Basedow, Johann Bernhard (1724–1790)

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Johann Bernhard Basedow, the German philosopher, theologian, and educational theorist, was born in Hamburg into the family of a poor wigmaker, whose name, more properly, was Bassedau. A benefactor financed his studies, first at Hamburg under H. S. Reimarus. In 1746 he entered the faculty of theology at Leipzig University, where he studied philosophy under the Pietist philosopher C. A. Crusius. In 1749 he became a private tutor in the family of Herr von Quaalen in Holstein. His experiences as a tutor turned his attention to educational problems, which were the subject of his master's thesis at Kiel University in 1752. On Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock's recommendation, he was appointed professor of philosophy and rhetoric at the Knightly Academy at Soro, Denmark. A heterodox work, Praktische Philosophie für alle Stände (Practical philosophy for all states; Copenhagen, 1758), led to his dismissal. In 1761 he moved to the gymnasium at Altona, but again lost his position, and his writings were prohibited. He left theology and, supported by his benefactor, published his Vorstellung an Menschenfreunde für Schulen, nebst dem Plan eines Elementarbuchs der menschlichen Erkenntnisse (Appeal to the friends of mankind about schools, with a plan for an elementary book on human knowledge; Hamburg, 1768), his first significant work on education, which met with a tremendous response. With financial help from several influential people, he published during the following years several textbooks, the most important being his Methodenbuch für Väter und Mütter der Familien und Völker (Methodology for fathers and mothers of families and nations; Leipzig, 1770; edited by T. Fritzsch, Leipzig, 1913). Prince Franz Leopold Friedrich of Dessau invited him to organize an experimental school in Dessau. Basedow accepted, and the school, called the Philanthropin, opened in 1774. It was soon imitated by a number of similar institutions in Germany and Switzerland.

By 1776 Basedow had returned to theology, living in Dessau, Leipzig, Halle, and Magdeburg. During this period he published his Examen in der alten natürlichsten Religion (Examination of the old most natural religion), which he considered his masterpiece. Basedow's theological ideas, inspired by the English and French deists, aimed at a natural religion, rational and practical, refraining from dogmas and rejecting every kind of orthodox Christianity.

Basedow was one of the "popular philosophers" (Popularphilosophen ), but his importance as a theoretical philosopher has been underrated by modern historians. His work on theory of knowledge and metaphysics, Philalethie (Lübeck, 1764), inspired by Crusius, David Hume, and the French philosophes, was one of the most significant books on methodology of its time and influenced Immanuel Kant, Johann Nicolaus Tetens, and others. He supported a moderate skepticism based on common sense and denied the possibility of reaching absolute demonstrative truth in natural philosophy (out of skepticism concerning causation), in rational psychology, or in theology.

Basedow's chief importance lies in his educational theories, which are based on John Amos Comenius, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He claimed that education should be cosmopolitan, free from any confessional imprint, equal for all classes, and aimed at enabling men to live useful and happy lives as good citizens. Instruction should appeal to the child's sensibility rather than to his understanding and should be encouraged by games and colloquial intercourse. Images (Zeichen ) are more effective than words.

See also Comenius, John Amos; Crusius, Christian August; Deism; German Philosophy; Hume, David; Kant, Immanuel; Locke, John; Reimarus, Hermann Samuel; Rousseau, Jean-Jacques; Skepticism, History of; Tetens, Johann Nicolaus.


works by basedow

Ausgewählte Schriften. Edited by Hugo Göring. Langensalza, 1880.

works on basedow

Basedow, Armin. "Johann Bernhard Basedow." Friedrich Manns pädagogisches Magazin 995 (1924).

Diestelmann, Richard. Johann Bernhard Basedow. Leipzig, 1897.

Meyer, J. C. Leben, Charakter und Schriften Basedows, 2 vols. Hamburg, 17911792.

Rammelt, Johannes. J. B. Basedow, der Philanthropinismus und das Dessauer Philanthropin. Dessau, 1929.

Rathmann, H. Beiträge zur Lebensgeschichte Basedows. Magdeburg, 1791.

Surakoff, K. D. Der Einfluss der zeitgenössischen Philosophie auf Basedows Pädagogik. Giessen: Brühl, 1898.

Zimmermann, Hans. Die Pädagogik Basedows vom Standpunkte moderner Geschichtsauffassung. Langensalza, 1912.

Giorgio Tonelli (1967)