DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC055-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 04, 2022, from

1. Delimitations and affiliations

The term ‘Neo-Kantianism’ arose in the 1870s and owes its origins to the need to characterize that overall reassessment of the theories of Immanuel Kant which was then taking place in various different forms. The terminological problem concerns how broadly or narrowly the expression should be applied. Earlier research tended to work with definitions which encompassed ever-increasing circles. Thus T.K. Oesterreich claimed to distinguish seven different approaches to Neo-Kantianism: a physiological approach (of Hermann von Helmholtz and Friedrich Albert Lange), a metaphysical approach (of Otto Liebmann and Johannes Volkelt), a realistic approach (of Alois Riehl), a logicist approach (of Hermann Cohen, Paul Natorp and Ernst Cassirer), an approach based on a theory of values (of Wilhelm Windelband and Heinrich Rickert), a relativist approach (of Georg Simmel) and a psychological approach (of Leonhard Nelson). This classification is problematic for a number of reasons. Not only is it doubtful whether Simmel and Nelson should be included among the Neo-Kantians in the first place; it is also questionable whether the specific attitudes of Lange’s particular understanding of Kant justifies his inclusion among the supporters of the physiological approach. Furthermore, it is unfortunate that, in the chronological list of the individual approaches, the metaphysical approach of Liebmann is listed before the logicist Neo-Kantians, for Liebmann’s turn towards a metaphysical approach came after the beginning of the Marburg School, which based its theories on a logicist approach. Finally, this list gives no mention of the representatives of the philological approach to the doctrines of Kant. More recent research has moved away from comprehensive definitions of this nature and now distinguishes between the Marburg School and the Southwest German School of Neo-Kantianism, and a Kantian movement which extends beyond these limitations. The latter movement did not remain confined to Germany but could also be found in other European countries such as France (in the philosophy of Charles Renouvier) or Italy (with Carlo Cantoni), where it demonstrated its debt to Kant in a variety of ways.

Even if we accept that Neo-Kantianism is restricted to these two main schools, we must ask which writers should be ascribed to which school. To all intents and purposes, the Marburg School is limited to Cohen and Natorp and the Southwest German School to Windelband, Rickert and Emil Lask. However, should one include among the Neo-Kantians Cassirer in his middle and later periods along with Jonas Cohn and Bruno Bauch, though they are both writers whose important works were mostly published after the First World War? There is no consensus among Neo-Kantian scholars on this point. Some writers operate with a very narrow definition of Neo-Kantianism, while others apply the term in a much wider sense. The representatives of the first position argue that the First World War marked the end of the Neo-Kantian movement. Therefore they take all publications which appeared after the end of the First World War and illustrated a Neo-Kantian approach as in one way or another influenced by Neo-Kantian thought. The scholars who adopt a wider definition of Neo-Kantianism distinguish on the other hand between first- and second-generation Neo-Kantianism and assume in this context that Neo-Kantianism did not simply come to an end after the First World War. The first approach is supported by the fact that the First World War did also represent the end of an era in the philosophical world. After 1918 other philosophical trends gained ground and forced Neo-Kantianism out of the dominant position which it had enjoyed since the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, at least in Germany. Significant factors in this respect are the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl, who demonstrated the validity of transcendental thought in a different way from the Neo-Kantians; a logical positivism which challenged Neo-Kantianism on its own ground, in other words, epistemology and theory of science; attempts at a metaphysical interpretation of Kant which then developed; and cultural-critical philosophies of life which dominated public discussion. At the same time, a number of movements set themselves apart from the main trend. Nikolai Hartmann distanced himself from his Neo-Kantian origins in his attempt to re-establish an ontology, as did Martin Heidegger in his attempt to find a solution to the question of being. Richard Kroner, a pupil of Rickert, consciously made the transition to Neo-Hegelianism (see Hegelianism §6). However, if one considers not only the changed background conditions but also the internal theoretical development within both schools, it will become clear that the second position also has good arguments to support it. For it cannot be maintained that the followers of the Neo-Kantian school failed to react to the changes in philosophical climate as a whole. This is shown not only in the later works of Natorp and Rickert: the philosophical thought of Cassirer, Bauch and Cohn must also be interpreted in the light of this approach. It is clear that these developments in the growth of the theory are just as much a part of the history of Neo-Kantianism as the phase of theoretical systems produced before the First World War. For this reason, this extended definition of Neo-Kantianism will be taken as the starting point for the following discussion.

Cohen, Natorp and Cassirer, on the one hand, and Windelband, Rickert, Lask, Bauch and Cohn, on the other, are merely the most important representatives of Neo-Kantianism. Apart from them, a large number of other philosophers can be included among the followers of both main trends, or at least associated with them. Earlier research assumed a close-knit school containing the various proponents of these doctrines; more recent approaches, however, have been more cautious in this respect. As far as Marburg Neo-Kantianism is concerned, it is possible to distinguish between a group of scholars closely associated with Cohen, including – apart from Natorp and Cassirer – Karl Vorländer and Albert Görland, and a wider circle of disciples among whom were Hartmann and Heinz Heimsoeth. None the less, Natorp’s attitude to a term like ‘The Marburg School’ was decidedly ambivalent. Although he accepted this definition for the purposes of academic debate, he wanted it to be understood merely as a term of collaborative association.

The relationships within the Southwest German School of Neo-Kantianism are similar. The labelling of Windelband and Rickert as the two leaders of the school is problematic inasmuch as Windelband had only sketched his systematic position, whereas Rickert must be credited with the true development of the Southwest German system. A circle of disciples also grew up around the latter in Heidelberg, among whom were Eugen Herrigel and Hermann Glockner. Furthermore, as in the case of Marburg Neo-Kantianism, a whole series of writers, such as Georg Lukács and Max Weber, found important inspiration in the philosophy of Southwest German Neo-Kantianism. There are also links with the work of Gottlob Frege. Finally, of considerable significance for the spread of Southwest German Neo-Kantianism was the fact that the periodical Logos provided a publication outlet from 1910.

For an understanding of Neo-Kantianism it is important to recall that the discussion of specifically Neo-Kantian ideas also continued outside the framework of the Marburg and Southwest German approaches. Riehl’s pupil Richard Hönigswald adopted, on the one hand, a critical approach to the Neo-Kantian logic of scientific method, because in his eyes the latter was based upon an undifferentiated concept of experience and pursued a different path from the Neo-Kantian approach to subjectivity by projecting a theory of the concrete subject within the context of his philosophical psychology. On the other hand, he continued to endorse the Neo-Kantian concept of normative validity, even though he attempted to develop this concept further in terms of a novel theory concerning the differentiation of spheres of validity.

Hönigswald, moreover, like his Jewish colleagues Cohn and Cassirer, was deprived of his professorial chair and had to emigrate after Hitler’s rise to power. The expulsion of the leading representatives of Neo-Kantianism from German universities was mainly responsible for bringing to a halt philosophical research into the problems posed within the Neo-Kantian doctrines, and the Second World War exacerbated this situation. In the post-war development of German philosophy only a few philosophers, such as Wolfgang Cramer, Hans Wagner and Rudolf Zocher, chose to continue in this theoretical tradition.

Citing this article:
Ollig, Hans-Ludwig. Delimitations and affiliations. Neo-Kantianism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC055-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2022 Routledge.

Related Articles