Lange, Friedrich Albert (1828–75)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC048-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 12, 2024, from

2. Philosophical writings

Lange’s most important philosophical work is his impressive Geschichte des Materialismus und Kritik seiner Bedeutung in der Gegenwart (History of Materialism), published in a one-volume edition in 1866 and a two-volume edition in 1873–5. The two-volume edition included references to contemporary scientific theories. A supplementary study, Neue Beiträge zur Geschichte des Materialismus (New Contributions to the History of Materialism), was published in 1867. Two years earlier, he had presented Die Grundlegung der mathematischen Psychologie (The Foundation of Mathematical Psychology). His last work, Logische Studien (Logical Studies), appeared posthumously in 1877.

The History of Materialism is a detailed and informative study of the development of materialism from ancient Greece to the scientifically supported modes of materialism emerging in the 1870s. More than a scholarly history, Lange’s major work presents perceptive commentaries on physical and biological theories, political economy and ethical naturalism. There is also an extensive discussion of the critical philosophy of Kant in relation to nineteenth-century scientific thought. Lange adopts a restrained positivism in regard to scientific theory and a conventionalist orientation towards scientific principles and posits. He also advocates the construction of aesthetic conceptions of ‘the All’ from what he called ‘the standpoint of the ideal’.

Lange avoids a reductive materialism and argues that a critical analysis of materialism reveals ideal-theoretical principles, concepts and assumptions that cannot be interpreted materialistically. Hence, his considered philosophical position is a form of materio-idealism. Anticipations of pragmatism, scientific conventionalism, instrumental fictionalism and a phenomenalism in regard to scientific concepts can all be discerned in his History of Materialism. In terms of his critical commentaries on a variety of scientific theories and their conceptual foundations, Lange anticipated the approach later adopted in the philosophy of science.

Under the influence of Kant, Lange criticized speculative metaphysical claims to a knowledge that transcends experience. He viewed traditional metaphysics as akin to religion and art, as a form of conceptual poetry. The projection of ideals beyond the ‘fragments of truth’ discovered by the exact sciences was, however, construed as a basic human need. Space, time and causality, as well as the fundamental posits of science, were conceived of as human inventions or, in effect, useful fictions. Lange insisted that the discoveries in the exact sciences must be incorporated into philosophical thought in so far as they are directly relevant to our concept of actuality and theory of knowledge.

Citing this article:
Stack, George J.. Philosophical writings. Lange, Friedrich Albert (1828–75), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC048-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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