Lotze, Rudolf Hermann (1817–1881)

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Rudolf Hermann Lotze, the German idealist metaphysician, was born in Bautzen He studied medicine and philosophy at the University of Leipzig, taking his doctorates in both fields. He studied mathematics and physics with E. H. Weber, W. Volckmann, and G. T. Fechner and philosophy with C. H. Weisse, who influenced him greatly. In 1841 he became instructor in medicine at Leipzig, where he subsequently taught philosophy. While at Leipzig he published two short works, the Metaphysik (Leipzig, 1841) and Logik (Leipzig, 1843), which adumbrated the essentials of his later philosophy. In 1844 Lotze succeeded Johann Friedrich Herbart as professor of philosophy at the University of Göttingen. He remained there until 1881, when he was called to the University of Berlin. Shortly after joining the faculty at Berlin, he contracted pneumonia and died.

Lotze pursued his interests in the medical sciences, psychology, philosophy, the arts, and literature throughout his life. As a result of his medical training, he developed a strong love for exact investigation and precise knowledge, but art and literature made him particularly sensitive to the central role of feeling and value in the total life of a culture. He wanted nothing to interfere with the growth of the exact sciences in all areas of human experience, yet he insisted that both intellect and scientific knowledge were essentially the means and tools of feeling, emotion, and intuition.

New Conception of Metaphysics

Like many thinkers born in the first two decades of the nineteenth century, Lotze faced three great schisms: the schism between science and Christianity, which was known at that time as the conflict between science and religion; the schism between reason and feeling; and the schism between knowledge and value. To Lotze, these schisms had to be rationally harmonized in some manner. It seemed impossible to him for any rational man to reject any one of the trinity that composes the total culture of man: science, art, and value. Each has its place in the life of man and the universe, and none can be eliminated without distorting and destroying that life. However, Lotze felt that their proper relationship cannot be established by the older metaphysical methods. There is no possibility of rationally deducing the basic categories and values of existence by any sort of logical dialectic, either Platonic or Hegelian. Knowledge of existence depends upon knowledge of fact acquired through observation and experimentation. Consequently, the empirical sciences are the proper investigators of existence. All that metaphysics can do is to analyze, clarify, and order those concepts and theories that the sciences create into as adequate a system as the facts permit. Metaphysics cannot go beyond this in any scientific sense. Nevertheless, Lotze admitted that metaphysics has another, broader purpose. The urge to be metaphysical is not to be found in metaphysics itself but in ethics, in the desire to know and attain some ultimate good. Thus, metaphysics involves speculating beyond what is scientifically warrantable in order to include that which drives men to write metaphysics: the experience of ultimate goodness.

Because metaphysics must be founded upon science, Lotze objected to any philosophical system that claimed completeness. All philosophical systems, like his own, must remain open and undogmatic. They must not even provide provisional answers to profound questions for which not even provisional answers exist. He thought it was far better for a philosopher to raise questions and to stimulate inquiry than to offer sterile answers lacking any reasonable foundation in fact.

Idealistic Monadism, Mechanism, and God

Lotze was essentially an idealist, but his idealism was tempered by his respect for science and his emphasis upon feeling as the dominant element guaranteeing meaning to the life of man.

From the beginning, Lotze considered thought as one aspect of the soul. Thought is aware only of ideas about reality; it does not know reality, for knowledge and reality can never be identical. Neither are experience and thought to be identified. Identity with reality or object can be achieved as experience, never as thought, for thought is purely representative. Truth is attained in ways different from thought. Thought must fuse with the total feeling experience, since it is in feeling that we have direct awareness of good and evil, beauty and ugliness, worth and unworth, contradiction and harmony; these rest in the soul's original capacity to experience pain and pleasure. Consequently, Lotze thought that feeling is the ultimate arbiter of consistency and intellectual harmony, the ultimate judge of the worth of anything, and the ultimate creator of imagination and its works. Moreover, feeling is the nisus that drives man to seek whatever total unity of comprehension and action is possible for him. His love of knowledge, goodness, and beauty arises from, and finds its fulfillment in, feeling. Thus, the essential nature of feeling is love, which constantly drives man toward a greater overall comprehension, of his life and the cosmos. "If love did not lie at the foundation of the world this world would be left without truth and without law."

Feeling convinced Lotze that the world is psychical and thus consists of souls as well as a personal deity. A soul is not simply a stream of impressions united by memory; it is a substantival entity, causally related to the body and interacting with it. Nevertheless, the soul is the greater influence and governs the body in ways closed to it. Both soul and body act according to law, but the laws of bodies as such are purely physical. The laws of the soul are on a higher level; they are teleological and unite the physical and the mental. They do not contradict the laws of the physical world, but they do control and reorder them.

A personal deity, God, follows from the existence of souls and ends. How else can they be explained? The world and everything in it is the personal creation of God and the means by which he attains his ends and the ends of his creatures. However, Lotze tempered this conviction by insisting that God attains his ends through the mechanisms or causal nexuses that science discovers, and he further insisted that these mechanisms are characteristic of both the living and the nonliving.

Lotze rejected the notion that telic and nontelic explanations are incompatible with each other. He opposed the older forms of vitalism popular in his day. He argued that mechanisms are simply the instruments, or tools, by which God accomplishes his ends in the world. Although it is true that God might have used other means, he preferred mechanism as a way of establishing universal law in both the physical and psychic realms.

Lotze argued further that the thesis of mechanism should not be identified with materialism. Mechanism does not imply the nonexistence of ends or of psychic beings; it implies only the existence of uniform modes by which things come into being. The world can just as easily be psychic as material, but the psychic interpretation is rationally to be preferred because it does not make a mystery or a paradox of the presence of feeling and values in the world.

