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Neo-Kantianism is the philosophical movement initiated primarily by Otto Liebmann and Friedrich Albert Lange , which turns against materialism with reference to the transcendental logic and epistemological writings of Immanuel Kant .

The demand was made to go back directly to Immanuel Kant and to develop a philosophy that met the demands of the then modern sciences. Another characteristic of Neo-Kantianism is the newly awakened interest in a validity theoretical foundation of the humanities and the interest in a philosophical foundation of political theory. Marburg Neo-Kantianism, for example, provides the theoretical basis for Eduard Bernstein's revisionism and Max Adler's Austromarxism . Neo-Kantianism was also of considerable importance in the field of Russian philosophy of the early 20th century, as it kept the middle between orthodox-mystical metaphysics and atheistic materialism.


For the development of Neo-Kantianism, the front position between natural science and religion in the 19th century is of great importance. By postulating the primacy of the material over the spiritual, natural science denied religion any legitimate acquisition of knowledge and thus carried out a general attack on the spirit, which escalated in the materialism dispute in 1854 . In this popular scientific debate, the Göttingen physiologist Rudolf Wagner defended Christianity as the spiritual foundation of natural science, while the Giessen zoologist Carl Vogt regarded matter as a prerequisite for the existence of the spiritual. In the years that followed, with the appearance of Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species" (1859), the dispute over materialism expanded into a "worldview battle" in which the entire Christian worldview was to be replaced by a radically materialistic one.

At the same time as the dispute over materialism, the entire speculative idealistic philosophy found itself in crisis as a result of the events of Vormärz , which conditioned the success of advancing natural science and the materialism that went with it, which in turn sought to overcome that speculative Hegelian systematic thinking . Neo-Kantianism, also encouraged by the fact that it did not discuss politically explosive, but epistemological questions, emerged from precisely this opposition to the materialistic zeitgeist and overcame not only the crisis of idealistic philosophy, but also radical materialism : by becoming an epistemological one Realized method, through a critical epistemology to relativize the absoluteness of materialism, the neo-Kantianism defused the ideological struggle and put it aside in an academic way. Since the natural scientific knowledge of matter is guaranteed a realm of the spirit that does not dissolve in matter, the southwest German neo-Kantianism with Wilhelm Windelband divided the world into a "world of spirit" (spiritual science ) as idiographic science and a "world of Nature ”(natural science) as a nomothetic science. As a result of this logic that has prevailed to this day, humanities and natural sciences can no longer collide with one another, since they differ in the method of gaining knowledge.

Kant's philosophy had been pushed into the background by idealism in the first 30 years of the 19th century. Only Arthur Schopenhauer , whose philosophy was hardly paid any attention at that time (1819), already dealt with Immanuel Kant's epistemology in the first edition of his major work The World as Will and Idea in a critically expanding manner. One year after the death of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel , Friedrich Eduard Beneke had taken a second step towards remembrance - albeit one that was thoroughly critical of Kant - with the work “Kant and the philosophical tasks of our time” (1832). In 1847 Christian Hermann Weisse gave a speech entitled "In what sense German philosophy now has to orientate itself again towards Kant". Also Jakob Friedrich Fries had strongly related to Kant.


The actual beginning of Neo-Kantianism is associated with the names Friedrich Albert Lange , Otto Liebmann , Eduard Zeller and Hermann von Helmholtz . Lange had criticized this position in his "History of Materialism" (1866) in detail and decidedly. In his work "Kant and the Epigones" (1865) in four chapters, Liebmann had rejected German idealism , the realism of Johann Friedrich Herbart , the empiricism of the natural sciences, philosophically represented by Jakob Friedrich Fries, and the transcendental philosophy of Schopenhauer and at the end of this Chapter and the final chapter noted as a battle cry in different variants: "So we must go back to Kant".

As a leading scientist, Helmholtz exposed himself to materialism. In an 1877 speech he stated:

I ask you not to forget that materialism is also a metaphysical hypothesis, a hypothesis which has proven to be very fruitful in the field of natural sciences, but always a hypothesis. And if one forgets this nature of his own, it becomes a dogma and can become just as obstructive to the progress of science and drive to passionate intolerance as other dogmas. This danger arises as soon as one tries to deny facts or try to cover them up. (Holzhey, 2004, 29).

