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.)