Hermann Cohen
Born4 July 1842[1]
Died4 April 1918(1918-04-04) (aged 75)
EducationJewish Theological Seminary of Breslau
University of Breslau
University of Berlin
University of Halle
Era19th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolNeo-Kantianism (Marburg School)
InstitutionsUniversity of Marburg
ThesisDie Systematischen Begriffe in Kants Vorkritischen Schriften Nach Ihrem Verhältniss Zum Kritischen Idealismus (The Systematic Terms in Kant's Pre-critical Writings According to Their Relationship to Critical Idealism) (1873)
Doctoral studentsPaul Natorp[2]
Other notable studentsErnst Cassirer
Nicolai Hartmann
Franz Rosenzweig
Main interests
Lithograph by Karl Doerbecker
Lithograph by Karl Doerbecker

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".[3]


Cohen was born in Coswig, Anhalt. He began to study philosophy early on, and soon became known as a profound Kant scholar. 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), and edited and wrote several versions of a long introduction and critical supplement to Lange's Geschichte des Materialismus.[4]

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 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.

Cohen's writings relating more especially to Judaism include several pamphlets, among them "Die Kulturgeschichtliche Bedeutung des Sabbat" (1881) and "Ein Bekenntniss in der Judenfrage" (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; and "Autonomie und Freiheit" in Gedenkbuch für David Kaufmann (1900).[5]

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),[6] 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 (1971).

Cohen was outspoken in his opposition 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 in the Weißensee Cemetery in Berlin.


English translations are indented.


  1. ^ Poma, A. (2007). Hermann Cohen: Judaism and Critical Idealism. In M. Morgan & P. Gordon (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Modern Jewish Philosophy (Cambridge Companions to Religion, pp. 80–101). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CCOL0521813123.005
  2. ^ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy "Hermann Cohen"
  3. ^ Jewish Virtual Library, Hermann Cohen
  4. ^ Second enlarged edition based on the 7th edition of the original, 1902, vol. I.
  5. ^ https://philpapers.org/archive/PATHCH.pdf
  6. ^ Metzler Philosophical Lexikon, article on Hermann Cohen

Further reading