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Rickert’s Relevance

60 chapter two
chapter two
60 chapter two

Rickert’s Relevance

The Ontological Nature and Epistemological Functions of Values


Anton C. Zijderveld

Rickert’s Relevance The Ontological Nature and Epistemological Functions of Values by Anton C. Zijderveld BRILL LEIDEN




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For Angelika, who for forty years now has followed my sociological and philosophical exploits with apposite distance and wholesome forbearance.

Wer erkennen will, muss denken und schauen. Heinrich Rickert

Den Menschen, der

erkannt wird, machen Natur

und Geschichte: aber der Mensch der erkennt,

macht Natur und Geschichte.

Georg Simmel






................................................................................ Rickert revisited

...................................................................... Motives .................................................................................... Rickert’s philosophical relevance argued e contrario ..........

Systematic philosophy and heterology ..................................

The two neo-Kantian schools Composition ............................................................................


Chapter One

A Bird’s-Eye View of Rickert’s Philosophy ............









Chapter Two

Critique of Vitalism ..............................................

Irrationalism and intellectualism rejected

............................ Systematic and surrealistic philosophy .................................. Intuitionism and biologism .................................................... Darwin, facts and values ........................................................ Four types of biologism .......................................................... Biologism beyond Nietzsche .................................................. Rickert’s critique of biologism .............................................. There are no biologistic values ............................................ Life and culture ...................................................................... Vitalism’s credit side .............................................................. Philosophical anthropology ....................................................













Chapter Three

Knowledge and Reality

...................................... Epistemology and ontology .................................................... Between Idealism and Empirism .......................................... Basic terminology ....................................................................

The subjective (immanent) and the objective (transcendent) path .............................................................. Knowledge and the subject-object dilemma ........................ The standpoint of immanence ..............................................

The subject as empty form

.................................................. Transcendence in the immanent standpoint ........................











Reality as an empty form ......................................................


The epistemological act ........................................................


The categorical imperative of judgments ............................




Chapter Four

Facts, Values and Meaningful Acts

...................... The total and bifocal reality ................................................



Facts and values ....................................................................


From relativism to relationism ..............................................


Being, existing and valid meanings ......................................


Stages of being and validity ..................................................


The meaning bestowing act ..................................................


Neither psychologism nor metaphysics ................................


The philosophy of culture in outline ....................................


The systematic philosophy of values ....................................


The formal matrix of value development ............................


The metaphysical principle of full-llment ..........................




Chapter Five

The Demarcation of Natural and

Cultural Science ..........................................................................


The Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns ..................


The continuum of sciences ....................................................


Analytical matrix ....................................................................


Nature and culture distinguished ontologically ....................


Observable and understandable reality ................................


The generalizing and individualizing methods ....................


Cultural-Scientic generalization ..........................................


Empathic understanding ........................................................


Value-relationship, relating to values and abstaining from value-judgments ..........................................................


Cultural-Scientic objectivity ................................................


Causality in Cultural Science ................................................




Chapter Six

Rickert’s Echo: Applications, Amplications,

Amendments ....................................................................................






Legal philosophy (Emil Lask, Gustav Radbruch) ................


History ( Johan Huizinga) ......................................................


Sociology (Karl Mannheim, Max Weber) ............................




Index of Names ..........................................................................



Heinrich John Rickert (1863–1936) has haunted me for a couple of decades. There are several individuals—students, friends and a few sociological colleagues—who had to endure my expositions about his ideas and writings. They helped me, often unknowingly, to clarify my own thoughts of and about the Rickertiana that got piled up in my mind. I cannot begin to mention them by name, but feel obliged to thank them anonymously for functioning as a formal audience in the lecture hall of the university and as an informal audience out- side of it. René Foqué, professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of Louvain and the Erasmus University of Rotterdam is my esteemed colleague and friend with whom I am professionally connected for many years now. I am grateful for his willingness to function as my philosophical guide and advisor in a later stage of my Rickert- project. His astonishing knowledge of the history of ideas and the various currents of contemporary philosophy, but above all his joy of concept formations and theory constructions—what Rickert once aptly called Logosfreudigkeit—were a great source of inspiration. Naturally, I am responsible for all the aws and mistakes in this book, but in general it would not have become the book that it is now without his assistance and collegial advice. Herman Philipse was my advisor in an early stage of the project. I proted from his phenomenal expertise in the eld of analytic phi- losophy, his unrelenting critical mind, mellowed by a great sense of witty humor. He remained alien to the world of neo-Kantianism and in particular to the somewhat surrealistic philosophy of Rickert, but we developed a mutual friendship which I shall always cherish. In the last stage of the project I have beneted from very valu- able, critical comments by Koo van der Wal, professor emeritus of the Erasmus University and Maurice Weyembergh, professor emer- itus of the Free University of Brussels. Their impressive knowledge of the history of philosophy averted some serious errors of inter- pretation. Needless to add that I remain responsible for the faults that still remain in the present expositions.


Anton Bevers who in the early 1980’s wrote a PhD-thesis on Georg Simmel under my supervision, and is presently professor of sociol- ogy at Erasmus University, is the only sociologist I know who actu- ally has read Rickert, in particular his ideas about the logic of Cultural and Natural Science. His intellectual support and his friendship have been crucial for the completion of my Rickert project. This book was written in what I felt and still feel as the fool’s liberty of academic retirement. No longer plagued by my post-Calvinist ‘ethic of responsibility’ towards the university as a bureaucratic organization, I have the opportunity now to read and write when- ever I feel like doing so. I fully experience the luxury of what Karl Mannheim has called the freischwebende Intelligenz. However, I must express my gratitude to the Erasmus University for oering me all of its facilities in a so-called ‘hospitality contract’ upon my retirement in December 2002. My special acknowledgement goes out to the secretaries of the Department of Sociology, Marianne Otte and Betty Thiels, and their successors Jolien Veensma and Shaheen Khan. They were always prepared to print the various drafts of the manuscript, and to assist me in bureaucratic matters. In the nal stage of the project Tineke van de Pas, secretary of the Law Department, has been equally help- ful. Ilja Fase, graduate student of sociology, was of an invaluable help in ordering and collecting books and articles at the library of the university. I am grateful for her precision and dedication which have been essential since my ‘empirical data’ had to be collected in the library. A few preliminary comments may be helpful to the reader. The text is interspersed with short excursions which are printed in small letters. Many of them are references to other philosophers and philo- sophical currents. They can be skipped by the professional philoso- pher who obviously is (or should be) acquainted with the history of philosophical ideas. Even great thinkers are, of course, parts of larger networks made up of fellow thinkers and their thoughts, ideas and theories. It was a laborious task to reconstruct Rickert’s philosophi- cal network, since he had the habit of not burdening his expositions with quotes and references. I am aware that my reconstruction is incomplete, but then the desire to be complete can be pedantic and quite burdensome for the reader. I am not in favor of the system by which references in the text and in the footnotes refer again to items in the bibliography at the


end of the book. I prefer to present such references with their com- plete annotation as to publisher, place and date of publication in the footnotes. Finally, I wrote the book in English for two reasons. First of all, neo-Kantian philosophy in general and Rickert’s publications in par- ticular are, apart from a few exceptions, not accessible to the Anglo- Saxon world. English, after all, is in this day and age of globalization the lingua franca, not just in the worlds of business and politics, but in the intellectual world as well. It is my hope that the present expo- sition and discussion may lead to translations of Rickert’s extensive oeuvre. His little book on cultural and natural science, for instance, and his brilliant exposition and witty criticism of vitalism are per- fectly suitable for translations into English, particularly since they are still (or again) very timely. The second reason is yet more relevant. Translating Rickert’s often quite fanciful and sometimes even literary German into English helped me to clarify for myself and hopefully also for the reader his com- plex ideas, concepts and theories. It is my conviction that one should be able to translate German concepts and sentences into English, lest they are closed to a clear understanding of their meaning and signicance. Even in the exceptional case of English translations, such as a few essays from Weber’s Wissenschaftslehre and a partial translation of Rickert’s opus magnum on the demarcation of Natural Science and Cultural Science, I decided to translate all German quotations myself. But I added the original German texts in the footnotes in order to enable the reader who possesses a passive and/or active knowledge of the German language to control my translations. 1 For biographical and bibliographical data I refer to the handsome volume of essays by Rickert edited by Rainer A. Bast. 2

  • 1 The translations and references of the two motto’s of this book are the following:

(A) ‘Who wants to acquire knowledge, should think and perceive.’ Heinrich Rickert, Das Eine, die Einheit und die Eins, (‘The One [as opposed to the Other], the Unity, and the First [as in number 1]’), (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1924), p. 87. (B) ‘Man who is being known, is made by nature and history: but man who knows, makes nature and history.’ Georg Simmel, Die Probleme der Geschichtsphilosophie, (‘The Problems of the Philosophy of History’), 1892, (München, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1923), p. VII.

  • 2 Heinrich Rickert, Philosophische Aufsätze, (‘Philosophical papers’), (Tübingen: Mohr- Siebeck, 1999), pp. 437–457. See also the Internet: in November 2004 Google oered 23,300 and Yahoo 70,400 hits under ‘Heinrich Rickert’.


Tief und ernstlich denkende Menschen haben gegen das Publikum einen bösen Stand. J. W. Goethe 1


The Reformation and in its wake the Enlightenment caused a pen- etrating transformation in Germany of the medieval universities in general and of philosophy in particular. It was a change from the medieval, other-worldly scholarship supervised and ideologically drenched by the Roman-Catholic Church, to a early-modern, inner- worldly professional training of lawyers, medical doctors and protes- tant ministers. The theological faculty, for instance, still viewed as the rst and most important faculty, was rebuilt in the 16th century into a retraining institution for catholic priests converted to Lutheran Protestantism. The Enlightenment introduced not only a secularized version of rationalism but emphasized also the utilitarian notion of a practical education of young men who after their academic train- ing were going to function as the societal elite of the future. In other words, the post-medieval, early-modern university was in fact a pro- fessional school in which young men were trained for practical jobs in the rapidly changing society. German Romanticism of the 18th and 19th centuries would soon object to this one-sided emphasis upon rational, practical and applied knowledge and allied skills, launching its ideal of Bildung, i.e. of an education in which students were primarily taught to cultivate and strengthen their mental as well as moral capacities. Schelling, Schleiermacher and Fichte were the rst propagandists of this Romantic Bildungsideal, but it was perhaps

1 ‘Deeply and seriously thinking people are not very popular.’ J. W. Goethe, ‘Betrachtungen im Sinne der Wanderer’ (Contemplations in the Style of the Wayfarers), in: Vermischte Schriften, Werke Bd. VI, (Frankfurt a.M.: Insel Verlag, 1966), p. 459. Rickert has been deeply impressed throughout his life by the works of Goethe. It culminated in a monograph of 544 pages, which he published at the end of his life: Heinrich Rickert, Goethes Faust. Die dramatische Einheit der Dichtung, (‘Goethe’s Faust. The Dramatic Unity of the Poem’), (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1932).


best expressed by Friedrich Schiller in his inaugural address at the University of Jena in the historically so pregnant year 1789.

Schiller constructed and mutually opposed two types of academic intellec- tuals: the Brotgelehrte (the bread-scholar) and the philosophischer Kopf ( the philo- sophical head). The former studies at a university in order to acquire a protable position in society, thus trying to satisfy his petty craving for pres- tige. He is usually rather conservative since he loathes changes and alter- ations. Upon graduation he will no longer be interested in scientic and philosophical thoughts, but live intellectually on what he had piled up in his mind during his academic training. He is not interested in the intrin- sic values of manual and spiritual work, but measures everything in terms of possible prots. Schiller claims that this attitude is strongly fostered by the increasing specialization of the various scientic disciplines which was already prevalent in his day. However, Schiller continues, if young men do possess scientic talents they will protest against all this meaninglessly accumulated knowledge of details. He will experience a deep sense of aimlessness and then develop into a ‘philosophical head’. This is the opposite type, i.e. the academic intellectual who, to begin with, will try to explore the limits of his own dis- cipline, to transcend them in order to arrive at a more systematic and inte- grated knowledge of the world. Where the ‘bread-scholar’ separates, the ‘philosophical head’ unites! In fact he will not just learn facts by heart, but search for a real understanding of the facts, without focusing from the start on possible applications of this knowledge, let alone on the prots and pres- tige it may reap in the future. 2

The ideal of Bildung in opposition to the pragmatic and utilitarian program of professional training was also the essence of Wilhelm von Humboldt’s university reform which in 1809 led to the founding of the University of Berlin. It soon became the model for most German and many European universities. Humboldt’s vision was that of an academic community of professors and students devoted

2 F. Schiller, Was heisst und zu welchem Ende studiert man Universalgeschichte? (‘What is the meaning of and for what end does one study universal history?), in: Schillers Werke, vol. IV, (Frankfurt A.M.: Insel Verlag, 1966), pp. 421–438. The rather exalted tone of Schiller’s address conceals the fact that he experienced considerable diculties in his professorship, and that the sentiments of the ‘bread-scholar’ were not totally alien to him. According to Golo Mann, Schiller once sighed that the university could do one may not say what, if he only had married a rich wife. Golo Mann, ‘Schiller als Geschichtsschreiber’ (‘Schiller as Historiographer’), ibid., p. 890. For the context and content of this inaugural address see Rüdiger Safranski, Friedrich Schiller oder die Erndung des Deutschen Idealismus, (‘Friedrich Schiller or the Invention of German Idealism’), (München, Wien: Hanser Verlag, 2004), in particular pp. 306–316.


to a life of social solitude and civil, thus also spiritual, freedom. 3 The university in this vision educated young men not only cognitively, but also emotionally and morally, enabling them to develop into auto- nomous and creative personalities. It is in this sense that the aca- demically educated young men could contribute to society and the public sector. In other words, theirs is an indirect not a direct socio- economic and political utility and usefulness. Needless to add that the Humboldtian university was envisaged as the institutional haven of the Geisteswissenschaften with their emphasis upon Verstehen (under- standing) of meanings and values in opposition to the Naturwissenschaften and its focus upon Erklären (explaining) of facts and causality. 4 After roughly 1850, however, Germany went through several rad- ical changes. Socio-economically and culturally the various German states developed from traditional-agrarian communities into modern- urban and increasingly industrial societies. 5 It led to a bourgeoisie grow- ing in numbers and power in opposition to an equally increasing working class, causing the awakening of an initially slumbering class conict. The Humboldtian Bildung was, of course, not able to prepare its students for this deeply penetrating socio-economic and societal transformation. Politically, Germany was transformed by Bismarck, after the French-German war of 1870–1871, into a unied empire in which the balance of unity and diversity became a dominant political aim. There was a dire need for public administrators which were able to maintain this balance. The ideal of a generalized Bildung was not sucient to satisfy this public need. At the same time, the natural sciences and their technical applications in the emerging industrial society reaped unprecedented successes which exerted strong pressures on the university to deliver practically, usefully and scien- tically trained academics. In fact, after 1850 the natural sciences

  • 3 Cf. Helmuth Schelsky, Einsamkeit und Freiheit. Idee und Gestalt der deutschen Universität und ihrer Reformen , (‘Solitude and Freedom. Idea and Structure of the German University and its Reforms’), (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1963), in particular pp. 79–130.

  • 4 See also Theodor Litt, Wissenschaft, Bildung, Weltanschauung, (‘Science, Bildung, Worldview’), (Leipzig, Berlin: Teubner, 1928), in particular Chapter Two: ‘Naturwis- senschaft und Geisteswissenschaft in Verhältnis zur Bildung’, pp. 12–36.

  • 5 The transition was, of course, not limited to Germany but rather a general European process of modernization. It was conceptualized by Ferdinand Toennies in his classic essay Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Grundbegrie der reinen Soziologie, (‘Com- munity and Society. Basic Concepts of Pure Sociology’), 1887, (Darmstadt: Wissen- schaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1963).


became the predominant methodological model for all sciences, includ- ing the humanities. In philosophy there grew a penetrating and dominant positivism which was based upon the rm belief that Naturwissenschaft, Natural Science, operating with exact, quantitative methods produced the only legitimate knowledge because it was applicable and useful. If there still was any valuable reason for its existence, philosophy had to be compartmentalized, in the opinion of the positivists, into several methodologies of the dierent scientic, specialized disciplines. There was no room any longer, it was believed, for a general, universal philosophy, since that would necessarily end up in unscientic metaphysics. Naturally, there was in the positivist view of the world and the sciences no legitimate place for metaphysical dreams and reections. This, of course, led again to a Romantic reaction in which once more the humanities were propagated as legitimate sciences which were logically and methodologically dierent, yet had to be seen philosophically on a par with the natural sciences. Social sciences such as psychology, sociology, history and even economics, it was argued, deal with human beings and their actions, emotions and thoughts, not with atoms and physical processes which unlike human beings are not related to values and meanings, do not act and interact in a meaningful manner and thus cannot be understood empathically. There is, it was argued, an essential dierence between Natur which is driven by mindless causality and measurable objectivity, and Geist which on the contrary is driven by values and meanings, and by the forces of the human Seele and Bewusstsein, i.e. by the human psyche and consciousness. This essential dierence cried out for a dierentiation of the sciences: Naturwissenschaft versus Geisteswissenschaft. Moreover, modernization entailed indeed a process of rationalization, but that does not mean that the irrational had disappeared from the human universe. On the contrary, the more rational the scientic, technological and increasingly bureaucratic world grew, the more it seemed to escape our cognitive and emotive understanding, the more irrational factors which cannot be measured and analyzed in a natural-scientic manner, seemed to determine the economy, society and polity, and above all the human mind and soul. In fact, the ages old philosophical question as to how it could be possible to acquire rational and ordered knowledge of the world, let alone how we could begin to understand it rationally, returned in full weight and cried out for an answer.


It is at this point that in the second half of the 19th century and in the rst two decades of the 20th century the two towering philoso- phers of the 18th and 19th centuries, Kant and Hegel, and their various schools of neo-Kantianism and neo-Hegelianism regained philosophical interest. In a admittedly too rough way we could label the latter as a sphere of thought in which ontology and metaphysics occupied a primary and logic and methodology a secondary posi- tion, whereas the former focused primarily on epistemology, logic and methodology, viewing ontology and metaphysics as sub-disci- plines of the latter. We return to this later, because Rickert occu- pied a special position in this dilemma of ontology and epistemology. At this point it suces to mention the fact that we will focus in the present study on neo-Kantianism, in particular on that of the South- West German School, and again in particular on that of Heinrich Rickert. As we shall see, Rickert assumed a philosophical position which tried to bridge the dilemma of Rationalism and Romanticism, of Natural Science and (as he preferred to call it) Cultural Science, of ontology and epistemology. He designed a modus operandi for that which he called heterothesis and heterology which in essence, as we shall see, is a playful alternation between opposites in a dilemma. It makes sense, I think, to renew the acquaintance with this philosopher who unjustly has been largely forgotten after his death in 1936. When he is still referred to, it is usually in terms of a rejecting critique which in my observation is most of the time not based upon a serious and close reading of his texts. In fact, there are a few critical clichés about his work which are generally unfounded, yet repeated all the time.

Heinrich Rickert (1863–1936) was famous and the object of critical debates around the turn of the former century. But after World War I he fell into disrepute. In fact, it is fair to say that he was actually buried in oblivion already before his death in the 1930’s. There was no interest anymore in the intricate conceptual abstractions of neo- Kantian philosophy in general and Rickert’s brand of it in particu- lar after the Great War, when young academic men, having survived the massive slaughter in and around the trenches, returned home. They were disoriented by what they saw as the Great Defeat and tried, together with their fellow Germans, to mend the fragments of their shattered lives. In fact, there was now this longing for a phi- losophy which would no longer focus, as Rickert did, on knowledge and thus on epistemology and logic. Instead one craved as it were


for an inspiring, emotionally gratifying philosophy which would explain the intricacies of life, of being and existence, and which would sat- isfy the feelings of anxiety and alienation. There was above all this yearning for inspiring thinkers who surpassed the often rather author- itarian and allegedly solidly bourgeois philosophy professors at the German universities of pre-war, Wilhelmian society. Rickert was such a typical, allegedly old-fashioned university professor. Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers certainly were not.

