In late modern continental philosophy, neo-Kantianism (German: Neukantianismus) was a revival of the 18th-century philosophy of Immanuel Kant. More specifically, it was influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer's critique of the Kantian philosophy in his work The World as Will and Representation (1818), as well as by other post-Kantian philosophers such as Jakob Friedrich Fries and Johann Friedrich Herbart.


The "back to Kant" movement began in the 1860s, as a reaction to the German materialist controversy in the 1850s.[1]

In addition to the work of Hermann von Helmholtz and Eduard Zeller, early fruits of the movement were Kuno Fischer's works on Kant and Friedrich Albert Lange's History of Materialism (Geschichte des Materialismus, 1873–75), the latter of which argued that transcendental idealism superseded the historic struggle between material idealism and mechanistic materialism. Fischer was earlier involved in a dispute with the Aristotelian idealist Friedrich Adolf Trendelenburg concerning the interpretation of the results of the Transcendental Aesthetic, a dispute that prompted Hermann Cohen's 1871 seminal work Kants Theorie der Erfahrung, a book often regarded as the foundation of 20th-century neo-Kantianism. It is in reference to the Fischer–Trendelenburg debate and Cohen's work that Hans Vaihinger started his massive commentary on the Critique of Pure Reason.


Hermann Cohen became the leader of the Marburg School (centered in the town of the same name), the other prominent representatives of which were Paul Natorp and Ernst Cassirer. Another important group, the Southwest (German) School (also known as the Heidelberg School or Baden School, centered in Heidelberg, Baden in Southwest Germany) included Wilhelm Windelband, Heinrich Rickert and Ernst Troeltsch. The Marburg School emphasized epistemology and philosophical logic, whereas the Southwest school emphasized issues of culture and value. A third group, mainly represented by Leonard Nelson, established the neo-Friesian School (named after post-Kantian philosopher Jakob Friedrich Fries).

The neo-Kantian schools tended to emphasize scientific readings of Kant, often downplaying the role of intuition in favour of concepts. However, the ethical aspects of neo-Kantian thought often drew them within the orbit of socialism, and they had an important influence on Austromarxism and the revisionism of Eduard Bernstein. Lange and Cohen in particular were keen on this connection between Kantian thought and socialism. Another important aspect of the neo-Kantian movement was its attempt to promote a revised notion of Judaism, particularly in Cohen's seminal work, one of the few works of the movement available in English translation.

The neo-Kantian school was of importance in devising a division of philosophy that has had durable influence well beyond Germany. It made early use of terms such as epistemology and upheld its prominence over ontology. Natorp had a decisive influence on the history of phenomenology and is often credited with leading Edmund Husserl to adopt the vocabulary of transcendental idealism. Emil Lask was influenced by Edmund Husserl's work,[2] and himself exerted a remarkable influence on the young Martin Heidegger. The debate between Cassirer and Heidegger over the interpretation of Kant led the latter to formulate reasons for viewing Kant as a forerunner of phenomenology; this view was disputed in important respects by Eugen Fink. An abiding achievement of the neo-Kantians was the founding of the journal Kant-Studien, which still survives today.

By 1933 (after the rise of Nazism), the various neo-Kantian circles in Germany had dispersed.[3]

Notable neo-Kantian philosophers

Related thinkers

Contemporary neo-Kantianism

In the analytic tradition, the revival of interest in the work of Kant that has been underway since Peter Strawson's work The Bounds of Sense (1966) can also be viewed as effectively neo-Kantian, not least due to its continuing emphasis on epistemology at the expense of ontology. In the 1980s, interest in neo-Kantianism has revived in the wake of the work of Gillian Rose, who is a critic of this movement's influence on modern philosophy, and because of its influence on the work of Max Weber. The Kantian concern for the limits of perception strongly influenced the antipositivist sociological movement in late 19th-century Germany, particularly in the work of Georg Simmel (Simmel's question 'What is society?' is a direct allusion to Kant's own: 'What is nature'?).[9] The current work of Michael Friedman is explicitly neo-Kantian.

