Ludwig Noiré

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Ludwig Noiré (26 March 1829 in Alzey – 27 March 1889 in Mainz) was a German philosopher who proposed a language-critical philosophy with a monistic foundation. In his account, metaphysics and the Kantian critique of pure reason are replaced by scientific investigation that is psychological and linguistic in character. Noiré worked as a schoolteacher in Mainz and was highly influenced by the work of Schopenhauer, Darwin, Spinoza and Lazarus Geiger.


Noiré's work belongs to the anti-metaphysical tradition in 19th century German philosophy and he joined his contemporaries in invectives against speculative philosophy. Noiré sharply attacks "Hegelian verbiage", "empty scholastic phrases" (Die Welt, p. 176), "Baader-Schelling nonsense" (ibid., p. 467) and the "speculative swindle" committed with such terms as "pure being" and "the absolute" (ibid., p. 210). He believed speculative philosophy is void of content and that its proponents perform a "mystical eggdance" in their attempts to sell their views as a keystone of wisdom (Einleitung, p. 1). For Noiré, Hegel's dialectics are full of absurdities and produce results that would be worthy of a madhouse. Noiré lashes out against "Die leeren Hirngespinste der Hegelischen Aberweisheit (the empty and sick illusions of Hegelian pseudo-wisdom), provoked by the presumptuous and oracular tone of the Hegel-Schelling period (Der Monistiche Bedänke, p.318). Noiré contrasted the progress of the sciences with the failure of speculative philosophy and believed science had made the right decision in leaving a priori forms of knowledge derived from concepts behind.

Noiré was not simply a language-critical philosopher but also an unabashed proponent of monism for whom the Will had absolute priority. This is particularly evident in his earlier work, Die Welt, which is subtitled Bausteine zu einer Monisticher Weltanschauung (Elements of a Monistic Worldview). His psychological account of the process character of consciousness and of world apprehension and its different stages need to be elaborated with regard to Will-guided, community-oriented action (Der Monistische Gedänke p. XI). Noiré states in his theory of noogony that reason and language are interdependent, even identical but they can only be explained with reference to the Will as their ultimate condition. Language and concepts originate from an action of the Will known as predication (Logos, p.159). Noiré deals with the problem of how predication began as a process he appeals to the Will as providing "the drive and occasion for predication" (Logos, p. 160). Noiré finds that the mutual influence of thought and language, the synchronic origin of thoughts and words, is manifested in propositions (Aussagen). The primeval germ of any proposition is causality as the only function of thought. According to Noiré, this causality is based in the unity of the Will and more precisely in the unity of the Will within a community. It is the ultimate condition of all events and all remembering (Logos, p. 160).

Noiré sought to extirpate metaphysical elements from Schopenhauer's account of the Will in order to save Schopenhauer from himself. In doing so he hoped to make Schopenhauer palatable to analytic philosophy and to represent him as an important link between Kant and monism. In giving the Will "priority over thought and language", he describes the Will not as a metaphysical substance but in the Kantian sense as a transcendental function that allows for the possibility of language. Noiré declares Wille und Vortellung (Will and Representation) to be identical (Logos, p. 52; 69) and asserts they are Uranlage unserer Verkunft (a primordial or original tendency of our reason) (Logos, p. 84). He does this to solve the problem of circularity that arises in an identity theory of language but does not elaborate on how to deal with the transcendental basis of the Will. This is somewhat at odds with his other views particularly as Noiré includes Schopenhauer's notion of the Will in his list of speculative swindles "the hypostatization of the Will, the elevation of this abstraction to a thing-in-itself has misled Schopenhauer's profound thinking to form a new scholastic concept" (Der Monastische Gedänke, p. XVIII). While he dismisses the Will in Schopenhauer's theory as metaphysical, Noiré flatly declares that the will in his own theory is not (Der Monistische Gedänke, p. XVII-XIX). Noiré's rejection of metaphysics and German idealism does not stop him from making questionable statements about the Will, which he calls "the root of actuality" and the real and hidden actor behind the scene (Logos, p. 42). It is not clear whether Noiré was aware of how vital the clash between the two doctrines actually was or whether he thought it was possible to hold a monistic position free of all metaphysical commitments. Reconciling the opposing views was a cornerstone of Noiré's work and he predicted that the transcendentalism of Schopenhauer and the empiricism of Darwin would be combined into one monistic philosophy of the future. As Cloeren (1988) suggests it may have been that Noiré did not anticipate the difficulties in adopting a monistic approach but it remains an inexcusable error on his part. This position is difficult to reconcile with his commitment to the analytic approach and it appears that despite his best intentions, he retained some metaphysical elements in his views. His work was vehemently critiqued by the skeptic Fritz Mauthner who dismissed him as "wörterglaubig" or subsumed in verbal superstition.

