Kant and Herbart: The Initiation of Conceptual Psychology

  • Katherine Arens
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 113)


The “Copernican Revolution” which Kant identified as an equivalent to his work in The Critique of Pure Reason is commonly used as the starting point for modern philosophy. This text delineated a watershed between the study of philosophy as affiliated with theology or moral philosophy and a philosophy whose standards were to be likened to those of the emerging physical sciences. Before Kant’s work, a majority of philosophical treatises addressed not only problems of knowledge and cognition, but also ontology, eschatology, and theism, without differentiating greatly between what today seem to be very different disciplines. Kant’s Critiques changed the course of philosophy: he belied the existence of a general philosophy accommodating such different realms of investigation. Instead, he advocated a general set of philosophical procedures which could be applied to various objects, as he himself did in the Critique of Practical Reason and the Critique of Judgment. 1 Kant initiated a renewal in methodology for the human sciences that was to effect the entire nineteenth century.


Pure Reason Individual Mind Transcendental Philosophy Copernican Revolution Transcendental Unity 
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  1. 1.
    The literature on Kant’s Critiques is voluminous, if not oceanic. Perhaps the classic overview is that by Ernst Cassirer, Kant’s Life and Thought (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981 [1918]); a more modern treatment, particularly significant in light of its acknowledgment of both a formal and a material logic running through the Critiques,Google Scholar
  2. 1a.
    Thomas Kaehao Swing, Kant’s Transcendental Logic (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1969).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    For older evaluations of the position of Kant as a psychologist, see Max Dessoir, Geschichte der neueren deutschen Psychologie, 2nd ed. (Berlin: Carl Duncker, 1902)Google Scholar
  4. 2a.
    Max Dessoir, Outlines of the History of Psychology, trans. Donald Fisher (New York: MacMillan, 1912).Google Scholar
  5. 2b.
    more modern overview of Kant’s position is offered in the work of David E. Leary, The Reconstruction of Psychology in Germany, 1780–1850 (Diss. University of Chicago, 1977), and follow-up articles, “The Psychological Development of the Conception of Psychology in Germany, 1780–1850,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 14 (1978): 113–121, and “Immanuel Kant and the Development of Modern Psychology,” in Woodward and Ash, eds., The Problematic Science (op. cit.). The position of psychology in the face of Idealism is presented by Leary in a further article, “German Idealism and the Development of Psychology in the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of the History of Philosophy, 18, No. 3 (July 1980): 299–317. A discussion of one representative late-nineteenth-century reception of Transcendental Idealism in psychology is Winich de Schmidt, Psychologie und Transzendentalphilosophie: Zur Psychologie-Rezeption bei Hermann Cohen und Paul Natorp (Bonn: Bouvier, 1976). A readable popularization of main figures in nineteenth-century psychology, including chapters on Kant/Helmholtz, Wundt, and Freud is Raymond E. Francher, Pioneers of Psychology (New York: Norton, 1979).Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    J.G. Herder was probably the stimulus who turned Kant towards a consideration of history. See the history of terms like “Bürger” in Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, and Reinhart Koselleck, eds., Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland (Stuttgart: Ernst Klett, 1972 ff. [not yet complete]).Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Herbart, who enjoyed a renaissance in American educational psychology around the turn of the century (with a concomitant flood of book-length discussions of his work and its applications), remains a little-discussed figure today. Of general use as background is the biography and work-discussion by Harold B. Dunkel, Herbart and Education (New York: Random House, 1969), and a discussion of his effects in Germany: Bernhard Schwenk, Das Herbartverständnis der Herbartianer (Weinheim/Bergstr.: Julius Beltz, 1963). The Text-Book in Psychology was translated as part of this renaissance by Margaret K. Smith (New York: Appleton, 1891).Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    These statements stress the paradigm rather than traditional scholarship on “Idealist psychology,” which tends to stress the teleological aspects of the model which Kant inherited rather than his particular novelty. On descriptions of this teleology from an eighteenth-century perspective, see James Ward, A Study of Kant (Cambridge: University Press, 1922)Google Scholar
  9. 6a.
    John D. McFarland, Kant’s Concept of Teleology (Edinburgh: University Press, 1970)Google Scholar
  10. 6b.
