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"Neo-Kantianism" is a term used to designate a group of somewhat similar movements that prevailed in Germany between 1870 and 1920 but had little in common beyond a strong reaction against irrationalism and speculative naturalism and a conviction that philosophy could be a "science" only if it returned to the method and spirit of Immanuel Kant. These movements were the fulfillment of Kant's prophecy that in a hundred years his philosophy would come into its own.

Because of the complexity and internal tensions in Kant's philosophy, not all the Neo-Kantians brought the same message from the Sage of Königsberg, and the diversity of their teachings was as great as their quarrels were notorious. At the end of the nineteenth century the Neo-Kantians were as widely separated as the first-generation Kantians had been at its beginning, and the various Neo-Kantian movements developed in directions further characterized by such terms as Neo-Hegelian and Neo-Fichtean. But whereas G. W. F. Hegel, Friedrich Schelling, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and others had used the words of Kant while being alien to their spirit, the Neo-Kantians were, on the whole, faithful to the spirit while being revisionists with respect to the letter. Attempting to legitimize their revisions by the ipsissima verba of Kant, they established the craft of "Kant-philology" and began an analysis of Kant's texts that had not been equaled in microscopic punctiliousness except in the exegesis of the Bible and of a few classical authors. Hans Vaihinger's immense commentary on the first seventy pages of the Critique of Pure Reason (Commentar zu Kants "Kritik der reinen Vernunft, " 2 vols., Berlin and Leipzig, 18811893) is an exemplar of this craft and industry.

Neo-Kantianism grew out of the peculiar social-cultural situation of German science and philosophy, and in turn it constituted a new academic situation with many characteristics of a long intellectual fad. Most of the groups of Neo-Kantians had their own journalsthe Philosophische Arbeiten at Marburg, Logos at Heidelberg, the Annalen der Philosophie und philosophischer Kritik of Vaihinger, and the Philosophische Abhandlungen at Göttingen. (Kant-Studien, like the Kant Gesellschaft, was open to all.) Doctrines were known by the names of the universities where they originated; men entered and left the movement as if it were a church or political party; members of one school blocked the appointments and promotions of members of the others; eminent Kant scholars and philosophers who did not found their own schools or accommodate themselves to one of the established schools tended to be neglected as outsiders and contemned as amateurs. As many as seven distinct schools have been described by historians, but they do not agree on the programs, heresies, and bona fide membership of each school.

The Beginnings

So far as an intellectual movement can be said to have a beginning at a specific moment of time, Neo-Kantianism began with the publication at Stuttgart in 1865 of Otto Liebmann's Kant und die Epigonen, whose motto"Back to Kant!"has become famous. German philosophy was generally weak toward the middle of the nineteenth century; there was less interest in it, and less ability among its practitioners, than at perhaps any other time in modern German history. Earlier in the century, when Kant's philosophy had been submerged first in the great idealistic systems and then in those of nature-philosophy, there had been modest calls for a return to Kant (for instance, by I. H. Fichte, the son of J. G. Fichte, and by Ernst Reinhold, the son of K. L. Reinhold) as a means of escape from the kinds of philosophy that Kant would have held to be impossible and that seemed more and more to offer nothing of value to German cultural life as a counterbalance to the materialism attendant upon the flourishing of natural science, technology, and national economy. However, in the decade preceding Liebmann's book there had been signs of change.

zeller and fischer

Eduard Zeller (18141908), in his Heidelberg lecture, Ueber Bedeutung und Aufgabe der Erkenntnistheorie (published Heidelberg, 1862), called for a return to epistemology; and this, he spelled out explicitly, meant a return to Kant. Kuno Fischer (18241907), the greatest historian of philosophy at that time and the teacher of Liebmann, Johannes Volkelt, and Wilhelm Windelband, in 1860 published a monumental book on Kant (Kants Leben und die Grundlagen seiner Lehre, Mannheim and Heidelberg) that presented, in a form still useful although outmoded in details, a picture of Kant that could not but excite interest in and study of Kant. In 1865 Fischer initiated a great controversy with Adolf Trendelenburg on the proper interpretation of Kant's theory of space; this controversy mobilized most of the philosophical public in Germany on one side or the other, including Trendelenburg's pupil Hermann Cohen, who had hitherto concentrated mostly on Plato.

helmholtz and lange

Two other men, Hermann von Helmholtz and F. A. Lange, almost simultaneously with Liebmann made their spiritual pilgrimage to Königsberg.


Hermann von Helmholtz (18211894), then Germany's greatest scientist, had been arguing for years for a view whose origin he found in Kant. The doctrine of specific energies of sensory nerves had led him to a theory of the subjectivity of sensory qualities, which he regarded as signs of unknown objects interacting with our sense organs; he then extended this commonly held view to the conclusion that space itself is dependent upon our bodily constitution. This theory made it possible for Helmholtz to argue that there could be alternative spaces and geometries, each appropriate to a particular kind of nervous apparatus and necessary to the being so constituted, but none of them picturing the real structure of the world. Thus, while Helmholtz gave up Kant's theory of the unique status of Euclidean geometry, he held that his own theory of space was in keeping both with Kant's theory and with the most modern work in mathematics, physics, and physiology. Moreover, in his theory of unconscious inferences he accepted the Kantian theory that perception involves judgment. The guiding principle in such unconscious inference is the a priori principle of causation, which extends our knowledge no further than possible experience, but gives us the right to posit unknown causes of our sensations. Helmholtz vigorously rejected metaphysics but extolled philosophy as an ancilla to science. Both the strengths and the obvious weaknesses of Helmholtz's Kantianism were effective in making a return to Kant seem fruitful to science, for it meant that the greatest of German thinkers could be used on the side of science, against metaphysics.


