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Born July 4, 1842, in Coswig, Anhalt; died Apr. 4, 1918, in Berlin. German idealist philosopher and founder of the Marburg school of neo-Kantianism. Professor at Marburg from 1876 to 1912 and at Berlin from 1912.
By eliminating the Kantian concept of thing-in-itself and the resulting distinction between sense perception and reason, Cohen transformed the problem of transcendental synthesis, central to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, into a purely logical problem. Accepting the Kantian doctrine of the regulative ideas of reason, Cohen interpreted the thing-in-itself not as an entity existing outside and independent of cognition but as a goal-directed idea of thinking. In Materialism and Empiriocriticism, V. I. Lenin described Cohen’s interpretation of Kant as a critique from the right. Unlike Kant, Cohen held that thinking gave rise not only to the form but also to the content of cognition. According to Cohen, mathematics, especially the theory of the infinitesimal, provides the most graphic example of how thinking engenders knowledge. Just as mathematics was for Cohen the foundation of the natural sciences, so jurisprudence was the basis of human studies (Geisteswissenschaften).
Preserving Kant’s characteristic priority of practical over theoretical reason, Cohen asserted the primacy, from the standpoint of logic, of ethics over science since he constructed concepts according to the teleological principle, revealed in its purest form in ethics. Cohen regarded ethics as the logic of the will. He followed Kant in giving a moral interpretation to religion, but he remained an adherent of Judaism. Theoretical knowledge and law, science and the constitutional (liberal) state are for him the foundation of culture and the condition for freedom of the human personality, the most important goal of historical development. Cohen expressed the social and political views of the liberal bourgeoisie. His theory of ethical socialism contributed to the spread of revisionism in German social democracy.
WORKSKants Begründung der Ästhetik. Berlin, 1889.
Kants Begründung der Ethik, 2nd ed. Berlin, 1910.
System der Philosophie, vols. 1–3. Berlin, 1922–23.
Kants Theorie der Erfahrung, 4th ed. Berlin, 1925.
REFERENCESIakovenko, B. “O teoreticheskoi filosofii G. Kogena.” Logos, 1910, book 1.
Bakradze, K. S. Ocherki po istorii noveishei i sovremennoi burzhuaznoi filosofii. Tbilisi, 1960.
Natorp, P. Hermann Cohen als Mensch, Lehrer und Forscher. Marburg, 1918.
Kinkel, W. H. Cohen: Einführung in sein Werk. Stuttgart, 1924.
P. P. GAIDENKO