nLab Hermann Cohen


Hermann Cohen (1842-1918) was a German Philosopher of Jewish origin. He was one of the main protagonists of the Marburg school of neo-Kantianism together with Paul Natorp and Ernst Cassirer.

Cohen’s Kants Theorie der Erfahrung (1871) is widely viewed as a founding document of neo-Kantianism, the ‘return to Kant’ (O. Liebmann 1865), that dominated German academic philosophy until the 1920s.

The second edition of 1883 contains a famous exegesis of the ‘principles of anticipations of perceptions’ from Kant’s ‘Kritik der reinen Vernunft’ where Cohen proposes to identify Kant’s intensive quantities of consciousness with infinitesimals in a mathematical sense which serve as a principle on which the reality (of all perceptions) is based. (For more on this main work see the introduction Edel (1987).)

‘Das Prinzip der Infinitesimal-Methode und seine Geschichte’ (Cohen 1883) seeks to corroborate this programmatic transcendental-philosophical interpretation of the ‘generation of reality from the inifinitesimally small’ in the natural sciences by a detailed discussion of the historical development of the concept of continuity or infinitesimal objects in mathematics and physics. (See Katz-Mormann (2013) for the role that these ideas have played in the Marburg school.)

Cohen’s views on the role of continuity have affinities with Hegelianism (see at Science of Logic) and related ideas by C. S. Peirce and may be viewed as philosophical complement to F.W. Lawvere‘s concept of infinitesimal generation? for cohesive toposes (although the latter explicitly rejected the idealist idea of generation of reality from pure thought).

Most of Cohen’s writings in their German original are digitally available via


  • H. Cohen, Kants Theorie der Erfahrung , Dümmler Berlin 1871. (strongly revised editions in 1883 and 1918)

  • H. Cohen, Das Prinzip der Infinitesimal-Methode und seine Geschichte , Berlin 1883.

  • H. Cohen, Logik der Reinen Erkenntnis , Berlin 1902.

  • G. Edel, Einleitung zu ‘Herman Cohen: Kants Theorie der Erfahrung’ , pp.8-59 in Cohen, Werke 1 , Olms Hildesheim 1987. (preprint)

  • G. Edel, Hermann Cohen und die analytische Philosophie der Gegenwart , pp.179-203 in R. Brandt, F. Orlik (eds.), Philosophisches Denken – Politisches Wirken. Hermann Cohen Kolloquium Marburg 1992, Olms Hildesheim 1993. (preprint)

  • G. Frege, Rezension von: Cohen 1883, Z.Phil.Phil.Kr. 87 (1885) pp.324-329, reprinted on pp.99-102 in Frege, Kleine Schriften , Olms Hildesheim 1990.

  • H.-G. Gadamer, Festrede zum 100. Geburtstag von Paul Natorp gehalten am 24.1.1954 , pp.XI-XVII in Natorp, Philosophische Systematik , Meiner Hamburg 1958.

  • M. G. Katz, T. Mormann, Infinitesimals as an issue in neo-Kantian philosophy of science , arXiv:1304.1027v1 (2013) . (pdf)

  • F. W. Lawvere, Toposes of Laws of Motion , Talk Montreal 1997.

  • B. Russell , The Principles of Mathematics , Routledge London 1992[1903/1937]. (ch.XLI)

category: people

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