The Columbia History of Western Philosophy

By Richard H. Popkin | Go to book overview

9
Twentieth-Century Continental Philosophy

THE EARLY DECADES: POSITIVISM, NEO-KANTIANISM, DILTHEY

The focus of contemporary European philosophy appears to confirm Karl Löwith's judgment that the “true” nineteenth century is found in the thought of Karl Marx, SØren Kierkegaard, and Friedrich Nietzsche. The methodological basis of this judgment, however, lies in a phenomenological hermeneutics established in the early decades of the twentieth century by philosophers—above all Edmund Husserl (1859– 1938) and Martin Heidegger (1889–1976)—who did not see the previous century in such terms. Marx, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche were virtually unknown to Husserl. Phenomenology, which came into its own between 1897 and 1913, arose instead from Husserl's philosophical confrontations with positivists such as John Stuart Mill, Ernst Mach (1838–1916), and Richard Avenarius (1843–1896) on the one hand, and neo-Kantian philosophers such as Alois Riehl (1844–1924), Heinrich Rickert (1863– 1936), and Paul Natorp on the other. Though Heidegger ultimately did much to direct European thought beyond the philosophical horizon of positivism and neoKantianism, he earned his doctorate in 1914 with an essay on the positivistic and psychologistic theories of Franz Brentano, Theodore Lipps, Wilhelm Wundt, and others, and gained the right to teach in 1915 with an essay that extended neoKantian category theory to the domain of language. So, too, Wilhelm Dilthey's thinking between 1880 and his death in 1911, which served as a catalyst for Heidegger's redirection of philosophy, was largely forged in confrontation with the currents of positivism and neo-Kantianism. To understand the phenomenological movement, then, with its decisive impact on European thought in the first half of the

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