Wesen und Werden der schweizerischen Philosophie

Anna Tumarkin

Anna Tumarkin, Wesen und Werden der schweizerischen Philosophie, Frauen­feld: Huber & Co., 1948, pp. 7-30, 86-116.

Introduction/Historical Situation and Systematic Context

To characterise Swiss philosophy, or better philosophy in Switzerland, one should not rely on self-declarations of the principal actors, but rather on considerations by a third party, in a certain distance, but close enough to know the matter thoroughly. This is perfectly the case with Anna Tumarkin who emigrated from Belarus in a wave of exodus of the Russian intelligence in the period of Fin-de-Siècle. She supposedly knew Ludwig Stein from the Jewish community in Berlin, as a Rabbi, who has been teaching in Zurich, before becoming a professor of philosophy in Berne. In 1892, Tumarkin settled in Berne and in 1895 she obtained her doctorate at the University of Berne and, in 1898, after having studied with Wilhelm Dilthey in Berlin, she was nominated the very first female professor in Europe with full rights and duties within the faculty.

Content, Abstracts/Conclusions, Insights, Evidence

In her comprehensive, yet condensed main writing, Anna Tumarkin provides a precise characterisation of what could be considered as typically Swiss philosophical thought. She treats the historical development of philosophy in the period of Enlightenment and before as well as the specifically Swiss theory of education. Of particular interest may be her judgment on Swiss natural law and her indications of the inclination of Swiss interest in philosophy in general.

Rich of well reflected analytical insights shows the general introduction of Anna Tumarkin’s writing on “The essence and development of Swiss philosophy”. Her diagnosis begins with considerations on the lack of interest in philosophical system-building in Switzerland. This is, however, not due to a reduced intelligence, but the consequence of a reserve from abstraction and its dangers. At the core of philosophical thought in Switzerland, the author identifies a focus on relevance, practicality and dispassion regarding the matter in question, i.e. dedication to the matter itself, freedom of personal interests as well as practical orientation of concrete arguments. “Auch bei der kritischsten Einstellung dem schweizerischen Denken gegenüber bleibt der allgemeine Eindruck, den man im Verkehr mit den Schweizern von der Eigenart ihres Denkens gewinnt, derjenige einer diesem schweizerischen Denken eigentümlichen Sachlichkeit”. This kind of typically Swiss inclination means that the interest in philosophy is mainly on the object of knowledge, which results in an overall orientation towards reality, life itself, based on a deep estimation of the individuality and dignity of the human being. This interest covers all spheres of practical life and, therefore, philosophical thought is not meant to be l’art pour l’art. Tumarkin does not hide her appreciation and the admiration of the philosophical system established by Wilhelm Dilthey, the great forerunner of idealistic historicism. “Wer daher in der Philosophie nichts anderes sucht als eine Begründung der Wissenschaft, wird kaum geneigt sein, den Schweizern eine eigene Philosophie oder auch nur einen ausgesprochenen Sinn für Philosophie zuzusprechen”. This expression covers last but not least legal philosophy, and the author declares the main issue in Swiss philosophy as practical idealism, or transcribed as realistic idealism, or idealistic realism.

