DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC055-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2022
Retrieved April 17, 2024, from

4. The theory of values and the philosophy of culture

The transcendental method, understood as an investigation of the conditions for the validity of historical facts of knowledge, provides the basis for various attempts at a neo-Kantian philosophy of culture beginning in the 1880s. Marburg neo-Kantians started from the fact of the mathematical science of nature to extend the transcendental inquiry to all kinds of documented facts of culture. But it was especially in the South West German School of neo-Kantianism that the philosophy of culture was pivotal.

Windelband defined the tasks of such a philosophy in a series of essays written in 1882–1883 and later collected in Präludien [Preludes]. This collection knew five editions from 1883 to 1915, and is considered Windelband’s main work. Windelband’s work was influenced by his teachers Hermann Lotze and Kuno Fischer in some key aspects. He relied on Lotze (1874) in defending a normative conception of logic. Windelband’s engagement with the history of philosophy, another constant of his thought, was largely inspired by Fischer (1860). Windelband, however, put a special emphasis on the importance of Kant’s critical philosophy to deal with the issues raised by modern culture and the sciences from an independent standpoint. Windelband called into question the physiological interpretation of the Kantian a priori put forward in the back to Kant movement by emphasizing the different level of Kant’s questio iuris from the questio facti asked by the natural sciences. Whereas the latter question concerns the genesis of the cognitive process, Kant’s issue concerned the justification of knowledge, as well as that of moral and aesthetic judgement. At the same time, Windelband emphasized the need to solve the tension between the normative and the factual aspects of the Kantian theory by reconsidering the teleological perspective of the third Critique, which Windelband considered to be ‘the key of Kant’s conceptual architecture, but, at the same time, a milestone for the later construction by his successors’ (1878–80, vol. 2: 182). Windelband understood the critical method in teleological terms, in analogy with the way in which the Critique of the Power of Judgment investigates universally valid rules outside the domain of the mathematical science of nature. This led Windelband (1882) to articulate a new conception of philosophy as a ‘critical science of universally valid values’, reflecting, not on some objects, but on the grounds for the validity of judgements about all kinds of objects.

Windelband did not call into question the importance of an examination of existing claims to validity coming from different individuals and cultures; however, he pointed out that such claims must be ultimately referred to ‘axioms’ governing logic, ethics and aesthetics (Windelband 1882; 1883). The theory of values thus offered what Windelband considered to be the only possible way to avoid the relativistic implications of empirical approaches to cultural and historical studies. In ‘Geschichte und Naturwissenschaft’ [History and Natural Science], from 1894, Windelband relied on his argument to distance himself from Dilthey’s (1883) characterization of the human sciences as ‘Geisteswissenschaften’ (sciences of the ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’). While Windelband shared Dilthey’s intent to defend the specificity of historical science, he considered Dilthey’s distinction between natural and human sciences as derived from different types of experience (i.e., outer versus inner, respectively) to imply a form of psychologism. By contrast, Windelband proposed a formal-teleological classification of the sciences into ‘nomothetic’, aiming to discover general laws, and ‘idiographic’, looking for individual realities. Whereas the former have their model in natural science, the latter are modelled on historical science.

Windelband’s insights were articulated further by Rickert in Die Grenzen der naturwissenschaftlichen Begriffsbildung. Eine logische Einleitung in die historischen Wissenschaften [The Limits of Concept-Formation in Natural Science: A Logical Introduction to Historical Sciences], from 1902. According to Rickert, the specificity of history is rooted in the peculiar way of forming historical concepts, which deserves to be analyzed in its logical structure. It does not suffice to point to the psychic processes involved in the construction of historical and cultural objects, because these can be considered also in the generalizing fashion of natural science, but also because not all individualities are part of the historical consideration. What determines the significance of such an object, in Ricket’s account, is its being related as an individual to a universal value. In this regard, the task of a philosophical account of cultural objects appeared to be strictly connected with that of a systematic investigation of values independently of the issues concerning evaluations.

Rickert carried out this investigation in his other major work, Der Gegenstand der Erkenntnis [The Object of Knowledge], which first appeared in 1892. Rickert published six editions of it with major revisions, reflecting the development of his thought until 1928. Rickert’s original aim was to account for the determination of a transcendent object starting from an analysis of the cognitive acts directed to it. Beginning in 1909, however, Rickert sought to integrate this ‘transcendental-psychological’ approach with a ‘transcendental-logical’ one starting with the assumption of a transcendent object to account for the sphere of the unconditionally valid. Such a solution was influenced by Lask. Already in an important paper from 1908, Lask called into question the teleological interpretation of Kant, and emphasized the need to account for the a priori in its separateness from reality. Over the next four years, Lask himself made important contributions to the systematization of the theory of values (Lask 1911; 1912). In a related development, South West German neo-Kantians sought to account for the formation of mathematical concepts in the framework of the theory of values (Cohn 1908; Rickert 1921).

These developments in logic and theory of knowledge shed new light on the significance of a neo-Kantian philosophy of culture investigating the forms in which universal values are connected to reality (see, e.g., Rickert 1910; Windelband 1910; Cohn 1914). In this connection, South West German neo-Kantians emphasized that a unitary account of knowledge and culture was particularly needed to address the demand of world views in modern societies.

Citing this article:
Biagioli, Francesca. The theory of values and the philosophy of culture. Neo-Kantianism, 2022, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC055-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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