Collected essays of Rudolf Eucken - Translated by Meyrick Booth - PDF ebook

Collected essays of Rudolf Eucken

Collected essays of Rudolf Eucken

With three exceptions {The Status of Religion in Germany, Are the Germans still Thinkers? and The Problem of Immortality — for the translation of which I am not responsible) the essays included in this volume have not hitherto appeared in English. 

The lighter and more popular articles — in the early portion — will be found to throw a variety of interesting sidelights on the philosophy of Rudolf Eucken; while the heavier essays provide a material addition to our knowledge of the distinguished thinker's work. I

n spite of the diversity of its contents, this work acquires a certain unity by the convictions which permeate the whole. As is well known, Professor Eucken 's Activism is based upon the recognition of independent spiritual life (Geisteseben) as the ultimate basis of the whole of reality, and as the sole principle capable of explaining the sum of our human experience. 

This life sustains the entire structure of the universe, from inanimate matter up to the highest manifestations of man's intelligence and personality. Logic, mathematics, science, art, law, morality and religion are all modes of manifestation of this central life. Man is essentially a spiritual being, and a partaker in the originative and eternal reality, yet at the same time he is largely immersed in the life of nature (which is looked upon as a lower and unevolved stage of reality), and to realise his own being, he must endeavour to ascend towards the higher levels of reality. But this cannot be done without effort and activity, without a pressing forward and an overcoming of resistance. Hence the term Activism. 

All our human faculties — intellectual, aesthetic, practical, ethical and religious — find their only true function in promoting this ascent in the scale of being. Viewed from the standpoint of Eucken's philosophy, human existence is one vast process of the realisation and appropriation of spiritual reality. Unity and meaning are thus imparted to the whole. 

All the difficulties and antitheses of our life ultimately subserve this great purpose. It is of the utmost importance, however, to bear in mind that this process is not automatic. Man's active 'participation is essential to the movement of elevation. Human evolution is no mere "unwinding of thread from a reel": it is a creative work in which man is a co-worker. 

Eucken seeks to bring into the apparently almost hopeless chaos of modern life and thought a positive, unifying metaphysical principle — a principle that embraces all the different departments of human life and interest, scientific and religious, practical and theoretical, artistic and moral, and endeavours to assign to each its function in the task of the whole. 

It will be found that all the following essays are inspired and connected by the central convictions thus imperfectly sketched. The historical contributions are not mere records of past opinions. They are animated by a deep conviction that man's intellectual, moral and religious life is an ever-growing and ever-deepening possession, and that every great and sincere thinker contributes something to the advancement of the whole — notwithstanding the popular belief that the history of philosophy is a mere record of transitory opinions. 

The serious student of Eucken will do well, I think, to read with especial care the two essays dealing with Goethe and with Concepts (Nos. XV and XIX). The relationship between the great poet's ideas and the philosophy of Activism is very intimate, despite important differences; and the treatment of Goethe's thought in this essay throws very valuable light on Eucken's position. " Does the visible signify everything, or does an invisible life  rule over it?" 

Thus questions the poet, and answers: " The world has an inner life, and that not only at its particular points but as a whole. A single activity operates in all multiplicity and holds it together." Goethe finds that the antitheses of life are absorbed and reconciled within this embracing unity; yet he maintains, like Eucken, that this does not occur (in the case of unity and multiplicity) mechanically or passively but through independent action on the part of the separate points. (This — with the following quotation — would seem to bring Eucken nearer to Goethe than to Hegel.) 

As with Eucken, the anti- theses are essential to the progress of the whole; for example: " The inner is not complete in itself, merely needing subsequently and incidentally to express itself outwardly; it cannot shape itself and realise itself without the aid of the outer." Again Eucken concurs with Goethe in viewing this inner world- life as above and beyond all reflection and theory. It is no mere intellectual concept, but vital and original activity. 

The concluding essay draws our attention to the Problem of Concepts, a subject that is today fraught with the importance it would be difficult to exaggerate. 

In recent years, so rapid has been the progress amongst us of moral and intellectual individualism and subjectivism, that language has become the sport of individual caprice. It must be a matter of common observation that the majority of modern controversies are made entirely futile by the lack of any agreement as to the exact meaning of the terms employed. 

Many (probably a majority) of our hardest worked concepts possess no definite and generally recognised content whatever; let the reader consider, for example, the following — "progress," "evolution," "religion," "social welfare," " education," " character," and " personality " — and he will perceive that their meaning has become so individualised that each is capable of being understood in dozens of essentially different ways. Under these circumstances no real discussion is possible. We sink into pure sophistry.
the book details :
  • Author: Rudolf Eucken
  • editor and translator: Meyrick Booth
  • Publication date:1913
  • Company: New York, C. Scribner's sons

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