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Back to Kant: Hermann Cohens Critical Idealism

In order to understand better the relation between Benjamin and Cohen and by implication, therefore, Benjamins relation to Kant it is first important to briefly establish the historical and philosophical background to the neo-Kantian return to Kant, and specifically Cohens appropriation of Kantianism. Having done so, the particularities of Kants transcendental idealism, Cohens critical idealism, and Benjamins speculative idealism can be highlighted with greater clarity. Kant inaugurated transcendental idealism with the publication of the Critique of Pure Reason in 1871, establishing the critical limitations of epistemology. Cautioning against the inherent tendency of idealism since Plato for metaphysical flights of speculation, Kant warned how Plato left the world of sense because it sets such narrow limits to our understanding; on the wings of the ideas, he ventured beyond that world and into the empty space of pure understanding. He did not notice that with all his efforts he made no headway. For, it is human reasons usual fate, in speculation, to finish its edifice as soon as possible, and not to inquire until afterwards whether a good foundation has in fact been laid for it1. Yet in the half-century since the death of Kant in 1804, German philosophy witnessed the Hegelian reinvigoration of a speculative idealism, to the extent that by the time of Hermann Cohens birth on 7th April 1842, the philosophical climate had grown increasingly hostile to all forms of speculative metaphysics. Within this intellectual milieu the new discipline of Erkenntnistheorie that had originally developed out of Kantian philosophy reached it apotheosis in Otto Liebmanns 1865 publication Kant und die Epigonen, with its now famous refrain: Also mu auf Kant zurckgegangen warden (Thus we must go back to Kant)2. The return to Kant was not only a response to the mistrust and a feeling of nausea for philosophical speculation3 in the wake of the collapse of Hegelianism, but also a reaction to the success of empirical research in the sciences, which now threatened to leave philosophy, pursuing its dream of speculative metaphysics, trailing behind4. With the eruption of the Trendelenburg-Fischer debate, which reached its height at the end of the 1860s, the Kantian Erkenntnistheorie of Adolf Trendelenburg was pitted against the neo-Hegelianism of Kuno Fischer over interpretative differences regarding the epistemological validity of transcendental idealism. Cohens interjection in this debate is significant, laying the groundwork out of which Marburg neo-Kantianism would develop. His
Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Werner S. Pluhar, Hackett (Indianapolis, 1996), A5/B9. Primarily in the works of philosophers such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, Karl Reinhold, and Friedrich Beneke, cf. Lydia Patton, Hermann Cohens History and Philosophy of Science, Phd Thesis, McGill University, 2004, 46. 3 Poma, The Critical Philosophy of Hermann Cohen, 1 4 ibid.

essay Zur Controverse zwischen Trendelenburg und Kuno Fischer (1871) developed into a longer work on Kants Theorie der Erfahrung5, which was published later the same year, and would become an influence upon Walter Benjamins critical interpretation of Kant in On Perception (1917) and On the Program of the Coming Philosophy (1918). Whilst Cohen had been a student of Trendelenburgs at the University of Berlin, his work was critical of Trendelenburgs Erkenntnistheorie interpretation of Kant, leading to the rejection of Cohens Kants


der Erfahrung

when it



as a

Habilitationsschrift in Berlin . This lead Cohen to habilitate instead at the University of Marburg under the more sympathetic supervision of Friedrich Albert Lange. Following Langes death in 1875, Cohen was appointed to his professorship, and in the following decades Cohen published the System der Philosophie, which became the cornerstones of the Marburg School of neo-Kantianism7: the Logik der reinen Erkenntnis (1902), Ethik des reinen Willens (1904), and the sthetik des reinen Gefhls (1912)8. A further key text, Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums 9, written in last few years of Cohens life, following his departure from Marburg to the Institute of Judaism in Berlin in 1912, was published posthumously in 1919 following Cohens death the year before. The second major figure in the young Cohens intellectual development was Heymann (Chajim) Steinthal, who along with Moritz (Moses) Lazarus, was the founder of the Vlkerpsychologie movement that became influential towards the end of the 19th century. Steinthal and Lazarus adapted Johann Friedrich Herbarts development of a Kantian scientific psychology towards the analysis of anthropology, history and linguistics10. Cohen published several essays in their journal, the Zeitschrift fr Vlkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft, including a psychological approach to Platos theory of ideas, as well as his important contribution to the Trendelenburg-Fischer debate11. Whilst the arguments of Vlkerpsychologie are of marginal importance for our analysis of Cohens neo-Kantianism here, it will be of interest later to consider how Walter Benjamins critical transformation of certain neo-Kantian motifs develops them in a historical and psychological direction that bears strong affinities with the method of Vlkerpsychologie, implicit in Cohens early thought. The inadequacy of identifying Cohens interpretation of Kantian transcendental idealism in the early pieces Zur Controverse zwischen Trendelenburg und Kuno Fischer and the first edition of Kants Theorie der Erfahrung with his systematic reworking (and, importantly,
Hereafter, textual references to Kants Theorie der Erfahrung will be abbreviated as KTE. Cf. Ulrich Sieg, Die frhe Hermann Cohen und die Vlkerpsychologie, Ashkenas 13 (2), 2003, 461-483; Klaus Christian Khnke, Entstehung und Aufstieg des Neukantianismus, Suhrkamp (Frankfurt am Main, 1986), 131-135; and Patton, Hermann Cohens History and Philosophy of Science, 12. 7 Patton, Hermann Cohens History and Philosophy of Science, 13 8 Cohens System of Philosophy, which is comprised of the Logic of Pure Cognition, the Ethics of Pure Willing, and the Aesthetics of Pure Feeling, still remains untranslated in English. Hereafter textual references to the German originals will be abbreviated as LRE, ERW, and ARG respectively. 9 Translated by Simon Kaplan as Religion of Reason Out of the Sources of Judaism, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. (New York, 1972); hereafter textual references will refer to the English translation, abbreviated as RR. 10 Patton points out how there is now a renewed interest in the influence of Vlkerpsychologie upon Cohens thought, instigated primarily by Franz Rosenzweig (cf. Patton, Hermann Cohens History and Philosophy of Science, 22). 11 Cf. Patton, Hermann Cohens History and Philosophy of Science, 47 and 60.
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Platonising) of Kantianism in the System der Philosophie is evident from Cohens own significant redrafting of Kants Theorie der Erfahrung in the second edition of 1885. Nonetheless, a number of key principles can be distinguished in the early works which retain an important place in the fundamental tenets of the Marburg neo-Kantianism established in the System der Philosophie two decades later. The following summary merely intends to pick out these central themes as introduced in Kants Theorie der Erfahrung12 and systematically developed in Cohens mature System, whilst laying aside consideration of the specific differences between Cohens early and later writings. The Trendelenburg/Fischer debate focused upon the place of the Transcendental Aesthetic in Kants Critique of Pure Reason, and in particular upon the subjective status of the pure forms of intuition (space and time) in the light of contemporary scientific research. Cohens approach in his 1871 essay, however, is a broader examination of the epistemological project of Kants critical philosophy, an approach that specifically rejects all attempts to psychologize the pure a priori concepts of sensibility. This standpoint characterises the methodology which becomes more fully developed in Kants Theorie der Erfahrung, and which was to eventually flourish into the System der Philosophie. Thus, Cohens epistemological return to Kant regards the meaning and value of the Kantian doctrine of space and time as another way of enquiring into the principles of knowledge (KTE 229; trans. Poma 52). And, importantly, rather than taking the form, Is the nature of things grounded in the conditions of our mind?, Cohen proposes to pursue such an enquiry through the alternative question: must and can our thought be confirmed by the laws of nature? (KTE, 229; trans. Poma, 6). The first formulation, Cohen argues, is characteristic of the line of enquiry set out in Trendelenburgs Erkenntnistheorie, which seeks the epistemological ground of knowledge of objects in the analytic conditions of the mind of the knowing subject. The significance of Cohens contribution to the Trendelenburg-Fischer debate and the roots of Cohens critical opposition (Erkenntniskritisch) to Trendelenburgs epistemology (Erkenntnistheorie) is his proposal of a reversal of this procedure, a reversal he regards as the proper meaning of the transcendental methodology of Kantian idealism. That is, we become aware of natural lawsthrough a synthetic process of reasoning and can then enquire into the foundation of that reasoning, and into the grounds for claiming that the argument applies to the objects of experience13. Thus, Cohen declares the aim of his Kant book to establish Kants theory of a priority on a new basis (KTE, iii; trans. Poma, 8), specifically the discovery of the a priori character of knowledge as producing its experience, obtained through analysis beginning with facts of science, and concluding with the formal functionality of the a priori elements. Our brief explication of critical idealism will consider four key themes in Cohens philosophy: (1) the synthetic starting point in facts of science; (2) the character of Kantian synthesis reinterpreted as origin (or originative production); (3) the Platonising of the

It appears Benjamin was more familiar with this methodological work on Kant than with Cohens other major work of methodology, the Logik der reinen Erkenntnis. 13 Patton, Hermann Cohens History and Philosophy of Science, 52.