Continental philosophers drawing on the Kantian understandings of the transcendental include Jean-François Lyotard and Jean-Luc Nancy.

Roger Scruton has been greatly influenced by Kantian ethics and aesthetics.

See also


  1. ^ Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy volume VII (1963), p. 436, states that "at the turn of the [20th] century Neo-Kantianism was the dominant academic philosophy or Schulphilosophie in the German universities". He attributes (p. 361) the "back to Kant" (Zurück zu Kant) slogan to Otto Liebmann, Kant und die Epigonen, 1865.
  2. ^ Karl Schuhmann and Barry Smith, “Two Idealisms: Lask and Husserl”, Kant-Studien, 83 (1993), 448–466.
  3. ^ Luft 2015, p. xxvi.
  4. ^ Hermann Lotze: Thought: logic and language, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  5. ^ "Poincaré's Philosophy of Mathematics", entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  6. ^ Holmes, Oliver, "José Ortega y Gasset", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
  7. ^ Georg Lukács: Neo-Kantian Aesthetics, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  8. ^ Hermann Weyl, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  9. ^ Levine, Donald (ed.), Simmel: On individuality and social forms, Chicago University Press, 1971. p. xix.


  • Sebastian Luft (ed.), The Neo-Kantian Reader, Routledge, 2015.

Further reading

External links

Eduard Zeller

Eduard Gottlob Zeller (German: [ˈtsɛlɐ]; 22 January 1814, Kleinbottwar – 19 March 1908, Stuttgart), was a German philosopher and Protestant theologian of the Tübingen School of theology. He was well known for his writings on Ancient Greek philosophy, especially Pre-Socratic Philosophy, and most of all for his celebrated, multi-volume historical treatise The Philosophy of Greeks in their Historical Development (1844–52). Zeller was also a central figure in the revival of neo-Kantianism.

Emil Lask

Emil Lask (25 September 1875 – 26 May 1915) was German philosopher. A student of Heinrich Rickert at Freiburg, he was a member of the Southwestern school of neo-Kantianism.

Ernst Troeltsch

Ernst Peter Wilhelm Troeltsch (German: [tʁœltʃ]; 1865–1923) was a German liberal Protestant theologian, writer on the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of history, and a classical liberal politician. He was a member of the history of religions school. His work was a synthesis of a number of strands, drawing on Albrecht Ritschl, Max Weber's conception of sociology, and the Baden school of neo-Kantianism.

His The Social Teachings of the Christian Church (Die Soziallehren der christlichen Kirchen und Gruppen, 1912) is a seminal work in theology.

German idealism

German idealism (also known as post-Kantian idealism, post-Kantian philosophy, or simply post-Kantianism) was a philosophical movement that emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It began as a reaction to Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. German idealism was closely linked with both Romanticism and the revolutionary politics of the Enlightenment.

The most notable thinkers in the movement were Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and the proponents of Jena Romanticism (Friedrich Hölderlin, Novalis, and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel). Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Gottlob Ernst Schulze, Karl Leonhard Reinhold, Salomon Maimon and Friedrich Schleiermacher also made major contributions.

Hermann Cohen

Hermann Cohen (4 July 1842 – 4 April 1918) was a German Jewish philosopher, one of the founders of the Marburg school of neo-Kantianism, and he is often held to be "probably the most important Jewish philosopher of the nineteenth century".

Idealistic Studies

Idealistic Studies is a peer-reviewed academic journal for the publication of studies of idealistic themes. Both historical and contemporary statements of idealistic argumentation are published, as are also historico-philosophical studies of idealism. The journal was established in 1972 by Robert N. Beck with the assistance of the Clark University philosophy department. While it initially focused on American personalism and post-Kantian idealism, the journal's mission has broadened to include other topics, including historically earlier expressions as well as developments of the late 19th to mid-20th century. The journal has become a venue for a number of philosophical movements that share Idealism in their genealogies, including phenomenology, neo-Kantianism, historicism, hermeneutics, life philosophy, existentialism, and pragmatism. The journal is published by the Philosophy Documentation Center and the current editor-in-chief is Jennifer Bates, Professor of Philosophy, Duquesne University.

