From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
German philosophy, here taken to mean either (1) philosophy in the German language or (2) philosophy by Germans, has been extremely diverse, and central to both the analytic and continental traditions in philosophy for centuries, from Leibniz through Kant, Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Weber, to contemporary philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) was both a philosopher and a mathematician who wrote primarily in Latin and French. Leibniz, along with René Descartes and Baruch Spinoza, was one of the three great 17th century advocates of rationalism. The work of Leibniz also anticipated modern logic and analytic philosophy, but his philosophy also looks back to the scholastic tradition, in which conclusions are produced by applying reason to first principles or a priori definitions rather than to empirical evidence.
Leibniz is noted for his optimism - his Théodicée tries to justify the apparent imperfections of the world by claiming that it is optimal among all possible worlds. It must be the best possible and most balanced world, because it was created by an all powerful and all knowing God, who would not choose to create an imperfect world if a better world could be known to him or possible to exist. In effect, apparent flaws that can be identified in this world must exist in every possible world, because otherwise God would have chosen to create the world that excluded those flaws.
Leibniz is also known for his theory of monads, as exposited in Monadologie. Monads are to the metaphysical realm what atoms are to the physical/phenomenal. They can also be compared to the corpuscles of the Mechanical Philosophy of René Descartes and others. Monads are the ultimate elements of the universe. The monads are "substantial forms of being" with the following properties: they are eternal, indecomposable, individual, subject to their own laws, un-interacting, and each reflecting the entire universe in a pre-established harmony (a historically important example of panpsychism). Monads are centers of force; substance is force, while space, matter, and motion are merely phenomenal.
Christian Wolff (1679–1754) was a German philosopher.
He was the most eminent German philosopher between Leibniz and Kant. His main achievement was a complete oeuvre on almost every scholarly subject of his time, displayed and unfolded according to his demonstrative-deductive, mathematical method, which perhaps represents the peak of Enlightenment rationality in Germany.
Wolff was also the creator of German as the language of scholarly instruction and research, although he also wrote in Latin, so that an international audience could, and did, read him. A founding father of, among other fields, economics and public administration as academic disciplines, he concentrated especially in these fields, giving advice on practical matters to people in government, and stressing the professional nature of university education.
In 1781, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) published his Critique of Pure Reason, in which he attempted to determine what we can and cannot know through the use of reason independent of all experience. Briefly, he came to the conclusion that we could come to know an external world through experience, but that what we could know about it was limited by the limited terms in which the mind can think: if we can only comprehend things in terms of cause and effect, then we can only know causes and effects. It follows from this that we can know the form of all possible experience independent of all experience, but nothing else, but we can never know the world from the “standpoint of nowhere” and therefore we can never know the world in its entirety, neither via reason nor experience.
Since the publication of his Critique, Immanuel Kant has been considered one of the greatest influences in all of western philosophy. In the late 18th and early 19th century, one direct line of influence from Kant is German Idealism.
The German Idealists believed there were problems with Kant’s system and sought to place it on firmer grounds. They were also greatly concerned with the problem of freewill as understood through Kantianism: practical reason presupposes a freewill, and yet according to theoretical reason, everything is predetermined in a complete system of causality. Therefore either everything in possible experience isn’t predetermined, which contradicts the universality of pure reason, or the freewill is outside the system of causality and can have no effect on it, rendering the will useless.
The three most prominent German Idealists were Fichte (1762–1814), Schelling (1775–1854) and Hegel (1770–1831). On some interpretations, Hegel did away with Kantianism altogether to achieve absolute knowledge, while others read him as working within the confines of Kantianism. Either way, he came to replace Kant as the dominant influence in German Philosophy for the rest of the 19th century, and his method of dialectics has become a commonplace means of reasoning in continental philosophy.
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) was known for his pessimism and philosophical clarity. Schopenhauer's most influential work, The World as Will and Representation, claimed that the world is fundamentally what we recognize in ourselves as our will. His analysis of will led him to the conclusion that emotional, physical, and sexual desires can never be fulfilled. Consequently, he eloquently described a lifestyle of negating desires, similar to the ascetic teachings of Vedanta and the Desert Fathers of early Christianity.
