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Geyser, Joseph (1869–1948)


Joseph Geyser, the German critical realist philosopher, was born in Erkelenz, in the Rhineland. He received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Bonn in 1898. He became an extraordinary professor at the University of Münster in 1904 and a full professor there in 1911. In 1917 Geyser was called to Freiburg, and in 1924 he succeeded Clemens Baeumker, the distinguished historian of ancient and medieval philosophy, at the University of Munich.

From his youth, Geyser opposed what he regarded as two basic tendencies in recent philosophy, an intellectualism strongly tinged with historical relativism and an overly abstract, idealistic Kantianism. He devoted himself to recalling philosophy to the asking of questions that are largely independent of any temporary situation and to the answering of these questions in an objective, critically realist manner. This attitude, but not Geyser's attachment to Thomistic tradition, was shared by the realist Oswald Külpe and the philosopher of nature Erich Becher. Above all, Geyser was totally devoted to the philosophia perennis (Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz), and through it he related himself to the older European intellectual traditions. Philosophy, he strongly believed, is not a constant new beginning. For Geyser, philosophy, in the words of the early Middle Ages, is like a dwarf perched on the shoulders of a great past in order to see farther. Classical philosophy, in the thought of Plato and Aristotle, was already approaching great truths, insights that have claims on the present as part of a constantly self-renewing stream of thought, a stream that has both enriched and been enriched by the Christian worldview.

Geyser held that answers to philosophical questions must be based on direct contact with a real actuality, understood in the Aristotelian sense, as an entity independent of consciousness, and not on the creative activity of an idealistic, theoretical thought. Only thus can we stand on firm ground. Philosophy is in this view a kind of middle position between the reality of experience and the ideality of a creative reconstruction of the forms of existence. Geyser sensitively expounded this basic attitude in his short but deeply probing book, Eidologie oder Philosophie als Formerkenntnis (Eidology, or philosophy as knowledge of form; Münster, 1921). In this programmatic work, whose basic ideas were to guide Geyser's thought from then on, philosophy is presented as a progressive penetration into the realm of possible essences of being insofar as they offer themselves to experience.

Geyser's inclusive Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Psychologie (Münster, 1908; 3rd ed., 2 vols., Münster, 1920) had already been written from this point of view, which also formed the basis of Geyser's acute critique of Neo-Kantianism and Edmund Husserl's phenomenology in Grundlegung der Logik und Erkenntnistheorie (Foundations of logic and epistemology; Münster, 1919) and Auf dem Kampffeld der Logik (On the battlefield of logic; Freiburg, 1926), as well as of his later exposition of ontology and metaphysics. In all of these works we see Geyser as a relentless logician who was honest and strict with himself and an epistemologist capable of critical observations.

We can now examine how Geyser deals with modern problems. Geyser's Psychologie combined philosophical and modern empirical psychology, for he found it impossible to separate philosophy from psychology without damage to both disciplines. This open attitude permitted him to develop a method for recording mental life in all its unconscious, organic, and even ontological aspects. Nevertheless, Geyser fought against and tried to refute psychologism, the claim that even logical phenomena depend on psychological structures of experience. He developed an unambiguous distinction between actual psychological events and the logical, objective analysis of meaning (in the manner of Heinrich Rickert). With equal intellectual vigor he gave a firm basis to his logical objectivism bound to being and distinguished it from both epistemological idealism and the phenomenological theory of constitution.

Objectivism meant for Geyser that logical laws are not only inner relations of thought but that they also have a real ontological character and that they stand the test of analysis. According to Geyser, philosophy should therefore explain how man is capable of grasping the ideal logical order in reality itself. Here we come face to face with ultimate realities, which reveal themselves to the human intellect only after suitable deductive rational preparation. Nevertheless, Geyser attains a knowledge of essence akin to that of phenomenology. But one could say that his phenomenology is Aristotelian and realistic, and Geyser can be credited with showing a connection, through Bernhard Bolzano, between the thought of Husserl and that of Aristotle. Geyser's epistemology is logically rational and tied to reality, and it stresses discursive, genetic methods. Only as a last resort could Geyser justify to his intellectual conscience an encounter with pure immediate insights.

