Erkenntnis, Wissenschaft, Philo­sophie – Erkenntniskritische und methodologische Prolegomena zu einer Philosophie der Moral und des Rechts

Arthur Baumgarten

Arthur Baumgarten, Erkenntnis, Wissenschaft, Philo­sophie – Erkenntniskritische und methodologische Prolegomena zu einer Philosophie der Moral und des Rechts, Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1927 (reprint Aalen: Scientia, 1978).

Introduction/Historical Situation and Systematic Context

This writing by Arthur Baumgarten goes back to the author’s first stay at the University of Basel and promises to provide a foundation of moral and legal philosophy by means of methodology and by a critique of cognition. The paradoxical analysis of the author, whereupon he experiences a need for metaphysics, misleads the questions and arguments from the beginning. The core question should instead be addressed by determining which metaphysics can be guidelines for the future and which are definitely old-fashioned. Historicism and human sciences are held to be neighbours of Herbert Spencerian Evolutionism and biology, a comparison that is not true at all. Unfounded criticism is misleading the author to disqualify all currents of his time. Phenomenology for instance is held to have a fatal impact on legal philosophy: “Hier haben Phänomenologie und Neukantianismus ein schreckliches Gebilde gezeugt. Vom Neukantianismus haben unsere neuen Rechtsphilosophen den Formalismus, von der Phänomenologie die Gabe der Entdeckung bisher unbekannt gebliebener Wesenheiten, die sich bei ihnen als ‘Lust zu fabulieren’ äussert”. On the other side: “Die unentbehrliche Auseinandersetzung mit der Kantischen Erkenntnistheorie darf nicht rein negativ-kritisch sein”. How should this become compatible?

Content, Abstracts/Conclusions, Insights, Evidence

Normative sciences are held to be psychological inclination by Arthur Baumgarten. This judgment evidently shows the author’s inclination to associative argumentation. His encyclopaedic approach in conjunction with his eclecticism leads to results, that do not convince anymore today. However, there is one single great advantage and virtue of such syncretism: attention is directed towards previously unknown currents within the history of human thought, even if the conclusions cannot be held any longer. As an example of the writing’s rich source of actually new currents in its time, we have selected two figures, namely William James and Henri Bergson, i.e. the founders of pragmatism and French existentialism. The text of paragraphs 42 and 43 are concentrated with citations and excerpts; however, it remains unclear how these passages and the included arguments can be brought in closer contact to legal thought. Anyway, it apparently has not been impossible in these days to procure a first flashy insight into American psychology, respectively French philosophy, as well as into Anglo-American theory building for any well-informed jurisprudent. For Baumgarten, the only alternative to the criticised currents of idealism, pragmatism, realism and theories of antinomy consists in legal positivism. “Der Positivismus ist eine Weltanschauung und kann daher zusammen mit der in ihn einbezogenen Erkenntnistheorie nur vom Standpunkt einer anderen Weltanschauung, nicht auf dem Boden einer sich isolierenden Erkenntnistheorie abschliessend kritisiert werden. Wir werden in der Metaphysik die Auseinandersetzung mit dem Positivismus wieder aufnehmen, und es wird uns dies um so mehr obliegen, als der Positivismus nicht ein Weltanschauung unter vielen, sondern eine der wenigen wahrhaft einflussreichen Weltanschauungen ist. Ja er ist nicht nur heute unter den sogenannten Intellektuellen die fast unbestritten herrschende Weltanschauung – allen scheinheiligen oder prätentiösen gegenteiligen Weltanschauungen zum Trotz – sondern er wird es vielleicht auch immer sein, solange Menschen auf Erden leben”. This is an apotheosis of positivism, however, of naive positivism, not enlightened Neo-Positivism; and moreover, it seems that the lecture of concurring and dissenting opinions of his own culture and abroad has left the author himself untouched… and last but not least, the conversion of the declared liberal thinker to socialism and his engagement for the purposes of the German Democratic Republic seems to be only a slight shift in preferences.

