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
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz through
Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer,
Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche,
Martin Heidegger and Ludwig
Wittgenstein to contemporary philosophers.
Søren Kierkegaard (a
Danish philosopher) is frequently included in surveys of German (or
Germanic) philosophy due to his extensive engagement with German
1 17th century
2 18th century
3 19th century
3.1 German Idealism
Karl Marx and the Young Hegelians
4 20th century
4.1 Analytic philosophy
4.1.1 Frege, Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle
4.2 Continental philosophy
4.2.3 Frankfurt School
5 See also
7 External links
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) was both a philosopher and a
mathematician who wrote primarily in
Latin and French. Leibniz, along
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
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 the most eminent German philosopher
after Leibniz. 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 one of the first to use German as a 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.
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.
Main article: German idealism
G. W. F. Hegel
The three most prominent German idealists were Johann Gottlieb Fichte
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775–1854) and
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), who was the predominant
figure in nineteenth century German philosophy.
An idiosyncratic opponent of German idealism, particularly Hegel's
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860). He was
influenced by Eastern philosophy, particularly Buddhism, and was known
for his pessimism. 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
Karl Marx, German economist and philosopher.
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 (1804–72),
Bruno Bauer (1809–82) and
Max Stirner (1806–56) among their ranks.
Karl Marx (1818–83) 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
Marxism became one of the major forces on twentieth
century world history.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (September
Main article: Neo-Kantianism
Neo-Kantianism refers broadly to the revival of the type of philosophy
Immanuel Kant and of the interpretations of Kant provided
by post-Kantian philosophers such as Schopenhauer, Jakob Friedrich
Fries and Johann Friedrich Herbart. Major figures in the neo-Kantian
movement, which began around the 1860s, include Friedrich Albert Lange
and Hermann Cohen.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) was initially a proponent of
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 that if you believe in God, you give
in to dishonesty and cruel beliefs (e.g. divine predestination of some
individuals to Hell), and if you don't believe in God, you give in to
nihilism. He believed he found his solution in the concepts of the
Übermensch and Eternal Recurrence. 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
While the seminal philosophers of twentieth-century analytical
philosophy were German-speakers, most German-language philosophy of
the twentieth century tends to be defined not as analytical but
'continental' philosophy – as befits Germany's position as part of
the European 'continent' as opposed to the British Isles or other
culturally European nations outside of Europe.
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.
Main article: Hermeneutics
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
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 the "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
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.
Main article: Frankfurt School
Carl Grünberg founded the Institute for Social Research,
drawing from Marxism, Freud's psychoanalysis and Weberian philosophy,
which came to be known as the "Frankfurt School". Expelled by the
Nazis, the school reformed again in Frankfurt after World War II.
Although they drew from Marxism, they were outspoken opponents of
Stalinism. Books from the group, like Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s
Dialectic of Enlightenment
Dialectic of Enlightenment and Adorno’s Negative Dialectics,
critiqued what they saw as the failure of the Enlightenment project
and the problems of modernity. Postmodernists consider the Frankfurt
school to be one of their precursors.
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
European Union portal
List of German-language philosophers
Culture of Germany
History of philosophy
List of Austrian intellectual traditions
^ Lowith, Karl. From Hegel to Nietzsche, 1991, p. 370-375.
^ Pinkard, Terry P. German philosophy, 1760-1860: the legacy of
idealism, 2002, ch. 13.
^ Stewart, Jon B. Kierkegaard and his German contemporaries, 2007
^ Kenny, Anthony. Oxford Illustrated History of Western Philosophy,
^ Rutherford (1998) is a detailed scholarly study of Leibniz's
^ The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 2, Ch. 48 (Dover page
616), "The ascetic tendency is certainly unmistakable in genuine and
original Christianity, as it was developed in the writings of the
Church Fathers from the kernel of the New Testament; this tendency is
the highest point to which everything strives upwards."
Foundationalism and Hermeneutics". www.friesian.com. Retrieved 22
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-06-04. Retrieved
^ Mantzavinos, C. (22 March 2018). Zalta, Edward N., ed. The Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford
University. Retrieved 22 March 2018 – via Stanford Encyclopedia of
^ Habermas, Jürgen. (1987). The Theory of Communicative Action. Third
Edition, Vols. 1 & 2, Beacon Press.
^ Habermas, Jürgen. (1990). Moral Consciousness and Communicative
Action, MIT Press.
^ Habermas, Jürgen. (1987). The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity.
Sassen, Brigitte. "German
Philosophy in the 18th Century Prior to
Kant". In Zalta, Edward N. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Philosophy by Barry Smith
Philosophy of psychiatry
Philosophy of perception
Space and time
Schools of thought
Acintya bheda abheda
Foundationalism / Coherentism
Internalism and Externalism
Ordinary language philosophy
Rationalism / Reasonism
Philosophy by region
Women in philosophy