The philosopher historian Kuno Fischer , who combined criticism with Fichtean idealism, and Jürgen Bona Meyer with his work "Kant's Psychology" (1870) also had an influence.

The term Kantianism has also been used in specialist literature since around 1875. The representatives of the Marburg School and the Southwest German School (Heidelberg) are particularly outstanding . There were also some independent philosophers who are grouped under the heading of criticism .

Marburg School

Hermann Cohen (1842–1918) is considered to be the founder of the so-called Marburg School, which was strongly oriented towards mathematics and science. He criticized psychologism from the Kantian point of view. The fact that there is knowledge that is independent of the psyche can already be explained by the fact that mathematics in textbooks exists independently of the subject. Accordingly, knowledge cannot be tied to one subject alone. In relation to Kant, after an initially philological account, Cohen developed an independent position over the course of time, which tended to adopt the idealistic point of view and in particular based not on concepts but on judgments as the basis of human thought. Nicolai Hartmann studied in Marburg and was at least influenced by some ideas from the Marburg School. Even Paul Natorp (1854-1924) dealt primarily with the logical foundations of the exact sciences. However, he rejected the existence of a thing in and of itself and from intellectually independent views. The Marburg School included a. also Karl Vorländer , with a focus on the philosophy of history in connection with Marxism , and Rudolf Stammler , who dealt primarily with questions of social and legal philosophy, and the international lawyer Walther Schücking (1875-1935), who started with Kant's peace ideas and had a decisive influence exercised the development of international peace and constitutional law in the 20th century.

Ernst Cassirer (1874–1945) is on the one hand close to the tradition of the Marburg School, and on the other hand is already fully part of the 20th century, considering the age and the inclusion of linguistic-philosophical topics such as the question of meaning and the philosophy of symbolic forms . For him, not only the categories granted a reference to the world, but various independent symbolic forms such as language, religion, art, technology, history and law.

The Romanian philosopher Alice Voinescu (née Steriade; 1885–1961) also saw herself as a representative of the Marburg School. She was the first Romanian to acquire a doctorate in philosophy and later published primarily on aesthetics and the history of theater. She studied with Cohen and Natorp in 1911/1912; The Marburg School explicitly had the topic of her dissertation submitted to the Sorbonne .

Southwest German School

In contrast, the Southwest German or Baden School of Neo-Kantianism stands for a philosophy based on values. The main representatives were Wilhelm Windelband (1848–1915) and Heinrich Rickert (1863–1936). Windelband saw in philosophy above all the doctrine of the generally valid values, namely truth in thinking, goodness in wanting and acting and beauty in feeling. He made a fundamental distinction between history and natural science. Understanding Kant means going beyond him for Windelband. Rickert emphasized the difference between cultural studies and natural science and developed his own value philosophy .


In addition to the permanent schools, the other representatives of criticism included u. a. Robert Reininger (1869–1955), who published work on the psychophysical problem and the philosophy of values, and Alois Riehl (1844–1924).

For Riehl, philosophy was not a theory of worldview, but above all a critique of knowledge. For him, Kant had to continue writing insofar as more recent findings in natural science and mathematics (e.g. non-Euclidean geometry ) were to be included, which he considered possible in principle. Later representatives of criticism, like Cassirer, are actually to be assigned to the 20th century, but come from the neo-Kantian movement.

Hans Vaihinger (1852–1933) is known as a commentator on the Critique of Pure Reason and as the founder of the Kant studies. His philosophy of "as if" can be attributed to pragmatism due to the concept of truth used. Knowledge comes about on the basis of hypothetical fictions . Their truthfulness depends on the practical value of life. An objective truth, however, is not possible.

At the center of the philosophy of Richard Hönigswald (1875–1947), a student of Alois Riehl, are the two basic problems of the 'given' and a 'general methodology ' of human knowledge. In contrast to the Marburg School, his investigations on the thing in itself are based on psychological considerations in which he describes a connection between consciousness and object. Language is necessary for consciousness and only through language is the objectivity of an object established.

