Stumpf, Karl (1848–1936)

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Karl Stumpf, the German psychologist and philosopher, was born in Wiesentheid, Bavaria. He studied law at Würzburg, but under the influence of Franz Brentano his interests turned to philosophy and psychology. In 1868 he took a degree at Göttingen, under Rudolf Hermann Lotze, with a dissertation on the relation between Plato's God and the Idea of the Good. In 1869 he entered the Catholic seminary in Würzburg, where he studied St. Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics. A year later, having lost his faith in orthodox Christianity and having abandoned the idea of becoming a priest, he left the seminary and became docent at Göttingen, where he taught for three years. His acquaintances included the philosopher and psychologist Gustav Fechner, who used Stumpf as a subject for his experiments in aesthetics.

Stumpf's passionate fondness for music motivated his pioneering research in the psychology of sound perception. In 1873 he became professor of philosophy at Würzburg and in 1879, at Prague. His associates included Ernst Mach and Anton Marty. In 1884 he moved to Halle, where Edmund Husserl (who later dedicated his Logische Untersuchungen to Stumpf) became his student. Stumpf moved to Munich in 1889, but his heretical religious views made him uncongenial to some of his orthodox colleagues and to the authorities. He therefore accepted a professorship in Berlin in 1894. There he founded the Phonogram Archive, devoted to collecting recordings of primitive music, and the Psychological Institute, and for a time he directed research in Immanuel Kant and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz at the Academy of Sciences. Besides Husserl, his most famous student was Wolfgang Köhler, the Gestalt psychologist. William James, who praised Stumpf's Tonpsychologie very highly, was a friend and correspondent.

Stumpf contributed greatly to the development of psychology from a branch of philosophy into an empirical science. His own experimental work was largely concerned with acoustical phenomena, but he also wrote on other topics in psychology, such as the theory of emotions. As a philosopher, Stumpf was an empiricist who preferred John Locke and George Berkeley to the tradition of German idealism. He praised Kant for emphasizing the concepts of necessity and duty but rejected the view that the categories are a priori (by which Stumpf meant innate) and not derived from perceptions. The category of substance, or "thing," he maintained, is a concept that can be traced back to such actual experiences as that of perceiving the close interpenetration of the parts of a whole. The constituent characteristics of a sensory feeling, such as quality and intensity, form a whole rather than a mere aggregate. Experience includes the perceiving of relations; it does not consist merely of individual sensations that need to be related by the understanding.

In the realm of mental functions, all simultaneous states of consciousness and intellectual and emotional activities are perceived as a unity. The concept of a substance, whether of a physical or a psychical substance, is not that of a bundle of qualities, as with David Hume, but is a unity of qualities and relations. As for the concept of cause, Stumpf believed that both Kant and Hume were wrong; we can sometimes actually perceive a causal nexus as opposed to a mere sequence, and this experience is the origin of the category of cause. For example, when our thought processes are governed by some interest or mood, we do not first experience the interest and only subsequently its effects; rather, we are aware of the interest and its effects all at once. Thus we directly experience causality in our own internal activity. Without this we would not be conscious of reality. We transfer this awareness of causality to natural phenomena, although this projection is superfluous for scientific purposes where only lawlike sequences of events are needed.

Stumpf accepted a dualism of mind and nature but regarded the task of philosophy as the investigation of what mind and nature have in common. Philosophy is the science that studies the most general laws of the psychical and of the real. To be real means to have effects. The reality of our own mental states is the first datum. We recognize the reality of external objects as they affect us, having first acquired the idea of causality internally.

From Brentano, Stumpf took the fundamental notion of self-evidence. We experience the self-evidence of such judgments as 2 × 2 = 4, and this self-evidence cannot be further reduced. It is the subjective aspect of truth. Truth itself is that property of contents of consciousness whereby they compel assent. Truth is a function of that which is thought, not a function of the thinker. Stumpf explicitly rejected the positivist and pragmatist theories of truth.

Knowledge is of two sorts, a priori and a posteriori. A priori knowledge consists of deductions from self-evident propositions and from bare concepts. It ought to be expressed in hypothetical propositions, since no determination of fact is here made. Mathematical knowledge is of this type. If there are more geometries than one, all are a priori; only their applicability to objective space is an empirical question. A priori knowledge may be secured from any concept. The mere concept of three tones implies a definite order according to which a tone of one pitch must be located between the other two. The concept of a tone series contains the possibility of its continuation ad infinitum. These are propositions that we know but that neither have nor require proof. They are analytic, not only known by means of our concepts but known because they are about our concepts. A posteriori knowledge, on the other hand, is of facts and laws. Both sensory contents and mental activities or functions are experienced directly. Stumpf introduced the term Sachverhalte (state of affairs) into philosophy, although he claimed only to have replaced Brentano's notion of "content of judgment" with the term.

Stumpf rejected the idea of vitalism or of any sort of life force, although he did not oppose empirical psychovitalism, the view that feelings, thoughts, and volitions can be stimuli for physical nerve processes. He argued that evolution did not dispose of the problem of teleology, since life itself, whose origin from nonliving atoms is so mathematically improbable, requires an explanatory hypothesis.


works by stumpf

Über den psychologischen Ursprung der Raumvorstellung. Leipzig: Hinzel, 1873.

Tonpsychologie. 2 vols. Leipzig: Hirzel, 1883 and 1890.

Leib und Seele. Leipzig: Barth, 1903.

Erscheinungen und psychische Funktionen. Berlin, 1907.

Philosophische Reden und Vorträge. Leipzig: Barth, 1910. Contains various papers on evolution, the aesthetics of tragedy, and child psychology.

Die Anfänge der Musik. Leipzig: Barth, 1911.

Empfindung und Vorstellung. Berlin, 1918.

Franz Brentano. Munich: Beck, 1919.

Spinozastudien. Berlin, 1919.

Autobiography in Die Philosophie der Gegenwart in Selbstdarstellung, edited by Raymund Schmidt, Vol. V, 205265. Leipzig, 1924. Gives the best summary of his philosophical views. An English translation is available in Charles Murchison, Psychology in Autobiography, Vol. I, 389441. Worcester, MA, 1930.

William James. Berlin: Pan-verlag Rolf Heise, 1927.

Erkenntnislehre. 2 vols. Leipzig: Barton, 19391940.

works on stumpf

Boring, E. G. History of Experimental Psychology. New York and London: Century, 1929. Gives fullest account of Stumpf's psychology and his classification of experiences in relation to that of Husserl and Brentano.

Spiegelberg, Herbert. The Phenomenological Movement. 2 vols. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1960. Vol. I.

Titchener, E. B. Experimental Psychology. New York and London: Macmillan, 1905. Vol. II, 161163. Stumpf's psychophysics.

Titchener, E. B. "Prof. Stumpf's Affective Psychology." American Journal of Psychology 28 (1917): 263277. Stumpf's theory of emotions.

Arnulf Zweig (1967)