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Natorp, Paul (1854–1924)


Paul Natorp was born in Düsseldorf and died in Marburg. Along with Hermann Cohen, he is known as one of the founders of the Marburg School of Neo-Kantianism. He studied history, philology, mathematics, and philosophy in Berlin, Bonn, and Strassburg. After completing his doctorate in history at the University of Strassburg in 1876, he went to Marburg where Cohen was working on the restoration of Kant's critical philosophy. In 1881 Natorp obtained his postdoctoral qualification with a thesis on the prehistory of criticism titled Descartes' Erkenntnistheorie (Descartes's theory of knowledge). He became an associate professor at the University of Marburg in 1885 and eventually a full professor of philosophy and pedagogy. In spite of being offered several chairs at other universities, Natorp remained in Marburg throughout his lifetime.

Despite their close relationship, Natorp cannot be seen as a genuine follower of Cohen, especially because of the explicitly historical foundation of his philosophy. Beside his interests in epistemology and the theory of science, both orientated on Cohen's logic, Natorp worked on problems in ethics, the philosophy of religion, philosophical psychology, and the philosophical foundations of pedagogy.

Three main periods of Natorp's philosophical work can be distinguished. During the earliest period, Natorp developed a methodical idealism that takes Kant and Cohen as its point of departure and is presented in Die logischen Grundlagen der exakten Wissenschaften (The logical foundations of the exact sciences, 1910) as well as in Die Philosophie. Ihr Problem und ihre Probleme (Philosophy. Its problem and its problems, 1911). Both books focus on the problem of definition in the natural sciences from an epistemological perspective. They take the mathematical approach as a paradigm for the object-creating function of consciousness. Natorp reduces the transcendental-logical analysis of the constitution of objects to the categories of scientific definition. Science, in this context, stands for the transcendental subject. This is the main characteristic of Natorp's philosophy: The sciences as facts of reason are taken as the only legitimate starting points of the transcendental method so that epistemology is understood as a theory of science.

Natorp attempted to find a basis for his methodical idealism not only through systematic thought but also through studies in the history of philosophy. His studies of Plato, as recorded in an extensive work on Platons Ideenlehre (Plato's theory of ideas, 1903), are a good example of his historically orientated method. The book is still discussed as an example of a strictly systematic view on the history of philosophy.

The second period in Natorp's work is introduced by the Allgemeine Psychologie nach kritischer Methode (General psychology according to a critical method, 1912). In this book, Natorp proposes philosophical psychology as a discipline that should be able to examine the transcendental constitution of objects through reference to the subject's concrete nexus of experiences. Natorp hereby added a genetic aspect to epistemology, which was adopted by several philosophers of his time and had a significant influence on Edmund Husserl's foundation of phenomenology. At the same time Natorp abandons the restriction of the transcendental analysis to the fact of science by enlarging the factum to a fieri, the what is to the what is to be, so that cognition is no longer taken as a mere fact but rather as a process within the subject.

The psychological method is reconstructive insofar as the psychologist analyses the cognitive process and goes back to the very origin of cognition in a step-by-step analysis. The subject's experience is taken as the original source of cognition, but it is not intuitively given (as the phenomenologist would put it). According to Natorp the experience of the subject can only be reconstructed in a genetically oriented epistemological process. Concrete experience inevitably has to be transformed into an abstract definition of experience. The correlative of the objectthe subjectis reconstructed post hoc. However, the reconstruction itself is a cognitive act and, as such, bound to definition and the interruption of cognition in process. Reconstruction, like any other cognitive process, is an approximative approach to and a concretization of the object, except that it does not lead back to the natural object but to its correlate, namely, the subject. The individual subject is correlated to an individual object, and every individual case of definition corresponds to an individual case of cognition. Natorp's concept of subject here is still a very restrictive one.

In his later philosophy Natorp connected logic and psychology by transforming his understanding of cognition as a concretization of being into a general logic concerning the relation of objects that is integrated into an extensive metaphysical conception. In his Vorlesungen über praktische Philosophie (Lectures on practical philosophy, edited in 1925) as well as in the Philosophische Systematik (Philosophical systematics, edited in 1958). Natorp attempted to preserve the guiding themes from of his early thought in a transformed way that now incorporates an ontological perspective. Instead of analyzing the object in terms of a theory of knowledge or pursuing a psychological analysis of the subject, Natorp turns his attention to the correlation between subject and object. The unity of the object depends on the basic condition that there is something ("it is"estin whereby the "it" remains undefined). On the other hand the specific unity of the individual subject is the correlate of the defined object's unity (the specific "this one"tode ti ). Both parts of the correlation are connected by the process of categoricalontological definition. This dialectic approach is elucidated in detail in Natorp's Philosophische Systematik and extended to a theory of categories, which is only faintly reminiscent of Kant. In contrast to the older type of logic (á la Cohen) in Neo-Kantianism, Natorp outlines the it is as the epitome of being, which is prior to any logical definition. In the end, Natorp argued for an ontological interpretation of the origin in transcendental philosophy.

