Colloquium: Jan. 17th, 2020

Speaker: Scott Edgar, St Mary's University

Title: The Function of History in Hermann Cohen's Critique of Knowledge 

Friday, January 17th at 2:30pm CLE A303


There is a striking apparent tension between two commitments of Cohen’s critique of knowledge: first, Cohen maintains that certain principles contained within mathematical natural science are universally, timelessly valid; but second, in his critique of knowledge, he investigates these principles using a deeply historical method. This apparent tension raises at least two questions. First, are Cohen’s views even coherent? Second, if the aim of Cohen’s critique of knowledge is to identify timelessly valid principles in scientific theories, why attend so closely to those principles’ expression in the history of science? Why not focus instead on contemporary scientific theories? That is, what is the function of history for Cohen’s critique of knowledge? This paper answers these questions by surveying the views on history and its relation to philosophy of four of Cohen’s teachers: Heymann Steinthal, Adolf Trendelenburg, Zacharias Frankel, and Heinrich Graetz. The paper argues that the views of Trendelenburg, Frankel, and Graetz provide a guide for understanding both how Cohen’s views are coherent and what, on his view, the function of history is for the critique of knowledge.