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see Kant, ImmanuelKant, Immanuel
, 1724–1804, German metaphysician, one of the greatest figures in philosophy, b. Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia). Early Life and Works
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a late 19th- and early 20th-century current in idealist philosophy which attempted to interpret the fundamental problems of philosophy on the basis of a renewed study of the philosophy of I. Kant.

Neo-Kantianism arose in the 1860’s in Germany; the slogan “Back to Kant!” was first used by O. Liebmann in 1865. Neo-Kantianism reached its high point between the 1890’s and the 1920’s, when it became dominant in a number of German universities and its influence extended far beyond Germany. The Kant-Gesellschaft (Kant Society) was founded in 1904. The journal Kant-Studien (since 1953 published in Bonn) was first published in 1896. Since the 1930’s, as a result of the general crisis of bourgeois liberalism, the influence of neo-Kantianism has been gradually diminishing.

The primary impetus to neo-Kantianism came from the idealist interpretation of the physiology of the senses by the 19th-century German physiologists J. Müller (the law of the specific energy of the senses), M. Verworn, and particularly H. Helm-holtz (sensation as a simple sign of an object—a sign that is in no way similar to the object; the a priori nature of the law of causality). F. A. Lange played an important part in paving the way for neo-Kantianism. Rejecting metaphysics in favor of empiricism, Lange at the same time rejected materialism. According to Lange, a priori categories are meaningful only within the limits of experience. They derive from our mental organization. The thing-in-itself is only a border concept (Grenzbegriff) of our thinking.

H. Cohen was the founder and head of the Marburg school of neo-Kantianism. “Correcting” Kant, he sought to substantiate a form of idealism that would be more consistent than Kant’s. Cohen presented his idealism as a logical and epistemological theory indispensable for the explanation of the possibility of a science of a higher type—mathematics and mathematical natural science. Being for Cohen is not sensed but conceived categorically; space and time are not forms of sensory intuition but categories of logical thinking. Cohen proposed that being is immanent in consciousness. His rejection of the Kantian theory that things-in-themselves affect our senses was inseparable from his criticism of the concept of “givenness.” An object of cognition is not given (gegeben) but problematic (aufgegeben). It is consistently established through acts of categorial synthesis, which are carried out according to a priori categories and forms of thinking. As an idealist, Cohen asserted that what ordinary consciousness accepts as given reality is in fact the product of scientific concepts. Thus, “matter” was first created by Galileo, since he gave the first scientific definition of matter.

Ethics, based on teachings about law and the state, was the second (with logic) fundamental philosophical science for the Marburg school. According to Cohen, true man is a juridical person in his association with other people. The state is the highest form of juridical person. In Cohen’s concept of ethical socialism, movement toward the socialist ideal is recognized as eternal; however, the socialist ideal is in reality unattainable. This concept formed the basis of the revision of Marxism by E. Bernstein, who formulated the thesis “Movement is everything, the final goal is nothing.”

P. Natorp was another prominent theorist of the Marburg school. A leading historian of philosophy, he interpreted various theories of antiquity (most importantly, those of Plato) and modern times as the philosophical predecessors of Kantian criticism. Like Cohen, Natorp consistently defended epistemological idealism against materialist sensationalism. He asserted that there is no being that does not, of itself, exist in thought. Mathematics for Natorp, unlike Kant, is based on a priori forms not of sensoriness but of thinking; mathematics need not even resort to the content of space and time. In later works, Natorp moved away from Kantian idealism and approached a Hegelian type of onto-logical idealism. Making ethics dependent on reason (logos), Natorp declined all attempts to explain and deduce ethical norms from social principles. For Natorp the ethics of absolute laws became a substantiation of ethical socialism.

In his works written before the 1920’s, E. Cassirer also developed the orthodox ideas of the Marburg school. Cassirer treated the history of logic, of the theory of knowledge, and of modern philosophy as the prehistory of the neo-Kantian theory of knowledge. He saw the development of concepts in modern mathematics, physics, and chemistry as a preparation and foundation for the idealist epistemology of the Marburg school (the theory of relativity and non-euclidean geometry are interpreted analogously). Cassirer regarded all basic concepts of science not as mental images of reality but merely as methods.

The Marburg school concentrated primarily on mathematics and mathematical natural science, whereas the Heidelberg (Baden, Southwest German) school proceeded from an idealist interpretation of historical sciences. The most important members of this school were W. Windelband and H. Rickert, who made a distinction between methods and concepts of the historical sciences and “sciences of the spirit” (“individualizing”—directed toward the unique and individual) and methods and concepts of the natural sciences (“generalizing”—directed toward the aggregate). In both instances, scientific concepts are interpreted as simplifying reality; they are formulated by means of selection, according to a teleological principle that guides the investigator in distinguishing the essential from the nonessential. If, in his logical teachings about the two types of concepts, Rickert formally recognized the equality of natural-scientific and historical forms of knowledge, then in his ontological views he advocated nominalism: the aggregate has no real existence in being; only the particular and the individual are real. Rickert used this nominalist concept to limit the scope of the natural sciences and to depreciate their value as compared with the historical sciences.

In the late-19th century, neo-Kantianism was used to revise the philosophical foundations of Marxism. It nearly became an official dogma for many ideologists of the Second International (E. Bernstein, M. Adler, K. Vorländer), who attempted to unite neo-Kantianism and Marxism. This philosophical revisionism was sharply criticized by G. V. Plekhanov in his Against Philosophical Revisionism (1935) and V. I. Lenin in his “Marxism and Revisionism” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 17) and “Materialism and Empiriocriticism” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18). Neo-Kantianism continues to influence contemporary idealist philosophy, particularly axiology (the study of values and value judgments).


Bakradze, K. S. Ocherki po istorii noveishei i sovremennoi burzhuaznoi filosofii. Tbilisi, 1960.
Grigor’ian, B. T. Neokantianstvo. Moscow, 1962.
Sovremennaia burzhuaznaia filosofiia. Moscow, 1972. Chapter 1.
Natorp, P. Kant und die Marburger Schule. Berlin, 1912.
Rickert, H. Die Heidelberger Tradition in der deutschen Philosophie. Tübingen, 1931.
Ritzel, W. Studien zum Wandelnder Kantauffassung. Meisenheim am Glan, 1952.
Dussort, H. L’Ecole de Marburg. Paris, 1963.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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