Kantian Journal

2020 Vol. 39. №3

Back to the list Download the article

Cohen and Natorp’s Philosophy of Religion: the Argument about the Boundary of Reason



The philosophy of religion as presented by Hermann Cohen and Paul Natorp, the founders and main representatives of the Marburg School of Neo-Kantianism, is an important and at the same time controversial part of their philosophical systems. The discussion around the problems of religion began within the Marburg School and still continues among those who study that School. The reason for this is that “fitting” philosophical thinking about the phenomenon of religion into the classical triad of any system of philosophy, i. e. effectively formulating that phenomenon in logical concepts, ethical postulates and aesthetic principles touched the very foundations of that system. Drawing mainly on the rough notes and correspondence of Cohen and Natorp I argue that, in spite of internal and quite important differences over the problems of religion and its place in philosophical constructions, Cohen and Natorp, first, retained their commitment to critical idealism and remained loyal to their philosophical school to the end and, second, followed the principle of mutual respect, preserving their professional and human sympathy for each other. Besides, I substantiate my assertion that Marburg Neo-Kantians had different concepts of the special place of religion in the system of philosophy. The specific nature of this difference warrants the discussion not only of the boundary of reason and rationality but adds new dimensions to that boundary, filling it with content and thus broadening the very sphere of critical idealism. In the course of the discussion of the problems of religion, Paul Natorp (in a more immediate and extended fashion) and Hermann Cohen (largely potentially) stake a claim to projects for the serious transformation of philosophy which they tried to implement in their later works.


Adelmann, D., 2010. “Reinige dein Denken”. Über den jüdischen Hintergrund der Philosophie von Hermann Cohen. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann.

Andriaanse, H., 1998. ‘Menschheit’ und ‘Individuum’. Cohen und Herrmann über die Religion. In: Ch. Krijnen and E. W. Orth, eds. 1998. Sinn, Geltung, Wert: neukantianische Motive in der modernen Kulturphilosophie. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, pp. 121-137.

Belov, V. N., 2015a. Religion within the Bound­aries of Mere Reason. Judaica Petropolitana. Research on Jewish philosophy and intellectual traditions of Judaism, 3, pp. 211-218. (In Rus.)

Belov, V. N., 2015b. Is Hermann Cohen a Neo-Kantian? Kantian Journal, 3(53), pp. 38-46. (In Rus.)

Belov, V. N., 2018a. Autonomy of Reason and the Religion of Revelation in the Philosophy of the Religion of Hermann Cohen. Philosophy of Religion: Analytic Researches, 2(2), pp. 51-64. (In Rus.)

Belov, V. N., 2018b. Concept of Religion in the System of Philosophy of Hermann Cohen. Judaica Petropolitana. Research on Jewish philosophy and intellectual traditions of Judaism, 9, pp. 97-102. (In Rus.)

Belov, V. N., 2018c. The Philosophy of the Religion of Hermann Cohen and Its Evaluation by Russian-Jewish Thinkers. In: J. Dobieszewski, S. Krajewski and J. Mach, eds. 2018. Epistemologia doświadczenia religijnego w XX-wiecznej filozofii rosyjskiej i żydowskiej. Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, pp. 219-237. (In Rus.)

Belov, V. N., 2019. Modern Jewish Philosophy in Search of a (Self-)Definition. RUDN Journal of Philosophy, 23(4), pp. 391-398. (In Rus.)

Cohen, H., 1910. Die Bedeutung des Judentums für den religiösen Fortschritt der Menschheit. Vortrag von Dr. Hermann Cohen. Sonderausgabe aus dem Protokoll des 5. Weltkongresses für Freies Christentum und Religiösen Fortschritt. Zweite Auflage. Berlin: Protestantischer Schriftenvertrieb.

Cohen, H., 1972. Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism. Translated, with an Introduction, by S. Kaplan. Introductory Essay by L. Strauss. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.

Cohen, H., 1996. Der Begriff der Religion im System der Philosophie. In: H. Cohen. Werke. Band 10. Hildesheim: Olms, pp. 1-164.

Dmitrieva, N. A., 2008. Religion within the Limits of Humanity. On the History of the Problem of Religion in the Philosophy of Paul Natorp. In: D. N. Razeev, ed. 2008. Vera i znanie. K sootnosheniyu ponyatij v klassicheskoj nemeckoj filosofii [Faith and Knowledge. On the Relation of Concepts in Classical German Philosophy]. Saint Petersburg: St. Petersburg University Press, pp. 260-270. (In Rus.)

Holzhey, H., 1986. Cohen und Natorp. Band 2: Der Marburger Neukantianismus in Quellen. Basel & Stuttgart: Schwabe & Co.

Jegelka, N., 1992. Paul Natorp. Philosophie. Pädagogik. Politik. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann.

Korsch, D., 1996. Dialektische Theologie nach Karl Barth. Tübingen: Mohr.

Lohmann, J. F., 1995. Karl Barth und Neukantianismus. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Natorp, P., 1908. Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der Humanität. Ein Kapitel zur Grundlegung der Sozialpä­dagogik. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr.

Natorp, P., 1958. Philosophische Systematik. Aus dem Nachlaß herausgegeben von H. Natorp. Mit der Gedenkrede zum 100. Geburtstag am 24.1.1954 von H.-G. Gadamer. Einleitung und Anmerkungen von H. Knittermeyer. Hamburg: F. Meiner.

Poma, A., 1996. Einleitung. In: H. Cohen. Werke. Band 10. Hildesheim: Olms, pp. 7-49.

Poma, A., 1997. The Critical Philosophy of Hermann Cohen. New York: State University of New York.

Rosenzweig, F., 1924. Einleitung. In: H. Cohen. Jüdische Schriften. Band 1. Berlin: C. A. Schwetschke & Sohn, pp. 13-64.

Saltzman, J. D., 1981. Paul Natorp’s Philosophy of religion within the Marburg Neo-Kantian tradition. Hildesheim: Olms.

Ucko, S., 1927. Der Gottesbegriff in der Philosophie Hermann Cohens. Berlin: S. Scholem.