Culture philosophy

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A philosophy of culture is used to describe a philosophy that formulates cultural theories , expresses distance from traditional views and reflects cultural phenomena. It developed around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Century in the context of social and political changes in the pre-, war- and post-war period of the First World War. Intellectuals (e.g. Simmel and Valéry ) questioned or rejected the culture-bearing theories of idealistic philosophies, especially those of Hegels and Kant , on the occasion of the millions of deaths and an all-round loss of norms . Today, cultural philosophy is also emerging in the 1980s cultural studies assigned. Its representatives distance themselves from the limitation of their science to a school science of philosophy.

Culture as a common activity

Some cultural critics of the time (including Oswald Spengler ) saw the end of culture. The majority represented a program critical of idealism and thus tied in with ideas from the 19th century. This program wanted to initiate the reform of philosophical thought: philosophical theories were to be adapted to the needs of people and the scientific demands of the time. The view was passed that culture was a structure of different "realms of being" which consisted of qualified products of the arts and sciences. Using these products, it was claimed, "people of culture" developed.

The events of the war and the preceding and subsequent socio-political changes made this idea no longer universally valid. At the beginning of the 20th century, cultural philosophers began to regard culture as a common task for all people. The changing products and structures of joint action were now regarded as forms of expression of culture. Culture was viewed as a dynamic structure, as "an ensemble of interactions" that people produce together and that serves the individual to orientate himself in life. The “peculiar reciprocal relationship” between the individual and the community is culture. "Your salary for us only exists in that it (what has been created together) is constantly appropriated anew and thus always created anew."

The changeover to this functional (positivistic) way of thinking about culture shapes the self-image of cultural philosophy and is reflected in theories that have an innovative effect on cultural studies. A characteristic feature is the critical reflection on cultural phenomena, as it was called for in connection with ideas from the first half of the 20th century after the Second World War (including Arendt , Horkheimer , Marcuse ).

Sketch of a cultural change

Times of "upheaval" are of cultural-philosophical or cultural-scientific interest. The following section contains some phenomena from the period of upheaval or the 'caesura' of the 19th and 20th centuries. Century. Cultural philosophers and cultural scientists have repeatedly addressed and examined this period until today.

Ubiquitous traditional views

The last third of the 19th century was marked by internal and external political changes in the course of German unification. The majority of people thought and felt politically nationalistic. They followed a popular philosophy that was influenced by variations of Kantian, Hegelian and romantic ideas, depending on inclination and denominational ties. At the universities there was conformity and everyone was obliged to obey the Prussian bureaucracy. Philosophical faculties saw it as their task to justify the Prussian state idealism. Reforms were essentially a state task. Curricula, exams and appointments were mainly subject to the Prussian authorities and the influence of the corporations . Professors were supported who felt committed to the 'spirit of idealism' or to popular philosophy. Philosophical orientations, if classified as hostile to metaphysics, led to the refusal of appeals. Marxist and socialist ideas were banned, and liberal professors were also rare. The standard of research was high and internationally recognized.

New perspectives spread

New scientific working methods and theories that rejected metaphysics and also questioned the classical world view of physics, such as B. Ernst Mach, became a problem for universities. They questioned the self-evident belief that truths can be found by empirical and metaphysical means. The relativity of research results, which, as many assumed, excluded Kant's transcendental philosophy, became a natural, scientific basis for the natural sciences.

This had consequences in the humanities. While Ranke still believed that world history was moving towards a higher and ultimately harmonious order willed by God, his imitators (epigones) operated in the humanities faculties of the empire with a rather secularized concept of power. At the end of the story, the victory of the most capable nations should stand in the struggle for survival. Power and culture, it was believed, would unite with the achievements of the empire for victory.

The cultural philosopher and historian Karl Lamprecht looked for laws of historical development and advocated a concept that came close to that of French and English positivism. The neo-Kantians also indicated a departure from old certainties. Heinrich Rickert, Georg Simmel, Max Weber, and Georg Jellinek advocated scientific value relativism. The suspicion was growing that knowledge depends on the viewpoint of the observer and that absolute truths elude people.

