1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lotze, Rudolf Hermann

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Lotze, Rudolf Hermann (1817-1881), German philosopher, was born in Bautzen on the 21st May 1817, the son of a physician. He received his education in the gymnasium of Zittau under teachers who inspired him with an enduring love of the classical authors, as we see from his translation of the Antigone of Sophocles into Latin verse, published when he had reached middle life. He went to the university of Leipzig as a student of philosophy and natural sciences, but entered officially as a student of medicine. He was then only seventeen. It appears that thus early Lotze's studies were governed by two distinct interests. The first was scientific, based upon mathematical and physical studies under the guidance of E. H. Weber, W. Volckmann and G. T. Fechner. The other was his aesthetical and artistic interest, which was developed under the care of C. H. Weisse. To the former he owes his appreciation of exact investigation and a complete knowledge of the aims of science, to the latter an equal admiration for the great circle of ideas which had been diffused by the teaching of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. Each of these influences, which early in life must have been familiar to him, tempered and modified the other. The true method of science which he possessed forced him to condemn as useless the entire form which Schelling's and Hegel's expositions had adopted, especially the dialectic method of the latter, whilst his love of art and beauty, and his appreciation of moral purposes, revealed to him the existence of a trans-phenomenal world of values into which no exact science could penetrate. It is evident how this initial position at once defined to him the tasks which philosophy had to perform. First there were the natural sciences, themselves only just emerging from a confused conception of their true method; especially those which studied the borderland of physical and mental phenomena, the medical sciences; and pre-eminently that science which has since become so popular, the science of biology.

Lotze's first essay was his dissertation De futurae biologiae principibus philosophicis, with which he gained (1838) the degree of doctor of medicine, after having only four months previously got the degree of doctor of philosophy. Then, secondly, there arose the question whether the methods of exact science sufficed to explain the connexion of phenomena, or whether for the explanation of this the thinking mind was forced to resort to some hypothesis not immediately verifiable by observation, but dictated by higher aspirations and interests. And, if to satisfy these we were forced to maintain the existence of a world of moral standards, it was, thirdly, necessary to form some opinion as to the relation of these moral standards of value to the forms and facts of phenomenal existence. These different tasks, which philosophy had to fulfil, mark pretty accurately the aims of Lotze's writings, and the order in which they were published. He laid the foundation of his philosophical system very early in his Metaphysik (Leipzig, 1841) and his Logik (1843), short books published while he was still a junior lecturer at Leipzig, from which university he migrated to Göttingen, succeeding Herbart in the chair of philosophy. But it was only during the last decade of his life that he ventured, with much hesitation, to present his ideas in a systematic and final form. The two books mentioned remained unnoticed by the reading public, and Lotze first became known to a larger circle through a series of works which aimed at establishing in the study of the physical and mental phenomena of the human organism in its normal and diseased states the same general principles which had been adopted in the investigation of inorganic phenomena. These works were his Allgemeine Pathologie und Therapie als mechanische Naturwissenschaften (Leipzig, 1842, 2nd ed., 1848), the articles "Lebenskraft" (1843) and "Seele and Seelenleben" (1846) in Rud. Wagner's Handwörterbuch der Physiologie, his Allgemeine Physiologie des Körperlichen Lebens (Leipzig, 1851), and his Medizinische Psychologie oder Physiologie der Seele (Leipzig, 1852).

