Fischer, Kuno (1824–1907)

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Kuno Fischer, the German philosopher and historian of philosophy, was born at Sandewalde in Silesia. He studied philology at Leipzig and theology and philosophy at Halle. In 1850 Fischer was appointed Privatdozent in philosophy at the University of Heidelberg, but his pantheistic views caused his dismissal three years later. In 1856 he qualified as Privatdozent at the University of Berlin, and in the same year he was invited to Jena as professor of philosophy. In 1872 he returned to Heidelberg, where he taught with great success until 1903.

Fischer's major work is his Geschichte der neueren Philosophie (18521877). This widely reprinted history of modern philosophy owed its success in large part to Fischer's splendid gift for exposition. Endowed with a remarkable capacity for sympathetic understanding, Fischer was able to reproduce the great philosophical systems in a literary form of exemplary brilliance and clarity, as well as to unravel their basic themes and subtlest ramifications and to illuminate and reconstruct them systematically. At the same time, he sought to place these systems in their larger cultural and historical context and thus to understand the historical development of philosophy as the progressive self-knowledge of the human mind.

Fischer was the author of the first large German monograph on Immanuel Kant, Kants Leben und die Grundlagen seine Lehre (Mannheim, 1860), and it is from Fischer that Neo-Kantianism received its decisive impulse.

Apart from Kant, G. W. F. Hegel was the chief object of his interest. In its equating of logic and metaphysics, Fischer's System der Logik und Metaphysik oder Wissenschaftslehre (Stuttgart, 1852) exhibited the strong influence of Hegel. In this work an attempt was also made to bring Hegel's principle of dialectical development into harmony with modern evolutionism in the sense of a teleological idealism. Fischer held that the dialectical development ran from Being through Essence to purpose. The system of logical and, at the same time, metaphysical categories that he outlined culminated in the idea of finality, which guaranteed a purposeful development that goes beyond the merely given. In the second edition (Stuttgart, 1865), Fischer attempted to mediate between Kant and Hegel and to do justice not only to Hegelianism but also to Kantianism and empiricism.

Arthur Schopenhauer also influenced Fischer. In the study Das Verhältnis zwischen Willen und Verstand im Menschen (Heidelberg, 1896), Fischer distinguished between the will that is guided by knowledge and the unconscious volition that precedes all knowledge and conscious behavior. He also claimed that just as the essence of nature is "force," so the essence of man is "will" and the essence of the body is the manifestation of volition.

Fischer was also an extremely productive literary aesthetician. His conception of art is to be found in his early publication Diotima: Die Idee des Schönen (Diotima: the idea of the beautiful; Pforzheim, 1849). In this work Fischer defined the aesthetic attitude as one of "playing," characterized by a concentration and uniting of all our faculties. He devoted later works to the origin and development of humor and to the classical poetry of William Shakespeare, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Friedrich Schiller.

See also Aesthetic Attitude; Empiricism; Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Hegelianism; History and Historiography of Philosophy; Humor; Kant, Immanuel; Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim; Neo-Kantianism; Schiller, Friedrich; Schopenhauer, Arthur.


additional works by fischer

Fischer's chief work is the Geschichte der neueren Philosophie (Stuttgart, Mannheim, and Heidelberg, 18521877). Originally published in six volumes (on René Descartes, Benedict de Spinoza, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and Friedrich Schelling), it was later extended to ten volumes, with a second volume on Kant, one on Schopenhauer (1893), and one on Hegel (1901); and it also included Fischer's early work on Francis Bacon and his school (Leipzig, 1856). Other writings include Kleine Schriften, 8 vols. (Heidelberg, 18881898), which contains Über den Witz (On humor), Über die menschliche Freiheit (On human freedom), Das Verhältnis zwischen Willen und Verstand (The relationship between will and understanding), and other essays. See also Philosophische Schriften (Philosophical writings), 6 vols. (Heidelberg, 18911892; 6th ed., 19081909).

English translations of Fischer's works include the following: J. Oxenford, Francis Bacon (London, 1857); J. P. Mahaffy, A Commentary on Kant's "Critick of the Pure Reason" (London and Dublin, 1866); F. Schmidt, Benedict Spinoza (Edinburgh, 1882); J. P. Gordy, Descartes and His School (New York, 1887); W. S. Hough, A Critique of Kant (London: S. Sonnenschein, 1888).

works on fischer

For literature on Fischer, see Hugo Falkenheim, Kuno Fischer und die literarhistorische Methode (Berlin, 1892); Wilhelm Windelband, Kuno Fischer (Heidelberg, 1907), a memorial address; and Ernst Hoffmann, Kuno Fischer (Heidelberg, 1924).

Franz Austeda (1967)

Translated by Albert E. Blumberg

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Fischer, Kuno (1824–1907)

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