Rudolf Hermann Lotze

From New World Encyclopedia

Rudolf Herman Lotze (May 21, 1817 - July 1, 1881), was a preeminent German philosopher and logician during the second half of the nineteenth century. He obtained a medical degree and was unusually well versed in biology. He tried to reconcile German idealism with scientific mechanism by asserting that scientific laws and principles were incomprehensible without an underlying higher purpose, the realization of a world of goodness. He also proposed that the role of philosophy was not to discover universal principles, but to clarify and organize existing concepts and ideas into an intelligible system. Convinced of the emptiness of philosophical terms and abstract notions, he declared that ultimate reality was larger and wider than philosophy, and its unity could only be understood in terms of the multitude of human experiences and observations of everyday life.

Lotze combined the monads of Gottfried Leibniz's spheres of individual existence with the pantheism of Baruch Spinoza. He suggested that the "monads" existed within a universal substance. He taught that the human soul regards universal substance as an absolutely good being, a God of love. Lotze applied the general principles used in the investigation of inorganic phenomena to the study of the physical and mental phenomena of the human organism, in its normal and diseased states. He wrote several treatises on aesthetics. He included aesthetic values with moral values as part of the underlying tendency towards goodness which give meaning to existence.


Rudolf Herman Lotze was born in Bautzen, Saxony, Germany, on May 21, 1817, the son of an army surgeon. He was educated at the gymnasium of Zittau; he wrote poetry and had an enduring love of the classical authors, translating Antigone of Sophocles into Latin verse (published when he was middle-aged). At the age of seventeen, he entered the University of Leipzig as a student of medicine, perhaps to please his father, but he also studied philosophy, psychology, physics, and mathematics under E.H. Weber, W. Volckmann, Gustav Fechner, and Christian Hermann Weisse. He was interested both in science and the idealism of Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich von Schelling, and Georg Hegel.

Four months after receiving his doctorate in philosophy in 1838, Lotze was awarded a doctorate in medicine for his dissertation De futurae biologiae principibus philosophicis. In 1841, at the age of twenty-four, he became a junior lecturer at Leipzig. He published two short books on philosophy, Metaphysik (Leipzig, 1841) and Logik (1843). In 1844, he succeeded Johann Friedrich Herbart in the chair of philosophy at the University of Göttingen.

His two early books remained unnoticed by the reading public, and Lotze first became known to a larger circle through his Allgemeine Pathologie und Therapie als mechanische Naturwissenschaften (Leipzig, 1842, 2nd ed., 1848), the articles "Lebenskraft" (1843) and "Seele und Seelenleben" (1846) in Rud. Wagner's Handwörterbuck der Physiologie, his Allgemeine Physiologie des Korperlichen Lebens (Leipzig, 1851), and his Medizinische Psychologie oder Physiologie der Seele (Leipzig, 1852). Lotze applied the general principles used in the investigation of inorganic phenomena to the study of the physical and mental phenomena of the human organism, in its normal and diseased states. When Lotze published these works, medical science was still under the influence of Schelling's philosophy of nature, and the mechanical laws were considered to be valid only in the inorganic world. Though Lotze reiterated that his ideas did not include a solution of the philosophical question regarding the nature of mechanism, his works, published during the years when the modern school of German materialism was at its height, were counted among the literature of empirical philosophy.

This misinterpretation of his ideas induced Lotze to publish a small polemical pamphlet (Streitschriften, Leipzig, 1857), in which he corrected two mistakes: Some associated him with the materialistic school because of his opposition to Hegel's formalism, while others regarded him as a follower of Herbart. Lotze denied that he belonged to the school of Herbart, though he incorporated the monadology of Leibniz in his views. When Lotze wrote these explanations, he had already published the first volume of his Mikrokosmus (vol. i. 1856, vol. ii. 1858, vol. iii. 1864). In many passages of his works on pathology, physiology, and psychology, Lotze had distinctly stated that the method of research which he advocated did not give an explanation of the phenomena of life and mind, but only the means of observing and connecting them together. He emphasized that by studying the macrocosm of the universe, it is possible to acquire data necessary for deciding what meaning attaches to the existence of the microcosmic world of human life.

