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Nicolai Hartmann

Nicolai Hartmann

German philosopher
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro German philosopher
A.K.A. Hartmann
Countries Germany
Occupations Philosopher University teacher Writer
Gender male
Birth 20 February 1882 (Riga)
Death 9 October 1950 (Göttingen)
Star sign Pisces
Education University of Tartu
The details

Nicolai Hartmann (German: [ˈhaɐ̯tman]; 20 February 1882 – 9 October 1950) was a Baltic German philosopher. He is regarded as a key representative of critical realism and as one of the most important twentieth century metaphysicians.


Hartmann was born of German descent in Riga, which was then the capital of the Governorate of Livonia in the Russian Empire, and which is now in Latvia. He was the son of the engineer Carl August Hartmann and his wife Helene, born Hackmann. He attended from 1897, the German-language high school in Saint Petersburg. In the years 1902–1903 he studied Medicine at the University of Tartu (then Jurjev), and 1903–1905 classical philology and philosophy at the Saint Petersburg Imperial University with his friend Vasily Sesemann. In 1905 he went to the University of Marburg, where he studied with the neo-Kantians Hermann Cohen and Paul Natorp. In Marburg began a lifelong friendship with Heinz Heimsoeth. In 1907 he received his doctorate with the thesis Das Seinsproblem in der griechischen Philosophie vor Plato (The Problem of Being in Greek Philosophy Before Plato). In 1909 he published the book Platos Logik des Seins (The Logic of Being in Plato). The same year he completed his habilitation on Proclus: Des Proklus Diadochus philosophische Anfangsgründe der Mathematik (Proclus Diadochus' Philosophical Elements of Mathematics).

In 1911, Hartmann married Alice Stepanitz, with whom he had a daughter, Dagmar, in 1912. In 1912 he published Die philosophischen Grundfragen der Biologie (The Philosophical Foundations of Biologie). From 1914 to 1918 he did military service as an interpreter, letter censor, and intelligence officer. In 1919, i.e., after the war, he received a position as Privatdozent in Marburg. Around this time he met Martin Heidegger. In 1920 he became Associate Professor (außerordentlicher Professor) and in 1921 appeared the work that established him as an independent philosophical thinker, Grundzüge einer Metaphysik der Erkenntnis (Foundation of a Metaphysics of Knowledge). The following year he became Full Professor (ordentlicher Professor) as successor of the Chair held by Natorp. In 1925, he moved to Cologne, where he came into contact with Max Scheler. In 1926 he published his second major work—Ethik—in which he develops a material value ethics akin to that of Scheler. The same year he divorced from his wife.

In 1929 Hartmann married Frida Rosenfeld, with whom he had a son, Olaf (1930), and a daughter, Lise (1932). In 1931 he became Professor of Theoretical Philosophy in Berlin. He held the Chair until 1945. During this time he successively published many pieces of his ontology: Das Problem des geistigen Seins (The Problem of Spiritual Being) (1933), Zur Grundlegung der Ontologie (On the Foundation of Ontology) (1935), Möglichkeit und Wirklichkeit (Possibility and Actuality) (1938) and Der Aufbau der realen Welt. Grundriß der allgemeinen Kategorienlehre (The Structure of the Real World. Outline of the General Theory of Categories) (1940). The unrest of the National Socialist period seems to have left Hartmann relatively undisturbed in his task of developing a new ontology. In the "SD-Dossiers über Philosophie-Professoren" (i.e. SD-files concerning philosophy professors) that were set up by the SS Security Service (SD) Nicolai Hartmann was classified from an SS-point of view in the following way: "has always been a nationalist. Loyal to National Socialism, too, without political activity, but a social attitude has to be acknowledged. (cf. donations to the NSV and hosting children during school vacations)".

In 1942, Hartmann edited a volume entitled Systematische Philosophie, in which he contributed the essay Neue Wege der Ontologie (New Ways of Ontology), which summarizes his work in ontology.

Between 1945 and 1950, Hartmann taught in Göttingen. He died of a stroke in 1950. In the year of his death, there appeared his Philosophie der Natur (Philosophy of Nature). His works Teleologisches Denken (Teleological Thinking) (1951) and Ästhetik (Aesthetics) (1953) were published posthumously.

