A Kantian perspective on the present day

Emil Lask
Emil Lask was one of the most important representatives of the neo-Kantianism. His legacy is now researched by the CENK. (Foto: Universitätsarchiv Heidelberg)

A new movement started to emerge in Germany during the latter half of the 19th century as a counter movement to the speculative heights of idealism and to the positivism many regarded as unsatisfactory from a philosophical point of view. Its name: neo-Kantianism. Since 2018, the Centre for Studies in Neo-Kantianism (CENK) has been investigating the eponymous philosophical approach since 2018. It is based at Prof. Dr. Andreas Funke’s Chair of Public Law and Legal Philosophy. The ‘back to Kant’ approach is central to legal philosophy. Influential German-speaking legal philosophers of the 20th century were strongly influenced by this way of thinking. ‘It is hardly possible for the recent history of legal philosophy and current discourse to be properly understood without an understanding of neo-Kantianism,’ emphasises Dr. Roberto Redaelli, coordinator of the research centre. The centre’s aim is to pool national and international research activities focusing on neo-Kantianism in the fields of general philosophy and legal philosophy. The CENK focuses in particular on the relevance of neo-Kantianism in today’s philosophical debate.

A significant influence even today

The key focus of the research is on what is known as the Southwest German School or the Baden School. ‘It had a significant role to play in philosophical and cultural circles in Germany from the end of the 19th century until the first half of the 20th century,’ explains Dr. Redaelli. ‘The works of its most important champions, the philosophers Wilhelm Windelband, Heinrich Rickert and Emil Lask deal with widely varied topics such as epistemology and ethics, morals and legal philosophy, or anthropology and aesthetics. They are an inexhaustible source of ideas and we try to show how relevant they are for issues concerning us today.’ Since it was established, the CENK has focused particularly on the philosophy of Emil Lask, who lived from 1875 until 1915. Within the context of a project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), Lask’s academic legacy is being compiled into an annotated edition.

Dr. Roberto Redaelli, coordinator of the Centre for Studies in neo-Kantianism.
Dr. Roberto Redaelli, coordinator of the Centre for Studies in neo-Kantianism. (Bild: Roberto Redaelli)

‘Emil Lask provided significant impulses for philosophy in general and for legal philosophy in particular,’ underlines Dr. Redaelli. ‘For example, Emil Lask viewed law as an empirical cultural science. This idea was welcomed by legal scholars in the early 20th century and the ripples can still be felt today. It had a decisive influence of the thinking of one of the most well-known legal philosophers, Professor Gustav Radbruch from Heidelberg.’ And one of the questions he raised is still important today. Can moral rights transcend the law? In his famous ‘Radbruch formula’ Gustav Radbruch stated that this was indeed the case. According to Dr. Redaelli, Radbruch based his theory on the premise that law cannot be understood independently of justice, referring, among others, to Emil Lask. That is not all, however. ‘With its original theoretical proposals, Lask’s work made most of an impact in the purely philosophical field, leading to the development of logics of philosophy and teachings on passing judgement,’ says the FAU researcher. He claims that Lask’s work has been at the centre of a genuine renaissance in past decades. ‘This is revealed not only in the numerous studies on Lask’s train of thought, but also in the translation of his major works into French, English and Latin.’


Indispensable for philosophy

The edition project aims to give researchers in the area of law and philosophy an indispensable instrument for understanding Lask’s thinking. Dr. Redaelli and Prof. Funke are working together with renowned international researchers. The project is also being accompanied by an international advisory board. Dr. Redaelli is convinced that ‘the publication of [Lask’s] academic correspondence and unpublished material will help cast a new light on this philosopher’s work.’ The CENK also hopes to make a considerable contribution to spreading and understanding Emil Lask’s thinking by organising events aimed at encouraging appreciation of this philosophical tradition in a critical perspective. An international conference and various workshops are planned for next year. This should create a research network which will contribute to bringing the most important aspects of the neo-Kantian philosophy up to date. Dr. Redaelli, who is currently working on his postdoctoral thesis, stresses that ‘supporters of neo-Kantianism are not concerned with gaining a historical understanding of Kant’s work. Rather, the ‘back to Kant’ movement sees a systematic return to the works of Immanuel Kant as crucial for qualifying philosophy as a science.’

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FAU Magazin alex Titel Ausgabe 114

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FAU-Magazin alexander Nr. 114 (Oktober 2020)

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