In the Mikrokosmus, Lotze continued to elaborate this position. Mechanism is simply a method of research; it is not a fundamental explanation of life and mind. Only the most exhaustive survey of the life of man can provide such an explanation and relate his life to the cosmos and God. Furthermore, mechanism does not repudiate free will; it is simply the necessary condition for the will to express its autonomy.

For Lotze, there are three realms of observations: the realm of fact, the realm of universal law, and the realm of values, which serve as standards of meaning for the world. These realms are only logically separable; they cannot be separated in reality. Fact and law are the means, the mechanisms, by which values are attained in this world; they are also the means by which men discover that certain values are foolish, contradictory, unrealizable, or in other words, false. Since fact and universal law are not existentially separable from value, God must also be the creator of everything and the quintessence of whatever deserves to exist for its own sake. Moreover, since feeling is fundamental, a sort of pluralistic idealism in which the only realities are living spirits and God in interaction is justified. All other realities are so only secondarily, as manifestations of these spiritual activities.

Lotze ultimately accepted a variant of Leibnizian monadism as a correct interpretation of experience. There is no single unity or oneness to existence. Direct experience reveals an irreducible multiplicity of things. Reality is always in flux, always involving constant doing and suffering. Nevertheless, the flux, the doing, and the suffering occur within a fixed order, a preestablished harmony between God and the multitude of spirits.

Lotze recognized that this metaphysical theory is neither a logical deduction from experience nor completely intelligible, but he believed it to be a reasonable inference from the manner in which the valid experiential concepts of our thought, the flux of facts, and the order of values interconnect in our experience. To limit ourselves to what science understands is to exclude unjustifiably the realms of feeling and values, and to exclude the latter is to render our experience unintelligible.


To Lotze, nature and the social life are the two fundamental sources for religious ideas. From nature we derive the concept of God; from our social life, the concepts of ethical living. Paganism has tended to emphasize the cosmological; Christianity, the ethical. Christianity has sought to fuse both into one complete theological scheme. In this it is mistaken. To Lotze, the ethical element in religion is far more significant than the cosmological (which can properly be left to science), even though the emphasis upon cosmology leads to recognition of God. The true mark of the religious man is not his cosmology but his feeling for, and search after, what ought to be, his passion for, and loyalty to, the highest possible ideals. This passion and loyalty, however, are not so much activistic as contemplative.

Piety, for Lotze, is found in the inner life, in a feeling for the holy that attains so high a state of intuitive comprehension that logic, reason, becomes futile and inessential. Piety lies beyond any sectarian interest, Christian or not, for it drives men to seek a totality of feeling in which truth is completely fused with goodness and beauty. In consequence, the holy is not merely what men think it is; it is rather the unattained, the beyond in our lives that is without contradiction, defect, or dissonance. It is manifested in the endless striving for that immortal sea that is the infinite parent of all things. In this contemplative striving, in this endless search for total harmony and for the ought-to-be lies the possibility of progressively uniting science, religion, and art. However, the overwhelming realization of this unity occurs only at particular moments when one is moved by the experience of total beauty. In such moments, one knows absolutely that the fusion has, as far as possible, been accomplished.


Lotze's influence in Germany, France, and England was considerable during his lifetime. Philosophers became more empirical-minded, less dogmatic. More consideration was given to the feeling, experiential aspects of human life. Nevertheless, Lotze left few, if any, disciples, and no Lotzean school of philosophers arose.

In America, Lotze's influence during the 1870s and 1880s was felt both in church and philosophical circles. The Reverend Joseph Cook of Boston made him widely popular, hailing him as the seer who had made the microscope the instrument of immortality and science the humble servant of the Bible. Leading American philosophers such as B. P. Bowne, G. T. Ladd, and Josiah Royce were particularly influenced, for he offered them an experiential mode of reconciling their strong Christian commitments with the methods and conclusions of science.

See also Bowne, Borden Parker; Fechner, Gustav Theodor; Herbart, Johann Friedrich; Metaphysics; Psychology; Royce, Josiah; Value and Valuation.


The principal writings of Lotze include Allgemeine Pathologie und Therapie als mechanische Naturwissenschaften (Leipzig, 1842); Medicinische Psychologie oder Physiologie der Seele (Leipzig: Weidmann, 1852); Mikrokosmus, 3 vols. (Leipzig, 18561864), translated by E. Hamilton and E. E. C. Jones as Microcosmus, 2 vols. (Edinburgh. 18851886); and Die Geschichte der Aesthetik in Deutschland (Munich, 1868). Lotze planned a comprehensive account of his philosophy in three volumes titled System der Philosophie. The first part was Logik (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1874), and the second, Metaphysik (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1879). These were translated into English and edited by Bernard Bosanquet as Lotze's System of Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1884). The third volume, which was to have covered religion, art, and practical philosophy, was incomplete at the time of his death. See also Kleine Schriften, edited by D. Peipers, 3 vols. (Leipzig, 18851891).

For literature on Lotze, see Karl Robert Eduard von Hartmann, Lotzes Philosophie (Leipzig: Friedrich, 1888); Henry Jones, A Critical Account of the Philosophy of Lotze (Glasgow, 1895); J. W. Schmidt-Japing, Lotzes Religionsphilosophie in ihrer Entwicklung (Göttingen, 1925); E. E. Thomas, Lotze's Theory of Reality (London: Longmans, Green, 1921); and Max Wentscher, H. Lotze. Lotzes Leben und Werke, Vol. I (Heidelberg: Winter, 1913).

Rubin Gotesky (1967)