Psychologie et Histoire, 2001, Vol. 2, 1-37.






Translated by David J. MURRAY* et Christina A. BANDOMIR**


*Queen’s University, Department of Psychology, Kingston, Ontario, K7L 3N6, Canada. Email:

**University of Guelph, Department of Psychology, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada. Email:


Abstract: This article provides a translation of a short survey by Flügel (1905) of the life and work of J. F. Herbart (1776-1841). Flügel showed how Herbart’s pro-scientific and pro-individualistic views were formed in his student years at Jena (1794-1797) and his ideas about education in his years as a private tutor in Switzerland and Bremen (1797-1802). At Göttingen (1802-1809), Herbart published his first works on educational theory and on practical philosophy (ethics, political science, jurisprudence, and aesthetics). At Königsberg (1809-1833), he produced his psychology and his metaphysics, both of which were unusually reliant on mathematics and on scientific reasoning. At Göttingen again (1833-1841), Herbart continued to develop his earlier ideas. Flügel’s short biography also relates Herbart’s ideas (from the turn of the 19th century) to those of Flügel’s time (the turn of the 20th century).

Key words: J. F. Herbart, philosophy, psychology

Résumé: Cet article donne une traduction anglaise d’une courte étude de Flügel (1905) sur la vie et les travaux de J.F. Herbart (1776-1841). Flügel a montré comment les vues pro-scientifiques et pro-individualistes de Herbart se sont formées durant ses années d’études à Iéna (1794-1797), et ses idées sur l’éducation durant ses années comme précepteur en Suisse et à Brème (1797-1802). A Göttingen (1802-1809), Herbart a publié ses premiers travaux sur le thème de l’éducation et sur sa philosophie pratique (éthique, science politique, droit, et esthétique). A Königsberg (1809-1833), il a produit sa psychologie et sa métaphysique, basées toutes les deux sur les mathématiques et le raisonnement scientifique. A Göttingen (1833-1841) à nouveau, Herbart a continué à développer ses premières idées. La courte biographie établie par Flügel relie aussi les idées de Herbart (tournant du XIXe siècle) à celles de l’époque de Flügel (tournant du XXe siècle).

Mots clés : J. F. Herbart, philosophie, psychologie










Johann Friedrich Herbart was a many-sided scholar of the type exemplified by some of his German predecessors including Leibniz, Wolff, and Kant. During the 65 years of his life, he wrote on music, the theory of sound, cosmology, ethics, political theory, metaphysics, psychology, and educational theory (often called ‘pedagogy’ in the 19th century). Of these various contributions, those to educational theory were by far the most widely known. Throughout the 19th century, elementary schools existed in Germany whose educational principles were founded on Herbartian pedagogy. Moreover, in the period between about 1880 and 1910, these Herbartian ideas were spread to the United States by a group of schoolteachers who had spent some time in Germany. In order to facilitate the dissemination of Herbartian pedagogy, this group arranged for translations into English of many of Herbart’s educational texts, as well as for summaries of Herbart’s ideas, for example, that of De Garmo (1896). The history of this short-lived movement was described in detail by Dunkel (1970), whose book should be the first reference that should be consulted by any English-reading investigator who is just beginning his or her reading of Herbart in general, but Herbart’s educational theory in particular.

However Herbart’s ideas on psychology in general, and his application of mathematics to psychology, despite having been widely spread in Germany prior to about 1860, gradually became forgotten. The story of the fate of his mathematical psychology is given by Boudewijnse, Murray, and Bandomir (2001), who ascribe its demise to a number of causes, not least of which is the fact that Herbart’s great Psychologie als Wissenschaft [Psychology as science] was never translated into English or French. The first Part of this work appeared in 1824, and is solidly mathematical. The second Part appeared in 1825, and is concerned with the implications of the theory for our understanding of cognition, emotion, motivation, and other aspects of human mental experience; there are hardly any equations in Part 2. This book was hardly discussed at all in the voluminous writings of the German and American Herbartian educationists at the end of the 19th century.

On the other hand, a handful of philosophers and psychologists did attempt, during that time period, to summarize Herbart’s psychology in specialist articles, including some mention of the mathematics. Pride of place must go to the English psychologist George Frederick Stout (1860-1944), who wrote four articles about Herbart’s ideas and their influence on psychology (1888a, b; 1889a, b). Another English psychologist, James Ward (1843-1925), wrote an informative article on Herbart for the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910-1911). An admirable chapter on Herbart was provided by Théodule A. Ribot (1839-1916) in his book on 19th century German psychology; this book was widely read both in its original French version (1879) and in its English translation (1886). Ribot’s importance in the dissemination of the research of Herbart and others has been evaluated by Nicolas and Murray (1999).

