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Lotze, Hermann

Lotze, Hermann



Rudolf Hermann Lotze (1817–1881), German psychologist and philosopher, was born in Bautzen, Upper Lusatia. His father was a surgeon in the army of Saxony. In the confusion of the Napoleonic Wars, his family moved frequently, finding a permanent home only in 1818 in Zittau. There, in 1828, Lotze entered the excellent classical Gymnasium, graduating cum laude in 1834. In his last years at the Gymnasium, he wrote poetry, as well as a novelistic essay along the lines of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister. Strongly influenced by Goethe, and as yet unaware of the works of other thinkers, he began to develop what were to remain the essentials of his philosophy.

Lotze’s lack of funds forced him to abandon his literary and other interests and prepare himself for a profession. Following in his father’s footsteps, he began, in 1834, to study medicine at the University of Leipzig. He also studied philosophy under Christian H. Weisse, a friend of Fechner’s and an adherent of the idealist philosophy of Schelling and Hegel. Lotze’s later work was decisively influenced both by his medical and scientific training and by Weisse’s idealist teaching.

He completed his study of medicine in 1838 with a dissertation entitled De futurae biologiae principiis philosophicis. As a scientist he vigorously opposed the medical mysticism implied in the concept of “vitality,” replacing it with mechanistic explanations; as a philosopher, however, he denied that a mechanistic system of explanation is necessarily based on a materialist philosophy. He obtained a master’s degree in philosophy at the same time as his medical degree.

Lotze practiced medicine in Zittau for a year, but he soon found the town too confining. Encouraged by his former professor, Weisse, he returned to Leipzig as an instructor in medicine and philosophy; he was appointed associate professor in 1843. While he was at Leipzig he produced the outlines of his scientific life work: the Metaphysik (1841), in which he broke with Hegelian idealism; the Allgemeine Pathologic und Therapie als mechanische Naturwissenschaften (1842); the Logik (1843a); and three articles for Rudolf Wagner’s Handwörterbuch der Physiologic, “Leben, Lebenskraft” (1843b), “Instinct” (1844), and “Seele und Seelenleben” (1846). In 1844 he accepted an appointment as full professor at Gottingen, occupying what had been Johann Friedrich Herbart’s chair. He remained at Gottingen for 37 years until, at the urging of Eduard Zeller and Helmholtz, he accepted the chair vacated by Harms in Berlin. He died soon after his move to Berlin.

Lotze always remained both a scientist and a philosopher. His works are characterized, first, by his efforts to eliminate mysticism from science by using the causal—mechanistic method and, second, by his concern to dissociate mechanistic systematization from materialist-atheist philosophy. To Lotze intellectual achievement without faith was a caput mortuum, and science without causal-mechanistic systematization was not a science. Ultimately, to be sure, what concerned him was the ideal—what ought to be—and he saw the understanding of causal relationships simply as a condition for the realization of the ideal. Thus, mechanistic processes are indispensable to the existence of a phenomenon, but they are not its raison d’être. In this way Lotze tried to combine mechanistic systematization with ethical freedom, with what he called the dignity of subjectivity. In his own time his postulate of freedom, which went counter to the anti-idealist Zeitgeist, was not understood; his contemporaries availed themselves, instead, of the mass of physiological facts he cited —which clearly confirmed the dependence of the psychical on the physical—to support their materialist philosophy.

Lotze’s Allgemeine Physiologie des koerperlichen Lebens appeared in 1851, and his Medicinische Psychologic: Oder, Physiologie der Seele in 1852. The latter is the first physiological psychology, the prototype of all later works bearing similar titles. In contrast to Fechner’s parallelism, Lotze’s psychology is a theory of interaction: sensation is produced by the mind “at the initiative of a neural state.” Space is a mode of perception peculiar to the mind. A corollary to this theory of space perception is Lotze’s theory of” local signs,” which asserts that the world of external space is never simply perceived but rather reproduced by the mind.

His two-volume magnum opus, Microcosmus (1856–1864), has two aspects: it is both a polemic against materialist philosophy and an expansion of Lotze’s psychology into a comprehensive anthropology. (Its German subtitle is “Versuch einer Anthropologie.”) Exploring what he called education (Bildung), that is, the conditions under which a human being becomes human, he dealt with such subjects as national temperament, the evolution of customs and morals, and the influences of home, family, division of labor, and so forth. He regarded the history of mankind as the history of the evolution of the human mind.

