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Clockwise from top left: Bergson, Dilthey, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

Lebensphilosophie (German: [ˈleːbm̩s.filozoˌfiː]; meaning 'philosophy of life') was a dominant philosophical movement of German-speaking countries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which had developed out of German Romanticism. Lebensphilosophie emphasised the meaning, value and purpose of life as the foremost focus of philosophy.[1]

Its central theme was that an understanding of life can only be apprehended by life itself, and from within itself. Drawing on the critiques of epistemology offered by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, notable ideas of the movement have been seen as precursors to both Husserlian phenomenology and Heideggerian existential phenomenology.[1] Lebensphilosophie criticised both mechanistic and materialist approaches to science and philosophy[1] and as such has also been referred to as the German vitalist movement,[2] though its relationship to biological vitalism is questionable. Vitality in this sense is instead understood as part of a biocentric distinction between life-affirming and life-denying principles.[3]


Inspired by the critique of rationalism in the works of Arthur Schopenhauer, Søren Kierkegaard, and Friedrich Nietzsche, Lebensphilosophie emerged in 19th-century Germany as a reaction to the rise of positivism and the theoretical focus prominent in much of post-Kantian philosophy.[1][4] While often rejected by academic philosophers, it had strong repercussions in the arts.[5]

The Lebensphilosophie movement bore indirect relation to the subjectivist philosophy of vitalism developed by Henri Bergson, which lent importance to immediacy of experience.[6]

Twentieth-century forms of Lebensphilosophie can be identified with a critical stress on norms and conventions. The Israeli-American historian Nitzan Lebovic identified Lebensphilosophie with the tight relation between a "corpus of life-concepts" and what the German education system came to see, during the 1920s, as the proper Lebenskunde, the 'teaching of life' or 'science of life'—a name that seemed to support the broader philosophical outlook long held by most biologists of the time. In his book Lebovic traces the transformation of the post-Nietzschean Lebensphilosophie from the radical aesthetics of the Stefan George Circle to Nazi or "biopolitical" rhetoric and politics.[7]

This philosophy pays special attention to life as a whole, which can only be understood from within. The movement can be regarded as a rejection of Kantian abstract philosophy or scientific reductionism of positivism.

List of notable theorists[edit]

See also[edit]

People indirectly associated with the Lebensphilosophie movement


  1. ^ a b c d Gaiger, Jason (1998). "Lebensphilosophie". In Craig, Edward (ed.). Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Routledge.
  2. ^
    • "Ludwig Klages". Encyclopædia Britannica. 19 March 2024. Klages was a leader in the German vitalist movement (1895–1915),
    • "Klages, Ludwig (1872–1956)". Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved September 26, 2020 – via Encyclopedia.com. Klages was the principal representative in psychology of the vitalist movement that swept Germany from 1895 to 1915.
  3. ^
    • Sprott, W. J. H. (1929). "Review: The Science of Character by Ludwig Klages; W. H. Johnson". Mind. New Series. 38 (152). Oxford University Press: 513–520. doi:10.1093/mind/XXXVIII.152.513. JSTOR 2250002.
    • Lebovic, Nitzan (2006). "The Beauty and Terror of Lebensphilosophie: Ludwig Klages, Walter Benjamin, and Alfred Baeumler". South Central Review. 23 (1). The Johns Hopkins University Press: 23–39. doi:10.1353/scr.2006.0009. S2CID 170637814.
  4. ^ a b Michael Friedman, A Parting of the Ways: Carnap, Cassirer, and Heidegger, Open Court, 2013.
  5. ^ Cf. Manos Perrakis (ed.), Life as an Aesthetic Idea of Music. Universal Edition, Vienna/London/New York, NY 2019 (Studien zur Wertungsforschung 61), ISBN 978-3-7024-7621-2.
  6. ^ Wolin, Richard. "Continental philosophy". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved April 24, 2011. In Germany the corresponding school [to vitalism], known as Lebensphilosophie ("philosophy of life"), began to take on aspects of a political ideology in the years immediately preceding World War I. The work of Hans Driesch and Ludwig Klages, for example, openly condemned the superficial intellectualism of Western civilization. In associating "reason" with the shortcomings of "civilization" and "the West", Lebensphilosophie spurred many German thinkers to reject intellection in favour of the irrational forces of blood and life. In the words of Herbert Schnädelbach, at this point "philosophy of life tendentiously abolished the traditional difference between nature and culture and thus facilitated the success of the general biologism in the theory of culture, which culminated in National Socialist racism."
  7. ^ Nitzan Lebovic, The Philosophy of Life and Death: Ludwig Klages and the Rise of a Nazi Biopolitics, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Academic journals