The historian Golo Mann (1909–1994) gives in his memoirs a lively, yet devastating picture of Heinrich Rickert as a teacher and professor. When Mann started his studies at the University of Heidelberg at the end of the 1920’s, he took a seminar which Rickert taught at his home. A small group of students sat around the table. Rickert entered the room and began to count the students, standing at the table, one by one. He then said: ‘This is the smallest seminar since I have been a university assistant. I did not expect anything else though. Please, gentlemen, take your seat.’ The seminar began with an exposition of what philosophy was all about. He explained in particular that his own philosophy was a Wissenschaft , whereas the fashionable philosophies of the day—he meant in particular his colleague Karl Jaspers and his former student Martin Heidegger—were in his view not scientic at all. He compared their lectures with organ concertos and added: ‘Well, gentlemen, with me you will certainly not hear an organ con- certo!’ Mann was not amused but did at that time obviously not know that Max Weber, whom he greatly admired, used to make a similar remark in his lectures: ‘If you yearn for visions, go to the cinema.’ Rickert then read, Mann continues, a sentence from a publication of Heidegger and asked:

‘Can anyone translate that into Latin? What cannot be translated into Latin, does not exist for me!’ Yet, Rickert must have had some signicance as a logician, Mann adds, since Max Weber thought so. In fact, to his hardly suppressed surprise, Weber, ‘a radical democrat’, and Rickert were close friends. The at that time still young and philosophically inexperienced Mann did apparently not understand what Rickert’s philosophy was actually all about. He found it obviously too abstract and boring. He ends this brief recollection with a venomous remark: ‘The vain old man remains for me the empty shell of a once lively and strong tradition. Consequently, after 1933 this pupil of Immanuel Kant proved to be a mask without a character behind it.’ Mann left the seminar and turned to Karl Jaspers under whose supervision he wrote his PhD-thesis in philosophy. 6

6 ‘Der eitle alte Mann bleibt für mich die leere Hülse einer ehemals lebensstarken Tradition. Als Maske, ohne Charakter dahinter, hat dieser Schüler Immanuel Kants sich dann auch 1933 erwiesen.’ Golo Mann, Erinnerungen und Gedanken. Eine Jugend in Deutschland, (Memories and Thoughts. A Youth in Germany), (Frankfurt am Main:


Another student of Rickert, Hermann Glockner, paints quite a dierent picture of his teacher. Rickert, he writes, was not at all weltfremd (unworldly) but had a lively interest in political, economic, social and cultural issues and events. His agoraphobia, however, bound him to his home, but he did enjoy meeting people. He was in social encounters an interesting and witty conversationalist with a healthy sense of humor. As an author he set him- self the aim to write clearly and with a cultivated style. He hated superciality, but disliked as much the dragging ponderousness, empty abstractions and tiresome pedantry of most philosophers of his days. (It must be added in all honesty that Rickert, as we shall see instantly, apparently lost this buoy- ancy at the end of his life in the 1930’s.) Glockner still adds that Rickert was not an exact philologist, and lacked Windelband’s talent for the history of philosophical ideas. He admitted that he did not possess the necessary encompassing memory. He was a system builder, although, much like Plato or Kant, he failed to complete his own philosophical system. Glockner relates that Rickert had an ‘architectural talent’. Apparently not just in philosophy, because in Freiburg, where he taught at the university for many years, he lived with his family in a house which he himself had designed. 7

In an interview with him in Munich, February 28, 1985, Rickert’s youngest son, the goldsmith Franz Rickert (1904–1991), 8 complained to me about the bitter atmosphere in his parents’ house. One of his brothers was epileptic which his father could not bear. He was sent to an institution. Another brother, and his father’s favorite student Emil Lask, fell in the war. The atmosphere at home was mostly depressing. Moreover, his father suered from a neurological disorder, labored under agoraphobia, and was constantly under medication. 9 He complained all the time about his students and in particular

  • 7 Cf. Hermann Glockner, ‘Heinrich Rickert †’, in: Heinrich Rickert, Unmittelbarkeit und Sinndeutung. Aufsätze zur Ausgestaltung des Systems der Philosophie, (‘Directness and Interpretation of Meaning. Papers for the Construction of the System of Philosophy’), August Faust, ed., (Tübingen: Morh-Siebeck, 1939), pp. VII–XIV.

  • 8 Cf. Julie Gibbons, ‘Zen and the Art of Franz Rickert’, in: Craft Culture , which gives an insight in Franz Rickert as craftsman and as teacher at the Academy of Arts, Munich, where he was appointed professor in 1938.

  • 9 Franz Rickert told me in the interview that his mother who was a rather accom- plished sculptor, and together with the wives of Max Weber and Georg Simmel, active in the women’s movement of those days, devoted her life mainly to her hus- band and her family. She saw to it that the philosopher took his medications on time and at regular intervals. He had many little bottles standing in a row on the mantelpiece in his study. ‘She meant well, of course, but I am afraid she actually poisoned my father slowly.’


about his colleagues at the university. 10 In fact, he grew increasingly rancorous, and was surrounded by a small band of followers who supported him in his grudges. 11 The worst of them, according to Franz Rickert, was August Faust who turned into a radical Nazi and had a bad inuence on his politically rather naive father. 12 I asked him about his father’s political stance after 1933. He said that he was certainly not a friend of Hitler, but neither was he very brave, in particular regarding the problems of some Jewish colleagues at

  • 10 A granddaughter of Heinrich Rickert, Mrs. Marianne Rickert Verburg from Hamburg, lived as a young girl with her grandparents in Heidelberg during the last two years of the philosopher’s life. In an interview (Hamburg, October 8, 1988) she showed me many, usually brief letters and cards Rickert received from various colleagues within and outside Germany. They were mostly letters and cards of thanks for a publication Rickert had sent. Among others: A. Meinong, H. Eucken, P. Natorp, R. Otto, G. Radbruch, E. Rothacker, M. Scheler, O. Spann, R. Stammler. There are in this personal archive of Mrs. Verburg also a few notes which Rickert and Max Weber exchanged. They give some insight in the (usually rather petty) faculty politics the two of them engaged in. It dealt mainly with appointments of new faculty members. Hermann Glockner provides an interesting personal insight in the social world of academic Heidelberg in Rickert’s days. Cf. his Heidelberger Tagebuch (‘Heidelberg Diary’), (Bonn: Bouvier Verlag, 1969). According to Franz Rickert the details about his father and his family are correct and reliable.

  • 11 Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) who attended Rickert’s lectures and seminars in Freiburg wrote in a letter to his friend Gerhard Scholem (d.d. July 25, 1921):

‘Rickert ist grau und böse geworden.’ (‘Rickert has become grey and evil.’), In:

Walter Benjamin, Briefe I, (‘Letters, vol. I’), G. Scholem, Th. Adorno, eds., (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1978), p. 268. Although he once wrote Adorno with some pride that he had been Rickert’s student, he apparently distanced himself from him after he nished his academic studies. A long letter sent from Paris to Adorno, opened with ‘Mein lieber Teddie’ (‘My dear Teddie’), d.d. May 7, 1940. Briefe II (Franfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1978), p. 857.

  • 12 Cf. August Faust, ‘Sozialerziehung und Nationalerziehung’, Deutsches Bildungswesen, July 1933. Glockner gives an interesting picture of Faust. Cf. his o.c., pp. 221–245. Faust, who lived in Rickert’s house, was not just his teaching assistant but also con- sidered to be part of the family. Although Mrs. Verburg claimed that the family was unaware of his nazi sympathies, it is unavoidable to assume that he asserted a fatal political inuence on the aged and despondent Rickert who had always been a liberal politically but developed into a right-wing conservative after the defeat of World War I. That was apparently quite normal among German philosophy professors of those days. It happened, for example, also with the mathematical philosopher Gottlob Frege. Both Frege and Rickert joined the German Philosophical Society and its journal which was a right-wing split-ofrom the prestigious journal Kant Studien. It was founded by Rickert’s student Bruno Bauch who after 1933 became a devoted Nazi and anti-Semite. Glockner, himself not immune to the nazi ideology, mentions the fact that Rickert, impressed as he allegedly was by ‘the national-social- ist revolution’, held a lecture on Fichte shortly before his death. It was, as Faust also claims, a national-socialist paean. The title (translated) was indicative: ‘Fichte


the university. 13 This stood in strong contrast to the philosopher’s father, Heinrich Rickert Sr. (1833–1902), who as a liberal politician in Berlin founded in December 1890 the ‘Society Against Anti- Semitism’. Franz Rickert told me that his mother for fear of the Nazi’s burned after his father’s death in 1936 a stack of anti-Semitic hate-letters addressed to her father in law. 14 In the last years of his life Rickert was well aware of the fact that his style of thinking and the problems he addressed were no longer popular. 15 In a way he sympathized with the anti-rational moods of his contemporaries, as we shall see in Chapter Two. After all, as a young man he too was enthused by the exuberant writings of Nietzsche and the broody pessimism of Schopenhauer. But he soon became weary of their irrationalism and searched for a conceptual master- ing of the eternal philosophical conict between rationality and irra- tionality. He believed rmly that he found the solution of this problem in his epistemology and in particular in his philosophy of values. Yet, he was not successful in convincing his fellow philosophers and the young men and women of the Interbellum in Germany. After World War II a similar situation occurred. German and French

as a Social and National Thinker’. Glockner, o.c., p. VIII. Faust, ibid., p. XVIII. There is for many Germans, as the former German Kanzler Helmuth Kohl once said, ‘the grace of the late birth’, i.e. after 1945. It may be added that obviously some Germans have, like Rickert, also experienced the grace of a timely death. See Hans Sluga, Heidegger’s Crisis. Philosophy and Politics in Nazi Germany (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press), pp. 83–100.

  • 13 Sluga mentions in a footnote that Rickert’s turn to the right caused the end of his friendly relationship with a former, Jewish student who taught at Freiburg university but was then in 1933 dismissed by rector Martin Heidegger. Rickert remained silent. Sluga, o.c., p. 267, note 48. Sluga probably refers to Jonas Cohn (1869–1947), an ‘extraordinary professor’ for philosophy and pedagogy, who ed in 1939 to Birmingham, England, where he died after the war. Rickert did not intervene on his behalf.

    • 14 Quoted interview in Munich. See Otto Friedrich, Before the Deluge (New York:

Harper & Row Publ., 1972). The Dutch edition: Vóór de zondvloed (Baarn: het Wereld- venster, 1972), p. 92.

  • 15 In his book on the ‘philosophy of life’, a current of thought which he saw as the dominant and fashionable trend in the philosophy of his days, Rickert noted that there were still small circles of thinkers who linked up with the work done by great thinkers in the past and tried to elaborate on their systems of thought. He mentioned himself as one of those, who worked in the tradition of German Idealism. Heinrich Rickert, Die Philosophie des Lebens. Darstellung und Kritik der philosophischen Modeströmungen unserer Zeit (‘The Philosophy of Life. Presentation and Critique of Fashionable Currents in the Philosophy of our Time’), 1920, (Tübingen: Mohr- Siebeck, 1922), p. 34.


existentialism was much more akin to the post-war sentiments of the 1950’s and 1960’s than Rickert’s neo-Kantian epistemology and phi- losophy of values. Later various philosophical currents emerged which Rickert without doubt would have discounted as unscientic fads and foibles—except those that maintained some degree of rationalism. He would have labeled various brands of so-called post-modernism as specimens of a fashionable and philosophically objectionable irra- tionalism. He would in all probability have appraised positively cer- tain trends in analytic philosophy, in particular its so-called ‘linguistic turn’. 16 Lately, however, there is a renewed interest in the neo-Kantianism of the so-called South-West German School. Rickert’s opus magnum on historical methodology, Die Grenzen der naturwissenschaftlichen Begrisbildung was translated into English, albeit in an abridged edition. 17 Rickert’s shorter version of this voluminous book, Kulturwissenschaft und Naturwissen- schaft, was reprinted in Germany in a paperback edition, while a volume of his main essays appeared in print recently. 18 Meanwhile, the phi- losophy department of the University of Düsseldorf has opened a Heinrich Rickert Research Institute, the main objective of which is the publication of Rickert’s collected works in fteen volumes. 19


The present book is based on a close but critical reading of Rickert’s texts, and tries to reproduce his often complex and abstract ideas in a generally understandable language. Despite the yet pristine Rickert-

  • 16 Cf. Richard Rorty (ed.), The Linguistic Turn, 1967, (Chicago: the University of Chicago Press, 1992).

  • 17 Heinrich Rickert, The Limits of Concept Formation in Natural Science. A Logical Introduction to the Historical Sciences (abridged edition), edited and translated by Guy Oakes, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986). A rare study in the 1960’s was Hermann Seidel, Wert und Wirklichkeit in der Philosophie Heinrich Rickerts (‘Value and Reality in Henrich Rickert’s Philosophy’), (Bonn: Bouvier Verlag, 1968.) A recent, voluminous study is Christian Krijnen, Nachmetaphysischer Sinn (‘Postmetaphysical Sense’), (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2001).

  • 18 Heinrich Rickert, Kulturwissenschaft und Naturwissenschaft (Cultural Science and Natural Science), 1926, (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1986). Philosophische Aufsätze (Philosophical Papers), edited and introduced by Rainer A. Bast, (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999).

  • 19 See the website It is the website of the ‘Heinrich Rickert Forschungsstelle’ of the University of Düsseldorf, Germany, of which professor Rainer A. Bast, PhD is the managing director.


renaissance it should still be explained, why one would actually take on such a rather laborious task. There are, of course, various motives for writing about a particular philosopher. Usually there is, to begin with, an irrational, esthetic motive, which Rickert would nd philo- sophically inadmissible, but should not be kept secret. I have been in sympathy with Rickert’s style of thinking and writing ever since I began to read his books in the 1970’s, inspired to do so by Max Weber’s essays on the logic of the social sciences. Weber was obviously inuenced by Rickert’s epistemology and philosophy of values. His references to this kind of thinking made me anxious to read the philosopher himself. It was then my experience that, while reading his less complex and intellectually more easily accessible texts, such as the small volume on the cultural and the natural sciences, or his critique of the vitalistic philosophies of his days, 20 one meets a philoso- pher who is a lively thinker and who at times writes in an ironic way—an experience which is quite dierent from the one Golo Mann described in his memoirs. Certainly, Rickert excels repeatedly in extremely complex and abstract thoughts, and sometimes gets himself lost on the way, but he is nevertheless mostly able to express his thoughts clearly and understandably. In fact, after a while, after one has seriously tried to understand his thoughts and ideas, one actually begins to like his style of thinking, arguing and writing. I for my part began even to develop some sort of emotional liking of the man as a thinker which, of course, does not preclude a critical stance towards him. After all, is this not the original meaning of the word philosophy? In one of my interviews with Franz Rickert, I told him that read- ing his father’s texts I got the impression as if he was talking to me, although he never addresses the reader directly. He smiled and then told me that this was almost literally true, since his father did not write his articles and books, but dictated them—not to a secretary, because he could not bear someone in his study, when he was at work. A friend of his around the turn of the century gave him a ‘Parlograph’ which he had bought in America. One spoke into a kind of huge horn and the sounds were then ‘printed’ into roles of wax. The large house in Heidelberg had a small room—the Parlographenzimmer —in which a secretary typed the spoken texts on

20 Heinrich Rickert, Die Philosophie des Lebens, o.c.


a type writer. The philosopher now had a written text which he edited by hand. The edited text was typed again, and then sent to the publisher. The wax roles were recycled: they were wiped out— a task Franz Rickert performed as a young boy—and used again. ‘The house always had this penetrating smell of bee wax’, he recalled. 21 One of the consequences of this parlando writing technique is repeti- tion. Anyone who teaches courses realizes that one will often repeat subjects and ideas in later lectures. That is, to a certain degree, a helpful technique as students get the opportunity to grasp what the course really is all about. Because the reader of Rickert’s texts gets the impression of sitting in his lecture hall, or in his study, listening to his expositions, he is helped to get acquainted gradually with his style of thinking and with the main themes of his idiosyncratic phi- losophy. At regular intervals Rickert interrupts his stream of thought in order to recapitulate what he has just said in a summarizing fash- ion. It is obvious that he nds this helpful. It organizes his thoughts, it helps him to remain on the main track. Yet, in that he is not always successful, as we shall see in due time. Also in this respect he was a student of Immanuel Kant who toiled on his publications and often got lost likewise in the thicket of his complex thoughts. There was still another, equally unphilosophical motive to subject Rickert’s thoughts and ideas to closer scrutiny. This motive was less esthetic, more or less socio-psychological. It is intriguing that there was this initially famous and respected philosopher, widely read,

21 Quoted interview with Franz Rickert. Glockner who rented for a while a room in Rickert’s house as did the literary historian Ernst Robert Curtius (1886–1956), and the previously mentioned August Faust, gives a slightly dierent story. In a dis- cussion with Curtius about Rickert’s writing habit Glockner mentions the fact that the ‘parlograph’ was eventually set aside because the secretary could not handle it. Rickert then dictated his texts to Frau Pfeier, without paying any attention to punctuation in the often very long sentences, to orthography of the philosophical concepts, and to the insertion of footnotes. That would have interrupted his stream of thoughts. The typed manuscript, a rst draft, was next drastically edited by hand, and dictated once more to the typing secretary. This was, Glockner relates, some- times repeated four or ve times. The texts were then given to Rickert’s closest assistants for comments on clarity and readability. This dictating procedure, Glockner concludes, made the texts too broad and too long. Rickert should have been more

ecient. But Curtius defends Rickert: ‘An ingenious author

(. . .

.) always imagines,

also when he dictates, readers who are as smart and educated as he himself is;

never a bunch of unknowing students who resist conceptual thought.’ (‘Ein geistre-

icher Schriftsteller

(. . .

.) stellt sich auch beim Diktieren immer nur Leser vor, die

so klug und gebildet sind wie er selbst; niemals jedoch einen Haufen unwissender


applauded and criticized in the decades before World War I, and suddenly, within one or two decades, he was set aside and next for- gotten. Since I became increasingly critical of vitalistic philosophers from Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Bergson to Dilthey and Scheler, and since I felt estranged also from currents like existentialism and phenomenology, let alone structuralism and so-called post-modernism, I became curious as to what Rickert’s rationalism was actually all about. The sentiments aired by Golo Mann, and shared by many in his days and in later decades, were misleading, certainly when they were not based on a careful reading of his texts. Rickert, I thought soon after I began to subject his publications to a close read- ing, was not at all a dusty, humorless, old-fashioned thinker. He deserved, it was my contention, a serious re-appraisal. But there is a more fundamental, methodological motive why it does make sense to get involved in Rickert’s thinking and writing. His ideas about values, culture, and the generalizing (natural-scientic) and individualizing (cultural-scientic) concept formations had a deci- sive inuence upon the sociologist, whom I have always considered to be the most inuential and important one in sociology, which is my eld of expertise: Max Weber. Rickert and Weber were friends during their younger years in Berlin, and they were eventually col- leagues at the universities of Freiburg and Heidelberg. Reading and re-reading Weber’s methodological papers in particular demonstrated to me that one could not understand his brand of sociology which he called verstehende Soziologie correctly, if one did not know and under- stand Rickert’s philosophical, methodological and logical writings. To mention one simple point, the idea of a verstehende Soziologie is mis- understood, if one ties Weber’s rational notion of Verstehen to Dilthey’s conception of it and views it as a psychologically oriented sociology. Also Weber’s technique of constructing ideal types (reine Typen, Idealtypen) is misunderstood, if one has not learnt what the adjectives transzen- dental (a priori) and rein (pure) mean in neo-Kantian epistemology. Due to Rickert, Weber employed a neo-Kantian methodology and was not a Husserlian phenomenologist, let alone an adherent of one or the other kind of vitalism or psychologism. In the last chapter, all this will be discussed in more detail. 22 We will then also see how

22 Cf. Guy Oakes, Weber and Rickert. Concept Formation in the Cultural Sciences (Cambridge, Ma.: The MIT Press, 1988). Thomas Burger, Max Weber’s Theory of Concept Formation. History, Laws, and Ideal Types (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1976).


