“An Ocean of Difficult Problems” Husserl and Jean Hering’s Dissertation on the A Priori in R. H. Lotze


The present paper provides the first presentation of Jean Hering’s dissertation Lotzes Lehre vom Apriori (1914) in light of Husserl’s assessment of Lotze’s theory of knowledge in the Logik. After a preliminary discussion of some of the main aspects of Husserl’s dismissal of both the metaphysical presuppositions and the absurd consequence of Lotze’s stance on knowledge, the case will be made for considering Hering’s critical approach to Lotze’s view on the a priori as a further development of Husserl’s position. In the conclusion, some remarks will be offered on how Hering elaborates on what he calls the “philosophical concept of the a priori.”

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    It is telling that the title of the dissertation is usually, and wrongfully, referred to as Die Lehre vom Apriori bei Lotze. In the following, we will be quoting directly from the original typescript preserved at the Médiathèque protestante in Strasbourg.

  2. 2.

    Hering (1921). Let us remark that Husserl (2012 pp. 83–89) and (2015), which contain his notes on Hering, de facto do not bear on the dissertation on Lotze, but rather only on the Appendix, that is, on Hering’s own concepts of essence, essentiality and idea.

  3. 3.

    At the beginning of the dissertation, Hering mentions the importance of the Übungen and the “influences” that these had on his work; however, he writes in a footnote that since he “abstained from taking notes,” no material from that course could be directly used to write the dissertation (Hering 1914, p. 2).

  4. 4.

    I am very grateful to the reviewer for pointing out this latter name to me.

  5. 5.

    The edition of the Logik used by Hering is the one edited by Misch (1912), while Husserl refers to the 1880 one.

  6. 6.

    Schuhmann’s claim on B II 18/60-70 has been challenged by Varga 2013, p. 201. According to Varga, they “represent notes for Husserl himself during the time he first encountered Lotze’s stance on circularities, i.e., in the context of criticizing Lotze’s stance on the formal and real significance of logical laws.”

  7. 7.

    To be dated around the period of composition of the Logical Investigations (Hauser 2003; Varga 2013).

  8. 8.

    Let us hasten to point out that the present research is not intended as an original investigation of Lotze’s philosophy but concerns a certain interpretation of it; hence, what we are really interested in is the Husserl-Hering relation (against the backdrop of Lotze’s philosophy) and not the Hering-Lotze relation per se. We are of course aware that neither Husserl’s nor Hering’s interpretation can exhaust the significance of Lotze’s philosophy. For different readings, see for example von Hartmann (1888); and, more recently, Milkov (2020, pp. 67–107); and the essays published in De Santis and De Warren (2020).

  9. 9.

    “Die Grundauffassung ist die, auch bei Lotze: Die Dinge und der Mensch sind Glieder einer Welt, stehen im Kausalzusammenhang, und in diesem Kausalzusammenhang entspringen auch die Erkenntnisakte, die ‚Vorstellungen’ des Menschen, und die Frage ist, wie es mit der Übereinstimmung der Vorstellungen mit den Gegenständen steht” (B II 18, p. 67b).

  10. 10.

    “Der Skeptiker wird dann aber auch fragen: Selbst wenn ich ein solches Abbild hätte, wie könnte ich je wissen, dass ich es habe? Das Abbild ist eine bloße Vorstellung. Wie soll man aufgrund der bloßen Vorstellung sagen können, es entspreche ihr in getreuer Weise ein Original?” (B II 18, p. 65b).

  11. 11.

    “die erkennbare Welt ist unsere Vorstellungswelt, die Welt unserer Wahrnehmungen (Wahrgenommenheiten), hinter welcher eine Welt von an sich seienden Dingen liegen mag etc. So eigentlich auch Lotze” (B II 18, p. 67b).

  12. 12.

    If Husserl feels entitled to bring in metaphysical considerations, it is because L-TK’s overall metaphysical framework is explicitly assumed by Lotze in the Introduction. Here the topic of the third book is announced with the following words: “The third part will be devoted to knowledge, namely, to the question which our introduction touched upon without answering it: to what extent can a totality of thoughts […] claim to be an adequate knowledge of what we seem forced to presuppose as object and as the cause of our representations?” (Lotze 1912, p. 13). See also F I 42, p. 29a: “Die ganze Einleitung zu Lotzes Logik für die Installierung der Erkenntnistheorie wohl zu beachten”.

