German philosopher and writer, awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1908. He developed a philosophy that he termed ‘ethical activism’, which dictates that an individual, who is made up of both nature and spirit, has a moral duty to overcome his natural instincts in striving for the spiritual life. In doing so, a personal effort is made to interpret the human will and intuition as well as what the body senses physically. The human spirit is therefore differentiated from the physical senses, but is no less a perception that can be interpreted. His work uses history and human experience, rather than orthodox religion, as a basis for the attainment of the spiritual.
Described as both critical and idealist, his works incorporate history, philosophy, religion, and politics. His works include Die Lebensanschauungen der grosser Denker/The Problem of Human Life according to the Great Thinkers from Plato to the Present Day (1890), Der Wahrheitsgehalt der Religion/The Truth of Religion (1901), Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens/The Meaning and Value of Life (1908), and Der Sozialismus und seine Lebensgestaltung/Socialism: An Analysis (1920). The latter dismisses the political system of socialism as one which restricts human freedom in physical, spiritual, and cultural terms. His Nobel Prize rewarded Eucken for the presentation of his philosophy in a strong and compassionate manner.
A student of philosophy taught by German philosophers Rudolf Hermann Lotze at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and by Freidrich Adolf Trendelenburg at the University of Berlin, Germany, Eucken specialized in Aristotle and later philosophy, as professor at Basel, Switzerland (1871–74), and at Jena, Germany (1874–1920).