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Philosophy of Education

Natorp on Social Education: A Paideia for all Ages

Judy D. Saltzman
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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ABSTRACT: In Man and his Circumstances: Ortega as Educator, Robert McClintock says that American educators have forgotten about the influence of Natorp. This essay proposes to discuss Natorp's Platonic and Neo-Kantian view of the human being and of knowledge as a foundation to all education. It will examine the influence of Friedrich Schleiermacher, the distinguished German philosopher, and of the great Swiss educator, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, on Natorp's ideas. In Natorp's view of Socialpadagogik (Social Education), it is not possible to have any positive social or political change without great alterations in educational philosophy. The work of the American educator, Robert Hutchins, will be discussed and defended as an exemplary attempt in the practice of higher education of these ideals. Although Hutchin's programs were adapted for only a short time by the University of Chicago and by a few small liberal arts colleges, his influence, as well as that of American disciples of Natorp and Pestalozzi, still has lasting value, since it is based on the idea that we are all souls in development.

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Paul Natorp's several important works on the philosophy of education, such as Pestalozzi: Sein Leben und seine Ideen, (1) are grounded in his Neo-Kantian epistemology. The post 1900 Natorp expanded his theory of knowledge from the purely Neo-Kantian idea that the Ding an Sich and the noumenal world were not only unknowable but also could not even be posited as existing. He expanded it to include the idea that the Ding an Sich is the "X" at the borders of the known which always moves into the unknown. As Natorp puts it in his own words, "Erkenntnis ist nicht stillstand, sondern ewiger Fortgang." (2) (Knowlege is not standing still, but is eternal movement.) Our experience builds on itself. Each individual must be treated as a living soul constantly building on experience in life (Erlebnis). Science is not the only criterion for knowledge, but the philosophical examination of the growth or degradation of the soul becomes the standard. In this sense, Natorp is a Neo-Platonist, because he does not see limits to the possibilities of the soul. However, he never actually speaks of metempsychosis. This idea is noumenal.

Finally, Natorp's view of religion is essential here. Religion is also not knowledge, but it is a repository of the rules of moral behavior which should, nevertheless, be determined by reason. Religion, in its darker nature, is simply dangerous dogma, sectarianism and intolerance. In its liberal, higher nature, it is the devotion (piety) which inspires human beings toward loftier levels of knowledge and more noble moral behavior. Natorp's ethics and social philosophy which are a combination of Kant, Cohen and Plato, serve then as the intellectual foundation for his educational theory, a theory he thought had been practiced only by Pestalozzi in his day. In Deutsche Philosophie des XX Jahrhundert, Hans Leisegang wrote of the juxtaposition of Kant's, Plato's and Cohen's ideas in Natorp:

From Kant and Cohen stems Natorp's foundation of ethics upon the pure will. This pure will is solely determined by reason. From Plato's Republic, however, he takes the idea of an organically constructed humansociety, and that is one of the romantic ideas Cohen so detested. Plato thinks of the state as an organism, as "man writ large", whose action is determined from within by his soul. Just as the soul is divided into desire of feeling (Gefuhl), courage Wille), and reason (Denken), so also the state ought to be divided into three classes: the Workers, Guardians and Wise Men. It is justice which is bringing forth the harmony of the parts of the soul of men, the same as among the members of the state. Kant's pure moral will is divided by Natorp, according to Plato's three parts of the soul: into the natural drive whose virtue is the striving toward purity and moderation; into the real or proper will, which is associated with valor; and into the reasoned will, which is directed toward truth. Resulting are the three functions in the state; the economical activity, the governing activity and the educative activity; which run together in the final goal of human education, the universal development of humanity in uninterrupted harmony of its fundamental powers. (3)

It is clear that Natorp reads Plato allegorically, rather than literally. Rather than founding a state in which the individuals serve as parts, Natorp's Platonism speaks of a state in service of the individual, but not separate from other individuals. For Natorp, the Sumum Bonum is that the entire organism of the state is geared toward the spiritual life and the complete educational development of each person in it. The person, after being educated, will want to serve the state as his/her community. All education is therefore social education (Sozialpadagogik). Natorp's "ich" is always a "Geimein-ich" or " moi commune," in the manner of Rousseau. In Allgemeine Psychologie, Natorp makes it clear that it is impossible to develop as an ego without interdependence on others. This idea of interdependence is not simply psychological or social, but ontological in basis:

