"Nihil est in intellectu quod non fuerit in sensu, nisi intellectu ipse." (Leibniz, Nouveaux essais, 1765, Livre II, Des Idées, Chapitre 1, § 6). – Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses, except the intellect itself.
Wundt was born at Neckarau, Baden (now part of Mannheim) on the 16 of August 1832, the seventeenth child to parents Maximilian Wundt (a Lutheran minister), and his wife Marie Frederike, née Arnold (1797–1868). Wundt's paternal grandfather was Friedrich Peter Wundt (1742–1805), Professor of Geography and pastor in Wieblingen. When Wundt was about four years of age, his family moved to Heidelsheim, then a small medieval town in Baden-Württemberg.
Stimulated by the ideas of previous thinkers, such as Herder, Herbart, Hegel and Wilhelm von Humboldt (with his ideas about comparative linguistics), the Psychologist Moritz Lazarus (1851) and the Linguist Heymann Steinthal founded the Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft (Journal for Cultural Psychology and Linguistics) in 1860, which gave this field its name. Wundt (1888) critically analysed the, in his view, still disorganised intentions of Lazarus and Steinthal and limited the scope of the issues by proposing a psychologically constituted structure. The cultural psychology of language, myth, and customs were to be based on the three main areas of general psychology: imagining and thought, feelings, and will (motivation). The numerous mental interrelations and principles were to be researched under the perspective of cultural development. Apperception theory applied equally for general psychology and cultural psychology. Changes in meanings and motives were examined in many lines of development, and there are detailed interpretations based on the emergence principle (creative synthesis), the principle of unintended side-effects (heterogony of ends) and the principle of contrast (see section on Methodology and Strategies).
The list of works at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science includes a total of 589 German and foreign-language editions for the period from 1853 to 1950 MPI für Wissenschaftsgeschichte: Werkverzeichnis Wilhelm Wundt.The American Psychologist Edwin Boring counted 494 publications by Wundt (excluding pure reprints but with revised editions) that are, on average, 110 pages long and amount to a total of 53,735 pages. Thus Wundt published an average of seven works per year over a period of 68 years and wrote or revised an average of 2.2 pages per day. There is as yet no annotated edition of the essential writings, nor does a complete edition of Wundt's major works exist, apart from more-or-less suitable scans or digitalisations.
The internal consistency of Wundt's work from 1862 to 1920, between the main works and within the reworked editions, has repeatedly been discussed and been subject to differing assessments in parts. One could not say that the scientific conception of psychology underwent a fundamental revision of principal ideas and central postulates, though there was gradual development and a change in emphasis. One could consider Wundt's gradual concurrence with Kant's position, that conscious processes are not measurable on the basis of self-observation and cannot be mathematically formulated, to be a major divergence. Wundt, however, never claimed that psychology could be advanced through experiment and measurement alone, but had already stressed in 1862 that the development history of the mind and comparative psychology should provide some assistance.
Wundt's concepts were developed during almost 60 years of research and teaching that led him from neurophysiology to psychology and philosophy. The interrelationships between physiology, philosophy, logic, epistemology and ethics are therefore essential for an understanding of Wundt's psychology. The core of Wundt's areas of interest and guiding ideas can already be seen in his Vorlesungen über die Menschen- und Tierseele (Lectures on Human and Animal Psychology) of 1863: individual psychology (now known as general psychology, i.e. areas such as perception, attention, apperception, volition, will, feelings and emotions); cultural psychology (Wundt's Völkerpsychologie) as development theory of the human mind); animal psychology; and neuropsychology. The initial conceptual outlines of the 30-year-old Wundt (1862, 1863) led to a long research programme, to the founding of the first Institute and to the treatment of psychology as a discipline, as well as to a range of fundamental textbooks and numerous other publications.
Unlike the great majority of contemporary and current authors in psychology, Wundt laid out the philosophical and methodological positions of his work clearly. Wundt was against the founding empirical psychology on a (metaphysical or structural) principle of soul as in Christian belief in an immortal soul or in a philosophy that argues "substance"-ontologically. Wundt's position was decisively rejected by several Christianity-oriented Psychologists and Philosophers as a psychology without soul, although he did not use this formulation from Friedrich Lange (1866), who was his predecessor in Zürich from 1870 to 1872. Wundt's guiding principle was the development theory of the mind. Wundt's ethics also led to polemical critiques due to his renunciation of an ultimate transcendental basis of ethics (God, the Absolute). Wundt's evolutionism was also criticised for its claim that ethical norms had been culturally changed in the course of human intellectual development.