Marxist ideas pushed through the walls of the university and made intellectual struggle inevitable. Gustav Schmoller, Lujo Brentano and Adolf Wagner were looking for a way between classic economic liberalism and Marxism and met with historians and lawyers for discussion in the "Verein für Sozialpolitik" founded in 1872. The challenge posed by Marxism is believed to have fueled the rise of sociology.

What was said was not disseminated until it was reproduced in newspapers, magazines, books and brochures. If the opinions became too liberal, the sanctions of the state authority were available and were mobilized for illiberal purposes.

The First World War

Historians characterize the First World War today as the end of an era that was characterized by the socio-political power of the empire and the ideologies associated with it. One can understand the failure in war and revolutions as the result of one's politics and overall constitution. Rigidity of institutions, interests and ideas during the imperial era can be seen as indications of fragility.

"The First World War ended on November 11, 1918. In the four years of the war since 1914, more than nine million people had lost their lives and 20 million had been wounded. At the end of the war, 25 states with around 1.4 billion people were at war , that was about three quarters of the world's population at that time. " The German population only became aware of the consequences of the lost war through the Treaty of Versailles . "The English, French and Belgians blamed Germany and Austria-Hungary for causing the disaster."

In times of war, intellectuals in Germany argue about whether it is a "just" or an "unjust" war. Max Scheler thinks it is a just war because it is about the right politics. He assumes that the English tend to misinterpret the 'intellectual quality' of central philosophical terms by making "category errors". In a speech in 1914, Georg Simmel sees the meaning of this war in the consolidation of German unity , which all powers around Germany have been torpedoing since 1870. This 'fantasy of being encircled' is a frequently used topos in the discussion about war. Simmel, who also expressed himself in his speech about the unfathomable dimensions of this catastrophe, decides in favor of the thesis that this war could bring about the change to a 'new person'.

Reactions after the war

Intellectuals associate the attitude to life and thinking before, during and after the war with terms such as' the disappearance of familiarity '( Max Weber ),' crisis of the spirit '( Paul Valéry ),' godforsaken world '( Georg Lukács ),' loss of the old world of ideas ',' Fall of the Occident '( Oswald Spengler ),' transcendental homelessness' ( Neo-Kantians ).

Personal things are also noted: Georg Simmel explains that his generation stands on an abyss between yesterday and tomorrow, between metaphysics or idealism and a still unknown philosophy that will create a new person. Paul Valery feels unable to describe the current state of Europe: We have experienced, according to Valery, that our culture is going under: Europe "has felt in all of its nerve centers that it no longer recognizes itself, that it has ceased to resemble itself, that it loses consciousness of itself ". The ideas before the war have become useless. War veterans denote "the idea to take up arms" as the Triumph of fools "and warn that of dogmaticians each direction hang-constant danger of war. ( Emile Chartier ). In the first post-war years, so Konersmann on the reactions," is a polyphonic Crisis rhetoric audible, which, in retrospect, surprised not only the drastic nature of individual formulations, but also the factional unity. "

"The radical nature and peculiarities of cultural philosophy can only be understood," continues Konersmann, "if one understands them as an intellectual reaction to this shock and as a challenge for philosophy and science." Hochkeppel sees the lamented cultural decline as a rejection of the idea of ​​truth in science.

Cultural theories

It corresponded to the prevailing understanding of science in the 19th and 20th centuries. Century, that intellectuals - humanities scholars and philosophers - occupied themselves with how the "tragedy of culture" or " the fall of the west " should be explained and how people can prepare for such events in the future. Cultural theories were developed which, on the one hand, emphasized the character of decline and, on the other hand, emphasized the chances of a new cultural beginning. They have the character of "world views". Concepts of truth had had their day in the face of the cultural crisis. The following is an outline of the responses from some authors.

