From Völkerpsychologie to Cultural Anthropology: Erich Rothacker’s Philosophy of Culture

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Erich Rothacker (1888–1965) was a key figure in early-twentieth-century philosophy in Germany. In this paper, I examine the development of Rothacker’s philosophy of culture from 1907 to 1945. Rothacker began his philosophical career with a völkerpsychological dissertation on history, outlining his early biologistic conception of culture (1907–1913). In his mid-career work, he then turned to Wilhelm Dilthey’s (1833–1911) Lebensphilosophie (philosophy of life), advancing a hermeneutic approach to culture (1919–1928). In his later work (1929–1945), Rothacker developed a cultural anthropology. I shall argue that Rothacker’s later theory of culture retained key motifs of his earlier works. In this way, I trace central aspects of Rothacker’s reception of both Völkerpsychologie and Lebensphilosophie. The paper focuses on two aspects of Rothacker’s philosophical development that deserve more attention than they have received to date: his reception of Völkerpsychologie and the political character of his theories of culture. Rothacker’s theoretical work was closely connected to his political conservatism, which culminated in his engagement with National Socialism. The paper unearths problematic aspects of the legacy of Völkerpsychologie and Lebensphilosophie in early twentieth-century German thought.
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First archival date: 2019-07-09
Latest version: 2 (2020-10-19)
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