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In late modern continental philosophy, neo-Kantianism (German : Neukantianismus) was a revival of the 18th-century philosophy of Immanuel Kant. More specifically, it was influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer's critique of the Kantian philosophy in his work The World as Will and Representation (1818), as well as by other post-Kantian philosophers such as Jakob Friedrich Fries and Johann Friedrich Herbart.

Continental philosophy Set of 19th- and 20th-century philosophical traditions from mainland Europe

Continental philosophy is a set of 19th- and 20th-century philosophical traditions from mainland Europe. This sense of the term originated among English-speaking philosophers in the second half of the 20th century, who used it to refer to a range of thinkers and traditions outside the analytic movement. Continental philosophy includes German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, French feminism, psychoanalytic theory, and the critical theory of the Frankfurt School and related branches of Western Marxism.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol (Italy), the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

Immanuel Kant Prussian philosopher

Immanuel Kant was an influential German philosopher. In his doctrine of transcendental idealism, he argued that space, time and causation are mere sensibilities; "things-in-themselves" exist, but their nature is unknowable. In his view, the mind shapes and structures experience, with all human experience sharing certain structural features. He drew a parallel to the Copernican revolution in his proposition that worldly objects can be intuited a priori ('beforehand'), and that intuition is therefore independent from objective reality. Kant believed that reason is the source of morality, and that aesthetics arise from a faculty of disinterested judgment. Kant's views continue to have a major influence on contemporary philosophy, especially the fields of epistemology, ethics, political theory, and post-modern aesthetics.



The "back to Kant" movement began in the 1860s, as a reaction to the German materialist controversy in the 1850s. [1]

In addition to the work of Hermann von Helmholtz and Eduard Zeller, early fruits of the movement were Kuno Fischer's works on Kant and Friedrich Albert Lange's History of Materialism ( Geschichte des Materialismus , 1873–75), the latter of which argued that transcendental idealism superseded the historic struggle between material idealism and mechanistic materialism. Fischer was earlier involved in a dispute with the Aristotelian idealist Friedrich Adolf Trendelenburg concerning the interpretation of the results of the Transcendental Aesthetic, a dispute that prompted Hermann Cohen's 1871 seminal work Kants Theorie der Erfahrung, a book often regarded as the foundation of 20th-century neo-Kantianism. It is in reference to the Fischer–Trendelenburg debate and Cohen's work that Hans Vaihinger started his massive commentary on the Critique of Pure Reason .

Hermann von Helmholtz physicist and physiologist

Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz was a German physician and physicist who made significant contributions in several scientific fields. The largest German association of research institutions, the Helmholtz Association, is named after him.

Eduard Zeller German philosopher and theologian

Eduard Gottlob Zeller, was a German philosopher and Protestant theologian of the Tübingen School of theology. He was well known for his writings on Ancient Greek philosophy, especially Pre-Socratic Philosophy, and most of all for his celebrated, multi-volume historical treatise The Philosophy of Greeks in their Historical Development (1844–52). Zeller was also a central figure in the revival of neo-Kantianism.

Kuno Fischer German philosopher

Ernst Kuno Berthold Fischer was a German philosopher, a historian of philosophy and a critic.


Hermann Cohen became the leader of the Marburg School (centered in the town of the same name), the other prominent representatives of which were Paul Natorp and Ernst Cassirer. Another important group, the Southwest (German) School (also known as the Heidelberg School or Baden School, centered in Heidelberg, Baden in Southwest Germany) included Wilhelm Windelband, Heinrich Rickert and Ernst Troeltsch. The Marburg School emphasized epistemology and philosophical logic, whereas the Southwest school emphasized issues of culture and value. A third group, mainly represented by Leonard Nelson, established the neo-Friesian School (named after post-Kantian philosopher Jakob Friedrich Fries).

Hermann Cohen German philosopher

Hermann Cohen was a German Jewish philosopher, one of the founders of the Marburg school of neo-Kantianism, and he is often held to be "probably the most important Jewish philosopher of the nineteenth century".

Marburg Place in Hesse, Germany

Marburg is a university town in the German federal state (Bundesland) of Hesse, capital of the Marburg-Biedenkopf district (Landkreis). The town area spreads along the valley of the river Lahn and has a population of approximately 72,000.

Paul Natorp German philosopher

Paul Gerhard Natorp was a German philosopher and educationalist, considered one of the co-founders of the Marburg school of neo-Kantianism. He was known as an authority on Plato.