From a legal philosophical point of view, Erich Kaufmann (1880–1972) accused neo-Kantianism of not opposing positive empiricism with objective metaphysics, but rather of taking refuge in abstract, merely formal, one-dimensional concepts from the diversity of reality. At the same time, in this turning away, he now joined the current of neo-Hegelianism .

In his philosophical work as well as in his political and social engagement, Leonard Nelson (1882–1927) ties in with both Fries and the Marburg School, without, however, directly belonging to it.

Current reception

Current research on neo-Kantianism asks from three different perspectives about the “unity of neo-Kantianism”, which on the one hand represents the basic theme of the neo-Kantians themselves, but on the other hand also a historical-knowledge-sociological result and a cultural dimension.

First of all, the research takes on the question of the Neo-Kantians themselves from an internal perspective, who, as a result of the Kantian synthesis, grappled with the problem of unity in order to think of the “unity of consciousness and reason” as a prerequisite for the “unity of experience”.

In addition to the further development of the central topic and thus of the self-image genuinely inherent in Neo-Kantianism, the research, in a second historical-knowledge-sociological perspective, deals on the one hand with the specification of Neo-Kantianism, which goes beyond the two established currents of the Marburg and Southwest German Schools , and on the other hand, problematizes its membership criteria . This perspective is characterized by the construction of a differentiated internal perspective, which in turn is questioned about its unity by means of an external perspective: An internal differentiation of Neo-Kantianism borders a physiological orientation ( Helmholtz , Lange ) both from a metaphysical ( Liebmann , Volkelt ), realistic ( Riehl ) and logistic ( Cohen , Natorp , Cassirer ), as well as a value-theoretical-critical ( Windelband , Rickert , Münsterberg ), relativistic ( Simmel ) and a psychological expression ( Fries and the Neufriessche school ). This diversity inherent in Neo-Kantianism consequently raises the question of a common criterion for all currents for belonging to Neo-Kantianism ( “What is within Neo-Kantianism?” ) And at the same time requires external demarcation markers ( “What is outside Neo-Kantianism?” ).

The third perspective is a cultural-philosophical one that focuses on the unity of philosophical and scientific endeavors in the 19th century. Since neo-Kantianism endeavored to interweave the Kantian culture of reason with the actual cultural perception of the 19th century, neo-Kantianism is assigned a contemporary historical motivation that was closely related to the emergence of a cultural concept or consciousness, which as a historical concept of time differs from the supra-historical one demarcated German idealism .

