Windelband, Wilhelm (1848–1915)

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The German philosopher and historian of philosophy Wilhelm Windelband was born in Potsdam and educated at Jena, Berlin, and Göttingen. He taught philosophy at Zürich, Freiburg im Breisgau, Strasbourg, and Heidelberg. He was a disciple of Rudolf Hermann Lotze and Kuno Fischer and was the leader of the so-called southwestern German (or Baden) school of neo-Kantianism. He is best known for his work in history of philosophy, to which he brought a new mode of expositionthe organization of the subject by problems rather than by chronological sequence of individual thinkers. As a systematic philosopher he is remembered for his attempt to extend the principles of Kantian criticism to the historical sciences, his attempt to liberate philosophy from identification with any specific scientific discipline, and his sympathetic appreciation of late nineteenth-century philosophy of value.

Windelband believed that whereas the various sciences (mathematical, natural, and historical) have specific objects and limit their investigations to determined areas of the total reality, philosophy finds its unique object in the knowledge of reality provided by these various disciplines taken together as a whole. The task of philosophy, he held, was to explicate the a priori bases of science in general. The aim of philosophy was to show not how science is possible but why there are many different kinds of science; the relationships that obtain between these various sciences; and the nature of the relation between the critical intelligencethe knowing, willing, and feeling subjectand consciousness in general.

According to Windelband, both the triumphs and the limitations of contemporary philosophical thought had their origins in Immanuel Kant's thought. Kant had established the dogma that all knowledge must be of the type provided by the natural sciences. But, Windelband held, if knowledge is limited to only that which can be contained within the categories as set forth in the Critique of Pure Reason, then the kinds of activities associated with the will and the emotionsthat is to say, the subjects of Kant's second and third critiquesare removed from the province of knowledge. The inadequacies of the Kantian identification of knowledge in general with natural scientific knowledge alone had been demonstrated by the post-Kantian idealists, who sought to construct a theory of knowledge capable of appreciating "the needs of modern culture, and the historical material of ideas" (History of Philosophy, p. 569). Idealism failed, however, because it ended by hypostatizing a spiritual sphere that presumably was separate from the world of matter and that operated according to principles utterly different from those which science explicated in general causal laws. Thus, whereas Kantianism had failed to include ethics and aesthetics within the domain of scientific philosophy, idealism failed to provide a place for those aspects of the world revealed by the natural sciences and eternally established as causally determined. It thus appeared to late nineteenth-century thinkers that there were at least two levels of reality, one spiritual and historical, the other material and determined; and it seemed that knowledge itself, far from being one, was at least twofold. On the one hand, it was empirical and discovered laws; on the other hand, it was rational and revealed the essential freedom behind the laws. Such at least had been the contention of Wilhelm Dilthey and the neo-idealists. As long as this division persisted, Windelband held, pessimism, the denial of philosophy, must flourish also.

The way out of the difficulty was to be provided by a fundamental reappraisal in philosophy, a reconsideration of modern thought ab initio. For Windelband this meant primarily an attempt to find a way to apply the technique of transcendental deduction to the historical as well as the physical sciences. It also meant liberation from the notion that natural science was the archetype of all knowledge.

In an early address, "Was ist Philosophie?" (1882), Windelband distinguished between theoretical judgments (Urteile ) and critical judgments (Beurteilungen ). The former expressed the "mutual implicativeness" (Zusammengehörigkeit ) of two "representational contents" (Vorstellungsinhalte ); the latter expressed the relation between the judging consciousness (beurteilenden Bewusstsein ) and the object represented (see Präludien, Vol. I, p. 29). Theoretical judgments are judgments of fact and are always positive; their purpose is to extend the limits of knowledge in a given science. Critical judgments, however, can be either positive or negative, and they express the position assumed by the subject when a given theoretical judgment is endowed with a status as means to some end.

The individual sciences expand the series of theoretical judgments; philosophy examines the relations between the ability of individual consciousness to render judgments and that "consciousness in general" (Bewusstsein überhaupt ) which is the intuited basis of every critical judgment. Philosophy, then, "has its own proper field and its own problem in those values of universal validity that are the organizing principles for the functions of culture and civilization and for all the particular values of life. But it will describe and explain those values only that it may give an account of their validity; it treats them not as facts but as norms" (History of Philosophy, pp. 680681). The various sciences are concerned with facts, which they organize in different ways according to the ends for which those facts are "constructed." Philosophy, however, is concerned with the processes by which events attain the status of facts for particular sciences.

