Rudolf Christoph Eucken Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)
0111200541-Eucken.jpg (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Eucken characterized the malaise of his age as spiritual confusion. His philosophy attempted to bring people out of this state of depression by stressing activism and spirituality as a renovating force. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1908.

Early Life

Rudolf Christoph Eucken was born in Aurich, a town in western Hannover, on January 5, 1846. Because his father died when Rudolf was very young, he was reared primarily by his mother. One of the earliest influences on Eucken’s life was an orthodox Lutheran schoolteacher named Wilhelm Reuter, who had himself been a student of a prestigious philosopher named Karl Christian Friedrich Krause. Reuter instilled in Eucken an experimental interest in religious problems.

As a university student, Eucken studied at Göttingen under the German thinker Rudolf Hermann Lotze. While at Göttingen, Eucken was influenced more by the books he read, possibly because of Lotze’s frigidity of mind. When Eucken transferred to the University of Berlin, he was greatly impressed by Friedrich Adolf Trendelenburg, whose ethical tendencies and historical treatment of philosophy attracted him. His belief in purpose and finality—what philosophers call the “teleological” view—was probably a decisive influence on the development of the future Nobel Prize laureate. Trendelenburg also introduced Eucken to the study Aristotle.

Life’s Work

After leaving the University, Eucken taught in various secondary schools in Germany. In 1871, he was appointed full professor of philosophy at the University of Basel. His primary concern at first was with philology and the history of philosophy, especially Aristotle’s philosophy. One of his earliest works, De Aristotelis dicendi ratione, Pars Prima: Observations de particuliarum usa (1866), combined both fields in a study of Aristotle’s vocabulary. The three essays that followed this work—Die Methode und die Grundlagen der Aristotelischen Ethik (1870), Die Methode der Aristotelischen Forschung in ihrem Zusammenhang mit den philosophischen Grundprinzipien des Aristoteles (1872), and Über die Bedeutung der Aristotelischen Philosophie für die Gegenwart (1872)—were also Aristotelian studies. This latter work can also be viewed as a critical introduction to Eucken’s own philosophy.

In 1874, Eucken left the University of Basel to become professor of philosophy at the University of Jena, where he taught until his retirement in 1920. In 1878, one of Eucken’s central works appeared: Geschichte und Kritik der Grundbegriffe der Gegenwart (history and critique of the basic concepts of modern thought). This book was essentially a review of the main categories of modern thought: theory and practice; thought and experience; civilization and culture; and society and the individual. The third revision of this book marks a transition period in Eucken’s thinking. In this edition, Eucken tailored the concepts that he had formulated in the first edition to fit in with the “new idealism,” a concept that he had introduced in 1890, in what many believe to be his classical work: Die Lebensanschauungen der grossen Denker: Eine Entwicklungsgeschichte des Lebensprobleme der Menschheit von Plato bis zur Gegenwart (The Problem of Human Life as Viewed by the Great Thinkers from Plato to the Present Time, 1909). Going beyond the purely intellectual approach to philosophy which had been taken by previous philosophers, Eucken focused his attention on actual...

(The entire section is 1469 words.)

Rudolf Christoph Eucken Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born in the small German town of Aurich, Rudolf Christoph Eucken (OY-kuhn) suffered many serious illnesses during his early childhood. Ammo, his father, was a postal worker and a mathematician who passed away while Rudolf was very young. Rudolf’s mother, Ida Maria, a deeply religious and self-educated woman, took in lodgers to provide for her family. She committed herself to seeing that Rudolf received a good education.

Although his primary interests were in mathematics and music, Eucken was persuaded by Wilhelm Reuter, one of his teachers at the gymnasium at Aurich, to study religion and philosophy. At the University of Göttingen, Eucken chose to study classical philosophy and ancient history and attended many lectures presented by the German philosopher Rudolph Hermann Lotze. During a period of study at the University of Berlin, Eucken learned fundamental interconnections among philosophy, history, and religion under the tutelage of Aristotelian philosopher Adolf Trendelenburg.

After earning his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Göttingen in 1866, Eucken taught high school for five years and was appointed a professor of philosophy at the University of Basel, in Switzerland, in 1871. He was named as the chair of philosophy at the University of Jena in 1874 and continued to work there until 1920. In 1882 he married Irene Passow. They raised two sons, Arnold Thomas and Walter, and one daughter.

In his earlier writings, Eucken had...

(The entire section is 606 words.)

Rudolf Christoph Eucken Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Booth, Meyrick. Rudolf Eucken: His Philosophy and Influence. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1913. Contains an overview of Eucken’s life, focusing on his idealistic philosophy of life and his profound influence on other philosophers.

Gibson, William Ralph Boyce. Rudolf Eucken’s Philosophy of Life. 2d ed. London: A. and C. Black, 1907. Documents the works of Eucken and his approach to the philosophy of life. Includes an appendix that discusses his philosophy, known as activism, as well as a list of his most important publications.

Hermann, Emily. Eucken and Bergson: Their Significance for Christian Thought. Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1913. Explores the contributions of Eucken and Henri Bergson to idealistic, religious, ethical philosophical thinking and the impact of their thinking on Christian behavior.

Jones, William Tudor. An Interpretation of Rudolf Eucken’s Philosophy. 3d ed. London: Williams and Norgate, 1912. Contains many valuable insights into the philosophical ideas of Eucken. Contains a complete list of his works.