Hermann Cohen (4 July 1842 – 4 April 1918) was a German Jewish philosopher, one of the founders of the Marburg School of Neo-Kantianism, and he is often held to be "probably the most important Jewish philosopher of the nineteenth century".
Cohen was born in Coswig, Anhalt. He early began to study philosophy, and soon became known as a profound student of Kant. He was educated at the Gymnasium at Dessau, at the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, and at the universities of Breslau, Berlin, and Halle. In 1873, he became Privatdozent in the philosophical faculty of the University of Marburg, the thesis with which he obtained the venia legendi being Die systematischen Begriffe in Kant's vorkritischen Schriften nach ihrem Verhältniss zum kritischen Idealismus. Cohen was elected Professor extraordinarius at Marburg in 1875, and Professor ordinarius in the following year (see: "Academic ranks in Germany").
He was one of the founders of the "Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaft des Judenthums", which held its first meeting in Berlin in November 1902.
Cohen edited and published Friedrich Albert Lange's final philosophical work (Logische Studien, Leipzig, 1877). Cohen edited and wrote several versions of a long introduction and critical supplement to Lange's Geschichte des Materialismus.
He devoted three early volumes to the interpretation of Kant (Kant's Theory of Experience, Kant's Foundations of Ethics, and Kant's Foundations of Aesthetics), in 1902 he began publishing the three eminent volumes of his own systematic philosophy: Logik der reinen Erkenntnis (1902), Ethik des reinen Willens (1904) and Ästhetik des reinen Gefühls (1912). The planned fourth volume on psychology was never written.
His writings relating more especially to Judaism include several pamphlets, among them "Die Kulturgeschichtliche Bedeutung des Sabbat," 1881; "Ein Bekenntniss in der Judenfrage," Berlin, 1880; as well as the following articles: "Das Problem der Jüdischen Sittenlehre," in the "Monatsschrift," xliii. (1899), pp. 385–400, 433–449; "Liebe und Gerechtigkeit in den Begriffen Gott und Mensch." in "Jahrbuch für Jüdische Geschichte und Litteratur," III. (1900), pp. 75–132; "Autonomie und Freiheit," in the "Gedenkbuch für David Kaufmann," 1900.
Cohen's most famous Jewish works include: Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums (Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism, 1919), Deutschtum und Judentum, Die Naechstenliebe im Talmud, and Die Ethik des Maimonides. His essay "Die Nächstenliebe im Talmud" was written at the request of the Marburg Königliches Landgericht (3d ed., Marburg, 1888). Cohen's Jewish writings are collected in his "Jüdische Schriften" (3 vols. ed. Bruno Strauss, Berlin 1924). There is an ongoing new academic edition of Cohen's works, edited by Helmut Holzhey, Hartwig Wiedebach u.a. (Olms, Hildesheim 1977 ff.) An English translation of some of his Jewish writings is available in Reason and Hope: Selections from the Jewish Writings of Hermann Cohen, translated by Eva Jospe, NY 1971.
Cohen was outspokenly opposed to Zionism and its aspiration to create a Jewish state and thus "return the Jews to History". In his view, Judaism was inherently a-historical, with a spiritual and moral mission far transcending the nationalist aims of Zionism.
Despite the above attitude to Zionism, Tel Aviv has a Hermann Cohen Street.
Cohen is buried at the Weißensee Cemetery in Berlin.
- "Die Platonische Ideenlehre Psychologisch Entwickelt," in "Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie," 1866, iv. 9 ("Platonic Ideal Theorie Psychologically Developed")
- "Mythologische Vorstellungen von Gott und Seele," ib. 1869 ("Mythological Concepts of God and the Soul")
- "Die dichterische Phantasie und der Mechanismus des Bewusstseins," ib. 1869 ("Poetic Fantasy and Mechanisms of Consciousness")
- "Zur Kontroverse zwischen Trendelenburg und Kuno Fischer," ib. 1871 ("On the controversy between Trendelenburg and Kuno Fischer")
- Kant's Theorie der Erfahrung, Berlin, 1871; 2d ed., 1885 ("Kant's Theory of Experience").
- [One central chapter of the 1885 edition is translated as 2015, "The Synthetic Principles," D. Hyder (trans.), in S. Luft (ed.), The Neo-Kantian Reader, Oxford: Routledge.]
- Kant's Begründung der Ethik, Berlin, 1877 ("Kant's Foundations of Ethics")
- "Platon's Ideenlehre und die Mathematik," Marburg, 1878 ("Mathematics and Theory of Platonic Ideals")
- Das Prinzip der Infinitesimalmethode und seine Geschichte: ein Kapitel zur Grundlegung der Erkenntnisskritik, Berlin, 1883 ("The Principle of the Method of Infintesmals and its History: A Chapter Contributed to Critical Perception") [A short selection is translated as 2015, "Introduction," D. Hyder and L. Patton (trans.), in S. Luft (ed.), The Neo-Kantian Reader, Oxford: Routledge.]
- "Von Kant's Einfluss auf die Deutsche Kultur," Berlin, 1883 ("On Kant's Influence on German Culture")
- Kant's Begründung der Aesthetik, Berlin, 1889 ("Kant's Foundations of Aesthetics")
- "Zur Orientierung in den Losen Blättern aus Kant's Nachlass," in "Philosophische Monatshefte," 1890, xx. ("An Orientation to the Loose Pages from Kant's Literary Estate")
- "Leopold Schmidt," in "Neue Jahrbücher für Philologie und Pädagogik," 1896, cliv.