    Reinhard Löw, Philosophie des Lebendigen: Der Begriff des Organischen bei Kant, sein Grund und seine Aktualität (Frankfurt: n.p., 1980). Together with Leary on Kant (op. cit.), all three assert almost a scholastic version of teleology and human history, ignoring the dimension of social intercourse which Kant’s ethics stressed. In so doing, they portray Kant’s model of the mind as more formalistic than it need be.Google Scholar
  11. 6c.
    Two recent books have done much to correct this formalism by stressing the degree to which Kant adopted a biological metaphor: Eve-Marie Engels, Die Teleologie des Lebendigen (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1982)Google Scholar
  12. 6d.
    Timothy Lenoir, The Strategy of Life: Teleology and Mechanics in Nineteenth Century German Biology (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1982). Both texts add proximate causation to the teleological model Kant used — Engels, as an organic causation, and Lenoir with a “teleo-mechanist” approach to life sciences in the period. The effect of these additions is to add an empirical (mechanist) dimension to the traditionally assumed teleological model for the Enlightenment, arguing that Kant knew biologists of his time. The effect of these additions is to make a psychology possible which still cannot use mathematics on the soul, but which can relate the biology of the body to the individual soul. We will assert here that this is the joint Empiricist-Idealist model that Kant actually was working with in the Anthropology, and that is at the basis of the nineteenth-century paradigm for conceptual psychology.Google Scholar
  13. 7.
    Citations in the presents discussion have been modified from the English translation by M.J. Gregor of Immanuel Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1974), on the basis of the German edition by Karl Vorländer of Immanuel Kant, Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht 7th ed., Philosophische Bibliothek, Bd. 44 (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1980). References in the text are cited as (KA) plus the page number from the English edition. For recent secondary literature, see the introduction by Joachim Kopper in the Vorländer edition.Google Scholar
  14. 8.
    Cited in Vorländer edition, p. 336.Google Scholar
  15. 9.
    Cited in Vorländer edition, p. 340.Google Scholar
  16. 10.
    Cited in Vorländer edition, p. 347.Google Scholar
  17. 14.
    This anticipates the communication model which Karl-Otto Apel attributes to Kant in “Von Kant zu Peirce: Die semiotische Transformation der transzendentalen Logik,” in Transformation der Philosophie (Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1973): 157–177, and in other essays.Google Scholar
  18. 16.
    In a model positing a telos for mental development, the analysis of data is no longer neutral, due to presetting the direction in which data is associated. A telos presets any sorting strategies and many of the activities of mind used on the data. This remained an obstacle to the purely scientific orientation of Kant’s theory. For further discussions of teleology, see Lenoir, The Strategy of Life, cited above.Google Scholar
  19. 17.
    Johann Friedrich Herbart, Lehrbuch zur Psychologie in: Sämtliche Werke, Karl Kehrbach and Otto Flügel, eds., Bd. 4 (Aalen: Scientia Verlag, 1964) [= L in text]Google Scholar
  20. 17a.
    Johann Friedrich Herbart, Psychologie als Wissenschaft neu gegründet auf Erfahrung: Erster synthetische Theil, in: Sämtliche Werke, Bd. 5 (Aalen: Scientia Verlag, 1964)Google Scholar
  21. 17b.
    Johann Friedrich Herbart, Zweiter analytischer Theil, in: Sämtliche Werke, Bd. 6 [=PaW in text]. (Aalen: Scientia Verlag, 1964)Google Scholar
  22. 17c.
    For an overview of Herbart’s work in English, see also: Harold B. Dunkel, Herbart and Herbartianism: An Educational Ghost Story (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).Google Scholar
  23. 18.
    Older treatments of Herbart (e.g., Flügel, Dessoir, Klemm) deal with Herbart as a metaphysician. David Leary, in “The Historical Foundation of Herbart’s Mathematization of Psychology,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 16 (1980): 150–63, agrees with the present discussion that Herbart’s program derives from Kant’s, while still placing Herbart in the Idealist tradition, following Leibniz and Wolff. This tradition will explain Herbart’s turn to mathematics, but it will not explain the affinity of his psychology with educational psychology. That educational psychology has a pronounced social dimension, commensurate with the post-Idealist paradigm we are positing here.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 25.
    See William R. Woodward on “From Association to Gestalt” and on Fechner (discussed below) for examples of combining physiology and psychology to overcome these problems.Google Scholar
  25. 26.
    This is a full relativizing of the mental processes, anticipating Nietzsche and the solipcism in Max Stirner’s Der Einzige und sein Eigentum. See also Brunner, Conze and Koselleck, eds., Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, op. cit.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katherine Arens
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Germanic LanguagesUniversity of TexasAustinUSA

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