The year 1866 saw the publication of Friedrich Albert Lange's Geschichte des Materialismus (Iserlohn and Leipzig; translated by E. C. Thomas as History of Materialism, 3 vols., London, 18771879). Lange, who was born in 1828 and died, while professor of philosophy at Marburg, in 1875, wrote his massive but readable book to point out the metaphysical mysteries and pretensions of materialism, which traditionally claimed to be only a courageous but unspeculative extension of the results of science into regions previously occupied only by theology and superstition. Like Helmholtz, Lange held that the sensible world is a product of the interaction between the human organism and an unknown reality. The world of experience is determined by this interaction, but the organism itself is only an object of experience, and it is to be understood by psychology and physiology. Causality, needed in all such sciences, is a mode of thought necessary to a mind constituted like ours; processes and principles of thought have physiological bases. Thus, materialism (although a phenomenal materialism, since matter itself is only a phenomenon) is the most likely truth about reality so far as it can be known. But what of Kant's intelligible world? Lange completely rejected Kant's teaching of the rational necessity of the structure of an intelligible but unknowable world; he held that our views of it are only products of poetic fancy (Dichtung ). While Lange defended materialism as a doctrine of reality (phenomena) that serves as a bulwark against theology and metaphysics, he held that because knowledge is not man's whole goal, Dichtung is also important. "Man needs to supplement reality [about which materialism is the best truth we know] with an ideal world of his own creation," and this is a world of value "against which neither logic nor touch of hand nor sight of eye can prevail" (History of Materialism, Vol. III, pp. 342 and 347).

Two things stand out in the works of these precursorsif not direct progenitorsof Neo-Kantianism. Their Kantianism was exclusively theoretical, oriented entirely around the Critique of Pure Reason and neglectful or disdainful of Kant's practical philosophy. This puts them in the line of development of German positivism, a line that goes from them through Alois Riehl and the fictionalist Hans Vaihinger to Ernst Mach and Moritz Schlick. Their Kantianism was also psychological and even physiologicalthe a priori elements they acknowledged were dependent upon the human constitution; the transcendental and logical aspects of Kant's work were neglected or rejected. In this respect they were followed by Hans Cornelius (18631947) and by Richard Hönigswald (18751947), a pupil of Riehl.

Metaphysical Neo-Kantianism

Theoretical and physiological Kantianism was in the air when the twenty-five-year-old Liebmann published his manifesto. Kant und die Epigonen argued that Kant made one great mistake: believing in the existence of the thing-in-itself. This belief, however, was not an essential part of Kant's doctrine, but only a dogmatic residue that could be removed without damage to the rest of the system. However, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Jakob Friedrich Fries, Johann Friedrich Herbart, and Arthur Schopenhauer either did not recognize the belief that there is a thing-in-itself as an error (for instance, Schopenhauer) or, while recognizing it as an error, made analogous errors in their efforts to correct it (Fichte's transcendental ego is as unknowable and unthinkable as the thing-in-itself). The weaknesses thus introduced into their systems were fatal, since they depended upon a concept that Kant had only inadvertently admitted. Hence, none of them could be followed; one had to return to their common source, remove its error, and apply this improved Kantianism to present problems.

While Liebmann's first book showed remnants of a psychological interpretation of Kant, his next book, Zur Analysis der Wirklichkeit (Strasbourg, 1876) argued for a strictly transcendental "logic of facts" whose inspiration was as much Spinozistic as Kantian. In this book Liebmann stood close to the Marburg school, at least in his conclusions. However, in his later Gedanken und Tatsachen (2 vols., Strasbourg, 18821901) he admitted the need and argued for the possibility of a "critical metaphysics" as a "rigorous consideration of human views and hypotheses about the essence of things," growing out of "deep-rooted, ineradicable spiritual needs and intellectual duty" (ibid., 2nd ed., Vol. II, p. 113). His critical metaphysics makes hypotheses about the transcendent and the unknowable, but leaves open a field for value decisions that do not depend on claims to valid knowledge, but only on our wills as they are nurtured by culture. In this line of thought Liebmann seemed to draw closer to the Heidelberg school, but even in his earlier work there were anticipations of Windelband's famous analysis of the differences between historical and scientific knowledge.


Less openly metaphysical than Liebmann's was the realistic Neo-Kantianism of Alois Riehl (18441924). In contrast to Liebmann, Riehl insisted that Kant held to the real existence of things-in-themselves and that this concept is essential to Kant'sand to any soundtheory of knowledge. He asserted that Kant proved only that things-in-themselves cannot be known by pure reason, not that they are not known mediately in sense perception. Phenomena are simply their modes of appearance; they are not in a different ontological realm, but are merely actualizations of their Aristotelian potentialities in the context of a mind. The laws of the organization of phenomena are transcendentally (not psychologically) based on the activity of self-consciousness; their specific characteristics depend on the reality of that of which they are appearances. All knowledge is or can become scientific; philosophy is nothing but a theory of science; metaphysics is "an opiate of the mind."

Nevertheless, Riehl believed it both unavoidable and legitimate to reason hypothetically from phenomena to reality, for metaphysical hypotheses cannot be entirely excluded from science itself. He argued, for instance, for a double-aspect psychophysical theory of the relationship between mind and the world, for a partial duplication of phenomenal laws in the real world, and for complete determinism. The tone of his philosophy, however, was somewhat positivistic; he said he acknowledged "the metaphysical" but not "metaphysics." With wissenschaftliche (scientific) philosophy he contrasted unwissenschaftliche philosophy, or classical speculative metaphysics, which he rejected; and with both he contrasted nichtwissenschaftliche philosophy as a practical discipline for the realization of humanly created values (Wertbegung and Geistesführung ). In his later life he was most concerned with the latter.

other metaphysical interpretations

Another realistic metaphysical interpretation of Kant was given by the Kant philologist Erich Adickes (18661928) in his Kants Lehre von der doppelten Affektion unseres Ich (Tübingen, 1929).

