The young Hamann was tutored at home, and the remarkable range of his intellectual pursuits was largely a product of self-education. He displayed an aptitude for languages and mastered Greek, Latin, French, Italian, English, and Hebrew in addition to his native German.
Hamann liked to refer to Giordano Bruno's (originally Nicolas Cusanus') concept of the identity of opposites; he had a disconcerting way of seeing the unity of things which analytic reason had neatly severed; Hamann held, must result from concrete things and from a concrete personal relation to things, which is faith. Reason is secondary: nil in intellectu quod non antea in sensu. Nature and revelation (which include both history and tradition) are the true sources of all knowledge.
Hamann was a genius of inspiration. He exercised immediate and profound influence on his fellow-countryman Herder. He introduced Herder to English literature, especially to Shakespeare and Macpherson's Ossian; he transmitted to Herder and the Sturm und Drang (and, indirectly, to Romanticism) his fruitful views on the nature of language and poetry ("poetry the mother-tongue of the human race"), his bias toward the irrational and intuitive, his doctrine of "totality" (the necessity of acting always with the enlistment of one's whole personality), his cult of enthusiasm, of passion, of genius, his conviction of the value of pure humanity (the individual independent of social and professional position), and his reverence for feeling, faith, and the forces of nature. Deeply religious, though accepting neither the orthodox nor the pietistic forms of religion then prevalent, Hamann sought to discern and reveal the divine in things and in men. Though difficult to read, his writings have been, and remain, a veritable mine of ideas.
He has four children