Paulsen, Friedrich (1846–1908)

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Friedrich Paulsen, a German philosopher and educational theorist, was born in the village of Langenhorn, Schleswig-Holstein, to a farming family descended from generations of seamen of the North Frisian Islands. In his autobiography Paulsen described his early life in detail, attributing to it the firm moral character and concern for people that marked his later work in philosophy and education. After attending the Altona Gymnasium, he entered the university at Erlangen in 1867. The following year he went to the University of Berlin, where a reading of F. A. Lange's History of Materialism and participation in Adolf Trendelenburg's seminar on Aristotle induced him to abandon theology for philosophy. After studies in Berlin, Bonn, and Kiel, Paulsen taught at Berlin. The professorship of philosophy to which he later succeeded there was, due to his own interests and the needs of the university, expanded to include pedagogy.

Philosophy could not, for Paulsen, be detached from the moral and cultural issues of private and public life, and the needs of the general public determined both the language and the content of his teaching and writing. Although far from negligent of the critical problems of theoretical and practical philosophy, he always tested the validity of their solutions by common sense and the public well-being. His collection of essays and addresses Zur Ethik und Politik (1905) shows the range of his interests and his public concern. Although he was temperate and reasonable, his efforts to distinguish good from evil in contemporary political and social life subjected him to political attack and involved him in public controversy.

Although Paulsen influenced all levels of German education, his published works deal chiefly with German universities and preparatory schools. His Geschichte des gelehrten Unterrichts auf den deutschen Schulen und Universitäten (1885) pioneered in the history of higher education and aroused wide controversy, helping to effect a liberalization of preuniversity education.

Paulsen usually described his philosophical position as idealistic monism but sometimes described it as pantheism. Participating in the revival of Immanuel Kant and Aristotle in the second half of the nineteenth century, Paulsen found in both an epistemological realism, an emphasis upon practical reason over theoretical reason, and a teleological metaphysics. His own position was formulated in opposition to the two extremes of a rigid Christian orthodoxy and scientific materialism. Irrational supernaturalism and mechanistic naturalism are the enemies in his two textbooks, System der Ethik (1889) and Einleitung in die Philosophie (1892), and in his Philosophia Militans (Berlin, 1901). He rejected Christian supernaturalism because of its dualism in theoretical philosophy and its legalism and rigorism in practical philosophy. Materialism was discarded because its denial both of human freedom and of the reality of purposes is offensive to man's ethical demands.

Paulsen's two textbooks were addressed not merely to students but to the thoughtful layman. Simply written with many concrete applications and references to contemporary ethical and social problems, they appeared in many editions in German and in translation and set a pattern for introductory textbooks and courses in philosophy for at least four decades. In them Paulsen formulated his method as (1) analysis of problems and the construction of possible solutions, (2) a survey of the historical development of philosophical thought on each problem, and (3) a choice of the solution most coherent with an inclusive world view.

This method brought Paulsen close to a pragmatic and personalistic viewpoint. In his ethics he supported a modern utilitarianism or eudaemonism that repudiated the hedonism of the British school, replacing it with the goal of human welfare and an objective perfection of the ends of life. The good life is thus grounded in the will, not in feeling. In determining the valid ends of conduct, the individual must be guided by the historical tradition, which may be trusted ultimately to destroy evil and to bring about the survival of the good. Book I of the System, devoted to such historical evaluation, is still a most useful introduction to the history of ethics. Paulsen stressed the distinctions between the ascetic ethical ideals of early Christianity and the humanism of classical Greece, but he regarded as necessary the modern effort to reconcile them.

Ethical thought involves the problems of evil, of freedom, and of God. Evil is justified in a monistic world, because by overcoming evil we find the way and the will to the good. Although human freedom is real, it is never a motiveless freedom of action. The psychological theory of freedom is correct in finding the ground of free action in the human will or in man's determining his conduct through deliberation and resolution. The metaphysical theory of freedom, which denies that there are causes of the will, must itself be denied. Morality, in its historical development of responsibility and a sense of duty, comes to require a higher will with a right to command and thus provides an argument for the existence of a deity who is also implicit in the evolutionary account of nature.