Other attempts at "critical metaphysics" on a Kantian basis were made by Johannes Volkelt (18481930) and by Friedrich Paulsen (18461908). The former's Kants Erkenntnistheorie (Leipzig, 1879) and the latter's Entwicklungsgeschichte der Kantischen Erkenntnistheorie (Leipzig, 1875) tried to show that Kant himself was an idealistic metaphysician malgré lui. Later works designed to bring out the metaphysics in Kant were by Max Wundt (Kant als Metaphysiker, Stuttgart, 1924), Heinz Heimsoeth (articles collected in Studien zur Philosophie Immanuel Kants, Cologne, 1956), and Gottfried Martin (Kant, Ontologie und Wissenschaftslehre, Cologne, 1951; translated by P. G. Lucas as Kant's Metaphysics and Theory of Science, Manchester, U.K., and New York, 1955). Martin Heidegger's Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik (Bonn, 1929; translated by J. S. Churchill as Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, Bloomington, IN, 1962) presented an extreme form of this view but falls outside the scope of Neo-Kantian intentions.

Marburg Neo-Kantianism

By the standards of recent philosophy Marburg Neo-Kantianism, or panlogistic transcendental philosophy, was no less metaphysical, but by the standards of the time its orientation around the "fact of science" seemed to make it at least antispeculative. In launching the journal of the Marburg school, Hermann Cohen and Paul Natorp wrote: "Whoever is bound to us stands with us on the foundation of the transcendental method. Philosophy, to us, is bound to the fact of science, as this elaborates itself. Philosophy, therefore, to us is the theory of the principles of science and therewith of all culture" (Philosophische Arbeiten, Vol. I, No. 1, 1906).

hermann cohen

Hermann Cohen (18421918), a younger colleague of Lange's at Marburg, rejected the naturalism he believed to be inherent in the Kantianism of Helmholtz, Lange, and Liebmann. They were wrong in thinking philosophy should begin with an analysis of consciousness and should show how conscious human beings apply concepts to the data of sensation in order to produce phenomenalistic world pictures that are distinguished from things as they are. The fact to be understood is not this highly dubious psychological process; the fact is science itself and, in ethics, it is not human motives and aspirations and feelings of duty but the fact of civil society under law as constructed in the science of jurisprudence. Kant himself had tried to understand "the fact of science and culture," but he failed to separate this fact from dubious psychological and phenomenological facts he seemed to be dealing with.

Logic for Cohen is not at all psychologistic; it is not even formal. The very notion of formal logic presupposes something not formal: data drawn from some other source, be it pure intuition or perception. Logic, as Cohen saw it, is the logic of knowledge, not the logic of empty thought; it is the logic of truth, in which any assertion gains its status as true solely by virtue of its systematic position in a body of universal laws that, in turn, require each other on methodological grounds. Thought, Cohen taught, accepts nothing as given and is not true of anything independent of itcertainly not of intuitional data, as Kant believed. Thought generates content as well as form, and the content of self-contained thought is reality itself as object and goal of knowledge. This extravagant panlogism was based on Cohen's ingenious interpretation of the history of the differential calculus, which he saw as the logic of mathematical physics. Not number and not observed motion, as Kant believed, are given as raw data to science; rather, the mathematical differential, which is not given at all but is created by thought, is the necessary device for the creation of nature as object of possible experience: "This mathematical generation of motion [by integration of the derivative] and thereby nature itself is the triumph of pure thinking" (Logik der reinen Erkenntnis, Berlin, 1902, p. 20). Through an interpretation of Kant's teachings concerning intensive magnitudes of sensations, Cohen saw in the method of the calculus a paradigm of the category of origin (Ursprung ) and the logical process of production (Erzeugung ) to which every fact owes its reality; that is, its position in a logically necessary scheme.

Through the work of thought on its own materials, Cohen believed he could dispense with all independent givens in knowledge. Nothing is given (gegeben ); all is problematic (aufgegeben ). Fact is that which is completely determined by thought. The thing-in-itself is not a thing at all. It does not exist, but is only a thought of a limit (Grenzbegriff ) to our approach to a complete determination of things as they are; that is, as they would fully satisfy systematic thought.

Cohen's pupil Ernst Cassirer spoke of him as "one of the most resolute Platonists that has ever appeared in the history of philosophy." When Cohen said, for example, "Thinking itself produces what is to be held to be" (ibid., p. 67; cf. p. 402), he was not speaking of thought as a process in an individual. "Thought" is not the name of a process, but refers only to the corpus of the unending history of science. To be, then, is to be thought, but not to be thought in somebody's consciousness; to be thought means to be asserted under valid and immanent a priori principles that inescapably determine the unique structure of mathematical physics. Cohen was as much of a dogmatist as Kant himself with regard to the structure of science.

The original stages of Cohen's teachings are found in his three commentaries on Kant (Kants Theorie der Erfahrung, Berlin, 1871; Kants Begrundung der Ethik, Berlin, 1877; Kants Begrundung der Aesthetik, Berlin, 1889), one on each Critique. They are continuous criticisms of all of Kant's "givens"; for example, experience, intuition, categories, duty, things-in-themselves. The final stages are contained in his three systematic works (Logik der reinen Erkenntnis, Berlin, 1902; Ethik des reinen Willens, Berlin, 1904; Aesthetik des reinen Gefühls, 2 vols., Berlin, 1912), which parallel the three Critiques. At its midpoint Cohen's thought was close to the contemporary rejections of psychologism by Alexius Meinong and Edmund Husserl; at its end it would have taken only the "bathos of experience," to use Kant's words, to change it, in principle, into a kind of positivism or even historicism.


