Rudolf Hermann Lotze

views updated May 14 2018

Rudolf Hermann Lotze

The German idealist philosopher Rudolf Hermann Lotze (1817-1881) founded his metaphysics upon science and attempted to reconcile the mechanistic laws of nature with divine purpose.

Rudolf Hermann Lotze the son of a doctor, was born on May 21, 1817, in Bautzen. He entered the University of Leipzig in 1834 and 4 years later earned doctoral degrees in medicine and philosophy. He was also adept at physics, mathematics, psychology, art, and literature. From 1841 to 1844 he taught medicine and philosophy at Leipzig. He first became known through his medical work Allgemeine Pathologie and Therapie als mechanische Naturwissenschaften (1842, 2nd ed. 1848; General Pathology and Therapy as Mechanical Science), in which he explained physiological processes in mechanistic terms. This mechanistic explanation of living and nonliving things was further developed in Allgemeine Physiologie des körperlichen Lebens (1851; General Physiology of Bodily Life) and in Medizinische Psychologie oder Physiologie der Seele (1852; Medical Psychology or Physiology of the Soul).

While at Leipzig, Lotze published two short works, Metaphysik (1841) and Logik (1843), which outlined his philosophical project of reconciling science with religion, reason with feeling, and knowledge with value. He was appointed professor at the University of Göttingen in 1844. There he lived a quiet and fruitful academic life, pursuing his varied interests, which included a translation of Antigone into Latin verse and a book on the history of German esthetics, Geschichte der Aesthetik in Deutschland (1868). Lotze also completed his best-known work, the three-volume Mikrokosmos (1856-1864; Microcosmos). This popular exposition of his entire philosophy was subtitled "An Essay concerning Man and His Relation to the World." Specifically, Lotze described how the relationship between man's body and mind microcosmically mirrored the mechanistic laws which obtained in the cosmos.

Lotze's conception of metaphysics was quite revolutionary. He rejected a dogmatic, deductive system of metaphysics in favor of a probable and open-ended inquiry which would be based on rational inferences from the laws of nature. In accordance with his project of reconciling science with religion, Lotze inferred that the laws of nature were tools of a divine purpose, or telos. This conviction could not be scientifically proved; but, according to Lotze, the feeling of the unity of mechanism and value was irresistible. "For all the laws of this mechanism are but the very will of the universal soul, nothing else than the condition for the realization of God." In this way, Lotze sought to reconcile reason with feeling and knowledge with value.

Lotze planned a more rigorous account of his philosophy in a three-volume System der Philosophie (Lotze's System of Philosophy). But only two volumes, the Logik (1874) and the Metaphysik (1879), were published in his lifetime. In the Metaphysik Lotze criticized the baneful influence of British empiricism on German philosophy. German philosophers were becoming obsessed with the problem of how we know rather than with what we know. "The constant whetting of the knife is tedious, " Lotze said, "if it is not proposed to cut anything with it."

In 1881 Lotze joined the faculty at the University of Berlin. Shortly after arriving there, he fell ill with pneumonia and died on July 1, 1881. Lotze was hailed as a sage and seer in Germany, France, England, and especially America. In the 1880s American clergymen sighingly applauded his reconciliation of the microscope with God. The American philosophers George T. Ladd and Josiah Royce, who had attended his courses in Göttingen, were greatly influenced by Lotze's synthesis of science and Christianity. In Germany, Lotze's physiological psychology grounded the development of experimental psychology, which started with his disciples Carl Stumpf and G. E. Müller.

Further Reading

The definitive study of Lotze's life and work is in German. Useful accounts of Lotze's thought are in Johann Edward Erdmann, A History of Philosophy (trans., 3 vols., 1890-1892; 3d ed. 1892-1893); John Theodore Merz, History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century, edited by W. R. Sorley (4 vols., 1903-1914); Robert Adamson, A Short History of Logic (1911); and Rev. E. E. Thomas, Lotze's Theory of Reality (1921). □

Lotze, Rudolf Hermann

views updated May 18 2018


Physician and philosopher; b. Bautzen, Germany, May 21, 1817; d. Berlin, July 1, 1881. The son of a physician, Lotze studied medicine, psychology, and philosophy at Leipzig under E. H. Weber, G. T. Fechner, and C.H. Weisse (180166), receiving his M.D. and Ph.D. in 1838. His dissertation in medicine, De futurae biologiae principiis philosophicis (Leipzig 1838), gave indication of a special competence in philosophy. In Leipzig Lotze wrote his first Metaphysik (1841), became a lecturer in philosophy, and wrote his first Logik (1843). In 1844 he was appointed professor at the University of Göttingen, where he composed his Medizinische Psychologie oder Physiologie der Seele (Leipzig 1852). His Mikrokosmus, 3 v. (Leipzig 185658, 5th ed. 18961909) is one of the most important documents in modern German philosophy. In 1881 he was called to Berlin and died shortly after his arrival there.

Lotze had an excellent background in the natural sciences and put his knowledge of inductive and experimental methods to use in the modernization of philosophy. At a time when others were hostile to metaphysics, however, he undertook to combine the inductive method of the exact sciences with metaphysical insights, mainly those in the tradition of German idealism. He acknowledged the existence of mechanistic functions in nature, but regarded these as the means by which the Deity actualizes the final good of the entire universe. He also taught the substantiality of the human soul and its freedom of action. The ego, for him, is not merely a logical subject, as it was for I. kant; rather it is an active principle. Body and soul he conceived to be in constant reciprocal relationship: the body affects the soul (e.g, in perception and feeling), while the soul acts upon the body (e.g., in acts of free will). In this teaching Lotze was opposed to 19thcentury determinism. He held that without freedom, morality would have no foundation.

Lotze's impact on contemporary philosophy is perhaps best expressed in his three notions of being, happening, and value. The characteristic of the external world is being (inductive metaphysics); that of man's perception is happening, which is channeled from the without to the within (physiology of the soul); and that of the inner world is thought, truth, and value (axiology). Greatly influenced by Lotze were C. Stumpf, W. Windelband,A. Wenzl, F. brentano, and, through Brentano, E. husserl.

Bibliography: j. hirschberger, The History of Philosophy, tr. a. n. fuerst, 2 v. (Milwaukee 195859) v.2. f. barone, Enciclopedia filosofica 3:168170. w. ziegenfuss, ed., PhilosophenLexikon, 2 v. (Berlin 194950) 2:8087. m. wentscher, Lotzes Leben und Werke (Heidelberg 1913). s. hall, Die Begründer der modernen Psychologie (Lotze ) (Leipzig 1914).

[c. e. schÜtzinger]

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