Kantian idea now understood as hypothesis and task; (4) and the substitution of a dialectics of identity for that of non-synthetic correlation. Scientific Fact The first importance of the transcendental method is its synthetic starting point in the fact of experience. In Cohens reading of Kant, however, this means grounding in a scientific fact, resisting speculative appeals to other kinds of experience. Critical idealism, Cohen argues, takes as its objects not so much things and events, or even consciousness as such, but scientific facts [Tatsachen] (KTE, 9; trans. Poma, 8). Hence the significance of emphasising the laws of nature over the conditions of the mind in Cohens reversal of Trendelenburgs Erkenntnistheorie. Scientific facts concern knowledge of phenomena under general laws, the scientific conception of the system of nature as ordered, regular and lawful. Thus, in order to apprehend natural phenomena under the system of Newtonian mechanics, space and time must be preconceived in a certain way. [If I take knowledge not as a type or method of consciousness, but as a fact, which came about in science and continues to take place from a given grounding, argues Cohen, then the investigation no longer refers to a subjective fact, but to a state of affairs given objectively and founded on principles, not on the process and apparatus of cognition, but on the result of these, science14.

What remains characteristic of critical idealisms return to Kant is the transformation of Kantian idealism along an alternative trajectory to the route proposed by forms of romantic or speculative idealism. It is scientific logic that provides such a starting point for transcendental explication:
But one can start off from the physiology of the senses, or from pure psychology, from metaphysics in its ancient meaning, or from that metaphysics which is known as the theoretical science of nature. Anyone who does not feel at home in Kants Transcendental Aesthetic will lose his bearings at speculative crossroads.15

Therefore the scientific validity of critical philosophy results from taking as its starting point the scientific fact the theoretical science of nature which then becomes justified through the transcendental deduction of its possibility. This is the sense in which Cohen argues in Kants Theorie der Erfahrung that the theory of a priority is in truth a theory of (specifically scientific) experience, and the reason for the grounding of the first part of his System der Philosophie in a logic of pure cognition. The theoretical science of nature forms the starting point for Kants Theorie der Erfahrung and, mediated through the principles of mathematics, the Logik der reinen Erkenntnis, just as the science of man as the theory of the principles of

14 15

Cohen, Principle of the Infinitesimal Method and Its History, 7; trans Patton, 90. Cohen, Schriften zur Philosophie und Zeitgeschichte I, 230; trans. Poma, tbc.

the philosophy of law and State (ERW, vii; trans. Poma, 106), becomes the springboard for Cohens Ethics16. The critical edge of neo-Kantian epistemology results from its beginning with scientific facts, but it retains its philosophical aspect by refusing to reduce philosophy to the empirical sciences, and thus resisting all subjectivist, psychological, and physiological interpretations of Kantian idealism. The transcendentalism of Kants philosophy deduces the necessity of a priori concepts precisely in their purity from empirical application. Investigation of the conditions of possibility of experience must move from the facts of experience discussed above to the conditions of possibility of such experience, which cannot be found within experience itself. This is the important shift from an empirical to a transcendental idealism in philosophy, establishing the superior relation between philosophy and science in which philosophy remains rooted in science, but resists the reduction of its own role to empirical explanation. Therefore, philosophy must always remain critical of hypostatizing the pure concepts that it derives initially from experience through the transcendental method. Cohen consistently rejects all interpretations of Kant which remain dogmatically metaphysical by reading Kants pure a priori concepts as psychological or physiological organs or faculties of the knowing subject. This is Cohen critique of Trendelenburg in his essay on Zur Controverse zwischen Trendelenburg und Kuno Fischer. In the System, it is the purity of cognition, willing, or feeling that is always sought as a methodological principle. In Kants Theorie der Erfahrung, this consideration of the character of the a priori in Kantian philosophy leads to a reconsideration of the relationship between the Transcendental Aesthetic and the Transcendental Logic within Kants Critique of Pure Reason. Emphasising the methodological aspect of the transcendental deduction, Cohen argues that the Aesthetic already points towards the importance of the Logic in deducing the formal a priori elements of experience. Philosophical reflection on experience identifies the purely formal elements of experience, a method explicitly established in the Transcendental Aesthetic, which deduces space and time as the pure forms for sensibility. This methodology, Cohen argues, is present but hidden in the Transcendental Logic, which moves from judgement to the categories, and then to the purity of the principles. However, it is only in the Transcendental Logic, with its deduction of ideality of the principles of experience, that the phenomenal-noumenal distinction that characterises Kants transcendental idealism becomes properly clarified. Therefore, the Aesthetic presupposes the Logic for the clarification of the empirical reality and transcendental ideality of the pure forms of intuition space and time discovered in the Aesthetic17. More than this, beginning with a scientific fact, as Cohen proposes, is to proceed from the basis of a unified synthetic solution to a particular historical problem. Cohens emphasis upon this scientific aspect of Kants critical system already pushes consideration of the first
The extent to which this method of beginning with a scientific fact is retained in the Aesthetics and the Religion book is open to question, and both works certainly complicate Cohens methodological procedure. The question of the consistency or development of Cohens philosophy is not of central importance to this enquiry; cf. Poma, 133; and Rose, 120. 17 Cf. Poma, 10-11ff.

Critique away from the reality of that which is given in sensibility towards the lawfulness of that which is synthesised in the understanding: away from the Aesthetic and towards the Logic. In particular, the theoretical science of nature already experiences nature as an object of science according to the unifying principle of a natural law. That is, it proposes a law around which phenomena are experienced in their lawfulness, as a fact of science. Yet the law itself is not directly intuitable, since it is precisely the law itself that produces the experienceability of the phenomena. Cohens particular emphasis on scientific facts here requires rethinking the limits set by Kants Transcendental Aesthetic, and in doing so departing from the rigorous separation of the sensibility from the understanding in Kants Critique of Pure Reason. In Kant, it is the distinction of the sensibility from the understanding and the important role both play in exhibition, which produces the requirement that concepts of the understanding be demonstrable as intuition for sensibility in order for knowledge to be possible. Possible experience is thus restricted by the limitations of possible intuitions, themselves limited by the forms of space and time. In prioritising the character of the facts of science which form the starting point of transcendental investigation, Cohen corrects Kants view that relations between the concepts of the understanding are analytic, insisting that they are rather synthetic relations which are given to us. Scientific facts themselves require some foregoing rational structure, which Cohen calls an a priori productive synthesis18. The harmonious and unified perspective of a lawful relation is the hypothesis that precedes the discovery of the particular scientific fact, and which enables the fact itself to be experienced as a phenomenal object. The law is the theoretical hypothesis that organises the experience of the phenomena, and which itself appears in the experience of the phenomena as lawful. The pure forms of thought are not intended to be discovered a priori, Cohen argues, but [o]ur intent is to discover the necessary forms of given experienceWhat is available to us is the synthetic principle, which, together with those similar to it, must be clarified (Cohen, KTE, 206; trans. Poma). Kants epistemology thus gives the basis for applying the pure laws of thought to real phenomena, the paradigm case of which is the conceptual reasoning behind Newtons laws of nature19. The Logic of Origin As Pomas commentary makes clear, this meaning of the a priori cannot be totally understood within the context of the transcendental aesthetic, since what is missing is an investigation of the act of synthesis, which alone constitutes experience, and of the categories, the a priori conditions of the unity of the synthesis20. Distinguishing sensibility from the understanding is an abstraction between faculties that mistakenly occludes the cooperation of the a priori forms of both sensibility and understanding in the synthesis necessary for the possibility of an experience. In synthesis, the formal elements of sensibility
18 19 20

Cf. Patton, 75. Patton, 115. Poma, 10.

