"Ich gebe gern zu, daß es nicht die Natur ist, die wir erkennen, sondern daß sie nur nach gewissen Formen und Fähigkeiten unsers Geistes von uns aufgenommen wird" (letter to Schiller, January 6, 1798)
Most of us view the natural world -- "nature" -- without concerning ourselves with the processes by which this world came into being or with its continuous transformation. I would venture to say that not even scientists think about this when viewing a sunset. We exist; the world outside us exists. But in Goethe's time, some people sought to articulate a connection between the two that gave dignity (freedom) to each.