The principal thinker among the second generation of Marburg Neo-Kantians was Paul Natorp (18541924). It fell to him to deal with the new developments in science (especially the theory of relativity, in his Die logischen Grundlagen der exakten Wissenschaften, Leipzig, 1910) by penetrating to a deeper level of methodology than Cohen could reach in his own work, which was largely restricted to classical mathematics and physics.

More important, it was Natorp's task to introduce the whole field of psychology into the body of knowledge considered and understood in Cohen's way, and thereby to fill the lacuna Cohen left between Bewusstsein überhaupt (consciousness in general, the "fact" of science) and the limited individual human consciousness. Natorp's Einleitung in die Psychologie (Freiburg, 1888) and his Allgemeine Psychologie nach kritischer Methode (Tübingen, 1912) attempted, first, to apply Cohen's transcendental method to psychology instead of leaving it exposed to the naturalistic methods of Cohen's and Natorp's rivals, such as Riehl. In this attempt Natorp came close to results like those of Wilhelm Dilthey without, he thought, having to draw his relativistic, skeptical, and historicistic conclusions. And, second, these books attempted to bridge the gap between the objective world of phenomena and the nonphenomenal, nonnatural self that possessed the knowledge of the phenomenal world. Cohen had moved so far from Kant toward Hegel that it was for him an almost insignificant accident that individual men and women know anything; Bewusstheit (known-ness), not Bewusstsein (consciousness), was important for him. Natorp had to undertake another almost Copernican revolution against objective panlogism without at the same time naturalizing the knowing subject, which would have led to relativism and skepticism.

He performed the first part of his task by the classical Kantian move of seeing empirical ego and empirical object as standing in a necessary correlation with each other, not as independent phenomena; the latter part he accomplished by insisting that the pure ego cannot be an objectit is as much a Grenzbegriff as the thing-in-itself. For Natorp the objective and the subjective were not two realms, either opposed to each other or one including the other. Rather, they were two directions of knowledge, objectification and subjectification, each starting from the same phenomenon and each employing the transcendental method of categorial constitution, resolution into Ursprung and Erzeugung. Just as Cohen's antipsychologistic panlogism had brought him close to Husserl's Logische Untersuchungen, Natorp's linking of psychology and panlogism brought him close to Husserl's Ideen ; and it is easy to see how Nicolai Hartmann, Natorp's pupil, could move over into the phenomenological camp (J. Klein, "Hartmann und die Marburger Schule," in Nicolai Hartmann, der Denker und sein Werk, by Heinz Heimsoeth and Robert Heiss, Göttingen, 1952).


The last great representative of Marburg Neo-Kantianism was Ernst Cassirer (18741945), whose works on the philosophy of science continued the line of argument initiated by Natorp and show some close resemblances to positivism. Cassirer's most important contribution, however, was to extend the Marburg conception of Erzeugung to the whole range of human culture (language, myth, art, religion, statecraft), ending not in panlogism but in "pansymbolism."

Other important Marburg Neo-Kantians were Rudolf Stammler (18561938) in the philosophy of law; Karl Vorländer (18601928), the historian of philosophy and the leading Kantian socialist (Kant und der Sozialismus, Berlin, 1900; Kant und Marx, Tübingen, 1911); Artur Buchenau (18791946), Albert Görland (18691952), and Arthur Liebert (18781946). A moderate form of Marburg Neo-Kantianism is represented in America by W. H. Werkmeister (The Basis and Structure of Knowledge, New York, 1948).

GÖttingen Neo-Kantianism

In strong reaction against Marburg there arose, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Neo-Friesian school in Göttingen, under the leadership of Leonard Nelson (18821927). Jakob Friedrich Fries (17731843) had interpreted Kant psychologically, not transcendentally; in this he was followed by Jürgen Bona Meyer (18291897) in his Kants Psychologie (Berlin, 1870). Lange and Helmholtz were psychologistic in their Kantianism, taking the results of experimental psychology as having a bearing on the a priori. Nelson, on the contrary, professed to avoid psychologism and its attendant skepticism by using psychological introspection to discover the principles of experience in the spontaneity of reason; these principles could then be deduced (in the Kantian sense) from the analysis of experience into its necessary conditions. In this, Nelson developed the views of Fries, whom he defended against the accusation of psychologism, and opposed the psychological or physiological interpretations of the experimental and empirical psychologists.

Kant's transcendental deduction was regarded by Nelson as circular if it was meant as a proof; it began with the experience (science, mathematics, morality) it was meant to justify. The circle might have been broken by Kant's subjective deduction, but this was jettisoned in the second edition of the Critique. Nelson proposed to reestablish it, or rather to put his own deduction into its place. Upon introspection, we find principles we know immediately to be true and that we hold by a Cartesian-like "principle of the self-confidence of reason." The discovery of these self-evident principles is a psychological process; the principles, however, are not psychological but metaphysical in Kant's sense; that is, as a priori synthetic truths based on concepts, not on intuition. They are shown to be the same as those uncovered by a transcendental analysis of science and ordinary experience. (In ethics Nelson followed an analogous procedure.) In this way Nelson thought he could use psychology without falling prey to either naturalism or skepticism. A good example of his method is to be found in the well-known Das Heilige (Gotha, 1917; translated by J. W. Harvey as The Idea of the Holy, New York, 1958) by Nelson's colleague Rudolf Otto. Nelson never had the influence in Germany that was enjoyed by many other Neo-Kantians, although he was revered by many disciples in fields related to philosophy. There has recently been an increased interest in his work, and several English translations have appeared.