and understanding are brought together to bear upon experience. The synthesis is the common tie, Cohen maintains, which guarantees the same a priority, in the forms of intuiting and thinking (KTE 104-5; trans. Poma 11). This insistence on critical philosophy rigorously maintain[ing] a purely functional definition of the a priori itself21, leads Cohen to characterise the a priority of space and time deduced through the transcendental method from the scientific fact of Newtonian mechanics not as initial (anfnglich) to experience, but as originative: the Kantian a priori is understood by Cohen as primary origin (Ursprnglichkeit) (KTE, 88; Poma, 8). The a priori does not simply precede objects, but constructs them according to a principle of synthesis in which, the conditions of the possibility of experience in general are likewise conditions of the possibility of the objects of experience, and that for this reason they have objective value in a synthetic a priori judgement (KTE, 48-9; trans. Poma 13). With this notion of the originative, the a priori deepens into the formal conditions of experience22, and enlarges into a concept of experience constructed in pure intuition and pure thought: the construction of experience itself. Whilst the relationship between the Aesthetic and the Logic had been problematised in the early essay on the Trendelenburg-Fischer debate, the development of Cohens own systematic neo-Kantianism in the writings that followed eventually lead to the rejection of the role of the Transcendental Aesthetic altogether. Cohens essay on the Principle of the Infinitesimal Method and Its History published a decade before the System in 1883 explored this broader issue through a comparison of Leibniz and Kant on intensive magnitudes. Its importance to our current discussion is Cohens insistence that the relevance of Kantian epistemology lies in this principle of originative synthesis:
Herein consists the new thing that Kant has to teach us: Reality is not in the crude [material] of sensible discovery, and also not in what is pure in sensible intuition, but rather must be given validity as a particular presupposition of thought, like substance and causality, as a condition of experience that can only be removed insofar as it lies at the ground of [experience] and is presupposed for its possibility. Hence Kant had to distinguish reality as a special category distinct from actuality.23

As Pattons exposition clarifies, Cohens argument that reality is a presupposition of thought, a condition of experience that lies at the ground of [experience] and is presupposed for its possibility, is consistent with Cohens development of Kantian epistemology which insists that reality is a relation between intuition and thought[and] cannot be reduced to the pure element of either intuition or thought, since that will deprive it of its irreducibly relational character 24. As Patton concludes a little later, While the separate tools of intuition and thought can be sharpened, each in the absence of the

21 22 23 24

Poma, 19. Kohnke, The Rise of Neo-Kantianism, 185. Cohen, Principle of Infinitesimal Method, 18; trans. Patton, 117. Patton, 117.

other, the application (or in Kants terms, Schematism) of the category of reality always requires a relation between intuition and thought25. By the time of the Logik der reinen Erkenntnis, the first part of the System, Cohen had hardened his view, now regarding Kants division between the Aesthetic and the Logic as the remnants of dogmatic psychologizing. Kants impoverished concept of synthesis restricted knowledge to the synthesis of thought and intuition, and thought to the synthesis of the manifold given in sensibility. Inserting his notion of a logical originative synthesis into Kants philosophy enables Cohen to reject what he regards as the psychological conception of knowledge as representation26, and thus restore logic to its rightful place. In doing so, Cohen is able to remove the Aesthetic by resolving it entirely into the Logic: space and time are now interpreted as categories of mathematical thought, such that, to quote Poma, pure knowledge is now able to be grounded entirely in the productive activity of thought27. No longer needing to presuppose a material given in sensibility, productive thought becomes the sole origin of both knowledge and object, proceeding from synthetic scientific fact to the pure logical presuppositions of its possibility:
Where, then, is the material originally? Where did the a posteriori itself, with which all our cognition commences, originate? Is it perhaps like the marble before it receives a form? Is it not, rather, present in the whole phenomenon, inherently united in and with the form, and only analysed afterwards out of the effect on our senses? Thus both are from the beginning only present in us ourselves as the entirety of a phenomenon. (tbc; trans. Khnke, 182)

With the logic of origin, Cohen disposes of the a posteriori as the given matter of experience, which is now itself produced in the activity of thought. There is no independent manifold, given as the content of experience to be merely formed into a unity by synthesis: thinking produces unity itself. More than this, origin (Ursprung) may no longer be conceived as some first act, akin to the temporality of the initial contained in the notion of synthesis. Whereas for Kant, judgement as synthesis is the founding act of knowledge, for Cohen originative production is immanent in every act of and the a priori ground of knowledge itself: Origin is not only the necessary beginning of thought; it must act as the moving principle in every development. All cases of pure knowledge must be variations of the principles of origin. Otherwise, they would have no independent or pure value. The logic of origin, therefore, must be entirely realized as such. The principle of origin must predominate in all cases of pure knowledge which are validated as principles. Thus, the logic of origin becomes the logic of pure knowledge. (LRE, 36; trans. Poma, 85-6)

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Patton, 118. Cf. Poma, 82. Poma, 81.

In this deepening of the a priori through the rethinking of synthesis as origin, Cohen also expands the meaning of judgement into the process of thinking itself. Thinking is now identified with judging, as the founding principle of logic 28, not simply as the unification of a given manifold, but rather as the original and ongoing act of generating the content of thought29. In conflating the Aesthetic into the Logic, rejecting the rigorous distinction between sensibility and understanding preserved in the Critique of Pure Reason, Cohen is able to oppose the representative character of knowledge suggested by psychologizing interpretations of Kants idealism. For Cohen, thinking is no longer representative, governed by the internal dynamics of the psychological, but productive, according to the purity of the logical. It is a pure, generating activity which has no beginning but is a primal leap, an act of origination30: an Ursprung. It is here that Cohens systematic and radical redevelopment of Kantian idealism establishes its central proposition. To the extent that this notion of origin lies at the heart of Cohens System, Gillian Rose describes how the foundation of neo-Kantianism upon this principle (which Rose calls a logic of origin, difference and repetition) results not from a reading of Kant, but the very destruction of Kantian philosophy31. Whilst such a claim is clearly correct in signalling the important departure from Kants philosophy in Cohens logic of origin, the extent to which both Cohen (as well as Benjamin after him) envisages his project as both simultaneously completing and overcoming Kantianism points to the validity of characterising Cohens philosophy as a neo-Kantianism, and thus whilst more than simply a reading of Kantianism, less than a systematic destruction of it. Idea as Hypothesis and Task It is Cohens intermediary essay of 1878, Platons Ideenlehre und die Mathematik, that begins to draw out the implications of his earlier thinking upon the formal character of the pure a priori concepts of Kants critical system. For it is here that the Platonising aspect of Cohens philosophy makes the significant connection between the Platonic and the Kantian theory of ideas, and thus establishes the foundation for the development of the originative character of the Kantian a priori first suggested in Kants Theorie der Erfahrung into the notion of the idea as a hypothesis and task in the System der Philosophie. What Cohen describes as Ursprungdenken in the Logik der reinen Erkenntnis thinking based on the principle of origin (LRE, 36; trans. Munk 275) bears the traces not only of Cohens systematic redevelopment of Kantianism, but also his attempt to reconnect Plato and Kant32 in a coherent tradition of idealism. This Platonising of Kantian transcendental idealism is most evident in the affinities Cohen draws between Ursprung (origin) and Ideen (idea). In Platons Ideenlehre und die Mathematik, Cohen distinguishes
Poma, 80. Reiner Munk, Hermann Cohens Critical Idealism, 276. 30 Munk, 275. 31 Cf. Rose, Kant among the Prophets, 112. 32 As well as Leibniz, as mentioned above in the discussion of Cohens essay on Leibniz and Kant, Principle of the Infinitesimal Method and Its History.
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between and in the mature Platonic dialogues, by understanding the former as Socratic concept and the latter as Platonic idea. Significantly, the Platonic idea is characterised in this essay as the hypothetical, logic and critical foundation of the concept. In this sense, the Ideen gestures towards its connection with Ursprung (a connection explicitly developed in Cohens System), via Cohens broadened understanding of the a priori: the idea is thought justifying itself33. Cohen interprets Kants a priori to be the idealist progeny of Platos theory of ideas, in which ideas are hypothesised in the process of justifying concepts. Central to the particularity of Cohens critical idealism, then, is this understanding of the transcendental method of philosophy as the giving account of something: Rechenschaft geben. This notion is made most explicit in the relation between concepts and ideas explicated in the Logik der reinen Erkenntnis. Cohen is able to connect the Platonic idea and the Kantian idea through his reworking of the transcendental method under the particular logic of origin. The Platonising of ideas in Platons Ideenlehre und die Mathematik, provides the impetus to think through and beyond Kantianism most explicitly in the emboldened decision to overcome the problematic of the Transcendental Aesthetic, explored in the early Trendelenburg essays, by resolving the Aesthetic in the Transcendental Logic to the Ursprungdenken of critical idealism. In the System, this neo-Kantianism is proposed through a discussion of the originative logic of the idea:
Idea became the justification of concept, in the sense that thought laid its own foundation on it. Giving account ( ) and laying foundation () become synonymous. Logos is the same concept. But when it becomes logos by itself, then it becomes self-foundation. And this foundation of Idea means and guarantees the true being. There is no truth, no knowledge, no being beyond this, just as on this side there is no being and no science. (LRE 211; trans. Poma, 36)

