Herbart, Johann Friedrich

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Herbart, Johann Friedrich

(b. Oldenburg, Germany, 4 May 1776; d. Göttingen, Germany, 14 August 1841)

philosophy, psychology, pedagogy.

Herbart was first greatly interested in science and music, but at Jena he studied philosophy and law. He was strongly influenced by Enlightenment thought, particularly Kant’s ethics and Fichte’s metaphysics. Later he became a close friend of Pestalozzi. Herbart received his doctorate and qualified for lecturing at Göttingen, where he lectured on philosophy and pedagogy. In 1808 he accepted an invitation to take over Kant’s chair at Königsberg, where he established the first pedagogical institute with an experimental school. He also served on various commissions responsible for the improvement of the Prussian educational system.

According to Herbart, the structure and operation of man’s perception are conditioned by the changing complex of ultimate entities of reality, which he called the “reals” (Realen). As in the ancient theory of atoms and elements or Leibniz’ monad theory, the complex structure of reality arises through a rhythmical joining (synthesis) and separation (analysis) of the reals. The behavior of these entities is determined by their tendency toward self-assertion. Hence, a dialectical struggle of opposites emerges as the “law of motion” of reality. The task of philosophy is to create a rigorous analytic-synthetic conceptual system from perceived reality.

The soul is a central totality of manifold simple reals. The ideas that appear in the soul are the result of the interplay of the “self-preservative reactions” of the reals. If in this process an idea is so thoroughly repressed that it vanishes from consciousness, it struggles to emerge from below the threshold of consciousness until it reappears as a freely moving idea (memory). Herbart held that mental processes can be described with the exactness of mathematical laws.

In Herbart’s pedagogical writings each person is an individual and distinctive totality, capable of change and determination or redefinition, and therefore possessing “adaptiveness” (Bildsamkeit). This latter quality is especially characteristic of the moral will. Therefore, the goal of upbringing and education is the development of the personality of the whole human being. This development aims at the union of five ideas: inner freedom (harmony of moral insight and will), perfection (health of body and soul), benevolence (toward the will of others), justice (balancing of interests, respect for the rights of others), and equity (suitability of reward and punishment). Together they constitute the “virtue of self-determination.” As long as insight and self-determination of the will are lacking, the desires must submit to external regulation (subordination to authority and supervision). With the growth of intellectual spontaneity the pupil’s interest can be awakened through instruction and discipline.

Herbart distinguished three forms of the “interest in knowledge” (empirical, speculative, aesthetic) and three forms of the “interest in participation” (sympathetic, social, religious). The development of insight and will requires a rhythmic alternation from a probing, analytic instruction to a reflective, synthetic one. “Static” penetration leads to conceptual clarity, “progressive” penetration (association) to the increase of knowledge; static reflection yields the system of knowledge, and progressive reflection gives rise to its method. From these four fundamental concepts Herbart deduced the four formal stages of instruction. The course that the instruction takes can be demonstrative, analytic, or synthetic, according to need. A goal of discipline is to mold the interests stimulated by instruction into a totality of moving ideas (Gedankenkreis). In particular, instruction seeks by this means to instill within the pupil fundamental moral tenets and to form them into a conscience. With increasing age, education is first restraining, then determining, then regulating, and finally supportive, as it ends and self-education begins. With these basic concepts and requirements Herbart established pedagogy as an independent science. He was likewise a founder of educational therapy and a precursor of child psychiatry.