Lotze founded no school; he had no disciples. Yet he was a pioneer with some influence, for the friends and pupils he did have were men of scientific importance: Teichmüller, Stumpf, Konrad Langenbeck, and Georg E. Miiller. Stumpf studied with Lotze in 1867–1868, and, after working with Franz Brentano in Würzburg for two years, he returned to Göttingen as an instructor. Müller took his doctorate with Lotze in 1873, became an instructor at Güttingen in 1876, and succeeded Lotze as professor there in 1881.

It is unlikely that anyone with an empirical, problem-oriented approach to psychology will find Lotze’s work of direct relevance. But if he does not dismiss Lotze’s work too readily as obsolete, he may find fertile suggestions there.

Wilhelm J. Revers

[For discussion of the subsequent development of Lotze’s ideas, seePerception, articles onDepth perceptionandPerceptual Development.]


(1838) 1885 De futurae biologiae principiis philosophicis: Dissertatio inauguralis medica. Volume 1, pages 1-25 in Hermann Lotze, Kleine Schriften. Leipzig: Hirzel.

(1838–1881) 1885–1891 Kleine Schriften. 3 vols. Edited with an introduction by David Peipers. Leipzig: Hirzel.

1840 Gedichte. Leipzig: Weidmann.

1841 Metaphysik. Leipzig: Weidmann.

(1842) 1848 Allgemeine Pathologie und Therapie als mechanische Naturwissenschaften. 2d ed. Leipzig: Hirzel.

1843a Logik. Leipzig: Weidmann.

(1843b) 1885 Leben, Lebenskraft. Volume 1, pages 139–220 in Hermann Lotze, Kleine Schriften. Leipzig: Hirzel.

(1844) 1885 Instinct. Volume 1, pages 221–250 in Her-mann Lotze,Kleine Schriften. Leipzig: Hirzel.

(1846) 1886 Seele und Seelenleben. Volume 2, pages 1-204 in Hermann Lotze,Kleine Schriften. Leipzig: Hirzel.

1851 Allgemeine Physiologie des koerperlichen Lebens. Leipzig: Weidmann.

1852 Medicinische Psychologic: Oder, Physiologie der Seele. Leipzig: Weidmann.

(1856–1864) 1894 Microcosmus: An Essay Concerning Man and His Relation to the World. 4th ed., 2 vols. Edinburgh: Clark. → First published as Mikrokosmus: Ideen zur Naturgeschichte und Geschichte der Menschheit: Versuch einer Anthropologie, in 3 volumes.

1857 Streitschriften. Volume 1: In Bezug auf Prof. I. H. Fichte’s Anthropologie. Leipzig: Hirzel.

1868 Geschichte der Aesthetik in Deutschland. Akademie der Wissenschaft, Munich, Geschichte der Wissenschaften in Deutschland, Vol. 7. Munich: Cotta.

(1874) 1888 Logic, in Three Books: Of Thought, of Investigation, and of Knowledge. 2d ed., 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press. → First published in German. Part 1 of Lotze’s “System of Philosophy.”

(1879) 1887 Metaphysic, in Three Books: Ontology, Cosmology and Psychology. 2d ed., 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press. → First published in German. Part 2 of Lotze’s “System of Philosophy.”

(1881) 1886 Outlines of Psychology. Boston: Ginn. → First published in German.


Boring, Edwin G. (1929) 1957 A History of Experimental Psychology. 2d ed. New York: Appleton. → See especially pages 261–270 on “Hermann Lotze.”

Brett, George S. (1912–1921) 1962 Brett’s History of Psychology. Edited and abridged by R. S. Peters. London: Allen & Unwin; New York: Macmillan. ü An abridged edition of the original three-volume publication, A History of Psychology. See especially pages 591–600 on Lotze’s soul psychology.

Falckenberg, Richard F. O. 1901 Hermann Lotze. Stuttgart: Fromann.

Hall, G. Stanley 1912 Founders of Modern Psychology. New York: Appleton. → See especially pages 65-121 on “Rudolph Hermann Lotze.”

Hartmann, Eduardvon 1888 Lotze’s Philosophic. Leipzig: Friedrich.

Murphy, Gardner (1929)1949 Historical Introduction to Modern Psychology. Rev. ed. New York: Harcourt.

Wentscher, max 1925 Fechner und Lotze. Munich: Reinhardt.

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