The neo-Kantian schools tended to emphasize scientific readings of Kant, often downplaying the role of intuition in favour of concepts. However, the ethical aspects of neo-Kantian thought often drew them within the orbit of socialism, and they had an important influence on Austromarxism and the revisionism of Eduard Bernstein. Lange and Cohen in particular were keen on this connection between Kantian thought and socialism.[ citation needed ] Another important aspect of the neo-Kantian movement was its attempt to promote a revised notion of Judaism, particularly in Cohen's seminal work, one of the few works of the movement available in English translation.

Socialism is a range of economic and social systems characterised by social ownership of the means of production and workers' self-management, as well as the political theories and movements associated with them. Social ownership can be public, collective or cooperative ownership, or citizen ownership of equity. There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them, with social ownership being the common element shared by its various forms.

Austromarxism Marxist theoretical current, led by the Social Democratic Workers Party of Austria during the late decades of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the First Austrian Republic (1918–1934)

Austro-Marxism was a Marxist theoretical current, led by Victor Adler, Otto Bauer, Karl Renner and Max Adler, members of the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Austria in Austria-Hungary and the First Austrian Republic (1918–1934). It is known for its theory of nationality and nationalism, and its attempt to conciliate it with socialism in the imperial context. Hence, Otto Bauer thought of the "personal principle" as a way of gathering the geographically divided members of the same nation. In Social Democracy and the Nationalities Question (1907), he wrote that "The personal principle wants to organize nations not in territorial bodies but in simple association of persons", thus radically disjoining the nation from the territory and making of the nation a non-territorial association.

Eduard Bernstein German politician

Eduard Bernstein was a German social-democratic Marxist theorist and politician. A member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Bernstein had held close association to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, but he saw flaws in Marxist thinking and began to criticize views held by Marxism when he investigated and challenged the Marxist materialist theory of history. He rejected significant parts of Marxist theory that were based upon Hegelian metaphysics and rejected the Hegelian dialectical perspective.

The neo-Kantian school was of importance in devising a division of philosophy that has had durable influence well beyond Germany. It made early use of terms such as epistemology and upheld its prominence over ontology. Natorp had a decisive influence on the history of phenomenology and is often credited with leading Edmund Husserl to adopt the vocabulary of transcendental idealism. Emil Lask was influenced by Edmund Husserl's work, [2] and himself exerted a remarkable influence on the young Martin Heidegger. The debate between Cassirer and Heidegger over the interpretation of Kant led the latter to formulate reasons for viewing Kant as a forerunner of phenomenology; this view was disputed in important respects by Eugen Fink. An abiding achievement of the neo-Kantians was the founding of the journal Kant-Studien, which still survives today.

Epistemology A branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.

Ontology study of the nature of being, becoming, existence or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations

Ontology is the philosophical study of being. More broadly, it studies concepts that directly relate to being, in particular becoming, existence, reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology often deals with questions concerning what entities exist or may be said to exist and how such entities may be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.

Phenomenology is the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness. As a philosophical movement it was founded in the early years of the 20th century by Edmund Husserl and was later expanded upon by a circle of his followers at the universities of Göttingen and Munich in Germany. It then spread to France, the United States, and elsewhere, often in contexts far removed from Husserl's early work.

By 1933 (after the rise of Nazism), the various neo-Kantian circles in Germany had dispersed. [3]

Notable neo-Kantian philosophers

Related thinkers

Contemporary neo-Kantianism

In the analytic tradition, the revival of interest in the work of Kant that has been underway since Peter Strawson's work The Bounds of Sense (1966) can also be viewed as effectively neo-Kantian, not least due to its continuing emphasis on epistemology at the expense of ontology. In the 1980s, interest in neo-Kantianism has revived in the wake of the work of Gillian Rose, who is a critic of this movement's influence on modern philosophy, and because of its influence on the work of Max Weber. The Kantian concern for the limits of perception strongly influenced the antipositivist sociological movement in late 19th-century Germany, particularly in the work of Georg Simmel (Simmel's question 'What is society?' is a direct allusion to Kant's own: 'What is nature'?). [9] The current work of Michael Friedman is explicitly neo-Kantian.

Continental philosophers drawing on the Kantian understandings of the transcendental include Jean-François Lyotard and Jean-Luc Nancy.

Roger Scruton has been greatly influenced by Kantian ethics and aesthetics.

See also


  1. Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy volume VII (1963), p. 436, states that "at the turn of the [20th] century Neo-Kantianism was the dominant academic philosophy or Schulphilosophie in the German universities". He attributes (p. 361) the "back to Kant" (Zurück zu Kant) slogan to Otto Liebmann, Kant und die Epigonen, 1865.
  2. Karl Schuhmann and Barry Smith, “Two Idealisms: Lask and Husserl”, Kant-Studien, 83 (1993), 448–466.
  3. Luft 2015, p. xxvi.
  4. Hermann Lotze: Thought: logic and language, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  5. "Poincaré's Philosophy of Mathematics", entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  6. Holmes, Oliver, "José Ortega y Gasset", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
  7. Georg Lukács: Neo-Kantian Aesthetics, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  8. Hermann Weyl, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy .
  9. Levine, Donald (ed.), Simmel: On individuality and social forms, Chicago University Press, 1971. p. xix.

