Czech Republic, philosophy in

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N010-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 14, 2024, from

2. From the National Revival to 1918

After the long period of oppression, Czech intellectual life was slowly revived in the last third of the eighteenth century. It was inspired first by the Enlightenment, later by neohumanism and romanticism, and at the same time by the older national tradition of the Reformation. It paid great attention to the development of the most important branches of scientific research. Consequently Slavic philology, history and natural sciences were studied, and these soon reached European academic levels.

The founder of Czech and Slavic philology, Josef Dobrovský (d.1829), was also a founder of modern critical rationalistic methods of research rooted in the Enlightenment. Bernard Bolzano, the greatest philosopher of this era, developed on the traditions of the Enlightenment and criticized Kantian and post-Kantian philosophy. An inventive mathematician and one of the founders of the philosophy of science and modern logic, he investigated the semantic basis of logical systems. His pursuit of the relationship between idea (Vorstellung) and notion, of the notion of consciousness, and of the function of Vorstellungen in a sentence, was later expanded by Husserl (see Husserl, E. §6). Jiří Procházka (d.1820), a physiologist, initiated the reflexive theory of spiritual activity. (His 1784 essay De functionibus systematis nervosi commentatio was translated into English in 1851, and influenced the theory of Marshall Hall.) Later on, in the spirit of German Naturphilosophie, he created a dynamic picture of nature according to the law of polarity derived from the science of electricity. Jan Evangelista Purkyně (d.1869) was also influenced by the German tradition. A founder of the theory of cellular construction of living organisms, he added a historical dimension to his dynamic concept of nature, and held a pantheist ontology (see Pantheism). František Palacký (d. 1876), author of the monumental ‘History of the Czech nation’, had pursued philosophy in his youth. He was influenced by neo-humanism, and especially by Schiller on whose ideas he formed a model of perfect humanity and thus his humanistic philosophy of Czech history, which for a long time was a basis for Czech policy (see Schiller, F.C.S.).

The revolution of 1848 was philosophically reflected in the work of Augustin Smetana (d. 1851), whose roots were in left-wing Hegelianism. In his philosophy of human spirituality he created an independent variant on the philosophy of identity, based on the relative identity of knowledge (Wissen) and existence (Sein). He interpreted the Hegelian historical scheme of the development of Weltgeist so that it envisaged that the era to come would bring a dominant role and social justice for the Slavs. However, the impact of Hegel’s philosophy was not very strong in Bohemia.

The dominant trend in philosophical thinking in the second half of the nineteenth century in Bohemia was Herbartism, introduced to Bohemia by Franz Exner (d. 1853) who opposed Hegel’s idealism and criticized his psychology (see Herbart, J.F.). Robert Zimmermann (d. 1898), a student of Bolzano, managed to influence this trend through his historic and synthetic works in aesthetics while working at Prague University. Some followers of Herbartism developed single philosophical disciplines, others originated completely new ideas in the philosophy of religion, the history of philosophy, sociology, social psychology, and logic. Otakar Hostinský (d. 1910) created an aesthetic concept of ‘concrete formalism’ and the philosophy of art, and some of his ideas were employed by the Prague structuralist school (see Structuralism in linguistics). Herbartism was very influential throughout central Europe, and to some extent it fulfilled the role of positivism in Czech intellectual life (that is why classical positivism appeared relatively late; but it lasted well into the twentieth century). Herbartism tried to react positively to impulses from contemporary sciences (empirical psychology and Darwinism for example) and provided the first steps to a variety of new concepts and inventions such as Gestaltqualitäten, the neopositivism of the Vienna Circle, and the relationship of consciousness and subconsciousness in Freud (see Vienna Circle).

Miroslav Tyrš (d. 1884) stood outside this trend. He transformed Schopenhauer’s pessimistic concept of the will into a philosophy of human activity of a subject who is both a counterplayer and a co-player in the struggle of life (Darwin’s influence) and formulated a new plan for the development of a small nation, working it out in practical terms by founding a mass physical training organisation ‘Sokol’ which is still in existence (see Schopenhauer, A.). Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk began his philosophical career by opposing Herbartism and German post-Kantian philosophy, and he gradually succeeded in weakening their positions. His philosophical roots were in French and English positivism, but he used these solely as a research methodology to investigate the general crisis of values. He sought to resolve this crisis by using the concept of a human being as a harmonious unity of reason, will and emotion. His thought was based on religious values of the Czech Reformation and on the idea of democracy, understood as a humanistic world outlook. After 1918, this concept became the central idea of the newly formed Czechoslovak state, of which Masaryk was the first president.

Citing this article:
Zumr, Josef. From the National Revival to 1918. Czech Republic, philosophy in, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N010-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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