Karl Marx and the Young Hegelians
Among those influenced by Hegel was a group of young radicals called the Young Hegelians, who were unpopular because of their radical views on religion and society. They included Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–1872), Bruno Bauer (1809–1882) and Max Stirner (1806–1856) among their ranks.
Karl Marx (1818–1883) often attended their meetings. He developed an interest in Hegelianism, French socialism and British economic theory. He transformed the three into an essential work of economics called Das Kapital, which consisted of a critical economic examination of capitalism. Marxism has had a massive effect on the world as a whole.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) was initially a proponent of Arthur Schopenhauer. However, he soon came to disavow Schopenhauer's pessimistic outlook on life and sought to provide a positive philosophy. He believed this task to be urgent, as he believed a form of nihilism caused by modernity was spreading across Europe, which he summed up in the phrase "God is dead". His problem, then, was how to live a positive life considering the fact that if you believe in God, you give into nihilism, and if you don't believe in God, you also give in to nihilism. He believed he found his solution in the concepts of the Übermensch and Eternal Return. His work continues to have a major influence on both philosophers and artists.
Frege, Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle
In the late 19th century, the predicate logic of Gottlob Frege (1848–1925) overthrew Aristotelian logic (the dominant logic since its inception in Ancient Greece). This was the beginning of analytic philosophy. In the early part of the 20th century, a group of German and Austrian philosophers and scientists formed the Vienna Circle to promote scientific thought over Hegelian system-building, which they saw as a bad influence on intellectual thought. The group considered themselves logical positivists because they believed all knowledge is either derived through experience or arrived at through analytic statements, and they adopted the predicate logic of Frege, as well as the early work of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) as foundations to their work. Wittgenstein did not agree with their interpretation of his philosophy.
Phenomenology began at the start of the 20th century with the descriptive psychology of Franz Brentano (1838–1917), and then the transcendental phenomenology of Edmund Husserl (1859–1938). It was then transformed by Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), whose famous book Being and Time applied phenomenology to ontology, and who, along with Ludwig Wittgenstein, is considered one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century. Phenomenology has had a large influence on Continental Philosophy, particularly existentialism and poststructuralism. Heidegger himself is often identified as an existentialist, though he would have rejected this.
Hermeneutics is the philosophical theory and practice of interpretation and understanding.
Originally hermeneutics referred to the interpretation of texts, especially religious texts. In the 19th century, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911) and others expanded the discipline of hermeneutics beyond mere exegesis and turned it into a general humanistic discipline. Schleiermacher wondered whether there could be a hermeneutics that was not a collection of pieces of ad hoc advice for the solution of specific problems with text interpretation but rather a "general hermeneutics," which dealt with "art of understanding" as such, which pertained to the structure and function of understanding wherever it occurs. Later in the 19th century, Dilthey began to see possibilities for continuing Schleiermacher's general hermeneutics project as a "general methodology of the humanities and social sciences".
In the 20th century, hermeneutics took an 'ontological turn'. Martin Heidegger's Being and Time fundamentally transformed the discipline. No longer was it conceived of as being about understanding linguistic communication, or providing a methodological basis for the human sciences - as far as Heidegger was concerned, hermeneutics is ontology, dealing with the most fundamental conditions of man's being in the world. The Heideggerian conception of hermeneutics was further developed by Heidegger's pupil Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900–2002), in his book Truth and Method.
The Frankfurt School
After World War II, a group of Marxists who broke radically from Marxist Orthodoxy formed the Frankfurt School, also profoundly influenced by Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis and Weberian philosophy. Books from the group, like Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment and Adorno’s Negative Dialectics, critiqued what they saw as the failure of the Enlightenment project and the problems of modernity. They are generally considered to be the beginning of, or at least precursors to, postmodern thought in continental philosophy.
Since the 1960s the Frankfurt School has been guided by Jürgen Habermas' (born 1929) work on communicative reason, linguistic intersubjectivity and what Habermas calls "the philosophical discourse of modernity".
Important philosopher. Karl Popper.
Contemporary analytic philosophy
In the 20th and 21st centuries Germany has been an important country for the development of contemporary analytic philosophy in continental Europe, along with France, Austria, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries.
- Continental philosophy
- Critical theory
- German culture
- German idealism
- German romanticism
- German literature
- History of philosophy
- List of Austrian intellectual traditions
- Logical empiricism
- Modern philosophy
- Nazi philosophy
- Vienna Circle