Noiré argues that the fundamental error in speculative philosophy is the method, which begins with words and concepts, taking them as static without investigating how they were acquired. He relies on his theory of the Will to develop a theory of the origin of concepts. He claims that concepts are all abstract and general but are in a constant process of flux and of merely "quantitative character" allowing individuals to gather the fruits of earlier thoughts and perceptions (Logos, p. 162). Noiré is thus avowedly empiricist in his psychological approach to philosophy and is following in the tradition of Locke, Berkeley and Hume in suggesting a reductive analysis to get to the meaning of terms. Noiré was aware of earlier contributions to language-critical thought and presents his own ideas in relation to those of John Locke, Johann Gottfried Herder and Wilhelm von Humboldt. He combines Locke and Hume's efforts to analyse concepts historically into irreducible elements with his own efforts to arrive at the very source of all concept formation in the monistic Will, invoking Kantian transcendental thought by suggesting that "concepts are always products and integrating parts of each worldview" (Logos, p. 173). Noiré's work also lies in the tradition of German idealist philosophers such as Fichte and Karl Leonhard Reinhold who sought to complete the Kantian project by finding a common ground for the cognitive powers of sensibility and understanding. For Noiré, the Will is this transcendental ground - "the ultimate root, the polar separation between sensation and active motion, which by fantasy and faculty of representation is balanced in the ideal forms of time and space" (Logos, p. 340)

In order to carry out proper psycholinguistic investigation, Noiré asks that future philosophy should be linguistic philosophy (Logos, p. 221). Language is crucial to understanding for Noiré who describes it as "the mirror of our reality" (Der Monistische Gedänke, p. 359). He is adamant that "man thinks because he speaks, not vice versa; he does not speak because he thinks" (Der Ursprung der Sprache, 1877). Noiré looked at the correlation between speech and language and arrives at their identity: "Thought and speech are one" (Der Monistiche Gedanke, p. 354). With this in mind, he goes on to reject "the widespread error of the independence of thought from language" (Logos, p. 82). He developed a theory around the origin of concepts out of opposition or Gegensatz which has parallels with the work of Hegel and Marx on contradiction although Noiré never acknowledged the common ground between them. His theory involves recognition that terms in dichotomies such as 'rich/poor' do not have meaning in any absolute sense but only in relation to one another. Thus each object becomes intelligible only through its opposite and originates out of it and with it simultaneously (Logos, p. 303). Concept-formation occurs in the act of predication and is made possible through a two-fold abstraction. This happens through negation, "the mighty process of reason" (Logos, p. 315) and in its most basic form opposition is logically speaking simply negation (Logos, p. 308). For example, in the power of perception to single out its objects we find logical negation at work. Sensitivity as the power of intuition (Anschauungsvermögen) singles out objects in their opposition to everything else in a kind of abstraction. These objects or units of perception are then combined to yield class or genus concepts. This is an act of abstracting a formal schema from individual characteristics where mental concepts are opposed to sense data and physical objects. To realise the processes that lead to concept formation shows the essential relativity of concepts and words and Noiré rules out any absolute language and stresses instead "the relativity of all cognition" (Logos, p. 325; 338). Opposition and negation can only be arrived at through comparison and comparison is only possible through difference and identity (Logos, p. 313). For Noiré, the Will is the basis of comparison and the ultimate dynamic principle - "All force is Will" (Logos, p. 287). Noiré looks at the role of opposition and the function of negation for the origin of concepts such as religion and humanity.

Building on his idea that nous and logos are highly related concepts (Max Muller, p. 81), Noiré also points out the interdependence of language, reason and ethics affirming "without ethics, no language and reason; without language and reason, no ethics" (Logos, p. 311) and "without cult, no culture; without religion, no humanity" (Logos, p. 310).


Max Müller (1887) dedicated his Science of Thought to Noiré and borrowed examples from his work Logos which was published two years before Müller's work. Noiré shows great respect for Müller in Die Welt (p. 246) where he said the modern philosophy of language received new and powerful impulses from his work. Cloeren (1988) suggested that the collaborative nature of German language-critical philosophy may have meant Noiré's contribution to Müller's (1890) highly influential Lectures on the Science of Language went unacknowleged as the intellectual climate of the time favored teamwork over questions around authorship and originality. James White (1998) also acknowledged the intellectual debt of the Russian philosopher Alexander Bogdanov's work on tectology to the ideas of Noiré. His work expounded in Tectology: Universal Organization Science is regarded as a precursor of cybernetics and drew on the ideas of Noiré who in the 1870s also attempted to construct a monistic system using the principle of conservation of energy as one of its structural elements.


  • Die Welt als Entwicklung des Geistes, 1874
  • Grundlagen einer zeitgemäßen Philosophie, 1875
  • Der monistische Gedanke. Eine Konkordanz der Philosophie Schopenhauers, Darwins, Robert Mayers und Lazarus Geigers, 1875
  • Die Doppelnatur der Kausalität, 1876
  • Einleitung und Begründung einer monistischen Erkenntnistheorie, 1877
  • Aphorismen zur monistischen Philosophie, 1877
  • Der Ursprung der Sprache, 1877
  • Das Werkzeug und seine Bedeutung für die Entwicklungsgeschichte der Menschheit, 1880
  • Die Lehre Kants und der Ursprung der Vernunft, 1882
  • Logos, Ursprung und Wesen der Begriffe, 1885 (translated as The origin and philosophy of language, 1917)
  • Max Müller & the philosophy of language, (1879), London: Longmans, Green, & co.
  • A sketch of the development of philosophic thought from Thales to Kant (1900) originally an introduction to Max Müller's translation of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (Macmillan, 1881)


  • Bogdanov, A. (1922). Tektologiya: Vseobschaya Organizatsionnaya Nauka. Berlin and Petrograd-Moscow.
  • Cloeren, H.J. (1988). Language and Thought: German Approaches to Analytic Philosophy in the 18th and 19th centuries. Walter de Gruyter.
  • Müller, F.M. (1890). Three lectures on the science of language and its place in general education. Open Court Publishing Company.
  • Müller, F.M. (1887). The Science of Thought. New York: Schribner.
  • White, J. (1998). Sources and precursors of Bogdanov's tectology. (pp. 79–91). In John Biggart, Peter Dudley and Francis King (Eds.) Alexander Bogdanov and the Origin of Systems Thinking in Russia. Aldershot: Ashgate.