Hans Vaihingerís Kant-Studien
by Christopher Adair-Toteff, Blagoevgrad/Bulgaria

This year Kant-Studien celebrates its founding one hundred years ago. In light of this it is appropriate to consider the life of its founder Hans Vaihinger and to reflect upon the reasons that prompted him to take on the enormous task of creating a new journal in philosophy.

Hans Vaihinger was eminently qualified to begin Kant-Studien. He was born in 1852 near Tübingen, and given this proximity was raised in a religious atmosphere. His religious inclinations began to change while at the Stuttgart Gymnasium where he became interested in pantheism and then, under the influence of Darwin, in evolutionary philosophy. In 1879 he began to attend the Tübingen Stift where he came under the personal influence of Christoph Sigwart and later Otto Liebmann. Vaihinger began to read Kant and was impressed in particular with Kantís doctrine of the Transcendental Ideality of space and time. But he was also reading Schopenhauer and Eduard von Hartmann. From these two he formulated a pessimistic philosophy. Vaihinger received his degree based upon a dissertation entitled Die neueren Bewußtseinstheorien.

After completing his studies Vaihinger needed to fulfill his military services. So he moved to Leipzig. He chose Leipzig primarily because of the university. There he came especially under the sway of F. A. Lange and his Geschichte des Materialismus. Vaihinger then moved to Berlin to study under his fellow Schwabian Eduard Zeller. During his time in Berlin Vaihingerís first work Hartmann, During und Lange appeared (1876). Family concerns, however, prompted him to move back to Southern Germany where he habilitated at Strassburg under Ernst Laas. Vaihingerís Habilitationsschrift was entitled Logische Untersuchungen. I. Teil: Die Lehre von der wissenschaftlichen Fiktion. This work was to serve later as the basis of his major work Die Philosophie des Als Ob (1911).

Vaihinger planned to write a history of English philosophy but a Stuttgart publisher, perhaps familiar with Vaihingerís work Eine Blattversetzung in Kants Prolegomena (1879), wanted him to publish a commentary on Kantís Kritik der reinen Vernunft in honor of the centennial anniversary. The year 1881 saw the appearance of the first volume of Vaihingerís massive Kommentar zu Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft.1 On the basis of this work Vaihinger was called to Halle as Extraordinarius in 1884. He had hoped that the second volume would appear shortly; however, lecture preparations demanded far more time than he had initially thought. This, coupled with poor health and failing sight, continued to delay work on the second volume. He finally completed it and it appeared in 1892.

Vaihingerís commentary was his first major contribution to the back to Kant movement. By 1895 the "Rückkehr zu Kant" had been in progress for decades. I have argued that the movement began in 1860 when Kuno Fischer published Kantís Leben und Die Grundlagen seiner Lehre and the two volumes on Kant in his Geschichte der neueren Philosophie.2 Five years later Liebman gave the movement its "Schlagwort" "Rückkehr zu Kant" in his book Kant und die Epigonen.3 As Klaus Christian Kühnke has so richly documented, German philosophy was preoccupied with the back to Kant movement for decades.4

The word "movement" may give the impression that there was one school of thought with all members agreeing on Kantís contribution to philosophy. This would, however, he a highly misleading and totally wrong impression. There was a half a dozen "schools" which fought with each other; consider the rivalry between the Marburg school, founded primarily by Hermann Cohen, and the Southwest, or Heidelberg school, founded by Kuno Fischer. Even within the schools there were considerable disagreements over Kantís meaning and Kantís correctness.

In the "Allgemeine Einleitung" to his Kommentar zu Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft Vaihinger complained that in the realm of Kantian research there was a "universal war of all against all."5 Vaihingerís complaint of 1881, which was a reference to Thomas Hobbesí remark about the State of Nature, continued to be true. The decades of 1880 and 1890 saw the various neo-Kantian schools continue to advance their own interpretations and their own students, often to the detriment of other interpretations and students. Vaihinger himself was not immune to polemics; indeed, one finds his Kommentar to be as much a commentary on the errors and misinterpretations of his colleagues as it is a commentary on the first seventy-five pages of the Kritik der reinen Vernunft.

Between 1892 and 1895 Vaihinger appeared to have grown weary of the partisan approach to Kant research. As a result in 1895 he turned his attention to starting a journal that would attempt to steer clear of such infighting.

The first issue of the journal Kant-Studien appeared in 1896 with Vaihinger as editor, and in his capacity of editor he took the opportunity to spell Out the direction that the journal would take and how the editorial staff would operate.6 He declares that it is the right time to offer a journal which would have two goals. One would be to focus on historical aspects of Kantís thinking. He suggests that there are numerous questions that need attention, among these the difference between analytical and synthetical judgments, the creation of the Table of Categories, and the genesis of the Analogies of Experience. But the journalís focus was not to be limited to epistemological and metaphysical questions. Instead, it should include topics from Kantís ethical, religious, and aesthetic writings as well. Furthermore, the journal would encourage scholars to consider carefully Kantís relations to his predecessors, not just Leibniz and Newton, but also to Malebranche and Swedenborg.

