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Fritz Mauthner

MAUTHNER, FRITZ (1849–1923), German journalist, author and philosopher. Mauthner, who was born in Horice, Bohemia, came of an assimilated family and remained estranged from Judaism. His Erinnerungen (1918) provides a fascinating account of his early upbringing in Prague, portraying also the situation of Jews between three cultures and languages – German, Czech, and Jewish – within the national conflict in Bohemia. After law studies at Prague he settled in Berlin, where he became editor of the Magazin fuer Literatur and wrote reviews for the Berliner Tageblatt, which he directed from 1895. A naturalistic writer and a socialist, he was a co-founder of the Freie Buehne, but later turned to writing historical fiction and philosophical works. Mauthner first attracted attention with Nach beruehmten Mustern, witty parodies of 22 of his contemporaries including Berthold *Auerbach, Gustav Freytag, Paul *Heyse, and Richard Wagner, which he wrote for the Deutsches Monatsblatt from 1879, before they were published as a book in 1897. This was followed by many novels, novellas, satirical sketches, and fairy tales. One of these is the novel Der neue Ahasver. Roman aus Jung-Berlin (1882), in which he showed how assimilation was rejected by antisemitism. While he was successful as a satirical journalist, and much less so as a novelist, he was highly regarded – and remained so – for his philosophical works, which had a great influence on modern philosophy (e.g., Ludwig *Wittgenstein) and literature (e.g., Hugo von *Hofmansthal). His main work were the Beitraege zu einer Kritik der Sprache (3 vols., 1901–2), on which he worked from 1893. Following Friedrich Nietzsche as well as Ernst Mach and arguing that thinking never allows access to reality but is always mediated by language, he dealt with the psychology and science of language, and with the role of grammar and logic. In his Woerterbuch der Philosophie, neue Beitraege zu einer Kritik der Sprache (2 vols., 1910) he expanded his work on philosophical ideas; here he subjected more than 200 philosophical concepts to critical examination. A militant agnostic, Mauthner was denied academic appointments because of his anti-religious stand and political views. He radicalized his skepticism in his last literary work, Der letzte Tod des Gautama Buddha (1912), preaching an areligious, skeptical mysticism without God, as well as in his last and encyclopedic, philosophical work, Der Atheismus und seine Geschichte im Abendlande (4 vols. 1920–23), where he claimed that all dogmas – religious or scientific – were mere human inventions and that their origin, efflorescence, and decline had their basis in history. Mauthner then sought to show how the West had begun to shake off the once dominant concept of God. His work was thus intended to trace the disintegration of this concept, an "anthropomorphic illusion" that had held peoples spellbound for several millennia. From 1911 until his death he lived in Meersburg at Lake Constance, where he also edited the Bibliothek der Philosophen.


G. Landauer, Skepsis und Mystik (19232); T. Kappstein, Fritz Mauthner, der Mann und sein Werk (1926), incl. list of his works; G. Weiler, in: YLBI, 8 (1963), 136–48. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: G. Weiler, Mauthners Critique of Language (1971); W. Eschbacher, Fritz Mauther und die deutsche Literatur um 1900 (1977); K. Arens, Functionalism and Fin de Siècle. Fritz Mauthner's Critique of Language (1984); E. Leinfellner, Fritz Mauthner (1995).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.