The same rational and empirically bound method is evident in Geyser's views on causation, which provoked a many-sided controversy. These views are of particular relevance to contemporary discussions of the bases of natural science. The principle of universal causation, further seen as the law of causation, has always been considered to be the solid foundation of any given truth that can be discovered by analysis. In this sense it was one of the most essential supports of one of the traditional proofs of the existence of God. It was assumed to be evident and analytically a priori provable that the contingent world must have a supercontingent cause in God. Geyser investigated the distinctions between the ground of knowledge, the principle of contradiction, and the principle of sufficient reason. In Philosophia Perennis, Festgabe Joseph Geyser, Kurt Huber gives an exact summary of Geyser's critical investigations. In the same book Aloys Wenzel points out that Geyser was the first philosopher to further develop Arthur Schopenhauer's investigation of the principle of sufficient reason. Geyser showed further, in Das Prinzip vom zureichenden Grunde (The principle of sufficient reason; Ratisbon, 1929) and Das Gesetz der Ursache (The law of cause; Freiburg, 1933), that only through experience can we discover the meaning of causality. Everything has its sufficient reason, including being: "Everything that comes into being does so through a cause." Such a notion is originally given to us in the mental experience of causation in willing. The notion contains a synthetic feature, but it nevertheless remains completely unconditional although it is not given to intuition as an analytic law of thought. The questions of whether the principle of causation is a priori, and of how it is related to matters of experience, is significant for any possible further epistemological and metaphysical construction that is in accord with experience. Controversy with Thomistic philosophers resulted from this statement.

Geyser's position was also clearly expressed in his metaphysics. He was committed to an inductive metaphysics, not to a purely speculative metaphysics derived from intellectual immediacy. He thus distinguished his own thought from metaphysics as practiced by such Neo-Thomists as Gallus M. Manser and Antonin-Dalmace Sertillanges.

Similarly, when Geyser, like Francisco Suárez, ascribed a concrete, individual spiritual essence to human existence, he did not do so primarily in the Thomistic sense of a universal spiritual essence which achieves individuality by being united with matter. In the foreground of Geyser's thought is the empirically unique real event. It is thus not surprising to learn that Geyser, although he recognized a rational metaphysical knowledge of God by analogy, critically denied any intuitive insight into God's existence. (Here he differentiated his thought from Max Scheler's philosophy of religion, which he criticized in Max Schelers Phänomenologie der Religion, Freiburg, 1929). It also shows why Geyser rejected any ontological proof of God, that is, any knowledge of God reached by even the concept of the most perfect being discovered by an a priori encounter with essence. Rather, he felt that the existence of God is to be discovered a posteriori by an interpretation of the "united facts of experience." Geyser's thought found its completion in a rationally founded metaphysical knowledge of God.

Geyser was one of the most inclusive systematic thinkers of modern times. Nicolai Hartmann, another great systematizer, once said that he had learned more from Geyser's criticisms of his ontology than from those of any other contemporary. Few recent philosophers can call such a consistently thought-out and complete worldview their own. Geyser's worldview was developed within and into an inner unity with his Christian conviction; this firmness of attitude toward the world was also expressed in his whole steady personality, which endured the unhappy experience of his homeland during the last years of his life under the perspective of hope.

See also Aristotle; Bolzano, Bernard; Critical Realism; Hartmann, Nicolai; Husserl, Edmund; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Neo-Kantianism; Objectivity in Ethics; Plato; Rickert, Heinrich; Scheler, Max; Schopenhauer, Arthur; Suárez, Francisco.


additional works by geyser

Die Erkenntnistheorie des Aristoteles (1917). Aalen, Germany: Scientia, 1980.

Über Wahrheit und Evidenz. Münster, 1918.

Erkenntnistheorie. Münster: H. Schönigh, 1922.

Augustin und die phänomenologische Religionsphilosophie der Gegenwart. Münster: Verlagbuchhandlung, 1923.

Einige Hauptprobleme der Metaphysik. Freiburg: Herder, 1923.

"Selbstdarstellung." In Deutsche systematische Philosophie. Edited by Hermann Schwarz. Vol. II. Berlin: Junker, 1934.

works on geyser

Baur, Ludwig. "Joseph Geyser als Metaphysiker." In Philosophia Perennis, Festgabe Joseph Geyser, edited by F.-J. von Rintelen, Vol. II, 11731196. Regensburg: J. Habbel, 1930.

Ettlinger, Max. "Joseph Geyser als Psychologe." Ibid. Pp. 11311140.

Gabel, Herbert. Theistische Metaphysik im Ausgleich von Idealismus und Realismus bei Joseph Geyser. Freiburg, 1957.

Huber, Kurt. "Geysers Stellung in Logik und Erkenntnistheorie." In op. cit., edited by F.-J. von Rintelen, 11411172.

Rössli, J. Das Prinzip der Ursache und des Grundes bei Joseph Geyser. Fribourg, Switzerland: Paulusdruckerei, 1940.

Wenzel, Aloys. "Der Gestalt- und Ganzheitebegriff." In op. cit., edited by F.-J. von Rintelen, 657684.

Fritz-Joachim von Rintelen (1967)

Translated by Tessa Byck

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