An Epistemological Study of Goethe's Novel The Sufferings of Young Werther: An Examination of Goethe's Educational Philosophy as Reflected in an Analytical Study of the Character Werther
Date of Award
Doctor of Education (EdD)
Teaching & Learning
The research problem is to examine Goethe's educational philosophy as identified through an analytical study of the character Werther in Goethe's novel The Sufferings of Young Werther.
The purpose of this study is to reveal the epistemological premises of the learning construct that are within the context of the novel, and to derive from these premises specific learning principles that can be applied to educational theory. Goethe's concepts of the human will, the self, responsibility, choice, and growth are defined and subsequently utilized as the skeletal frame from which to construct the working principles of his thought process. By focusing on Goethe's actual thinking and how he comes to know, the novel becomes a means, or mode, with which to illustrate the epistemological functioning of his mind.
Within this short novel, the inherent potentiality for learning theory is substantial. Goethe was offering his reading public a learning construct by means of the relationship he established with himself and his literary creation. The nature of the relationship was such that both he and his readers would be provided with a learning methodology. To determine the premises of the learning construct from the medium of the novel and then to apply these premises to the formulation of specific learning principles becomes the means by which to isolate the educational application of Goethe's epistemology.
Six educational principles have evolved from Goethe's epistemological premises as they were examined within the context of the novel. These principles of learning are identified and their significance as a totality for learning theory is considered. (1) Goethe realized that the subject matter of education is man, and he emphasized the nature of man and his characteristics as a self-determiner. The focus of education must therefore center upon the learner and his individuality. (2) Because the self is a unity and functions as a totality, learning becomes an experience of each distinct, or unique, self. Being a composite of the effects of its choices, the self perceives learning as an extremely personal matter. This means that education must recognize the value that man places on his self in his demand for self-cultivation. (3) Goethe knew that the self can choose to educate itself and actually proceed to bring this process about. Through determining the validity and reliability of that which it seeks to know, the learner is provided with an empirical base from which to begin his instruction. In this manner, the self becomes its own teacher and the learning act is identified as a process of self-examination. (4) It is the self that exerts its own inherent potentiality for knowing and learning. Goethe recognized the internal, or intrinsic, motivation of the self to seek knowledge and truth, and he demanded that the self actively confront its learning object. Education must acknowledge that the learner does indeed possess an inner vitality of his own. (5) Man is always in relation to that which confronts him as a determiner. All learning is creative because the learner is the creator of further learning. In his role as creator, the learner makes a multitude of decisions and must subsequently accept the inherent responsibility for the choices made and their implications. Goethe was fully aware that in actualizing its choices through application of their meanings, the self becomes an active agent in the process of learning. (6) In order to actively participate in the educational process, the learner must understand the social nature of man. A relationship of mutuality, based on dialogue and intercommunication, is a learning process. This process of learning is the application of knowledge in quest of meaning in a social context.
Beckham, Mark A., "An Epistemological Study of Goethe's Novel The Sufferings of Young Werther: An Examination of Goethe's Educational Philosophy as Reflected in an Analytical Study of the Character Werther" (1980). Theses and Dissertations. 2525.