When Lotze published these works, medical science was still much under the influence of Schelling's philosophy of nature. The mechanical laws, to which external things were subject, were conceived as being valid only in the inorganic world; in the organic and mental worlds these mechanical laws were conceived as being disturbed or overridden by other powers, such as the influence of final causes, the existence of types, the work of vital and mental forces. This confusion Lotze, who had been trained in the school of mathematical reasoning, tried to dispel. The laws which govern particles of matter in the inorganic world govern them likewise if they are joined into an organism. A phenomenon a, if followed by b in the one case, is followed by the same b also in the other case. Final causes, vital and mental forces, the soul itself can, if they act at all, only act through the inexorable mechanism of natural laws. As we therefore have only to do with the study of existing complexes of material and spiritual phenomena, the changes in these must be explained in science by the rule of mechanical laws, such as obtain everywhere in the world, and only by such. One of the results of these investigations was to extend the meaning of the word mechanism, and comprise under it all laws which obtain in the phenomenal world, not excepting the phenomena of life and mind. Mechanism was the unalterable connexion of every phenomenon a with other phenomena b, c, d, either as following or preceding it; mechanism was the inexorable form into which the events of this world are cast, and by which they are connected. The object of those writings was to establish the all-pervading rule of mechanism. But the mechanical view of nature is not identical with the materialistic. In the last of the above-mentioned works the question is discussed at great length how we have to consider mind, and the relation between mind and body; the answer is—we have to consider mind as an immaterial principle, its action, however, on the body and vice versa as purely mechanical, indicated by the fixed laws of a psycho-physical mechanism. These doctrines of Lotze— though pronounced with the distinct and reiterated reserve that they did not contain a solution of the philosophical question regarding the nature, origin, or deeper meaning of this all-pervading mechanism, neither an explanation how the action of external things on each other takes place nor yet of the relation of mind and body, that they were merely a preliminary formula of practical scientific value, itself requiring a deeper interpretation—these doctrines were nevertheless by many considered to be the last word of the philosopher who, denouncing the reveries of Schelling or the idealistic theories of Hegel, established the science of life and mind on the same basis as that of material things. Published as they were during the years when the modern school of German materialism was at its height,[1] these works of Lotze were counted among the opposition literature which destroyed the phantom of Hegelian wisdom and vindicated the independent and self-sufficing position of empirical philosophy. Even philosophers of the eminence of I. H. Fichte (the younger) did not escape this misinterpretation of Lotze's true meaning, though they had his Metaphysik and Logik to refer to, though he promised in his Allgemeine Physiologie (1851) to enter in a subsequent work upon the "bounding province between aesthetics and physiology," and though in his Medizinische Psychologie he had distinctly stated that his position was neither the idealism of Hegel nor the realism of Herbart, nor materialism, but that it was the conviction that the essence of everything is the part it plays in the realization of some idea which is in itself valuable, that the sense of an all-pervading mechanism is to be sought in this that it denotes the ways and means by which the highest idea, which we may call the idea of the good, has voluntarily chosen to realize itself.

The misinterpretations which he had suffered induced Lotze to publish a small pamphlet of a polemical character (Streitschriften, Leipzig, 1857), in which he corrected two mistakes. The opposition which he had made to Hegel's formalism had induced some to associate him with the materialistic school, others to count him among the followers of Herbart. Lotze publicly and formally denied that he belonged to the school of Herbart, though he admitted that historically the same doctrine which might be considered the forerunner of Herbart's teachings might lead to his own views, viz. the monadology of Leibnitz.

When Lotze wrote these explanations, he had already given to the world the first volume of his great work, Mikrokosmus (vol. i. 1856, vol. ii. 1858, vol. iii. 1864; 3rd ed., 1876-1880). In many passages of his works on pathology, physiology, and psychology Lotze had distinctly stated that the method of research which he advocated there did not give an explanation of the phenomena of life and mind, but only the means of observing and connecting them together; that the meaning of all phenomena, and the reason of their peculiar connexions, was a philosophical problem which required to be attacked from a different point of view; and that the significance especially which lay in the phenomena of life and mind would only unfold itself if by an exhaustive survey of the entire life of man, individually, socially, and historically, we gain the necessary data for deciding what meaning attaches to the existence of this microcosm, or small world of human life, in the macrocosm of the universe. This review, which extends, in three volumes, over the wide field of anthropology, beginning with the human frame, the soul, and their union in life, advancing to man, his mind, and the course of the world, and concluding with history, progress, and the connexion of things, ends with the same idea which was expressed in Lotze's earliest work, his Metaphysik. The view peculiar to him is reached in the end as the crowning conception towards which all separate channels of thought have tended, and in the light of which the life of man in nature and mind, in the individual and in society, had been surveyed. This view can be briefly stated as follows: Everywhere in the wide realm of observation we find three distinct regions—the region of facts, the region of laws and the region of standards of value. These three regions are separate only in our thoughts, not in reality. To comprehend the real position we are forced to the conviction that the world of facts is the field in which, and that laws are the means by which, those higher standards of moral and aesthetical value are being realized; and such a union can again only become intelligible through the idea of a personal Deity, who in the creation and preservation of a world has voluntarily chosen certain forms and laws, through the natural operation of which the ends of His work are gained.