Heidelberg Neo-Kantianism

The Heidelberg school of Neo-Kantianism, led by Windelband and Heinrich Rickert, was not restricted to the University of Heidelberg, and is sometimes known as the Baden school or the Southwest German school of Neo-Kantianism. Wilhelm Windelband (18481915) was the most eminent historian of philosophy of his time, with the possible exception of Dilthey. Like Dilthey, he did not succeed in working out a complete system of philosophy, but certain of his ideas were decisive for the more systematic work of his followers in Heidelberg. His most characteristic doctrine was that the epistemological problem is really a problem in axiology; a judgment is known to be true not by comparison with an object (thing-in-itself) but by its conformity to an immediately experienced obligation to believe it. The teaching for which Windelband is chiefly remembered, however, was his distinction between natural and historical sciences as nomothetic and ideographic (law-giving and picturing the unique individual), respectively. The elaboration of these two points led to the systematic priority of axiological criteria to epistemological criteria, to the theory of the parallelism of norms and cultural consciousness, and to efforts to develop a Kantian categorization of historical and cultural experience.


The great system builder of the Heidelberg school was Heinrich Rickert (18631936), professor in Freiburg and then Windelband's successor in Heidelberg. Rickert, like Windelband, regarded judging as a form of valuing, truth being the value intended by this act. There are two realms of objects that may be judged; that is, that are objects of knowledgethe sensible world of science (about which Rickert accepted most of Kant's views) and an intelligible world of nonsensuous objects of experience that we know not by perception but by understanding (Verstehen ). These latter are cultural objects (history, art, morality, institutions). Although not reducible to sense and thus not under the categories of nature, they are not metaphysical but are within experience and correspond, roughly, to Hegel's objective spirit. Both cultural objects and nature, as objects, require (in the Kantian manner) a correlative subject that cannot be objectified. This is "the third realm of being," which Rickert calls "pro-physical"; it is Kant's transcendental ego and Hegel's subjective spirit. There is a fourth realm of being, the metaphysical proper, which is only an object of faith (in the Kantian sense) and which we refer to in religion and in the transition from scientific philosophy to Weltanschauung.

By keeping the ethical "this side" of the division between the experiential and the metaphysical, Rickert was able to bring about a closer liaison between the theoretical and the practical than Kant had established. The primacy of practical reason does not, for Rickert, mark the supremacy of valuing over knowing, but signifies the valuational dimension of knowing itself. Autonomy is thus the basis not only of ethics but also of thought even in science. Rickert criticized the Kantian conception of experience as too thin; not only nature, but also history, must be categorized out of the heterogeneous continuum of data, and from these categorizations arise the nomothetic and ideographic disciplines. In all these points Rickert was under the influence of both Fichte and Hegel, but his conceptual framework remained Kantian: a transcendental nonobjectifiable basis (realm 3) for experience (realms 1 and 2) and an unknown realm of objects of faith (realm 4).


Other important Heidelberg Neo-Kantians were Hugo Münsterberg (18631916), Jonas Cohn (18691947), Bruno Bauch (18771942; Wahrheit, Wert und Wirklichkeit, Leipzig, 1923), and Richard Kroner (Von Kant bis Hegel, 2 vols., Tübingen, 19211924). Kroner's Kant's Weltanschauung (Tübingen, 1914, translated by J. E. Smith, Chicago and Cambridge, U.K., 1956) is the only presentation in English of the characteristic Heidelberg interpretation of the historical Kant.

Sociological Neo-Kantianism

Several philosophers close to Lebensphilosophie and concerned with the methodology of the Geisteswissenschaften were influenced by Kant's doctrine that we categorially construct the world of experience and that speculative metaphysics is impossible as science, but instead of having theories concerning the transcendental origin of the structural factors, they found the origin of the world of experience in the social situation. The most important of these philosophers were Wilhelm Dilthey (18331912), who is not usually characterized as a Neo-Kantian although Kantian elements are present in his thought, and Georg Simmel (18581918).

At various times Simmel took different attitudes toward, or at least emphasized different aspects of, Kantianismthe psychologistic and pragmatic, the transcendental, and the sociohistorical. He held that categories develop in the course of history, and that the structures of Hegel's objective spirit are historical products that cannot be taken ready-made for analysis in the Marburg manner. "[Even] the kind of science humanity has at any given moment depends upon the kind of humanity it is at that moment" (Hauptprobleme der Philosophie, Leipzig, 1910, Ch. 1). Because forms cannot be discerned except in the specific contents in which they appear, no categorial system is capable of structuring all experience. Different types of individuals have different styles for this structuring, and cultures are identified by their production of specific a priori forms for knowledge, the experience of values, and images of the world as a whole (systems of metaphysics).

Between the Heidelberg tradition and the Dilthey-Simmel position there were Max Weber (18641921) and Eduard Spranger. Neo-Kantian elements in the sociology of knowledge are especially clear in the works of Max Adler (Das Soziologische in Kants Erkenntniskritik, Vienna, 1924) and Karl Mannheim (18931947).

Windelband said, "To understand Kant means to go beyond Kant." Most of the philosophers dealt with here did go beyond Kant, and their later works contained little that was specifically Kantian. Even the movements as a whole were more explicitly Kantian in their early periods than in their later ones. All this was to be expected of active and creative minds and groups. By the end of World War I, Neo-Kantianism as an institution ceased to be a dominant force in German intellectual life, partly through the death of most of its leaders and partly through defection. Rapid changes in logic and natural science favored the more pragmatic systems of positivism in Berlin, Prague, and Vienna; the greater experiential resources of phenomenology favored the rival school in Freiburg, Munich, and Cologne; the German cultural crisis called for Lebensphilosophie and speculative metaphysics. None of these movements, however, was free of Kantian elements, which might not have been passed on to them but for the Neo-Kantians' rediscovery of Kant. Their Neo-Kantian heritage has given repeated confirmation of an aphorism attributed to Liebmann: "You can philosophize with Kant, or you can philosophize against Kant, but you cannot philosophize without Kant."