As professor of philosophy at Göttingen, Lotze delivered annual lectures on psychology and logic (the latter included a survey of all philosophical research, under the title Encyclopädie der Philosophie), and at longer intervals, lectures on metaphysics, philosophy of nature, philosophy of art, philosophy of religion, and occasionally on the history of philosophy and ethics. During these lectures he developed his ideas in relation to each of these subjects, and during the last decade of his life he embodied the substance of those courses in his System der Philosophie. Only two volumes were published, Vol. i. Logik (1st ed., Leipzig, 1874, 2nd ed., 1880) and 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, was published by his son.

In 1881, Lotze joined the faculty at Berlin but, after three months, died of a chest infection on July 1, 1881.

Thought and works

Lotze was a preeminent figure in German academic philosophy during the second half of the nineteenth century. He recognized the validity of the methods of mechanistic science but perceived the limitations of mechanism in explaining human consciousness and in providing an underlying justification for the existence of mankind and the universe. He made ethics the starting point of his philosophy, which he called teleogical idealism, asserting that the causes and effects observed in nature were incomprehensible without an underlying purpose, the realization of a world of goodness. Lotze believed that philosophy should be rooted in the natural sciences, since human beings and inanimate objects are subject to the same natural laws. However, he held that knowledge was acquired through observation and experimentation; reality could not be deduced from laws and principles, and the purpose of philosophy was to analyze and organize the concepts that came from scientific observation. Physiology and other natural sciences could contribute to the explanation of human behavior, but Lotze felt that certain metaphysical concepts like “vital force,” which were still popular in biology during the 1800s, were not scientific enough and should be done away with.

Mechanism was the unalterable connection of every phenomenon a with other phenomena b, c, d, either following or preceding it; mechanism was the inexorable form into which the events of this world are cast, and by which they are connected.

Lotze believed that humanity was distinguishable from animals by the uniqueness of his mind; the development and history of humankind cannot be regarded as a mechanical scientific process. Humanity, because of its mind, brings unity to existence through his ideas and his ethical values. “Wholes” in nature are the product of the mind of humans.

Lotze’s theory of space perception was an important contribution to philosophy.

Aesthetics was a favorite study of Lotze's, perhaps because of his own artistic temperament. He wrote several essays on aesthetics in light of the leading ideas of his philosophy.

Mikrokosmus (1856-1864)

The three volumes of Mikrokosmus were a review of anthropology, beginning with the human frame, the soul, and their relationship in life; advancing to the human mind and the course of the world; and concluding with history, progress, and the connection among all things. It concluded with the same idea which Lotze had expressed in his earliest work, Metaphysik, presented as the culmination of the preceding chapters, and as a framework for understanding his view of the existence of man, physical and mental, as an individual and a society. In every realm of observation these three distinct regions can be found; the region of facts, the region of laws and the region of standards of value. These three regions are separate only in human thoughts, not in reality. In order to comprehend reality, one must understand that the higher standards of moral and aesthetic value are being realized, by means of laws, in the realm of facts. Such a reality can only become intelligible through the existence of a personal Deity who, in the creation and preservation of the universe, has voluntarily established certain forms and laws, through the natural operation of which His purpose is realized.

Definition of philosophy

Lotze established two points in his exposition of logic: The existence in the human mind of certain laws and forms, according to which people connect the data supplied to them by their senses; and secondly, the fact that logical thought cannot be usefully employed without the assumption of a further set of connections, not logically necessary, but assumed to exist between the data of experience and observation. These connections, of a real, not a formal character, come from the various sciences and from the usage and culture of everyday life. Language has crystallized them into certain definite notions and expressions, without which one cannot proceed a single step, but which people have accepted without knowing their exact meaning, much less their origin. Consequently, 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: How to bring unity and harmony into the scattered thoughts of 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 a united, harmonious view of things. More especially, how do we investigate those concepts which form the initial assumptions of the several sciences, and fix the limits of their applicability? This is the formal definition of philosophy.