Theories of philosophy of life

Some of the publications that sought answers are from authors who are referred to as proponents of the philosophy of life . In contrast to idealism, they replaced "spirit" and "reason" with "life". Life, they asserted, is the supporting and encompassing principle of culture and individual consciousness. Life is only tangible and evades any explanation through rationalistic thinking. In "Downfall of the Occident" Spengler creates an arationalistic worldview based on these assumptions, which is an alternative to the reason of the Enlightenment. He exposed himself to the charge of philosophizing irrationally and disqualified himself as a conversation partner for many contemporaries. Spengler projects culture as an organism, in whose metamorphosis or transformation processes take place that fatefully involve the individual.

Simmel starts from individual life in order to illustrate cultural processes and future developments. From his point of view, culture is laid out in the "germinal forces of personality" and, within the framework of "this ideal plan", determines the cultural characteristics of the individual and the community. Albert Schweitzer , self-taught cultural philosopher, regards culture as a spiritual and moral phenomenon that is based on the 'mystical bond' with all living things. This vital fact characterizes the attitude towards life and, together with Christian ideas, serves a worldview which, for him, should establish a cultural 'total worldview' beyond convictions.

Materialistic theories

The end of idealism, determined by cultural philosophy, opened the philosophical discourse to materialistic views on culture. It is necessary to forego solutions that were intended for problems of the past, wrote Antonio Gramsci in his prison notebooks in the early 1930s . He designed a culture philosophy for the society-changing practice, which should not only be good for intellectuals, but also for the "simple". "Truths" that have already been discovered, such as those offered by idealism, must be viewed critically, ie consciously, replaced by new solutions and used for social changes. The result of this process could become the future basis for common thinking and acting. People would have to learn by criticizing their everyday understanding to think "uniformly" and "coherently" and in this way to give their own actions a conscious direction through philosophizing. For philosophy students he wrote that “an introduction to the study of philosophy should summarize the problems ... that have arisen in the development process of general culture ...”.

In 1937 Herbert Marcuse saw the traditional culture of idealism as the successor to philosophizing that was only concerned with itself and spiritual ideas. He stated that idealism had given up the original claim of ancient philosophy to serve practice. In the course of history he lost interest in the material world. A "culture ... of the spirit" has developed which is essentially different from the actual world. The individual was expected to fully accept the spiritual world by realizing it from within without changing the actual world. Instead of being implemented in practical life - which has been tried unsuccessfully - the reception of the values ​​of this world becomes "an act of celebration and elevation". It is obvious that this culture - like any culture - is ephemeral. Her downfall is burdened with pain, grief and suffering. The elimination of the affirmative culture will bring about a new culture, accompanied by individuality and reality.



The classics of the cultural philosophy, which was only beginning in the modern era, include the skeptic Michel de Montaigne , the historian Giambattista Vico , Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Johann Gottfried Herder . Various works by Friedrich Nietzsche can also be seen as culturally critical writings. Montaigne drew a pluralistic worldview. For him, values ​​and aesthetics emerged from habits and relative to the respective society - a position that is also very popular at the beginning of the 21st century, so that his essays are widely read in the present. For Vico, man himself was the creator of his story, which began in myth and developed cyclically in a cultural cycle. In Vico's view, the cognitive power of history exceeds that of natural science. Vico thus reflected a basic idea of ​​the Enlightenment, which consisted in the solution of the idea of ​​a divine order. From his criticism of the existing culture and society of his time, Rousseau developed his idea of ​​a society that emerged from the natural state as a coercive community in which egoism and intrigue predominated through the detachment from the type of economic activity originally aimed at satisfying needs. Rousseau countered the critical consideration with the hope of a reason that would become increasingly important, accompanied by compassion and moral reflection.