See also Cassirer, Ernst; Causation: Philosophy of Science; Cohen, Hermann; Dilthey, Wilhelm; Fichte, Johann Gottlieb; Fischer, Kuno; Fries, Jakob Friedrich; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Heidegger, Martin; Helmholtz, Hermann Ludwig von; Herbart, Johann Friedrich; Hönigswald, Richard; Husserl, Edmund; Irrationalism; Kant, Immanuel; Kantian Ethics; Lange, Friedrich Albert; Liebert, Arthur; Liebmann, Otto; Logical Knowledge; Mach, Ernst; Mannheim, Karl; Materialism; Meinong, Alexius; Natorp, Paul; Nelson, Leonard; Otto, Rudolf; Paulsen, Friedrich; Positivism; Psychologism; Rationalism in Ethics; Reinhold, Karl Leonhard; Rickert, Heinrich; Riehl, Alois; Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von; Schlick, Moritz; Schopenhauer, Arthur; Simmel, Georg; Spranger, (Franz Ernst) Eduard; Vaihinger, Hans; Weber, Max; Windelband, Wilhelm.


Studies of and works by individual Neo-Kantians are listed in the respective articles. There is very little material in English on Neo-Kantianism, but see Ernst Cassirer, "Neo-Kantianism," in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14th ed. (1930), Vol. XVI, pp. 215216; and R. B. Perry, Philosophy of the Recent Past (New York: Scribners, 1926), pp. 145160. A complete history is being written by Mariano Campo; Vol. I of his Schizzo storico della esegesi e critica kantiana (Varese, 1959) covers the period up to about 1900. The most complete study, with excellent bibliographies, is K. Oesterreich in Friedrich Überwegs Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie, 12th ed. (Berlin, 1923), Vol. IV, pp. 410483.

G. Lehmann reports the beginnings of the movement in "Kant im Spätidealismus und die Anfänge der neukantischen Bewegung," in Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung 17 (1963): 438457; see also his "Voraussetzungen und Grenzen der systematischen Kantinterpretation," in Kant-Studien 49 (1957): 364388.

Good comparative studies of Neo-Kantianism are included in Wolfgang Ritzel, Studien zum Wandeln der Kantauffassung (Meisenheim, 1952) and H. Levy, Die Hegel-Renaissance in der deutschen Philosophie (Charlottenburg, Germany: R. Heise, 1927). Johannes Hessen, Die Religionsphilosophie des Neukantianismus (Freiburg: Herder, 1924) gives a Catholic criticism.

Authoritative presentations of two school programs are Paul Natorp, Kant und die Marburger Schule (Berlin, 1912; also in Kant-Studien 17 [1912]: 193221) and Heinrich Rickert, Die Heidelberger Tradition und Kants Kritizismus (Berlin, 1934). The posthumously published (and incomplete) work by H. Dussort, L'école de Marburg (Paris, 1963) is excellent on the movement up through Cohen.

other recommended sources

Adair Toteff, Christopher. "Neo-Kantianism: The German Idealism Movement." In The Cambridge History of Philosophy 18701945, edited by Thomas Baldwin. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Brandist, Craig. "Two Routes 'To Concreteness' in the Work of the Bakhtin Circle." Journal of the History of Ideas 63(3) (2002): 521537.

Hallberg, Fred W. "Neo-Kantian Constraints on Legitimate Religious Beliefs." American Journal of Theology and Philosophy 16(3) (1995): 279298.

Kröhnke, Klaus C. The Rise of Neo-Kantianism: German Academic Philosophy Between Idealism and Positivism, translated by R. J. Hollingdale. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Luthe, Rudolf. "The Development of the Concept of Concrete Subjectivity from Kant to Neo-Kantianism." Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 13 (1982): 154167.

Lewis White Beck (1967)


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A term employed in the history of philosophy to designate the sustained attempt, by a number of groups and from different points of view, to reconstitute the thought of Immanuel kant as the basis for a philosophy that would meet the problematic and speculative exigencies of the second half of the 19th century. It was primarily a German movement, with centers at a number of German universities; it was not exclusively so, however, for its influence was felt in England, France, Italy, and, with the emigration of Ernst cassirer, one of the last great representatives of the movement, in the U.S. Otto Liebmann (18401912), in his work Kant und die Epigonen (Stuttgart 1865), is credited both with the decisive initiation of the current and with the coining of its rubric, "back to Kant," for he concluded the studies of the work of J. G. fichte, F. W. J. schelling, G. W. F. hegel, A. schopenhauer, etc., which comprise the book, with this phrase. The rubric cannot be taken, however, as indicating a single unitary movement, for there existed a great diversity of opinion as to the doctrines of Kant to which return should be made. Moreover, even when some degree of consent was achieved on this point, various interpretations of the favored doctrines were offered. These interpretations were not always wholly self-consistent or consistent with each other; nor, finally, were they authentic interpretations of Kant that realized all the potentialities of his thought. On the whole, the cultural pressure of positivism tended to make the Neo-Kantians place an excessively narrow interpretation on Kant's philosophy.

Historical Background. The historical background of the Neo-Kantian movement is provided by positivism, toward which Neo-Kantianism exhibits an ambivalent attitude.

