Philology is knowledge on words — how they get to be spoken or written, how they happen to become human thinking matter — words in their making a natural language, in texts old and in texts new.
As the Greek philos and logos together have been to tell, love of words and mind has been the sense of the field. There is no requirement for a sentimentalist flair: love is an elegant shape for a word, and mind dislikes affective disorders. Compared with nonsense as ugly as a mind without natural language — love is dainty.
History has known ideas pretty and ideas ugly, the key concept to have been in the rim. Philosophy, politics, and war thrown into one goblet, here comes Friedrich Nietzsche. Another cup, politics, fable, and war amalgamate into the bubbly tales by J.R.R. Tolkien. It would have been a simple tumbler, for colonial politics to brim into the Proto-Indo-European theory by William Jones, neither stem nor foot, for a man, woman, or child.
The mixtures did not turn out as agreeable as the idea for the American melting pot, and philology got worse than adulterated. Well, but not on own ground, as even bias confirms (Wikipedia, Philology).
The “golden age of philology” lasted throughout the 19th century, or “from Giacomo Leopardi and Friedrich Schlegel to Nietzsche”.
Based on the harsh critique of Friedrich Nietzsche, US scholars since the 1980s have viewed philology as responsible for a narrowly scientistic study of language and literature.
In the Anglo-Saxon world, the term was abandoned as a consequence of anti-German feeling following World War I, adds Wikipedia with the mark “citation needed”.
I do not know any rationale for a word as “scientistic”. I cannot think about a reasonable quote for the “Anglo-Saxon world” either, and it is not only because physics continues to make careers, despite the nuclear experience of World War II.
I have never read any work by Nietzsche, for whose name I continue to refer to the spellchecker: it must be I do not care to remember, having looked through a few passages of his Zarathustra and disliked the style as well as the intellectually lazy manner — one of those books I’d have to be paid to read.
Recently, I have looked up Nietzsche’s career. He became a classical philology professor at a very young age, 24, without a doctorate, recommended as “a phenomenon” by Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl. “Without a special tendre”, Prussianism yet became mentioned in the letter, and the motivation might have been private as well as political. Nietzsche never submitted his doctoral thesis, and the promotion was in breach of scholarly rules.
Only a year later and despite his statements, Nietzsche joined the Prussian army. Four years after, he decided to change to philosophy. In 1889 he had his first noted mental breakdown, having been a heavy user of opium and chloral-hydrate. Since his childhood, he had suffered from visual distortions, headaches, and indigestion. He died in 1900, after two strokes, aged 44.
German philosophy and politics would deserve blame for Nietzsche’s Übermensch, if it made sense to criticize the environment rather than the individual, for his or her publication.
On the side of mental health, the philologist advantage is you cannot drive him or her insane with words; as for other methods, other people go mad with them too, and philology cannot take the blame.
To talk about philology as philology, without other pursuits, an honest lexicographer might shrug in disaffection to a theory for a universal instinct, unless the day would be bad for nonsense. Likewise, a reliable etymologist might frown, to an “ancestor” language where words for men, women, children, and houses do not even resemble the “offspring” (feel welcome to read).
Instinct alone is not enough, even if only to pronounce words. Shapes as man, woman, child, or house hold over ages as part the basic vocabulary. If there are no similarities in these words, given languages certainly do not come one from another, or from a source language in common.
To conclude, people are people. We do not ask another baker for a refund, if the local bread is too salty. Our assessment on philological works should be individual as well.
J. R. R. Tolkien wrote “the philological instinct” was “universal as is the use of language”. Wikipedia, Tolkien, J. R. R. (1923). “Philology: General Works”. The Year’s Work of English Studies. 4 (1): 36–37. doi:10.1093/ywes/IV.1.20.