Katz, David

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Katz, David


David Katz (1884–1953), experimental psychologist associated with the universities of Gottingen, Rostock, and Stockholm, is best known as a proponent of the phenomenological method in psychology and as a contributor of research in a wide variety of experimental fields, notably in visual and tactual perception, motivation, and animal and child behavior. Although he was not identified with a specific “school” of psychology, he was one of the leaders of the post-World War I revolt against the atomistic and associationistic tradition of the nineteenth century. His Gestalt Psychology (1944), while an exposition and critique rather than a defense of that position, reveals a systematic point of view close to that of Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler, and Kurt Koffka.

Katz was a native of Kassel, Germany, where he received his early education. He studied at Gottingen, Munich, and Berlin, receiving his doctorate at Gottingen under G. E. Müller in 1906 and serving as Müller’s assistant until he was promoted to the rank of Privatdozent in 1911. In 1914 he volunteered for military service, being assigned first to ambulance duty and later to a range-finding unit in the artillery. In both assignments he succeeded in combining research with his military duties. At the end of the war he initially returned to Gottingen but in 1919 was called to a newly established chair of psychology and education at the University of Rostock in Mecklenburg, where he remained until his dismissal by the Nazis in 1933 because of his Jewish origins. From then until 1937 he was supported as a refugee research scientist in England, first with T. H. Pear at Manchester and later in Cyril Hurt’s department at the University of London. In London, too, through the good offices of Julian Huxley, he was provided with facilities for animal research in the London Zoological Gardens. In 1937 he was appointed to the chair of pedagogy (which at that time included psychology) at the University of Stockholm, a post which he held until his retirement in 1952. While in Stockholm Katz served as organizing secretary of the Thirteenth International Congress of Psychology, which met there in 1951. His posts included a visiting professorship at the University of Maine in 1929, the Hitchcock Lectureship at the University of California in 1950, and a postretirement visiting professorship at the University of Hamburg. He was married in 1919 to Rosa Heine, also a pupil of G. E. Müller’s, who collaborated with him in many of his researches.

Although Katz will probably be remembered primarily for his application of the phenomenological method to experimental psychology, his fertile imagination and his experimental ingenuity yielded important, frequently pioneering contributions to a wide variety of psychological fields. In addition to his classic studies of color and touch, these contributions included: studies in educational and child psychology (Katz & Katz 1928); a long series of animal experiments, many of which are summarized in Animals and Men (1937); an approach to the theory of motivation based on the analysis of hunger and appetite; investigations of vibratory and other relatively unnoticed forms of perception (1930); studies in the psychology of thinking (1953); and miscellaneous contributions to experimental instrumentation. His laboratory in Rostock became one of the most active and productive in pre-Hitler Germany, and his influence on the development of experimental psychology in Sweden was great.

G. E. Müller was undoubtedly the dominant influence during Katz’s formative years as a psychologist. During the early years of this century Müller’s institute in Gottingen rivaled that of Wilhelm Wundt in Leipzig as a center for experimental research and as a mecca for young psychologists from other countries. Müller ruled his laboratory with an iron hand. His own research interests were primarily in psychophysics, perception, and memory, and his pupils were likely to begin their research in one of these fields. Among the students with whom Katz was associated were the Dane Edgar Rubin, the Hungarian Geza Revesz, the American Lillien Martin, the Englishmen William McDougall and Charles Spearman, and the Germans Narziss Ach and E. R. Jaensch, all of whom learned from Müller the discipline of the laboratory but most of whom moved far from Müller’s rigorously analytic psychology. For Katz, and probably also for Revesz and Rubin, an equally important influence came from the philosopher Edmund Husserl and through him from the phenomenological movement that was gaining strength in German philosophy. Katz attended Husserl’s lectures and also became friendly with Max Scheler, both of whom showed a lively, although not uncritical, interest in the new experimental psychology.

The appeal of Husserl’s phenomenology to the psychologist lay in its insistence on a free and unbiased, yet rigorous description of the phenomena of experience. It was antipositivistic in its rejection of the reductive atomism of the nineteenth-century associationists, but not antiscientific. Husserl held out the hope that philosophy itself could eventually become a rigorous science (strenge Wissenschaft). The phenomenological method involved the deliberate suspension or “bracketing” (einklammern) of presuppositions as to the nature, composition, and origin of experience. Katz employed this method in his descriptive and experimental analyses of the world of color (1911) and the world of touch (1925). To be suspended was the prevailing nineteenth-century theory of perception, identified with Hermann von Helmholtz and with the earlier English empiricists, as a composite of primary, meaningless, sensory elements modified or interpreted through central associative or intellectual processes. Such a theory, Katz pointed out, involves a prejudgment of the nature of perception that automatically and arbitrarily excludes from investigation some of its most interesting phenomena. In addition to the traditional descriptive categories of hue, brightness, and saturation, the phenomena of color may be ordered along such dimensions as mode of appearance (Erscheinungsweise), pronouncedness (Ausgepragtheit), insistence (Eindringlichkeit), transparency, inherence, and stability; and similarly the world of touch (tasten —to touch actively) has many properties and dimensions not included in the traditional categories of pressure, pain, and temperature. For Katz the study of perception must include the whole world of things, events, and relations as they are naively apprehended, including the phenomena of meaningful organization, expression, and intentionality. Katz’s experiments, particularly those on phenomenal constancy, now rank as classics in the field of perception.

Robert B. Macleod

[For the historical context of Katz’s work, seeGestalt theory; Phenomenology; and the biographies ofHusserl ; Koffka; Köhler; MÜller, Georg Elias; Wertheimer. For discussion of the subsequent development of Katz’s ideas, seeSkin senses and kinesthesis; and VISION, article oncolor vision and color blindness.]


(1911) 1935 The World of Colour. London: Routledge. → First published in German as Die Erscheinungsweisen der Farben und ihre Beeinflussung durch die individuelle Erfahrung. A revised and enlarged edition was published in 1930 as Der Aufbau der Farbwelt.

1913 Psychologic und mathematischer Unterricht. Leipzig: Teubner.

1921 Zur Psychologic des Amputierten und seiner Prothese. Leipzig: Earth.

1925 Der Aufbau der Tastwelt. Leipzig: Earth.

1928 Katz, David; and Katz, RosaGespräche mit Kindern. Berlin: Springer.

1930 The Vibratory Sense, and Other Lectures. Orono: Univ. of Maine Press.

1937 Animals and Men: Studies in Comparative Psychology. English translation by Alice I. Taylor and Herbert S. Jackson from David Katz’s manuscript. London and New York: Longmans.

(1944) 1950 Gestalt Psychology: Its Nature and Significance. New York: Ronald Press. → First published as Gestalt psychologie.

1952 Autobiography. Volume 4, pages 189–211 in A History of Psychology in Autobiography. Worcester, Mass.: Clark Univ. Press.

1953 Studien zur experimentellen Psychologie. Basel: Schwabe.