Korn, Alejandro (1860–1936)

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Alejandro Korn, an Argentine metaphysician and ethical philosopher, was born in San Vicente. He took his doctorate in medicine and directed a hospital for the mentally ill. In 1906 he joined the faculty of philosophy and letters at Buenos Aires. Although he wrote little, he had immense personal influence on Argentine philosophy. His philosophical writing came late in his life: La libertad creadora (La Plata, 1930), his major work, is a compilation of five essays dating from 1918 to 1930.

Korn is sometimes called a positivist, a label suggested by his scientific training, his empiricism, the skeptical note in his metaphysics, and his ethical relativism. However, his "Incipit Vita Nova" (1918) set the stage for his own criticism of positivism. In this essay, he maintained that despite the scientific and technological progress of preceding decades, contemporary man is dissatisfied and disillusioned. The cause is the impairment of ethics by the spread of the positivistic doctrine that man is a machine without liberty; the remedy is a libertarian philosophy that subordinates science to ethics. Korn's sources were not Auguste Comte or Herbert Spencer, but Henri Bergson, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Immanuel Kant.

Korn's methodology rests on an experiential intuition whose objects are concrete particulars of ordinary experience. This common intuition is not passive and its content is not simple. Reason supplies concepts that are merely formal and symbolic but that penetrate intuition; the latter always has discursive elements. There is also a more intimate intuition or vision, which has intellectual, mystical, and aesthetic forms corresponding to metaphysics, religion, and art. Intuition as vision suggests profound convictions and has an important place in the spiritual life of man, but it carries no assurance of truth. For comparative certainty we must turn to the two disciplines of ordinary intuition: science, which has a measurable object in the external world of fact, and axiology, which has an unmeasurable object in the internal world of evaluation. The third great intellectual enterprise, metaphysics, attempts to describe reality through concepts that transcend all possible experience. Metaphysical systems are dialectical poems. We cannot live without metaphysics, but we cannot convert it into a science; it should contain sincere convictions, free from dogmatism.

The external world of science, of the not-self, known through sensations, is spatial, measurable, and governed by strict causal law. The internal world of axiology, of the self, constituted of emotions, volitions, and judgments, is nonspatial, immeasurable, purposive, and free. These are the two halves of one encompassing domain of consciousness, which comprises all that we know and, it seems, all that is real. Common to both halves of consciousness are three further characters: activity or perpetual becoming, which shows that stable things and rigid names are false; relativity, which expresses the fact that every particular act has its reason in another; and time. Most significant in distinguishing the subjective from the objective order is freedom: economic freedom, or mastery of the external world, and ethical freedom, or mastery of self.

The search for an ultimate reality beyond consciousness led Korn to deny monistic realism, dualistic realism, and solipsism, and to affirm a type of absolute idealism. Experienced things, space, and time depend on consciousness, evidently because they involve organizing concepts or forms. A thing lying beyond consciousness and implied as cause of the experienced thing is denied: causality is a creature of our thought. The known object thus depends on consciousness and has its being there. But that does not entail the dependence of objects on my self. The self, or subjective order, is only a part of consciousness; it is not the source of the known world. The further definition of this idealism is through the theory of the acción consciente : consciousness as an everlasting, dynamic, and creative process, unknown in itself but manifested as aspiration toward absolute liberty.

This ontological goal is the key to Korn's theory of values. A value is the created object of an affirmative valuation, and valuation is the reaction of the human will to an event. Values therefore are subjective. There are instinctive, erotic, vital, economic, social, religious, ethical, logical, and aesthetic values, none of which can be reduced to any other. Values achieve unity through their common source in human personality and through their common goal in the liberty of man. Creative liberty is the recurring motif of Korn's philosophy.

See also Bergson, Henri; Comte, Auguste; Idealism; Intuition; Kant, Immanuel; Latin American Philosophy; Metaphysics; Positivism; Schopenhauer, Arthur.


Obras, 3 vols. La Plata: Tomás Palumbo, 19331940.

"Influencias filosóficas en la evolución nacional." Revista de la universidad de Buenos Aires (1912). Reprinted in Obras, Vol. III.

Apuntes filosóficos. Buenos Aires, 1935.

Arthur Berndtson (1967)