Rudolf Christoph Eucken
born Jan. 5, 1846, Aurich, East Friesland [now in Germany]
died Sept. 14, 1926, Jena, Ger.
German Idealist philosopher, winner of the Nobel Prize
for Literature (1908), interpreter of Aristotle, and author
of works in ethics and religion.
Eucken studied at the University of Göttingen under the
German thinker Rudolf Hermann Lotze, a teleological
Idealist, and at Berlin under Friedrich Adolf Trendelenburg,
a German philosopher whose ethical concerns and historical
treatment of philosophy attracted him. Appointed professor
of philosophy at the University of Basel, Switz., in 1871,
Eucken left in 1874 to become professor of philosophy at the
University of Jena, a position he held until 1920.
Distrusting abstract intellectualism and systematics,
Eucken centred his philosophy upon actual human experience.
He maintained that man is the meeting place of nature and
spirit and that it is his duty and his privilege to overcome
his nonspiritual nature by incessant active striving after
the spiritual life. This pursuit, sometimes termed ethical
activism, involves all of man’s faculties but especially
requires efforts of the will and intuition.
A strident critic of naturalist philosophy, Eucken held
that man’s soul differentiated him from the rest of the
natural world and that the soul could not be explained only
by reference to natural processes. His criticisms are
particularly evident in Individual and Society (1923) and
Der Sozialismus und seine Lebensgestaltung (1920; Socialism:
An Analysis, 1921). The second work attacked Socialism as a
system that limits human freedom and denigrates spiritual
and cultural aspects of life.
Eucken’s Nobel Prize diploma referred to the “warmth and
strength in presentation with which in his numerous works he
has vindicated and developed an idealist philosophy of
life.” His other works include Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens
(1908; The Meaning and Value of Life, 1909) and Können wir
noch Christen sein? (1911; Can We Still Be Christians?,