Othmar Spann

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Spann, Othmar


Born Oct. 1, 1878, in Vienna; died July 8, 1950, in Neustift, Burgenland. Austrian idealist philosopher who developed the concept of wholeness; sociologist and economist.

Spann was a professor at the university in Brunn (Brno) from 1909 to 1919 and at the University of Vienna from 1919 to 1938. Following in the philosophical tradition of Plato, medieval realism, and German classical idealism, Spann tried to construct a philosophical-sociological system of “neoromantic universal-ism.” One of its basic positions was that the whole in its essence precedes the parts; the parts are an expression, a mediation, of the whole; the whole, divided into pieces, conditions the existence of the parts. For Spann, wholeness is the original reality, in which causality does not function. The causal understanding of objects, as Spann proposes, is only possible based on the false assumption that the parts exist before the whole. Spann rejected atomism and materialism, claiming that they were intrinsically mechanistic. In his understanding of the essence of life, Spann was close to the vitalist views of H. Driesch.

Spann gave the central place among social institutions to the state, claiming that it had always existed and merely changed its form. Spann advocated the ideal of a social structure based on arbitrary distinctions and an extremely strict hierarchy, whose features largely reproduce those of the Hindu caste system and the medieval guilds.


Gesamtausgabe, vols. 1–22. Graz, 1963.


Dunkmann, K. Der Kampf um Othmar Spann. Leipzig, 1928.
Räber, H. Othmar Spanns Philosophie des Universalismus: Darstellung und Kritik. Jena, 1937.


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