Lange, Friedrich Albert (1828–75)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC048-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 03, 2024, from

3. Social thought and influence

Though less well-known than his study of materialism, Lange’s writings on social science were insightful. In History of Materialism he already predicted that there would be ‘earthquakes’ in the sociopolitical realm due to the decline of the power of religion, the advance of science and the tensions generated by the ‘social problem’. In a neglected study of 1865, Die Arbeiterfrage in ihrer Bedeutung für Gegenwart und Zukunft (The Problem of the Worker and its Meaning for the Present and Future), he analysed the implications of the increasingly rapid industrialization in Europe and its need for an army of workers and skilled technicians. He foresaw a coming social (Darwinian) struggle for existence that would generate radical sociopolitical change. A champion of workers’ rights and sympathetic to democratic socialism, Lange envisaged the emergence of a new class of technically proficient workers who would soon attain a position of leadership among European nations.

In another work of 1865, J. St. Mills Ansichten über die sociale Frage und die angebliche Umwälzung der Socialwissenschaften durch Carey (J.S. Mill’s Views on the Social Problem and Carey’s Supposed Social-Scientific Revolution), Lange displayed his knowledge of J.S. Mill’s liberal-democratic ideas, as well as of Henry Carey’s defence of a capitalist national-economic theory (see Mill, J.S. §12). He was a perceptive analyst, aware of the ‘egoism’ and social atomism that the drive to accumulate capital can produce. Lange held that the rapid economic changes in Europe would lead both to social conflict and radical political oppositions. These views helped shape his socialist sentiments (see Socialism).

The influence of Lange on subsequent philosophers and philosophical trends, though generally indirect, is traceable in some instances. The Neo-Kantianism he inaugurated had a long-range effect on German thought and influenced a number of philosophical scientists (see Neo-Kantianism §§1–2). In social thought he was a forerunner of the conception of social Darwinism, not as an advocate but as a predictor of it. The fictionalist and pragmatic theory of Hans Vaihinger was shaped by Lange’s post-Kantian conventionalist theory of the use and meaning of categories, scientific postulates and theory-construction. Friedrich Nietzsche considered Lange’s History of Materialism ‘a real treasure-house, to be looked into and read repeatedly’. He was strongly influenced by him in regard to his own general philosophical goal of uniting philosophy, science and art, as well as in his critical analysis of knowledge.

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