Related Research Articles

German philosophy, here taken to mean either (1) philosophy in the German language or (2) philosophy by Germans, has been extremely diverse, and central to both the analytic and continental traditions in philosophy for centuries, from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz through Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein to contemporary philosophers. Søren Kierkegaard is frequently included in surveys of German philosophy due to his extensive engagement with German thinkers.

19th-century philosophy

In the 19th century, the philosophies of the Enlightenment began to have a dramatic effect, the landmark works of philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Jean-Jacques Rousseau influencing new generations of thinkers. In the late 18th century a movement known as Romanticism began; it validated strong emotion as an authentic not of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror and terror and awe. Key ideas that sparked changes in philosophy were the fast progress of science; evolution, as postulated by Vanini, Diderot, Lord Monboddo, Erasmus Darwin, Lamarck, Goethe, and Charles Darwin; and what might now be called emergent order, such as the free market of Adam Smith within nation states. Pressures for egalitarianism, and more rapid change culminated in a period of revolution and turbulence that would see philosophy change as well.

German idealism was a philosophical movement that emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It began as a reaction to Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. German idealism was closely linked with both Romanticism and the revolutionary politics of the Enlightenment.

Epistemological idealism is a subjectivist position in epistemology that holds that what one knows about an object exists only in one's mind. It is opposed to epistemological realism.

Wilfrid Stalker Sellars was an American philosopher and prominent developer of critical realism, who "revolutionized both the content and the method of philosophy in the United States".

Transcendental idealism Epistemology of the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Space and time are merely formal features of how we perceive objects, not things in themselves that exist independently of us.

Transcendental idealism is a doctrine founded by German philosopher Immanuel Kant in the 18th century. Kant's doctrine maintains that human experience of things is similar to the way they appear to us—implying a fundamentally subject-based component, rather than being an activity that directly comprehends the things as they are in themselves. The doctrine is most commonly presented as the idea that time and space are just human perceptions; they are not necessarily real concepts, just a medium through which humans internalize the universe.

Ernst Cassirer German philosopher

Ernst Alfred Cassirer was a German philosopher. Trained within the Neo-Kantian Marburg School, he initially followed his mentor Hermann Cohen in attempting to supply an idealistic philosophy of science.

Wilhelm Dilthey German historian, psychologist, sociologist, student of hermeneutics, and philosopher

Wilhelm Dilthey was a German historian, psychologist, sociologist, and hermeneutic philosopher, who held G. W. F. Hegel's Chair in Philosophy at the University of Berlin. As a polymathic philosopher, working in a modern research university, Dilthey's research interests revolved around questions of scientific methodology, historical evidence and history's status as a science. He could be considered an empiricist, in contrast to the idealism prevalent in Germany at the time, but his account of what constitutes the empirical and experiential differs from British empiricism and positivism in its central epistemological and ontological assumptions, which are drawn from German literary and philosophical traditions.

Kantianism Kantianism

Kantianism is the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher born in Königsberg, Prussia. The term Kantianism or Kantian is sometimes also used to describe contemporary positions in philosophy of mind, epistemology, and ethics.

Wilhelm Windelband German philosopher

Wilhelm Windelband was a German philosopher of the Baden School.

Heinrich Rickert German philosopher

Heinrich John Rickert was a German philosopher, one of the leading neo-Kantians.

Julius Ebbinghaus was a German philosopher, one of the closest followers of Immanuel Kant active in the twentieth century. He was influenced by the Heidelberg school of neo-Kantianism of Wilhelm Windelband, and wrote on philosophy of law and the categorical imperative. Professor at Marburg University since 1940; 1954 professor emeritus, continuing lectures until 1966. In October 1945, he became installed as Rector Magnificus by order of the American occupation forces. He was the son of famous psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus.

Otto Buek was a German philosopher and translator born in St. Petersburg.

Emil Lask was German philosopher. A student of Heinrich Rickert at Freiburg, he was a member of the Southwestern school of neo-Kantianism.

<i>Logical Investigations</i> (Husserl) book by Edmund Husserl

Logical Investigations is a work of philosophy by Edmund Husserl, in which the author discusses logic and mathematics and provides a critique of psychologism. The book, which has been compared to the work of the philosopher Immanuel Kant, influenced Martin Heidegger and the development of phenomenology and continental philosophy.

The following is a list of the major events in the history of German idealism, along with related historical events.


Further reading