I. Original Works. Collections of Herbart’s writings include the following: Sämtliche Werke, G. Hartenstein, ed., 12 vols. (Leipzig, 1850–1852; 2nd ed., Hamburg, 1883–1892; supp. vol., 1893); Sämtliche Werke, K. Kchrbach, O. Willmann, and T. Fritzsch, eds., 19 vols. (Langensalza, 1887–1912; new ed., Aalen, 1964); Pädagogische Schriften. O. Willmann and T. Fritzsch, eds., 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1873–1875), 3rd ed., 3 vols. (Leipzig, 1913–1919); and Pädago-gische Schriften. W. Asmus, ed., 3 vols. (Düsseldorf-Munich, 1965). Herbart’s individual works include Kleine Schriften zur Pädagogik, T. Dietrich, ed. (Bad Heilbrunn, 1962); Umriss pädagogischer Vorlesungen, J. Esterhues, ed. (Paderborn, 1957; 2nd ed., 1964); Allgemeine Pädagogik, H. Nohl, ed. (Weinheim, 1952; 7th ed., 1965), also edited by H. Holstein (Bochum, 1966); Aus Herbarts Jugendschriften, H. Döopp-Vorwald, ed. (Weinheim, 1955; 3rd ed., 1965); Haulehrerbriefe und pädagogische Korrespundenz 1797–1807, W. Klaffki, ed. (Weinheim, 1966); and Kleine pädagogische Schriften, A. Brückmann, ed. (Paderborn, 1968).

II. Secondary Literature. On Herbart’s life or work, see W. Asmus, J. F Herbart, eine pädagogische Biographie, 2 vols. (Heidelbeig, 1968–1970); B. Bellerate, J. F Herbart (Brescia, 1964); and La pedagogia in J. F. Herbart (Brescia, 1970); J. L. Blass, Herbarts pädagogische Denkform (Wuppertal. 1969); A. Brückmann, Päddagogik and philosophisches Denken bei J. F.” Herbart (Zurich, 1961); A. Buss, Herbarts Beiträge zur Entwicklung der Heilpädagogik (Weinheim, 1962); H. Dunkel, Herbart and Education (New York, 1969); and Herbart and Herbartianism (Chicago-London, 1970); E. Geissler, Herbarts Lehre vain erziehenden Untenichi (Heidelberg, 1970); H. Holstein, Bildungsweg and Bildungsgeschehen (Ratingen, 1965); H. Hornstein, Bildsamkeit und Freiheit. Ein Grundproblem des Erziehungsdenkens bei Kant und Herbart (Düsseldorf, 1959); J. Müller, Herbarts Lehre vom Sein (Zurich, 1933); A. Rimsky-Korsakov, Herbarts Ontologie (St. Petersburg, 1903); J. N. Schmitz, Herhart-Bibliographie 1842–1963 (Weinheim, 1964); B. Schwenk, Das Herbartverständnis der Herbartianer (Weinheim, 1963): K. Smimov, Leibniz’ und Herbarts metaphysische Lehre von der Seele (Kharkov, 1910); G. Weiss, Herbart una seine Schule (Munich, 1928); and H. Zimmer, Führer durch die Herbart-Literatur (Langensalza, 1910).

Heinrich Beck

Arnulf Rieber

Johann Friedrich Herbart

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Johann Friedrich Herbart

Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841) was a Ger man philosopher-psychologist and educator, noted for his contributions in laying the foundations of scientific study of education.

Johann Friedrich Herbart was born on May 4, 1776, in Oldenburg, the son of the state councilor for Oldenburg. He attended the University of Jena (1794-1799). While there he studied under Johann Gottlieb Fichte and met Friedrich von Schiller. Upon graduation Herbart went to Interlaken, Switzerland, where he served as tutor to the governor's three sons. In Switzerland he met Johann Pestalozzi and visited his school at Burgdorf.

Herbart taught philosophy and pedagogy at Göttingen (1802-1809). He began to seek a sound philosophical base upon which to rest his educational theories. His major works during this time include ABC's of Observation (1804), The Moral or Ethical Revelation of the World: The Chief Aim of Education (1804), General Pedagogics (his chief educational work, 1806), Chief Points of Logic (1806), Chief Points of Metaphysics (1806), and General Practical Philosophy (1808).

