Liebert, Arthur (1878–1946)

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Arthur Liebert, the German neo-Kantian philosopher, was born Arthur Levi in Berlin. The son of a merchant, he spent six years in business after completing his secondary education in 1895. He then entered the University of Berlin, where he received his doctorate in 1908. After teaching at the Berlin Handelshochschule, Liebert lectured at the University of Berlin, becoming extraordinary professor in 1925. From 1918 to 1933 he was coeditor with Paul Menzer of Kantstudien, which became under their guidance an instrument of growing international cooperation in philosophy. Forced to leave Germany in 1933, when the National Socialists came to power, he was appointed professor of philosophy at the University of Belgrade and there founded the journal Philosophia: Philosophorum Nostri Temporis Vox Universa, which appeared at irregular intervals from 1936 to 1939. When the German armies invaded the Balkans, he found refuge in England, where he published Das Wesen der Freiheit (1944) and, together with other refugees, organized the Freier deutscher Kulturbund in Grossbrittanien. At the end of World War II he returned to his restored professorship at Berlin, but he died shortly thereafter.

Liebert was influenced by the realistic interpretation given Immanuel Kant at Berlin by Friedrich Paulsen, Alois Riehl, and especially by Wilhelm Dilthey, who stressed the historical aspects of the Geisteswissenschaften (cultural sciences). Within this realistic neo-Kantian orientation, Liebert turned to the ethical problems of value and freedom and to the search for a dialectic movement of ethical and metaphysical categories in history. Many of his writings, particularly in his later years, were devoted to the promotion of worldwide philosophical cooperation as "the free guardian of freedom" and particularly to the development of a philosophical organization, "an Areopagus of mankind," within which the new humanism was to be promoted. This is the theme of "On the Duty of Philosophy in Our Age" (Von der Pflicht der Philosophie in unserer Zeit ), published during his exile in 1938.

Liebert's philosophical efforts to work out his critical metaphysics as a dialectic were to have taken the form of a large work titled Geist und Welt der Dialektik, of which only the first volume, Grundlegung der Dialektik, appeared (Berlin, 1929). To be distinguished from science, philosophy must accept as its field not simply being (Sein ) but value (Geltung ), for being not merely is, but is valid (gilt ), or validates, itself. In opposition to the Baden neo-Kantians, Liebert rejected obligation (Sollen ) as the ground of value, finding a new basis for metaphysics in the Kantian concern for the validation of judgments. "The right of metaphysics and the right to a metaphysics," he wrote, "flow from the idea and right of philosophy itself." The task of metaphysics thus becomes that of a historical "critical phenomenology" that "tests its own possibility and justification and derives its presuppositions and conclusions through reason."

Such a metaphysics does not merely use dialectic as the basis of metaphysical criticism but is itself dialectic. Its categories must include both philosophical ideas and the social and cultural contexts out of which they arise. "The idea of dialectic is at once the a priori condition and the definitive force (massgebende Kraft ) for the construction of metaphysics, and also the distinctive instrument for penetrating into the nature of metaphysics, and for studying and understanding it." This dialectic must include within the scope of its critical and dynamic movement four motives: the intellectual, moral, aesthetic, and religious. Metaphysics is no longer "ontological-dogmatic" but "actualistic-critical"; the movement of its categorical structures of value combines temporal and supratemporal viewpoints. Its task is apparently never completed, because historical change outgrows the adequacy of every a priori structure. In particular, the modern world with its conflicts prevents a return to the classical humanizing harmonies of thought; the historical-normative dialectic that modern life calls forth must take the form of tragedy.

Liebert's lectures and seminars were devoted to the development and illustration of this conception of metaphysics. The Grundlegung der Dialektik provided only an introduction, in which Liebert traced the beginnings of the metaphysical dialectic in the thought of his contemporariespractitioners of the Geisteswissenschaften ; metaphysicians and theologians; and neo-Kantians and neo-Hegelians.

The Kantian identification of freedom with reason remained for Liebert the fixed a priori point of view of his "actualistic-critical" metaphysics. He persistently attacked the currently popular forms of Lebensphilosophie as relativistic, irrational, and sacrificing philosophical freedom. Philosophers were called upon to fulfill their vocation by turning to metaphysics and ethics as guides for individual and organizational action against the forces of irrationalism and cultural decay.

Liebert's thought has received little attention since his death. His most important writings are those in which he sought to formulate the principles of his own historical metaphysics of value.

See also Dilthey, Wilhelm; Geisteswissenschaften; Kant, Immanuel; Metaphysics; Neo-Kantianism; Paulsen, Friedrich; Riehl, Alois; Value and Valuation.


additional works by liebert

Das Problem der Geltung. Berlin, 1906.

Der Geltungswert der Metaphysik. Berlin: Reuther and Reichard, 1915.

Wie ist kritische Philosophie überhaupt möglich? Leipzig, 1919.

Die geistige Krisis der Gegenwart. Berlin: Heise, 1923.

Von der Pflicht der Philosophie in unserer Zeit. Zürich, 1946.

L. E. Loemker (1967)