Overall, Natorp's impact on the history of philosophy has been primarily indirect. His ideas were carried on above all by the youngest representative of the Marburg School, Ernst Cassirer. The logical motif of Natorp's earliest period had a great influence on Cassirer's philosophy of culture, which did influence the broader philosophical discussion. The early phenomenologists also referred to Natorp, even if these references were primarily critical, as when Husserl and Martin Heidegger, for example, tried to avoid Natorp's one-sided emphasis on transcendental logic. At present the general philosophical audience is becoming increasingly aware of the close relationship between Natorp's later thought and Heidegger's thinking of being. In some ways Natorp's philosophical development even illustrates the general development of transcendentalism during the twentieth century, which starts with a logic of pure cognition and ends with the problem of thinking, which is already and inevitably related to being.

See also Being; Cassirer, Ernst; Cohen, Hermann; Epistemology; Ethics; Heidegger, Martin; Husserl, Edmund; Neo-Kantianism; Phenomenology; Philosophy of Religion; Plato; Thinking.


works by natorp

Please note: No English translations of these texts are available.

Forschungen zur Geschichte des Erkenntnisproblems im Altertum (Studies in the history of the problem of knowledge in antiquity). Berlin: Hertz, 1884 (later edition published by Hildesheim: Olms, 1965).

Einleitung in die Psychologie nach kritischer Methode (Introduction to psychology according to a critical method). Freiburg: Mohr, 1888.

Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der Humanität (Religion within the bounds of humanity). Tübingen: Mohr, 1894 (later edition published in 1908).

Sozialpädagogik. Theorie der Willensbildung auf der Grundlage der Gemeinschaft (Social pedagogy. A theory of the cultivation of the will on the basis of community). Stuttgart: Frommann, 1899 (later editions published in 1904, 1909, 1920, 1922).

Platons Ideenlehre (Plato's theory of ideas). Leipzig: Dürr, 1903 (later edition published in 1921 with a metacritical appendix and by Darmstadt: Wiss. Buchges, 1975).

Philosophie und Pädagogik. Untersuchungen auf ihrem Grenzgebiet (Philosophy and pedagogy. Studies in the area of their frontiers). Marburg: Elwert, 1909.

Die logischen Grundlagen der exakten Wissenschaften (The logical foundations of the exact sciences). Leipzig/Berlin: Teubner, 1910 (later editions published in 1921, 1923).

Philosophie. Ihr Problem und ihre Probleme (Philosophy. Its problem and its problems). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1911 (later editions published in 1918, 1921).

Allgemeine Psychologie nach kritischer Methode. First (and single) book: Objekt und Methode der Psychologie (General psychology according to a critical method). Tübingen: Mohr, 1912.

Deutscher Weltberuf. Geschichtsphilosophische Richtlinien (German calling for the world. Outlines of a philosophy of history). Jena: Diederichs, 1918.

Der Idealismus Pestalozzis (Pestalozzi's idealism). Leipzig: Verlag Felix Meiner, 1919.

Sozialidealismus. Neue Richtlinien sozialer Erziehung (Social idealism. New outlines for social education). Berlin: L. Springer, 1920 (later edition published in 1922).

Individuum und Gemeinschaft (Individual and society). Jena: Diederichs, 1921.

Natorp, H., ed. Vorlesungen über praktische Philosophie (Lecture on practical philosophy). Erlangen: Verlag der philosophischen Akademie, 1925.

Natorp, H., ed. Philosophische Systematik (Philosophical systematics). Hamburg: Meiner, 1958.

secondary literature

Holzhey, Helmut. Cohen und Natorp. 2 vols. Basel: Schwabe, 1986.

Jegelka, Norbert. Paul Natorp: Philosophie, Pädagogik, Politik. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1992.

Lembeck, Karl-Heinz. Platon in Marburg. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1994.

Sieg, Ulrich. Aufstieg und Niedergang des Marburger Neukantianismus. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1994.

Karl-Heinz Lembeck (2005)

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