José Gaos

José Gaos (26 December 1900 in Gijón, Spain – 10 June 1969 in Mexico City) was a Spanish philosopher who obtained political asylum in Mexico during the Spanish Civil War and became one of the most important Mexican philosophers of the 20th century.

Gaos grew up in Valencia and Oviedo in Spain. His dissertation dealt with the problem of psychologism. He then became philosophy professor in León, at the University of Zaragoza and, since 1933, at the University of Madrid. In 1938, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), he relocated to Mexico and taught as professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico/UNAM. He was influenced by neo-scholasticism, neo-Kantianism and Husserl's phenomenology, in addition to German philosophers like Martin Heidegger and Nicolai Hartmann and, first and foremost, by his teacher, the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset. Other teachers were philosophers Manuel García Morente and Xavier Zubiri.

Gaos also was a prolific translator of German philosophy, contributing to the translation projects of the School of Madrid that had been set up by Ortega. Gaos translated to Spanish the books of philosophers such as: Martin Heidegger (the first Spanish translation of Being and Time), John Dewey, Søren Kierkegaard, G. W. F. Hegel, Max Scheler, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Edmund Husserl.

His collected works (Obras completas) are edited by the UNAM in Mexico City, where also the Gaos-Archive is located.

Jun Tosaka

Jun Tosaka (戸坂 潤, Tosaka Jun, 27 September 1900 – 9 August 1945) was a Shōwa era Japanese intellectual, and teacher. He was born in Tokyo in 1900. He attended Kyoto Imperial University. He was interested in Nishida Kitaro, and Tanabe Hajime, neo-Kantianism, and then Marxism. He was a member of the Kyoto School. In 1938, he was arrested under the Peace Preservation Law. He died in Nagano Prison before the end of World War II.


Kantianism is the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher born in Königsberg, Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia). The term Kantianism or Kantian is sometimes also used to describe contemporary positions in philosophy of mind, epistemology, and ethics.

Legal Marxism

Legal Marxism was a Russian Marxist movement based on a particular interpretation of Marxist theory whose proponents were active in socialist circles between 1894 and 1901. The movement's primary theoreticians were Pyotr Struve, Nikolai Berdyaev, Sergei Bulgakov, Mikhail Tugan-Baranovsky and Semyon Frank. The name was derived from the fact that its supporters promoted their ideas in legal publications.

Unlike the earlier generation of Russian socialists known as narodniks (populists), who emphasized the role of the peasantry in transitioning to socialism, Legal Marxists used the economic theory of Karl Marx to argue that the development of capitalism in the Russian Empire was both inevitable and beneficial. As Struve put it, they provided a "justification for capitalism" in Russia.

Legal Marxists held numerous open debates from the mid-1890s through the early 1900s, notably at the Free Economic Society in Saint Petersburg, and published three magazines between 1897 and 1901, all of them eventually suppressed by the imperial government:

Novoye Slovo (1897)

Nachalo (1899)

Zhizn (1899–1901, resumed abroad in 1902)Legal Marxists became particularly influential after the arrest and imprisonment of the leaders of the revolutionary wing of Russian Marxism (including Julius Martov and Vladimir Lenin) in 1895-1896. Legal Marxists and revolutionary Marxists were allied in the late 1890s within the newly formed Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, whose Manifesto Struve wrote in 1898 and Legal Marxists magazines were extensively used by revolutionary Marxists living in exile or abroad to publish their writings. However, Legal Marxists became increasingly supportive of Eduard Bernstein's revision of Marxism from 1897 on, which drew criticism from Georgy Plekhanov, Lenin and other revolutionary Marxists. Struve and other Legal Marxist leaders soon abandoned philosophical materialism for neo-Kantianism while Berdyaev, Bulgakov and Frank eventually became philosophers of religion. Tugan-Baranovsky developed a theory of cyclical economic crises under capitalism, which was also criticised by revolutionary Marxists [1].

