Modern philosophers - by Harald Hoffding - PDF ebook

Modern philosophers

Modern philosophers

In my work on the History of Modern Philosophy (which appeared in the Danish edition 1894-95), I stopped short with the year 1880. I set up this year as my limit for several reasons. In the first place, a more or less provisional settlement was arrived at, at this point, in the debate and reaction between the two great lines of thought of the nineteenth century, the Romantic and the Positive. Both had worked out their consequences, and in some measure found their corrective. 

A temporary breathing space had been attained in the views of which Lotze and Spencer are types, and in the recently revived Critical philosophy. To be sure, new endeavors had appeared side by side with these. But they had not yet been molded into clear and definite tendencies. In the second place, the treatment and valuation of immediately contemporary thought are subject to conditions different from those governing the presentation of philosophical phenomena which come under consideration historically complete. 

A psychological and biographical elucidation is no easy matter. And yet here if anywhere in the philosophical sphere such elucidation is rendered necessary by the intimate reciprocal relations of thought and personality. 

The method of treatment must, consequently, be another than when the inquiry concerns tendencies that belong more decidedly to the past. And in the third place, my own more independent philosophical labors begin somewhere about the year 1880. This, too, helps to render it less easy for me to take up an objective standpoint with regard to the works of others that have appeared in the meantime. 

When I cast about for what I take to be the most significant characteristic of the philosophical activity during the last quarter of a century, it is borne in upon me that the personal factor will be found to have asserted itself more strongly in this than in my earlier work. This factor will be found to take an active part both in the choice of the representative and in presentation and judgment. This is the reason why I have published the present volume as an independent work, and not as simply the third part of my History of Modern Philosophy.

 If I must begin by calling attention to a peculiarity of the most recent philosophical speculation, it must be this, that it is still more difficult to classify than the philosophy of earlier times. The more profoundly one studies philosophy, the more one comes to realize how little worth are the wonted rubrics, all the many " -isms." 

The essence and operation of both thought and existence are far too many-sided for any such external arrangement to be possible.

 One fact, in particular, is always claiming fresh attention, namely, how a philosophical movement is as much a thought- construction as a sign of the times. Philosophy is a treatment of problems as well as a symptom, and at the present day, its appearance in this two-fold role is sharply defined. 

Partly it is that existence presents to us a continually increasing complexity of aspects in ever greater depth and multiformity. Partly it is that we are paying more and more attention to the co-operation and consonance of the subjective factors in all thought. In both connections — we may call them respectively the objective and the subjective aspects of philosophy — contemporary philosophy advances with firmer tread than did that of former times.

 The necessity of observation, of analysis, of criticism, of objective coherence, is more strongly emphasized than was formerly the case; and stronger than in former times is the stress laid upon the subjective choice of standpoint, starting-point, and conclusion. 

Yet (and perhaps this is the most characteristic trait) it is not right to take this as an irreconcilable contra- diction. One holds fast, rather, to the calm conviction that the objective and the subjective lines of thought will finally effect conjunction. We shall find philosophical personalities conveyed in their speculative expeditions now by more objective, now by more subjective principles. 

Wilhelm Wundt and Ernst Mach went over from Science to Philosophy; and even pure scientists like Clerk Maxwell and Heinrich Hertz, desirous as they were of remaining within the bounds of their own province, felt, nevertheless, the need of coordinating the primary postulates which served them as ground-principles. In this way they came into contact with philosophy. We shall find Roberto Ardigo led on from Catholic theology to Critical and Positivist speculations, without sudden rupture it is true, yet in such a way that a long period of reflection leads him gradually to an attitude peculiarly Positivist. Friedrich Nietzsche begins with Philology and the History of Culture. 


1. Modern philosophers: First group. Objective-systematic tendency: I. Wilhelm Wundt. II. Roberto Ardige. III. Francis Herbert Bradley. IV. Alfred Fouillée and contemporary French philosophy. Second group. Epistemologico-biological tendency. I. Philosopher-scientists. II. The natural history problem. Third group. The philosophy of value: I. Jean Marie Guyau. II. Friedrich Nietzsche. III. Rudolf Eucken. IV. William James.--II. Lectures on Bergson

Author:Harald Hoffding 
Publication date:1891

Translated by Alfred C, Mason, 

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