2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

History of Sensation, Music, and Force:
Soul-Body Interactions in Herder’s Theory of Listening

Chien-Chang Yang

Graduate Institute of Musicology, National Taiwan University

Traditionally regarded as a transitional figure between the German Enlightenment and Romanticism, Johann Gottfried Herder’s (1744-1803) prominence in literary criticism, political philosophy, and historiography has been well documented. More recently, studies of Herder have turned to his pioneering investigations of an anthropologically-oriented epistemology, in which his idea of the “whole man” (ganzer Mensch) plays a prominent role. However, while scholars have pointed out the importance of sensations and the corporeal in Herder’s perceptual theory as a whole, the importance of “hearing” has rarely been adequately clarified. In Herder’s epistemology, sensation (Empfindung) forms the “dark” perception that constitutes an emotional, yet no less essential, side of human existence. In particular, Herder defines hearing as the sympathetic vibration (Mitbewegung) of the body and the soul, and he calls music the closest art to the human heart. This psychological as well as physiological side of human beings, in Herder’s view, ,must be accompanied by an omnipresent physical “force” (Kraft)—the origin of every form of human energy. Such an intricate and almost self-contradicting idea cannot be fully justified without an understanding of Herder’s contemporaries’ anthropological studies as well as research in the natural sciences such as Albrecht von Haller’s work on physiology. This article argues that in the German anthropological efforts to rebut rationalist epistemology, Herder was the first to emphasize listening as the best channel to communicate with the innermost force of the human being. Herder’s efforts were then followed by a series of physiological/psychological researches in the nineteenth century, including the so-called physiological psychology of Hermann Lotze and the monumental physiological work of Hermann von Helmholtz, Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als Grundlagen für die Theorie der Musik (On the Sensation of Tones, 1863), which were all influenced by Herder’s theory of hearing.


Keywords: anthropology, music aesthetics, sensation, physiology, history of epistemology, forms of knowledge