This concept of community is not perhaps merely ethical, and therefore deducibly of special significance for the psychology of the will, but it also extends itself exactly in the same sense to the area of conscious Being. Time and space, the basic original forms of conscious Being, are forming a bridge everywhere between consciousness and and consciousness (and simultaneously toward coexistence and succession, succession as well as progression); we therefore enter society by means of "education" which is education in the sense of upward development of imagination as well as that of the will, an education which is clearly, even almost more clearly, stretching backward to the remotest generations, as well as forward to a future yet to be established, that of coming generations. This is true even in the artistic life, where individuality raises itself to thehighest value. But, on ther other hand, this value is only ideal; it never abandons the ground of community; cannot give it up, nor really should at all. By comparison, individuality in knowledge seems to be of least importance. This is why here it is particularly evident that the individiualization is indeed secondary. The commonly-shared, the Heraclitian Zynon, is essentially fundamental. (4)

Going back to Heraclitus as well as to Plato, Natorp conceives of a philosophically sound Sozialpadagogik based on the idea that no soul is actively separate form any other soul. Also, Natorp's ontology of the community and world view goes beyond the Platonic idea of the state, however divinely it reflects the Agathon. Religious feelings or the human relation to the Infinite must be included in the ontology, and for this inclusion he turns to Schleiermacher:

First of all, like Plato and clearly reminiscent of him, Schleiermacher

places education in an especially close relationship to the state. Pedagogy and political science subordinate themselves to ethics equally and in exactly reciprocal relationship. Together they refer essentially to the concretization of the moral norms in its two aspects: the individual and the social, and must reciprocally interlock all the more completely. However, for Schleiermacher, the social relationship is not altogether exhausted in the state, as it is for Plato, in essence. Before it and above it, there is the family which, in Plato, had been completely consecrated to the state. The community of science by no means should merge into the community of the state, but, in the end, stand above it (as it does finally in Plato, too). The community of language, of sociability, of art, and, lastly of religion, cannot and ought not disappear into the community of the state. All of this he conceives (so far, completely in the direction of Plato), according to their social function. But,going definitely beyond Plato, he views them not merely as functions of the state, but according to their independent characteristics as closely related to the life of the state, yet always remaining independent of it. In this manifold understanding of the community lies perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of Schleiermacher's ethics and therefore of his pedagogy. (5)

Natorp insists that Schleiermacher must stand at the forefront of those who would develop an educational theory and practice free from sectarianism and intolerance, and based on the unlimited potential of the soul. He certainly incorporated Schleiermacher's deep Germanic love for the family, as well as his liberal view of religion. Natorp insists that "among those who seriously focused on the task of establishing a national education on the basis of a deepened philosophy of man and especially of his historical knowledge, Schleiermacher stands in the forefront." (6) Natorp also derives from Schleiermacher the idea that Gefuhl (Feeling) is Wurzel (origin or source) of religion. In this case, feeling is not ordinary emotion, but a deep intuition of the Eternal. However, being a Neo-Kantian, Natorp never states that he believes a God or the Eternal is actually there outside humanity. Nevertheless, religion, in its most profound nature, can take us each to the borders of the One or God. For Natorp, as it was for Schleiermacher and also for Fichte, this philosophical view of religion is the foundation for human culture and education. Schleiermacher's basic insight is that every individual is born with a deep feeling for the Infinite. This intuitive insight is evoked by the granduer and harmony of the universe and the goodness of nature itself. This feeling, in turn, invokes piety or devotion. Since all finite things exist in and through the Infinite, the study of the world of nature and its many manifestations should be undertaken with reverence and adoration.This contemplative view of religion, recognizes that there is nothing permanently "dead" in this world. All knowledge, scientific and otherwise, is a contemplation of the manifestations of the Infinite. For this reason, to stamp out a human's innate religious capacity by sectarian dogma or atheistic intolerance, is to crush the potential for real growth. Schleiermacher's insight is that man must not be cut off from his Primal Source: the Infinite. (7)

Although Natorp is more Kantian than Schleiermacherian regarding the belief in a transcendent God, Natorp accepts totally the idea of religion as a "feeling for the Infinite" in his work, Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der Humanitat. (8) (Religion within the Borders of Humanity). This feeling or intuition has profound implications for education. If every educator begins with the view that each soul is a manifestation of the Infinite and capable of unlimited growth in its own way and capacity, the implications are that the soul cannot be seen as simply limited by a past genetic code or original sin. (9) One of the first to practice this more liberal view of religion and progress of the soul was Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi.

