Friedrich Albert Lange

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The German philosopher, historian, and sociologist Friedrich Albert Lange was born at Wald near Solingen. He studied at Duisberg, in Zürich, where he attended the lectures of a disciple of Johann Gottfried Herbart, and at Bonn. After receiving a degree at Bonn, he taught high school in Cologne, and in 1851 he became a university instructor at Bonn. His dissertation concerned the relation between theories of education and various worldviews. From 1858 to 1861 he taught school in Duisberg but resigned because of a government order forbidding teachers to participate in political agitation. Lange remained in Duisberg as a newspaper editor and secretary of the chamber of commerce. His socialist sympathies were not incompatible with a genius for finance. In 1866 he returned to Switzerland and in 1870 became professor of inductive logic at Zürich. He was appointed to a professorship at Marburg in 1873 and remained there until his death. The philosophical poems of Friedrich Schiller, on which he sometimes lectured, were said to be his final comfort.

Lange's importance in philosophy rests mainly on his brilliantly written History of Materialism and Critique of Its Present Significance (1866). This work gave support to the opponents of materialism and helped to stimulate the revival of interest in Immanuel Kant that led to the neo-Kantian schools of the last decades of the century. Less important philosophically, but a prominent part of Lange's versatile career, was his concern with social questions, as in Die Arbeiterfrage (1865), and his work for constitutional reform in the direction of democratic socialism.

Lange argued that materialistic theories of reality are just as guilty of transcending the proper limits of human knowledge as are the speculative systems of idealism. He appealed to Kant's arguments, rejecting the possibility of any metaphysical knowledge that pretends to take us beyond the sphere of experience. In his view, the attempt to comprehend the world as a whole is doomed to failure. But this criticism applied as much to the materialistic rejection of unobservable spiritual or mental agencies as to their defense. According to Lange, metaphysical theories belong to the realm of art and religion, a field governed by poetizing (dichten ). This activity is not an illegitimate one, however. It is an essential human need, expressive of men's yearnings for an ideal realm. But religion and the speculative systems of metaphysics do not yield scientific knowledge or any substitute for it.

Lange saw materialism both as a demand for mechanistic explanations of natural phenomena and as a naive realism and dogmatic metaphysics. The first demand he considered valid, but the second, he held, had been refuted by Kant and by the development of physiological psychology. The demand that natural occurrences be explained in terms of material causes is a useful, even indispensable, postulate of scientific method. In attempting to explain human behavior, for instance, it is unreasonable to think of consciousness as intervening somewhere in the series of physical events from stimulus to brain, nerve, and muscular response. Mental processes are not members of this series.

While the only valid categories for science are those that, like space, time, and causality, render nature mechanistically intelligible, these categories have no proper role beyond that of organizing our sense experience. Along with the basic concepts of physicsmatter, atom, force, physical objectthey are the products of human invention. The Kantian theory of the a priori had shown this, while discoveries in the physiology of sensation proved that our knowledge is sifted through human sense organs. The scientist is not a passive recipient of data; the laws that he discovers are constructions whose objectivity is only an objectivity for us. Though the world which science presents is the cognitive realm valid for all men, there is also the individual's world of ideals. To confuse the two worlds is wrong, because each has its significance.

Lange's physiological interpretation of the categories was rejected by his neo-Kantian successors at Marburg, Hermann Cohen and Paul Natorp. His influence was very strong, however, on Hans Vaihinger, whose pragmatism owes much to Lange's concept of categories as no more than maxims of scientific method. Lange's rejection of all metaphysics placed him also in the positivistic tradition, and it is no surprise that he referred to Auguste Comte as "the noble Comte." Though Lange was critical of Ludwig Feuerbach, whom he regarded as only half emancipated from G. W. F. Hegel, his own sympathetic but noncognitivist view of religion and ideals is akin to the humanism of Feuerbach.

See also A Priori and A Posteriori; Cohen, Hermann; Comte, Auguste; Continental Philosophy; Feuerbach, Ludwig Andreas; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Herbart, Johann Gottfried; Humanism; Kant, Immanuel; Materialism; Natorp, Paul; Neo-Kantianism; Schiller, Friedrich; Vaihinger, Hans.


works by lange

Die Arbeiterfrage. Winterthur, Switzerland, 1865.

Geschichte des Materialismus und Kritik seiner Bedeutung in der Gegenwart. 2 vols. Iserlohn and Leipzig, 1866. The edition published at Leipzig in 1902 has an introduction and critical appendix by Hermann Cohen. English translation by E. C. Thomas, 3 vols. London, 18771879, reprinted with an important introduction by Bertrand Russell, 1 vol. Edinburgh, 1925.

J. S. Mill's Ansichten über die Social Frage. Duisburg, Germany, 1866.

Logische Studien. Edited by H. Cohen. Iserlohn and Leipzig, 1877.

works on lange

Ellissen, O. A. Friedrich Albert Lange. Leipzig: Baedeker, 1891. Contains letters of interest.

Vaihinger, Hans. Hartmann, Dühring, und Lange. Iserlohn: Baedecker, 1876.

Vaihinger, Hans. Die Philosophie des Als-Ob. Berlin: Reuther & Reichard, 1911. Translated by C. K. Ogden as The Philosophy of "As if." New York: Harcourt Brace, 1924.

Arnulf Zweig (1967)