Philosophical Valuation and Jurisprudential Significance

The encyclopaedic spirit of all studies by Arthur Baumgarten provides a broad knowledge of his time, that is analysed pragmatically in function of legal practice. The valuations and judgments remain, however, eclectic because there is a lack of a consolidated philosophical system, that would only allow to refer the arguments to a systematic coherent conception of legal philosophy.

Further Information About the Author

Arthur Baumgarten, born 31 March 1884 in Königsberg, died 27 November 1966 in Berlin (East), was originally a German citizen, but from 1936 also a Swiss citizen, as he married Nina Helena von Salis-Soglio. He prosecuted his legal and philosophical studies at the Universi­ties of Tübingen, Geneva, Leipzig and Berlin, where he received his promotion in 1909. Until 1920 he was professor in Geneva, from 1920 to 1923 in Cologne, between 1923 and 1930 in Basel, between 1930 to 1933 in Frankfurt am Main, before he returned, or better speaking emi­grated, back to Basel, where he remained until 1949. He then decided to settle in Berlin (East), where he was professor at the Humboldt University until 1953. He originally taught penal law, however his main subject became more and more legal philosophy. In his last period of life, living in the German Democratic Republic, he also signed as chief editor of the periodical “Sozialismus”, and finally contributed to the theoretical founda­tions of the socialist regime of Eastern Germany.

His philosophy of law can best be described as syncretistic, as he changed from moralistic views to Kantian criticism and varied between a conservative mood to socialist opinions. Moreover, his theory was characterised by the separation between morality and law and their interconnection. In our treatment we shall focus on the early period, when his funda­mental conceptions show best in their origins and consolidation, namely in his works about “Die Wissenschaft vom Recht und ihre Methode” (1920) and his contribution “Rechts­philosophie” to the “Handbuch der Philosophie” (1934).

For more information, please see:

Karl Polak (Ed.): Festschrift Arthur Baumgarten zu seinem 70. Geburtstag, Berlin: VEB Deutscher Zentralverlag, 1960;

Gerd Irrlitz: Rechtsordnung und Ethik der Solidarität – Der Strafrechtler und Philosoph Arthur Baumgarten, Berlin 2008;

Christina Peschel: Arthur Baumgarten, in: Rechtsgeschichts­wissenschaft in Deutschland 1945 bis 1952, ed. Horst Schröder, Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2001, S. 129-150;

August Simonius: Wissenschaftliche Weltanschauung und Rechts­wis­sen­schaft – Zur Rechtsphilosophie Arthur Baumgartens, in: Zeit­schrift für Schwei­zerisches Recht, ed. Eduard His, N. S. vol. 49, Basel: Hel­bing & Lichtenhahn, 1930.

Selected Works of the Same Author

Arthur Baumgarten: Die Wissenschaft vom Recht und ihre Methode, 2 vols., Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1920/ 1922 (reprint Aalen: Scientia, 1978); Idem: Der Weg des Menschen – Eine Philosophie der Moral und des Rechts, Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1933 (reprint 1978); Idem: Rechtsphilosophie, in: Handbuch der Philosophie, Section IV: Staat und Geschichte, München/ Berlin: R. Oldenbourg, 1934, pp. 3 ss.; Idem: Grund­züge der juristischen Methodenlehre, Bern 1939 (reprint, ed. Hermann Klenner: Freiburg im Breisgau: Rudolf Haufe, 2005); Idem: Die Geschichte der abendländischen Philosophie – Eine Geschichte des geistigen Fortschritts der Menschheit, Genève: Imprimérie de St. Gervais, 1945; Idem: Die Entwicklung der Idee der Demokratie und des Rechtsstaates in der Neuzeit, Stuttgart: Fritz Mittelbach, 1946; Idem: Ansprache an Kants 150. Todestage, Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1954; Idem: Bemerkungen zur Erkenntnistheorie des dialek­tischen und historischen Marxismus, Berlin: Akademie-Verlag 1957; Idem: Vom Libera­lismus zum Sozialismus, Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1967; Idem: Rechts­philosophie auf dem Wege – Vor­träge und Auf­sätze aus fünf Jahrzehnten, Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1972.


You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here: Baumgarten Erkenntnis.