Rickert’s philosophy had a strong echo on other philosophers like Georg Simmel, Gustav Radbruch, Emil Lask and Karl Mannheim.


These rather personal motives are, of course, not a sucient reason for a detailed representation and analysis of Rickert’s writings. Why should one today pay attention to these often complex and at times warped thoughts and reections, and subject them to a close read- ing? Most of his critics have failed to do this, why should we? It is the task of the following chapters to demonstrate why Rickert’s neo-Kantian (or maybe better post-Kantian) transcendentalism is less old-fashioned and out of date than it is usually believed to be. At this point, its philosophical relevance can only be painted prelimi- narily in some very broad and thus necessarily not very subtle out- lines. To begin with, loyal to Kant’s three Critiques Rickert’s systematic philosophy was solidly based upon epistemology. The rather tradi- tional epistemological questions he addressed as to the intricate rela- tionships between knowledge and reality, between subjects and objects, between values and facts have not been answered satisfactorily by his critics. His detailed analyses in epistemology were usually simply brushed aside, in particular by those philosophers who superimposed ontology on epistemology. Likewise his methodological demarcation of Natural Science (Naturwissenschaft) and Cultural Science (Kulturwis- senschaft) was systematically misinterpreted, because its formal logic was replaced by a substantial ontological juxtaposition of ‘nature’ versus ‘culture’. This will be discussed in detail in Chapter Five. In this section I shall try to argue in favor of Rickert’s philosophical relevance by representing briey and rejecting critically the usual objec- tions against neo-Kantianism in general and Rickert’s system in par- ticular. It is, in other words, an argument e contrario which will be formulated more positively in the succeeding chapters of this study. It is, to begin with, somewhat rash, of course, to lump philosophical currents with obvious internal dierences, together into a few para- digms, but this is legitimate if it sheds some light on the question why Rickert’s philosophy has been neglected in the former century and why this neglect was and still is uncalled for. There was the predominantly European ontological opposition to transcendentalist epistemology, launched in particular (but not exclusively) by Nicolai


Hartmann. 23 In fact, an ‘ontological primacy’ was juxtaposed to the alleged epistemological primacy of Kant and a neo-Kantian like Rickert. The main stumbling block was and still is Kant’s conviction that the thing-in-itself (das Ding-an-sich) cannot be known. Reality as it exists outside human consciousness cannot be known without the structuring of the experiences by means of the a priori forms of per- ception (Anschauung), time and space, and the a priori categories of reason (Verstand ), such as quality, quantity, relations and modality. This has led to two misconceptions. First, it was and often still is believed that Kant denied the existence of reality outside consciousness which was then called his Idealism. Yet, he has stated repeatedly that this was not his position, emphasizing time and again the objec- tive, autonomous existence of the thing-in-itself, but adding that it cannot be known as such without the interference of the senses (struc- tured by the a priori forms time and space) and the a priori cate- gories. This was the essence of the juxtaposition of what he called the noumenon and the phaenomenon—a position, incidentally, which was inspired by Hume’s pair of concepts sensation and reexion. (Hume’s impact on Kant and the neo-Kantians should not be underestimated. It was, to say the least, a strong source of inspiration.) In any case, if one wants to maintain the opposition of Idealism versus Realism one should bear in mind that Kant and the neo-Kantians were not at all anti-realistic. As we will see in due time, certainly Rickert’s epistemology and philosophy of values was not. His transcendentalism was in fact a grand attempt to reconcile ontology and epistemology. A second misconception of the (neo-)Kantian epistemological primacy was the idea that its alleged Idealism was also a one-sided rational- ism. But here again, Kant and certainly a neo-Kantian like Rickert tried to balance rationalism and irrationalism. As we will see in Chapter Two Rickert did indeed reject the one-sided irrationalism of various strands of vitalism (Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Dilthey, Bergson, Scheler, etc.), but this did not at all mean that he neglected the irrational forces in life and reality. It was in his view the prime task of the sciences and philosophy to rationalize the irrationality of

23 Cf. Nicolai Hartmann, Grundzüge einer Metaphysik der Erkenntnis, (‘Essential Features of a Metaphysics of Knowledge’), 1921, (Berlin, Leipzig: Walter de Gruyter, 1925). As was quite usual in those days (Rickert did the same), Hartmann criticizes neo- Kantian epistemology without mentioning any of its authors. As the title of his book indicates, Hartmann tried to replace transcendentalist and idealist epistemology by an ontology which in the end is metaphysical.


reality-in-itself. Each attempt to understand it, is an attempt to grasp it rationally by means of the a priori categories. This is thus not a denial of irrationality and irrational forces. The main agenda of neo- Kantianism was a rational understanding of the irrational by means of the a priori categories. It is absurd to accuse Rickert of a one- sided rationalism that denies the existence, importance and inuence of irrationalism. The ‘data’ which enter man’s consciousness through the senses are as such a disorganized and irrational mass which is being put in a rational order by the a priori categories, and, as we shall see in greater detail, by the transcendental and ‘objective’ for- mal values as well. Yet, he did not pretend, as the vitalists do with the help of their category ‘Life’ and their emphasis upon intuition, to be able to penetrate into the irrationality of reality-as-such. The ‘ontological primacy’ vis-à-vis the epistemological primacy has inspired and reinvigorated the nineteenth century vitalism (Lebensphilosophie) of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Despite severe internal dierences, vitalistic ontology and its inherent irrationalism 24 penetrated deeply into twentieth century philosophy, after World War I rst, and then under various disguises, such as French and German existentialism and certain strands of post-modernism, again after World War II. Not Kant, the summit of transcendentalist epistemology, was any longer the fountain of philosophical thoughts and insights, but Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, a vitalistically interpreted (and therefore misinter- preted) Darwin, and above all Heidegger, were the giants on the shoulders of whom various philosophers stood and are still standing. A common trait of this ontological and vitalistic rejection of neo- Kantian epistemology was and still is its anti-normative stance. 25 As we shall see in the fourth chapter, Rickert emphasized the soci- ological fact of man’s inherent attachment to values (Wertbezogenheit), but if it comes to the scientic approach to reality—and he dened philosophy as a scientic enterprise—one should refrain from evaluating,

  • 24 Friedrich Nietzsche and Henri Bergson were, of course, the most inuential philosophers of vitalism. Rickert’s interpretation of their brands of vitalism will be discussed in the second chapter.

  • 25 The normative, moral and political dimensions of these intellectual giants (even if they were illegitimately imposed, as in the case of Darwin) have had a great inuence on philosophy and the social sciences. The political component of Heidegger’s ontology in particular has been broadly discussed. Cf. Pierre Bourdieu, L’ontologie politique de Martin Heidegger (‘The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger’), (Paris:

Les Éditions de Minuit, 1988). Victor Farias, Heidegger and Nazism, 1987 (Philadelphia:

Temple University Press, 1989). Rüdiger Safranski, Ein Meister aus Deutschland. Heidegger


normative judgments (Wertungsfreiheit). This position, as is well known, was adopted also by Max Weber in his logic of the social sciences. This has probably been the greatest stumbling block for the critics of neo-Kantian epistemology. The Kantian concept of critique, as in the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’, was of course not at all socio-political and thus allegedly ‘concrete’, but epistemological and therefore allegedly ‘abstract’. If one keeps in mind that transcendentalist epistemology is not one- sidedly idealistic and rationalistic and if one seriously listens to Rickert’s critique of vitalism and its irrationalism, one will not be convinced by the arguments in favor of the ontological primacy. It becomes obvious that Rickert’s analyses of the traditional philosophical questions as to the relationships of subjects and objects, of reality and con- sciousness, and of reality and values are not at all obsolete. Also his logical rather than ontological demarcation of Natural Science and Cultural Science as two mutually complementary approaches to reality deserves closer attention than it received in the last century. Rickert’s critical analysis of irrationalism as a fashionable current in the philosophy of his days is still much up-to-date in view of var- ious popular so-called post-modernist philosophies which replace ‘abstract’ analytic thought by ‘concrete’ aesthetic and emotional reections. 26 And also his emphasis upon the need to abstain from value- judgments and normative evaluations in philosophy and the cultural sciences deserves renewed attention today—a position also taken by Max Weber, whose logic of the social sciences was severely criticized by the adherents of the so-called Frankfurt School during the politically and intellectually turbulent 1960’s and 1970’s. 27 Also on this issue critics failed to understand the analytic distinction between ‘value relevance’ (Wertverbundenheit) as a fact and as an ‘abstain-

und seine Zeit (‘A Master from Germany. Heidegger and his Time’), (München, Wien:

Carl Hanser Verlag, 1994). Heidegger was a student of Rickert and despite philo- sophical disagreements remained, as Mrs. Verburg told me, a friend of the family. See Martin Heidegger, Heinrich Rickert, Briefe 1912 bis 1933 und andere Dokumente, edited by Alfred Denker (Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 2002).

  • 26 The popular, well written publications of Richard Rorty come to mind here. Cf. in particular his volumes of essays Contingency, irony and solidarity, 1989 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991) and Objectivity, Relativism and Truth (Idem, 1991).

  • 27 The so-called kritische Theorie of the Frankfurter Schule rejected the abstaining of value-judgments in the social sciences and in social philosophy, yet engaged in epis- temological reections. Jürgen Habermas, for instance, did not ignore Rickert’s epis- temology as most vitalists have done, but subjected it to a critical and extensive


ing from value judgments’ (Wertungsfreiheit) as a methodological norm and democratic value. This will be discussed in more detail later. It suces here to underline that also in this respect Rickert’s philoso- phy is not at all the kind of obsolete Fremdkörper most of his critics have declared it to be. The problem is that these critics usually did not carefully read and re-read Rickert’s books and articles. They usually quoted former critics, and almost blindly copied their often mistaken views and conclusions. After World War II Anglo-Saxon philosophy in particular developed in the positivistic, analytic direction. There are, of course, intrinsic dierences within this trend which was at rst inspired by the pre- war Vienna Circle (Carnap, Neurath) and developed later in England, where Russell rst and Wittgenstein next exerted a decisive impact on contemporary philosophical thought. The latter’s focus on language and speech led to a paradigmatic revolution which has aptly been termed the Linguistic Turn. 28 There is admittedly a world of dierence between the rather Germanic way of thinking and writing of Rickert and the innitely more lucid thoughts and sentences of most Anglo- Saxon analytic philosophers. Yet, as the following chapters hopefully will indicate there is also in Rickert’s transcendentalism a resemblance with the basic positions and tenets of analytic philosophers. Rickert rarely mentioned fellow philosophers by name but he was, as we shall see, impressed and inuenced by the mathematical theories of Frege, who was in a sense the grandfather of analytic philosophy. For instance, although he did not mention his Begrisschrift (conceptual script), Rickert was like Frege constantly in search of words which could catch meanings in an analytically clear manner. He complained time and again about the fact that he did not possess such an analytic language, and was doomed to express his thoughts in everyday life language. That led him to a verbosity which he regretted thoroughly. He died in 1936 and could thus not witness the Linguistic Turn. But it seems to me that he would be much in agreement with the basic tenets of it. It would, for instance, be interesting to learn how he would have reacted to Wittgenstein’ Philosophical Investigations of 1953. He would reject the aphoristic approach since he believed in

analysis. See his ‘Ein Literaturbericht (1967): Zur Logik der Sozialwissenschaften’, in: Jürgen Habermas, Zur Logik der Sozialwissenschaften (On the Logic of the Social Sciences), (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970), pp. 71–320. 28 Richard M. Rorty (ed.), o.c., 1992.


the essentially systematic nature of philosophy. But he would be in agreement with several of its thoughts and statements. Particularly Rickert’s concept of the meaning bestowing act (Aktsinn), to be dis- cussed in detail later, comes close to Wittgenstein’s concept of ‘lan- guage game’ and his linguistic behaviorism. There are, to use a Wittgensteinian concept, a couple of ‘family resemblances’. 29 Meanwhile, it seems today that analytic philosophy has developed into a kind of orthodoxy which has acquired rather scholastic char- acteristics. If that is correct, contemporary philosophy is in need of a renaissance which, as was the nature also of the Renaissance of the sixteenth century, should start with a return to the classics in order to open new avenues towards the future. One of these clas- sics is denitely Immanuel Kant. The epistemological primacy of his critical, transcendental philosophy is again attracting much attention these days. As no other philosopher Heinrich Rickert has made an ongoing attempt to go beyond Kant by constructing a philosophical system in which traditional ontological, logical, epistemological and methodological problems are discussed, analyzed and sometimes even solved. For example, as we shall see in Chapter Five, Rickert resolves the alleged opposition of the natural and the cultural sciences by a constructed continuum which, if taken seriously, is able to put an end to the methodical war (Methodenstreit) that raged in the social sci- ences and in the philosophical debates of the past century. 30


Before we delve into the complex world of Rickert’s philosophy, we should try to grasp his idiosyncratic approach which he did not out- line specically but runs as a continuous thread through all of his thinking and writing. There are three elements in particular that stand out in this approach, namely the repeated emphasis upon the systematic nature of philosophy, the constant application of heterol- ogy, and the persistent rejection of psychologism.

  • 29 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1976), para 67, p. 32e.

  • 30 Cf. Theodor W. Adorno c.s. (eds.), Der Positivismusstreit in der deutschen Soziologie (The Positivism Conict in German Sociology), 1969, (Neuwied, Berlin: Luchterhand Verlag, 1972).


As we shall see later, Rickert rejected a predominance of meta- physics in philosophy. To him philosophy is an autonomous science alongside the specialized (natural and cultural) sciences. It is founded upon a distinct (transcendentalist) ontology and epistemology and subjected to the laws and norms of formal logic. It also has its specic object of investigation and here lies the great dierence between phi- losophy and the other sciences whose objects are necessarily spe- cialized compartments of reality as a whole. Whereas we experience the world, including ourselves, pre-reectively as an undierentiated whole, each natural science and each cultural science investigates its own particular, specialized part of reality. Philosophy, on the con- trary, should subject das Weltall, that is reality-in-its-totality, reality- in-toto (a concept, incidentally, not used by Rickert) to investigation and concept formation, lest it loses its legitimate, autonomous place in the realm of sciences. This encompassing object needs, of course, a systematic, non-specialized approach. Philosophy is systematic or it is nothing! 31 This has ontological and epistemological consequences. Ontologically Rickert distinguishes dierent yet related realities which he calls ‘realms’: the rst realm consists of observable objects (includ- ing man’s psyche), the second realm consists of understandable mean- ings and values, and the third realm, which connects the former two, is the reality of the transcendental I which links the formal and abstract values to the substantial and concrete objects in a meaning bestowing act (Aktsinn). As we shall see later, Rickert distinguished nally a fourth realm of this total reality, the metaphysical Beyond. This fourth realm, however, is no longer part of scientic philoso- phy because its concepts are similes, symbols, allegories. It is the abode of normative worldviews which yield not knowledge but faith. In order to realize such a systematic approach successfully, the philosopher must be able to bridge the alternatives and opposites of various epistemological dilemmas, otherwise he maintains a concep- tual fragmentation of reality-in-toto. Rickert’s concept formation there-

31 See especially the rst two chapters of his Allgemeine Grundlegung der Philosophie (‘General Foundation of Philosophy’), (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1921), pp. 1–14; 14–24. In his doctoral dissertation and rst book sized publication Rickert already emphasized the systematic nature of each science, including philosophy. See Heinrich Rickert, Zur Lehre von der Denition , (‘On the Theory of the De nition’), 1888, (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1929, 3rd improved ed.), p. 23.


fore operates with opposite pairs which do not exclude but include each other: subject and object, immanence and transcendence, the- oretical thinking and non-theoretical thinking, thinking and acting, form and substance, identity and dierence, empirical (sensual) real- ity and non-empirical (non-sensual) reality, being and validity, facts and values, Natural Science and Cultural Science, etc. These con- ceptual pairs are not each other’s opposites, as in Hegel’s thesis and antithesis which are then ‘lifted up’ (aufgehoben) into a synthesis that poses a new thesis. They constitute, on the contrary, a mutually inclusive heterothesis in which the autonomy of the pairs is not dis- solved into a synthesis, but fully maintained. 32 It is the systematic cross-reference of polar concepts. The meaning of the one is explained in terms of the opposite meaning of the other. Often such heterological arguments border on tautologies. For instance, he ercely and recurrently criticizes those philosophers who proclaim the end of systematic philosophy because according to them modern philosophy could only focus adequately on parts and com- ponents of reality, not on a supposedly total reality. He then argues that it is only possible to think and talk about parts and components, if there is a conception of a totality of which they are parts and components. But such tautologies emerge only when one ‘ontolo- gizes’ one’s concepts. If they are kept analytical, that is a priori, tran- scendental, heterology and heterothesis will not be tautological. The heterological approach, as will be seen repeatedly later, rather intends to preclude the rigidity of ‘ontologized’ conceptualizations. Due to heterothesis, Rickert’s concepts are not static, but exible. Concepts, he says time and again in a typically Kantian vein, do not depict a static reality, as is done by the so-called Abbildlogik—the logic which views concepts as pictures or mirrors of reality. They instead demar- cate like pickets an eternally changing and moving reality. In a sense, reality lies or moves in the ‘space’ between the heterologically jux- taposed concepts which are, as we shall see, a priori, transcendental, to boot.

32 See e.g. Heinrich Rickert, ibid., pp. 50–57. Also Heinrich Rickert, Grundprobleme der Philosophie. Methodologie. Ontologie. Anthropologie (‘Fundamental Problems of Philosophy. Methodology. Ontology. Anthropology’), (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1934), para 7:

‘Philosophie und Heterologie’, pp. 39–47. See also Christian Krijnen, op. cit., pp.


