Lipps, Theodor (1851–1914)

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Theodor Lipps, a psychologist and philosopher, was born in Wallhalben, Rhineland-Palatinate. He studied theology and natural science at Erlangen, Tübingen, Utrecht, and Bonn. He obtained academic positions in Bonn (1884), Breslau (1890), and finally in Munich (1894), where he remained until his death. There he was a full professor and the teacher of Johannes Daubert and Alexander Pfänder, the founding members of the Munich circle of phenomenology. Lipps published voluminously on a large variety of topics, though his orientation in philosophy was consistently a psychological one.

In Basic Facts of Mental Life (1883) Lipps states his conception of philosophy as follows: "Inner experience is the basis for psychology, logic, aesthetics, ethics, and the adjunct disciplines, including metaphysics in the sense in which it is permissible to speak of it. We regard all these disciplines now as philosophical, and at least in the main they fill what is usually viewed as the range of tasks that we especially honor with the name of philosophical ones. Their objects are presentations, sensations, and volitional acts, and no intelligent person denies that such objects are different from the subject matters of other sciences and therefore require their own manner of scientific treatment" (p. 3). Thus he conceived of philosophy as equivalent to or based on psychology, with an emphasis on "inner perception."

This psychologal style of philosophy is also evident in Lipps's views on logic. These in particular became subject to attack in Husserl's critique of psychologism. By no means, however, was the close tie between philosophy and psychology unusual for the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The empirically minded psychological turn that occurred in the German-speaking world at that time was an attempt to establish philosophy as a science amid the skepticism that was rife in the aftermath of the collapse of the speculative systems of German Idealism. Although Lipps's philosophical endeavors arose in this context, his approach to psychology differs significantly from the approaches of most of his contemporaries. He was, for example, willing to allow not only for inner perception but also for introspection or self-observation (Selbstbeobachtung ), a notion that was unacceptable to many other philosopher-psychologists of the time, most notably Franz Brentano and his orthodox followers, for whom inner perception can never become self-observation.

The subject matter of psychology, according to Lipps, consists of conscious experiences (Bewusstseinserlebnisse ), which always belong to an ego (Ich ). It is, moreover, to be an empirical science. The ego to which conscious experiences belongwhich is not to be confused with the soul (Seele )is empirically given just as these experiences themselves are. "And the ego," Lipps significantly adds, "can intentionally direct its gaze upon itself. It can itself be an 'object.'. It can grasp and cognize itself" (1909, p. 6). Although this acceptance of the notion of self-observation put him at odds with Brentano and other contemporaries, Lipps had much in common with Brentano, Dilthey, and others insofar as he distinguished between two aspects of psychology as an empirical science: one descriptive and analytical, the other explanatory. The latter can involve physiological considerations and laboratory experiments in order to provide causal explanations of how conscious experiences arise, whereas the former makes no use of physiology or experimentation. It was this descriptive or "pure" psychology that primarily interested Lipps.

Lipps's most outstanding and enduring contribution is his concept of empathy (Einfühlung ). This idea is of special importance because it was adopted and critically revised in such phenomenological theories of intersubjectivity as those developed by Husserl and Edith Stein. By means of empathy we come to know not only other minds but also other important objects of experience, such as those belonging to organic nature and works of art. One empathizes when one puts oneself in the place ofand even to some extent imitatessomeone or something else. Lipps asserted with particular emphasis, contrary to some of his critics, that our knowledge of other minds is first and foremost grounded in empathy and thus in feelings rather than in purely intellectual operations. The pervasive role that he gave to empathy in his wide-ranging philosophical investigations naturally led to panpsychism in metaphysics.

The philosophy that Lipps developed out of his psychological studies was by no means subjectivistic or relativistic. This was certainly not the case with his logic. Moreover, in both aesthetics and ethics he thought it was possible to formulate universally valid prescriptions on the basis of psychology. As the science of the beautifulof that which evokes or is suited to evoke the feeling of beauty (Schönheitsgefühl )aesthetics aims to establish the psychological conditions under which such a feeling arises. Ethics, according to Lipps, is concerned with universally valid morality (Sittlichkeit ) as opposed to the morals (Moral ) of this or that historical period, nation, class, or individual. A Kantian influence is evident in his ethical reflections, in which the moral person (sittliche Persönlichkeit ) is given the status of the highest good. In spite of this influence from Kant, however, Lipps presented a philosophical viewpoint that should be considered on its own merits and not merely in the shadow of his predecessors.

See also Brentano, Franz; Husserl, Edmund; Pfänder, Alexander; Phenomenology.


Bokhove, Niels, and Karl Schuhmann. "Bibliographie der Schriften von Theodor Lipps." Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung 45 (1991): 112130.

Kesserling, Michael. "Theodor Lipps (18511914): Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Psychologie." Psychologische Beiträge 7 (1962): 73100.

Lipps, Theodor. Ästhetik. Psychologie des Schönen und der Kunst. 2 vols. Hamburg/Leipzig: Leopold Voss, 1903/06.

Lipps, Theodor. Grundtatsachen des Seelenlebens. Bonn: Max Cohen & Sohn (Fr. Cohen), 1883.

Lipps, Theodor. Leitfaden der Psychologie. 3rd ed. Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann, 1909.

Lipps, Theodor. "Zur Einfühlung." In Psychologische Untersuchungen. Vol. 2. Edited by Theodor Lipps. Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann, 1913.

Robin D. Rollinger (2005)

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Lipps, Theodor (1851–1914)

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