In such later ethical writings as the article "Ethik" in Paul Hinneberg's Systematische Philosophie (Berlin and Leipzig, 1907), Paulsen moved closer to G. W. F. Hegel by introducing an "objective will" as the manifestation in the social forms of life of a universal reason to which individual conscience is a cognitive response. Paulsen held that the principles of ethics are rational in the sense that they arise from the conditions of life. They need not determine one's metaphysics, but teleological ethics demands an evolutionary teleology in which the purpose of nature is fulfilled in human reason.

Paulsen's Introduction to Philosophy was devoted to metaphysical and epistemological questions. In it he is led to monism by the Lotzean argument from finite interaction, by E. Hartmann's vitalism and energism, and by a creative vitalistic interpretation of evolution. His solution to the mind-body problem is a theory of panpsychistic parallelism, showing the influence of Benedict de Spinoza and Gustav Theodor Fechner. Mind and body are distinct aspects of a unified "All-One," a mental process of which history and nature are the two series of "modifications." This identity is affirmed of God in relationship to nature and to history. Science is limited to the phenomenalistic aspect of nature. Although God enters into interaction with lesser spirits, the concept of personality must be purged of its human limitations before it can be ascribed to God, who is to be thought of rather as a superpersonal source of energy and reason in nature and man.

See also Aristotle; Fechner, Gustav Theodor; Hartmann, Eduard von; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Kant, Immanuel; Lange, Friedrich Albert; Materialism; Neo-Kantianism; Panpsychism; Pantheism; Spinoza, Benedict (Baruch) de; Utilitarianism; Vitalism.


works by paulsen

Geschichte des gelehrten Unterrichts auf den deutschen Schulen und Universitäten vom Ausgang des Mittelalters bis zur Gegenwart. Leipzig, 1885. 3rd ed., 2 vols., Berlin, 19191920, translated by E. D. Perry as The German Universities: Their Character and Historical Development. New York: Macmillan, 1895.

System der Ethik mit einem Umriss des Staats und Gesellschaftslehre. Berlin, 1889. Translated from the 4th German edition by Frank Thilly as A System of Ethics. New York: Scribners, 1899.

Einleitung in die Philosophie. Berlin, 1892. Translated from the 3rd German edition by Frank Thilly as Introduction to Philosophy, New York: Holt, 1895.

Immanuel Kant: Sein Leben und seine Lehre. Stuttgart: Frommanns, 1899. Translated from the 3rd German edition by J. E. Creighton and A. Lefevre as Immanuel Kant: His Life and Doctrine. New York: Scribners, 1902. Paulsen's most important and influential historical study. Interprets Kant as a realist.

Philosophia Militans. Gegen Klericalismus und Naturalismus. Berlin: Reuther and Reichard, 1901.

Zur Ethik und Politik: Gesammelte Vorträge und Aufsätze, 2 vols. Berlin, 1905.

Aus meinem Leben. Jugenderinnerungen. Jena: Diederichs, 1909. Translated by Theodor Lorenz as Friedrich Paulsen: An Autobiography. New York: Columbia University Press, 1938. Gives details of Paulsen's academic career and political influence as well as bibliographical data. Part II of this work, never published in German, was translated from Paulsen's manuscript.

works on paulsen

Schulte-Hibbert, B. Die Philosophie Friedrich Paulsens. Berlin, 1914.

Speck, Johannes. Friedrich Paulsen. Sein Leben und sein Werk. Langensalza, Germany, 1926.

Spranger, Eduard, ed. Gesammelte pädagogische Abhandlungen. Stuttgart: J.G. Cotta, 1912. Contains a complete bibliography.

L. E. Loemker (1967)