Natorp wrote about Pestalozzi as the practical educator who understood Plato and Kant without ever really having read them. From Plato, there was the idea of the ever progressing soul, not separate from the Infinite, and from Kant the idea that the main contribution of religion is its moral teaching. Although, in the Platonic sense, the soul may be in service to the State, Natorp and Pestalozzi take this to mean that the State is the community (Gemeinschaft) from which the soul is not separate. Paradoxically then, the soul's service to the community results in the community's service to the soul. Not being separate, they grow together. The history of the human race is a macrocosmic development of each person as a microcosm. Real social and economic changes will come about only after inner spiritual changes happen. These might begin with a family that teaches Kantian moral norms along with brotherhood and tolerance. One might be fortunate to be born into such a family, but, if not, the Platonic teaching that one must seek the Guardians to bring him/her up, is invoked. In Natorp's view, the Sumum Bonum, the highet religious and social ideal must be kept in the mind of the educator whether in basic mathematics, computer science or literature. Natorp wrote of Sozialpadagogik:

The fulfillment of this demand, that is, the introduction of the idea into the reality of human existence, is the theme of higher pedagogic. I name it social pedagogic in order to differentiate it from the other one which simply sees the education of the individual, be it in abstraction or under a given social order which is thought to be unalterable . . . It (Sozialpadagogik) must research the social conditions of education and the educational conditions of social life, namely under the corrected presupposition that the social form is alterable, that it is subject to development. (10)

For Natorp, the social form is alterable from within, but the educational ideal, rather like the Form of the Agathon (The Good), is unalterable. Natorp, however, is not limiting his educational ideal to the Platonic theory of classes, but instead frequently refers to Pestalozzi's experience that common people, workers, have an innate sense of moralty and human dignity. In other words each of us who can develop his/her rational and higher capacity can be a Philosopher King. However, what is important is that this not be taken literally as of class distinction, but allegorically. Leisegang explains it well:

In the community, philosopher should not be kings, but philosophy as the inner concept of spiritual creation should be Queen. that is the spirit in which Natorp's pedagogic is formulated and from this directly arises his ethics. (11)

For the educator on this level, there is no individual ethic which is not a social ethic, and no social ethic which does not apply to the individual. Kant's Categorical Imperative is here invoked, along with the Gemein-ich. But central to Pestalozzi's vocational activity as a school master/educator was the idea of the Brotherhood of Humanity, for Sozialpadagogik insists that the spirit must not be torn from the work, or the theory from the practice.

This spirit of the work which can be found in Natorp and Pestalozzi must also not be separated from the Platonic idea of the soul. Attempts to educate the so-called "whole person" were tried by the great American educator, Robert Hutchins (1899-1977). Hutchins was not only a Platonist, but also one can see theories reminsicent of Pestalozzianism in his educational ideals and practice. Like Natorp and unlike Pestalozzi who was concerned principally with the very young, Hutchins was primarily concerned with the metaphysical and moral basis of higher education. Like these great European predecessors, Hutchins clearly states that an understanding of the nature of humanity is vital to this pursuit:

Now wisdom and goodness are the aim of higher education. How can it be otherwise? Wisdom and goodness are the end of human life. It you dispute this, you are at once entering upon a metaphysical controversy, for you are disputing about the nature of being and the nature of man . . . . At the basis of education, as at the base of every human activity, lies metaphysics. (12)

Hutchins then proceeds to tear into Frederick May Elliot, the then President of Harvard University who, in his view, had sold out to the idea that one subject was as good as another, and replaced the great classics with triviliaty, mediocrity and vocationalism. (13) Hutchin's idea, which was identical to Natorp's, was that the aim of higher and of all education was to improve the society. Just as in Plato's Republic, each of us ia part of the greater whole or a microcosm to the macrocosm.

In his educational philosophy Robert Hutchins also did not feel that because most people were not capable of grasping the great books of the Western or Asian world that we should now eliminate them in the name of democracy. (14) This action would be misuse of the idea of democracy. What Robert Hutchins indeed wanted was higher education for everyone, but also he realized that not everyone is ready for it at 17 or 18. Some may be interested at 30,40,60 or never. However, Hutchin's "utopia" is a "Learning Society" of lifelong education to be a reliable citizen in a democracy. Nor did he object to vocational education. He objected to university graduates who had never heard of Joshua or of Thucydides. Hutchins was concerned that American educational philosophy resulted in bad education for everyone when they were not ready for it rather than good education for all when they really wanted it. The result, Hutchins feared, has been the watering down of textbooks, eliminating the "too hard" primary sources for seconary and tertiary explanations. The insistence on "painless education," an exaggerated extension of John Dewey's philosophy has eliminated the struggle to read "hard books," and the enormous benefit derived from the "suffering." This attitude is certainly evident in my own higher education teaching experience at a polytechnic university. A student once asked me, "Why do we have to know who Kepler is?" It was clear that only a pragmatic answer would satisfy her lack of real questioning.

