Stumpf, Carl

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Stumpf, Carl



Friedrich Carl Stumpf, German psychologist, philosopher, and music theorist, was born in 1848 in Wiesentheid, Lower Franconia, and died in 1936 in Berlin. His father was the medico-legal officer of a county court. Both of his parents were very musical. While attending secondary schools in Kitzingen, Bamberg, and Aschaffenburg, Stumpf was taught to play several musical instruments; ultimately, he learned to play six instruments and taught himself the theory of harmony and counterpoint.

In 1865 Stumpf matriculated at the University of Würzburg, where he initially studied Catholic theology and then philosophy with Franz Brentano. Next he went to study with Hermann Lotze at Göttingen, where he also took courses in the natural sciences. After receiving his doctorate, he was habilitated at Gottingen as Privatdozent in philosophy. Between 1873 and 1893 he held chairs successively at Würzburg, Prague, Halle, Munich, and finally at Berlin, where he founded the psychological institute of the university. Stumpf became dean and then rector of the university, a privy councilor, and a member of the Academy of Sciences.

Work in music . Stumpf began his work on Tonpsychologie (the psychology of musical sounds) while still at Würzburg. His monograph on the Bellacoola Indians (1886) pioneered research on non-European music and stimulated the use of recording devices in such research. In Berlin, together with his students Otto Abraham and Erich von Hornbostel, he set up a collection of Edison wax cylinders and established a record archive, affiliated with the psychological institute.

Stumpf‘s work on Tonpsychologie is his most permanent scientific achievement. He coined the term and was the first to deal with the subject systematically. In his major work, with the same title (1883-1890), he used Helmholtz‘ researches, which were primarily physical and physiological, as a point of departure and then shifted to a psychological focus—a focus on the sensation of tone and the function of that sensation, rather than on the organ of hearing. He regarded the experience of the blending of tones as the basic factor in consonance, which he traced back hypothetically to “specific synergies” in the brain processes. In a later work, Die Anfänge der Musik (1911), he modified his position, having been impressed by the arguments of Hugo Riemann, who found the concept of blending inadequate for triads and for chords of more than three notes. Stumpf therefore introduced the term “concordance” (or “concord”) for all major and minor triads, together with their inversions. He regarded all other chords as “discordances” (or “discords”). This aspect of his theory did not stand up against the theory of Felix Krueger or against that of Stumpf‘s own students, especially von Hornbostel.

Stumpf‘s ethnological studies, including studies of music, particularly his Anfänge der Musik, qualify him as the founder of comparative musicology, or ethnomusicology. He also continued the kind of research Helmholtz had done, using the physical method of interference to break down vocal and instrumental chords and build them up again. He presented his findings in Die Sprachlaute (1926), a book written late in life as a substitute for the planned third volume of his Tonpsychologie. Thus, Stumpf harnessed physics, physiology, psychology, ethnology, philosophy, and above all, aesthetics to the service of the systematic study of music, and eventually he won acceptance of this subject as an independent discipline by the faculty of philosophy of the University of Berlin.

Psychology . As a psychologist, Stumpf formulated a theory of space perception and a theory of emotions. His first (psychological) book dealt with space perception (1873). Boring has described it as a nativistic theory which argues that both color and extension are equally “part-contents” of visual sensation ([1929] 1950, p. 363). Stumpf‘s theory of emotions is akin to those of Wundt, James, and C. Lange, who derived emotions from organic sensations. Stumpf introduced the concept of “emotional sensations” as a special class of sensations, related to tickling, itching, and cutaneous pain, and he believed that these emotional sensations constitute the basis of all emotionality. Pleasure and pain (or displeasure) were for him merely another special class of sensations rather than a separate class of psychic phenomena. This view has not, however, prevailed.

At the turn of the century Stumpf created something of a stir with his attempt to re-establish with regard to the body-soul problem the theory of mutual causation (or causal interdependence), which was by then considered obsolete. This effort was aimed at Wundt in particular (it was only one of the many areas in which Stumpf was at odds with Wundt and his school). But again, Stumpf‘s view was not accepted, not even by the gestalt theorists among his own students.

Philosophy . Stumpf‘s third area of interest, besides music and psychology, was that of logic and epistemology. Stumpf‘s work here is sometimes considered similar to that of von Meinong and Husserl, since all three were students and intellectual descendants of Lotze and Brentano, but Stumpf and the two slightly younger philosophers really have nothing fundamentally in common. Indeed, Stumpf criticized von Meinong and Husserl, incisively although respectfully. He rejected von Meinong‘s theory of “impossible” objects and Husserl‘s “pure” phenomenology as impracticable. Although he approved of Husserl‘s rejection of “psychologism,” in the Logische Untersuchungen, he could not go along with the fundamental cleavage Husserl proposed between psychology and philosophy, and he took issue sharply with the Marburg school of Neo-Kantianism (1891). He considered Kant‘s misconception and neglect of psychology to be the basic failing of his philosophical system.