Vaihinger maintains that the other goal of Kant-Studien is to focus on the "systematical" questions regarding Kantís writings. These include the examination of the "Schwerpunkt" which lies on the theoretical or the practical side of Kantís writings as well as the question of: was Kantís philosophy primarily negative-skeptical or positive-constructive. Vaihinger insists that the entire modern philosophy grows out of, or is in opposition to, Kantian thinking. Thus, he continues, we must clarify Kantian philosophy before we can fully understand modern thought.

The "Turnierplatz" for all of these issues is Kant-Studien. Vaihinger insists that it should be international in scope and, perhaps more importantly, it is designed to encourage discussion from a wide variety of disciplines, including natural science, theology and law. The discussions ate to be free, and by that it is clear that submissions are to avoid the invective and nastiness that has pervaded much of the writing on Kant. Vaihinger wanted to be extremely clear in spelling out the goals of Kant-Studien.

The first volume of Kant-Studien clearly demonstrated that Vaihinger met his goals. It was published in Hamburg and Leipzig by the Verlag von Leopold Voss and was five hundred pages in length. It carried the subtitle "Philosophische Zeitschrift" and was produced in cooperation with a dozen scholars. This formidable list included Erich Adickes, Eduard Caird, Wilhelm Dilthey, Benno Erdmann, Alois Riehl, and Wilhelm Windelband. The focus of the articles was on Kant, of course, but in addition there were articles on Goethe and Fichte. The contributors included Adickes, Karl Vorländer, and Georg Simmel. Vaihinger himself was not content merely to be editor. Besides his introduction he contributed to the review of books, which in this case were works by Rudolph Fucken and Lange (the fifth edition of the Geschichte des Materialismus) and a volume of Schopenhauerís "Nachlaß".

Vaihinger continued to guide and participate in the journal. He wrote articles on a Kant medallion, on Kant as a melancholy thinker, and on a French Kant controversy. While he had insisted in the inaugural issue that Kant-Studien would try to avoid contentious pieces he himself published one in which he attacks Kuno Fischer and his History of Philosophy series. Following Kantís polemic against Johann August Eberhard, Vaihinger entitled his article "Ueber eine Entdeckung, nach der alle neuen Kommenrare zu Kants Kr. d. r. V. und insbesondere mein eigener durch ein aelteres Werk entbehrlich gemacht werden sollen. "8 It appeared in the third volume (1899).

Vaihinger believed that keeping scholars informed of the latest Kant investigations was extremely important. Wilhelm Dilthey had been appointed General Editor for the new edition of Kantís works - the Akademie Ausgabe. This edition was being prepared under the auspices of the Königlich Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Although the first volume of Kantís Schriften did not appear until 1910, Vaihinger kept the readers of Kant-Studien informed about the progress.

As the centennial commemoration of Kantís death approached Vaihinger began to turn his attention to create a society; the function of which would be to contribute to Kantian investigations and whose dues would help support the Journal. The Kant-Gesellschaft was formed in 1904. Besides Vaihinger, members included Dilthey, Liebmann, Riehl, and perhaps surprising, Simmel and Alfred Weber, Max Weberís brother. We tend to associate these names with sociology and economics, but this should remind us that these scholars were trained in philosophy and continued to have a deep and abiding interest in it. The Kant-Studien volume for 1904 included an article on Kantís religion by Ernst Troeltsch, who is remembered more for his writings on the sociology of religion. Other articles were contributed by Liebmann, Windelband, and Friedrich Paulsen.

By 1900 Vaihingerís health had deteriorated again and he realized that he would be unable to finish the proposed third and fourth volumes of his Kant Kommentar. He did, however, believe that sections from Philosophie des Als Ob in conjunction with his articles on Kant, in particular Die Transzendentale Deduktion der Kategorien and Kant als Metaphysiker, were sufficient to address many of the important points of the sections of the Kritik der reinen Vernunft that his Kommentar had not addressed.9

Vaihinger also realized that he would need help in editing Kant-Studien. In 1903 he had Max Scheler from Jena assist him. For this volume (number 8) Vaihinger provided a review of a book by Bruno Bauch. The following year Bauch replaced Scheler as co-editor of the journal.

Vaihingerís contributions to the Kant-Studien volume for 1905 included an article on Schiller as well as a report on the Kant jubilee from the previous year. He wrote of the enthusiastic meetings that took place in Königsberg, Heidelberg, Brussels, Paris, Vienna, Warsaw, Chicago, Berkeley, and other cities.

His health, especially his failing eyesight, forced Vaihinger to step down from his professorship. It also began to give him a sense of urgency regarding his manuscript of Philosophie des Als Ob.10 As a result, Vaihinger reduced the number of his contributions to Kant-Studien. Nonetheless, he continued to write reports on the Kant-Gesellscbaft and also occasional articles.

Bruno Bauch was replaced in 1918 (volume 22) by Max Frischeisen-Köhler from Halle and Arthur Liebert from Berlin. The latter took over from Vaihinger the task of the Kant-Gesellschaft reports. In 1923 (volume 28) Vaihinger stepped down as Editor; Frischeisen-Köhler and Liebert were co-editors. But the next year Paul Menzer replaced Frischeisen-Köhler.