Concepts belong to the empirical sciences, and correspond to the scientific facts proposed as the synthetic starting point of the transcendental method earlier. It was argued that such phenomena cannot become facts of knowledge without their hypothetical foundation in the law that arranges and harmonises them, yet it is only through organising phenomena into facts that the law becomes thinkable. In the same way, ideas are the elements of scientific theory constructed by pure thought, are the intellectual prerequisites for the deduction or observation of those facts, and are justified by the fact they are hypothetical:
Pure thought, which is consequently scientific thought, produces the fundamental principle by grounding itself. Hence pure thought is the legitimate medium for the development of the Idea. The most profound basis of the Idea itself is nothing but a grounding [Grundlegung]. That is the sense of Idea that Plato strives to develop, from his first mature dialogues This sense of the Idea as Hypothesis distinguishes Idea from concept Idealism is based on the logic of the Idea.34

Poma, 29. Cohen, Einleitung mit kritischen Nachtrag zu F. A. Langes Geschichte des Materialismus, Baedeker (Leipzig, 1896), 188-9; trans. Poma, tbc.
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Crucial to Cohens formulation of the Kantian a priori through originative ideas is their characterisation as hypothesis. This captures the logical a priority of the ideas over concepts, but also their synthetic dependency upon conceptually organised phenomena in their presuppositional relationship to scientific concepts. In reconfiguring the connection between theory, reality, and actuality by emphasising the presupposition of a reality (law/idea) prior to actuality (phenomena) and thus grounded in theory (concept), Cohens interpretation of Kantianism restricts the meaning of the noumenal solely to a negative limiting concept: Like the Platonic idea, Kants idea is not the absolute, the object of merely intellectual knowledge, but a tool for the knowledge of objects, a tool that the synthetic principle, all the laws of nature, can neither offer nor make useless35. In the notion of the idea as hypothesis, Cohen overcomes the last vestiges of the object-nature of the thing-in-itself in Kants idealism. The thing-in-itself now becomes an idea, no longer conceived as any kind metaphysical actuality, but a hypothesised law: capable of being thought, but not intuited. It is the idealised unity of the object of experience, which is the condition of experience itself. Simultaneously, as a hypothesised law, the idea of the thing-in-itself also becomes a task (Aufgabe). This conforms to the particular hermeneutical temporality of Cohens logic of origin; origin means both the foundation of the idea as a hypothesis and its (deferred) fulfilment as a task. Judgement, thinking itself, proposes a unity, but this [u]nification must not be thought as an event, whose fulfilment has been reached, but as a task and the ideal of a task, in the way that only logic can posit such a task, and formulate such an ideal (LRE, 64; trans. Poma). The task that is posited to thought in judgement, Cohen argues, can never be considered to have come to rest, to have been fulfilled (ibid.). Cohen understands the thing-in-itself as an idea, and as such as an ideal or infinite task of thought. This notion of task also brings to light the important emphasis critical idealism placed upon practical reason in the Kantian system. Poma argues that critical idealisms revaluation of Kantian practical reason is in fact constitutive of the philosophical break between Marburg neo-Kantianism and Heideggerian phenomenology: the grounding of a new kind of metaphysics upon Kants practical, rather than theoretical philosophy36. Thus, analogous to the overcoming of the object-nature of the thing-in-itself, Cohens System also resisted any psychological subjectivising of the Kantian noumenal self, in favour of the self as an ethical ideal. Having begun from the scientific fact of the principles of the philosophy of law and State in the Ethik des reinen Willens, Cohen referred to such an ideal as the juridical person: This unified, representative, ideal will is the unity of will and the unity of the person, the concept of the juridical person (ERW 231; trans. Poma 123). It is the concept of juridical person that creates a new kind of will in association, and a new kind of selfconsciousness and, in conformity with it, a new kind of juridical subject, argues Cohen, continuing that this concept, must be endowed with the fundamental value of hypothesis. It is the hypothesis of ethical self-consciousness, of the ethical subject (ibid.).
35 36

Cohen, Kants Begrndung der Ethik, Dmmler (Berlin ,1877), 44-5; trans. Poma, 45. Poma, footnote, 66

Hence, whilst the logic of origin reconceptualises the real as the preconditions of thought, the real also becomes a task for thought, the task of the ethical subject. Steven Seethskin, commenting on the Judaic element of Cohens ethical philosophy, argues that for Cohen the self is a rational construction and therefore a task we must strive to fulfil. Yet the nature of this task is infinite, in the sense that it can never be fulfilled completely but must be approached as a mathematical function approaches its limitthe gap between reality and ideality remains open for all time37. This notion of the idea as the ideal and infinite task is central to Cohens writings, uniting his divergent works on the Kantian noumenal, on the ethical and political, on aesthetics, and most significantly on the affinities between Judaism and Kantian humanism. The latter motif becomes prevalent in Cohens work following his move to the Jewish School of Berlin in 1912, and reaches its highest systematic development in the posthumously published counterpart to Kants own Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Cohens Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism (1919). Dialectics of Correlation The particular nature of the logic of origin, in which thinking as judgement is immanently engaged with production as hypothesis and infinite task, is captured by Cohen in the term correlation (Korrelation). This originative rather than synthesising judgement is not the composition (Zusammensetzung) of a given manifold (cf. LRE 26), since for Cohen judgement as the synthesis of unity is just as much separation (Sonderung) as unification (Vereinigung) (LRE 61; trans. Poma 87). The significance of this notion of correlation lies firstly in emphasising Cohens particular Platonising of Kantianism, and furthermore in distancing critical idealism from what Cohen regarded as the speculative romanticism of the Hegelian dialectics of identity. As discussed previously, knowledge for Cohen is not to be understood as a result of the representative activity of thought, in which thought is the synthesis of the manifold given in sensibility, and knowledge is the synthesis of thought and intuition. Opposed to this synthetic activity, Cohen proposes an originative production, in which unification is already prior to thought, and thought proceeds through a separation for which unification once again becomes a task. As is well documented 38, this dialectic of separation and unification is more akin to Platonic dialectics than the synthesising activity of Kants philosophy. Furthermore, this synthesising activity was taken to its most developed, speculative form in Hegelian dialectics. Against the logic of synthesis, exchange, and identity in Hegelian dialectics which, whilst continuously developing towards the completion of the Absolute, always overcomes the duality of opposites in their identity, and thus completion Cohen presented the dialectical logic of correlation as one of conservation (Erhaltung):
Seethskin, Jewish Neo-Kantianism: Hermann Cohen in History of Jewish Philosophy II, Routledge (London & New York, 2003), 791-2. 38 Cf. for example, Poma, 82; and Rose, 117.

There is no exchange, but conservation, at the same time, of separation and unification. Unification is conserved in separation and separation in unificationTherefore, it is to be expected that unity be conserved in manifoldness and manifoldness in unity (LRE 62; trans. Poma 87). Correlation is a dialectical process that resists the synthesis of the Hegels tripartite structure, maintaining the duality of its elements, whilst bringing them together into a non-synthetic unity39. Cohen calls correlation the term for all concepts of reciprocal relation, a Platonic dialectical process of separation and unification within the unity of thought. With the notion of correlation Cohen was able to overcome what he regarded as the two fundamental errors in Hegels philosophy of identity, as Poma explains: the elimination of the difference between concept and being, thought and reality, and the elimination of the difference between concept and idea, and thus the elimination of the difference between being and what ought to be, between reality and task, for the identity of concept with being40. Thus, correlation maintains the particular relation between (Socratic) concept and (Platonic) idea that Cohen had invested into Kantian idealism, which insists on both maintaining the separation of concept and idea (never resolving the concept into the Idea through the dialectical unfolding of the Absolute), and yet drawing a reciprocal relation between the idea as the foundation of the concept (hypothesis), the ideal of the concept (task), and conceptual configuration as the partial phenomenal appearing of the idea. If reality becomes a task within Cohens critical idealism, it is not a task in the Hegelian sense of an Absolute in which the ideality of the real is overcome. In opposition to Hegel, Cohen maintains the dualism of the Kantian system:
[T]he real is reasonable, the reasonable is real. So beloved was the Absolute in whose eternal decree this identity was born that the differences between being and obligation, nature and morality, reality and task, reality and Idea finally fade awayIn Hegel the Absolute leads to the materialization, weakening the idealization of ethics. (KTE tbc, trans. Klback tbc)

The implications of an originative dialectics of correlation are worth drawing out once more. Correlation demands a critical transformation of Ursprung and Zweck, not to be conceived as genesis and end but as beginning and goal.
What differentiates [Cohens] system from all systems of totality is that the principle, as origin, is infinite, nonbeing, just as the end as ideal is equally infinite, what ought to be. It is between the two that the actual, unrealized progress of science, morality, and natural, historical reality develops.41