The main heterological pair of concepts is the ‘real’ reality of objects vis-à-vis the ‘virtual’ reality of values. It is a crucial heterology. Once more, Rickert’s basic intention was to restore and maintain the traditional idea that philosophy, unlike the specialized, empirical, scientic disciplines, is a general science, the aim of which is to acquire scientic (i.e. rationally controlled) knowledge of reality-in-toto. There are, of course, various specialized philosophies, such as the philosophy of religion, art, law, etc. But then the question arises what it is that justies the concept of philosophy in all these sub-philosophies. In order to be able to answer this question, there must be a general philosophy which sets out to investigate and interpret reality-in-toto (das Weltall ). In his systematic search for a conception of reality as a fullled (not a nal!) totality, Rickert claims that the heterological distinction between ‘real’ reality of objects and ‘virtual’ reality of val- ues is a constitutive component. In fact, as we shall see later, reality- in-toto, the admittedly awkward concept of das Weltall, is viewed by Rickert as a formal possibility rather than a material reality. It is a hypothesis, or better still a postulate, based upon the heterothesis of ‘empirical reality’ and ‘ideal reality’, rather than an empirically proven, ontological thesis. It is this continuous interplay between seemingly opposite concepts which constitutes the basic dynamics in Rickert’s concept formations. It prevented him from drifting ointo conceptual realism (Begrisrealismus) and its inevitably static, abstract and schematic rationalism on the one hand, and into naïve empirism and its inevitably unscientic irrationalism on the other hand. Heterology is, as we shall see in Chapter Five, of crucial importance in the conceptual juxtaposition of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, and con- currently in the methodological juxtaposition and mutual demarca- tion of Natural Science ( Naturwissenschaft ) and Cultural Science (Kulturwissenschaft) as two dierent yet complementary methodologies. They are not mutually exclusive, as is often believed by the adherents of so-called Geisteswissenschaften, but can be ‘reconciled’ heterologically. The origin of Rickert’s heterology of empirical, observable and virtual, understandable realities lies, of course, in Kant’s analytic dichotomy of the noumenon, reality-in-itself that does exist but cannot be known on the one hand, and the phaenomenon on the other hand which is reality as it is perceived through our senses (Anschauung) and is then molded into knowledge by our reason (Verstand ) through the a priori categories. This dualism, however, has led to a fatal


misunderstanding of Kant’s philosophy in the form of psychologism in epistemology and logic. Like Frege and the early Husserl, 33 Rickert has systematically and perpetually rejected psychologism in epistemology and logic. Kant’s theory of the transcendental a priori as the non- empirical abode of the ‘aesthetic’ forms time and space, and the cate- gories of reason (quality, quantity, relation, modality), driven by an ‘absolute consciousness’ (transzendentale Apperzeption), did quite under- standably, yet falsely, cause the idea of psychology as the core of Kantian ‘transcendentalism’. Or phrased dierently, Kant’s ‘Copernican revolu- tion’ which claimed that ‘reality as such’ (das Ding-an-sich) does exist objectively, but can as such not be known, that, in other words, knowledge is rather a construction of reality by the a priori, ‘innate’ categories imposed, as it were, on the sense impressions, has given rise to the idea that this is in essence a psychological construction of reality. Rickert rejects this misinterpretation persistently. This is not an anti-psychological animus on his part, because he respects the psychological discipline as an important empirical science. 34 Psychology is, according to him, an empirical discipline like the other (natural or cultural) sciences, and cannot therefore possibly be ‘elevated’ to the a priori status of ‘transcendentalism’. It is also, like the other sciences, a specialized and thus fragmentary discipline which cannot therefore possibly function as the foundation of a systematic philos- ophy. In other words, psychology should remain an empirical, scientic discipline and not pretend to provide philosophy with an alleged

33 In 1894 Frege published his in some instances rather sarcastic critique of Husserl’s book on the philosophy of mathematics of 1891, attacking its allegedly psychologistic and subjectivist approach: Gottlob Frege, ‘Rezension von: E. G. Husserl, Philosophie der Arithmetik. I’ (‘Review of: E. G. Husserl, Philosophy of Arithmetic. Vol. I’) in: Gottlob Frege, Kleine Schriften, I ‘Small Papers. Vol. I’). Angelelli (ed.), (Hildesheim, Zürich, New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1990), pp. 179–193. Husserl adopted later an anti-psychologistic approach in his Logische Untersuchungen, Bnd I: Prolegomena zur reinen Logik, (‘Logical Investigations. Vol. I: Preface to Pure Logic’), 1900, (Tübingen: Max Niermeyer Verlag, 1968), pp. 50–192. But under the inuence of Brentano’s theory of intentionality and Dilthey’s ‘descriptive psychology’ his phenomenology remained again close to a kind of psychologism which Frege and Rickert rejected radically and systematically. For a detailed analy- sis see Jos de Mul, De tragedie van de eindigheid. Diltheys hermeneutiek van het leven, (‘The Tragedy of Finiteness. Dilthey’s Hermeneutics of Life’), (Kampen: Kok Agora, 1993, pp. 253–266. 34 For an early example of this misinterpretation of Rickert’s logical view of psy- chology as an empirical science see H. A. Leenmans, De logica der geschiedenis-wetenschap van H. Rickert. Een critiek, (‘The Logic of History by H. Rickert. A Critique’), (The Hague: no publisher mentioned, 1924).


nucleus or foundation, otherwise philosophy degenerates into a metaphysical kind of psychologism. Rickert was quite positivistic in this. To him, psychology was an experimental and natural-scientic discipline, as for instance developed by Wilhelm Wundt. He was conse- quently in disagreement with Dilthey who developed a geisteswissen- schaftliche, descriptive psychology. 35 This brand of hermeneutic, descriptive psychology allegedly oered a foundation for the normative (i.e. moral and aesthetic) statements within the Geisteswissenschaften. This, incidentally, stands also in strong opposition to Rickert’s methodological demand to abstain from normative value-judgments. 36 I shall return to Rickert’s anti-psychologism stance in Chapter Three.


It is customary to distinguish two neo-Kantian schools: the so-called South-West German School or, as it was also called, the Baden School, in which Wilhelm Windelband (1848–1915), Heinrich Rickert and Emil Lask (1875–1915) were the dominant thinkers, and the so-called Marburg School, which acquired fame by Hermann Cohen (1842–1918), Paul Natorp (1854–1925) and in particular Ernst Cassirer (1874–1945). 37 There was not much intellectual intercourse between the two schools. In their publications cross-references are either absent, or extremely sparse. 38 Neo-Kantianism is often identied with the Marburg School, but the fact is that Cohen and Natorp moved away from transcen- dentalism. Cohen rejected Kant’s separation of Anschauung and Verstand, claiming that knowledge emerges only from pure, creative thinking.

  • 35 See e.g. his Ideen über eine beschreibende und zergliedernde Psychologie, (‘Ideas about a Descriptive and Dissecting Psychology’), 1894, in: Wilhelm Dilthey, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. V, (Stuttgart: Teubner; and Göttingen: Vanden Hoeck & Ruprecht, 1957, 2nd ed.), pp. 139–240.

    • 36 Cf. Jos de Mul, o.c., pp. 206–212.

  • 37 See Hans-Ludwig Ollig (ed.) Neukantianismus (Neo-Kantianism), (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1982). The volume contains several texts of the two neo-Kantian schools. Also:

W. Flach, H. Holzhey, eds., Erkenntnistheorie und Logik im Neukantianismus (‘Episte- mology and Logic in Neo-Kantianism’), (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg Verlag, 1980). This book also contains several neo-Kantian texts.

  • 38 In Ernst Cassirer, Zur Logik der Kulturwissenschaften. Fünf Studien (‘On the Logic of Cultural Sciences. Five Studies’), 1942, (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1961) Windelband and Rickert are only mentioned briey. Neither Rickert’s volumi- nous volume Die Grenzen der naturwissenschaftlichen Begrisbildung which is a fundamental discussion on the logic of the historical discipline, nor his shorter Kulturwissenschaft und Naturwissenschaft are refered to at all. His critique of Rickert’s logic and methodology is proportionally sparse.


After a return to orthodox Judaism, he moved to Berlin, where he taught at a Jewish theological seminary. Here he was more interested in religious issues of worldview than in epistemology and scientic philosophy. Natorp too moved away from transcendental philosophy in the direction of Platonism, emphasizing its mystical thinking and focusing on the subjective, concrete existence. Cassirer, who was ini- tially under the strong inuence of his teacher Cohen, 39 was a prolic writer, a great expert in the history of philosophy in general and of Kant’s philosophy in particular. 40 Cassirer developed his neo-Kantianism into a cultural philosophy which, particularly in his celebrated Philosophie der symbolischen Formen , was closely connected with such cultural- scientic disciplines as cultural anthropology and comparative religion. 41 As I shall argue in the Conclusion, Cassirer was much more successful in his cultural philosophy than Rickert has been at the end of his life. Wilhelm Windelband (1848–1915) introduced the critical, yet debat- able notion that Kant’s vision of Wissenschaft was too one-sidedly ori- ented towards and inuenced by the natural sciences. In his famous

  • 39 At the end of his life Cassirer wrote an essay commemorating the hundredth birthday of Cohen: Ernst Cassirer, ‘Hermann Cohen, 1842–1918’, in: Social Research, vol. X:2, 1943, pp. 219–232.

  • 40 Cf. Ernst Cassirer, Kants Leben und Lehre (‘Kant’s Life and Doctrine’), 1918, (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft; Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 2001; volume 8 of the Hamburg Edition of Cassirer’s Collected Works in 25 volumes). Cassirer also co-edited the publication of Kant’s collected works. For a complete bibliography of Cassirer see Raymond Klibansky, H. J. Paton (eds.), Philosophy and History. The Ernst Cassirer Festschrift, 1936 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1963), pp.


  • 41 Ernst Cassirer, Philosophie der symbolischen Formen (‘Philosophy of Symbolic Forms’), three volumes, vol. One: Die Sprache (‘Language’/‘Speech’), vol. Two: Das mythische Denken (‘Mythological Thought’), vol. Three: Phänomenologie der Erkenntnis (‘Phenomenology of Knowledge’), 1925, (Darmstadt: Primus Verlag, 1997). This intellectual transi- tion took place after his move to Hamburg University in June 1919. Here he got acquainted with the famous ‘Cultural-Scientic Library Warburg’, erected by the wealthy businessman Aby Warburg. The library harbored an enormous stock of historical, cultural-anthropological and sociological books which Cassirer used inten- sively while writing his three volumes on the philosophy of symbolic forms. According to Paetzold, ‘Hamburg was the place where Cassirer became a cultural philosopher’. See Heinz Paetzold, Ernst Cassirer. Von Marburg to New York. Eine philosophische Biographie (‘Ernst Cassirer. From Marburg to New York. A Philosophical Biography’), (Darmstadt:

Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1995), p. 47. On Cassirer and the Warburg Library:

ibid., pp. 68–80. At the end of his life, living in the United States as a refugee (New Haven, 1941–1944; New York, 1944–1945) Cassirer expanded and intensied his interests in cultural philosophy. Cf. Paetzold, o.c., pp. 191–222. See Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man. An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1944; reprint: New York: Doubleday, 1951) and Ernst Cassirer, The Myth of the State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1946).


inaugural address as the Rektor (Vice-President) of the University of Strasburg, 1894, he argued that one should distinguish two basic approaches to reality which leads to two logically and methodolog- ically dierent, yet not mutually exclusive sciences: Geisteswissenschaften (‘sciences of the mind’) and Naturwissenschaften (‘sciences of nature’). There is not a principal dierence between these two, but they should be distinguished methodologically: the former focus on what dierentiates and is unique (‘idiographic’), the latter on what is general and law like (‘nomothetic’). 42 We will discuss Windelband’s theory of the demarcation of the sciences in greater detail in Chapter Five. Rickert, as we will see then, elaborates on Windelband’s theory, yet rejects the concept Geisteswissenschaft as it suggests a psychologistic approach. After all, the concept Geist (spirit, mind, consciousness) is easily identied with Seele (soul, psyche). However, Rickert’s substitution of the concept Geisteswissenschaft by Kulturwissenschaft and of the concepts ‘idiographic’- ‘nomothetic’ by the concepts ‘individualizing’-‘generalizing’ is, as we will see, more than just playing with words. 43


The following chapters are the result of a close reading and re-read- ing of Rickert’s publications. The main focus was on his books and less on his essays, since he incorporated the latter often verbatim in the former. I did, of course, read the essays and at times incorporated them in my discussion of Rickert’s theories, if they oered additional information. It is my contention that most of the (often critical) dis- cussions of Rickert’s writings have not been the result of a careful

  • 42 Wilhelm Windelband, ‘Geschichte und Naturwissenschaft’ (‘History and Natural Science’), 1894, in: Präludien. Aufsätze und Reden zur Philosophie und ihrer Geschichte (‘Preludes. Essays and Lectures on Philosophy and its History’), vol. 2, (Tübingen:

Mohr-Siebeck, 1915), pp. 136–160. Windelband was more a historian of philoso- phy than a philosopher of history. He earned fame in particular with his textbook that deservedly acquired the status of a ‘classic’, Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie (‘Textbook of the History of Philosophy’), 1891, edited and enlarged with a chap- ter on philosophy in the 20th century by Heinz Heimsoeth, (Tübingen: Mohr- Siebeck, 1957, 15th ed.).

  • 43 It is in this context interesting to read Hempel’s essay ‘Explanation in Science and in History’, 1963, in: James H. Fetzer (ed.), The Philosophy of Carl G. Hempel. Studies in Science, Explanation, and Rationality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 276–296. Without mentioning them he addresses the same logical and methodological issues as Windelband and Rickert, albeit within the paradigm of analytic philosophy.


reading and re-reading of his texts. They often discuss ideas and theories in a fragmentary manner which is not only unfair but what is worse scientically reproachable. 44 In addition critics often repeat the criticism of other critics without apparently checking these criticisms by reading Rickert’s own texts. All this does, of course, not help at all to understand what Rickert actually meant to say. Therefore I found it necessary to read and re-read him closely and follow him, as it were, step by step, trying to understand his often complex and abstract, yet never boring and bone-dry argumentations without sub- jecting them to hasty judgments which are by denition almost always prejudgments. I found it necessary to write this book in English. His opus magnum on the limits of Natural-Scientic concept formation which is, as we shall see in the fth chapter, an elaborate logic of historical research, has been translated into English, albeit in an abridged edition. 45 His books on epistemology, methodology, logic and philosophy of values are not available in English. It is therefore hard for the Anglo-Saxon world to get acquainted with Rickert’s peculiar philosophy which at present is experiencing a modest renaissance in Europe. Hopefully, the present study may lead to more translations of Rickert’s work. 46 But there is a more private reason for this English publication. I found it heuristically helpful to represent Rickert’s ideas in English and to translate quotations from Rickert into English. I would nd it extremely dicult, if not impossible, to do so in the case of Hegel, Husserl or Heidegger, but to my pleasant surprise Rickert’s German was, despite the complexity of his ideas, surprisingly transparent and, apart from a few technically philosophical concepts, not at all dicult to translate. The rst chapter presents a rst introduction to Rickert’s philos- ophy by means of a brief summary. It is meant to facilitate the read- ing of this book with a general overview that omits all the complex

  • 44 A telling example presents R. G. Collingwood who in less than two pages sum- marizes and severely criticizes Rickert’s concept of history and his historical method- ology: The Idea of History, 1946, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), pp. 168–170.

  • 45 Heinrich Rickert, The Limits of Concept Formation in Natural Science. A Logical Introduction to the Historical Sciences (abridged edition), edited and translated by Guy Oakes, o.c.

  • 46 The books most appropriate for English translation are, in my view, the small, lucid Kulturwissenschaft und Naturwissenschaft, o.c., the also lucidly written introduction to his own philosophy Grundlegung der Philosophie, o.c., and in particular the critical and at times ironical study on vitalism which will be discussed extensively in Chapter Two: Die Philosophie des Lebens, o.c.


details of his philosophical system. The chapter can be read as a kind of map which indicates the main roads through the thicket of Rickert’s thinking. Summaries are usually placed at the end of books. I nd it much more helpful to start with one. The second chapter deals with Rickert’s critique of Lebensphilosophie (vitalism) which he rejects in so far as it presents a set of philo- sophical fads and fashions. However, in this critique too he argues in terms of heterology, that is, he is not a proponent of the abstract, lifeless and rationalist philosophy most vitalists object to. Throughout his philosophical thinking and writing Rickert searches for a con- nection between perception and reason, between senses and mind, between estheticism and rationalism. In addition he agrees with Kant that ethics ( praktische Vernunft) has priority over thinking (theoretische Vernunft). Thinking, as we will see in the second chapter, ends up in judgments (Urteile) which are in fact acts related to values. Despite his criticism of American pragmatism he comes at distinct moments in his epistemology and philosophy of values close to a pragmatic and behaviorist position. The third chapter focuses on the most dicult part of Rickert’s philosophy: his epistemology and logic which is, again heterologi- cally, tied to his ontology and, although almost residually, to meta- physics. It is necessary to delve into his often rather cumbersome epistemological reections in order to understand his philosophy of values and his logic of the historical, cultural sciences. The fourth chapter discusses his philosophy of values in which he, again heterologically, juxtaposes the observable and explainable real- ity of objects with the understandable and virtual reality of mean- ings and values. He distinguishes, as we shall see, three realms: rst the reality of objective facts, second the reality of formal values, whereas the third realm, consisting of the transcendental Ego, con- nects these two heterologically into a total reality. The central con- cept here is Aktsinn, i.e. the meaning bestowing act which ties the second realm of values to the rst realm of facts, events and objects. At this crucial point his transcendentalism results surprisingly in a theory of action. Beyond that reality lies the metaphysical world which cannot be reached by rational, scientic concepts but only suggested by symbols, similes, allegories. It lies beyond the reach of science but constitutes the coping-stone of his systematic philosophy, since it represents the nal form of reality-in-toto.


The fth chapter discusses Rickert’s demarcation of Natural Science (Naturwissenschaft) and Cultural Science (Kulturwissenschaft) as two het- erologically related approaches to reality. As in everyday life sen- sations and reections, scientic approaches to reality are either generalizing or individualizing. The generalizing approach is essen- tially ahistorical, whereas the individualizing approach is essentially historical. The former aims at law-like statements, whereas the lat- ter is rather descriptive and sensitizing. In fact, although he did not formulate it explicitly so, Rickert constructed an ideal typical con- tinuum between two heterological opposites. On this continuum the various empirical sciences are located—some more generalizing, like physics, chemistry, or experimental psychology, some more individ- ualizing like history and cultural sociology, others somewhere in the middle of the continuum. The sixth and nal chapter presents a discussion of Rickert’s rel- evance, in particular in view of the cultural sciences. There is no one-to-one, direct inuence to speak of. However, in various publi- cations there is a strong echo of his work. In some cases, there is an inuence on Rickert’s thinking in return. I shall single out some of the most prominent examples of this echo and its responsive chord. Georg Simmel, Emil Lask, Gustav Radbruch, Johan Huizinga, Karl Mannheim and in particular Max Weber will be reviewed. These are not exhaustive representations and analyses of their writings but rather brief discussions of their intellectual link with Rickert’s work. The conclusion will present a personal, critical evaluation of Rickert’s oeuvre and will end with the question, what then Rickert’s relevance today actually could be.



Before we turn to a representation and interpretation of Rickert’s ideas and theories, based on a close reading of his texts, it might be helpful to summarize briey the main components of his com- plex and at times rather abstract philosophical system. There is the happy circumstance that Rickert himself presented a couple of sum- maries of his ideas. To begin with, the rst chapter of his ‘General Foundation of Philosophy’ explains the main lines of his idiosyn- cratic thinking. Secondly, two years before his death he published ‘Fundamental Problems of Philosophy’ which reads as a recapitula- tion of his philosophical system, and was obviously meant as an introductory text for lay-people. Finally, at the request of a philo- sophical periodical he wrote a brief summary of seven pages. This document was published again in 1982. 1 Although these publications have been helpful in writing the present concise summary of Rickert’s thoughts and thinking, I shall allow myself a considerable amount of interpretational liberty. The succeeding chapters will follow Rickert’s texts as closely as possible, but in this summary I shall for clarity’s sake assume some distance from them. The following points, it seems to me, provide a concise synopsis of his philosophy.