According to Stumpf, the fundamental task of epistemology is to establish those immediately evident “rational insights” that become organized into axioms of different degrees of abstraction and generality. In these fundamental insights, logic must cooperate with psychology; their content is not the subject of logic alone. Stumpf believed that the theory of probability is important for developing knowledge from its a priori fundaments; however, he saw probability as concerned not with judgments or facts but rather with judgments on man‘s subjective knowledge about facts. As in the Tonpsychologie, Stumpf made a rigorous distinction between phenomena and functions, that is, between objects of experience (sensory and memory contents), on the one hand, and actions and experiences or states, on the other. Thus, he called the doctrine of phenomena so defined “phenomenology” and separated it strictly from “psychology,” the doctrine of functions.

More particularly, psychology is, according to Stumpf, the doctrine of elementary functions, the complex ones being the subject of the other Geistes-wissenschaften. Psychology thus becomes a low-level, elementary Geisteswissenschaft; this definition is similar to the one offered by Dilthey in his 1894 article, “Ideen über eine beschreibende und zergliedernde Psychologic.” Thus, Stumpf defined phenomenology in a somewhat different way than did Husserl, namely, in a more narrow sense and less specifically in terms of methodology. In addition to phenomena and functions, Stumpf distinguished “correlates,” or “structures,” of functions, these being the concepts, facts, and values that he made the substance of a special science called “eidology,” which might also be called Ideenwis-senschaft, and is best translated as “theory of ideas,” in the Platonic sense. Finally, there remain relationships as distinct objects of inquiry; these are treated in the “sciences of relations.”

In ethics Stumpf followed Brentano in combating relativism and so for once found himself in agreement with Wundt. Stumpf doubted the assumption that the amount of “happiness” in the world is increasing, although he was convinced that there is a progressive refinement of ethical sensibility.

Stumpf also made excursions into metaphysics, but these were no more successful than his complicated classification of the sciences. His accomplishments as a psychologist were significant for his time, especially his work as an experimenter, although here, too, his views have hardly endured in any essential respect. Some of the leading gestalt theorists, including Max Wertheimer and Wolfgang Kohler, were among his students—Kohler succeeded him at Berlin—but they largely rejected his basic position. It is in the area of musical theory that Stumpf‘s influence has been most lasting.

Albert Wellek

[For the historical context of Stumpf‘s work, see the biographies of Helmholtz; Husserl; James; Lotze; Wundt; for discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, see Aesthetics; Hearing; Perception, article ondepth perception; Phenomenology; Psychophysics; Senses.]


1873 Ueber den psychologischen Ursprung der Raumvor-stellung. Leipzig: Hirzel.

1883-1890 Tonpsychologie. 2 vols. Leipzig: Hirzel.

(1886) 1922 Lieder der Bellakula-Indianer. Pages 87-103 in A. J. Ellis et al., Abhandlungen zur vergleichenden Musikwissenschaft. Munich: Drei Masken. → First published in Volume 2 of the Vierteljahrsschrift fur Musikwissenschaft.

1891 Psychologie und Erkenntnistheorie. Munich: Franz.

1898-1924 Stumpf, Carl (editor) Beitrdge zur Akustik und Musikwissenschaft. 9 vols. Leipzig: Earth.

(1900-1903) 1909 Leib und Seele und Der Entwicklungs-gedanke in der gegenwdrtigen Philosophie. 3d ed. Leipzig: Earth. → These two works were originally published separately.

1907 Erscheinungen und psychische Funktionen. Berlin: Reimer.

1908a Die Wiedergeburt der Philosophic. Leipzig: Earth.

1908b Vom ethischen Skeptizismus. Berlin: Universitats-Buchdruckerei von Gustav Schade.

1910 Philosophische Reden und VorträEge. Leipzig: Earth.

1911 Die Anfdnge der Musik. Leipzig: Earth.

1924 [Autobiography of] Carl Stumpf. Volume 5, pages 205-265 in Die deutsche Philosophic der Gegenwart in Selbstdarstellungen. Edited by Raymund Schmidt. Leipzig: Meiner.

1926 Die Sprachlaute: Experimentell-phonetische Untersuchungen nebst einem Anhang über InstrumentalKlänge. Berlin: Springer.

1927 William James nach seinen Briefen. Berlin: Pan-Verlag Rolf Heise.

1928 Gefül und Gefuhlsempfindung. Leipzig: Earth.

1939-1940 Erkenntnislehre. 2 vols. Edited by Felix Stumpf. Leipzig: Earth.


Boring, Edwin G. (1929) 1950 A History of Experimental Psychology. 2d ed. New York: Appleton. → See especially pages 362-371, “Carl Stumpf.”

Dilthey, Wilhelm 1894 Ideen über eine beschreibende und zergliedernde Psychologie. Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin, Sitzungsberichte 2:1309-1407. → Reprinted in 1964 in Volume 5 of Dilthey‘s Gesammelte Schriften.