Rothacker verbrachte seine Kindheit in Neapel und Pforzheim. Von bis leistete Rothacker Etappendienst im Elsass. Er lehrte Philosophie und Psychologie. Er unterzeichnete am

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Johannes Steizinger McMaster University steizinj mcmaster. I am also grateful to an audience at a workshop in Vienna April and my students for discussing the topic of this paper. In his later work — , Rothacker developed a cultural anthropology. Introduction Erich Rothacker — was a key figure in early-twentieth-century philosophy in Germany.

In his later 3 work — , Rothacker developed a cultural anthropology. This section sketches the intellectual context of his dissertation, analyzes its biologistic concept of culture, and highlights the political implications of this view. Rothacker associated his new theory of culture with the rise of National Socialism NS. Rothacker sought to understand the nature of humanity throughout his philosophical career, believing that the special character of humanity was revealed in its historical development, where we see humanity consistently organized in particular groups with distinctive cultural achievements.

Lazarus and Steinthal regarded the communal life of social groups as the key to understanding humanity. As Lazarus and Steinthal had, Wundt argued that the systematic study of collective psychological processes would yield a developmental history of humanity. Rothacker is still seen as a key author in philosophical anthropology Fischer My paper challenges this popular argument.

I show that Rothacker justified his political conservativism by biologistic, historicist, and culturalist arguments.

He also began to engage with the social-psychological approach to cultural history in the work of Karl Lamprecht — , a close ally of Wundt. Lamprecht believed that nations were the agents of history, and that they developed in clearly distinguishable psychological stages. He aimed to identify the causal, statistical laws governing this process.

Rothacker claimed that the same laws of organic development governed races, nations, animals, and plants The early Rothacker rejected sociological 8 explanations in general, skeptical of the suggestion that culture could be caused by the social interactions of individuals.

For him, the social organization of a community was only an external framework that could modify cultural development superficially. These social groups were defined as arbitrary associations of individuals.

Rothacker believed that there were social groups without culture. They lacked the natural disposition for developing culture and remained only social organizations Rothacker defined races as natural groups governed by the biological laws of organic growth, and envisaged them as flourishing or degenerating like trees 95, f. He regarded racial dispositions as the ultimate cause behind cultural development. On this account, races generated gifted individuals capable of developing culture, and concrete cultural achievements in turn depended upon individuals with exceptional intellectual capacities f.

This explains how Rothacker could claim that his biologistic concept of culture constitutes something of a middle ground between collectivism and individualism f. He compared their development with the organic development of an eye 54 , emphasizing that the development of these intellectual capacities was first and foremost an organic process This is not an analogy.

Rothacker held that the physiological make-up of human brains was the key source of cultural development. This biologistic rendering of culture was clearly deterministic, and he believed that the intellectual capacities of an individual were completely genetically determined. Of course, the early Rothacker did not think that all members of a community had the same formal capacities, and advocated a quite simple equation: The better your brain, the higher your social position, especially within a cultural domain see, e.

Rothacker believed that he had discovered the natural foundation of cultural differences, and that, from this point of view, he could rank human communities by their formal capacities. He was convinced that these formal capacities could be assessed by the vitality they exhibit 16, 38 f. He argued that the cultural achievements of communities revealed such changes, since they expressed the organic development of their formal capacities 54 f.

The early Rothacker envisaged cultural processes as continuous developments always following the same formal stages He claimed that these empirical regularities could be found in all cultures, forming a clear hierarchy of cultural development. To illustrate his understanding of cultural development, Rothacker contrasted the primitive stage of knowledge with what he regarded as the highest stage.

Rothacker claimed that this form of knowledge was guided by the needs of primitive life, assuming that at the lowest stage, knowledge was entirely relative to practical interests 62— However, with the organic development of the brain, the formal capacity of knowing also improved see, e.

At this point, knowledge was pursued for its own sake 53 f. Since the highest form of knowing was independent of external influences, Rothacker regarded it as absolute This hierarchy naturalized cultural and social differences.

We can therefore justifiably say that the early Rothacker was a biological racist and a social Darwinist: He assumed that human communities developed analogues to organic life. He also blurred the lines between descriptive explanations and normative interests.

He embraced a hierarchical understanding of cultural development and was neither an epistemic relativist nor a value relativist. Following Dilthey, he developed a philosophy of the human sciences in the spirit of the Historical School. Rothacker now favored a hermeneutical approach to cultures that emphasized their particularity, historicity, and creativity.

He praised the historicist concept of the Volksgeist for having captured the very character of cultural productivity. He retained his earlier dismissal of sociology, but now rejected all causal explanations of culture, including all kinds of naturalism see, e. The mid-career Rothacker was no aberration, and fits within one of the main lines of development in German philosophy after WWI.