(1) Rickert is not happy when his philosophy is branded ‘neo- Kantian’, obviously because he nds his philosophy of values and the related logic and methodology too original and authentic to be put into the context of an existing brand of philosophy. Yet, particularly in three aspects he remains a loyal follower of the great philosopher of Königsberg, namely (a) in the idea of a transcendental philosophy, (b) in the ongoing emphasis upon the distinction between form and

1 Cf. (1) Heinrich Rickert, Allgemeine Grundlegung der Philosophie I, (‘General Foundation of Philosophy. Vol. I’ (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1921), pp. 1–49; (2) Grundprobleme der Philosophie. Methodologie, Ontologie, Anthropologie (‘Fundamental Problems of Philosophy. Methodology, Ontology, Anthropology’), (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1934); (3) ‘Thesen zum System der Philosophie’, (‘Theses on the System of Philosophy’), in: H.-L. Ollig (ed.), Neukantianismus, (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1982), pp. 174–181.


content, and (c) in the epistemological conviction that reality outside human consciousness (das Ding-an-sich) is irrational and thus inacces- sible for rational knowledge. Rickert calls this reality a heterogeneous continuum.

  • (a) His transcendentalism is primarily epistemological, but secondly

also ontological. It has its origin in Kant’s view that reality-in-itself (das Ding-an-sich), i.e. the world of facts, objects (including other living beings) and events can as such not be known. They constitute in that respect an ‘irrational’ mass of ‘senseless’ material. But human

beings experience these objects through the sense-organs, these expe- riences are, as it were, structured rst by the a priori forms time and space into a phenomenal Anschauung and next into a ‘rational’, intel- ligible order by the categories of the Verstand which function in man’s consciousness prior to any experience. We order our sense-experiences in terms of here-and-there (space) and then-now-later (time). These experiences are next ‘structured’ by means of rational categories such as quality, quantity, causality, etc. which are also part of human consciousness prior to experience. This prior-to-experience of the concepts is called ‘transcendental’. Because of this ‘subjective’ nature of the categories transcendentalism is often described in psychologi- cal terms, and because of its anti-realism (or anti-empiricism) it is identied with metaphysics. Rickert rejects both vehemently and con- sistently. Psychology to him is one of the empirical sciences which investigates the functions of the psyche, preferably in an experimental manner, but it cannot be the philosophical essence of epistemology, just as sociology or economics cannot assume such a philosophical position. Moreover, Rickert emphasizes cogently that philosophy is a scientic discipline which diers from the other (natural and cul- tural) sciences in that its object of investigation is not one special- ized compartment of reality, as is the case with the dierent scientic disciplines, but reality-in-toto, encompassing, total reality.

  • (b) As in Kant’s ontology and epistemology, Rickert sees concepts

as formal, abstract, contentless ‘categories’ which must, as it were, be imposed on experienced contents in order to generate rational knowledge. This is, in fact, such a simple fact that we do not real- ize it in everyday life. After all, through the words and sentences of our language we impose on experienced realities categories which are in themselves empty (formal). The word ‘tree’ is quite general and abstract, but becomes concrete and specic when we apply it to a particular apple or cherry tree. By doing so, we in a sense put



order on a reality which in and of itself cannot possibly be known. Through our language this chaotic mass is altered into a coherent, meaningful and valuable order. The sciences and in particular of course philosophy, repeat this procedure but now in a logically ruled procedure, called methodology. (c) Rickert emphasizes the unbridgeable gap between reality and concepts, and therefore rejects the representational logic (Abbildlogik) and its inherent realism. Reality—the world of natural objects, his- torical events, psychological experiences, etc.—as we experience it through our sense-organs, does not contain and exhibit any sharp boundaries. It is, as he phrases it, a heterogeneous continuum. There are uent transitions between everything that exists and occurs in reality. Not only nature, as an old saying has it, but also culture does not jump. Everything ows. This is reality’s continuity. But there is still something else going on in reality: not one single human being, thing, or event is completely identical with someone else, something else or another event. There are at most some similari- ties between them. In other words, each component of reality has its own special, singular, individual character. Everything is dierent. It is reality’s heterogeneity. Wherever we look, we will always nd this combination of the oating continuity and the individual (spe- cial, singular) heterogeneity. This is why reality as a heterogeneous continuum may be called ‘irrational’. If our concepts should repre- sent this heterogeneous continuum, as the representational logic wants them to do, it would saddle them with an impossible task. In the language of everyday life, and more structured and logically ordered in the conceptual language of the sciences, we do not depict the complex heterogeneous continuum but, on the contrary, simplify and in a sense ‘distort’ it. We can only master it scientically (i.e. rationally), if we separate the continuity from the heterogeneity, conceptually transforming the heterogeneous continuum into a homogeneous continuum on the one hand, and a heterogeneous discretum on the other. The former is performed by mathematics, the latter by the dierent (natural and cultural) sciences. As to the latter, it all depends on the point of view, where and how such a heterogeneously discrete segment is cut out of reality-in-toto, dening that specic segment as its proper object of research and concept formation. Rickert distinguishes two main points of view: the ‘generalizing’ and the ‘individualizing’ approach, respectively applied by the natural and the cultural sciences.


(2) Rickert then defends, to begin with, the thesis that philosophy ought to be both scientic (i.e. non-metaphysical) and systematic. That is, philosophy focuses, like the other sciences on empirical reality, i.e. the reality which we experience through our senses. The scientic approach is also called by him ‘theoretical’, in contrast to the so- called ‘a-theoretical’ approaches of music, the arts, religion, eros. 2 Within the orbit of the sciences philosophy is not just a science among other sciences, but occupies a relatively exalted position, since its ‘object’ of investigation is reality-in-toto, unlike the specialized nat- ural and cultural sciences which explore distinct parts of reality. Its aim is to construct concepts which refer to das Weltall, to total real- ity, not just to one specic, specialized part of reality. This, of course, needs a systematic approach. The concepts and their logically coher- ent theories form, as it were, a network which help us to know and understand reality not only rationally (i.e. logically and not just intu- itively), but also systematically (i.e. not compartmentalized, as is nec- essarily the case with the specialized natural and cultural sciences). Reality-in-toto cannot be reconstructed by simply adding up the spe- cialized scientic accounts of reality, and their specic philosophies. Neither does general, systematic philosophy come about by simply adding up the philosophies of various scientic disciplines, such as legal, social, economic, political, natural philosophy. That procedure would, of course, not lead to a philosophy with its own autonomy and authenticity, its own logical and methodological space among the other sciences. Yet once more, philosophy is not just a specialized discipline along- side, or in the service of, other specialized sciences. It has, as has been remarked before, a relatively exalted position but that should not be interpreted in a Platonic or Hegelian sense. Rickert uses the following metaphor: philosophy is still the queen of the sciences, but the days of its autocratic reign are over; it reigns today as in a con- stitutional monarchy, i.e. in constant communication with the par- liament of sciences. Philosophy, we may also say, is no longer the prima donna she was in former days, but a prima inter pares.

2 Rickert juxtaposes ‘theoretisch’ and ‘atheoretisch’ as synonyms of ‘scientic’ and ‘non-scientic’. I translate ‘atheoretisch’ literally into ‘a-theoretical’ instead of ‘non- theoretical’. Similarly, throughout this book I shall use ‘ahistorical’ as a technical term instead of ‘non-historical’.



(3) This emphasis upon a Weltall and upon the concurrent need of a non-specialized, systematic philosophy sounds rather old-fashioned and quite passé today. However, this was already so in Rickert’s days, and he was fully aware of that! He singles out Nietzsche’s vitalism and Kierkegaard’s existentialism, and their manifold followers, as the main representatives of an anti-rational and anti-systematic ‘philosophy’. But the fragmented vision of philosophy is, he realizes, also fostered by the strong specialization of the various, natural-scientic as well as cultural-scientic disciplines each of which, if they are interested in philosophy at all, develops and promotes its own eld-specic ‘philosophy’. In opposition to all this, Rickert sticks stubbornly to his ‘total’ and ‘systemic’ approach for two main reasons. First, if one sticks to the allegedly inevitable compartmentalization of philosophy in as many specialized philosophies as there are scientic disciplines, one must answer the question what it is that justies the qualication of their being ‘philosophies’. Or, in other words, what is the genus of which these specialized philosophies are specimens? Second, to answer this question satisfactorily general philosophy needs to possess (a) its own object of investigation and (b) its own characteristic approach to this object. If the object cannot be a compilation of the specialized objects of the empirical sciences, it must be reality-in-toto. In order to be able to investigate this ‘total’ reality, it must be systematic. That may be old-fashioned, but the question is—also nowadays— whether it is logically unsound. Rickert does realize that Weltall, reality-in-toto, is a rather problematic and hazardous concept. It smacks of Platonic metaphysics, i.e. the vision of an encompassing, overarching reality from which the empirical realities, with which we humans have to do and in which we live day by day, emanates. This is not at all what Rickert means by it. There are several passages in his writings which indicate that the envisaged reality-in-toto is a Kantian postulate which one must stick to, in order to avoid the fragmentation of philosophical thought into many specialized philosophies. It is, in other words, more of an epis- temological than an ontological and metaphysical concept. It is a fact, Rickert argues rather phenomenologically, that in our daily existence we do experience reality pre-reectively as a whole, i.e. in toto, and thus not in the specialized terms of the various, compartmen- talizing sciences. It is then the task of the philosopher to systematize and indeed rationalize this pre-reective ‘totality’ of reality, but that does not mean that he has to get lost in the quicksand of metaphysics.


What is at stake here is, of course, the philosophical status of the Weltanschauung, i.e. the worldview. There are, Rickert argues, many worldviews which are founded upon a particular component of reality- in-toto and then generalized into an encompassing, metaphysical status. Examples are Nietzsche’s ‘Life’, Kierkegaard’s ‘Existence’, Freud’s ‘Eros’, Bergson’s élan vital, etc. Rickert rejects the view of philosophy as just another metaphysical worldview, or even worse as an arbi- trary compilation of existing worldviews. He rather sees his own phi- losophy of values as a Weltanschauungslehre, i.e. as worldview theory which reects rationally and critically about human life. But this world- view theory, which constitutes, of course, an anthropology, does not oer a metaphysical, normative vision of what human life should be, or ought to be all about. This, incidentally, is one of the reasons why Rickert’s philosophy did not have the emotional appeal that Nietzsche, Bergson, or Heidegger exerted—and still exert today, we may add.

(4) The main aim of his philosophy is to acquire scientically sound (‘theoretical’) knowledge of reality-in-toto. In this sense epistemology (closely linked to formal logic and methodology) has a primacy over ontology and stands apart from metaphysics. However, this is not to say that he does not engage in ontological reections. On the contrary, his ideas about ‘reality’ are distinctly ontological. At the root of his ontology is the distinction between two kinds of reality, the sensible (sinnliche), explainable (Erklären) reality of the experiences and the non- sensible (unsinnliche), intelligible (Verstehen) reality of the meanings and values. (This runs, of course, parallel to the Platonic distinction of the ‘aesthetic’ and the ‘understandable’ reality—the aisthèton and the noèton—or what Hume called the ‘sensible’ vis-à-vis the ‘intelligible’ reality.) Contrary to the persistent epistemological, Cartesian dualism of body-soul (or, in German, Geist which is usually used as an equiv- alent for psyche, or soul), Rickert argues that reality consists of three rather than these two dimensions: next to the sensible/observable corporeal reality, consisting of material objects, and the also sensible/ observable psychic reality, consisting of psychic/conscious processes— both of which can be studied empirically and are open to causal explanation (kausales Erklären)—there is as a second realm the non- sensible, intelligible, understandable yet also ‘real’ reality of mean- ing (Sinn, Bedeutung) which are open to a dierent kind of knowledge which is usually called understanding (Verstehen). To give an example,



men communicate by means of language. While speaking there are physical and psychic processes involved which can be studied empiri- cally. However, the meaning of the words are non-sensible, yet very real. They are understandable, rather than empirically measurable. The linguistic meanings constitute an autonomous reality which is demonstrated by the fact that they can continue to exist and to be commonly understood even when there is no spoken or written expression anymore. We do not need any spoken or written texts in order to understand words like ‘water’, bread’, ‘air’, etc. Rickert still adds the fact that the sensible world develops all the time, is in a constant ux. We observe, for instance, how a leaf is green in the summer and turns brown in the fall. However, the meaning of the word ‘green’ never ows over into ‘brown’. Words in our language have relatively permanent meanings, otherwise we would not be able to communicate at all. The meaning of the words for the three col- ors of the trac lights cannot suddenly or gradually be changed into ‘red’, ‘white’ and ‘blue’. Meanings are, of course, not limited to linguistic words. A facial expression, a glance of the eyes, a handshake, can often ‘say more’ than words. In a shared culture we do understand (rather than cog- nitively know) the facial and bodily gestures of our fellow men. They are an inherent element of our daily communication. Likewise, a serious disruption of communication may occur, if one is not acquainted with the meanings of gestures in a foreign culture. The very same argument holds true for non-verbal expressions such as those of music, the arts, religion, eros, etc. This again demonstrates the fact that meanings constitute an autonomous reality vis-à-vis the sensible reality of physical and psychic objects.

(5) There is an additional dimension or component of this non- sensible, intelligible reality of the meanings of words or similar expres- sions. Take theoretical (i.e. scientic) statements as an example. In order to be communicated at all they must, of course, possess an understandable meaning. However, we want the statement also to be true! That is, the value of truth (and its counterpart falseness) is involved. Meaningfulness and meaninglessness, sense and non-sense, are interlinked with values and counter-values. A scientic statement which is proven to be false is meaningless, and if it is true, it is meaningful. Likewise, non-theoretical expressions like music, the arts, religion, etc. contain understandable and communicable meanings,


but represent simultaneously also values and counter-values. In other words, the non-sensible (unsinnliche) and understandable reality which Rickert distinguishes from the sensible (sinnliche) and explainable real- ity, consists of meanings and values. And there is an important dierence between these two realities: the denial of the facts of the latter results in nothingness, in non-facts and can thus be summar- ily discarded from our epistemological interest; the denial of values of the former results in a counter-value which in history and soci- ety may well play a dominant role. Every ‘god’ encounters in this world somewhere and some time a ‘devil’ worshipped by people as a ‘god’. It is the task of the philosophical theory of worldviews (Weltanschauungslehre) to describe and critically analyze these ‘gods’ and ‘devils’, but it cannot decide scientically which ‘gods’ are legiti- mately to be demonized, or which ‘devils’ ought to be deied. That judgment is to be made by men in specic socio-cultural circum- stances consisting of institutionalized ‘meaningful con gurations’ (Sinngebilde). That is still another dimension of Rickert’s theory of val- ues, it is the judgment (Urteil ) which in the end connects the abstract and formal values to the concrete and empirical contents of daily experience, and which likewise denes objects, processes and phe- nomena in the empirical reality of experience as being meaningful. For this judging activity Rickert employs the neologism Aktsinn, i.e. meaning bestowing act.

(6) Rickert has thus conceptually split reality in two ‘spheres’, the sensible, observable world of facts and objects and the non-sensible, understandable world of meanings and values. He cannot leave it at that because he is, as we have seen, in search of reality-in-toto con- ceptually ‘covered’ by a ‘total’ philosophy. There must be a third reality which reconciles the observable and the understandable real- ities. His ontology coincides at this point with his epistemology. Epistemologically, he argues, human knowledge consists of objects to be known and a subject that knows the objects. The German word for object is Gegenstand which means literally ‘something stand- ing opposite to something else’. Or phrased dierently, a known object needs a knowing I. But this epistemological subject, the I of the knowledge process, cannot be the human psyche or conscious- ness because we can have knowledge of our psyche or consciousness which then is an object again, as is the case in the specialized scientic discipline, called psychology. It is equally incorrect to call this knowing



I a metaphysical reality, because it is impossible to conceptualize such a metaphysical reality in a scientically satisfactory manner. In fact, Rickert claims, this I, which Kant called a ‘transcendental apper- ception’ or a ‘general consciousness’ (Bewusstsein überhaupt), precedes as it were each kind of sensible/observable and non-sensible/under- standable objectivity, and can therefore be labeled as pro-physical rather than meta-physical. It is the immaterial and non-sensible subject, the transcendental ‘pure Ego’ which cannot be objectied, but functions as the original, pro-physical source of all knowledge. The I involved cannot be experienced indirectly, for instance by means of words, concepts or intuitions, but functions directly, neither cognitively nor emotionally, at the moment we set out to acquire knowledge of the sensible and the non-sensible reality.

(7) Rickert demonstrates here a modus operandi which is character- istic of all of his philosophizing. He called it heterothesis and het- erology. It is a permanent thinking and arguing in terms of contrary, yet reciprocal concepts, i.e. conceptual alternatives which clarify one another and precludes a one-sided conceptual realism. The one is always dened in function of the other: transcendental I—experiential reality, subject-object, sensible/observable-intelligible/understandable, general-particular/individual, value-unvalue, natural-cultural, dead- alive, mechanical-organic, etc. It seems similar to the Hegelian dialec- tics, but is dierent in that the thesis-antithesis opposition is not ‘solved’ by a synthesis which is in its turn a thesis that calls forth its antithesis. Rickert does not ‘solve’ but maintains the tension and exibility of the thesis-antithesis dualism, until he nalizes his phi- losophy in a metaphysical approach of reality-in-toto.

(8) The sciences, but also everyday living outside the world of the sciences, depend on digital judgments: ‘yes’ vis-à-vis ‘no’, ‘positive’ vis-à-vis ‘negative’. Men can only make such digital judgments about reality or life in terms of values in science and in daily life we are driven by interests and motives which are always related to certain values and meanings. There is, in other words, the anthropological and ontological fact of the value-relevance, or value-relatedness (Wertbezogenheit) of men which causes them to constantly relate to val- ues (Wertbeziehung). However, there is also, Rickert emphasizes, a dis- tinct dierence between scientic and everyday life knowledge: the latter is intrinsically bound by values and their inherent norms, and


therefore will always argue in terms of normative judgments like beautiful-ugly, kind-unkind, attractive-unattractive, etc., whereas the latter should at all costs refrain from such normative judgments, lest it violates the aim of an ‘objective’ analysis, explanation and inter- pretation of reality. Scientists are related to values through their interests, (thus, there is no ‘value-free’ science), but in their research, writing and teaching they should obey the scientic norm which tells them to operate ‘free from value-judgments’ (wertungsfrei ), lest they explain their own, private interests and values and not the (natural- scientic) facts and (cultural-scientic) values and norms of the objects under investigation. Indeed, since the cultural sciences deal with meanings and values as their objects of investigation the norm of Wertungsfreiheit is of special importance. We have, meanwhile, left the realm of General Philosophy and entered the world of the empiri- cal sciences which Rickert characterized in terms of a continuum of the Natural-Scientic approach versus the Cultural-Scientic Approach.