Whilst Lotze had thus in his published works closed the circle of his thought, beginning with a conception metaphysically gained, proceeding to an exhaustive contemplation of things in the light it afforded, and ending with the stronger conviction of its truth which observation, experience, and life could afford, he had all the time been lecturing on the various branches of philosophy according to the scheme of academical instruction transmitted from his predecessors. Nor can it be considered anything but a gain that he was thus induced to expound his views with regard to those topics, and in connexion with those problems, which were the traditional forms of philosophical utterance. His lectures ranged over a wide field: he delivered annually lectures on psychology and on logic (the latter including a survey of the entirety of philosophical research under the title Encyclopädie der Philosophie), then at longer intervals lectures on metaphysics, philosophy of nature, philosophy of art, philosophy of religion, rarely on history of philosophy and ethics. In these lectures he expounded his peculiar views in a stricter form, and during the last decade of his life he embodied the substance of those courses in his System der Philosophie, of which only two volumes have appeared (vol. i. Logik, 1st ed., Leipzig, 1874, 2nd ed., 1880; vol. ii. Metaphysik, 1879). The third and concluding volume, which was to treat in a more condensed form the principal problems of practical philosophy, of philosophy of art and religion, never appeared. A small pamphlet on psychology, containing the last form in which he had begun to treat the subject in his lectures (abruptly terminated through his death on the 1st of July 1881) during the summer session of 1881, has been published by his son. Appended to this volume is a complete list of Lotze's writings, compiled by Professor Rehnisch of Göttingen.

To understand this series of Lotze's writings, it is necessary to begin with his definition of philosophy. This is given after his exposition of logic has established two points, viz. the existence in our mind of certain laws and forms according to which we connect the material supplied to us by our senses, and, secondly, the fact that logical thought cannot be usefully employed without the assumption of a further set of connexions, not logically necessary, but assumed to exist between the data of experience and observation. These connexions of a real not formal character are handed to us by the separate sciences and by the usage and culture of everyday life. Language has crystallized them into certain definite notions and expressions, without which we cannot proceed a single step, but which we have accepted without knowing their exact meaning, much less their origin. In consequence the special sciences and the wisdom of common life entangle themselves easily and frequently in contradictions. A problem of a purely formal character thus presents itself, viz. this—to try to bring unity and harmony into the scattered thoughts of our general culture, to trace them to their primary assumptions and follow them into their ultimate consequences, to connect them all together, to remodel, curtail or amplify them, so as to remove their apparent contradictions, and to combine them in the unity of an harmonious view of things, and especially to investigate those conceptions which form the initial assumptions of the several sciences, and to fix the limits of their applicability. This is the formal definition of philosophy. Whether an harmonious conception thus gained will represent more than an agreement among our thoughts, whether it will represent the real connexion of things and thus possess objective not merely subjective value, cannot be decided at the outset. It is also unwarranted to start with the expectation that everything in the world should be explained by one principle, and it is a needless restriction of our means to expect unity of method. Nor are we able to start our philosophical investigations by an inquiry into the nature of human thought and its capacity to attain an objective knowledge, as in this case we would be actually using that instrument the usefulness of which we were trying to determine. The main proof of the objective value of the view we may gain will rather lie in the degree in which it succeeds in assigning to every element of culture its due position, or in which it is able to appreciate and combine different and apparently opposite tendencies and interests, in the sort of justice with which it weighs our manifold desires and aspirations, balancing them in due proportions, refusing to sacrifice to a one-sided principle any truth or conviction which experience has proven to be useful and necessary. The investigations will then naturally divide themselves into three parts, the first of which deals with those to our mind inevitable forms in which we are obliged to think about things, if we think at all (metaphysics), the second being devoted to the great region of facts, trying to apply the results of metaphysics to these, specially the two great regions of external and mental phenomena (cosmology and psychology), the third dealing with those standards of value from which we pronounce our aesthetical or ethical approval or disapproval. In each department we shall have to aim first of all at views clear and consistent within themselves, but, secondly, we shall in the end wish to form some general idea or to risk an opinion how laws, facts and standards of value may be combined in one comprehensive view. Considerations of this latter kind will naturally present themselves in the two great departments of cosmology and psychology, or they may be delegated to an independent research under the name of religious philosophy. We have already mentioned the final conception in which Lotze's speculation culminates, that of a personal Deity, Himself the essence of all that merits existence for its own sake, who in the creation and government of a world has voluntarily chosen certain laws and forms through which His ends are to be realized. We may add that according to this view nothing is real but the living spirit of God and the world of living spirits which He has created; the things of this world have only reality in so far as they are the appearance of spiritual substance, which underlies everything. It is natural that Lotze, having this great and final conception always before him, works under its influence from the very beginning of his speculations, permitting us, as we progress, to gain every now and then a glimpse of that interpretation of things which to him contains the solution of our difficulties.