With his work Ideas on the Philosophy of Human History (1784–1791) Herder provided the starting point for the philosophical investigation of the structural development of society. In addition to the historical perspective, he compared the similarities and differences between the cultures of different peoples and the genesis of different cultural systems. Herder understood culture as a process of progress in the development of a people. For him, culture was an exaggerated nature in which peoples grow, flourish and perish. Herder was also optimistic that reason and humanity could develop more and more. Hegel saw in Christian consciousness the cornerstone of Western culture, in that religious concentration created a spiritual inner world oriented towards eternal life, which is opposed to a sensual outer world as something alien that is available to the subject as a field of self-realization in finite life. In the 19th century, after Hegel, historicism and the explosively developing natural sciences dominated, so that philosophy at all, especially in its speculative form, hardly played a role anymore. The only cultural studies that were in the foreground were cultural history, which was understood descriptively, and ethnology. Only Nietzsche's cultural criticism stood out from the positivist ways of thinking of his time, for example in his early Untimely Considerations or in large part of the late twilight of the idols . The Left Hegelians found a completely different approach to social criticism , which referred primarily to religion and economic conditions. Cultural-philosophical perspectives of Marxism , in which the material social conditions were initially in the foreground, can only be found in the 20th century, for example in Lenin's thesis of the two cultures.

Cultural philosophy as the first philosophy

The philosophy of culture in the narrower sense, which began at the beginning of the 20th century, was founded by Ludwig Stein , who was the first to use the term in his work At the turn of the century. Attempt at a culture philosophy (1899) used. Rudolf Eucken took up this approach in his work Geistige Strömungen der Gegenwart (1904). In 1910 the magazine Logos.International magazine for the philosophy of culture was founded. Georg Simmel was co-editor. Heinrich Rickert wrote the programmatic essay On the Concept of Philosophy in the first issue . Cultural philosophy was derived from the philosophy of life and parts of Neo-Kantianism as an alternative to science - oriented attempts to overcome the crisis of philosophy, as can be found in Edmund Husserl's phenomenology , in the Marburg School of Neo-Kantianism or in the logical empiricism of the Vienna Circle . Cultural philosophy was not understood as a philosophical sub-area (not as “hyphenated philosophy”). Rather, it was seen as a new way of responding philosophically to the structures of society that have been changed by science, industrialization and urbanization. The cultural historian Leo Frobenius , Oswald Spengler , who in Der Untergang des Abendlandes designed a cyclical historical model of a culture understood as an organism, Jean Gebser ( origin and present ) or Sigmund Freud , the cultural development who renounced instincts, should be mentioned as early representatives of cultural philosophy an integral part of ethics is traced back ( The discomfort in culture ).

For Georg Simmel ( Philosophy of Money ), culture was the expression of intellectual and creative life. It is represented in forms for the interpretation of reality (language, myth, art, religion, science) and forms for the order of coexistence (economy, law, education, state, traffic or ethical imperatives). These forms have a cultural value that is proven historically and everyday living environment determined. This cultural value is to be distinguished from the material value that is assigned to cultural objects. Cultural values ​​have their own logic. If the importance of material assets comes too much into the foreground, this is a cause for unease and a sign of necessary cultural criticism.

Ernst Cassirer established culture through his philosophy of symbolic forms. “Man lives in a symbolic and no longer just in a natural universe. Instead of dealing with things themselves, in a certain sense, people are constantly talking to themselves. They live so much in linguistic forms, in works of art, in mythical symbols or religious rites that they cannot experience or see anything except through the interposition of these artificial ones Media". In doing so, humans normally live in a natural understanding of culture, still without reflection. It is only in science that people adopt a distanced attitude that allows them to recognize their culture-bound situation. It is only in science that people are able to examine their discomfort with culture and to formulate appropriate criticism.

A distinction between civilization and culture (which does not exist in English) goes back to Immanuel Kant . “We are highly cultivated through art and science. We are civilized to the point of being superfluous, to all sorts of social politeness and decency. But to consider ourselves moralized is still very much missing. For the idea of ​​morality still belongs to culture; but the use of this idea, which only results in the similarity of morals in love of honor and external decency, constitutes mere civilization ”. While civilization denotes the external, the formal, culture is the inner ability of man to overcome his natural instincts and to act consciously according to the moral law. Accordingly, for the neo-Kantians of the Baden School, culture is determined by generally recognized values ​​( Heinrich Rickert ) or by general, timeless principles ( Wilhelm Windelband ). All value determination relates to the unique and individual in the individual, as it is expressed in cultural history.

