Dühring, Eugen Karl (1833–1921)

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Eugen Karl Dühring, the German philosopher and political economist, was born in Berlin and died in Nowawes, near Potsdam. Dühring practiced law in Berlin from 1856 to 1859, but an eye ailment, eventually leading to total blindness, forced him to abandon this career. In 1861 he took his doctorate in philosophy at the University of Berlin, with a dissertation titled De Tempore, Spatio, Causalitate Atque de Analysis Infinitesimalis Logica. He became university lecturer in 1863, but his feuding with colleagues and his attacks on the university led to his dismissal in 1877. From then until his death he lived the life of a private scholar. In his later years, Dühring's attacks on religion (Asiatismus ), militarism, Marxism, the Bismarck state, the universities, and Judaism became more and more virulent. Nevertheless, he retained a small group of loyal followers who founded a journal primarily devoted to his essays, the Personalist und Emanzipator (1899). Three years after Dühring's death, E. Döll founded the Dühring-Bund.

Dühring's early views, expressed in his Natürliche Dialektik, were Kantian. Eventually, however, he came to reject Immanuel Kant's phenomena-noumena distinction, with its corollary that we do not apprehend reality as it is in itself. Dühring maintained that the mind does grasp reality directly, and that the laws of thought are in some sense also laws of being.

Knowledge and Reality

While denouncing metaphysics and every sort of supernaturalism, Dühring formulated a theory of reality that is no less metaphysical than that of the philosophers whom he attacked. Philosophy, according to Dühring, should aim at a comprehensive account of reality, an account that will be consonant with the natural sciences. A complete knowledge of reality is possible if we restrict ourselves to what is given, using the "rational imagination" that is the organ for philosophizing. (This constructive imagination is used also in mathematics, Dühring held.) The outcome of this activity, an activity of passion guided by the understanding, will be a coherent and comprehensive world picture. Dühring praised Arthur Schopenhauer, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Auguste Comte for their efforts in this direction.

The fundamental law that we are to use in apprehending reality is the Law of Determinate Number. This law provides an easy solution to the antinomies in which reason finds itself when seeking knowledge beyond the realm of possible experience. It states that all thinkable numbers are complete or determined, and that the notion of an infinite or undetermined number is therefore impossible. Dühring suggested that the conception of an infinity of events or of units is somehow logically contradictory, as if one were to speak of a countless number that had been counted. For the theory of reality, the consequences of Dühring's law are that the number of events in time that preceded the present moment must be finite, and so too must be the number of objects in space. The history of the universe must have had an absolute beginning, and every object that exists or has existed must be divisible into a finite number of parts. It is nevertheless possible, Dühring maintained, that time and space extend infinitely from here and now.

A "primordial being" lies beyond the first event in time, though this being can be defined only by negating the properties of objects and events in time. Still, we can say of it that it contains the "roots" of every event and object, though it does not consist of events and is not an object. History develops out of this primordial being by an evolutionary process, from the more homogeneous to the more diversified.

What is actual must be here and now. The past is no longer real. The primordial condition of being no longer exists, though its traces are still evident. The laws of the physical universe, the atoms that make up matterthese are the unchanging aspects of the world, the persistent traces of the primordial being.

Change and Evolution

The evolution of the universe involves the coming into being of genuinely new forms, and there exists the possibility that further novelty will emerge with the passage of time. The coming into being of motion, and of living creatures and conscious agents, are examples of new phenomena in the transition from the original condition of the world to its present state. Productive, creative activity is an essential fact about the universe, yielding new existences, new phenomena. The laws that describe such changes are nevertheless constant. We do not clearly understand how such genuine novelty occurs, and we ought not to construct speculative hypotheses. An honest philosopher will simply confess his ignorance.

How the world may evolve in the future is also beyond our knowledge. Either natural processes will continue mechanically without ever coming to an end or, what is more probable, there will emerge something radically different. Dühring accepted the latter alternative for the reason that he believed differentiation is a basic law of nature. However, since the number of possible changes is finite, there must be either an eternal recurrence of the world process, as Friedrich Nietzsche suggested, or an end.

Mind and Consciousness

Dühring's philosophy of mind is at first glance dualistic. Conscious activity is totally different from inanimate processes. The former is, however, an outcome of the clash of mechanical processes or forces. The sensation of resistance is the most basic sort of consciousness, and it reveals very clearly that its origin is the antagonism of physical forces.

While Dühring's position is positivistic in its emphasis on the limitation of human knowledge to the world described by natural science, and in its rejection of any independent philosophical knowledge of reality, he differs from some nineteenth-century positivists, such as Ernst Mach, in rejecting phenomenalism as the only valid basis for knowledge. Dühring maintained that although no disembodied spirits or souls exist, the world that is given to consciousness is one that contains not only matter and physical forces but also life and activity. Furthermore, he did not repudiate the concepts of cause and force or approve of a reductionism that would restrict intelligible discourse to phenomena, a restriction that he called "a morbid and skeptical aberration."