The key to Lotze's theoretical philosophy lies in his metaphysics, to the exposition of which important subject the first and last of his larger publications have been devoted. To understand Lotze's philosophy, a careful and repeated perusal of these works is absolutely necessary. The object of his metaphysics is so to remodel the current notions regarding the existence of things and their connexions with which the usage of language supplies us as to make them consistent and thinkable. The further assumption, that the modified notions thus gained have an objective meaning, and that they somehow correspond to the real order of the existing world which of course they can never actually describe, depends upon a general confidence which we must have in our reasoning powers, and in the significance of a world in which we ourselves with all the necessary courses of our thoughts have a due place assigned. The principle therefore of these investigations is opposed to two attempts frequently repeated in the history of philosophy, viz.: (1) the attempt to establish general laws or forms, which the development of things must have obeyed, or which a Creator must have followed in the creation of a world (Hegel); and (2) the attempt to trace the genesis of our notions and decide as to their meaning and value (modern theories of knowledge). Neither of these attempts is practicable. The world of many things surrounds us; our notions, by which we manage correctly or incorrectly to describe it, are also ready made. What remains to be done is, not to explain how such a world manages to be what it is, nor how we came to form these notions, but merely this—to expel from the circle and totality of our conceptions those abstract notions which are inconsistent and jarring, or to remodel and define them so that they may constitute a consistent and harmonious view. In this endeavour Lotze discards as useless and untenable many favourite conceptions of the school, many crude notions of everyday life. The course of things and their connexion is only thinkable by the assumption of a plurality of existences, the reality of which (as distinguished from our knowledge of them) can be conceived only as a multitude of relations. This quality of standing in relation to other things is that which gives to a thing its reality. And the nature of this reality again can neither be consistently represented as a fixed and hard substance nor as an unalterable something, but only as a fixed order of recurrence of continually changing events or impressions. But, further, every attempt to think clearly what those relations are, what we really mean, if we talk of a fixed order of events, forces upon us the necessity of thinking also that the different things which stand in relations or the different phases which follow each other cannot be merely externally strung together or moved about by some indefinable external power, in the form of some predestination or inexorable fate. The things themselves which exist and their changing phases must stand in some internal connexion; they themselves must be active or passive, capable of doing or suffering. This would lead to the view of Leibnitz, that the world consists of monads, self-sufficient beings, leading an inner life. But this idea involves the further conception of Leibnitz, that of a pre-established harmony, by which the Creator has taken care to arrange the life of each monad, so that it agrees with that of all others. This conception, according to Lotze, is neither necessary nor thoroughly intelligible. Why not interpret at once and render intelligible the common conception originating in natural science, viz. that of a system of laws which governs the many things? But, in attempting to make this conception quite clear and thinkable, we are forced to represent the connexion of things as a universal substance, the essence of which we conceive as a system of laws which underlies everything and in its own self connects everything, but imperceptible, and known to us merely through the impressions it produces on us, which we call things. A final reflection then teaches us that the nature of this universal and all-pervading substance can only be imagined by us as something analogous to our own mental life, where alone we experience the unity of a substance (which we call self) preserved in the multitude of its (mental) states. It also becomes clear that only where such mental life really appears need we assign an independent existence, but that the purposes of everyday life as well as those of science are equally served if we deprive the material things outside of us of an independence, and assign to them merely a connected existence through the universal substance by the action of which alone they can appear to us.

The universal substance, which we may call the absolute, is at this stage of our investigations not endowed with the attributes of a personal Deity, and it will remain to be seen by further analysis in how far we are able—without contradiction—to identify it with the object of religious veneration, in how far that which to metaphysics is merely a postulate can be gradually brought nearer to us and become a living power. Much in this direction is said by Lotze in various passages of his writings; anything complete, however, on the subject is wanting. Nor would it seem as if it could be the intention of the author to do much more than point out the lines on which the further treatment of the subject should advance. The actual result of his personal inquiries, the great idea which lies at the foundation of his philosophy, we know. It may be safely stated that Lotze would allow much latitude to individual convictions, as indeed it is evident that the empty notion of an absolute can only become living and significant to us in the same degree as experience and thought have taught us to realize the seriousness of life, the significance of creation, the value of the beautiful and the good, and the supreme worth of personal holiness. To endow the universal substance with moral attributes, to maintain that it is more than the metaphysical ground of everything, to say it is the perfect realization of the holy, the beautiful and the good, can only have a meaning for him who feels within himself what real not imaginary values are clothed in those expressions.

