Wilhelm von Humboldt

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Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand Freiherr von Humboldt (22 June 1767 – 8 April 1835) was a German philosopher, government functionary, diplomat, and founder of Humboldt Universität. He is especially remembered as a linguist who made important contributions to the philosophy of language and to the theory and practice of education. In particular, he is widely recognized as having been the architect of the Prussian education system which was used as a model for education systems in countries such as the United States and Japan.

Humboldt was born in Potsdam, Margraviate of Brandenburg, and died in Tegel, Province of Brandenburg. His younger brother, Alexander von Humboldt, was equally famous, as a naturalist and scientist.

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Philosopher

Humboldt was a philosopher of note and wrote On the Limits of State Action in 1791-2 (though it was not published until 1850, after Humboldt's death), one of the boldest defences of the liberties of the Enlightenment. It anticipated John Stuart Mill's essay On Liberty through which von Humboldt's ideas became known in the English-speaking world. (In fact, Humboldt outlined an early version of what Mill would later call the "harm principle".) Humboldt describes the development of liberalism and the role of liberty in individual development and in the pursuit of excellence. Humboldt insisted on a minimal state dedicated strictly to the preservation of security.

Humboldt wrote a publication entitled ‘Ideas for an endeavour to define the limits of state action’[1][2] which was completed in 1792, but was not published in full until long after his death. The section dealing with education was published in the December 1792 issue of the Berlinische Monatsschrift under the title ‘On public state education’. With this publication, Humboldt took part in the philosophical debate on the direction of national education which was in progress in Germany, as elsewhere after the French Revolution.

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