Critical judgments, then, are rendered in respect not of what is but of what ought to be; in accordance not with laws but with norms. There is a "normative consciousness" (Normalbewusstsein ) presupposed by philosophy; this "normative consciousness" is in abstracto the same as that which, in concreto, underlies every scientific, moral, and aesthetic experience. It is not to be thought of as either a metaphysical or a psychological entity. It is, rather, merely the "sum-total of the inter-connections and relations between existents" (Logic, p. 59). These relations "are not themselves existents, either as things, as states, or as activities; they can only become 'actual' as the content of the psychical functions of knowing. In itself the realm of the valid is nothing else than the form and order under which that which exists is determined" (ibid.). It follows, then, that "this whole is closed to our knowledge; we shall never know more than a few fragments of it, and there is no prospect of our ever being able to patch it together out of the scraps that we can gather" (ibid., p. 65). Therefore, philosophy cannot end in science or in any practical rule of life; it can only point the attention of humanity to the sensed "principles of absolute judgment" that are presupposed in every human confrontation of the world in scientific, moral, and aesthetic experience.

Windelband regarded as baseless every attempt to distinguish between the different disciplines that constitute science on the basis of a presumed essential difference between their objects. The disciplines are distinguished only by their methods, which are in turn functions of the ends or values informing them as instruments of culture. In the address "Geschichte und Naturwissenschaften" (1894), he distinguished between the natural sciences and the historical sciences, and he argued that the natural sciences aim at the construction of general laws and "explain" an event by identifying it as an instance of a general law. Historical sciences, on the other hand, are individualizing; they concentrate on specific events and attempt to determine their specific physiognomy or form. Natural science Windelband termed nomothetic ; historical science, idiographic. But, he added, any given object could be studied by both kinds of science. A mental event, if viewed under the aspect of physical causalityas an instance of the working of some general lawwas a natural event. That same mental event, described in its individuality and valued for its deviation from the class to which it belonged, became an object of the idiographic sciences. Positivists erred in holding that every event must be viewed nomothetically, just as idealists erred in thinking that certain kinds of events cannot be so viewed. The total picture of the world that consciousness is in principle able to construct can be constructed only through the use of both kinds of investigation. No single event can be deduced from general laws, and no law can be framed out of the contemplation of a single event. "Law and event remain together as the ultimate, incommensurable limits of our representation of the world" (Präludien, Vol. II, p. 160).

See also Consciousness; Dilthey, Wilhelm; Fischer, Kuno; History and Historiography of Philosophy; Idealism; Kant, Immanuel; Lotze, Rudolf Hermann; Neo-Kantianism.


works by windelband

Die Lehre vom Zufall. Berlin, 1870.

Präludien: Aufsätze und Reden zur Einführung in die Philosophie, 2 vols. Freiburg im Breisgau, 1884; 5th ed., Tübingen, 1914.

Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Philosophic. Tübingen, 1892; 14th ed., revised by Heinz Heimsoeth, Tübingen, 1948. Translated by J. H. Tufts as History of Philosophy. New York: Macmillan, 1893; 2nd ed., New York: Macmillan, 1901.

"Die Prinzipien der Logik." In Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften, by Wilhelm Windelband and Arnold Ruge. Tübingen, 1912. Translated by B. E. Meyer as Logic. London: Macmillan, 1913.

"Geschichtsphilosophie: Eine Kriegsvorlesung, Fragment aus dem Nachlass." Edited by Wolfgang Windelband and Bruno Bauch. Kantstudien, Ergänzungshefte im Auftrag der Kantgesellschaft (38) (1916): 568.

works on windelband

Collingwood, R. G. The Idea of History, 165168. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1946.

Gronau, G. "Die Kultur und Wertphilosophie Wilhelm Windelbands." In Die Philosophie der Gegenwart. Langensalza, 1922.

Rickert, Heinrich. Wilhelm Windelband. Tübingen, 1915.

Rossi, Pietro. Lo storicismo tedesco contemporaneo, 149207. Turin: Einaudi, 1956.

Hayden V. White (1967)