Against the Neo-Kantians and based on Wilhelm Dilthey's position on the philosophy of life, Erich Rothacker saw the pre- and extra-scientific life practice as the benchmark and object of cultural studies, which does not follow any system and is therefore changeable. Accordingly, the methods of cultural studies are not fixed either. In addition to historical reporting, Rothacker developed the systematic-philosophical, analytical-theoretical and dogmatic-explicative processes and introduced the concept of cultural anthropology .

Theodor Litt and Eduard Spranger ( life forms ) are still important names in the field of cultural philosophy . The structuralist and ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss viewed cultures as systems made up of sub-systems such as language, religion, marriage, art, and economics. His interest was the analysis of the systems of thought in symbols. For him, culture was the emancipation of people from nature, which for him also formed an indispensable basis. For José Ortega y Gasset ( The Task of Our Time ), cultural achievements (state, art, morality, religion) were only functions of life (ratiovitalism). For him, democracy was an expression of the mass society shaped by the average person. A society can only receive positive impulses from (aristocratic) elites. Similarly, for Arnold Joseph Toynbee ( Culture at the Crossroads ) the emergence of cultures was dependent on creative minorities. In his opinion, social development occurs through the contrast between challenge and response. The organic cycle, as can be seen in lost cultures, can overcome existing cultures through reason. TS Eliot has shown that you cannot make culture, but that culture is the expression of the respective way of acting. Culture can be reflected on and interpreted. Cultural philosophy is an important aspect of critical theory in Herbert Marcuse , for whom cultural criticism is a reflection on the path of civilization, and in Theodor W. Adorno .

Cultural Philosophy in the Present

The current continental cultural philosophy was influenced by theorists such as Jean Baudrillard , Clifford Geertz , Pierre Bourdieu , Vilém Flusser , Jean-Francois Lyotard and Richard Rorty .

Jürgen Habermas sees culture as a dialectic of ability and desire. The danger of contemporary culture is the interest in a growing mastery of nature which dominates all other purposes. Klaus Christian Köhnke drafts a culture philosophy based on Georg Simmel and Ernst Cassirer . Oswald Schwemmer presented a truly independent approach in 2005, in which he argued in terms of media theory beyond the solid foundation of Ernst Cassirer and thus gave the cultural philosophy in Germany a new basis.

The philosophy of culture is increasingly making reference to the findings of empirical social and cultural sciences. At the same time, research from scientific disciplines that deal with cultural phenomena is taken into account - for example, findings from archeology, paleoanthropology, behavioral research, but also from cognitive science. For this reason, the boundaries between cultural philosophy and natural philosophy are becoming more permeable. The more recent cultural philosophy is also often shaped by an intercultural approach . The Viennese cultural philosopher Franz Martin Wimmer advocates an equal and varied dialogue (" polylogue ") between the various cultures of humanity.


