Beneke, Friedrich Eduard (1798–1854)

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Friedrich Eduard Beneke, the German philosopher and psychologist, was born in Berlin and after his gymnasium education studied theology and philosophy, first at Halle and then at Berlin. He became university lecturer (Privatdozent ) at the University of Berlin in 1820 and, despite Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's power and official connections, managed to have a considerable number of students.

His first books were Erkenntnislehre nach dem Bewusstsein der reinen Vernunft (Theory of knowledge according to the consciousness of pure reason) and Erfahrungsseelenlehre als Grundlage alles Wissens (Experiential theory of the soul as foundation of all knowledge). Both were published in Jena in 1820. Two years later, he published in Berlin Grundlegung zur Physik der Sitten (Foundations of the physics of morals), a work that found disfavor among the entrenched Absolute Idealists and resulted in his being forbidden to lecture. Beneke was accused of Epicureanism, although the objections given by Minister von Altenstein, a Hegelian who opposed Beneke's attempted application of science to ethics, were that the book was not so much wrong on particular points as that it was unphilosophisch in its totality because it did not attempt to derive everything from the Absolute. Beneke's anti-Hegelian position led to further difficulties. An offer of a position at the University of Jena was overruled by the authorities in Berlin, who managed to find a state law to support this move. Beneke moved to Göttingen, where his reception was more cordial, and remained there until 1827, when he received permission to resume his lectures in Berlin. After Hegel's death, Beneke managed to advance to the rank of "extraordinary professor." Although he was active in teaching and writing, his later years were plagued by illness. In 1854, under unexplained circumstances, his body was found in a Berlin canal.

Along with Johann Friedrich Herbart and some others, Beneke represented a reaction against the Fichte-Schelling-Hegel phase of German philosophy. He insisted that psychology, which ought to be established inductively, is the necessary presupposition of all disciplines in philosophy. Logic, ethics, metaphysics, and especially the philosophy of religion should be based on it. Beneke's psychology is a form of associationism, and shows the influence of both Immanuel Kant and the British empiricists, especially John Locke, whose disciple Beneke claimed to be. The senses give us only a mediated knowledge of the external world and of ourselves. Nevertheless, we can obtain an immediate, fully adequate knowledge of our own mental acts by means of inner perception. Starting from this perception, we infer the inner nature of other beings by analogy with our own. The result of this inference is a picture of reality as containing an uninterrupted series of minds or "faculties of representation" (Vorstellungsfähigkeit ), extending downward from man. The soul consists of a system of powers or forces; it is a "bundle" but, contrary to Hume, not a bundle of perceptions.

Beneke used the language of faculty psychology, although he did not intend "powers" or "faculties" to be viewed as hypostatized concepts. All psychological processes, he claimed, can be traced back to four basic ones: (1) the process of stimulus appropriation (Reizaneignung ), in which the mind creates sensations and perceptions out of externally caused impressions; (2) the process of formation of new "elementary faculties" (Urvermögen ) by means of the assimilation of received stimuli; (3) the process of transmission (Übertragung ) and equalization (Ausgleichung ) of stimuli and powers, whereby a systematic connection is formed between our becoming conscious of one idea and our becoming unconscious of another idea; (4) the process of mutual attraction and "blending" (Verschmelzung ) of ideas of the same sort.

Beneke's attempt to explain the mind's activities in terms of their genesis is reminiscent of Herbart. Unlike the latter, however, he assumed that philosophy must proceed from what is immediately given in consciousness. We have no alternative to this starting with inner experience, he believed, because our own soul is the only thing that we know as it is in itself. We recognize it as a nonspatial and therefore an immaterial entity. At least we have no reason to suppose it to be material, since it is not perceived through outer sense. The soul, however, cannot be simple, as Herbart had maintained. It has, as we have noted, specific powers or capacities for receiving and organizing stimuli; these powers must be underivative, since stimuli of different kinds can be received even at the outset of our experience. Each of our senses is supposed to include several of these Urvermögen. But the soul must also be capable of forming new Urvermögen, in order to be receptive to new sorts of stimuli.

Beneke thus conceived the mental life as compounded of active impulses (Triebe ) that are activated by external stimuli. The seemingly substantial unity of mind is explained by the persistence of traces (Spuren ) of ideas that have become unconscious and by the mutual adjustment of faculties that produce new impulses.

See also Empiricism; Epicureanism and the Epicurean School; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Herbart, Johann Friedrich; Hume, David; Kant, Immanuel; Locke, John; Psychologism; Psychology.


additional works by beneke

Neue Grundlegung zur Metaphysik. Berlin, 1822.

Psychologische Skizzen, 2 vols. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 18251827.

Das Verhältniss von Seele und Leib. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1826.

Kant und die Philosophische Aufgabe unserer Zeit. Berlin, 1832.

Lehrbuch der Psychologie als Naturwissenschaft. Berlin, 1833.

Die Philosophie in ihrem Verhältnisse zur Erfahrung zur Spekulation und zum Leben. Berlin, 1833.

Grundlinien des näturlichen Systems der praktischen Philosophie. Berlin, 1837. Beneke regarded the last part of the Grundlinien, which contains his theory of morals, as his best work.

Metaphysik und Philosophie der Religion. Berlin, 1840.

works on beneke

Benner, H. Benekes Erkenntnistheorie. Halle: Druck von Wischan and Wettengel, 1902.

Gargano, V. L'Etica di Beneke. Catania, Sicily, 1912.

Gramzow, O. Benekes Leben und Philosophie. Bern: Buchdr. Steiger, 1899.

Murtfeld, R. "Vergeblischer Kampf gegen den Idealismus: Friedrich Eduard Beneke." In Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Erziehung und des Unterrichts, pp. 148. Berlin: Weidmannsche, 1923.

Samuel, E. Die Realität des Psychischen bei Beneke. Berlin, 1907.

Wandschneider, A. Die Metaphysik Benekes. Berlin, 1903.

Arnulf Zweig (1967)