Jodl, Friedrich (1849–1914)

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Friedrich Jodl ranks as one of the most significant representatives of German positivism, although this designation by no means adequately characterizes the full scope of his ideas. Jodl was born in Munich, where in 1880 he qualified as a Privatdozent in philosophy. Five years later he was named professor of philosophy at the German University in Prague. In 1896 he accepted a call to the University of Vienna. His many publications ranged over the fields of philosophy and the history of philosophy and ethics, as well as psychology and aesthetics.

Jodl categorically rejected metaphysical speculation. For him, the boundaries of experience were at the same time the boundaries of knowledge; hence, there could be no a priori knowledge, nor any metaphysical cognition of the transcendental. The task of philosophy, he maintained, is to order scientific knowledge systematically and to comprehend it in a unified view of the world. The basis of philosophy, like that of science, can only be experience.

As a consistent empiricist, Jodl criticized phenomenalism, preferring critical realism. The factual existence of a transsubjective reality is guaranteed by the thou-experience, by the existence of one's fellow men. Moreover, without the assumption of an objective external world and without the assurance that we know it as such, natural science would be impossible. Hence, the forms of our intuition and of our thought are not subjective in the sense meant by extreme epistemological idealism; rather, they are also conditioned by the relationships of things. Our knowledge of the world is not subject to a theoretical limit beyond which our consciousness is unable to grasp reality; there is only a frontier that can always be pushed further back, with the result that the world in its totality constitutes an endless problem, a task for knowledge that can never be definitively solved.

Jodl sought a naturalistic conception of the world, free of religion and metaphysics, such as that of the monistic movement, which he energetically promoted. "We need no other mediator between us and nature except our understanding and a courageous will, nor any mystery behind nature to console us for her; we are alone with nature, and we feel secure because we possess intellect and she behaves according to laws" (Vom wahren und vom falschen Idealismus, p. 40).

Jodl treated the problem of God on the basis of this naturalistic monism. Somewhat like John Dewey after him, Jodl, while denying the existence of God in any traditional sense, retained the term God as a designation for the highest ideals to which human beings aspire.

In his psychology too Jodl confined himself to the clearest possible presentation of the empirically given facts of mental life, renouncing all metaphysical assumptions. His psychological investigations are unusually rich in acute analyses and genetic explanations. Consciousness is not a substance but an act; it is the inwardness of a living creature. The bearer of consciousness is not an immaterial soul but the living organism; the soul is nothing other than the unified coherence of experience. "Mental" and "physical" are simply two expressions in different languages for one and the same occurrence. Body and consciousness are one; the psychical is the internal, subjective experiencing of neurological processes. An individual experiences as subject the whole complex of his brain processes in internal perception.

In ethics, Jodl was a convinced evolutionist. Ethical values have been subject to continuous transformation; morality is an evolutionary product of the interaction between the individual and society. Jodl made a sharp distinction between the subjective, psychological basis of morality and the objective, axiological criterion for it, although the two, in his view, were most intimately connected. The basis of morality is the will, which rests on social instincts, is influenced by reason, and is aimed at the welfare of the whole. A different question is the establishment of moral norms by which to measure the worth of human attributes and deeds. This requires that one take into account both the motivation and the utilitarian value of an action. In his penetrating studies in the history of ethics, Jodl showed that this discipline has, in the course of its development, increasingly freed itself from metaphysics and has replaced the theocentric foundation with an anthropocentric one.

Jodl, characteristically, was not content with theoretical (historical and systematic) studies in ethics, but sought beyond that to carry out in life a practical, ethical idealism. Imbued with a faith in the value of life and a vigorous optimism in regard to culture and progress, he was an "enlightener" advocating the humanization of culture; an ethically based social life in the spirit of a purely secular, humane morality and freedom of thought. He strongly supported and promoted the system of free popular education and the Ethical Culture movement.

See also Dewey, John; Evolutionary Ethics; History and Historiography of Philosophy; Positivism.


works by jodl

Leben und Philosophie David Humes. Halle: C.E.M. Pfeffer, 1872.

Die Kulturgeschichtsschreibung. Halle, 1878.

Geschichte der Ethik als philosophischer Wissenschaft, 2 vols. Stuttgart: Cotta, 18821889.

Lehrbuch der Psychologie, 2 vols. Stuttgart and Berlin: Cotta, 1897.

Ludwig Feuerbach. Stuttgart: F. Frommans, 1904.

Der Monismus und die Kulturprobleme der Gegenwart. Leipzig: A. Kröner, 1911.

Vom wahren und vom falschen Idealismus. Leipzig: A. Kröner, 1914.

Vom Lebenswege. Edited by Wilhelm Börner, 2 vols. Stuttgart and Berlin: Cotta, 19161917. Collected essays and lectures.

Aesthetik der bildenden Künste. Edited by Wilhelm Börner. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1917; 2nd ed., 1922.

Allgemeine Ethik. Edited by Wilhelm Börner. Stuttgart and Berlin: Cotta, 1918.

Kritik des Idealismus. Edited by Carl Siegel and Walther Schmied-Kowarzik. Leipzig: Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft, 1920.

Geschichte der neueren Philosophie. Edited by Karl Roretz. Vienna, Leipzig, and Munich, 1924.

works on jodl

Börner, Wilhelm. Friedrich Jodl. Stuttgart and Berlin: Cotta, 1911.

Jodl, Margarete. Friedrich Jodl, sein Leben und Wirken, dargestellt nach Tagebüchern und Briefen. Stuttgart and Berlin: Cotta, 1920.

Franz Austeda (1967)

Translated by Albert E. Blumberg