The extent to which the theoretical logic of correlation can be straightforwardly transposed into the practical sphere through Cohens utilisation of correlation as a
The term non-synthetic unity is used here to suggest an affinity with Benjamins later suggestion, echoing Cohens, of an alternative process of dialectical activity to that of identity in synthesis of Hegels dialectics (cf. PCP, 106). 40 Poma, 77. 41 Poma, 129.

theological concept in his writings on Judaism remains contentious. However, whilst the meaning and implications of the notion of correlation take on specific permutations when placed within the ethico-theological sphere of history, Cohen maintains that the term for all concepts of reciprocal relation is correlation (Korrelation), and that concerning the relation between man and God: the serpent calls it identity; our philosophical language calls it correlation. That is, Cohen insists that his dialectics of correlation is able to describe the reciprocal relation [that] exists between man and God (RR 86)42 in history. Critical idealism primarily sought to overcome the vestiges of dogmatic absolutism that remained within Kants transcendental idealism, by thinking through Kants project to the dissolution of the object-nature of the thing-in-itself and the subject-nature of the noumenal self. This was achieved through the elimination of Kants equivocation between understanding and sensibility. A transcendental theory of pure knowledge would reject the dependence on sensibility by removing the central role of the Transcendental Aesthetic from Kants critique, leaving only Logic. The manifold is not given from the outside, but is produced by thought itself, thus knowledge is no longer representation a view that turns the logical into the psychological but retains its purity. The a priori takes on a functional and not an ontological role in Cohens development of Kant. As Rose summarises:
In his Logic, Cohen turns Kants transcendental logic into pure logic. In Kant, the imagination synthesizes appearances, but the mind is unable to know things in themselves; Cohen establishes an independent realm of validity, which is ultimate and derivable. Accordingly, for Cohen, all thinking is the thinking of Being; and Kants essential distinction between immanent and transcendent knowledge is abolished.43

2.2 Epistemology Background: Cohen, Kant and Plato on Ideas In his early, pre-systematic essay, Die platonische Ideenlehre psychologisch entwickelt (1866), Cohen argues for an affinity between Kant and Plato based upon a conflation of their different accounts of ideas. In this early essay Cohen draws a distinction between Platos use of the terms and , the former being understood as the Socratic concept whilst the latter is distinguished as the Platonic idea (as used, for example, in the idea of the good as the first principle of philosophy). Whilst this distinction continues in Cohens later reading of Platonic and Kantian idealism, Cohens mature understanding of the meaning of these distinct terms varies dramatically from this early essay. In Cohens early essay, the meaning of the Platonic idea () is given its fullest expression in the account of dialectics offered by Plato in the Republic. There, the character Socrates describes how what gives the objects of knowledge their truth and the knowers mind the power of knowing is the of the good. It is the cause of knowledge and truth,
Cohens argument concerning this reciprocal relation between man and God, and its implications for religion and ethics (as well as aesthetics), will be examined in more detail in a separate discussion of the notion of Blessed Yearning in Cohen and Benjamins thought. 43 Rose, Kant among the Prophets, Judaism and Modernity, 116-7.

and you will be right to think of it as being known, and yet as being something other than, and even more splendid than, knowledge and truth, splendid as they are44. In this way, the of the good is both the source of the intelligibility of the objects of knowledge and a reality beyond the objects of that knowledge, superior to it in dignity and reality (Rep 509b). Responding to this metaphysically majestic description, Socrates interlocutor Glaucon mockingly calls this miraculously transcendent, to much amusement. In line with Kants account, Cohen draws out how Platonic ideas are the idealised universal concepts which grant structure and reality to phenomena. For whilst, there are many particular things that are beautiful, and many that are goodwe go on to speak of beautyin-itself, and goodness-in-itselfa single , which is unique, in each case, and call it what really is each thing. But, like Kants ideas, these ideas are graspable only as the objects of intelligence but not of sight (Rep 507b). For Plato, knowledge of the intelligible distinguished from opinion concerning sensible phenomena is divided into mathematical reasoning (dianoia), distinct from and inferior to philosophical dialectic (noesis). In this way, the mathematical sciences (which in Platos account include arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and harmonics) are granted superiority over other disciplines, because they force the mind from the visible to the intelligible. But it requires dialectical thought to fully grasp the intelligible ideas, through the contemplation of the idea of the good itself. Thus, for Plato the mathematical sciences seem to be an intermediary between the visible and the intelligible, forcing the mind from the simplistic apprehension of the visible, through perplexity, towards consideration of the intelligible ideas. They are, says Socrates, extraordinarily effective for the purpose of leading the mind towards truth (Rep 525b). For example, arithmetic draws the mind upwards and forces it to argue about numbers in themselves, and will not be put off by attempts to confine the argument to collections of visible or tangible objects (Rep 525d). Such sciences compels the mind to use pure thought in order to get at the truth (Rep 526b; emphasis added). This relationship between the mathematical sciences and dialectic will become more complicated in Cohens mature consideration of the Platonic theory of ideas, as shall be seen shortly. The mind, having been turned towards the superior reality of the ideas, now engages in the dialectical thought necessary for the proper intellectual contemplation of the ideas. Dialectic is the intuition which is some further procedure (over and above those we have been describing [the mathematical sciences]) which sets out systematically to determine what each thing essentially is in itself (Rep 533b). Cohen, drawing on Platos discussion of the philosophical method for the apprehension of the ideas given in the Republic, calls dialectics the vital intellectual activity of contemplation [Schauen]45, an intuition which, as Poma explains, is capable of grasping the essence of things 46. In this way, Cohen regards Platonic dialectic as anticipating the Fichtean development of Kantian idealism in that it allows for the possibility of an intellectual intuition of the ideas. Such an intellectual intuition
44 45 46

Plato, Republic,[hereafter Rep], trans. Desmond Lee, Penguin (London, 2003), 234, 508e. Cohen, Die platonische Ideenlehre psychologisch entwickelt (hereafter, PIP) in SI, 61; trans. Poma 23. Poma, 23.

is posed but never possible in Kants transcendental idealism, precisely because the understanding remains distinct from, but dependent upon, the faculty of sensibility with its pure forms of intuition. The intellectual intuition would be the possibility of thought capable of grasping the essence of a thing independent of sensibility, and thus independent of the distorting aspects of sensible intuition. Cohen maintains that, Socrates interpreted essence, the concept of the thing it is [das Seiende], but left one question open: how do we know this essence, this concept? According to Cohen, it is Plato who answers this question, with the conditional originality of the discoverer, by pointing to contemplation as the activity peculiar to thinker and artist, as the phenomenon of all creation, whether it be at a high or low level. Thus he is the original forebear of intellectual intuition, of transcendental idealism. (PIP 53; trans. Poma 24). The purely intellectual intuition, achieved through dialectic, is capable of comprehending the true unity of things, prior to conceptual determination and distinction. In Platos simile of the cave, this is the final act of intellectual contemplation in which the philosopher, having ascended to the apprehension of the intelligible realm through dialectics, gazes upon the idea of the good itself. The idea of the good is prior to and gives reality and determination to everything else, including both the other ideas and the particular phenomenal appearances which are structured in line with these universal, idealised concepts. Cohen identifies this precedence with the logic of origin which precedes all conceptual determination:
It is the true union of both [body and spirit], which we grasp during contemplation, it is the vision [Gesicht], to use Biblical language, the intuitive sign of a harmonious union between these two extremes, which in discursive thought never again will allow themselves to be united. In the harmonious fusion of the everlasting with the ephemeral, of the necessary with the contingent, of the spiritual with the bodily, of what is spaceless with what is in space, this vision is the true essence of the work of art we all admire. (PIP 53-4; trans. Poma 24)

The spiritual act of contemplation does not isolate its object as a separate substance, but as the original idea. It is only discursive thought that hypostasizes the ideas into conceptual . The remains superior to and original to such conceptual distinctions: what Plato calls the idea of the good, Cohen translates into the logic of origin. It is of interest to note how interpretations of Plato which, like Cohens early reading, stress this quasi-mystical apprehension of the idea of the good, tend to emphasise this sudden intellectual intuition of truth by drawing on the description, apparently 47 given in Platos own words (and not through his mouthpiece Socrates), in a letter sent to the followers of Platos student, Dion. There, the process of philosophy or dialectic is described as not something that can be put into words like other branches of learning; only after long partnership in a common life devoted to this very thing does truth flash upon the soul, like a
Apparently because the authenticity of this, the 7th Letter, remains controversial. Its value for this discussion lies only in illustrating the affinities between Platos account of dialectics and the intellectual intuition suggested in Kant; its veracity remains unimportant here.