See also


  • Michael Bergunder : Striving for the unity of science and religion. To understand life in modern esotericism. In: Eilert Herms (Ed.): Life. Understanding, science, technology. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 2005, pp. 559-578.
  • G. Edel: From the criticism of reason to the logic of knowledge. The development of the theoretical philosophy of Hermann Cohen. Freiburg / Munich 1988, ISBN 978-3-938095-13-3 .
  • Hans-Dieter Häußer: Transcendental reflection and subject of knowledge. On the transcendental philosophical justification of knowledge with special consideration of the objectivistic transformation of criticism. A contribution to the systematic and historical genesis of Neo-Kantianism. Bouvier, Bonn 1989, ISBN 3-416-02032-4 .
  • Marion Heinz and Christian Krijnen (eds.): Kant in Neo-Kantianism. Progress or regression ?. Studies and materials on neo-Kantianism. Königshausen and Neumann, Würzburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-8260-3299-8 .
  • Peter Hoeres : Kant's idea of ​​peace in the German war philosophy of the First World War. In: Kant Studies 93 (2002), pp. 84–112.
  • Helmut Holzhey : Cohen and Natorp. 2 volumes (Volume 1: Origin and Unity. The History of the 'Marburg School' as a discussion of the logic of thought. Volume 2: The Marburg Neo-Kantianism in Sources. Testimonials from critical reading - letters from the Marburg - documents on the philosophy policy of the school), Schwabe , Basel 1986, ISBN 978-3-7965-0839-4 .
  • Helmut Holzhey (Ed.): Ethical Socialism. On the political philosophy of neo-Kantianism. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1994.
  • Helmut Holzhey: Neo-Kantianism. In: Wolfgang Röd (Ed.): History of Philosophy, Volume 12, Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-31349-3 .
  • Christian Krijnen: Post-metaphysical sense. A problem-historical and systematic study on the principles of the philosophy of values ​​Heinrich Rickerts, Königshausen and Neumann, Würzburg 2001, ISBN 3-8260-2020-0 .
  • Christian Krijnen: Philosophy as a system. Principle theoretical investigations into the system concept in Hegel, in Neo-Kantianism and in contemporary philosophy. Würzburg 2008, ISBN 3-8260-3726-X .
  • Klaus Christian Köhnke : Origin and Rise of Neo-Kantianism. The German university philosophy between idealism and positivism. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1986. ISBN 3-518-57759-X ( Review: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, September 30, 1986, p. L25 )
  • Karl-Heinz Lembeck : Plato in Marburg. Plato reception and philosophy of history in Cohen and Natorp. Königshausen and Neumann, Würzburg 1994, ISBN 3-88479-900-2 .
  • Wolfgang Marx and Ernst Wolfgang Orth : Hermann Cohen and the theory of knowledge. Königshausen and Neumann, Würzburg 2001, ISBN 3-8260-2178-9 .
  • Peter-Ulrich Merz-Benz , Ursula Renz ( eds .): E thik or Aesthetics. On the topicality of the neo-Kantian cultural philosophy , Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2004. ISBN 3-8260-2724-8
  • Hans-Ludwig Ollig : The Neo-Kantianism. Metzler, Stuttgart 1979, ISBN 3-476-10187-8 .
  • Ernst Wolfgang Orth (Ed.): Neo-Kantianism: Perspectives and Problems. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 1994. ISBN 3-88479-887-1 .
  • Manfred Pascher: Introduction to Neo-Kantianism : context, basic positions, practical philosophy. Fink, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-8252-1962-3 .
  • Ulrich Sieg : The rise and fall of Marburg Neo-Kantianism: the story of a philosophical school community . Königshausen and Neumann, Würzburg 1994, ISBN 3-88479-944-4 .
  • Jürgen Stolzenberg: Origin and System. Problems of the establishment of systematic philosophy in the work of Herman Cohen, Paul Natorp and the early Martin Heidegger, Göttingen 1995, ISBN 3-525-30509-5 .
  • Nicolas de Warren, Andrea Staiti (Ed.): New approaches to Neo-Kantianism. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2015.
  • Eggert Winter: Ethics and jurisprudence: a historical-systematic investigation into the ethical conception of Marburg Neo-Kantianism in the work of Hermann Cohen. Duncker and Humblot, Berlin 1980, ISBN 3-428-04624-2 .
  • Kurt Walter Zeidler: Critical Dialectics and Transcendentalontology. The outcome of Neo-Kantianism and the post-Neo-Kantian systematics by R. Hönigswald, W. Cramers, B. Bauchs, H. Wagners, R. Reiningers and E. Heintels. Bouvier, Bonn 1995, ISBN 3-416-02518-0 .
  • Sascha Ziemann: Neo-Kantian criminal law thinking. The philosophy of southwest German neo-Kantianism and its reception in criminal law studies of the early 20th century . Nomos, Baden-Baden 2009, ISBN 978-3-8329-4210-6 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Neo-Kantianism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Hans-Ludwig Ollig: The Neo-Kantianism . In: Metzler Collection; M 187: Dept. D, History of Literature . Metzler, Stuttgart 1979, ISBN 3-476-10187-8 , pp. ix, 175 p .
  2. Michael Bergunder : The pursuit of the unity of science and religion. To understand life in modern esotericism . In: Eilert Herms (Ed.): Life. Understanding, science, technology . Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 2005, p. 563 .
  3. Alice Stériad: L'interprétation de la doctrine de Kant par l'école de Marburg: Étude sur l'idéalisme critique, Giard & Brière, Paris 1913. Romanian edition: Alice Voinescu: Kant și școala de la Marburg , Editura Eminescu, Bucharest 1999.
  4. a b Ernst Wolfgang Orth: The unity of Neo-Kantianism . In the S. (Ed.): Neo-Kantianism. Perspectives and Problems . Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 1994, p. 14 .