DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC055-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

In contrast to earlier research, which chose to distinguish up to seven schools of thought within the field of Neo-Kantianism, more recent scholarship takes two basic movements as its starting point: the Marburg School and the Southwest German School, which are based respectively on systematically oriented works on Kant published during the 1870s and 1880s by Hermann Cohen and Wilhelm Windelband.

Cohen held that Kant’s concern in all three Critiques was to reveal those a priori moments which above all give rise to the domains of scientific experience, morality and aesthetics. Windelband on the other hand held that Kant’s achievement lay in the attempt to create a critical science of norms which, instead of giving a genetic explanation of the norms of logic, morality and aesthetics, aimed instead to elucidate their validity. In both approaches, an initial phase during which Kant’s doctrines were appropriated subsequently developed into the production of systems. Thus Cohen published a ‘System of Philosophy’ during the early years of the twentieth century, which consisted of the Logik der reinen Erkenntnis (Logic of Pure Knowledge) (1902), the Ethik des reinen Willens (Ethics of Pure Will) (1904) and the Ästhetik des reinen Gefühls (Aesthetics of Pure Feeling) (1912) and which radicalized the operative approach of his work on Kant. Later, Cohen conceived a Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums (Religion of Reason from the Sources of Judaism) (1919). Windelband, on the other hand, who made a name for himself primarily in the sphere of the history of philosophy, understood philosophy to be essentially concerned with value, anchored in transcendental consciousness. He emphatically linked the classical division of philosophy into logic, ethics and aesthetics to the values of Truth, Goodness and Beauty and also tried to situate the philosophy of religion in this context.

Apart from Cohen, the Marburg School is represented by Paul Natorp and Ernst Cassirer, whose early works followed Cohen’s philosophical views (compare Natorp’s interpretation of the Platonic doctrine of ideas and Cassirer’s history of the problem of knowledge), but whose later works modified his approach. Nevertheless, their extensions and developments can also be explained within the framework of the original Marburg doctrines. The ontological turn which Natorp undertook in his later years can be seen as a radicalization of Cohen’s principle of origin, which Natorp believed could not be expressed in terms of pure intellectual positing, and the operative moment introduced by Cohen lives on as a theory of creative formation in Cassirer’s theory of symbolic forms.

In addition to Windelband, the Southwest German school of Neo-Kantianism is represented by Heinrich Rickert, Emil Lask, Jonas Cohn and Bruno Bauch. Windelband instigated the systematic approach of the Southwest School, but it was left to Rickert to develop it fully. Unlike Windelband, who traced the difference between history and science back to the difference between the idiographic and the nomothetic methods, Rickert distinguished between the individualizing concepts of history and the generalizing concepts of science. During his middle period he turned his attention to the problem of articulating a system of values. In his later works, Rickert also turned towards ontology, a development which should not necessarily be interpreted as a break with the constitutional theories of his early years. In concrete terms, building on his earlier theories concerning the constitutive role of concepts in experience, Rickert henceforth distinguishes not only the realm of scientific and cultural objects and the sphere of values, but also the further ontological domains of the world of the free subject and the metaphysical world, which is the object of faith and which can only be comprehended by thinking in symbols.

Lask’s theoretical philosophy was characterized by a turn to objectivism. In contrast to the classical Neo-Kantian conception of knowledge, according to which everything given is determined by the forms of cognition, Lask sees matter as that element which determines meaning. Accordingly, at the centre of his theory of knowledge is not the subject’s activity in constituting the object, but the subject’s openness to the object. In the final stage of his philosophy, however, he once more attributed to the subject an autonomous role in the actualization of knowledge. Cohn contributed to Southwest German Neo-Kantianism not only his Allgemeine Ästhetik (General Theory of Aesthetics) (1901), but also works on the philosophy of culture and education as well as on the systematic articulation of values and the problem of reality. During the 1920s Cohn moved towards dialectics. In contrast to Hegel, however, he understood this to mean critical dialectics inasmuch as it does not aim to sublate or overcome opposition, but merely sets itself the unending task of attempting to resolve irreconcilable contradictions.

Finally, Bauch can be regarded as the most essentially synthetic thinker of the Southwest German Neo-Kantian school. He tried to demonstrate the inseparable connectedness of individual problems which had generally been treated separately. Apart from his great Kantian monographs, these ideas are also put forward in his systematic works on the questions of theoretical and practical philosophy, such as his study Wahrheit, Wert und Wirklichkeit (Truth, Value and Reality) (1923) and his Grundzüge der Ethik (Fundamentals of Ethics) (1935).

Despite the one-sidedness of its reception of Kant’s doctrines, Neo-Kantianism was important for the momentum it gave to research into Kantian philosophy during the twentieth century. Its systematic achievement lies in its development of the normative concept of validity and its programmatic outline for a philosophy of culture.

    Citing this article:
    Ollig, Hans-Ludwig. Neo-Kantianism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC055-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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