When Professor Kürschner honored me with the task of publishing Goethe's natural-scientific works for German National Literature, I was well aware of the difficulties confronting me in such an undertaking. I had to work against a view that had become almost universally established.
While the conviction is becoming more and more widespread that Goethe's literary works are the foundation of our entire cultural life, his scientific efforts are regarded — even by those who go the farthest in their appreciation of them — as nothing more than inklings he had of truths that then became fully validated in the course of scientific investigation. The eye of his genius, they say, attained inklings of natural lawfulnesses which then, independently of him, were rediscovered by the strict methods of science. What one fully grants to the rest of Goethe's activity — namely, that every educated person must come to terms with it — is denied him with respect to his scientific view. It is not acknowledged at all that the poet's scientific works afford anything that science, even without him, would not offer today.
By the time I was introduced to Goethe's world view by K.J. Schroer, my beloved teacher, my thinking had already taken a direction that enabled me to look beyond the poet's individual discoveries to the essential point: to the way Goethe fit each individual discovery into the totality of his conception of nature, to the way he evaluated it in order to gain insight into the relationship of nature beings, or, as he so aptly expressed it himself (in the essay Power to Judge in Beholding [Anschauende Urteilskraft] ), in order to participate spiritually in nature's productions. I soon recognized that the achievements which modern science does grant Goethe are the inessential ones, whereas precisely what is significant is overlooked. The individual discoveries would really have been made even without Goethe's-research; but science will be deprived of his marvelous conception of nature as long as it does not draw this directly from him. This realization gave the direction that had to be taken by the introductions to my edition of Goethe's scientific works. They had to show that every single view expressed by Goethe is to be traced back to the totality of his genius.
The principles by which this is to be done are the subject of this little book. It undertakes to show that what we set forth as Goethe's scientific views is also capable of being established on its own independent foundation.
This seems to me to be sufficient introduction to the following study. There remains only the pleasant duty of expressing my most deeply-felt thanks to Professor Kürschner, who has lent me his friendly assistance with this little book with the same extraordinary kindness he has always shown my scientific endeavours.End of April, 1886