  13. 13.

    “by real we should understand only things and events to the extent that they exist and occur in the actuality beyond thought” (Lotze 1912, p. 576).

  14. 14.

    “Neither in the content of our representations nor yet in reality—which we regard as its reason outside—was there anything to correspond to the logical activities of thought, which choosing their paths at will, connected or separated the single components of the several represented contents. However, at least in relation to this content, and regardless of the reality that might be its external cause, the thoughts, the production of which was the aim of the thinking activities, have a material significance” (Lotze 1912, p. 572).

  15. 15.

    “Dieses Argument wird (§345, S. 570) verallgemeinert für alle Denkhandlungen überhaupt” (K I 59, p. 20a).

  16. 16.

    “Hier die Dinge, dort unser Denken. Wie kommen beide zusammen, wie das Wunder ihrer Harmonie erklären?” (K I 59, p. 10a).

  17. 17.

    “Die Problemgruppe, die sich an den Begriff des Apriori anschliessen, hat man von jeher mehr als andere mit sogenannten erkenntnistheoretischen Erörterungen in Zusammenhang gebracht”.

  18. 18.

    This conclusion follows from Lotze’s tenet that a Vorstellung is not a mixtum compositum of subjective and objective elements, as in Kant (Hering 1914, pp. 67–68): “we cannot assent to the distinction between the matter and form of knowledge as it is drawn by Kant. The idea is indeed perfectly just, but he formulates it inaccurately when he ascribes the entire content of our knowledge to experience and the form alone to the innate activity of the spirit. Kant was well aware of the fact that we are here emphasizing, that even the simplest sensations […] do not come to us ready from the outside, but on the contrary (if we are to hold to the conception of an external world) can be only considered as reactions of our own nature in response to the stimuli coming from that world” (Lotze 1912, p. 532).

  19. 19.

    “Nicht eine Art der Erkenntnis, Art der Beteiligung des Geistes an ihr oder eine allgemeine bei der Erkenntnis überhaupt oder bei gewissen Erkenntnissen funktionierende Fähigkeit des Geistes wird hier zum Merkmal gemacht, sondern die Eigenart der Gebilde und der Beziehungen zwischen ihnen, von denen diese Wahrheit gilt”.

  20. 20.

    “Representations, insofar as they are present in us, possess Wirklichkeit in the sense of an event. […] Their content, on the other hand, as long as we regard it in abstraction from the representing activity by which we refer to it, can no longer be said to occur, nor does it exist in the sense things exist: we can only say that it has validity” (Lotze 1912, p. 512). As Hering remarks, “content” means here what Lotze usually labels “idea” (Hering 1914, pp. 95, 126). For a general discussion of the concept of validity in and after Lotze, see Vigo 2013.

  21. 21.

    The term Schicksal is employed by Lotze himself during the description of the process des Nichtvorgestellt- und des Vorgestelltwerdens in §316 (Lotze 1912, p. 511).

  22. 22.

    “Wieso apriorische Wahrheiten überhaupt auf die empirische Welt angewandt werden können”.

  23. 23.

    In Hering’s own words: “[es] hat vielleicht Sinn, das Chaos als Gegensatz jeglichen gesetzlichen Zusammenhanges als vorstellbar zu bezeichnen” (Hering 1914, p. 149).

  24. 24.

    Let us remark, once again, that here “metaphysical presuppositions” has a quite specific meaning, for it refers to the concept of metaphysics as Lotze understands it in his System of Philosophy as the doctrine of reality or actuality.


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I am grateful to the Husserl Archive, and especially Th. Vongehr, for allowing me to consult some still unpublished Husserlian manuscripts on Lotze; and to Jérémy Kohler, librarian at the Médiathèque protestante (Strasbourg), for letting me study Hering’s dissertation. This work was supported by the European Regional Development Fund-Project “Creativity and Adaptability as Conditions of the Success of Europe in an Interrelated World” (No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000734).

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De Santis, D. “An Ocean of Difficult Problems” Husserl and Jean Hering’s Dissertation on the A Priori in R. H. Lotze. Husserl Stud (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10743-020-09277-4

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