DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC055-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved August 16, 2022, from

4. The Marburg School: Natorp

Natorp was able to present his thoughts in a clearer and more comprehensible form than Cohen, and hence he was largely responsible for the spread of the doctrines of the Marburg School of Neo-Kantianism. Unlike Cohen, he is not famous for a comprehensive range of studies on Kant. None the less, he also made a name for himself by virtue of his works on the history of philosophy. Of greatest relevance in this context is his controversial and subsequently modified interpretation of Plato, in which he understood the Platonic ‘idea’ as a hypothesis from the perspective of the modern concept of the laws of nature.

In his systematic thought, Natorp at first operated systematically within the terms laid down by Cohen. None the less, even in Kant und die Marburger Schule (Kant and the Marburg School) (1912a) he emphasized that philosophy did not merely refer back to scientific facts (natural sciences and humanities) but was also related fundamentally to morality, art and religion. Its subject is therefore ‘the entire creative work of culture’, which is expressed in the ‘theoretical-scientific description of phenomenal appearance’ as well as in the ‘practical formation of social orders’, ‘in artistic creativity’ and ‘in the inmost forms… of religious life’.

In his Allgemeine Psychologie nach kritischer Methode (General Psychology According to the Critical Method) (1912b) Natorp goes further than Cohen in setting a subjective foundation for knowledge alongside the objective one. He is guided by the following consideration: in every phenomenal appearance we can differentiate between a relationship to the object and a relationship to our consciousness. The former is the subject matter of the theory of knowledge which establishes the laws of cognitive objectification; the latter is the subject matter of psychology, which proceeds back to the objective phenomenon of knowledge from the already accomplished objectifications, since the ‘immediacy of consciousness’ does not permit any immediate psychological comprehension.

In his doctrine of knowledge, Natorp attempts to interpret Cohen’s concept of origin in the context of Kant’s synthetic unity. According to this theory, that which characterizes the thinking process is the basic structure of the relation between the one and the many. In this fundamental relation there are two tendencies: a differentiating tendency, which aims at quantity, and a unifying tendency, which aims at quality. Quantity results when the manifold as such is emphasized in the fundamental relation; quality results, on the other hand, when thought is directed towards the unity of the manifold. The relation arises with the establishment of interdependency between the unities, which are determined in a quantitative-qualitative manner, whereby the modality determines the contribution of each level of the ‘thought-functions’ constituting the object to the knowledge of that object. In contrast to Cohen, Natorp does not base this system of fundamental logical functions on a system of sciences, although he asserts that the systematic logical structure it contains will prove its validity in the fact that the basic scientific facts can be connected with the logical ones. In fact, Natorp starts out from a reciprocal interrelationship between science and the logic of knowing. While the latter tends towards the centre, in other words towards the basic law of synthetic unity, the former tends towards the periphery, that is, the manifold diversity of the particular instances of knowledge. The difference between this and Cohen’s position also becomes clear since, for Natorp, the reason belonging to science proves itself in the foundation of the objective sciences from the perspective of synthetic unity, while for Cohen reason proves itself in demonstrating the origin of all knowledge out of pure thought.

Natorp’s social educational theories, which he developed after becoming professor of philosophy and education in Marburg, were very influential. The subtitle of Sozialpädagogik (1899), his major work on the subject, is Theorie der Willenserziehung auf der Grundlage der Gemeinschaft (Theory of the Formation of Will on the Basis of the Community): it makes clear that Natorp sees the formation of will as the most important aspect of education, particularly inasmuch as the former is determined by life within the community and has an effect on the community. In the development of will Natorp distinguishes three stages of activity: instinct, will and the rational will. Whereas instinct is wholly governed by the sensory object, will on the other hand provides for the possibility of choice in this respect. True moral orientation, however, occurs only in the case of the rational will. Although a restructuring of society in accordance with the principles of ethical socialism implies changes within its economic and political institutions, Natorp none the less sees the real motor for change in the sphere of social education, since only education can bring about a change of consciousness.

At the heart of Natorp’s later philosophy stands his attempt at a new definition of the doctrine of categories, whose goal is a unified foundation of every kind of positing of an object (‘Gegenstandssetzung’). Natorp starts concretely with a closed system of basic categories – modality, relation and individuation – which are to serve as the basis for the construction of an open system of categories. By adopting this distinction between categories and basic categories he attempts to do justice both to Kant’s assumption of a comprehensible number of basic concepts of understanding and to the fact that the process of investigation means that a number of categories cannot be determined in advance. Natorp’s system of basic categories is also built up in a different way from Kant’s, inasmuch as he begins here with the categories of modality (Possibility, Necessity and Reality) and places the categories of Quantity, Quality and the intuitive forms of Space and Time in the third group of categories. The second group of categories (Substance, Causation and Interaction) corresponds on the other hand with the original Kantian architectonic which Natorp had mainly used as a starting point in his early attempt at a system of categories, Die logischen Grundlagen der exakten Wissenschaften (The Logical Foundations of the Concrete Sciences) (1910). The order of categories within the individual groups occurs in each case according to the scheme: universality, particularization, individuality. This structure applies not only to the theoretical sphere but also to the practical and what Natorp calls the ‘poetic’ (that is, productive) spheres. Natorp’s later philosophy is characterized by the insight that the process of categorization assumes the acceptance of the as yet totally undetermined original fact of ‘it is’ and ends with the determination of the individual as the concrete objective existent. This ontological modification of Natorp’s late philosophy need not necessarily be interpreted – as it frequently is – as a break with the Marburg theoretical outlook; it can also be seen in terms of a radicalization of the original Marburg theory.

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

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