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Alexander, Bernát

(1850–1927), philosopher, aesthetician, literary scholar, and educator. Bernát Alexander completed his high school studies at the Royal Catholic Gymnasium in Pest, Hungary, where he befriended József Bánóczi, with whom he later collaborated on scholarly projects. Alexander’s parents wanted him to become a physician; he himself briefly considered a rabbinical career before choosing to become an educator.

Alexander enrolled in Pest University and received a fellowship to study abroad. He and Bánóczi spent six years at universities in Vienna, Berlin, Göttingen, Leipzig, and Paris, studying philosophy, philology, art, natural sciences, and medicine. At the University of Leipzig, Alexander in 1876 defended his doctoral dissertation on the fourth chapter of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

Between 1876 and 1892, Alexander taught at the main secondary school for sciences in Pest. He received his habilitation (a postdoctoral requirement for university professors) at the University of Budapest in 1878 in the history of philosophy, was appointed associate professor in 1895, and reached the full professorship level in 1904. From 1892, he was head of the department of dramaturgy of the Hungarian Academy of Theater. At the same time, he taught aesthetics and cultural history at the Technical University of Budapest. He became a corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1892 and a full member in 1915.

Alexander was the theater critic of the German-language newspaper Pester Lloyd between 1869 and 1874 and again between 1914 and 1919; he held the same position at Budapesti Hírlap (Budapest News) between 1893 and 1914. Simultaneously, he wrote for numerous other Hungarian and foreign papers and edited several pedagogical journals. Between 1881 and 1919, he and Bánóczi edited a 29-volume series called Filozófiai Írók Tára (Treasury of Philosophical Writers). Through this project—some of which he translated himself—Alexander helped to create a modern culture and language of philosophy in Hungarian, as the collection introduced the works of Kant, Descartes, Hume, Diderot, and others to the public. He also served as president of the Hungarian Society of Philosophers between 1914 and 1919.

From August 1919 until the spring of 1923, Alexander lived in Switzerland, where his wife was undergoing medical treatment. In his absence, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences expelled him for alleged sympathies toward the 1919 proletarian dictatorship; he was also deprived of his professorship. Upon his return to Hungary, some influential students intervened on his behalf and the government granted him a pension. In addition to his highly influential work as an educator, Alexander wrote about philosophy, aesthetics, psychology, pedagogy, and literary history. Initially a positivist, he later adopted neo-Kantian ideas and played a crucial role in influencing Kant’s reception in Hungary. In 1881, Alexander also wrote the first Hungarian scholarly monograph on Kant’s life and thought (Kant. Élete, fejlődése és filozófiája [Kant: Life, Development, and Philosophy]). As a thinker Alexander did not create his own philosophical system but was a synthesizer who argued for the creation of a Hungarian national philosophy. His monographs and studies on Spinoza, Hume, Diderot, Schopenhauer, Nikolai Hartman, and Hippolyte Taine remain of value. His most important works in the field of aesthetics are on art theory and criticism. As a literary scholar he wrote about both Hungarian and world literature, including Shakespeare.

Alexander did not shy away from Jewish intellectual topics, and published such writings in Múlt és Jövő Almanach and in the Yearbooks of the Israelite Hungarian Literary Society (IMIT Évkönyv), on whose board he served from its founding in 1894. His 1924 monograph on the Jewish aspects of Spinoza’s life and philosophy was published in the Popular Jewish Library series.

Suggested Reading

Éva Gábor, Alexander Bernát (Budapest, 1986); László Perecz, “A filozófiai gondolat fényénél. Százötven éve született Alexander Bernát,” Magyar Tudomány (2000, no. 4): 483–493; Károly Sebestyén, “Alexander Bernát,” Izraelita Magyar Irodalmi Társulat Évkönyve (1934): 59–96; Samu Szemere, “Alexander Bernát,” in Alexander Bernát: A művészet; Válogatott tanulmányok, pp. 7–40 (Budapest, 1969).



Translated from Hungarian by Veronika Szabó