In 1867, near Heidelberg, Wundt met Sophie Mau (1844–1912). She was the eldest daughter of the Kiel theology professor Heinrich August Mau and his wife Louise, née von Rumohr, and a sister of the archaeologist August Mau. They married on 14 August 1872 in Kiel. The couple had three children: Eleanor (*1876–1957), who became an assistant to her father in many ways, Louise, called Lilli, (*1880–1884) and Max Wundt (*1879–1963), who became a Philosopher.
Leipzig was a world-famous centre for the new psychology after 1874. There are various interpretations regarding why Wundt's influence after the turn of the century, i.e. during his lifetime, rapidly waned and from his position as founding father Wundt became almost an outsider. A survey was conducted on the basis of more than 200 contemporary and later sources: reviews and critiques of his publications (since 1858), references to Wundt's work in textbooks on psychology and the history of psychology (from 1883 to 2010), biographies, congress reports, praise on his decadal birthdays, obituaries and other texts. A range of scientific controversies were presented in detail. Reasons for the distancing of Wundt and why some of his concepts have fallen into oblivion can be seen in his scientific work, in his philosophical orientation, in his didactics or in the person of Wundt himself:
Wundt was responsible for an extraordinary number of doctoral dissertations between 1875 and 1919: 184 PhD students included 70 foreigners (of which 23 were from Russia, Poland and other east-European countries, 18 were American). Several of Wundt's students became eminent Psychologists in their own right. They include: the Germans Oswald Külpe (a professor at the University of Würzburg), Ernst Meumann (a professor in Leipzig and Hamburg and pioneer in pedagogical psychology), Hugo Münsterberg a professor in Freiburg and at Harvard University, a pioneer in applied psychology), Willy Hellpach (in Germany known for cultural psychology).
The University of Leipzig assigned Wundt a lab in 1876 to store equipment he had brought from Zurich. Located in the Konvikt building, many of Wundt's demonstrations took place in this laboratory due to the inconvenience of transporting his equipment between the lab and his classroom. Wundt arranged for the construction of suitable instruments and collected many pieces of equipment such as tachistoscopes, chronoscopes, pendulums, electrical devices, timers, and sensory mapping devices, and was known to assign an instrument to various graduate students with the task of developing uses for Future research in experimentation. Between 1885 and 1909 there were 15 assistants.
In 1879 Wundt began conducting experiments that were not part of his course work, and he claimed that these independent experiments solidified his lab's legitimacy as a formal laboratory of psychology, though the University did not officially recognize the building as part of the campus until 1883. The laboratory grew and encompassing a total of eleven rooms, the Psychological Institute, as it became known, eventually moved to a new building that Wundt had designed specifically for psychological research. The list of Wundt's lectures during the winter terms of 1875-1879 shows a wide-ranging programme, 6 days a week, on average 2 hours daily, e.g. in the winter term of 1875: Psychology of language, Anthropology, Logic and Epistemology; and during the subsequent summer term: Psychology, Brain and Nerves, as well as Physiology. Cosmology, Historical and General Philosophy were included in the following terms.
Parallel to Wundt's work on cultural psychology he wrote his much-read Ethik (1886, 3rd ed. in 2 Vols., 1903), whose introduction stressed how important development considerations are in order to grasp religion, customs and morality. Wundt considered the questions of ethics to be closely linked with the empirical psychology of motivated acts "Psychology has been such an important introduction for me, and such an indispensable aid for the investigation of ethics, that I do not understand how one could do without it." Wundt sees two paths: the anthropological examination of the facts of a moral life (in the sense of cultural psychology) and the scientific reflection on the concepts of morals. The derived principles are to be examined in a variety of areas: the family, society, the state, education, etc. In his discussion on free will (as an attempt to mediate between determinism and indeterminism) he categorically distinguishes between two perspectives: there is indeed a natural causality of brain processes, though conscious processes are not determined by an intelligible, but by the empirical character of humans – volitional acts are subject to the principles of mental causality. "When a man only follows inner causality he acts freely in an ethical sense, which is partly determined by his original disposition and partly by the development of his character."
