staats zu bestimmen, in Gesammelte Werke, Berlin, 1903, I, p. 106
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