Wilhelm von Humboldt


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German polymath and philosopher of language. The elder brother of the explorer Alexander, Wilhelm von Humboldt was born in Potsdam and educated at Frankfurt and Göttingen. He combined the general scholarly interests of his time with a special concern for political philosophy. Until 1819 he was active in public service in Prussia. His collected works (seven volumes, 1841–52) cover a great variety of topics, but his principal philosophical importance lies in the role that he attributed to language, not as the mere external vehicle of thought, but as a repository of the spirit, and something whose ‘inner form’ itself dictates the kind of thought that can be available for comprehension. See also Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

Subjects: Literature.

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