  1. Cf. Böhme / Matussek / Müller: Orientation cultural studies. What she can do, what she wants . 2nd edition, Reinbek b. Hamburg 2002, pp. 56-65.
  2. E.g. to Feuerbach , Laas and Wahle
  3. Ernst Cassirer : The tragedy of culture (1942) . In Ralf Konersmann : culture philosophy . 2nd edition, Leipzig 1998, p. 117.
  4. See Ralf Konersmann: Aspects of Culture Philosophy in “Culture Philosophy” ders., As Hg., Leipzig 1998, pp. 9–24. - Jürgen Mittelstraß (ed.) Encyclopedia, Philosophy and Philosophy of Science . Stuttgart 2004, vol. 2, p. 511. - Ralf Konersmann (ed.): Basic texts of the philosophy of culture . Hamburg 2009, pp. 7-14. Ursula I. Meyer : The philosophical view of culture . Aachen 2013, pp. 28–30; P. 94 f.
  5. For documentation of this interest see Wilhelm Perpeet : Kulturphilosophie . Archive for Conceptual History, vol. 20, 1976, pp. 42-99. JSTOR .
  6. An overview is provided by Niels Werber, Stefan Kaufmann, and Lars Koch (eds): First World War: Kulturwissenschaftliches Handbuch . Stuttgart 2014, pp. 1–4.
  7. See Gerd Ueding: Rhetorik und Popularphilosophie. In: Rhetoric. An international yearbook. Edited by Neuber, Wolfgang / Austria, Peter L. / Ueding, Gert / Vidal, Francesca. Published Online: May 19, 2010 | DOI: 10.1515 / 9783110244489.122 .
  8. See Hans Ulrich Wehler: The German Empire 1871 to 1918 . Göttingen 1994, pp. 128-134. Also: Wilfried Barner, Christoph König (ed.): Jewish intellectuals and the philologies in Germany 1871 to 1933 . Göttingen 2001, p. 25f.
  9. Cf. Volker Berghahn: Das Kaiserreich 1871 to 1914. Industrial society, bourgeois culture and authoritarian state. In: Bruno Gebhardt: Handbuch der deutschen Geschichte, Vol. 16 .. 10th (revised) edition, Stuttgart 2011, pp. 255–273.
  10. See Hans Ulrich Wehler: The German Empire 1871 to 1918 . Göttingen 1994, p. 227.
  11. Information from the State Center for Political Education Baden-Württemberg
  12. Volker R. Berghahn: The First World War . Munich 2003, p. 18.
  13. Cf. Max Scheler: The Genius of War and the German War . Leipzig 1917, pp. 164-167.
  14. Cf. Niels Werber, Stefan Kaufmann, Lars Koch (eds.): First World War: Kulturwissenschaftliches Handbuch . Stuttgart / Weimar 2014, pp. 149–151.
  15. See Ralf Konersmann: Kulturphilosophie. Leipzig 1998, p. 9. For the section ders .: pp. 10–13; 58-67.
  16. ^ Konersmann: culture philosophy . Leipzig 1998, p. 15.
  17. Hochkeppel: Models of the present age . Munich 1973, blurb.
  18. The textual basis for this presentation can be found in the publications "Kulturphilosophie" by Ralf Konersmann and "Models of the Present Age" by Willy Hochkeppel.
  19. Cf. Thomas Kluge: “Another Downfall of the Occident? Life and Death - The unconscious renaissance of the philosophy of life in the ecological movement. " Political Quarterly, vol. 24, no. 4, 1983, pp. 428-445.
  20. Cf. Simmel: The concept and the tragedy of culture. Leipzig 1919, p. 226.
  21. See Sabine Pohl: Albert Schweitzers Ethik als Kulturphilosophie . Tübingen 2014, p. 103f.
  22. ^ Antonio Gramsci: On the philosophy and history of culture. In: Konersmann: Kulturphilosophie . Pp. 68-78; ibs. P. 78.
  23. Macuse: About the affirmative character of culture . In: Konersmann: Kulturphilosophie . P. 86.
  24. Marcuse still represented this view in the student movement, thinks Hendrik Theiler: System criticism and resistance: Herbert Marcuse and the student movement. Marburg 2013, p. 69. For the entire section: Cf. Herbert Marcuse: About the affirmative character of culture (excerpt). In Konersmann: Culture Philosophy . Pp. 79-106.
  25. VI Lenin: Critical Comments on the National Question. Works Volume 20, 1913.
  26. Ernst Cassirer: What is man. 1960, p. 39.
  27. ^ I. Kant: Idea for a general story with cosmopolitan intent.
  28. ^ O. Schwemmer: Culture Philosophy. A media-theoretical foundation. 2005.


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Wiktionary: Philosophy of culture  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations