Hemsterhuis and Modern European Philosophy

The project funded by the Humboldt Foundation will provide a much needed reassessment of Franz Hemsterhuis’ neglected oeuvre.

Principle Investigator: Daniel Whistler

No one has written on Hemsterhuis’ work in English for forty-odd years, but he was crucial in launching Romanticism, Idealism and all sorts of key movements that have shaped modern ideas.


Franz Hemsterhuis was a participant in the infamous ‘pantheism controversy’ of the 1780s; Diderot wrote an early critique of his work; Herder produced a key ‘postscript’ to Hemsterhuis’ Letter on Desires; Kant’s ‘On an Apocalyptic Tone Newly Adopted in Philosophy’ also implicitly singles out Hemsterhuis’ work as representative of the Plato renaissance. Indeed, key figures in subsequent Idealism, like Novalis, the Schlegel brothers, Hölderlin and Schelling, cite Hemsterhuis as a key influence on their thought.

Hemsterhuis was intimately bound up with the emergence of Romanticism and Idealism, standing at the centre of Northern European intellectual thought at the turn of the nineteenth century. Yet, the last English-language monograph on Hemsterhuis dates from the early ‘70s. This two-year project, fully funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, is dedicated to re-examining Hemsterhuis for our times.


Over two years, Dr Whistler will be working closely with the archives in Münster, Germany, to produce a substantial monograph on the philosophy of Franz Hemsterhuis and its influence. In particular, he will be focusing on the relationship between mysticism and philosophy, as enacted in the relations between Hemsterhuis and the mystically-inclined Münster Circle.

The overall aim of the book will be to further contemporary interest in the origins of Kantian and post-Kantian philosophy through opening up a substantial new avenue of inquiry, enriching understandings of German philosophy in the 1770s and 1780s.


The project will result in a monograph in 2019 entitled, Hemsterhuis and his Readers.