(born Jan. 5, 1846, Aurich, East Friesland—died Sept. 14, 1926, Jena, Ger.) German philosopher. He taught primarily at the University of Jena (1874–1920). Distrusting abstract intellectualism and systematics, Eucken centred his philosophy upon actual human experience. He maintained that man is the meeting place of nature and spirit and that it is a human duty and privilege to overcome nature by incessant striving after the spiritual life. A strong critic of naturalism, he held that humans are differentiated from the rest of the natural world by their possession of a soul, an entity that cannot be explained in terms of natural processes. He also was known as an interpreter of Aristotle. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1908.
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Eucken died in Jena at the age of 80.
His philosophy was based around human experience, maintaining that humans have souls, and that they are therefore at the junction between nature and spirit. He believed that people should overcome their non-spiritual nature by continuous efforts to achieve a spiritual life. He called this Ethical activism.
It seems as if man could never escape from himself, and yet, when shut in to the monotony of his own sphere, he is overwhelmed with a sense of emptiness. The only remedy here is radically to alter the conception of man himself, to distinguish within him the narrower and the larger life, the life that is straitened and finite and can never transcend itself, and an infinite life through which he enjoys communion with the immensity and the truth of the universe. Can man rise to this spiritual level? On the possibility of his doing so rests all our hope of supplying any meaning or value to life (R. C. Eucken, Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens, p. 81).