Version: v1, Published online: 1998
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8. The Southwest German School: Cohn and Bauch
Cohn’s turn towards dialectics is important for his philosophical development. Cohn defines as ‘dialectical’ all knowledge which ‘uses the appearance, the resolution and the reappearance of contradiction as a means of acquiring knowledge’. In contrast to Hegel, Cohn supports a ‘critical’ dialectic in that he does not presuppose the dogma of the complete transparency of the world to reason. His dialectic is only a ‘thinking towards the absolute’, but not the kind of thought which could expound the absolute speculatively.
This conception of thought is also evident in Cohn’s treatment of the problem of reality. First he distinguishes between three ‘forms of reality’: (1) the immediate experience of reality, which in his view is the beginning and the point of departure for all other conceptions of reality and thus also the basis for the process of objectivization, (2) the so-called existing factual reality, which represents a first stage in the process of objectivization, because here ‘the non-sensational aspects of immediate experience’ are excluded, and finally (3) physical reality, which as the final stage of the process of objectivization embodies a ‘reality of maximum objectivity’ (Flach and Holzhey 1980: 59). But what about the unity of reality in the face of these diverging conceptions of reality? According to Cohn, although this unity is the ultimate aim of human knowledge, it remains unrealizable. It therefore remains an idea in the Kantian sense: it retains the character of a task which is as essential to knowledge as it is unachievable. Thus Cohn’s posthumously published work, which is focused upon the implications of the theory of knowledge for the concrete sciences, is entitled Wirklichkeit als Aufgabe (Reality as Task) (1955).
Cohn is not merely interested in questions of theoretical philosophy, as is shown by his major investigation, Voraussetzungen und Ziele des Erkennens (Presuppositions and Goals of Knowledge) (1908). Because in general he understands philosophy as a discipline concerned with questions of value, in addition to the realm of logical value he also investigates the realm of aesthetic values; his Allgemeine Ästhetik (General Aesthetics) (1901) presents the ‘only major work on aesthetics in the Southwest German School’ (Holzhey 1992: 45). Questions concerning the systematization of values are the subject of a major work entitled Wertwissenschaft (Science of Values) (1932), in which he rejects the thought of a closed value system and interprets the relationship of values to each other in terms of a ‘teleological completion’ (teleologische Ergänzung).
In connection with the problem of values, Cohn also turned his attention to the philosophy of culture, and on the eve of the First World War he published a paper entitled Der Sinn der gegenwärtigen Kultur (The Meaning of Contemporary Culture) (1914). This takes as a starting point the theory that while culture does indeed arise from aspects of human behaviour based on values, it is not created by man’s conscious purposive behaviour, because the individual always already finds himself in a specific configuration of cultural life, ‘from which he draws substantial content and value’ (Cohn 1923: 14), and which he can, of course, seek to transform. With regard to the development of culture in general this produces the following schema: all culture is in the first instance ‘bound’, that is to say the individual lives totally within the forms which he takes over as being both necessary and self-evident. His consciousness is directed towards interpreting, maintaining and actualizing these forms. In this process his intelligence is strengthened and comes to regard the status quo critically. This means that human beings are presented with new possibilities for shaping their environment, albeit at the price of spiritual homelessness. Against this background, Cohn interprets the present as a time in which the liberated spirit strives to find a new form of fulfilment in life after recognizing this homelessness.
For Cohn, the practical discipline corresponding to the philosophy of culture is pedagogy or theory of education. For this reason he also attempted to establish a philosophical basis for this discipline and saw his treatise Der Geist der Erziehung (The Spirit of Education) (1919) as supplementing his study on the meaning of contemporary culture. In his view, the central task of education is the conscious ‘development and perpetuation of culture’ (Fortbildung der Kultur). Education must both encourage the autonomy of the pupil and at the same time ensure their membership of a historical cultural community. This dialectic of liberation and integration is essential to the process of education.
Cohn’s importance lies in his development of the initial theories of the Southwest German Neo-Kantianism in the direction of a critical dialectics. Bauch, on the other hand, can be considered as the synthesizer of Southwest German Neo-Kantianism. His major monograph on Kant set out to understand the individual problems of Kant interpretation from the standpoint of the ‘Kantian spirit in its entirety’. His systematic works all have a similar aim, suggested by the title of his main philosophical work Wahrheit, Wert und Wirklichkeit (Truth, Value and Reality) (1923): he tries to combine various approaches to problems which are generally tackled separately.
On the problem of knowledge, Bauch claims that we must assume a correlation between knowledge of the object and the object of knowledge. Knowledge and object do not simply coincide, but neither can they be completely separated from each other. However, this presupposes that they are both subject to the same conditions. Bauch finds these shared conditions in truth. He analyses individually the structural forms of truth in judgment, category and concept. In the case of judgment he distinguishes between the actual judgment as a ‘connection of representations’ (Beziehung der Vorstellungen), and the logical judgment as an ‘objective relationship of validity’ (objektive Geltungsrelation). The factual judgment can succeed or fail, in other words it is either valid or invalid. It is only valid when it connects up with the validity relation given in the logical judgment. For this, however, it is necessary that it subordinate itself to the latter’s validity or, in Bauch’s words, that it ‘recognizes it’. On the category, Bauch agrees with Kant that ‘the category determines the judgment… because the judgment is inseparable in its logical significance from the function of unity which the category represents’. Since the category only makes possible a one-sided determination of the object, if we are to arrive at a complete determination then we must appeal to the concept which, in contrast to the category, refers to the object as concretely given in intuitive isolation. However, the concept may not be considered in isolation, but must be seen as part of a network of concepts. Bauch names this network ‘idea’.
From the concept of ‘idea’ Bauch makes the transition to the concept of the ‘world’, which for him is nothing more than the appearance of the idea. In this context the concept of system also becomes comprehensible together with the concept of the world. If the idea can be thought of as a system of mutually conditioning concepts, then the world can be seen as a ‘system or relation of conditional things’. In the final analysis, the world cannot be conceived of without an ‘I’, a subject which conceives of the world as having arisen from the idea.
In his practical philosophy Bauch assumes that we encounter the ethical principle qua value principle in three forms: (1) as a demand on the will which addresses itself to the will of every rational creature, (2) as a demand for action in the light of the fact that there are certain duties which are only meaningful if specific possibilities of acting exist (consider the Hippocratic oath taken by doctors) and (3) as an essential demand, by which he means the obligation of the individual person to realize their specific essential being. Depending on whether the values as tasks and demands apply to the community as a whole or to individual members of the community, Bauch distinguishes between communal and personal values, which can no more be thought of isolated from one another than can the terms ‘personality’ or ‘community’. On the totality of values, Bauch leaves us in no doubt that values form an ‘interconnected sphere’ and do not exist alone in isolation from each other. Of course this interconnection does not entail enclosure and rigidity. Just as in the development process of knowledge new categories can be created, so the discovery of new values cannot be excluded.
Ollig, Hans-Ludwig. The Southwest German School: Cohn and Bauch. Neo-Kantianism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC055-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/neo-kantianism/v-1/sections/the-southwest-german-school-cohn-and-bauch.
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