We have selected a second passage out of the same writing by Anna Tumarkin, which is worth taking into consideration. In her treatment of natural law theory, the author distinguishes yet another arch-typically Swiss virtue of philosophical thought. “Was aber in den Augen dieser schweizerischen Naturrechtslehrer das ‘natürliche’, das heist aus der menschlichen Wesensnatur selbst sich ergebende Recht unterscheidet von dem aus besonderen Vereinbarungen entstandenen positive Recht, ist nicht, dass die Vernunft es als dem allgemeinen und dauernden Vorteil dienend erkennt, wie das Hugo Grotius von dem Vertragsrecht angenommen hatte, sondern dass sie es als der höheren Bestimmung des Menschen, in Frieden und Gemeinschaft miteinander zu leben, entsprechend anerkennt”. Jean Barbeyrac and Jacques Burlamaqui are identified as leading thinkers who turned the Evangelic duty of love to the neighbour into the demand of a legal order that corresponds with nature in the sense of justice and true natural law that confirms the nature of the human being. Hereby not only the justice of God, but also the justice among men means a legitimate foundation for valid law. To his French translation of Samuel Pufendorf’s main writing “De iure naturae et gentium libri octo” (1672) Barbeyrac gives as an introduction his view of a truly modern moral science: “La conformité de la morale chrétienne avec les lumières les plus pures de Bon-sens est une des preuves les plus convaincante de la divinité du Christianisme”. Burlamaqui therefore identified the deeper reason why these meanings should coincide in the identity of the destination of mankind with the development of the circumstances of human life. This kind of a system of humanity itself signifies the characteristically Swiss inclination of legal philosophy, according to Tumarkin. Natural law is founded in human reason eventually, as declared by Burlamaqui: “C’est le système des règles, que la seule raison préscrit aux hommes, pour les conduire sûrement au but, qu’ils doivent se proposer et qu’ils se proposent tous en effet, je veux dire un veritable et solide Bonheur, considérées comme autant de lois, que Dieu impose aux hommes, que l’on appelle Droit de la nature”. In the interpretation of Tumarkin this has much to do with the virtues of Calvinism and must be recognised as the contribution of Geneva to any normative science: “Die gleiche Übereinstimmung zwischen der Vernunfterkenntnis und dem Offenbarungsglauben, in der Burlamaqui das Wesen der Humanität erkannte, machte auch seine eigene im vollkommenen Zusammenfallen von Glück und Tugend bestehende Humanität aus”. In the following passages the theory of natural law as proposed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau is addressed.

Further Information About the Author

Anna Tumarkin, born on 16 February 1872 in Dubrowna (Belarus), died on 7 August 1951 in Muri bei Bern, was a Jewish Philosopher originating from Russia. Initially, she was educated to be a teacher in Kischinew. In 1892, she settled in Berne to perfect her philosophical studies with Ludwig Stein, who was also Jewish. In 1895, she obtained her doctorate and went to Berlin to assist the lectures of Wilhelm Dilthey. In 1898, she was the very first female professor with regular habilitation thesis in Europe and with the full right to promotion of her best students. She also was the first female lecturer at the University of Berne and was nominated titular professor in 1906 and was an ordinary professor for Philosophy and Aesthetics between 1909 and 1943. She also participated in the women’s rights movement and presided a network of female academicians. In 1937, she was honoured with the Theodor Kocher-prize.

For a comprehensive overview over the methods of the author, please refer to:

Judith Jánoska: Die Methode der Anna Tumarkin, Professorin der Philosophie, in Bern, in: Der Eigensinn des Materials – Erkundungen sozialer Wirklichkeit, Festschrift für Claudia Honegger zum 60. Geburtstag, Frankfurt am Main: Stroemfeld, 2007, pp. 151-168.

Selected Works of the Same Author

The whole inheritance is located in the University Library of Berne.

For Further Reading

Jean Barbeyrac: De dignitate et utilitate Juris ac Historiarum et utriusque disciplinae Amica coniunctione, Amsterdam: Pierre de Coup, erweiterte und verbesserte ed. 1712 (1. ed. Lausanne: Frédéric Gentil und Théophile Crosat, 1711), French translation in: Écrits de droit et de morale, ed. Simone Goyard-Fabre, Paris: Centre de philosophie du droit, 1996;

Henri Lauener: Zeitgenössische Philosophie in der Schweiz, Bern: Haupt, 1984;

Franziska Rogger: Der Doktorhut im Besenschrank – Das abenteuerliche Leben der ersten Studentinnen am Beispiel der Universität Bern, Bern: Efef-Verlag, 2nd ed. 2002.


You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here: Tumarkin Schweizerische Philosophie.