(9) In Rickert’s ontology there is the distinction between the explain- able world of the senses, divided into a corporeal and a psychic real- ity, vis-à-vis the understandable world of meanings and values—the one being sinnlich, the other unsinnlich. These two realities need, of course, dierent scientic approaches. Rickert rejects the traditional distinction of Naturwissenschaft (Natural Science) versus Geisteswissenschaft (Spiritual Science) since the latter easily leads to all sorts of vague connotations. Geist is connotated in particular with ‘psyche’ or ‘con- sciousness’ and may then easily lead to a psychologistic, i.e. meta- physical lling in of the idea of a Geisteswissenschaft. Rickert holds psychology in high respect but it should be kept out of philosophy, since it is an empirical science which focuses upon the sensible real- ity of man’s ‘inner’ experiences. (Rickert prefers to dene psychol- ogy’s methodology in natural-scientic terms, as in his days Wundt did in his experimental psychology. Other social sciences too, like sociology and economics, are viewed by him primarily in terms of the Natural-Scientic, generalizing, ahistorical approach.) The coun- terpart of Natural Science is, according to Rickert, Cultural Science (Kulturwissenschaft), i.e. the approach to empirical reality in terms of non-empirical, historical values, norms and meanings. Natural Science and Cultural Science are usually distinguished in substantive terms of ‘science of nature’ and ‘science of culture’, the former investigating the value-free world of measurable, causally



determined, ahistorical objects, the latter investigating the under- standable world of historical values and meanings. ‘Nature’ in Kant’s elegant denition is (liberally re-phrased) the ‘world left to its own development’, while ‘culture’ rather constitutes the ‘world worked upon by men with their value-related interests and designs’. Rickert, however, is not really in favor of such a substantive dierentiation of the two main groups of sciences. He rather distinguishes Natural Science and Cultural Science in the formal terms of two mutually quite dierent methodologies. Natural Science then is the generaliz- ing approach to reality which searches for general and ahistorical concepts as the building blocks of general causal laws of develop- ment, whereas Cultural Science is the individualizing approach to reality which coins individual and historically grounded concepts which are the building blocks of interpretations of particular, indi- vidual men, events, and institutions. Particular facts or objects are for Natural Science just specimens of generic concepts. When these concepts have been formulated satisfactorily (in accordance with the demand of verication and/or falsication), there is no need any longer to search for and investigate more individual facts or objects. In Cultural Science historical facts and objects remain relevant for the ongoing research, since the values, norms and meaning to which they are related will change and develop in time. Newly discovered historical facts or events will also contribute to the re-formulation of the cultural-scientic concepts and theories. Unlike the traditional dichotomy of Naturwissenschaft versus Geisteswissen- schaft, Rickert’s methodological pair of Natural Science and Cultural Science must be seen as constructed and therefore non-empirical ends on a continuum, which is the logical space wherein the empir- ical sciences operate—some very close to the Natural-Scientic pole of the continuum, like chemistry, physics, astronomy, etc., others operating at the opposite pole, like the historical discipline in par- ticular. But most social sciences, like psychology, sociology, economics, etc. will operate somewhere in between the poles, sometimes close to the Natural-Scientic end of the continuum, as in behavioristic psychology or econometrics, sometimes closer to the Cultural Scientic pole of the continuum, like cultural sociology or institutional eco- nomics. The latter are usually active in historical and comparative analyses and interpretations, rather than in a search for exact laws of development. The conclusion of this methodological demarcation of the natural and the cultural sciences is that a conict of methods


(Methodenstreit) in the social sciences is logically unnecessary. It pro- duces, as the history of these sciences has demonstrated, more noise than information.

(10) Rickert distinguishes, as we have seen, three dierent, yet inter- linked realms (Reiche): rst the observable (sinnliche) realm of facts, objects and events, investigated by the specialized research of the (nat- ural and cultural) sciences; second, the understandable (unsinnliche) realm of values and meanings; third, the pro-physical realm of the tran- scendental Ego which functions, as it were, as the motor of the knowledge process. These three realms constitute ontologically the reality-in-toto which is the proper object of philosophy as a tran- scendental, systematic and scientic discipline, next to the various empirical and specialized (natural- and cultural-) scientic disciplines. Yet, Rickert realizes, this ontology is still not really ‘total’ and not really ‘systematic’ since it still fragments the world into three com- ponents. What can be said about the fundamental anthropological quest for a meaningful life, for a coherent and overarching view of the world, of history and of the future—i.e. a worldview that oers an open and positive perspective on life and history? Or phrased dierently, what is the logical status of a full-lled (voll-ended ) 3 exist- ence? These are no longer ontological reections but clear-cut meta- physical yearnings which, however, may not be neglected, if one aims at a truly coherent and total vision of reality and history. To sum up, metaphysics which Rickert carefully keeps out of his transcendental philosophy is at the end introduced as a kind of coping- stone without which philosophy would not be able to remain faith- ful to its mission of focusing philosophically on reality-in-toto. However, he wants to remain faithful also to the scientic nature of this total and systematic philosophy. These two motives exclude each other and there is no heterology that can solve this dilemma. As we shall see in Chapter Four, he takes refuge in the theory that metaphysics is epistemologically and ontologically indispensable as a postulate and that it can only be conceptualized by means of symbols, similes and allegories, not by theoretical, i.e. scientic concepts. Naturally, the ideas of Kant come to mind here. In any case, the metaphysical

3 Instead of the word ‘fullled’ I maintain Rickert’s neologistic German concept ‘voll-ended’, translating it into ‘full-lled’.



reality-in-toto thus presents an atheoretical reality, comparable to reli- gion, ethics, literature, and the arts. This is a remarkable conclusion, because at the end of his ontological and epistemological journey Rickert’s theoretical philosophy nds its fulllment in an atheoretical, metaphysical Beyond, where knowledge is superseded by faith—an non-religious, agnostic type of faith.



Das, was lebt, ist etwas anderes als das, was denkt. Gottfried Benn 1


Rickert publishes in 1920 a small volume which provides a concise exposition as well as a erce critique of what he calls in the subtitle ‘the fashionable philosophical currents of our time’. It is a curious treatise in which he carefully and at times ironically analyses the various currents of philosophical thought which are usually lumped together in the concept of Lebensphilosophie, that is ‘philosophy of life’ or vitalism. 3 Dierent thinkers like Nietzsche, Bergson, Simmel, Dilthey, James and Scheler pass Rickert’s revue, yet it is not so much these individual, often quite dierent thinkers he is interested in, but rather the convergence of their ideas as they pertain to their common

  • 1 ‘That which lives diers from that which thinks.’ Gottfried Benn, ‘Pallas’, in:

Provoziertes Leben. Ein Auswahl aus den Prosaschriften, (‘Provoked Life. A Selection from the Essays’), (Berlin: Ullstein Bücher, nr. 54, 1961), p. 165. Benn calls this ‘die pro- gressive Zerebralisation’ (‘the progressive cerebralisation’).

  • 2 This dilemma refers exclusively to the world of sciences, including Rickert’s brand of scientic philosophy. In an essay on science and Christianity he defends the thesis that Christian faith is essentially irrational as it consists in essence of the intimate relationship of the single soul with a personal, loving God which is, in my view, a typically Lutheran-pietistic conception of faith. Science, on the other hand, is, according to Rickert, due to the impact on European thought of Greek philosophy intellectualistic and of Roman law rationalistic. Cf. Heinrich Rickert, ‘Christentum und Wissenschaft unter geschichtsphilosophischen Gesichtpunkten’, (‘Christianity and Science from the Points of View of the Philosophy of History’), in: Christentum und Wissenschaft, 6, 1930, (edited by R. Winkler, H. Sasse), pp. 361–376. The essay is mainly adopted from the seventh chapter of his book Kant als Philosoph der modernen Kultur, (‘Kant as Philosopher of Modern Culture’), (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1924), pp. 76–93: ‘Griechentum, Römertum, Christentum’.

  • 3 Like so many German concepts Lebensphilosophie is dicult to translate into English. It means literally ‘philosophy of life’ but that is quite awkward. Although I realize this is not optimal, I shall use the concept vitalism as the English variant of Lebensphilosophie.


irrationalist attack on the alleged intellectualism of German Idealism. 4 It was, in particular, Dilthey who set the tone for the vitalism which Rickert rejects. For instance, when he wrote: ‘Life then is the fun- damental fact, which must form the starting point of philosophy. It is what is known from the inside, it is that behind which one cannot retreat. Life cannot be brought before the tribunal of reason.’ 5 However, Rickert’s book on the Philosophy of Life is not just a simple and simplistic defense of rationalism. In a sense he sympathizes with the basic idea of vitalism, namely that ideas, thoughts and con- cepts do not emerge from an abstract world but from experiences, or, if one wants to phrase it that way, from life. Knowledge, after all, originates in sense impressions which are as such not rational by nature. They emerge, so to say, in the mêlée of everyday life. These impressions, however, according to Kant are put into a rational order by the a priori forms of time and space and by the likewise a priori categories of thought (Verstand ). Human reason constructs, as it were, reality epistemologically, including everything that stands for the concept of ‘life’. Rickert follows, as we shall see in the following chapters, the epistemological path systematically in what he calls his ‘transcendental philosophy’. The book on vitalism presents a helpful introduction to his philo- sophical thoughts and convictions. He writes it for a broad audience, which has the advantage that it lacks the labyrinthine sentences and thought constructions which were customary for most of his contem- porary philosophical colleagues—and, I should add in all honesty, for Rickert himself at times as well. Its light touch, larded with witty, at times ironical humor, adds to the accessibility of his ideas. His expositions of the vitalistic theories and ideas he emphatically disagrees with, are always clear-cut and fair. His critique is, though at times quite sharp, at all times to the point. The most important thing is,

  • 4 Heinrich Rickert, Die Philosophie des Lebens. Darstellung und Kritik der philosophischen Modeströmungen unserer Zeit, (‘The Philosophy of Life. Exposition and Critique of the Fashionable Currents of Contemporary Philosophy’), 1920, (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck,


  • 5 ‘Leben ist nun die Grundtatsache, die den Ausgangspunkt der Philosophie bilden muss. Es ist das von innen Bekannte, es ist dasjenige, hinter welches nicht zurück- gegangen werden kann. Leben kann nicht vor den Richterstuhl der Vernunft gebracht werden.’ Wilhelm Dilthey, Der Aufbau der geschichtlichen Welt in den Geisteswissenschaften, (‘The Construction of the Historical World in the Humanities’), 1926, B. Groethuysen ed., Gesammelte Schriften , Bd. VII, (‘Collected Publications’, vol. VII), (Stuttgart:



that this critical analysis of vitalism’s irrationalism provides a rst introduction to Rickert’s philosophy of values which will be discussed in greater details in Chapter Four. Rickert makes it quite clear that he too—like Nietzsche whom he admired passionately as a young man and still read in his later years, 6 or like Bergson, Dilthey, and Simmel—dislikes ‘rationalism’ or ‘intel- lectualism’ as the stale remnants of the Enlightenment, locked up in a fossilized academic dogmatism. Philosophy he believes, in concor- dance with the representatives of vitalism, should not evaporate in abstract clouds of concepts and theories which are separated from reality as it is lived and experienced by human beings. As much as he still believes in the power and relevance of German Idealism, he agrees with its vitalistic critics that it has often degenerated into a dry, ‘dead’ academism and stale dogmatism. However, philosophy, Rickert maintains, ought to remain scientic. That means, in his view it ought to be rational. In this respect he departs from the vitalists quite radically.


Today, after the onslaught of logical positivism, the wide acceptance of linguistic philosophy, the ontological revolution brought about by Heidegger, and the irrational mêlée of so-called post-modernism, it sounds rather old-fashioned, if not outdated, to learn that Rickert maintains, even against the odds of his own days, that philosophy is systematic by nature, or is nothing. However, on closer scrutiny, this idea of Rickert may be less outdated than one is inclined to believe at rst sight. To begin with, he is in search of a scientic philosophy. If philosophy is a scientic enterprise, as Rickert emphatically believes, the question arises what its own object of investigation is and how it relates to the specialized, empirical sciences. Empirical reality, i.e. the reality

6 Ibid., p. 179f, footnote 1. As a young student in the summer of 1886, Rickert confesses, he read ‘Zarathustra’ with glowing enthusiasm (‘mit glühender Begeisterung’), in a time when Nietzsche was still unknown. He was then often warned not to overestimate Nietzsche, but ‘even today I return time and again to his works’ (‘und noch jetzt greife ich immer wieder nach seinen Werken’). Yet, he is not able to range Nietzsche among the ‘great philosophers’, as he has failed to address the ‘timeless problems of philosophy’ (‘die zeitlosen Probleme der Philosophie’). For other reasons as well, we shall see presently.


we experience through our sense-organs, is carefully analyzed by var- ious scientic disciplines—by the so-called natural sciences (Naturwis- senschaften) rst and foremost, and subsequently, where these sciences run up against their limits, as in the case of the non-empirical values, by the cultural sciences (Kulturwissenschaften). According to Rickert, these two groups of sciences, as we shall see in Chapter Five, must be seen on a continuum rather than in mutual opposition or even exclusion. These empirical scientic disciplines necessarily compart- mentalize reality, since they focus on reality in terms of their own, specic methods of research and logic of concept formation. Philosophy then is an additional and autonomous Wissenschaft which tries to approach reality not in a compartmentalized but in a total, systematic manner. Various scientic disciplines—physics, chemistry, astronomy, psychology, sociology, economics, history, etc.—dissect, as it were, reality into distinct parts or components. That is logically legitimate, Rickert argues, but reality as a whole is more than and dierent from the sum of these parts. ‘Each of them (distinct disciplines, ACZ) covers, according to its conception, only a part of the world. The whole is something else than a mere stringing together of its parts.’ 7 Rickert warns against the devastating eect, if philosophy followed this compartmentalization and cut itself up into specialized philoso- phies, such as philosophy of biology, of physics, of psychology, of sociology, of history, etc. The consequence of such a fragmentation, Rickert adds, would in the end of the day be an unsatisfactory kind of relativism, since these fragmented, empirical disciplines and their philosophies would have no access to shared and guiding values and norms. Or, in other words, scientic disciplines and their specialized philosophies are inherently unable to forge and formulate guiding values and norms. In the colloquial terms of today, a scientically and philosophically compartmentalized world would yield a culture ruled by the dictum ‘anything goes’. In such a fragmented world theories could not pos- sibly be more than sets of aphorisms. 8 Naturally, Nietzsche, the great

  • 7 ‘Jede von ihnen behandelt ihrem Begrinach nur einen Teil der Welt, und das Ganze ist etwas anderes als die blosse Aneinanderreihung seiner Teile.’ Ibid., p. 13.

  • 8 Heinrich Rickert, Allgemeine Grundlegung der Philosophie, (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1921), p. 2. The rst section of the rst chapter deals with Rickert’s ideas about the systematic nature of philosophy. He indicates clearly that he is aware of the



master of aphorisms, is then the leading and inspiring philosopher. In such a world, it does not make any sense whatsoever to ask what reality-in-toto is and how it could be conceptualized, how it could be ‘brought under’ rational concepts. 9 In opposition to this relativism, Rickert launches the formal and absolute values, such as Truth, Justice, the morally Good, etc., which however become ‘real’ and then also ‘historically relative’ in judgments. Judgments of historical facts, events and objects render the formal and absolute values ‘empiri- cal’, ‘real’, ‘concrete’. This is discussed in more details in the next two chapters. At this point it suces to mention the fact that Rickert actually combines an ‘idealist’ view of absolute, formal and non- relative values with a ‘realist’ view of the ‘realization’ of these forms in historical, empirical facts, events and objects. This realization takes place, as we shall see later, through judgments and their connected acts. 10 In any case, the vitalistic relativism is in his view too facile, too supercial, too unphilosophical. In opposition to this philosophical compartmentalization, Rickert coins and applies the concept of Weltall, reality-in-toto, the encompassing reality. It is the proper object of truly philosophical knowledge. The Weltall, reality-in-toto, not cut up by scientic specialisms, is in a sense a super-reality, a sur-reality which can of course not be experienced as such, i.e. in toto. It is rather posited as an analytic postulate, as a kind of conceptual and analytic, non-empirical canopy which overarches the multiple realities of the various, specialized, scientic disciplines. Reality-in-toto represents conceptually the core of the undivided and indivisible reality which must be assumed, because without it there could not be any specialization or compartmentalization to speak of. It cannot be experienced by the sense-organs, it can not be investigated empirically by the sciences, it is in this sense metaphysical. Yet, it must be there as a postulate. Rickert goes one step further and comes

fact that also in his days the anti-systematic animus was rather fashionable. He refers to Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Bergson, but also to romantic artists like Oscar Wilde, who in dierent words and tones attacked the alleged rationalism and ‘life- less’ intellectualism of each system. 9 ‘Unter einem Begribringen’, literally ‘bringing under a concept’, is a typi- cally neo-Kantian formula which gives expression to the idea that reality as it objec- tively is—das Ding-an-sich—cannot be grasped cognitively without concepts. In the acquisition of knowledge concepts are imposed on reality. 10 This point was missed by Maurice Mandelbaum who accused Rickert of rel- ativism in his otherwise insightful study The Problem of Historical Knowledge. An Answer to Relativism, 1938, (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1967), pp. 119–147.


very close to vitalism, when he adds that in the routines of daily existence we do experience life in an integrated manner, not divided according to the dierent natural and cultural sciences. Philosophy formalizes and systematizes this daily experience. In this sense, Rickert’s vision of a systematic philosophy resembles the artistic current of surrealism. 11 The dierence is, of course, that philosophy is theoretical (scientic), whereas surrealism as an art form is atheoretical (aesthetic).

It should be kept in mind that vitalism which originated in the second half of the 19th century but came to intellectual prosperity around the First World War originated sociologically in the political turmoils of Europe. The rational ideals of the Enlightenment, inspired by such values as freedom, autonomy, tolerance, and solidarity were shattered by the political realities of class strife, war and revolution. The First World War was in a sense the complete demise of rationality. This war and the ensuing economic crisis at the end of the 1920’s shattered the previously relatively sheltered lives of Rickert’s compatriots. The Weimar Republic stands out as an exam- ple of a society characterized by political, societal and cultural compart- mentalization. It collapsed eventually under the fragmented politics of various parties and movements, while its culture exploded, as it were, in a dazzling plethora of artistic and intellectual expressions. They all had one thing in common: they lacked each form of system, coherence, order, and tradition. 12 It stands to reason that such a fragmented polity, society and culture was vulnerable. It proved to be defenseless against the onslaught of fascism and Nazi totalitarianism. Even Rickert, philosophically rooted in neo-Kantian rationalism, fell prey to it. 13

  • 11 The concept of surrealism and its synonym surnaturalism were for the rst time used in literature by Apollinaire in the introduction to his play Les mamelles de Tirésias, (‘The Breasts of Tiresias’), 1919. It refers to a super-realtiy which is not bound by the limits of the experienced, empirical reality. This ts Rickert’s ideas well. Yet, in the arts surrealism then began to refer to the willful exclusion of the mind and of logical reasoning in favor of explorations of the unconscious, of dreams, and of black humor. André Breton’s Manifeste du surréalisme (1924) gives expression to this kind of subjectivism which erupted vehemently in the manifestations of Dadaism. Breton’s subjectivism was also strongly inuenced by psychology and psychoanaly- sis. Psychologism and thus Breton’s brand of surrealism was alien to Rickert’s unemo- tional rationalism, although his brand of neo-Kantian transcendentalism seems to come close to it again. In any case, Breton and his fellow surrealists were more inuenced by Freud’s psychoanalysis than by neo-Kantian transcendentalism as was the case with Rickert.

  • 12 Cf. Peter Gay, Weimar Culture. The Outsider as Insider, (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1968), in particular chapter IV: ‘The Hunger for Wholeness: Trials of Modernity’, pp. 70–101. Also: Otto Friedrich, Before the Deluge, (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1972).