Whether a harmonious conception gained in this manner will represent more than an agreement among our thoughts; whether it will represent the real connection among things and thus possess objective, and not merely subjective, value, cannot be decided at the outset. It is unwarranted to start with the expectation that everything in the world should be explained by one principle, and it is a needless restriction of the means to expect unity of method. Philosophical investigations cannot start with an inquiry into the nature of human thought and its capacity to attain objective knowledge, because in that case we would be actually using the instrument whose usefulness we were trying to determine. The objective value of any view we gain will be proved by the degree to 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; or in the justice with which it weighs human manifold desires and aspirations and balances 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.

Philosophical investigations will then naturally divide themselves into three parts. The first deals with the inevitable forms in which people are obliged to think about things, if they think at all (metaphysics). The second is devoted to the application of the results of metaphysics to the region of facts, especially to the regions of external and mental phenomena (cosmology and psychology). The third deals with the standards of value from which people pronounce their aesthetic or ethical approval or disapproval. In each area one must aim for views which are clear and consistent within themselves; secondly, one shall wish to form some general idea of 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.


Metaphysics are the underlying direction of Lotze's theoretical philosophy, and he devoted two of his major works to the subject. His desire was to reexamine the concepts inherent in the usage of language, regarding the existence of things and the connections among them, in order to make them consistent and thinkable. The further assumption, that the modified notions arrived at in this way 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 one must have in human reasoning powers, and in the significance of a world in which humans themselves thoughts have a due place assigned.

Lotze opposed two common philosophical tendencies as impracticable: 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 the attempt to trace the genesis of human notions and decide as to their meaning and value (modern theories of knowledge). People are surrounded by a world of many things; their notions, by which they manage correctly or incorrectly to describe, 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 people came to form these notions, but merely this—to expel from the circle and totality of their 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.

Lotze discarded as useless and untenable many favorite conceptions of the school, and many crude notions of everyday life. The course of things and the connections between them is only thinkable if people assume a plurality of existences, the reality of which (distinguished from knowledge of them) can be conceived only as a multitude of relations. This quality of standing in relation to other things is what gives to a thing its reality. The nature of this reality 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. Further, every attempt to think clearly what those relations are, and what people really mean if tjeu talk of a fixed order of events, also forces upon us the necessity of thinking that they cannot be merely externally strung together or moved about by some indefinable external power, such as fate or predestination. The things themselves which exist and their changing phases must have some internal connection to each other; 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 a 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 agree with that of all others. That 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, of a system of laws which governs the many things? In attempting to make this conception clear and thinkable, one is forced to represent the connection of things as a universal substance, the essence of which one conceives as a system of laws which underlies everything and, in its own self, connects everything, but is imperceptible and known merely through the impressions it produces, which people call things.

A final reflection then teaches that the nature of this universal and all-pervading substance can only be imagined as something analogous to human mental life, where alone people experience the unity of a substance (which people call "self") preserved in the multitude of its (mental) states. It also becomes clear that only where such mental life really appears do people need to assign an independent existence. The purposes of everyday life, as well as those of science, are equally served if people deprive the material things outside of them of an independence, and assign to them merely a connected existence through the universal substance, by the action of which alone they can appear.

Historical position

Though Lotze 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. He shared Herbart’s 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. However, the ideas expressed in Lotze's writings resemble the objects and aspirations of the idealistic school more than the cold formalism of Herbart. Unlike the idealists, Lotze held that the absolute can only be inadequately defined 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 predefined pattern. 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 fullness of individual life, enabled Lotze to combine in his writings the two courses in which German philosophical thought had been moving since the death of Leibniz: The esoteric philosophy of the universities which tried to reduce all knowledge to an intelligible principle, and unsystematized philosophy of writers of the classical period, such as Lessing, Winckelmann, Goethe, Schiller, and Herder, all of whom expressed in some degree their indebtedness to Leibniz.


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External links

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