Starting in 1901, Legal Marxists' abandonment of Marxism led to a break with Russian social democrats and they drifted toward liberalism with Struve editing Osvobozhdenie (Liberation), a liberal magazine, from 1902 on. Eventually the leaders of the movement became allied with the radical part of the Zemstvo within Soyuz Osvobozhdeniya (Liberation Union) in 1903-1905. Most of them were prominent supporters of the Constitutional Democratic party after the Russian Revolution of 1905.

Leonard Nelson

Leonard Nelson (July 11, 1882, Berlin – October 29, 1927, Göttingen) was a German mathematician, philosopher, and socialist. He was part of the neo-Friesian school of neo-Kantianism and a friend of the mathematician David Hilbert, and devised the Grelling–Nelson paradox and the related idea of autological words with Kurt Grelling.

List of philosophies

Philosophical schools of thought and philosophical movements.

Otto Buek

Otto Buek (November 19, 1873 – 1966) was a German philosopher and translator born in St. Petersburg.

He studied philosophy, chemistry and mathematics at the University of Heidelberg, and obtained his doctorate from the University of Marburg. Later he worked as a journalist in Berlin, where he translated works of Tolstoy, Unamuno and Alexander Herzen. Additionally, with Kurt Wildhagen (1871–1949), he edited works by Turgenev, Gogol and two volumes of Ernst Cassirer's edition of Kant's collected writings. During the 1920s, he worked as a correspondent for the Argentine newspaper La Nación.

From a philosophical standpoint, Buek was an advocate of neo-Kantianism, and as a young man was a disciple of Marburg philosopher Hermann Cohen (1848–1918). He was friends to physiologist and pacifist Georg Friedrich Nicolai (1874–1964), and only one of three intellectuals in Germany who signed Nicolai's 1914 anti-war counter-manifesto, Aufruf an die Europäer. The other two being physicist Albert Einstein and astronomer Wilhelm Julius Foerster.

Paul Natorp

Paul Gerhard Natorp (24 January 1854 – 17 August 1924) was a German philosopher and educationalist, considered one of the co-founders of the Marburg school of neo-Kantianism. He was known as an authority on Plato.

Richard Hönigswald

Richard Hönigswald (18 July 1875 in Magyar-Óvár in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the present Mosonmagyaróvár in Hungary) – 11 June 1947 in New Haven, Connecticut) was a well-known philosopher belonging to the wider circle of neo-Kantianism.

Thomas Mormann

Thomas Mormann (born 1951) is Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country in Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain. He obtained his PhD in Mathematics from the University of Dortmund (1978). He obtained his Habilitation from the University of Munich. He works in the philosophy of science, formal ontology, structuralism, Carnap studies, and neo-Kantianism.

Vasily Seseman

Vasily Seseman (several other latinizations of his name exist, Lithuanian: Vosylius Sezemanas, Russian: Василий Эмильевич Сеземан) (June 11, 1884, Vyborg — March 23, 1963, Vilnius) was a Russian and Lithuanian philosopher, a representative of Marburg school of neo-Kantianism. He is mostly remembered for his role in fostering philosophy in newly independent Lithuania and developing Lithuanian philosophical vocabulary (most remarkable are his translations of Aristotle into Lithuanian and contributions to Lithuanian encyclopedias). A close associate of Viktor Zhirmunsky and Lev Karsavin, as a prisoner of Gulag he was also an informal philosophy tutor and supporter of Buddhist writer Bidia Dandaron.

Wilhelm Windelband

Wilhelm Windelband (; German: [ˈvɪndl̩bant]; 11 May 1848 – 22 October 1915) was a German philosopher of the Baden School.

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