  • 13 See Hans Sluga, Heidegger’s Crisis. Philosophy and Politics in Nazi Germany, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), pp. 93, 98–100. He joined the right-wing German Philosophical Society, and contributed to its journal, erected and led by



Rickert, trained in the Kantian tradition, rejects the so-called Abbildung- slogik, that is the representational logic which views words, concepts, or theories as pictures of reality. In this ‘logic’ truth is measured by the realistic quality of the concepts and theories. Most vitalists hold on to this view, since they long for concepts and theories which are ‘true to life’. Indeed, in this view theoretical truth is not dependent on the rules of formal logic and the results of empirical research. It rather depends on the correspondence of concepts and theories with life—life which is experienced. Rickert rejects this type of ‘logic’ vehemently. Empirical reality is not just grasped by sense impres- sions. In daily life, for instance, we lter and order our experiences and sense impressions through language—through concepts and names that we attribute to things, events and beings. Language, according to Rickert, is in essence a reduction of the complexity of the world. In fact, there are two types of such complexity reducing words, names and concepts. For practical reasons we always reduce the complex- ity of reality by the use of generalizing concepts, that is, by means of generic species names (Gattungsnamen) which order individual objects (things, persons, events, etc.) according to their shared qualities, as specimens of general types. Or we order them in terms of individu- alizing proper names (Eigennamen) which rather focus on their unique and indivisible, that is individual qualities. This is still a pre-scientic kind of conceptualization, in which we, as speaking human beings, engage pre-reectively and arbitrarily. In the natural and cultural sciences this conceptual ordering and reduction of complexity is real- ized in a systematic and logically cogent manner. 14 But Rickert still adds another dimension to this. The world is not just the object of philosophy as the co-coordinating science of sci- ences, one also expects philosophy to elucidate man’s position in it. What the scientic disciplines cannot oer, general philosophy should oer. That is, systematic philosophy is also a philosophical anthro- pology, as it ought to demonstrate what man’s position in the world is, and what the meaning of his life is or could be. That, however,

his former student Bruno Bauch who was a devoted Nazi until his death in 1942. Sluga, pp. 82–85, 92–95, 164–167, 210–214. 14 Ibid., p. 7. The dynamics of generalization and individualization in everyday life human cognition is broadened by Rickert into a basic categorization and logic of the sciences and humanities. We shall discuss all this in more details in Chapter Five.


is only possible, if we know what the values are that provide mean- ing to what we do and are in the world. Moreover, the specialized scientic disciplines are by denition limited in time. They either neutralize time, as in the case of the natural sciences which in actual fact are ahistorical, or they pin down time to the past, as in history, or the here-and-now, as in the social sciences. Philosophy with its focus on values transcends such limits of time, introduces eternity as a philosophical problem. After all, human evaluations are historical and thus time-bound, but the values to which these evaluations refer—truth, beauty, justice, the good, etc.—are timeless, ahistorical and in this sense eternal. 15 If we lived without language, without names and concepts, we would experience reality as a chaos, as an irrational mêlée of sense impressions, as a congeries of meaningless fragments. But when we are able to order these bits and pieces into a meaningful whole lin- guistically, we will be able in principle to experience and understand reality as a meaningful cosmos. That is, in other words, its heuristic function. Philosophy should follow this heuristic path of everyday language. If it is systematic and general, philosophy will be able to contribute to such a sense of meaning and order: ‘Reality is not at all a “world” yet, as it rst meets us before we understand it systemati- cally. It is rather a congeries of fragments or a chaos. It is only after we have ordered its components that something emerges which we call the cosmos. Only the system makes it possible that for us the world-chaos develops into a world-cosmos. In this respect one could say that each philosophy should have the form of a system.’ 16 Philosophy should not want to accomplish more, but as a universal approach its intentions should not be less. How much it is really able to accomplish, Rickert adds wisely, is a dierent question. Despite their widely dierent approaches and conceptualizations, vitalists share one basic insight—that of Life as the overarching con- cept which is viewed and treated as an encompassing principle (Weltallprinzip). With the help of this principle not only the various

  • 15 Rickert, Die Philosophie des Lebens, p. 13.

  • 16 ‘So wie die Wirklichkeit uns zuerst gegenübertritt, bevor wir sie systematisch begreifen, ist sie überhaupt noch keine “Welt”, sondern eine Anhäufung von Bruchstücken oder ein Chaos. Erst indem wir ihre Teile ordnen, entsteht das, was wir den Kosmos nennen. Das System allein ermöglicht es also, dass aus dem Weltchaos für uns der Weltkosmos wird, und insofern kann man sagen, muss jede Philosophie die Form des Systems haben.’ Rickert, o.c., p. 14.



sciences and the various philosophical traditions are usually criticized as being ‘lifeless’, if not ‘dead’, but it is also claimed that all value problems can be solved through it. In this double sense the claims of the vitalists are quite universal and systematic. Yet—and this is their paradox—vitalists ercely reject the idea of a philosophical sys- tem! In fact, vitalism is anti-systematic by denition. Systems are, vitalists claim repeatedly, sti, inexible, rigid, ‘lifeless’ things. Life is always on the move, is an ever changing, thoroughly exible process. Rickert summarizes this almost ‘post-modernist’ vision of the vitalists as follows:

‘Just one thing must be missing (in vitalism, ACZ) which seemed to

belong to each true philosophy: the form of the system. The system is in all conditions something sti, something established, something cur- dled. It therefore stands in hostile opposition to permanently oating and streaming life. Thus, the vitalist is not allowed to think systemat-

ically in the traditional sense of the word.

(. .

.) His thinking has to

cling to the rhythm and dynamics of a never resting life.

(. .

.) Like

the distinction of form and content, that of chaos and cosmos disap- pears for vitalists. Life is both at once. The ongoing stream of life itself is the organizing and organized world, because its structure consists of owing and streaming, and in this respect the world does at the same time not ‘exist’.’ 17


As Rickert realizes, Lebensphilosophie is, as we say today, a black box concept containing many often quite dierent and even contradic- tory ideas. For the sake of clarity he reduces this complexity by the introduction of two main types of vitalism: intuitionism and biologism. 18

  • 17 ‘Nur eines muss ihr fehlen, was bisher zu jeder echten Philosophie zu gehören schien: die Form des Systems. Das System ist nämlich unter allen Umständen etwas Starres, Festgewordenes, Geronnenes und steht daher dem stets iessenden und strö- menden Leben fremd, ja feindlich gegenüber. Im alten Sinn systematisch darf also

der Lebensphilosoph nicht denken.

(. .

.) Sein Denken hat sich der Rhythmik und

Dynamik des nie ruhenden Lebens anzuschmiegen.

(. .

.) Wie der Unterschied von

Form und Inhalt, so fällt auch der von Kosmos und Chaos für sie fort. Das Leben is beides zugleich. Der utende Lebensstrom selbst ist die gestaltende und die gestal- tete Welt, denn ihre Gestalt besteht im Fliessen und Strömen, und sie “besteht” insofern zugleich auch nicht.’ Ibid., p. 16.

  • 18 Rickert uses the concepts ‘vitalism’ and ‘biologism’, but since I use ‘vitalism’ as a translation of Lebensphilosophie I rather speak of ‘intuitionism’ and ‘biologism’. These are, of course, but names which is not problematic as long as one applies them consistently.


The rst one is broad, encompassing and in many respects rather vague, the second is restricted and more or less clear, if only because it stems from biology as a science. Yet, many vitalists managed to come up with a combination of intuitionism and biologism. Intuitionism then denes the notion of life primarily in terms of an immediate, non-reective, intuitive way of experiencing reality. It is emphasized by intuitionism that cognitive concepts (Begrie) by which one grasps reality, do not really yield true knowledge of real- ity. Such concepts, it is claimed, stand in opposition to the ever streaming and thus changing process of life which human beings are inherently part of. Cognitive concepts are ‘frozen’, ‘dead’, ‘lifeless’ pictures of reality which is conceived of as a ‘frozen’, ‘dead’, ‘life- less’ objectivity separated from human subjectivity. They resemble, as Bergson once remarked, ready-made, o-the-peg clothes. However, if one focuses primarily and constantly on life, one will need to think, speak and argue in terms of a unity of subjectivity and objectivity, of thinking and living, of reection and action. Vitalist concepts resemble clothes made to measure.

One is inclined to view the inuence of Arthur Schopenhauer on this point. Schopenhauer reformulated Kant’s distinction between the noumenon as the thing-in-itself and the phaenomenon as the imagination of the thing-in-itself:

the noumenon is, according to Schopenhauer, the metaphysical will which we experience directly in our drives and desires but which is at work in all of reality, the inorganic world included; the phaenomenon is the imagina- tion of the noumenon. Schopenhauer then argues that the will is a will to live, but it is a cosmic and ‘blind’ will without values and norms. Since it can never be gratied, it is a source of suering. This will diers from and is independent of human knowledge, or intellect, or cognition. Moreover, the will is the primary, knowledge the secondary force: ‘the will is not deter- mined by knowledge, but knowledge by the will.’ 19 Knowledge is thus, as it were, driven by this ‘blind’, non-rational, cosmic force which is not alien to us, because we are voluntary, mentally and physically acting beings. The act of the will is the act of the body. In fact, the body is nothing else than the objectied will. 20

  • 19 ‘also nicht

[. . .

.] Wille durch Erkenntnis bedingt sei; wiewohl Erkenntnis durch

Wille.’ Arthur Schopenhauer, Über den Willen in der Natur, (‘On the Will in Nature’), Zürcher Ausgabe. Werke in zehn Bänden, Kleinere Schriften I, (Zürich: Diogenes, 1977), p. 203.

  • 20 Arthur Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, (‘The World as Will and Imagination’), ibid., Vol. I:1, 1 para. 18, p. 143: ‘ja, dass der ganze Leib nichts Anderes, als der objektivirte, d.h. zur Vorstellung gewordene Wille ist.’



Simmel argues in a perceptive book on both philosophers that Nietzsche’s view of life was an optimistic one, based on a sense of the festive and per- manent evolution of life, whereas Schopenhauer’s view was rather gloomy since the will to life could never reach its fulllment, resulting in suering and a deep sense of boredom. 21 Nietzsche’s view of life’s evolution was not teleological, i.e. there was not a nal apotheosis, no nal end. Life’s aim was its very own enrichment, its Dionysian intensication. Its ethos was immoralistic. In contrast, Schopenhauer’s will to live was rather amoralis- tic, as it was valueless, normless and aimless—a ‘blind’ force. The best man can hope for is the discontinuance of the will, either in radical asceticism or mysticism, or in the nothingness of nirvana or death. Rickert discusses Schopenhauer briey as one of the intellectual prede- cessors of the Philosophie des Lebens and entrusts his legacy with a penetrat- ing in uence on many vitalists. Yet, strictly speaking Schopenhauer’s philosophy was more a philosophy of anti-life (of boredom, stagnation, noth- ingness, death) than a philosophy of life (of creativeness, evolution, com- pletion, anti-death). Nietzsche’s Dionysian enjoyment of life, therefore, had a much greater impact on the Philosophie des Lebens.

According to Rickert, intuitionist vitalism declares das Leben, life, as ‘the authentic “essence” of the world-in-toto and declares it simulta- neously as the proper organ of its comprehension. Life itself should philosophize from life without the help of other concepts. Such a philosophy should then be experienced immediately.’ 22 This is a seem- ingly awkward rather redundant formulation: life is the essence of reality and can only be understood by life which is philosophically to be experienced immediately, i.e. intuitively and lively. Rickert phrases it that way on purpose. Vitalism, he means to say, is monis- tic and logically redundant, as it starts from the autonomy of life which does not acknowledge something else outside or beyond life. Life is measured by life, and can only be grasped intuitively by immersing oneself in life. One of the attractions of vitalism, Rickert adds ironically, is the emotionally appealing variety of the word Leben as it occurs in var- ious emotionally gratifying verbs: sich ausleben (to live it up), erleben

  • 21 Georg Simmel, Schopenhauer und Nietzsche. Ein Vortragszyklus, (‘Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. A Cycle of Lectures’), (München, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1920), the rst lecture, pp. 1–19.

  • 22 ‘Man erklärt das Leben für das eigentliche “Wesen” des Weltalls und macht es zugleich zu Organon seiner Erfassung. Das Leben selber soll aus dem Leben heraus ohne Hilfe anderer Begrie philosophieren, und eine solche Philosophie muss sich dann unmittelbar erleben lassen.’ Ibid., p. 5.


(to experience), sich einleben (to immerse oneself ), mitleben (to sympa- thize with). In particular, life’s opposite—death—gives weight to the notion of life in the vitalist’s view of the world: ‘Only what is alive dies, and what has died has died out and is actually dead.’ 23 Note again, Rickert’s ironic use of a blatantly redundant formulation! In particular the cliché expression Erlebnis—“experience”—invites his derision. It is, he says, so hackneyed ‘that it is not sucient enough anymore. Therefore, one believes it essential to advance into the notion of a primordial experience, which apparently is an even live- lier experience than the ordinary one.’ 24 In any case, the word ‘expe- rience’, Rickert continues, can actually not be used anymore, and is therefore often written between inverted commas. It lacks by now any sensible meaning: ‘Not rarely does it mean an empty phrase and serves as a cover up for thoughtlessness.’ 25 Vitalism has deeply penetrated into the arts, as is apparent, Rickert adds, in expressionism, but also in the religious life of his (and, one could add, also our) day. In expressionism the artist searches for authentic expressions which focus on individual originality rather than remaining faithful to the alleged coercion of artistic schools and forms. In religion mystic or emotional experiences are sought for, and opposed to doctrines and ‘lifeless’ religious language and ‘dead’ dogmatisms. But—and this has Rickert’s special interest—vitalism has in particular penetrated into the specialized sciences. The concept of ‘nature’, often tied to that of ‘the organic’, is revitalized and con- trasted to a materialist and mechanistic notion of it. It is hard to fathom, Rickert asserts, how the natural sciences could be concep- tualized in terms of these vitalist notions. What is one to understand by ‘lively physics’? Up till now, Rickert mocks, a ‘lively mathemat- ics’ has not yet been introduced by the vitalists, but mathematics is anyhow not cherished by most proponents of ‘lively’ sciences. 26

  • 23 ‘Nur das Lebendige stirbt, und das Gestorbene allein ist abgestorben und im eigentlichen Sinne tot.’ Ibid., p. 6.

    • 24 ‘. . .

zumal der Ausdruck ‘Erlebnis’ ist allerdings bereits so abgegrien, dass er

nicht mehr genügt und man daher zum ‘Urerlebnis’ glaubt vordringen zu müssen, das wohl ein noch lebendigeres Erlebnis als das gewöhnliche sein soll.’ Ibid., p. 7.

  • 25 ‘Nicht selten bedeutet es eine leere Phrase und dient zum Deckmantel für Gedanklenlosigkeit.’ Idem.

  • 26 Ibid., p. 9. See also p. 37, where he calls the idea of a ‘lively mathematics’ absurd.



Not surprisingly, vitalism also penetrated into ethics: Lebensethik (life ethic) it is called. It bases ethical ideals on life. We should, according to this ethic, experience as much as possible, and we should lead our lives as lively as possible in all directions: live and let live. Or, as Rickert phrases it: ‘Live! That is the new categorical imperative. Life acquires ethical signicance only, if it is led to the apex of liveliness and if it is run through by life in all its extensions.’ 27 Weber’s concept of a rather emotional Gesinnungsethik—ethic of ultimate ends—as opposed to the much more rational Verantwortungsethik—ethic of respon- sibility—is not mentioned by Rickert, but comes to mind immediately. 28 The main problem of vitalism is the fact that it applies the concept of life to everything and everybody in which case it runs completely empty and indierent. It is next contrasted to the allegedly ‘dead’ concepts of the specialized sciences and general, rational, non-vitalist philosophy. A lively organism, Rickert counters, is admittedly not a mechanism, yet there is nothing wrong with attempts to construct physical or chemical concepts in order to know empirically how an organism functions. All that is needed is the basic awareness that (organic, inorganic or socio-cultural) reality is logically dierent from the conceptualizations of that reality. Rickert, in other words, rejects vitalism’s monism and defends cognitive dualism. What lives is not just dierent from what thinks, there is also a logically fundamental gap between what is and what thinks! Or in other words, there is no direct correspondence between subjective and objective reality, nor is there a direct connection between thinking and being. In daily life as well as in science and philosophy we think, speak and experience in terms of words, names and concepts, and these are not ‘dead’ things but the very coordinates of our experiences, emotions and thoughts. Life too can not be experienced directly and intuitively, but is as it were mediated by language, i.e. by words, names and concepts. ‘Life’ to begin with is such a concept. Vitalists would not be able to experience life without the concept of life! Moreover, by means of words, names and concepts we order the complexity, (which in and of itself is chaotic), of reality, i.e. nature,

  • 27 ‘Lebe! so lautet der neue kategorische Imperativ. Ethische Bedeutung gewinnt das Leben nur, wenn es zum Gipfel der Lebendigkeit geführt und in seiner ganzen Breite vom Leben durchströmt wird.’ Ibid., p. 11.

  • 28 Max Weber, ‘Politik als Beruf ’, (‘Politics as a Vocation’), 1919, in: Gesammelte Politische Schriften, (München: Mohr-Siebeck, 1971), pp. 551–560.


culture, history, and thus create conceptually a cosmos in which we are able to experience life in a meaningful manner. After all, Rickert asserts, ‘it is in the form of a concept (Begri) that perception (Anschauung) stops being theoretically “blind”. It becomes expressible, transmit- table, theoretically distinct or true. Absolute formlessness therefore can never render science “lively”, but must “kill” it.’ 29 Although Martin Heidegger was once Rickert’s student and remained a friend of the Rickert family throughout his life, 30 he is not mentioned in his book on vitalism. Yet, it is as if Rickert refers to Heidegger’s idea of (Un)eigentlichkeit—(in)authenticity —when he introduces an addi- tional connotation of the vitalist notion of Erlebnis (experience) or Ereignis (event). In particular when applied with emphasis, Rickert argues, the notion of experience or event means ‘that what we have “experienced” in an actual sense, has not remained strange (‘fremd’), but became our possession, became part of our Self. It has settled down in the depth of our being and become anchored there.’ 31 The experience has then become the essential, the crucial, the authentic,

  • 29 ‘. . .

denn erst in der Form des Begris hört die Anschauung auf, theoretisch

“blind” zu sein, wird sagbar, übertragbar, theoretisch dierent oder wahr. Absolute Formlosigkeit kann daher die Wissenschaft nie “lebendig” machen, sondern muss sie “töten”.’ Rickert, o.c., p. 43. This is not the place to compare this neo-Kantian conception of the Concept (Begri) with that of Hegel. See Charles Taylor, Hegel, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. 297–350: ‘The Concept’. Taylor summarizes the dierence as such: ‘The issue between Kant and Hegel is this:

Hegel takes up Kant’s idea that reality or objectivity is only where the stuof sen- sible intuition is structured by thought. But whereas for Kant this principle was valid only for our knowledge of the world, i.e., for phenomena, and not for things in themselves; for Hegel this is valid ontologically. For the inner truth of things is that they ow from thought, that they are structured by rational necessity. What for Kant just happens to be true of our faculty of knowledge is for Hegel an onto- logical fact which nds its reection in our faculty of knowledge.’ Ibid., p. 297f.

  • 30 This information was given to me by Mrs. Marianne Rickert Verburg, grand- daughter of the philosopher, quoted in the Introduction. She told me in the quoted interview that Heidegger came to visit Rickert’s widow directly after the war, exchanging memories and war experiences. See the exchange of letters by the two philosophers: Martin Heidegger, Heinrich Rickert, Briefe 1912 bis 1933, edited by Alfred Denker, (Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 2002). Despite fundamental dierences between them, Rickert remained loyal to his former student who already in 1917 implicitly criticized his teacher. In a letter dated January 27, 1917 Heidegger wrote that he had reread Rickert’s book on transcendental (pure) logic. He then said indicatively: ‘Pure logic is an extreme, a concealed rape of the lively mind’ (‘Die reine Logik ist ein Extrem, eine verkappte Vergewaltigung des lebendigen Geistes’). O.c., p. 38.