In 1809 Herbart accepted the chair of philosophy at Königsberg University. He met Wilhelm von Humboldt, the Prussian commissioner of education, and at his request served on the commission for higher education. Herbart, a believer in normal schools and teacher education, sponsored the establishment of a pedagogical school and practice (laboratory) school at Königsberg in 1810. He then married Mary Drake, an English girl.

Herbart wrote System of Psychology (1814), Text-book of Psychology (1816), Psychology as a Science (1825), and a two-volume work, General Metaphysics (1829). His work cast him as a liberal thinker in many minds, and this did not fit well into the reactionary tone then gaining headway in Prussia. It cost him an appointment to Hegel's vacated chair of philosophy at Berlin University in 1831. Dissatisfied with the way things were progressing in Prussia, Herbart returned to Göttingen in 1833. He lectured at the university and published Outline of Pedagogical Lectures (1835). He died on Aug. 11, 1841.

Philosophy of Education

Herbart's influence on educational theory is very important, even at the present time. He not only developed a philosophical-psychological rationale for teaching but a teaching method as well. Herbart believed that the mind was the sum total of all ideas which entered into one's conscious life. He emphasized the importance of both the physical and the human environment in the development of the mind. To Herbart, ideas were central to the process. He felt they grouped themselves into what he called "apperceptive masses." By assimilation (or apperception) new ideas could enter the mind through association with similar ideas already present. This was the learning process.

Herbart's method of instruction has been identified by his students as involving the "Five Formal Steps of the Recitation." These are preparation, presentation, association, generalization, and application. Herbart went further to emphasize that through the proper correlation of subjects (curriculum materials) the student would come to understand the total unity of what is the world.

In Germany, Leipzig and Jena became centers for Herbartianism. It was through the influence of Americans who studied at Jena that the ideas of Herbart reached the United States (ca. 1890). The advocates formed the National Herbartian Society in 1892 (now the National Society for the Study of Education). Its purpose was to promote Herbart's ideas as they might relate to America's needs. The principal criticism which has been leveled at the Herbartians is the extreme formality into which they let Herbart's instructional method fall.

Further Reading

Charles De Garmo, Herbart and the Herbartians (1895), is an old but worthwhile study. The application of Herbartian psychology to the instructional process is covered in John Adams, The Herbartian Psychology (1899), and in Gabriel Compayre, Herbart and Education by Instruction, translated by M. E. Findlay (1906; trans. 1907). For modern accounts of Herbart's influence consult such sources as James Mulhern, History of Education (1946; 2d ed. 1959); John S. Brubacher, A History of the Problems of Education (1947; 2d ed. 1966); and Harold B. Dunkel, Herbart and Herbartianism: An Educational Ghost Story (1970).

Cole, Percival Richard, Herbart and Froebel: an attempt at synthesis, New York, AMS Press, 1972.

De Garmo, Charles, Herbart and the Herbartians, Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Library Editions, 1979.

Dunkel, Harold Baker, Herbart & education, New York, Random House 1969.

Dunkel, Harold Baker, Herbart and Herbartianism; an educational ghost story, Chicago, University of Chicago Press 1970.

MacVannel, John Angus, The educational theories of Herbart and Froebe, New York, AMS Press, 1972.

McMurry, Dorothy, Herbartian contributions to history instruction in American elementary school, New York, AMS Press, 1972.

Mossman, Lois (Coffey), Changing conceptions relative to the planning of lesson, New York, AMS Press, 1972. □

Herbart, Johann Friedrich

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Herbart, Johann Friedrich

Herbart, Johann Friedrich, German philosopher, educator, writer on music, and composer; b. Oldenburg, May 4, 1776; d. Göttingen, Aug. 14, 1841. He studied in Jena with Fichte. In 1805 he was appointed prof, of philosophy at Göttingen. From 1809 to 1835 he was at Königsberg, then from 1835 to his death again at Göttingen. Of importance to music theory is his Psychologische Bemerkungen zur Tonlehre (1811). He composed a Piano Sonata (Leipzig, 1808) and other works.


W. Kahl, H. als Musiker (Langensalza, 1926).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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