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neo-Kantianism

neo-Kantianism In the wake of the German idealist tradition, the growing popularity of scientific materialist world-outlooks in mid-nineteenth-century Germany provoked intellectual and cultural resistance in the shape of neo-Kantianism. This movement was very diverse, and had a pervasive influence in the humanities and social sciences in Germany from 1860 onwards. The historian of philosophy Kuno Fischer called for a ‘return to Kant’ in 1860, and the call was answered by many of Germany's leading intellectuals, including Friedrich Albert Lange, Heinrich Rickert, Wilhelm Windleband, and Wilhelm Dilthey. In its broader cultural and political significance the movement included liberal-humanist resistance to the increasingly virulent racism of the German Social Darwinist movement led by the materialist Ernst Hasckel, as well as moderate conservative hostility to materialism as associated with revolutionary socialism.

More narrowly, the neo-Kantians were concerned to establish a bulwark against the spread of natural scientific methods into the sphere of the humanities and social sciences. Kant's critical philosophy (in their various interpretations of it) provided resources for this project in two ways. First, the duality in Kant between a perceptible and therefore knowable world of ‘appearances’, and a world of ‘things-in-themselves’ presupposed in morality, freedom, aesthetics, and the unity of the self, could be employed as the justification for a radical separation between the natural sciences and the ‘human’, ‘cultural’, or ‘historical’ sciences. Sometimes this distinction was made in terms of the radical differences of subject-matter between the two complexes of disciplines, and sometimes (as in the work of Rickert) in terms of the distinctive character of our interest in the two domains. According to the latter view, our concern in the natural sciences is with objects of experience in so far as they are instances of universal laws, whereas in the cultural sphere our interest is in particular meaningful expressions in virtue of their relevance to values. Moreover, the distinctive character of the objects of the cultural sciences as complexes of meaning requires a distinctive form of understanding (Verstehen) not reducible to the sensory perception typical of natural scientific method.

The second way in which Kant was important for the neo-Kantians was his philosophical method. The neo-Kantians (and others, such as Dilthey, who, though sharing many of the preoccupations of the neo-Kantians, was not strictly one of their number) sought not only to establish the autonomy of the human, historical sciences from the natural sciences, but also to parallel Kant's philosophical defence of natural science with an analysis of the conceptual and methodological conditions for objective knowledge of human historical and cultural expressions. Neo-Kantianism was profoundly influential in providing the philosophical and methodological basis for German interpretative sociology, of which the most important representatives were Georg Simmel and Max Weber. Later, leading figures in the distinctive twentieth-century tradition of Western Marxism (such as György Lukács) derived their main philosophical orientation from neo-Kantianism, as did the French sociologist Émile Durkheim, and the founding figure of cultural anthropology Franz Boas. See also GEISTESWISSENSCHAFTEN AND NATURWISSENSCHAFTEN.

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neo-Kantianism

neo-Kantianism: see Kant, Immanuel.

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