  • 31 ‘dass das, was wir im eigentlichen Sinne “erlebt” haben, uns nicht fremd (ital- ics by HR) geblieben, sondern zu unserm Eigentum oder zu einem Stück unseres Selbst geworden ist, sich in die Tiefe unseres Wesens gesenkt und dort verankert hat.’ Rickert, o.c., p. 43.



and stands in opposition to everything indierent, meaningless, value- free, alien, inauthentic and dead. Experience means in that case not just what is (‘was ist ’), but what actually ought to be (‘was sein soll ’) because it has value. We desire experiences in order to enrich our lives and to make life worthwhile. Experience becomes an overarching value. 32 At this point Rickert could have quoted Christian Morgenstern who in one of his quite surrealistic Palmström-poems exclaims: ‘And he comes to the result: “the experience was just a dream. Because”, he concludes razor-sharp, “what can not be, may not be.”’ 33 Rickert discusses two vitalist philosophers who are also sociologists:

Max Scheler and Georg Simmel. Like Max Weber he is critical of Scheler, whose brand of phenomenological intuitionism he hardly takes seriously, but he is also like Weber sympathetic to Georg Simmel. In fact, he devotes a whole chapter in his book to Simmel’s philosophy. Simmel published at the end of his life, when he was dying of liver cancer, a book called Lebensanschauung. 34 Rickert is fas- cinated by the ideas in this book, particularly since Simmel demonstrates that he does not belong to what Rickert calls, with a hardly concealed disdain, ‘the prophets of vitalism’. Unlike them, Simmel realizes that life is not just a constant stream of change and evolution, but also needs forms in order to exist. This then places him before a dilemma:

as a vitalist Simmel views life as a Bergsonian durée, a permanent process of change and development, but as a neo-Kantian sociologist who has developed an elaborate sociology of socio-cultural forms, he realizes that life is limited by forms which are rather rigid, solid, inexible. 35 Take for example the sociological phenomenon of conict. In terms of substance there are many dierent kinds and types of conict (between groups, nations, individuals), yet it is possible to determine what the common characteristics of these conicts are, reducing them to a single form which is timeless and ahistorical. 36

  • 32 Ibid., p. 43f.

  • 33 ‘Und er kommt zu dem Ergebnis: “Nur ein Traum war das Erlebnis. Weil”, so schliesst er messerscharf, “nicht sein kann , was nicht sein darf. ”’ Christian Morgenstern, Palmström, 1910, in: Palmström, Palma Kunkel, (München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1961), p. 68.

  • 34 Georg Simmel, Lebensanschauung. Vier Metaphysische Kapitel, (‘View of Life. Four Metaphysical Chapters’), (München-Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1922).

  • 35 Cf. Anton M. Bevers, Dynamik der Formen bei Georg Simmel, (‘The Dynamics of Forms in Georg Simmel’), (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1985).

  • 36 Georg Simmel, ‘Der Streit’, in: Soziologie. Untersuchungen über die Formen der Vergesell- schaftung, (‘Sociology. Investigations of the Forms of Sociation’), (Berlin: Duncker &


This dualism of substance and life forms presents a formidable problem which Simmel tries to solve metaphysically. Briey sum- marized, Simmel claims that we are fully aware of the fact that we are limited, that in our life we run into limits all the time. But by this realization we manage to transcend ourselves, and yet at the same time set our own limits. We are thus our own masters over life, over its substance and also over its restrictive and rigid forms. Therefore, ‘life is always more-than-life’ is Simmel’s rather enigmatic formula. Life always pushes beyond the restricting forms, replacing old forms by new ones. Rickert who observes two rather disjunct concepts of life here (one immanent, the other transcendent), main- tains against Simmel that the forms of life are not and cannot be lively forms. They are by denition rigid, inexible, lifeless, like the concepts we construct in order to grasp reality rationally. After all— and here Rickert argues heterologically again—movement and change are relational concepts which presuppose something that does not move and remains stable. ‘That one should certainly in the era of the “relativity theory” not forget.’ 37 To Rickert, not just the forms of life but also the concepts of science and philosophy resemble the rigid reference bodies, or co-ordinate systems of Einstein’s theory of relativity. The co-ordinate systems set the frame of reference for the velocity and the path of moving bodies. 38 At this point he could also have mentioned mathematics and formal logic as co-ordinate sys- tems which in relation to reality or life, are frames of reference which in vitalistic terms are denitely ‘unreal’ and ‘lifeless’.


We should now turn to Rickert’s second type of vitalism which he dubbed biologism. At its cradle stood, of course, Darwin’s evolution theory. Rickert though is more interested in the philosophers who used and misused Darwin’s theories, than in the great natural scientist

Humblot, 1958, 4th ed.), pp. 186–255. See also Lewis Coser’s elaboration of this essay in his The Functions of Social Conict, 1956, (New York: The Free Press, 1964).

  • 37 ‘Das sollte man gerade im Zeitalter der “Relativitätstheorie” nicht vergessen.’ Rickert, o.c., p. 72.

  • 38 Albert Einstein, Relativity. The Special and General Theory, 1916, (New York: Crown Publishers, 1961). Einstein: ‘Of course we must refer the process of the propaga- tion of light (and indeed every other process) to a rigid reference-body (co-ordinate system).’ O.c., p. 18.



himself, who despite his theological training did not extrapolate his scientic ideas into an encompassing, metaphysical philosophy. 39 It was rather the philosopher and sociologist Herbert Spencer, who developed an encompassing evolutionist worldview. Rickert fails to notice the fact that Spencer (whose name, incidentally, he spells con- sistently wrong as Spenzer) became the founder and grand old man of Social Darwinism which developed into a forceful socio-political ideology, legitimating liberalism and, in particular, American laissez- faire capitalism. 40 This ideology ts Rickert’s descriptions of biologism perfectly well. Although Darwin himself, as Rickert observes astutely, was not a philosophical vitalist, his biology and evolutionary views did give rise to metaphysical extrapolations. Rickert’s discussion of this point is quite interesting. 41 The crucial component in Darwin’s biology, he claims, was the connection with Malthus’s demographical theory. It led to concepts which from the outset referred to human culture and social life, thus enabling followers to apply the evolution theory to areas outside nature. Malthus, as is well known, claimed that pop- ulations grow disproportionately faster than the supply of food. This then would eventually engender severe (global) inequalities and conicts. Darwin applied this idea to his theory of the origins of species in which he attributed a central place to the struggle for food. In fact, this struggle was then generalized to all of organic nature. It is but a small step to then speak of a general (if not meta- physical) Struggle for Life. Before Lebensphilosophie became fashionable in Germany, Rickert adds ironically and maybe with a wink at Heidegger, it was usually called the struggle for Dasein. In any case, within the strictly scientic context of Darwin’s theory of evolution it is the struggle for food and for life which causes a natural selection and the concomitant emergence, survival and decline of the various species of organic nature. It is then but a small, yet scientically false step to biologism as a metaphysical worldview and socio-political ideology. In this bio- logistic worldview the principle of natural selection as a mechanistic (non-voluntaristic, non-teleological) process and the closely related

  • 39 Rickert calls Darwin ‘this great researcher of nature’. O.c., p. 87.

  • 40 Cf. Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1944, (Boston:

Beacon Press, 1967, 14th ed.).

  • 41 Rickert, o.c., pp. 86–90.


processes of adjustment are essential. Not just organic nature, but culture and society as well, are now seen as being driven by the ‘blind’ and mechanistic forces of selection and adaptation. In each component of reality testifying to rational aims and plans, to mind and rationality, we ought to see the impact of natural selection. 42 In the biologistic worldview even the values man believes in, and the aims he sets for his life and actions, are paradoxically viewed in terms of this non-voluntaristic and non-teleological approach. Before Darwin, values seemed to be suspended in the air. They were, of course, viewed and interpreted in theological rather than in biolog- ical terms. And if one tried to determine what the meaning of life actually was or could be, one rejected nature and natural life in favor of a metaphysically perceived and religiously redeemed life. In fact, nature was an evil principle. ‘Under this qualication’, Rickert says, ‘man stands in his surrounding world as a sad stranger.’ 43 The Darwinian biologists radically abolished such ideas. There is, to begin with, in biology no space for values. But, Rickert adds once again, natural selection and adaptation were broadened and extended in post-Darwinian biologism. They became normative, moral concepts which were related to values and value-judgments. Natural selection and adaptation, it was claimed, did not just produce evolution, but also progress, that is evolution towards the good life and the moral betterment of mankind! If we let natural selection do its work, it was believed and professed, we will automatically witness a better world—a desirable world which ought to come about. This, in other words, was a transition from Sein to Sollen, from being to ought-to- be. In logic this is called an inadmissible metabasis eis allo genos, i.e. a transition to a dierent logical species. Throughout his philosophy Rickert has been allergic to this primordial logical sin. The biologistic worldview has no use any longer for the traditional values. After all, adjustment and selection lead almost automatically

42 The contemporary reader is reminded of similar extrapolations of scientic genetics in the direction of a rather metaphysical and mechanistic worldview. See, for example, Richard Dawkins, The Selsh Gene, 1976, (Oxford-New York: Oxford University Press, 1989) and Susan Blackmore, The Meme Machine, (Oxford-New York:

Oxford University Press, 1999). Needless to add that Schopenhauer’s metaphysical conception of the ‘blind’ will comes to mind also. The will, after all, is seen as a strong developing force, yet this development (evolution) is aimless, non-teleological, ‘blind’. 43 ‘Der Mensch steht unter dieser Voraussetzung als trauriger Fremdling in der ihn umgebenden Welt.’ Rickert, o.c., p. 89.



to harmony and balance. Life is a self-regulatory mechanism which should be left alone: laissez faire! Life is eective because it resem- bles quite mechanistically a big machine. Yet, biologistic vitalists will not simply withdraw into quietism, into a passive resignation which lets the big machine do its work. Nature, it is believed, works every- where according to the economic principle of parsimony. In order to survive in the struggle for life, people should be parsimonious in the application of their mental and physical energies. Parsimony improves one’s chances in the ongoing struggle for survival. American Pragmatism, Rickert adds, is a telling example. It established the economy of thinking as the basic principle of research. Only those ideas are true which enable us to contemplate the world and act upon it eectively and eciently. Reality should then be covered by the simplest system of concepts possible. In Europe a similar appli- cation of biologism occurred in so-called ‘energetic cultural philoso- phy’ which believed that the height of civilization depended upon the energetic parsimony of its people. ‘Don’t waste energy, put it to good use’ seems to be the categorical imperative here. 44 It all ends up, Rickert sneers, in triviality and philistine utilitarianism. Biology, Rickert reminds us once more, is a specialized, empiri- cal science which focuses on the structures and processes of living organisms. It deals with a specic, limited part of reality. Although ‘life’ is in a sense its proper object of research and analysis, its con- cepts and theories are very specialized and certainly not ‘lively’. Moreover, the scientic concepts and theories of biology are, as is the case with the other sciences, ‘objective’ and ‘value-free’, and are thus not directly applicable to social life and social policy. Naturally, biologistic vitalists reject these methodological and logical points of view. They rather see biology as the scientic foundation of their brand of vitalism which is not specialized but very general, and not

44 Ibid., p. 93. ‘“Vergeude keine Energie, verwerte sie.” Das soll an die Stelle von Kants kategorischem Imperativ treten!’ Rickert also mentions Max Weber’s critique in his essay ‘“Energetische” Kulturtheorien’, 1909, in: Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre, (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1968, 3rd ed.), pp. 400–426. Weber focused his critique on Wilhelm Ostwald, Energetische Grundlagen der Kulturwissenschaft, (‘Energetic Foundations of Cultural Science’), (Leipzig: Klinkhardt, 1909) and takes him severely to task for mixing value judgments with objective, scientic facts. See also Wilhelm Ostwald, ‘Naturphilosophie’ (Philosophy of Nature), in: Paul Hinneberg (ed.), Die Kultur der Gegenwart. Ihre Entwicklung und ihre Ziele, (‘Contemporary Culture. Its Development and Aims’), (Berlin, Leipzig: Teubner Verlag, 1908), pp. 138–172.


‘objective’ or ‘value-free’, but ‘subjective’ and ‘normative’. In fact, this type of vitalism pretends to be a practical philosophy which is socio-politically applicable and useful. Previously mentioned Social Darwinism is a perfect example of this school of thought. Biologistic vitalists usually reduce Darwin’s biological theories to some basic tenets such as ‘natural selection’, ‘adaptation’, ‘survival of the ttest’, etc. This reduced theory is then extended into a rather encompassing Welt- and Lebensanschauung, in which the notions of rise and decline, owering and fading, function as emotionally and intu- itively appealing metaphors. Only what rises and owers represents life truly, and is thus positively evaluated, while declining, fading, sinking is valued negatively. It is the road towards death. Rickert then argues that these two forms of life (rise and fall) with their allegedly biological value opposition is extended into a biological founded ideal, namely health. 45 The scientically sounding concepts of health and sickness are then elaborated into basic norms accord- ing to which all other norms ought to be measured and evaluated. ‘Life form’, Rickert says, becomes ‘life norm’. 46 This is rst applied to the single individual. His main philosophically grounded goal in life is—or rather, ought to be—health. He must aspire to health. If he does not aspire to health, he is not worthy of life. In this way, Rickert says, the philosopher turns into a physician. 47 All this, the biologistic vitalist believes, is applicable also to the human species in general. Society, the nation, eventually humanity as a whole should live healthy lives! There is, in other words, a health of the species, as there ought to be a species hygiene. In fact these are, in the view of the biologistic vitalists, the ultimate aims of humanity. Natural selection, Rickert continues, occupies a crucial position in this type of vitalism. A society or a nation must neces- sarily degenerate, if it declines in vitality. Rickert could have men- tioned here the romantic and fascist idea of a gesundes Volksempnden (healthy feeling of the population). In any case, biologistic vitalists

  • 45 ‘Rise and fall’ is, as is well known, a very strong trope in history. A recent example is Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Economic Change and Military Conict from 1500 to 2000, 1988, (London: Fontana Press, 1989). He pub- lished previously The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery, (London, 1976).

    • 46 Ibid., p. 77f.

  • 47 Ibid., p. 78. Needless to add that this vitalistic preoccupation with health is still very prominent in present day society, not in the least as an economically protable segment of the market.



always emphasize the alleged fact that the law of natural selection, which is seen as a law of progress, reigns (Sein), and even should (Sollen) reign supremely in the body politic. But our individual thinking, feeling and acting too have to com- ply with the demands of these ‘biological’ norms. Ethical demands can allegedly be derived solely from these notions of rising life, progress, and health. Love, marriage, family, education—they ought to be lived in terms of these ‘biologically’ based life-norms. The arts and even the sciences too should serve Life. Religion can only be justied existentially, if it forties the health of individuals and helps to strengthen nations in their struggle for life. 48 Within biologistic vitalism, however, this type of post-Darwinian philosophy has been rejected, Rickert argues, by a new direction in biologism. In this new direction three fateful tendencies were avoided:

the emphasis upon the Malthusian component in Darwin’s theory, the mechanistic view of culture and society, and the utilitarian ideal of parsimony. Rickert thinks that Henri Bergson in particular played the leading role in this new direction of anti-Darwinist vitalism. However, before we turn to this new direction in general and Bergson in particular, we should rst discuss Rickert’s typology of biologistic theories which is, I believe, still heuristically useful.


By now the picture of biologistic vitalism is quite complex and thus confusing. Rickert tries to clarify it by the introduction of four types which represent four fundamentally dierent dimensions of biologism. They do share a common foundation, yet stand in opposition to each other. In a rare exercise of social philosophy, Rickert constructs a quadrant alongside two social-political dilemma’s: ‘socialism’ (or ‘collectivism’) versus ‘individualism’ on the one hand, and ‘democracy’ versus ‘aristocracy’ on the other. It yields four types of tendencies:

  • (a) liberalism (individualism plus democracy); (b) social democracy (socialism

plus democracy); (c) individual aristocracy (individualism plus aristocracy);

  • (d) social aristocracy (socialism plus aristocracy). Rickert provides examples

of these tendencies which he discusses in broad outlines. 49

  • 48 Ibid., p. 79.

  • 49 Ibid., pp. 82–86.

  • (a) Democratic-individualistic convictions based on evolutionary biologism were formulated more or less systematically by Herbert Spencer. His philosophy and sociology functioned as legitima- tions of Manchester capitalism and liberalism. He could have added also, as we saw before, American Social Darwinism as an example of this type of biologism. Spencer emphasized the inherent conict between individual interests and species inter- ests, but for the sake of harmony and progress the natural selection will bring about a situation in which self-supporting acts will coincide with species-supporting acts. It will be the highest stage in the ongoing process of progressive evolution. Yet, survival of the ttest may lead to an undemocratic rule of the strongest and most powerful. It is a mistaken (socialist) view to imbue the state in this regard with regulatory powers. Social laws and state succor of the poor, etc. disturb the nat- ural selection processes. What cannot thrive in its own strength and power, should, according to the laws of nature, succumb.

  • (b) According to the social democrats natural selection and com- petition (conict) are the basic biological principles that bring about progress, yet they should not be identied with the exist- ing societal order where a small minority possessing the means of capitalist production oppresses the mass of workers without capital. The law of natural selection is rendered inoperative by the allegedly anti-natural brutality of inheritance capitalism. In this way the weak and vulnerable within the class of capitalists are articially supported. It is a decadent situation which will not be cured in an evolutionary way, but needs a revolutionary change of the existing societal order.

  • (c) There has not been a more radical enemy of democracy than Nietzsche. His idea of a radically aristocratic and individualistic ideal of the Übermensch was founded upon biological notions. In ‘Zarathustra’ we nd the idea of a being that develops beyond man, as if the advent of a super-vertebrate is to be expected. Moreover, in line with the principle of natural selection the strong shall rule over the weak, natural inequality shall be the vehicle of progress. All Sklavenmoral—slave morality—which dares to question the right of the Herrenmoral—the morality of the lords—entails decline and depravity. Nietzsche calls for a ‘return to nature’ but not, of course, the idyllic and harmonious nature of Rousseau but the nature of competitive ghts and conicts of modern biology.



(d) The social-aristocrats often refer to Nietzsche as far as anti- democratic aristocracy is concerned, but they reject Nietzsche’s individualism. They rather return to the ideal of the horde which is interpreted in terms of groups, nations and races. There is a social element in this aristocracy in that the members of the same group, nation, race, or species should help each other. This is not the idea of Christian neighborly love, since that is after all more democratic than aristocratic. It is rather the support of the best and the strongest so that the group, nation, race or species can survive in the biological struggle for life. Therefore, not the individual but rather society and the state ought to be the ultimate aim of our socio-political actions. Although Rickert does not use such concepts, it is not dicult to ll in fascism and even National Socialism as examples of this type of biologism. Rickert does mention the fact that this type of biologism is the direct opposite of the Spencerean type of individual democracy, and he does warn against the attempt to set up the Germans as the proper Aristokratenvolk von Lebewesen (‘aristocratic people of life-beings’) against the French nation which due to its anti-natural Malthusianism is allegedly destined to decline. 50

This typology is in view of Rickert’s rather abstract transcendental- ism remarkable, because it actually covers two specialized disciplines, sociology and political science the basic dynamics of which he appar- ently understood quite well. This was probably due to his close intel- lectual relationship with Max Weber. In any case, the typology presents a conceptual grid which, I think, is still quite heuristic and useful in modern political science and sociology.


Once again, Rickert distinguishes between an ‘old’ and a ‘new’ biol- ogism. ‘Old’ biologism applies the basic tenets of Darwin’s evolutionary principles, whereas ‘new’ biologism, to which we must turn now, stands

50 Ibid., p. 86. Rickert could have mentioned Thomas Mann, Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen, (‘Reections of an Unpolitical One’), 1918, (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer Verlag, 1983) as an example of such an anti-French, social-aristocratic type of vitalism.


more in line with Nietzsche’s vitalism and was initiated in particular by Bergson. In the Nietzschean approach the mechanistic conception of life, as well as the principle of parsimony are rejected. Real life is not a mere existence (