Wilhelm Wundt's Völkerpsychologie. Eine Untersuchung der Entwicklungsgesetze von Sprache, Mythus und Sitte (Social Psychology. An Investigation of the Laws of Evolution of Language, Myth, and Custom, 1900-1920, 10 Vols.) which also contains the evolution of Arts, Law, Society, Culture and History, is a milestone project, a monument of cultural psychology, of the early 20th century. The dynamics of cultural development were investigated according to psychological and epistemological principles. Psychological principles were derived from Wundt's psychology of apperception (theory of higher integrative processes, including association, assimilation, semantic change) and motivation (will), as presented in his Grundzüge der physiologischen Psychologie (1908-1910, 6th ed., 3 Vols.). In contrast to individual psychology, cultural psychology aims to illustrate general mental development laws governing higher intellectual processes: the development of thought, language, artistic imagination, myths, religion, customs, the relationship of individuals to society, the intellectual environment and the creation of intellectual works in a society. "Where deliberate experimentation ends is where history has experimented on the behalf of Psychologists." Those mental processes that "underpin the general development of human societies and the creation of joint intellectual results that are of generally recognised value" are to be examined.
3. Psychology is concerned with conscious processes. Wundt rejected making subconscious mental processes a topic of scientific psychology for epistemological and methodological reasons. In his day there were, before Sigmund Freud, influential authors such as the Philosopher Eduard von Hartmann (1901), who postulated a metaphysics of the unconscious. Wundt had two fundamental objections. He rejected all primarily metaphysically founded psychology and he saw no reliable methodological approach. He also soon revised his initial assumptions about unconscious judgements When Wundt rejects the assumption of "the unconscious" he is also showing his scepticism regarding Fechner's theory of the unconscious and Wundt is perhaps even more greatly influenced by the flood of writing at the time on hypnotism and spiritualism (Wundt, 1879, 1892). While Freud frequently quoted from Wundt's work, Wundt remained sceptical about all hypotheses that operated with the concept of "the unconscious".
The last Wundt biography which tried to represent both Wundt's psychology and his philosophy was by Eisler (1902). One can also get an idea of Wundt's thoughts from his autobiography Erlebtes und Erkanntes (1920). Later biographies by Nef (1923) and Petersen (1925) up to Arnold in 1980 restrict themselves primarily to the psychology or the philosophy. Eleonore Wundt's (1928) knowledgeable but short biography of her father exceeds many others’ efforts.
In the Elemente der Völkerpsychologie (The Elements of Cultural Psychology, 1912) Wundt sketched out four main levels of cultural development: primitive man, the totemistic age, the age of heroes and gods, and the development of humanity. The delineations were unclear and the depiction was greatly simplified. Only this book was translated into English Elements of folk-psychology ), thus providing but a much abridged insight into Wundt's differentiated cultural psychology. (The Folk Psychology part of the title already demonstrates the low level of understanding).
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz had a far greater and more constructive influence on Wundt's psychology, philosophy, epistemology and ethics. This can be gleaned from Wundt's Leibniz publication (1917) and from his central terms and principles, but has since received almost no attention. Wundt gave up his plans for a biography of Leibniz, but praised Leibniz's thinking on the two-hundredth anniversary of his death in 1916. He did, however, disagree with Leibniz's monadology as well as theories on the mathematisation of the world by removing the domain of the mind from this view. Leibniz developed a new concept of the soul through his discussion on substance and actuality, on dynamic spiritual change, and on the correspondence between body and soul (parallelism). Wundt secularised such guiding principles and reformulated important philosophical positions of Leibniz away from belief in God as the creator and belief in an immortal soul. Wundt gained important ideas and exploited them in an original way in his principles and methodology of empirical psychology: the principle of actuality, psychophysical parallelism, combination of causal and teleological analysis, apperception theory, the psychology of striving, i.e. volition and voluntary tendency, principles of epistemology and the perspectivism of thought. Wundt's differentiation between the "natural causality" of neurophysiology and the "mental causality" of psychology (the intellect), is a direct rendering from Leibniz's epistemology.
The ten volumes consist of: Language (Vols. 1 and 2), Art (Vol. 3), Myths and Religion (Vols. 4 - 6), Society (Vols. 7 and 8), Law (Vol. 9), as well as Culture and History (Vol. 10). The methodology of cultural psychology was mainly described later, in Logik (1921). Wundt worked on, psychologically linked, and structured an immense amount of material. The topics range from agriculture and trade, crafts and property, through gods, myths and Christianity, marriage and family, peoples and nations to (self-)education and self-awareness, science, the world and humanity.
The XXII International Congress for Psychology in Leipzig in 1980, i.e. on the hundredth Jubilee of the initial founding of the Institute in 1879, stimulated a number of publications about Wundt, also in the US Very little productive research work has been carried out since then. While Wundt was occasionally mentioned in the centenary review of the founding of the German Society for Experimental Psychology 1904/2004, it was without the principal ideas of his psychology and philosophy of science.