In 1926 Vaihinger finally retired from the Kant-Gesellschaft citing old age and complete blindness. He had been at the head of the Society for twenty-one years. On June 10, 1927 the Kant-Gesellschaft voted to make him "Ehrenvorsitzender" as an expression of the membersí deep appreciation for all of his efforts as "Gesellschaftsführer."

Vaihinger turned 80 in 1932 and in honor of his birthday a number of scholars offered him a "Festschrift." Entitled Die Philosophie des Als Ob und das Leben, this collection demonstrates both Vaihingerís wide range of interests as well as his strong international reputation.11 Professors from all parts of Germany and a number from Italy and Sweden contributed papers on political philosophy, economy, science, religion, the history of philosophy, Chinese writing; all this in addition to papers on the "philosophy of as-if." No doubt Vaihinger appreciated this outpouring of respect as he had when he received the title "Ehrenvorsitzender" for the Kant-Gesellschaft.

Vaihinger died the following year (1933) on December 18. Vaihingerís scholarly background was considerable. He had studied Sanskrit and Darwin, Greek and archeology. His philosophical interests were wide ranging; he thought highly of the British philosophers, studied Newton and Mill, but his main interests were with his German predecessors. Of these, it seems that Schopenhauer and Nietzsche ranked highly, but obviously Vaihingerís primary concern was with Kant. Scholars may quarrel with Vaihingerís theses; especially the "patchwork theory" that he maintains is in the first Critique.12 But no one interested in Kant can ignore Vaihingerís major contributions to Kantian studies: the books, the articles, and especially, Kant-Studien.

Kant-Studien continues to adhere to the guiding principles that Hans Vaihinger set out so carefully one hundred years ago. One must believe that he would approve of the considerable variety of philosophical topics and the professional scholarship that is found in every issue of Kant-Studien. All serious students of Kant owe a great debt of gratitude to Hans Vaihinger and his Kant-Studien.


  1. Stuttgart, Berlin, Leipzig: Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft 1881, 1892.2. Auflage, Stuttgart, 1922. Herausgegeben von Raymund Schmidt. Neudruck der 2. Auflage Stuttgart 1922, Scientia Verlag Aalen 1970.

  2. See Kuno Fischer: Kantís Leben und Die Grundlagen seiner Lehre. (Heidelberg: Carl Winterís Universitätsbuchhandlung 1860) and the two volumes on Kant in his Geschichte der neueren Philosophie (Mannheim: Friederich Basserman 1860). See my "Kuno Fischer and the Renewal of Interest in Kant." Philosophical Alternatives 4/1995 (Bulgarian, translated by Alexander Gungov).

  3. See Otto Liebmann, Kant und die Epigonen. (Stuttgart: Carl Schober 1865, reprinted Erlangen: Fischer 1991).

  4. Klaus Christian Köhnke, Entstehung und Aufstieg des Neukantianismus. Die deutsche Universitätsphilosophie zwischen Idealismus und Positivismus. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1986).

  5. See Hans Vaihinger, Kommentar zu Kants Kritik der reinen Vernun ft (1881-1892). (Stuttgart 1922, Zweite Auflage reprinted Aalen Scientia Verlag 1970, Band I, p. ii.

  6. Hans Vaihinger, "Zur Einführung". Kant-Studien I (1897), 1-8.

  7. One of the best examples of how low writers will stoop is the exchange between Kuno Fischer and F. A. Trendelenburg over the question of the "third possibility" that is, whether space can apply both to "Erscheinungen" and "Dinge an sich." See especially Trendelenburg, Kuno Fischer und sein Kant (Leipzig: S. Hirel 1869) and Fischer Anti-Trendelenburg: Eine Gegenschrift (Jena: Hermano Dabis 1870). Vaihinger offers his own estimation of this question in Kommentar II, 134-151 and 290-326. Trendelenburg argued that Kant could not and did not exclude the possibility; Fischer argued that Kant could and did. Vaihinger, with some apparent reluctance, sided with Trendelenburg.

  8. Kantís short work was entitled "Über eine Entdeckung nach der alle neue Kritik der reinen Vernunft durch eine ältere entbehrlich gemacht werden soll" (1790).

  9. See Kommentar 11, IV.

  10. See Hans Vaihinger, Wie die Philosophie des Als Ob entstand. Die Deutsche Philosophie der Gegenwart. Herausgegeben von Raymond Schmidt. (Leipzig: Felix Meiner Verlag 1921). Zweiter Band.

  11. Herausgegeben von August Seidel. Berlin 1932. Neudruck Scientia Verlag Aalen 1986.

  12. Vaihinger hegan the controversy with his Die Transzendentale Deduktion der Kategorien. (Halle a. S.: Max Niemeyer 1902). For a response see H. J. Paton, "Is the Transcendental Deduction A Patchwork?" In Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (1929-1930) and reprinted in Kant: Disputed Questions. Edited by Moltke S. Gram. (Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview Publishing 1984). Second Edition: See also Patonís Kantís Metaphysic of Experience. (London: George Allen and Unwin 1936).