Introduction: Towards a reconsideration of Neo-Kantianism

Nicolas De Warren, Andrea Staiti

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscript


In the summer of 1914, T. S. Eliot arrived in Marburg from Harvard University to attend a summer course in philosophy before taking up residency at Merton College, Oxford, for a year of study with Harold Joachim, F. H. Bradley’s successor. At the University of Marburg, Eliot met Paul Natorp, who assisted him in finding affordable accommodation and lectured in his course on philosophy. The outbreak of the First World War would cut short Eliot’s stay in Marburg, but not before he had the chance to sketch a portrait of the venerable Neo-Kantian Professor. Natorp strikes a professorial pose, one arm tucked behind his back, the other slung across his waist. With elven ears and bald cranium, the philosopher appears endearing in his otherworldliness. Natorp’s face is hidden behind oval glasses, so large that they seem to constitute a hindrance rather than an aid to seeing reality. Eliot’s sketch can be seen as a visual epitome for how Neo-Kantianism appeared to a younger generation of intellectuals and philosophers who would come of age in the aftermath of a Europe laid waste through the cataclysm of the Great War. Eliot’s amusing sketch is an apt illustration for what Hans-Georg Gadamer, who wrote his PhD dissertation on Plato under Natorp in 1922, characterized as the Neo-Kantian "calm and confident aloofness" engrossed in "complacent system-building." With slightly more bite, Hannah Arendt charged Neo-Kantianism with drowning philosophy "in a sea of boredom," thereby offering a softer version of the same hostility that spirited Martin Heidegger’s confrontation with Ernst Cassirer at Davos in 1929. The perception of Neo-Kantianism at Eliot’s alma mater was similarly unflattering. William James lampooned Heinrich Rickert’s work as an "unspeakable triviality" and a "fanciful flight of ideas," against which Rickert could only protest the famous American psychologist’s "personal unkindness." Time and historical perspective have not rendered more moderate or judicious this perception of Neo-Kantianism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNew Approaches to Neo-Kantianism
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781139506717
ISBN (Print)9781107032576
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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