Harald Høffding (1843-1931)

Professor of philosophy 1883-1915,  MA theology 1865, Dr. Phil. 1870, school teacher 1865-80, associate professor 1880-82, rector of the university 1902-03.

Høffding started his career as a philosophical writer as a disciple of the Christian thinkers Søren Kierkegaard and Rasmus Nielsen, but after his theology studies Høffding gradually lost his Christian faith and became an agnostic. Unlike radical voices such as Karl Gjellerup and Georg Brandes, he remained, however, positive of the ethical and poetical value of religion. From the 1870s Høffding took a great interest in the natural sciences, which he saw as important for philosophy. Evolutionary theory was of special interest for him. He translated some of Herbert Spencer’s minor works into Danish and lectured on Charles Darwin from the 1870s. In 1874 a lecture by Høffding on Darwinism and philosophy was published in the weekly Nær og Fjern [Close and Far] and he wrote Charles Darwin (Copenhagen: Studentersamfundets Smaaskrifter, 1889) as an introduction to Darwin’s life and work. Høffding also included Darwin in A History of Modern Philosophy, vol. II (London: MacMillan & Co., 1908) and wrote a chapter on the influence of evolutionary theory on philosophy for the commemorative volume Darwin and Modern Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1909) issued in connection with the June 1909 Cambridge celebration of the centenary of Darwin’s birth. Høffding was cautious to distance himself from materialist, atheist and socio-political interpretations of Darwinism. He explicitly denied that Darwin and Spencer were materialists, and he supported Darwin’s reluctance to draw radical political conclusions from his theory and to talk about the origins of life. Høffding thus honoured Darwin for realising the limits of scientific knowledge: Agnosticism was the common ground for Darwin’s science and Høffding’s philosophy. Høffding’s philosophy of science was based on realism and positivism, but he avoided any extreme positions and realised the pragmatic nature of scientific practice and insisted that empirical investigations had its limits. Høffding defined his general philosophical outlook as critical monism or critical positivism. His moderate views made him a respected intellectual among most segments of the cultural world. He was thus praised by socialists, radicals, liberals, conservatives, freethinkers and Christians alike. 

Hans Henrik Hjermitslev

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