On the one hand, its central motive is a rejection of the positivist claims; on the other, it exhibits the influence of positivism in many facets of its doctrines and methods. Thus, it repudiates the attitudes of positivism as dogmatic and antiphilosophical; at the same time, it accepts the central thesis of positivism, i.e., that physicomathematical science provides the paradigm of all valid forms of knowledge. In accordance with this view, it conceives the philosophical task as the critical investigation of the conditions that make this kind of knowledge possible and valid. This conception of the task of philosophy constitutes the real point of contact and reference between Neo-Kantianism and Kant; for Kant had conceived philosophy as the critical examination and determination of the a priori principles and structures that render experience of the physical world and action in the moral sphere possible and provide the basis for scientific, ethical, and preferential discourse. At the same time, Neo-Kantianism devotes considerable attention to the tradition of Romanticism, which it criticized and rejected far more forcibly than it did positivism (see romanticism, philosophical). Romanticism had directed sharp criticism against physicomathematical science on the basis of the abstractness intrinsic to it; it had proposed instead a conception of philosophy as concrete knowledge, free from and unlimited by such abstractness. Romanticism had, in its own way, claimed Kant as progenitor; Neo-Kantianism rejected this claim as spurious, pointing out that the essence of Kantian method was scientific rigor, a quality conspicuously lacking among the Romantic philosophers. Its return to Kant was an effort to preserve the positivist ideal of a philosophy as scientifically rigorous as a physico-mathematical discipline and, with this, the Kantian transcendental values. The historical development of the movement is determined by its efforts to realize this ideal in the various areas of speculative interest.

Principal Currents. The principal currents comprising the Neo-Kantian movement, or at least conventionally allied with it, are (1) the realist current, whose principal exponent was A. Riehl; (2) the psychological current, represented by L. Nelson, the follower of the psychologist J. F. Fries; (3) the metaphysical current, a chief representative of which was the same Leibmann who is credited with originating the Neo-Kantian motto;(4) the logical current, called the School of Marburg because its center was at that university, led by H. Cohen and counting as its chief figures P. Natorp and E. Cassirer; (5) the value theory current, called also the School of Baden, including among its adherents such distinguished figures as H. Rickert, W. Windelband, H. Münsterburg, and, by a looser connection, W. Dilthey; and finally, for the sake of completeness, (6) the physiological current, associated with the researches of H. A. von Humboldt and the relativistic current of G. Simmel. The important figure of Bruno bauch was dominant in the movement for many years; though formed in the School of Baden and always devoted chiefly to its theoretical interests, he exercised, through his editorship of the important journal Kantstudien, a guiding influence over all the currents of the movement. From the point of view of theoretical interest, clarity of development, and distinction of achievement, the logical School of Marburg and the value-theory oriented School of Baden are the outstanding elements of the Neo-Kantian movement.

Alois Riehl. The realistic current found its chief exponent in Alois Riehl (18441924), whose chief work, Der philosophische Kritizismus (2 v. Leipzig 187687), was the basic document of the movement. Riehl strikes a characteristic note of all Neo-Kantians by his resolute rejection of metaphysics as a philosophical science. Philosophy, for him, is a science of experience and what does not fall within experience can find no expression in philosophical discourse. At the same time, he rejects, en bloc, all the idealistic and Romantic interpretations of Kant; these assign an exclusive role to the subject, which, in Hegel's phrase, takes the world onto itself. Riehl returns rather to Kant's original distinction and insists that from the subject can be derived only the form of knowledge; the content of knowledge must come from experience, and ultimately from sense experience. It must be noted that, while returning to this original Kantian distinction, Riehl tends to overlook the many difficulties to which it had given rise and the efforts made, in the idealistic tradition, to meet these difficulties. Riehl is one of those who was forced by the cultural pressure of positivism to impose an excessively narrow interpretation on Kantian thought. For Riehl, the Kant of the Critique of Pure Reason is very nearly the only Kant, and philosophy becomes identical with the theory of knowledge and its adjunct problems. He remains strictly faithful to Kant in that he conceives the theory of knowledge in gnoseological, and never in psychological, terms.

Leonard Nelson. The last-mentioned attitude sets Riehl in contrast with the psychological current, the chief exponent of which was Leonard Nelson (18821927). Nelson, professor at Göttingen from 1919 until his death and founder of the Neo-Friesian School, proposed, on the model of Jakob Friedrich Fries (17731843), to develop the critical gnoseology of Kant on psychological bases and in accord with a strict psychological method. The author of many studies and editor of the journal of the Neo-Friesian School (Abhandlungen der Friesschen Schule ) for a number of years, Nelson is best known, perhaps, for his contributions to this journal questioning the possibility of the theory of knowledgein much the same sense as Riehl had proposed to make such a theory the exclusive concern of philosophy. Nelson's criticism is based on the fact that this theory would presume to offer a criterion for determining the validity of knowledge, while the status of such a criterion would be entirely ambiguous. On the one hand, it could not itself be knowledge; nor, on the other hand, could it fall outside the sphere of knowledge, since a criterion, to be used, must be known. His solution was to return to the simpler and immediate elements of consciousness that could become the object of psychological treatment. The entire process of the Kantian critiques was thus recast in psychologically descriptive termsand not only the processes of knowledge but such ethical principles as the categorical imperative as well. Nelson enjoyed a considerable influence, but this waned rapidly during the period between World War I and World War II.

Otto Liebmann. The metaphysical current of Neo-Kantianism found its chief exponent in Liebmann. The fame of his early work Kant und die Epigonen tends to place in the shade his more positive and constructive work, precisely the work that establishes him as the leading figure of the metaphysical current of Neo-Kantianism. His avowed purpose was to develop the basic problems of Kantianism in such a manner as to achieve a synthesis between the demands of criticism and those of metaphysics. It might also be said that he sought to carry criticism beyond the point where Kant had left it to build a systematic metaphysics that would be faithful to the conditions laid down by the critical philosophy. An idea of what he meant by metaphysics may be gathered by his assertion that, whereas physics deducts facts from laws, the role of metaphysics is to determine the why of all that happens in nature and experience. Metaphysics in this sense is possible only if it is at the same time critical, by which he meant that it proceeds by a hypothetical consideration of the essence of things. Yet his would be a metaphysics relative to the human mind, since the critical attitude demands that, at every point in the construction of that metaphysics, the conditions of human understanding be taken as limits and terms of reference. Liebmann made a like condition for the unity of ethical theory and the critical attitude. There are no absolute values, since values are relative to the valuing subject; yet, with constant reference to that subject, it is still possible to achieve an ethics of transcendental value.