Like other important Psychologists and Philosophers, Wundt was subject to ideological criticism, for Example by authors of a more Christianity-based psychology, by authors with materialistic and positivistic scientific opinions, or from the point-of-view of Marxist-Leninist philosophy and social theory, as in Leipzig, German Democratic Republic, up to 1990. Wundt was involved in a number of scientific controversies or was responsible for triggering them:
The conceptual relationships within the complete works created over decades and continuously reworked have hardly been systematically investigated. The most important theoretical basis is the empirical-psychological theory of apperception, based on Leibniz's philosophical position, that Wundt, on the one hand, based on experimental psychology and his neuropsychological modelling and, on the other hand, extrapolated into a development theory for culture. The fundamental reconstruction of Wundt's main ideas is a task that cannot be achieved by any one person today due to the complexity of the complete works. He tried to connect the fundamental controversies of the research directions epistemologically and methodologically by means of a co-ordinated concept – in a confident handling of the categorically basically different ways of considering the interrelations. Here, during the founding phase of university psychology, he already argued for a highly demanding meta-science meta-scientific reflection – and this potential to stimulate interdisciplinarity und perspectivism (complementary approaches) has by no means been exhausted.
Such shortcomings may explain many of the fundamental deficits and lasting misunderstandings in the Anglo-American reception of Wundt's work. Massive misconceptions about Wundt's work have been demonstrated by william James, Granville Stanley Hall, Edward Boring and Edward Titchener as well as among many later authors. Titchener, a two-year resident of Wundt's lab and one of Wundt's most vocal advocates in the United States, is responsible for several English translations and mistranslations of Wundt's works that supported his own views and approach, which he termed "structuralism" and claimed was wholly consistent with Wundt's position.
As Wundt's three-volume Logik und Wissenschaftslehre, i.e. his theory of science, also remains untranslated the close interrelationships between Wundt's empirical psychology and his epistemology and methodology, philosophy and ethics are also regularly missing, even if later collections describe individual facets of them. Blumenthal's assessment that "American textbook accounts of Wundt now present highly inaccurate and mythological caricatures of the man and his work" still appears to be true of most publications about Wundt. A highly contradictory picture emerges from any systematic research on his reception. On the one hand, the pioneer of experimental psychology and founder of modern psychology as a discipline is praised, on the other hand, his work is insufficiently tapped and appears to have had little influence. Misunderstandings and stereotypical evaluations continue into the present, even in some representations of the history of psychology and in textbooks. Wundt's entire work is investigated in a more focused manner in more recent assessments regarding the reception of Wundt, and his theory of science and his philosophy is included (Araujo, 2016; Danziger, 1983, 1990, 2001; Fahrenberg, 2011, 2015, 2016; Jüttemann, 2006; Kim, 2016; van Rappard, 1980).
A representation of Wundt's psychology as ‘natural science’, ‘element psychology’ or ‘dualistic’ conceptions is evidence of enduring misunderstandings. It is therefore necessary to remember Wundt's expressly stated Desire for uniformity and lack of contradiction, for the mutual supplementation of psychological perspectives. Wundt's more demanding, sometimes more complicated and relativizing, then again very precise style can also be difficult – even for today's German readers; a high level of linguistic competence is required. There are only English translations for very few of Wundt's work. In particular, the Grundzüge der physiologischen Psychologie expanded into three volumes and the ten volumes of Völkerpsychologie, all the books on philosophy and important essays on the theory of science remain untranslated.
At the start of the First World War Wundt, like Edmund Husserl and Max Planck, signed the patriotic call to arms as did about 4,000 professors and lecturers in Germany, and during the following years he wrote several political speeches and essays that were also characterised by the feeling of a superiority of German science and culture. Wundt was a Liberal during his early Heidelberg time, affiliated with a Workers’ Education Union (Arbeiterbildungsverein), and as a Politician in the Baden State Parliament (see also his speech as Rector of Leipzig University in 1889).In old age he appeared to become more conservative (see Wundt, 1920; Wundt's correspondence), then – also in response to the war, the subsequent social unrest and the severe revolutionary events of the post-war period – adopted an attitude that was patriotic and leant towards nationalism. Wilhelm Wundt's son, Philosopher Max Wundt, had an even more clearly intense, somewhat nationalist, stance. While he was not a member of the Nazi party (NSDAP), he wrote about national traditions and race in philosophical thinking.