Henrik Steffens - Encyclopedia

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HENRIK STEFFENS (1773-1845), German philosopher, scientist and poet, of Norwegian extraction, was born on the 2nd of May 177 3 at Stavanger, and died in Berlin on the 13th of February 1845. At the age of fourteen he went with his parents to Copenhagen, where he studied theology and natural science. In 1796 he lectured at Kiel, and a year later went to Jena to study the natural philosophy of Schelling. He went to Freiberg in 1800, and there came under the influence of Werner. After two years he returned to Copenhagen, but his lectures excited so much disapproval that he took a professorship at Halle in 1804. During the War of Liberation he served as a volunteer in the cause of freedom, and was present at the capture of Paris. From 1811 he was professor of physics at Breslau until 1832, when he accepted an invitation to Berlin. Steffens was one of the so-called Philosophers of Nature, a friend and adherent of Schelling and Schleiermacher. More than either of these two thinkers he was acquainted with the discoveries of modern science, and was thus enabled to correct or modify the highly imaginative speculations of Schelling. He held that, throughout the scheme of nature and intellectual life, the main principle is Individualization. As organisms rise higher in the scale of development, the sharper and more distinct become their outlines, the more definite their individualities. This principle he endeavoured to deduce from his knowledge of geology, in contrast to Lorenz Oken, who developed the same theory on biological grounds. The influence of his views was considerable. Not only did Schelling and Schleiermacher modify their theories in deference to his scientific deductions, but the intellectual life of his contemporaries was considerably affected. His lectures in Copenhagen in 1802 were attended by many leading Danish thinkers, such as Oehlenschlager and Grundtvig. Schleiermacher was so much struck by their excellence that he endeavoured, unsuccessfully, to obtain for Steffens a chair in the new Berlin University in 1804, in order that his own ethical teachings should be supported in the scientific department.

His chief scientific and philosophical works are: Beitrdge zur innern Naturgeschichte der Erde (1801); Grundzilge der. philos. Naturwissenschaft (1806); Anthropologie (1824). He wrote also Ueber die Idee der Universitdten (1835), and Ueber geheime Verbindungen auf Universitdten (1835); works on religious subjects, Karikaturen des Heiligsten (1819-1821); Wie ich weeder Lutheraner wurde and was mir das Luthertum ist (1831); Von der falschen Theologie and dem wahren Glauben (new ed., 1831); poetical works, Die Familien Walseth and Leith (1827); Die vier Norweger (1828); Malcolm (1831), collected in 1837 under the title of Novellen. During the last five years of his life he wrote an autobiography, Was ich erlebte, and after his death was published Nachgelassene Schriften (1846). See Tietzen, Zur Erinnerung an Steffens; Petersen, Henrik Steffens (Ger. trans., 1884); Dilthey, Leben Schle, ermachers.

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