Marburg School. Equally adamant in its opposition to the "psychologization" of Kant and inclined in an antimetaphysical direction was the School of Marburg, perhaps the most distinguished of the Neo-Kantian groups. It was a school in a very true sense, for it had a physical location, identifiable personnel in constant and explicit communication with each other, and a commonly accepted goal and method. Founded by Hermann Cohen (18431918), it retained during its entire career the stamp of his personality and the direction he imparted to it. Cohen also attracted men of high caliber both in their formation and scholarship and in their theoretical capacity. The most eminent of these were Paul Natorp (18541924) and Ernst Cassirer (18741945), the lastnamed bringing international prestige to the group by his masterly historical work and his well-researched and carefully articulated speculative efforts. An excellent account of the school and its work is provided by Natorp in his essay "Kant und die Marburger Schule," Kantstudien 17 (1912) 193221.

The direction given by Cohen and characteristic of the school throughout its career is logical and methodological; its main link with Kant is the Critique of Pure Reason. The chief concern is the determination of the logical-transcendental conditions of science. Among these, it assigns a prominence to the logical structures that condition experience, tending to dissolve intuition into the logical processes and no longer assigning it an autonomous position and function; it thus truncates a goodly portion of the Critique of Pure Reason. The diminishing of the elements of immediacy in experience tends to throw into clearer relief the controlled methodological procedures of science and to reveal science as less and less dependent on the "given" element in experience. The logical processes of thought tend more and more to determine the object completely, though never, in keeping with the notion of the "thing-in-itself," entirely encompassing it.

Though concentrated in the area of science and pure reason, the attention of the Marburg School also embraced the areas of ethics and aesthetics, achieving notable insights in both. It tended to absorb the phenomenon of religion into the ethical area, a tendency already perceptible in Kant, though not explicit in his intention. The ethical field, in turn, was largely socialized by both Cohen and Natorp and, subsequently, by other members and adherents of the school.

Another notable characteristic of the Marburg School was its constant interrelation of theoretical and historical interests. Its theoretical works exhibit a high degree of erudition and historical sense, and its historical works are distinguished by the way in which they are related to, and made to serve, the clarification of theoretical problems of philosophy. Cassirer especially distinguished himself in this way.

Baden School. No less eminent in its personnel and achievements was the School of Baden. This current of Neo-Kantianism numbered among its representatives the historian of philosophy W. Windelband (18481912), the theoretician of value H. Rickert (18631936), and the incomparable W. dilthey (18331911), whose work was predominantly in the theory of history and of culture. In justice to Dilthey, it should be noted that his achievement places him outside the limits of any school and establishes him as an original thinker in his own right.

The general character of the School of Baden may best be indicated by contrasting it with that of the Marburg School. The Baden School was convinced of the necessity of a critical study of culture and values at least as philosophical as that sought for the sciences of nature in the Marburg School. It was convinced, moreover, that the instruments necessary for such a work were present in the critical philosophy of Kant, and especially in the Critique of Judgment. Windelband's reflections on history and his contraposition of history to the natural sciences as equal areas of knowledge and investigation led him to establish a classification of the sciences into nomothetical and idiographic. The natural sciences are defined as nomothetic because they seek to establish the laws of nature; the sciences of culture are called, by contrast, idiographic because they seek the form of cultures. The natural, or nomothetic, sciences generalize particular facts that are considered typical instances of a single species, whereas the idiographic sciences are individualizing, seeking the form of a particular culture or expressive work.

Windelband's student Rickert continued this line of thought, seeking to advance beyond his teacher by establishing the difference between natural and cultural sciences on a more formal basis; this formal basis was the reference of the sciences of culture to value in the sense in which R. H. Lotze (181781) had defined that term. The cultural sciences have value as their formal object. On this basis, Rickert undertook the elaboration of a general theory of value.

This tendency was carried to its culmination by Dil-they both in theory and in practice. For Dilthey the "sciences of the spirit" (i.e., of value, culture, and history) are gnoseologically anterior to the sciences of nature; indeed, all science is a product of historical experience and expression. Dilthey developed a psychological basis for the sciences of the spirit that involved a subtle theory of the hermeneutics of the historical document. He applied his theories with great perception in such works as his Leben Schleiermachers (2 v. Berlin 186770), which revealed the potential of biography in the history of ideas and offered a new conception of cultural biography.

Influence. The influence of Neo-Kantianism may be seen in every major figure in German thought to the end of the 19th century. In England a "return to Kant" movement is to be found in Robert Adamson (18521902), in France in C. B. Renouvier (18151903), and in Italy in Francesco Fiorentino (183494).

See Also: kantianism; criticism, philosophical.

Bibliography: g. varet, Manuel de bibliographie philosophique, 2 v. (Paris 1956) 1:476490. i. m. bocheŃski, Contemporary European Philosophy, tr. d. nicholl and k. aschenbrenner (Berkeley 1956). f. c. copleston, History of Philosophy (Westminster, MD 1946) v.7. h. lÜbbe, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765); suppl., Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil: Dokumente und kommentare, ed. h. s. brechter et al., pt. 1 (1966) 2 7:911913; Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 4:142125. k. vorlÄnder, Kant und sein Einfluss auf das deutsche Denken (2d ed. Bielefeld 1922). a. deneffe, Kant und die katholische Wahrheit (Freiburg 1922).

[a. r. caponigri]


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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.