Literature in the German science of the soul: Johann Gottlob Krüger's Dreams

Michael J. Olson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The early history of anthropology in eighteenth-century Germany wove together contributions from medicine, metaphysics, and a host of other disciplines in an attempt to develop a holistic ‘science of man.’ This paper examines a literary text written by prominent figure in that movement, Johann Gottlob Krüger’s Dreams (Träume) (1754). The collection of parables staged as dreams in this book presents specifically literary cases against the sufficiency of either philosophy or physiology for the study of human life as a whole. Through close readings of a number of these dreams and related texts, this paper shows how Krüger’s Dreams advocates an approach to anthropology that recognizes the importance of literature for an interdisciplinary study of human life. More than simply recognising literary writing as another means of studying human life, the vision of a new anthropology implied in this book draws on literary devices to counter the overconfidence and partisanship of existing philosophical and medical theories of human nature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)528-542
Number of pages15
JournalHistory of European Ideas
Issue number5
Early online date2 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2018


  • anthropology
  • dreams
  • Johann Gottlob Krüger
  • literature
  • philosophy
  • physiology


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