We have still to mention that aesthetics formed a principal and favourite study of Lotze's, and that he has treated this subject also in the light of the leading ideas of his philosophy. See his essays Ueber den Begriff der Schönheit (Göttingen, 1845) and Ueber Bedingungen der Kunstschönheit, ibid. (1847); and especially his Geschichte der Aesthetik in Deutschland (Munich, 1868).

Lotze's historical position is of much interest. Though he disclaims being a follower of Herbart, his formal definition of philosophy and his conception of the object of metaphysics are similar to those of Herbart, who defines philosophy as an attempt to remodel the notions given by experience. In this endeavour he forms with Herbart an opposition to the philosophies of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, which aimed at objective and absolute knowledge, and also to the criticism of Kant, which aimed at determining the validity of all human knowledge. But this formal agreement includes material differences, and the spirit which breathes in Lotze's writings is more akin to the objects and aspirations of the idealistic school than to the cold formalism of Herbart. What, however, with the idealists was an object of thought alone, the absolute, is to Lotze only inadequately definable in rigorous philosophical language; the aspirations of the human heart, the contents of our feelings and desires, the aims of art and the tenets of religious faith must be grasped in order to fill the empty idea of the absolute with meaning. These manifestations of the divine spirit again cannot be traced and understood by reducing (as Hegel did) the growth of the human mind in the individual, in society and in history to the monotonous rhythm of a speculative schematism; the essence and worth which is in them reveals itself only to the student of detail, for reality is larger and wider than philosophy; the problem, "how the one can be many," is only solved for us in the numberless examples in life and experience which surround us, for which we must retain a lifelong interest and which constitute the true field of all useful human work. This conviction of the emptiness of terms and abstract notions, and of the fulness of individual life, has enabled Lotze to combine in his writings the two courses into which German philosophical thought had been moving since the death of its great founder, Leibnitz. We may define these courses by the terms esoteric and exoteric—the former the philosophy of the school, cultivated principally at the universities, trying to systematize everything and reduce all our knowledge to an intelligible principle, losing in this attempt the deeper meaning of Leibnitz's philosophy; the latter the unsystematized philosophy of general culture which we find in the work of the great writers of the classical period, Lessing, Winkelmann, Goethe, Schiller and Herder, all of whom expressed in some degree their indebtedness to Leibnitz. Lotze can be said to have brought philosophy out of the lecture-room into the market-place of life. By understanding and combining what was great and valuable in those divided and scattered endeavours, he became the true successor of Leibnitz.

The age in which Lotze lived and wrote in Germany was not one peculiarly fitted to appreciate the position he took up. Frequently misunderstood, yet rarely criticized, he was nevertheless greatly admired, listened to by devoted hearers and read by an increasing circle. But this circle never attained to the unity of a philosophical school. The real meaning of Lotze's teaching is reached only by patient study, and those who in a larger or narrower sense call themselves his followers will probably feel themselves indebted to him more for the general direction he has given to their thoughts, for the tone he has imparted to their inner life, for the seriousness with which he has taught them to consider even small affairs and practical duties, and for the indestructible confidence with which his philosophy permits them to disregard the materialism of science, the scepticism of shallow culture, the disquieting results of philosophical and historical criticism.

See E. Pfleiderer, Lotze's philosophische Weltanschauung nach ihren Grundzügen (Berlin, 1882; 2nd ed., 1884); E. von Hartmann, Lotze's Philosophie (Leipzig, 1888); O. Caspari, H. Lotze in seiner Stellung zu der durch Kant begründeten neuesten Geschichte der Philosophie (Breslau, 1883; 2nd ed., 1894); R. Falckenberg, Hermann Lotze (Stuttgart, 1901); Henry Jones, A Critical Account of the Philosophy of Lotze (Glasgow, 1895); Paul Lange, Die Lehre vom Instincte bei Lotze and Darwin (Berlin, 1896); A. Lichtenstein, Lotze and Wundt (Bern, 1900).

(J. T. M.; H. St.)

Notes[edit]

  1. See Vogt, Physiologische Briefe (1845-1847); Moleschott, Der Kreislauf des Lebens (1852); Büchner, Kraft and Stoff (1855).