For Robert Hutchins, a higher education advocate, the chief method was dialogue and dialectic. Students read the material first, than disucssion began when a student posed a question. (15) Hutchin's Socratic method could best be implemented with students who had their elementary education in the Pestalozzian mode. His method was apperception: recognition and understanding, rather than rote memorizatrion and reciting. Hutchins had the Platonic realization that no student was ready for higher dialectic without being taught the basics in such a way that the mind could be opened. This opening of the mind to greater horizons was the aim of the American disciples of Pestalozzi, such as Joseph Neef, Amos Bronson Alcott, and Robert Owen. Among these Bronson Alcott made some definitive statements regarding the Platonic view of the soul, (16) as did Johann Gottlieb Fichte who was the first to introduce Pestalozzi's ideas to a wider audience in his Address to the German Nation. (17) Natorp was influenced by Fichte, For him, the idea of Sozialpadagogic, could only mean the lighting of the fire of the inner potential of the soul. Hutchins, the more pragmatic, was interested in the practical effects of Plato's metaphysics of the soul, rather than literally advocating the idea. However, Natorp and his American heirs agree with Pestalozzi that soul education is the supplementation of the natural course of human development in regard to the laws of our being. (18)

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(1) Paul Natorp, Pestalozzi: Sein Leben und seine Ideen, (Leipzig: In Teubner's Sammlung, Aus Natur und Geisteswelt, 1909). This work is a fine encapsulation of his earlier exhaustive study, Johann Heirich Pestalozzi, Volumes 1,II &III, written in 1905. Pestalozzi's dates: 1746-1827.

(2) Paul Natorp, "Kant und die Marburger Schule," Kantstudien, Vol. XVII, (Berlin: Verlag von Reuther und Reichard, 1912), p. 207. Natorp's dates: 1854-1924.

(3) Hans Leisegang, Deutsche Philosophie des XX Jahrhundert, (Breslau: Ferdinand Hirt, 1928), pp.41-42.

(4) Paul Natorp, Allgemeine Psychologie nach kritischer Methode, (Amsterdam: E.J. Bonset, 1965, p.246. The first edition was published by in Tubingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul siebeck), 1912. (Xynon is the older form of Koinos or common).

(5) Paul Natorp, "Schleiermacher und die Volkerziehung," in Scheiermacher: Philosoph des Glaubens, (Berlin: Verlag der Hilfe, 1910, edited by Friedrich Naumann, p. 63.

(6) Ibid., p. 83-84.

(7) Friederich Schleiermacher, On Religion: A Speech to its Cultured Despisers, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1958), Tr. by John Oman with an Introduction by Rudolf Otto, Pp. 125-26. The first edition was in 1799. Man is born with the religious capacity as with every other. If only his sense for the profoundest depths of his own nature is not crushed out, if only all fellowship between himself and the Primal Source is not quite shut off, religion would, after his own fashion, infallibly be developed, but in our time, alas! that is exactly what, in every large measure, does happen. With pain I see daily how the rage for calculating and explaining suppress the sense. I see how all things unite to bind man to the finite, that the Infinite may as far as possible vanish from his eyes.

(8) Paul Natorp, Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der Humanitat, Tubingen: Verlag von J.B.C. Mohr, 1908. First published Freiburg and Leipzig in 1894.

(9) The old Puritan readers began a child's education with the following words: "Through Adam's fall sinned we all; Adam died, so will I."

(10) Paul Natorp, Religion innerhalb, pp.62-63.

(11) Leisegang, Deutsche Philosophie im XX Jahrhundert.

(12) Robert Maynard Hutchins, Education for Freedom, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1943, p. 23-24.

(13) Ibid, p. 25.

(14) The program at the University of Chicago started by Hutchins and the liberal arts programs at the St. Johns Colleges in Annapolis and Santa Fe inspired by Hutchins included primarily classics from the Western tradition, but it was clear that, later in life, he was quite open to the inclusion of Asian classics, although he had not studied many of them himself. This information is from the author's personal acquaintance with Hutchins during the years 1968-69 as Junior Fellow of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions.