This historical context makes the major shift of his philosophical views plausible, but does not explain it sufficiently. The debates between naturalists, idealists, and historicists could thus be reduced to ideological differences between general worldviews. To Dilthey, these represented different aspects of the world and, hence, were not necessarily in conflict with each other. Rothacker, on the other hand, saw these metaphysical worldviews as rooted in comprehensive decisions about life. They expressed practical demands and ethical postulates that could not be reconciled — For Rothacker, all knowledge was thus guided by normative interests During this middle period, Rothacker was aware that his theory of worldviews would invite the charge of relativism.

He employed a similar argument in both cases to show that his relativism had no unacceptable consequences. He held that the constitutive role of interests in knowing added a new dimension to epistemology, one which he tried to bring out by distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant truths. Still, Rothacker emphasized that this pragmatic criterion of knowledge did not affect the theoretical or empirical correctness of a claim: A certain claim may be irrelevant to us, but nevertheless true f.

The choice between different values was also guided by the particular interests of agents deciding between different possibilities of life. This he understood in an almost existential way, arguing that life put its agents in a concrete situation Situation that called for a definite action.

This necessity to act called for decisions that ground human creativity. Rothacker assumed that creative agents could be either collective the Volksgeist or individual — Now, in this middle 14 period of his work, Rothacker began to explicitly relativize the influence of hereditary factors in cultural production, with an emphasis on their ethical aspects.

Yet he explicitly set his approach apart from an individualistic understanding of cultural history, rejecting the idea that cultural development rested on the creativity of individual genius only. Rothacker regarded this extreme individualism as rooted in strands of romanticism that he rejected Therefore, while Rothacker in this middle period placed collective entities above individuals, he nevertheless rejected a causal interpretation of this relationship, maintaining that individual cultural creativity was circumscribed by the communal context.

Rothacker closed his systematic treatise with an explicitly political statement, claiming that the discoveries of the Historical School entitled philosophers to patriotism In a nutshell, the middle Rothacker emphasized the counter-Enlightenment character of historicism, and personally identified with its conservative and nationalist tendencies.

Rothacker explicitly avoided the circle around Marianne and Alfred Weber where many of his liberal and socialist colleagues met regularly. He preferred the company of Friedrich Gundolf ,who introduced him to the circle gathered around the poet Stefan George George-Kreis.

In his autobiography he explained his rejection of the Weimar Republic with his strong belief that Germany had been humiliated after World War I Rothacker , His anti-democratic attitude was thus closely connected with his nationalism.

His later theory of culture was first developed in his treatise Geschichtsphilosophie Philosophy of History in Rothacker emphasizes that human behavior is always shaped by historically contingent cultural norms.

He believed that the significance of culture and history confronts psychology with two problems. First, the focus on the individual mind is not sufficient to explain human characteristics. Second, the cultural level of human behavior cannot be adequately examined by experimental methods, which exposes the limited scope of causal explanation in psychology. He introduced his cultural anthropology as the theoretical and institutional framework that could bring together cultural and psychological studies to foster a comprehensive understanding of humanity Rothacker , 71— This hermeneutic approach demanded a 17 comparative study of the historical forms of human life.

In this later period of his work, Rothacker rejected naturalism and often criticized causal explanations of human behavior. Rothacker criticized contemporary sociology from another angle as well. He now claimed that human communities had to be transformed into a unified Volk before they were capable of developing an advanced culture. This concept was important in his philosophical reading of National Socialism NS.

Rothacker explicitly associated his cultural anthropology with the rise of NS. He considered NS to be a kind of reality test for his cultural anthropology, advancing a reading of Nazi policies from the perspective of his theory of culture and justifying them philosophically. NS understood the task that arose from the tension between the inner and outer situation: Germany had to assert itself against hostile foreign powers.

This conviction matched the self-understanding of NS as an ideological movement that shaped all aspects of life, so it is not surprising that Rothacker confidently concluded that the rise of this movement confirmed his philosophy of history. Philosophers such as Alfred Baeumler — , Ernst Krieck , and Arnold Gehlen — defined their own task as establishing a new conception of humanity in the realm of theory, corresponding to the new political reality.

Anthropology thus became an important way to understand National Socialism philosophically. Rothacker construed history as the struggle of particular communities for the realization of their life and their world , A Volk established a specific attitude in its struggle with the natural and social environment.

Rothacker developed an existentialist understanding of the collective life of humanity. The lived experience of collective agents was the horizon of both the idea and the response, both of which were entirely relative to the communal lived experience. Rothacker illustrated this fundamental structure of human life by describing the situation of a sail boat in a heavy sea. Strong winds and heavy swells called for certain responses.

The sailors had to master the challenge by their coordinated activity. Rothacker used this same example to illustrate his thought that over time and with experience sailors formed habits that helped them to answer their maritime challenges effectively 44 f.


Erich Rothacker





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