He is regarded as an important representative of critical realism and as one of the major metaphysicians of the twentieth century. Among Hartmann's many students were Boris Pasternak, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Emil Cioran, Jakob Klein, Delfim Santos and Max Wehrli. He is the modern discoverer of emergence — originally called by him categorial novum. His encyclopedic work is basically forgotten today, although famous during his lifetime. His early work in the philosophy of biology has been cited in modern discussions of genomics and cloning, and his views on consciousness and free will are currently in vogue among contributors to the Journal of Consciousness Studies.

Ontological theory

In Hartmann's ontological theory, the levels of reality are: (1) the inorganic level (German: anorganische Schicht), (2) the organic level (organische Schicht), (3) the psychical/emotional level (seelische Schicht) and (4) the intellectual/cultural level (geistige Schicht). In the Structure of the Real World (Der Aufbau der realen Welt), Hartmann postulates four laws that apply to the levels of reality.

  1. The law of recurrence: Lower categories recur in the higher levels as a subaspect of higher categories, but never vice versa.
  2. The law of modification: The categorial elements modify in their recurrence in the higher levels (they are shaped by the characteristics of the higher levels).
  3. The law of the novum: The higher category is composed of a diversity of lower elements, but it is a specific novum that is not included in the lower levels.
  4. The law of distance between levels: Since the different levels do not develop continuously but in leaps, they can be clearly distinguished.


"The tragedy of man is that of somebody who is starving and sitting at a richly laden table but does not reach out with his hand, because he cannot see what is right in front of him. For the real world has inexhaustible splendour, the real life is full of meaning and abundance, where we grasp it, it is full of miracles and glory."