flame kindled by a leaping spark48. Despite the obvious similarities between this account of a leaping spark and Benjamins lightning flash in his own account of ideas, consideration of Benjamins theory of ideas should be resisted until we consider Cohens more developed thesis, which rejects this notion of intellectual intuition altogether. That is, we should imitate Benjamins more sober analysis of the search for the direct apprehension of ideas given in The Concept of Criticism. As soon as the history of philosophy, in Kant (although not for the first time), still explicitly and emphatically affirmed both the possibility of thinking an intellectual intuition and its impossibility in the realm of experience, Benjamin maintains, a manifold and almost feverish endeavour emerged to recover this concept for philosophy as the guarantee of its highest claims 49. In order to better defend against reducing his account of ideas to this overly romantic notion of intellectual intuition, it is necessary to first consider Cohens own rejection of his earlier reading of Plato, before turning to Benjamin. Cohens Platonising of Kant: Scientific Hypothesis and Foundation As Cohens thought matured towards the System of critical idealism, he was required to substantially revise this early interpretation of the affinities between Plato and Kant suggested in Die platonische Ideenlehre psychologisch entwickelt (1866). Cohens rejection of his earlier views is most explicit in the 1878 essay, Platons Ideenlehre und die Mathematik. Here, the distinction between the Platonic and the Socratic remains, but the former is no longer understood as resulting from an intellectual intuition, but now becomes conceived as the logical foundation of the latter. As has already been seen in the earlier discussion of Cohens System, the idea now becomes theorised as the hypothesis and the foundation of the concept. Poma understands this revaluation of the relation between idea and concept as explicitly working to resist the earlier appeal to intellectual intuition. Moving from the conception of Idea as psychic-metaphysical act of the knowledge of essence to that of Idea as the logical foundation of concept, argues Poma, denies any kind of legitimacy to intellectual intuition50. As already discussed previously, in these later works Cohen rejected the psychological or ontological implications of his earlier reading of Kant. For positing the idea as the object of an intellectual intuition already presupposes the psychological act of a subject, itself distinct from the ontological object of that gaze, the idea itself. The subject grasps the underlying truth or essence of something given and thus ontologically distinct and separate from it which is only distorted into an appearance by the synthetic activity of the imagination. In this way, the synthetic character of thought in Kant is the unification of the distinct faculties of sensibility and understanding. Having divided the faculties in this way leads to the requirement of something given to be processed, and therefore of thought as a representative activity.
48 49 50

Plato, 7th Letter, in Phaedrus, trans. Walter Hamilton, Penguin (London, 1973), 136. Benjamin, The Concept of Criticism in Early German Romanticism [hereafter CC], SW1, 121. Poma, 24-5.

In Platons Ideenlehre und die Mathematik, Cohen returns to Platos account of dialectic in the Republic, and again draws out the parallels with Kantian idealism, but now resists any psychological interpretation of the idea suggested by the metaphor of contemplation. Instead, Cohen emphasises the affinities between the methodological basis of Platonic dialectic and transcendental idealism. In the Republic, dialectic is the science of arguing logically. At its root (logos), this means being able to give and take a rational account51. The philosopher tries to get at what each thing is in itself by the exercise of dialectic, relying on reason without any aid from the senses, and refuses to give up until one has grasped by pure thought what the good is in itself, one is at the summit of the intellectual realm (Rep 532a-b). Drawing on the parallel between Platos division of knowledge into the phenomenal and the intelligible, and Kants distinction between theoretical knowledge grounded in sensible intuition and metaphysical speculation utilising non-intuitable, rational ideas, Cohens essay reflects upon how Platos dialectic compares with Kants transcendental method, and the role that mathematical science plays in each. For Plato, the intuitable realm of phenomena may be conceptually divided into images and objects, the latter being genuine or true objects, of which the former are merely imitative reflections. Plato argues that in the same way that an image stands to its object, deriving the limited reality and truth it has by being an imitative reflection of the object itself, so a particular object of the intuitable realm stands to its intelligibly superior . Despite its weakened epistemological, and for Plato ontological, status the image becomes meaningful precisely because of the relation or, it might be argued, the relation that the perceiving mind draws between it and the genuine object of which it is merely a reflection. Without the conceptual priority of the object, images by definition become nonsensical and meaningless. Of course, Platos discussion of images is always intended to provide an analogous rule or relationship by which to think beyond objects to the relationship between the phenomenal particulars and the intelligible . In Kant empirical concepts of the kind Plato is initially concerned with are demonstrable through hypotyposis; the universal concept or of a dog or a tree is given content through the imaginations use of an intuitable example of a particular dog or tree. In the Republic, Plato argues that to move beyond mere intuitions of particular appearances to consideration of the themselves, the mind at first uses the originals of the visible order in their turn as images, and has to base its inquiries on hypotheses and proceed from them not to a first principle but to a conclusion 52. For example, in geometry and calculation, numbers, geometrical figures and the three forms of angle are first hypothesised on the ground that they are obvious to everyone. Then, starting from them, they proceed through a series of consistent steps to the conclusion which they set to find
Desmond Lees translation glosses this as arguing logically, but Lees footnote points out the literal meaning of the phrase: to give and take a rational account (logos). Lee notes that dialectic for Plato always worked by argument, and typically by question and answer give and take (Desmond Lee in Plato, The Republic, trans. Desmond Lee, Penguin (London, 2003)). 52 Plato, Republic, 238, 510b; trans. altered. Lee translates the original Greek term here, hypothesis, as assumption based upon the English transliteration meaning something that may be true but needs testing, which is different from the Greek sense of something assumed for the purpose of argument. The English hypothesis will be used here to mark the emphasis Cohen places on the idea as a hypothesis in his reading of Plato and Kant.

out (Rep 510d). In this way, Plato argues, the mind is forced to use hypotheses in investigating the intelligible, and does not proceed to a first principle, being unable to depart from and rise above its assumptions. Instead, it used as illustrations the very things which in turn have their images and shadows on the lower level, in comparison with which they are themselves respected and valued for their clarity (Rep 511a). To return to the example above, Plato argues that those who study geometry make use of and argue about visible figures [, used in a non-technical sense], though they are not really thinking about them, but about the originals which they resemble; it is not about the square or the diagonal which they have drawn that they are arguing, but about the square itself or diagonal itself, or whatever the figure [, again in a non-technical sense] may be (Rep 510d). That is, since the real objects of their investigation the idealised concepts themselves are quite invisible except to the eye of reason, the mind assumes the existence of the concept as a hypothesis the ideal figure of the circle, the ideal number and then utilises actual figures and numbers as if they stood in for the concept, to reach geometrical or mathematical conclusions. As images stand to their objects, so the visible figures stand to their intellectual concepts. Significantly, Plato points out that this is how geometry and the mathematical sciences [technai] operate (ibid.). Platos term here, the so-called technai, specifies not the practical or artistic skills but the scientific ones.
These sciences [technai] treat their hypotheses as first principles and, though compelled to use reason [dianoia, the lower, mathematical part of reasoning] and not sense-perception in surveying their subject-matter, because they proceed in their investigations from assumptions and not to a first principle, they do not, you think, exercise intelligence [noesis, the higher, purely intelligible part of reasoning] on it, even though with the aid of a first principle it is intelligible [noeton, that is could be fully intelligible in the sense of a dialectical understanding]. (Rep 511c-d; commentary in brackets added)

It is this sense of technai, and its importance to the first step of Platos epistemological ascent to ideas, that Cohen utilises when he argues that the transcendental method begins from a fact of science, as will be seen. For Plato, the mathematical sciences operate using idealised concepts (), which they hypothesise or infer from their particular, imperfect and intuitable figures in the visible realm. But whilst these sciences are superior to the unphilosophical consideration of visible figures, which merely remain at the level of the particular and phenomenal, they nonetheless utilise such hypothesised concepts () not to ascend higher, to a truly philosophical or dialectical knowledge, but to descend back down from the concept to certain theoretical conclusions. Platos well-known argument concerning the slave-boy, found in the Meno, can be used to illustrate this kind of scientific reasoning. The square that Socrates draws in the sand, and which he uses to prompt and then verify certain geometrical propositions given by the slave-boy, is only a figure that stands in for the perfect, idealised square (or the

