In this article, I examine Vygotsky’s holism by considering his usage of ‘microcosm’ and chronicling the term’s origin and development. This exploration leads first to Spinoza’s monism as the primordial source of Vygotsky’s holism. Then, I present the notion of microcosm in the context of German Romanticism and J. W. Goethe. Humboldt’s Cosmos and Lotze’s Microcosmus are presented as 19th-century exemplars of the holistic tradition. Finally, I examine Vygotsky’s usage of the term ‘microcosm’ and argue that this concept cannot be fully understood outside the long tradition of holism in western philosophy. This understanding helps to explain apparent contradictions in his texts as well as affinities with his contemporaries’ philosophy of life and German holistic approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-92
Number of pages21
JournalHistory of the Human Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - 6 Apr 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I thank Roberto Musa for his comments on a previous version of this article. I owe Cristián Hernández for connections to Schiller (see note 5). Special thanks to Professor Dr Norbert Groeben and Professor Dr Joachim Funke for their observations on this manuscript. This article was supported by the Chilean National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research, CONICYT/BECAS-CHILE [grant number 74130019].

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2015


  • J. W. Goethe
  • Lev Vygotsky
  • holism
  • microcosm
  • revisionist movement


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