Works in German

  • 1909, Des Proklus Diadochus philosophische Anfangsgründe der Mathematik, Töpelmann, Gießen.
  • 1909, Platos Logik des Seins, Töpelmann, Gießen.
  • 1912, Philosophische Grundfragen der Biologie, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen.
  • 1921, Grundzüge einer Metaphysik der Erkenntnis, Vereinigung wissenschaftlichen. Verleger, Berlin.
  • 1923, Die Philosophie des deutschen Idealismus 1: Fichte, Schelling und die Romantik, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1926, Ethik, de Gruyter, Berlin-Leipzig.
  • 1929, Die Philosophie des deutschen Idealismus 2: Hegel, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1931, Zum Problem der Realitätsgegebenheit, Pan-Verlagsgesellschaft, Berlin.
  • 1933, Das Problem des geistigen Seins. Untersuchungen zur Grundlegung der Geschichtsphilosophie und der Geisteswissenschaften, de Gruyter, Berlin-Leipzig.
  • 1935, Ontologie, (4 Volumes) I: Zur Grundlegung der Ontologie, de Gruyter, Berlin-Leipzig.
  • 1938, II: Möglichkeit und Wirklichkeit, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1940, III: Der Aufbau der realen Welt: Grundriß d. allg. Kategorienlehre , de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1949, Einführung in die Philosophie, Luise Hanckel Verlag, Hannover.
  • 1950, IV: Philosophie der Natur : Abriss der speziellen Kategorienlehre, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1942, Systematische Philosophie, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart & Berlin.
  • 1943, Neue Wege der Ontologie, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart.
  • 1951, Teleologisches Denken, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1953, Asthetik, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1954, Philosophische Gespräche, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen.
  • 1955, Der philosophische Gedanke und seine Geschichte, Zeitlichkeit und Substantialität, Sinngebung und Sinnerfüllung, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1955, Kleinere Schriften ; *Bd. 1* Abhandlungen zur systematischen Philosophie, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1957, Kleinere Schriften ; *Bd. 2* Abhandlungen zur Philosophie-Geschichte, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1958, Kleinere Schriften ; *Bd. 3* Vom Neukantianismus zur Ontologie, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1924, Diesseits von Idealismus und Realismus : Ein Beitrag zur Scheidg d. Geschichtl. u. Übergeschichtl. in d. Kantischen Philosophie in: Sonderdrucke der Kantischen Studien, Pan Verlag R. Heise Berlin, pp. 160–206.
  • 1926, Aristoteles und Hegel, Beitrage zur Philosophie des Deutschen Idealismus, 3 (1923), pp. 1–36.
  • 1927, "Über die Stellung der ästhetischen Werte im Reich der Werte überhaupt", in Proceedings of the Sixth International Congress of Philosophy, Edgar Sheffield Brightman (ed.), New York: Longmans, Green, and Co, pp. 428–436.
  • 1933, Systematische Selbstdarstellung in: Deutsche systematische Philosophie nach ihren Gestaltern, Ebda, Berlin : Junker & Dünnhaupt, pp. 283–340.
  • 1935, Das Problem des Apriorismus in der Platonischen Philosophie in: Sitzungsberichte d. Preuss. Akad. d. Wiss. Phil.-hist. Kl. 1935, 15, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1936, Der philosophische Gedanke und seine Geschichte, in: Abhandlungen d. Preuss. Akad. d. Wissenschaften. Phil.-hist. Kl. 1936, Nr 5, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1937, Der megarische und der Aristotelische Möglichkeitsbegriff : Ein Beitr. zur Geschichte d. ontolog. Modalitätsproblems, in; Sitzungsberichte d. Preuss. Akad. d. Wiss. Phil.-hist. Kl. 1937, 10, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1938, Heinrich Maiers Beitrag zum Problem der Kategorien, in: Sitzungsberichte d. Preuss. Akad. d. Wiss. Phil.-hist. Kl. 1938, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1939, Aristoteles und das Problem des Begriffs, in: Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften : Philosophisch-historische Klasse ; Jg. 1939, Nr 5, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1941, “Zur Lehre vom Eidos bei Platon und Aristoteles”, in: Abhandlungen d. Preuss. Akad. d. Wiss. Phil.-hist. Kl. Jg. 1941, Nr 8, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1942, Neue Wege der Ontologie, in: Systematische Philosophie, N. Hartmann, editor, Stuttgart.
  • 1943, Die Anfänge des Schichtungsgedankens in der alten Philosophie, in: Abhandlungen der Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften : Philosophisch-historische Klasse ; Jg. 1943, Nr 3, de Gruyter, Berlin.
  • 1946, Leibniz als Metaphysiker, de Gruyter, Berlin.

Translations in English

  • Nicolai Hartmann, Ethics, London: George Allen & Unwin 1932. Reprinted with a new introduction by Andreas A. M. Kinneging - New Brunswick, Transaction Publishers, 2002-2004 in three volumes: I. Moral phenomena (2002); II. Moral values (2004); III. Moral freedom (2004).
  • Nicolai Hartmann, "German Philosophy in the Last Ten Years", translated by John Ladd, Mind: A Quarterly Review of Psychology and Philosophy, vol. 58, no. 232, 1949, pp. 413–433.
  • Nicolai Hartmann, New Ways of Ontology, Westport: Greenwood Press, 1952 (Reprinted with a new introduction by P. Cicovacki, Transaction Publishers, 2012).
  • Nicolai Hartmann, "How Is Critical Ontology Possible? Toward the Foundation of the General Theory of the Categories, Part One", translated from "Wie ist kritische Ontologie überhaupt möglich?" (1924) by Keith R. Peterson, Axiomathes, vol. 22, 2012, pp. 315-354.
  • Nicolai Hartmann, Possibility and Actuality. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2013 (Translation by Alex Scott and Stephanie Adair of Möglichkeit und Wirklichkeit, 1938).
  • Nicolai Hartmann, Aesthetics. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2014 (Translation by Eugene Kelly of Ästhetik, 1953).
  • Nicolai Hartmann, "The Megarian and the Aristotelian Concept of Possibility: A Contribution to the History of the Ontological Problem of Modality". Axiomathes, 2017 (Translation by Frederic Tremblay and Keith R. Peterson of "Der Megarische und der Aristotelische Möglichkeitsbegriff: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des ontologischen Modalitätsproblems", 1937).
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