universal concept of a square) in the mind of the protagonists. Thus, the of the square its Socratic concept is hypothesised as a real, epistemological object. Only in this way do the calculations and operations performed upon the geometrical figure become accurate and meaningful. Yet the end result of such reasoning is not the higher kind of philosophical knowledge granted through dialectical thought, but mathematical conclusions and laws. Such sciences, therefore, hypothesise the concept but do not proceed to true knowledge beyond the universal, idealised concept. Only dialectic, Plato thinks, is capable of moving beyond this hypothesis to first principles. It is the only procedure which proceeds by the destruction of hypotheses to the very first principle, so as to give itself a firm base (Rep 533c-d). Dialectic is the movement beyond science, to pure knowledge (Rep 533e), and the dialectician is, therefore, the one who can take account of the essential nature of each thing, and who can therefore define the of the good and distinguish it clearly in his account from everything else (Rep 534b). The distinction between the method of science and the dialectic of philosophy is that the latter treats its starting assumptions not as absolute beginnings but literally as hypotheses, underpinnings, footings, and springboards so to speak, to enable it to rise to that which requires no assumption and is the starting-point of all, and after attaining to that again taking hold of the first dependencies from it, so to proceed downward to the conclusion53. Plato adds that it does so making no use whatever of any object of sense [aisthetoi] but only of pure concepts [] moving on through concepts to concepts and ending with concepts []54. That is, unlike in the methodology of science, dialectic completely discards the use of sensible intuitions even taken as images of the higher concepts and pursues its inquiry solely through the intelligible concepts alone. The hypothesised concepts of the sciences are now examined devoid of their relation to particular phenomena, and interrogated until a first principle of everything is discovered, capable of standing on its own, and from which all other conclusions can now be drawn with a firm foundation. For Plato, this first principle is not theoretical but practical: the of the good. In Platons Ideenlehre und die Mathematik, Cohen takes up Platos use of the sciences as a starting point, hypothesising the Socratic which provide the starting point for grasping the , which itself then provides the logical foundation of the concepts and their objects:
It is clear that this method of taking what is sought for as found, only to reencounter it by means of deductions and connections between them, is highly productive for philosophical problems. This is why Plato himself advises and has recourse to imitation. However, this analogy is not only effective when single problems are dealt with. The fundamental concept of his specific philosophical method springs from this characteristic of geometrical thought, at least for its gnoseological legitimation. Idea itself is thought as hypothesis.55
53 54 55

Plato, Republic, trans. Paul Shorey, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1969), 511b. ibid., trans. Paul Shorey. Cohen, Platons Ideenlehre und die Mathematik (hereafter PIM), in S:I, 361; trans. Poma 32.

This philosophical importance of Platonic dialectic is further emphasised by Cohen in the critical idealism of the System. It is important to realise, however, that in establishing an affinity between Platonic and Kantian idealism, Cohen is not only Platonising Kant in his introduction of the synthetic character of thought as dialectical in this way, but just as significantly reading Plato through Kant. This has two notable outcomes for the way in which Platos epistemology is characterised. First, drawing on the synthetic starting point of Kantian deduction, Cohen stresses how the mathematical sciences are not simply intermediary disciplines for philosophy, but integral to the process of dialectic itself, and the knowledge that arises out of dialectical thought. Second, the identity of the foundational first principle the idea of the good becomes glossed under the logic of origin that dominates pure reason, and integrated into the task-orientated ethics of Kantian practical reason. In Cohens account of Platonic dialectic, emphasis is placed upon the role of concepts utilised by mathematical thought. That such concepts are in themselves non-intuitable although posited following reflection upon examples of mathematical or geometrical figures is important for Cohen in that it signals the pure, non-representational character of mathematical thought. He now identifies the Platonic conception of mathematics with the model of pure thought, rather than with the mediation between thought and perception:
This is one of the most profound and daring thoughts in his [Platos] methodology: that he detects a reason for thought in sensation itself. Thus numbers are posited as stimulators and provokers of thought, which are already at work in sensation itself. Nevertheless, he clearly foes too far in his inclination to play down the conflict between thought and sensation (LRE 472-73; trans. Poma 34-5)

Cohen stresses the continuity between mathematical reasoning [dianoia] and dialectic [noesis], the two distinct stages of intelligible knowledge for Plato. Here lies the anticipatory character of Platos dialectic as compared with Kants transcendental method, Poma argues. For Cohen saw them as two essential, complementary stages of pure thought, inasmuch as this thought consists of the search for a ground of concept in foundation itself, that is in idea as hypothesis. Mathematical concepts are no longer merely the hypothetical starting point for mathematical reasoning, which points to, but is distinct from the purely intelligible character of dialectic. Cohen stresses how such concepts are themselves the ideas that provide the route to philosophical understanding, and thus form part of dialectical activity itself. For Cohen, Poma explains, the transcendental method is a stage of dialectic56. In this way, pure thought produces its own content. It is not in any way passively reliant on a given interpreted by Kant as the matter of sensation upon which it acts. The account of mathematical reasoning (dianoia) present in Platos Republic provides a model for the synthetic activity of thought which resists Kants grounding of pure intuitions in sensibility, distinct from the understanding. Pure knowledge can be grounded in the pure

Poma, 35; emphasis added.

activity of thinking, without presupposing a critical check upon thought introduced by the separation of sensibility from the understanding. Furthermore, the a posteriori of thought is no longer required to be a given matter of sensation, but as matter it is understood to be already produced by and in thought. In the System of Philosophy, scientific reasoning becomes the central starting point of philosophic activity. The ideas of science the idealised, non-inuitable laws hypothesised by science provide the critical synthetic context out of which the transcendental justification unfolds. However, at the same time dialectic is not simply reducible to something akin to scientific knowledge. For the Platonic idea takes on its philosophical importance because of the method of foundation described in the latter stages of the account of dialectic given in the Republic. There, dialectic discovers a first principle that subsequently provides the foundation for the method of philosophy itself, and thus the ideas and concepts hypothesised by the sciences. This first principle is not so much Platos particular idea of the good, for Cohen, but the principle of origin (LRE 35; trans. Poma 84) which underlies the whole of his philosophical system. The principle of origin is the logical, as opposed to ontological, foundation of Cohens theory of ideas, allowing him to characterise the activity of pure thought outside of the dogmatic spheres of psychology or ontology: pure thought becomes pure activity [Ttigkeit] (LRE 29; trans. Poma 84). Poma calls the Logik der reinen Erkenntnis, the theory of pure thought, in that it is the origin of itself and also of being, since, by means of the unity of unification and separation, it produces the object in knowledge57. This originative character is modelled on Platonic dialectic, which, starting out from the origin of ideas, should define the bond and division between them in continuity, and end in the ideas themselves58. In this way, Cohen argues, ideas as foundations make up the content of knowledge, a treasure which can be forever increased by means of new foundations, even if all them might turn out to be developments of older ones59. The Platonic idea (for Plato, the idea of the good) becomes central to Cohens System, not only in its foundational or originative character, but also in its identity or unity. In the Platonic Idea unity accompanies identity, Cohen argues, continuing: There can only be one Idea, whatever problem it refers toHow many times it can be thought concerns the process of consciousness, in which this thought must take placeIts repetitions are psychic processes, its logical content persisting in identity (LRE 95-6; trans. Poma, 99). In Cohens consideration of the affinities between Plato and Kant, Poma argues, unity is conceived of as the fundamental horizon of judgement, and, therefore, distinct from unification, which is one of the two directions in which it takes place. Poma summarises this important movement of Cohens philosophy: Unity is, first of all, unity of judgement, that is, unity of thought (cf. LRE 66). Unity of thought founds the unity of knowledge and, in it, the unity of the object (LRE 67): the unity of judgement is the production of the unity of the object in the unity of knowledge (LRE 68)60.
Poma, 85. Poma, 84-5. 59 Cohen, Einleitung mit kritischen Nachtrag zu F. A. Langes Geschichte des Materialismus in F. A. Langes, Geschichte des Materialismus, Baedecker (Leipzig, 1896), 18; trans. Poma, tbc. 60 Poma, 86-87.
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Keplers Elliptical Orbit as an Example of Cohens Theory of Ideas Cohens philosophy stages the mutual interaction and transformation of Platonic and Kantian idealism, and the resulting critical idealism is characterised by an emphasis upon the close affinity between science as the synthetic starting point, and dialectic as the unitary and productive activity of thought, exemplified in the motifs of hypothesis and origin. Before turning to Benjamins philosophical response to Cohen, it is important to stress an important aspect of Cohens theory of ideas the relation between concept and idea which will become significant in the subsequent consideration of Benjamin. In the relationship between the mathematical sciences (dianoia) as the starting point for the transcendental method (identified with Platonic noesis), and the purity of thought resulting from dialectical reflection upon the sciences, Cohen regards the hypothetical (scientific) concept () as being given its foundation through dialectic. This characterises the difference between the limitations of the Socratic concept () and the superiority of the Platonic idea (): The Socratic concept only asks, and the correctly understood meaning of concept goes no further. On the other hand, idea is the self-consciousness of concept. It is the logos of concept, since it gives account of concept. In connection with the verb to give logos actually means account ( ). This juridical meaning now becomes the most profound foundation of logic. Idea is the giving account of concept. In the grounds or principles of pure knowledge reason posits its giving account in the mathematical science of nature. (LRE 15-6; trans. Poma 89) The Socratic concept, Cohen argues, does not appear as the answer to a question, but as the question itself. Cohen suggests that this is the profound, eternal meaning, in which Socrates defined his concept as the question: What is it? ( ). The Socratic concept only asks, it is a question and remains one, nothing but a question. However, it would be a mistake to see the correct philosophical response to the Socratic concept as merely an answer. Critical idealism understood through the foundational logic of origin resists this attempt to remain at the level of conceptual reasoning through the hypostasising of concepts resulting from the discursive distinction between question and answer. For Cohen, conceptual reasoning cannot find its philosophical resolution at the level of the hypothesised concept:
The answer it incorporates must be a new question, must provoke a new question. This is the intimate methodical relationship between question and answer: that every question must itself be an answer. Therefore, every answer can and must be a question. What is realized in the system of concept is a new kind of reciprocal conditioning or action: reciprocal action between question and answer. No solution can be definitive. Concept is not an absolute totality. (LRE 378; trans. Poma, 90)

