Authors: Rudolf Christoph Eucken

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

German philosopher

Author Works


Die Methode der Aristotelischen Forschung, 1872

Geschichte und Kritik der Grundbegriffe der Gegenwart, 1878 (The Fundamental Concepts of Modern Philosophic Thought, 1880)

Die Lebensanschauungen der grossen Denker, 1890 (The Problem of Human Life as Viewed by the Great Thinkers from Plato to the Present Time, 1909)

Der Kampf um einen Geistigen Lebensinhalt, 1896

Der Wahrheitsgehalt der Religion, 1901 (The Truth of Religion, 1911)

Grundlinien einer neuen Lebensanschauung, 1907 (Life’s Basis and Life’s Ideal: The Fundamentals of a New Philosophy of Life, 1911)

Geistige Strömungen der Gegenwart, 1908 (Main Currents of Modern Thought, 1912)

Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens, 1908 (The Meaning and Value of Life, 1909)

Können wir noch Christen sein?, 1911 (Can We Still Be Christians?, 1914)

Ethics and Modern Thought: A Theory of Their Relations, 1913

Collected Essays of Rudolf Eucken, 1914

Der Sozialismus und seine Lebensgestaltung, 1920 (Socialism: An Analysis, 1921)

Lebenserinnerungen: Ein Stück deutschen Lebens, 1921 (Rudolph Eucken: His Life, Work, and Travels, 1921)

The Individual and Society, 1923


Born in the small German town of Aurich, Rudolf Christoph Eucken (OY-kuhn) suffered many serious illnesses during his early childhood. Ammo, his father, was a postal worker and a mathematician who passed away while Rudolf was very young. Rudolf’s mother, Ida Maria, a deeply religious and self-educated woman, took in lodgers to provide for her family. She committed herself to seeing that Rudolf received a good education.{$I[A]Eucken, Rudolf Christoph}{$I[geo]GERMANY;Eucken, Rudolf Christoph}{$I[tim]1846;Eucken, Rudolf Christoph}

Although his primary interests were in mathematics and music, Eucken was persuaded by Wilhelm Reuter, one of his teachers at the gymnasium at Aurich, to study religion and philosophy. At the University of Göttingen, Eucken chose to study classical philosophy and ancient history and attended many lectures presented by the German philosopher Rudolph Hermann Lotze. During a period of study at the University of Berlin, Eucken learned fundamental interconnections among philosophy, history, and religion under the tutelage of Aristotelian philosopher Adolf Trendelenburg.

After earning his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Göttingen in 1866, Eucken taught high school for five years and was appointed a professor of philosophy at the University of Basel, in Switzerland, in 1871. He was named as the chair of philosophy at the University of Jena in 1874 and continued to work there until 1920. In 1882 he married Irene Passow. They raised two sons, Arnold Thomas and Walter, and one daughter.

In his earlier writings, Eucken had explored the historical origins of the fundamental concepts of philosophy in his book The Fundamental Concepts of Modern Philosophic Thought. In his revision of that work, Main Currents of Modern Thought, Eucken connected the historical evolution of philosophy with his own philosophical ideas, which brought him wide acclaim from philosophers around the world.

During the 1890’s and beyond, Eucken’s writings no longer focused on the historical aspects of philosophy but stressed his own idealistic and religious philosophical ideas. He strongly criticized the concepts of naturalist philosophy and intellectual idealism. His writings and teachings concentrated on individuals reaching a higher spiritual level in life by governing their personal behavior with uplifting ethical standards on a daily basis. This philosophy became known as ethical activism. Eucken insisted that an individual is a combination of the natural and the spiritual and that the nonspiritual nature must be overcome by actively striving to become more spiritual through exercise of one’s will and intuition.

In recognition of his contributions to the search for fundamental truths in life and his numerous convincing writings that focused on an idealistic philosophy of life, Eucken was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1908. Although it came as a surprise to many that a philosopher would win that prize, it was justified on the basis that Eucken had made so many significant contributions through his writings to the development of philosophical thought. After receiving the Nobel Prize, Eucken became a popular international figure and was invited to lecture in many different countries. In 1911 he presented a series of lectures throughout England. He then spent six months during the latter part of 1912 and early 1913 as a visiting professor of philosophy at Harvard University. During World War I he became a strong advocate for Germany, arguing that his native country was not to blame for the hostilities of the war. Eucken died in 1926 in Jena.

During his career, Eucken revised many of his books numerous times to bring them up to date. Some had as many as twelve editions. A majority of his works were also translated into English. Although Eucken is not frequently referenced in modern philosophy books and writings, he had a significant influence on the development of philosophical thinking and the interpretation of human experience.

BibliographyBooth, Meyrick. Rudolf Eucken: His Philosophy and Influence. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1913. Contains an overview of Eucken’s life, focusing on his idealistic philosophy of life and his profound influence on other philosophers.Gibson, William Ralph Boyce. Rudolf Eucken’s Philosophy of Life. 2d ed. London: A. and C. Black, 1907. Documents the works of Eucken and his approach to the philosophy of life. Includes an appendix that discusses his philosophy, known as activism, as well as a list of his most important publications.Hermann, Emily. Eucken and Bergson: Their Significance for Christian Thought. Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1913. Explores the contributions of Eucken and Henri Bergson to idealistic, religious, ethical philosophical thinking and the impact of their thinking on Christian behavior.Jones, William Tudor. An Interpretation of Rudolf Eucken’s Philosophy. 3d ed. London: Williams and Norgate, 1912. Contains many valuable insights into the philosophical ideas of Eucken. Contains a complete list of his works.
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