Greek and German

Heidegger says somewhere that the two most philosophical languages in the West are classical Greek and modern German. I think he believed there was something special about the history or the structure of the languages themselves that lent itself particularly well to philosophical work; I’m not so sure whether that’s true, although I’m more open to it now since realizing something about myself.

The two philosophical literatures that I am most excited to be able to read in the original languages are the Greek and the German; the Greek especially up to the end of the end of the so-called Neoplatonic Academy in the sixth century, and German basically from Kant forward.

I originally wasn’t that excited at all about beginning to study German, or about the sort of things I’d be able to read. I had to cast about, helplessly trying to think of something, anything that I might enjoy reading in German, in order to motivate myself to stick with the language.

Somehow, though, in the course of studying the language I’ve realized how much is written in that language that I want to have access to. Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, and many more.

Now of course in the West, bridging from the end of the Greek to the early German philosophical traditions I’ve specified, there was Latin scholasticism. With my background, it might seem like I would be excited to read this part of philosophical history most of all! And indeed, it is very high on my list. Still, it does come in below Greek and German.

I don’t know if I can fully justify that. Certainly I wouldn’t get into an argument with someone if they were more excited to study the medieval scholastics than the ancient Greeks or the modern Germans. I would sympathize, and celebrate it!

And I would understand if someone said I was giving regrettably short shrift to great philosophical works produced in English or Italian or French.

I’m excited for those languages and literatures as well, and a year ago I might not have been able to arrange them into a hierarchy to represent which ones really seem most enticing to me. But after a lot of reflection, I’m getting closer to finding out what I see the most value in.

So then, that’s what it comes down to for me. I’m most excited for Greek, and second most for German. Those two are at the top by a good margin. And I feel that way because of my desire to study philosophy. So maybe old Heidegger was right about this one after all.

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