To confuse the concept for an absolute totality is to misunderstand the more profound underlying unity of knowledge that is to be recognised through the process of unification and separation at work in dialectic. The Socratic concept (), therefore, is not given an answer but given account of through its foundation in the Platonic idea (). Holzhey defines Cohens idea as the conceived concept, conceived as originary judgement61. This reconceived relation between question and foundation, concept and idea, can be further clarified by considering Cohens discussion of ideas in his essay on the Principle of the Infinitesimal Method and Its History (1883). There, Cohen uses the example of scientific cosmology, and in particular Johannes Keplers hypothesis of an elliptical figure for the orbits of the planets. The use of Kepler and astronomy is instructive, implicitly making reference not only to Kants Copernican revolution but also Platos inclusion of astronomy as one of the five mathematical sciences of his philosophical education. Benjamins own use of images describing the ideas as related to phenomena as constellations are to stars, and as related to each other planets are isolated upon their orbits will feed into this idealist lineage, as well as containing its own implicit critique of earlier theories of ideas. Consideration of the importance of Johannes Kepler for Cohens account of ideas may be restricted to his discovery of the first law of planetary motion, published in 1609, and along with the other two laws published later largely responsible for the widespread acceptance of the Coperinican heliocentric model of the universe 62. In using the figure of Kepler, therefore, Cohen is most likely suggesting an analogous historical and methodological relationship between himself and the Copernican turn of Kant. Kepler was convinced that the universe is constructed according to a mathematical design, and that mathematics is therefore instrumental to scientific discovery of all natural phenomena, including the heavens. In this, Kepler echoes Platos understanding of the universe and his description of the importance of astronomy in the Republic. For Plato, empirical consideration of the stars that decorate the sky is inferior to mathematical attention to the true relative velocities, in pure numbers and perfect figures, of the orbits and what they carry in them, which are perceptible to reason and thought but not visible to the eye (Rep 529d). Hence the true astronomer treats the visible splendours of the night sky as illustrations in our study of the true realities and, in setting us problems for a solution, ignores the visible heavens (Rep 530b). Keplers methodology mirrors this Platonic description of the philosophical astronomer. Convinced of the accuracy of Copernicus new model of the universe, Kepler was able to analyse the orbits of the planets devoid of the religious prejudices that had undermined previous astronomical progress. Like Copernicus, Kepler resisted the received tradition of cosmology which placed the Earth at the centre with the rest of the universe
H. Holzhey, Cohen und Natorp, Bd. 1, p.184-5; trans. Poma 91. This account of Keplers scientific discovery is based upon the information given at <http://www-history.mcs.standrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Kepler.html>, at the NASA site, <http://kepler.nasa.gov/johannes/>, and in Edna DeVores article, Kepler and Mars, at <http://www.space.com/searchforlife/kepler_and_mars_010604-2.html>, accessed 22.08.06. It also draws upon Pattons discussion of Kepler in Lydia Patton, Hermann Cohens History and Philosophy of Science, Phd Thesis, McGill University, 2004.
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rotating around it, and, and in accordance with Platos mathematical ideal of the sciences, eschewed reliance upon the observational verification of empirical data in favour of mathematical analysis. Conventionally, the orbits of the planets were regarded as circular, in accordance with their visible movement across the night sky. Within this circular model, the variations observed in their movements were explained by adding increasingly complex sets of circles within circles. Using a vast array of observational data collected over many years, Kepler set about trying to resolve the scientific problem posed in particular by the planet Mars, which, of all the planets, possessed an orbital pattern that could not be made to fit with even the most complex of circular orbital theories. Cohen points out how Keplers solution to this scientific problem involved the hypothetical introduction of a idealised geometrical and physical figure or concept: the ellipsis. Unable to resolve the problem of the orbit of Mars using the conventional model of a circular orbit, Kepler, in desperation, analysed the collected data around the geometrical figure of an ellipsis. Hypothesising the concept of an ellipsis as the model for the orbit of Mars worked. The model was proven by the collected data and verified by future observation. For Cohen, then, the figure of the ellipsis is to be regarded as an idea, or an intelligible ideal with which to investigate the problematic phenomena. By being hypothesised, its existence is taken for granted whist it is used to give account of the phenomena. Keplers theory specifies an answer to the problem of describing the planetary orbits, Patton explains, observing that Keplers achievement was to construct a set of relations between that idea and the mechanical estimates of planetary motions so he could prove that the idea of an ellipse gives a law-like estimate of the motion of the planets around the sun63. The idea of the ellipsis is thus hypothesised as an ideal figure explaining the phenomena, and thus constructed intellectually and not sensible intuited in observation of the phenomena. It is one of Platos perfect figures, mentioned above, perceptible to reason and thought and yet not visible to the eye. Patton emphasises this synthetic and yet a priori nature of the elliptical figure:
We construct the relations that allow us to unify the phenomena because nothing is given already structured. The planets do not appear to us as they appear on maps of the solar system, with coloured lines describing their orbits. Rather we measure continuous forces and motion by first specifying the conditions to bring them into a unified picture. At the level of evaluating a particular theory, Cohen argues that we can simply investigate how the mathematical constructs embedded in the theory correspond with physical reality.64

At the same time, having been hypothesised and constructed, the ellipsis provides a pattern that is not only verified by the phenomena, but becomes an object through its representation within the phenomena, as the law of the phenomena. Without Keplers cosmology, Patton argues, we would never be able to see an elliptical orbit as an object,
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Patton, 76. Patton, 76.

as a fact about the world65. The idea understood as a law can in this way be experienced in the regular movement (spatial and temporal) of the phenomena, whilst at the same time gives account of and unifies the previously disparate phenomena. As a result of this epistemological account of the hypothesised concept and the justified idea, in the Principle of the Infinitesimal Method and Its History Cohen is further interested in the way in which philosophical reflection upon the idea expressed in the scientific solution reveals the particular pre-conditions of the scientific problem and its resolution:
Thus the critique of cognition consists in the justification of those conditions on which the mathematical science of nature rests. Surely we dare not succumb to capricious choice [Willkr] in enumerating and reconstructing the conditionsRather we will refer back to the single structure and object that the foundation supports. All basic principles of the critique of cognition are of equal value as such. Thus a reconstruction of scientific experience can begin with any one of these, and similarly may be completed with one [principle].66

This leads Cohen to consider the relation between the developments of infinitesimal calculus and the scientific theories of Kepler, Newton and Leibniz, consideration of which is beyond the scope of this discussion. Keplers account of elliptical orbits exemplifies Cohens epistemological theory of ideas, since it proceeds from the scientific fact (the movements of the planets), through the hypothesis of an idealised, non-intuitable idea (the ellipsis), to its verification in the law-like regularity of the phenomena assembled under the idea. Furthermore, the idea is not some conceptual answer to the problem at hand, and is always open to further consideration and questioning. In terms of philosophical reflection upon the conditions of possibility for the synthetic a priori idea, the productive synthesising character of thought is revealed in a way which, for Cohen, extends beyond Kants metaphysical check since the non-sensible idea is exhibited by the conceptually arranged phenomena in the anticipation of the (in this instance, spatial and temporal) task or law. To compare Benjamins own theory of ideas with that of Cohen, it will be necessary to move from this scientific astronomical image of the planets spinning through the cosmos, fulfilling their lawful and natural task, to the radically alternative astrological vision of the heavens and their momentarily static configurations proposed in the Epistemo-Critical Prologue.

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Patton, 75. Cohen, Le principe de la mthode infinitsimale et son histoire, 13; in Patton, 78.