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Scientia intuitiva? Intuition, Idea, and Empiricism in Goethe’s Science

Guglielmo Califano


In recent years, numerous studies have been highlighting the importance of Goethe’s Metamorphosis of Plants for classical German philosophy. According to these studies, Goethe’s theory of intuition not only overcomes the boundaries of Kantian philosophy, but also has a crucial bearing on Hegel. In my paper, I set out to contest the widely accepted thesis asserting a direct reference of Goethe’s account of intuition to Kant’s Critique of Judgement and to the problem of a relationship between intuitive and discursive thinking as it emerges in that framework. In fact, by bringing Goethe’s text back to its own botanical context, it becomes clear that an original notion of idea underlies Goethe’s theory of intuition. Contrary to the Kantian idea, Goethe’s form is deeply rooted in an empirical context and is properly grasped only by the combined activity of observation, imagination and intuition. This is not meant to deny the speculative value of the Metamorphosis: I take Goethe’s Scientia intuitiva to be the ability of understanding the world of phenomena as rational though multifaceted and unpredictable.


Goethe; Intuition; Scientia intuitiva; Metamorphosis; Hegel; Kant; Idea; Förster; Plants

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