Rudolf Hermann Lotze

The German idealist philosopher Rudolf Hermann Lotze (1817-1881) founded his metaphysics upon science and attempted to reconcile the mechanistic laws of nature with divine purpose.

Rudolf Hermann Lotze the son of a doctor, was born on May 21, 1817, in Bautzen. He entered the University of Leipzig in 1834 and 4 years later earned doctoral degrees in medicine and philosophy. He was also adept at physics, mathematics, psychology, art, and literature. From 1841 to 1844 he taught medicine and philosophy at Leipzig. He first became known through his medical work Allgemeine Pathologie and Therapie als mechanische Naturwissenschaften (1842, 2nd ed. 1848; General Pathology and Therapy as Mechanical Science), in which he explained physiological processes in mechanistic terms. This mechanistic explanation of living and nonliving things was further developed in Allgemeine Physiologie des körperlichen Lebens (1851; General Physiology of Bodily Life) and in Medizinische Psychologie oder Physiologie der Seele (1852; Medical Psychology or Physiology of the Soul).

While at Leipzig, Lotze published two short works, Metaphysik (1841) and Logik (1843), which outlined his philosophical project of reconciling science with religion, reason with feeling, and knowledge with value. He was appointed professor at the University of Göttingen in 1844. There he lived a quiet and fruitful academic life, pursuing his varied interests, which included a translation of Antigone into Latin verse and a book on the history of German esthetics, Geschichte der Aesthetik in Deutschland (1868). Lotze also completed his best-known work, the three-volume Mikrokosmos (1856-1864; Microcosmos). This popular exposition of his entire philosophy was subtitled "An Essay concerning Man and His Relation to the World." Specifically, Lotze described how the relationship between man's body and mind microcosmically mirrored the mechanistic laws which obtained in the cosmos.

Lotze's conception of metaphysics was quite revolutionary. He rejected a dogmatic, deductive system of metaphysics in favor of a probable and open-ended inquiry which would be based on rational inferences from the laws of nature. In accordance with his project of reconciling science with religion, Lotze inferred that the laws of nature were tools of a divine purpose, or telos. This conviction could not be scientifically proved; but, according to Lotze, the feeling of the unity of mechanism and value was irresistible. "For all the laws of this mechanism are but the very will of the universal soul, nothing else than the condition for the realization of God." In this way, Lotze sought to reconcile reason with feeling and knowledge with value.

Lotze planned a more rigorous account of his philosophy in a three-volume System der Philosophie (Lotze's System of Philosophy). But only two volumes, the Logik (1874) and the Metaphysik (1879), were published in his lifetime. In the Metaphysik Lotze criticized the baneful influence of British empiricism on German philosophy. German philosophers were becoming obsessed with the problem of how we know rather than with what we know. "The constant whetting of the knife is tedious, " Lotze said, "if it is not proposed to cut anything with it."

In 1881 Lotze joined the faculty at the University of Berlin. Shortly after arriving there, he fell ill with pneumonia and died on July 1, 1881. Lotze was hailed as a sage and seer in Germany, France, England, and especially America. In the 1880s American clergymen sighingly applauded his reconciliation of the microscope with God. The American philosophers George T. Ladd and Josiah Royce, who had attended his courses in Göttingen, were greatly influenced by Lotze's synthesis of science and Christianity. In Germany, Lotze's physiological psychology grounded the development of experimental psychology, which started with his disciples Carl Stumpf and G. E. Müller.


Further Reading on Rudolf Hermann Lotze

The definitive study of Lotze's life and work is in German. Useful accounts of Lotze's thought are in Johann Edward Erdmann, A History of Philosophy (trans., 3 vols., 1890-1892; 3d ed. 1892-1893); John Theodore Merz, History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century, edited by W. R. Sorley (4 vols., 1903-1914); Robert Adamson, A Short History of Logic (1911); and Rev. E. E. Thomas, Lotze's Theory of Reality (1921).