Eugen Dühring

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Prof. Dr. phil. Eugen Dühring

Eugen Karl Dühring (b. 12 January 1833 in Berlin; d. 21 September 1921 in Nowawes near Potsdam) was a German philosopher, writer, and a leading supporter of positivism, the philosophical view that positive knowledge is gained through observation of natural phenomena. He was also a socialist and German nationalist who increasingly vehemently criticized various targets, such as Marxism, religion, mysticism, Judaism, cosmopolitans, universities, the Bismarck state, militarism, and social Darwinism.


Dühring was born in January 1833 in Berlin, Province of Brandenburg, German Confederation. After a legal education he practised at Berlin as a lawyer until 1859. A weakness of the eyes, ending in total blindness, occasioned his taking up the studies with which his name is now connected. In 1864 he became docent of the university of Berlin, but, in consequence of a quarrel with the professoriate, was deprived of his licence to teach in 1874.

Among his works are Kapital und Arbeit (1865); Der Wert des Lebens (1865); Naturliche Dialektik (1865); Kritische Geschichte der Philosophie (1869); Kritische Geschichte der allgemeinen Principien der Mechanik (1872), one of his most successful works; Kursus der National und Sozialokonomie (1873); Kursus der Philosophie (1875), entitled in a later edition Wirklichkeitsphilosophie; Logik und Wissenschaftstheorie (1878); and Der Ersatz der Religion durch Vollkommeneres (1883).

He published his autobiography in 1882 under the title Sache, Leben und Feinde; the mention of Feinde (enemies) is characteristic. Dühring's philosophy claims to be emphatically the philosophy of reality. He is passionate in his denunciation of everything which, like mysticism, tries to veil reality. He is almost Lucretian in his anger against religion which would withdraw the secret of the universe from our direct gaze. His substitute for religion is a doctrine in many points akin to Comte and Feuerbach, the former of whom he resembles in his sentimentalism.

Dühring's economic views are said to derive largely from those of Friedrich List. On other matters – particularly their attitude to Jews – the two men held very different opinions.

Dühring's opinions changed considerably after his first appearance as a writer. His earlier work, Naturliche Dialektik, in form and matter not the worst of his writings, is entirely in the spirit of Critical Philosophy. Later, in his movement towards Positivism, he strongly repudiates Immanuel Kant's separation of phenomenon from noumenon, and affirms that our intellect is capable of grasping the whole reality. This adequacy of thought to things is due to the fact that the universe contains but one reality, i.e. matter. It is to matter that we must look for the explanation both of conscious and of physical states. But matter is not, in his system, to be understood with the common meaning, but with a deeper sense as the substratum of all conscious and physical existence; and thus the laws of being are identified with the laws of thought. In this idealistic system Dühring finds room for teleology; the end of Nature, he holds, is the production of a race of conscious beings. From his belief in teleology he is not deterred by the enigma of pain; he is a determined optimist. Pain exists to throw pleasure into conscious relief.

In ethics Dühring follows Comte in making sympathy the foundation of morality. In political philosophy he teaches an ethical communism, and attacks the Darwinian principle of struggle for existence. In economics he is best known by his vindication of the American writer H. C. Carey, who attracts him both by his theory of value, which suggests an ultimate harmony of the interests of capitalist and labourer, and also by his doctrine of national political economy, which advocates protection on the ground that the morals and culture of a people are promoted by having its whole system of industry complete within its own borders. His patriotism is fervent, but narrow and exclusive. He idolized Frederick the Great, and denounced Jews, Greeks, and the cosmopolitan Goethe.

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