In his passionate opposition to religion and to every form of mysticism, Dühring is reminiscent of Lucretius. Religion is "a cradle of delusions," he maintained, and it is only by becoming free from its superstitions that man can become truly noble. The idea of an "other world" is a stumbling block to the proper appreciation of the real world that we encounter directly. We must find our values in this world.

Dühring's teleological optimism led him to reject Charles Darwin's theory that a struggle for existence is necessitated by the insufficiency of means to satisfy natural needs. The conditions for happiness are not impossible, he said. Even pain exists as an enhancement of our appreciation of pleasure. Only manmade institutions stand in the way of human happiness; religion is one of these institutions. Science, as carried on in the nineteenth century, is equally pernicious, since it involves "a hodge podge of superstition, skepticism and apathy."

Ethics and Economics

Dühring held that the feeling of sympathy is the foundation of morality. In applying this theory to the field of economics, Dühring came to a conclusion that Friedrich Engels and other Marxists have found highly objectionable. The interests of capitalist and worker, Dühring maintained, are not really opposed. By means of free competition there could be an ultimate harmony and compatibility between the two classes. Dühring's economic doctrines also supported the idea of a "national" political economy. He advocated tariff protection of national industries as a means of promoting the culture and morality of all citizens in the state. This goal could be realized most effectively when the economy of a nation was self-sufficient.

Nationalism and Racism

Dühring was an ardent German patriot, and some of the enormous popularity that his writings enjoyed in the latter part of the nineteenth century can be traced to this. He worshiped Frederick the Great. Along with his nationalistic zeal, however, Dühring betrayed a generous amount of prejudice, denouncing Jews, Greeks, and even Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was too cosmopolitan for Dühring's taste. Some conjecture that Nietzsche was influenced by Dühring's Wert des Lebens. But the joyous affirmation of life that Dühring shared with Nietzsche stands in sharp contrast to the vicious, embittered tone of many of Dühring's writings, and Nietzsche's rejection of pessimism stands on quite other grounds than that of Dühring.

See also Comte, Auguste; Continental Philosophy; Darwin, Charles Robert; Darwinism; Engels, Friedrich; Eternal Return; Feuerbach, Ludwig Andreas; Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Kant, Immanuel; Lucretius; Nationalism; Nietzsche, Friedrich; Positivism; Racism; Schopenhauer, Arthur.


primary works

Kapital und Arbeit. Berlin, 1865.

Der Wert des Lebens. Breslau, 1865.

Natürliche Dialektik. Berlin, 1865.

Kritische Geschichte der Philosophie. Berlin, 1869.

Kritische Geschichte der Nationalökonomie und des Sozialismus. Berlin: Grieben, 1871.

Kritische Geschichte der allgemeinen Prinzipien der Mechanik. Berlin, 1873.

Kursus der National- und Sozialökonomie. Berlin, 1873.

Kursus der Philosophie. Leipzig, 1875. Later editions are titled Wirklichkeitsphilosophie.

Logik und Wissenschaftstheorie. Leipzig: Fues, 1878.

Die Judenfrage. Karlsruhe and Leipzig, 1881.

Sache, Leben und Feinde. Karlsruhe, 1882. Autobiography.

Der Ersatz der Religion durch Vollkommeneres. Karlsruhe: Reuther, 1883.

secondary works

Adamiak, Richard. "Marx, Engels, and Dühring." Journal of the History of Ideas 35 (1) (1974): 98112.

Albrecht, G. Eugen Dührings Wertlehre. Jena, 1914.

Döll, E. Eugen Dühring. Leipzig: Naumann, 1893.

Drechsler, Wolfgang. "Herrn Eugen Dühring's Remotion." Trames 3 (3) (1999): 99130.

Druskowitz, H. Eugen Dühring. Heidelberg: Weiss, 1889.

Engels, F. Herrn Eugen Dührings Umwälzung der Wissenschaft. Leipzig: Genossenschaftsbuchdruckerei, 1878. Translated by E. Burns as Herr Eugen Dühring's Revolution in Science. London, 1935. Commonly known as Anti-Dühring. Attacks Dühring's philosophy, politics, and economics.

Reinhardt, H., ed. Dühring and Nietzsche. Leipzig, 1931.

Small, Robin. "Nietzsche, Dühring, and Time." Journal of the History of Philosophy 28 (2) (1990): 229250.

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

Arnulf Zweig (1967)

Bibliography updated by Philip Reed (2005)

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Dühring, Eugen Karl (1833–1921)

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