(15) Mr. Hutchins once told us that it took three weeks of sitting in silence at the Yale University Law School to start a discussion in such a manner, because the students were used to rote lectures.

(16) In the Record of Mr. Alcott's School many such entries as this were recorded: ....Birthday is the day in which the spirit is put into the body, said (one) boy. Did you get the idea in this school? said Mr. Alcott. I never thought of such subjects before I came to this school, said he... One of the boys added, that he had always had an indistinct idea that the soul lived before the body, tht there was a transmigration of souls....Amos Bronson Alcott, Quoted in Sylvia Cranston and Joseph Head, Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery, (New York: Julian Press/ Crown Publishers, Inc., 1977, p. 303.

(17) Johann Gottlieb Fichte made the following statement in The Destination of Man: ..Even because nature puts me to death she must quicken me anew. It can only be my higher life, unfolding itself in her,and that which mortals call death is the visible appearing of a second vivification. (This is translated by Frederic Hedge, one of the founders of the transcendentalist movement in America). Ibid, p.285. Fichte's dates: 1762-1814. For a view on how the idea of reincarnation has influenced the practice of certain educators, and how American children react to the idea, see the chapter "Columbia University Lectures on Reincarnation," Sylvia Cranston and Carey Williams, Reincarnation: A New Horizon in Science, Religion, and Society, Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1993.This chapter includes speeches by Sylvia Cranston, Dr. Caren Elin, Prof. George Baird and Myrra Lee. In the talk to the sympoiusm"The Child and Death, " Ms. Lee pointed out that idea of reincarnation is inevitably raised by children when the of after-death states is discussed, although reincarnation is not an integral part of American culture and religious belief. It has long been a part of the Western as well as the Eastern tradition.

(18) Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, From the letter entitled "The Swan Song," regarding the problems with the decline of the school in Yverdon. quoted in Lewis Flint Anderson, Pestalozzi, New York: AMS Press, 1970, p. 223. The natural course of our development has its origin in these impulses. Man wills to do everything for which he feels that he possesses the requisite powers and it is these impulses which impel him to do this. The feeling of this power is an expression of the eternal, indestrubible, unchanging laws which lie back of the course of nature in the development of our capacities.


Anderson, Lewis Flint. Pestalozzi. New York: AMS Press,1970.

Cranston, Sylvia and Head, Joseph. Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery. New York: Julian Press/ Crown Publishers Inc., 1977.

Cranston, Sylvia and Williams, Carey. Reincarnation: A New Horizon in Science, Religion, and Society. Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1993.

Green, J.A. The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi. New York: Greenwood Press, Publishers, 1969.

Gutek, Gerald Lee. Joseph Neef: The Americanization of Pestalozzianism. University of Alabama Press, 1978.

Gutek, Gerald Lee. Pestalozzi and Education. New York: Random House Inc., 1968.

Hutchins, Robert Maynard. Education for Freedom. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1943.

Hutchins, Robert Maynard. The Conflict in Education in a Democratic Society. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1953.

Leisegang, Hans. Deutsche Philosophie des XX Jahrhundert. Breslau: Ferdinand Hirt, 1928.

McClintock, Robert. Man and his Circumstances: Ortega as Educator. New York: Teachers College Press, 1971.

Natorp, Paul. Allgemeine Psychologie Nach kristischer Methode. Amsterdam: E.J. Bonset, 1965.

Natorp, Paul, "Kant und die Marburger Schule," Kantstudien. Vol. XVII. Berlin: Verlag von Reuther und Reichard, 1912.

Natorp, Paul. Pestalozzi: Sein Leben und seine Ideen. Leipzig: in Teubner's Sammlung, Aus Natur und Geisteswelt, 1909.

Natorp, Paul. Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der Humanitat. Tubingen: J.B.C. Mohr, 1908.

Natorp, Paul. "Schleiermacher und die Volkerziehung." Schleiermacher, Philosoph des Glaubens. Berlin: Verlag der Hilfe, 1910, edited by Friedrich Naumann.

Saltzman, Judy Deane. Paul Natorp's Philosophy of Religion within the Marburg Neo-Kantian Tradition. New York and Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1981.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. On Religion: A Speech to its Cultured Despisers. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1958. Tr. by John Oman with an introduction by Rudolf Otto.

Veblen, Thorstein. The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men . New York: Hill and Wang, 1962.

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