History of Materialism and Critique of its Present Importance
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Geschichte des Materialismus und Kritik seiner Bedeutung in der Gegenwart ("History of Materialism and Critique of its Present Importance") is a philosophical work by Friedrich Albert Lange, originally written in German and published in October 1865 (although the year of publication was given as 1866). Lange vastly extended the second edition published in two volumes in 1873–75. A three-volume English translation of the opus was published 1877–81.
Adopting the Kantian standpoint that we can know nothing but phenomena, Lange maintains that neither materialism nor any other metaphysical system has a valid claim to ultimate truth. For empirical phenomenal knowledge, however, which is all that man can look for, materialism with its exact scientific methods has done most valuable service. Ideal metaphysics, though they fail of the inner truth of things, have a value as the embodiment of high aspirations, in the same way as poetry and religion. Lange replaced the transcendental subject of Kantism by the organism, although he considered that this substitution validated all the more Kant's philosophy that the subject apprehended the world through the categories of understanding.
Lange suggests that the methods for real science were present in Democritus's atomistic materialism. However, atomistic materialism implies that the soul, like the body, is fated to be snuffed out: such a view made Democritus quite unattractive to virtually all world religions so Democritus was ignored and marginalized by the history of philosophy, in spite of being one of the greatest thinkers of the ancient Greek world.
Lange mentions Max Stirner's book The Ego and Its Own as "the extremest that we know anywhere". ("Stirner went so far in his notorious work, Der Einzige und Sein Eigenthum (1845), as to reject all moral ideas. Everything that in any way, whether it be external force, belief, or mere idea, places itself above the individual and his caprice, Stirner rejects as a hateful limitation of himself. What a pity that to this book — the extremest that we know anywhere — a second positive part was not added. It would have been easier than in the case of Schelling's philosophy; for out of the unlimited Ego I can again beget every kind of Idealism as my will and my idea. Stirner lays so much stress upon the will, in fact, that it appears as the root force of human nature. It may remind us of Schopenhauer. Thus there are two sides to everything." — History of Materialism, Second Book, First Section, Chapter II, "Philosophical Materialism since Kant") He also mentioned Blanqui's L'Eternité par les astres, which discussed the thesis of an Eternal Return.
Lange's work exerted a profound influence on Friedrich Nietzsche, who aimed at radicalizing Lange's viewpoint beyond Kant. At one time Nietzsche planned to write a dissertation on the notion of organism in Kant's philosophy (letter to Paul Deussen ). He also envisioned sending a work on Democritus, a major focus of Lange, to Deussen.
- Friedrich Nietzsche's letter to Gersdorff, September 1866
- The History Of Materialism And Criticism Of Its Present Importance (1950), in one volume. Translated by Ernest Chester Thomas, with an introduction by Bertrand Russell.