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Herbart, Johann Friedrich (1776–1841)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC039-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2022
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Johann Friedrich Herbart was born on 4 May 1776 in Oldenburg and died on 14 August 1841 in Göttingen. He was a German philosopher, educator, and psychologist who studied with Johann Gottlieb Fichte, among others, in Jena from 1794 to 1796/97. He interrupted his studies for a period of time to work as a private tutor in Switzerland and, in 1802, completed his doctorate and habilitation exam at the University of Göttingen. In 1809, he accepted the offer to become a successor to Kant’s chair at the University of Königsberg. There, he worked together with Friedrich Schleiermacher on the Prussian educational reform led by Wilhelm von Humboldt. Twenty-five years later, he returned to Göttingen, where he taught as a professor of philosophy from 1833 until his death. In this function as professor of philosophy he continued to give lectures on pedagogy. In 1838, as Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, he distanced himself from the Hanoverian constitutional conflict that involved seven professors, including the historian, Friedrich Christoph Dahlman, and the German literary scholars, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. These seven professors, known as the ’Göttinger Sieben’ [Göttingen Seven], refused to take the oath on the new constitution, a result of King Ernst August reclaiming his ancestral monarchical rights in 1833 and repealing the constitutional monarchy established by his predecessor. Herbart’s role in this dispute has been interpreted in different ways. Some criticise the fact that he did not take sides with the Göttingen Seven, while others acknowledge that he saved the university from being closed down by the king.

Herbart worked on topics across the field of philosophy, including metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, psychology, ethics, and pedagogy. In several aspects of his philosophy he agreed with Immanuel Kant, however, he also advocated for extending Kant’s theories. For example, he advocated for a pluralisation of the categorical imperative into individual and practical ideas, as well as a new version of aesthetics that expanded Kant’s Critique of Judgement. At the same time, Herbart wanted to overcome Kant’s dualism between transcendental philosophy and modern science. He developed a theory of ‘realia’ that aimed to move beyond Kant’s distinction between the intelligible world – the ‘thing-in-itself’ [Ding an sich]– and the world of phenomena, as well as a theory of psychology that was both speculative and mathematical. He hoped to advance psychology in a way comparable to the contributions of Newton and others to the natural sciences.

While Herbart’s mathematical psychology did not have a lasting impact on the field, he also developed an educational psychology, which did. His educational psychology encompassed a theory of pedagogy which differentiated between teaching and learning, as well as between an individual’s objective and subjective character. The first distinction – between teaching and learning – he defined as the subject of pedagogy, and the latter distinction – between objective and subjective character – as a matter for ethics. For Herbart, the objective character is a necessary result of an individual’s past actions, which are held in the individual’s ‘memory of the will’ [Gedächtnis des Willens]. The individual’s subjective character is able to reflectively judge his or her objective character and thereby have a formative influence on the individual’s further development. Herbart’s concepts of ‘memory of the will’ and ‘repression’ [Verdrängung] influenced the Austrian psychologist Theodor Meynert, who was one of Sigmund Freud’s teachers. These concepts shaped the development of psychoanalysis in its aim to bring forgotten memories back into one’s consciousness in order to make psychological disorders treatable.

Citing this article:
Benner, Dietrich et al. Herbart, Johann Friedrich (1776–1841), 2022, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC039-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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