A life of Herbart, with emphasis on his contributions to teaching, was provided by Felkin and Felkin (1902), in their translation of Herbart’s Allgemeine Pädagogik [General pedagogy] of 1806; and Dunkel (1970) has several opening chapters devoted to Herbart’s life and thought. A full-length biography of Herbart, emphasizing his role in education theory, is available in German (Asmus, 1968-1970). Leary (1978, 1980, 1982) has three articles describing the philosophical background, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, to Herbart’s psychology. An introductory exposition of Herbart’s mathematical psychology, directed to present-day experimental psychologists, has been provided by Boudewijnse, Murray, and Bandomir (1999).

What is missing from this list is a convenient article-length description in English of how Herbart’s psychology and educational theory link in with his life-story (which was basically that of a quiet academic) and with his ideas about philosophy in general and the philosophy of science in particular. A bonus would be for this article also to include an introduction to his views on ethics and political science. In the course of his research on Herbart, the first author came across a box, on the shelves of the Stauffer Library at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, filled with pamphlets about Herbart. Most of these pamphlets were printed versions of theses about Herbart submitted in the late 19th and early 20th century to German universities. But one of them, authored by Flügel (1905), provided a biography of Herbart that had almost exactly the length and breadth of coverage that had been desired.

It was written by the philosopher and theologian Otto Flügel (1842-1914) in 1905, at a time when Flügel was assisting K. Kehrbach with the final volumes of Kehrbach’s edition of "The Complete Works of Herbart in their Chronological Order of Publication" (1887-1912, 19 volumes). The biography itself was the first in a series, published by Dr. Julius Ziehen, of paperbound biographies of famous scientists; the series was printed by Wilhelm Weicher of Leipzig. Flügel’s biography was dedicated to "Frau Professor M. Sanio, the step-daughter of Frau Herbart".

A translation of Flügel’s biography follows. The headings are those of Flügel, as are all the endnotes. Here and there a technical term or historical allusion has been clarified by the insertion, into the body of the text, of a "translator’s note" in square brackets.


Bibliography for Translator’s note

Asmus, W. (1968-1970). J. F. Herbart: Eine pädagogische Biographie (Vols. 1-2). Heidelberg: Quelle und Meyer.

Boudewijnse, G.-J., Murray, D. J., & Bandomir, C. A. (1999). Herbart’s mathematical psychology. History of Psychology, 2, 163-193.

Boudewijnse, G.-J., Murray, D. J., & Bandomir, C. A. (2001, in press). The fate of Herbart’s mathematical psychology. History of Psychology, 4.

De Garmo, C. (1896). Herbart and the Herbartians. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Dunkel, H. B. (1970). Herbart and Herbartianism: An educational ghost story. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Felkin, H. M., & Felkin, E. (1902). Introduction by the translators to: The science of education: Its general principles deduced from its aim. and The aesthetic revelation of the world (pp. 1-56). London: Swan Sonnenschein.

Flügel, O. (1905). Der Philosoph J. F. Herbart. Leipzig, Germany: W. Weicher. (Paperbound book on file in pamphlet box in the Joseph L. Stauffer Library at Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario, Canada; Call No. B3048.)

Herbart, J. F. (1890). Psychologie als Wissenschaft [Psychology as science]. In K. Kehrbach (Ed.), Jon. Fr. Herbart’s sämtliche Werke in chronologischer Reihenfolge (Part 1: Vol. 5, pp. 177-434). Langensalza: Hermann Beyer und Söhne. (Original work published 1824).

Herbart, J. F. (1892). Psychologie als Wissenschaft [Psychology as science]. In K. Kehrbach (Ed.), Jon. Fr. Herbart’s sämtliche Werke in chronologischer Reihenfolge (Part 2: Vol. 6, pp. 1-340). Langensalza: Hermann Beyer und Söhne. (Original work published 1825).

Leary, D. E. (1978). The philosophical development of the conception of psychology in Germany, 1750-1850. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 14, 113-121.

Leary, D. E. (1980). The historical foundation of Herbart’s mathematization of psychology. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 16, 150-163.

Leary, D. E. (1982). Immanuel Kant and the development of modern psychology. In W. R. Woodward & M. G. Ash (Eds.). The problematic science: Psychology in nineteenth-century thought (pp. 17-42). New York: Praeger.

Nicolas, S., & Murray, D. J. (1999). Théodule Ribot (1839-1916), founder of French psychology: A biographical introduction. History of Psychology, 2, 277-301.

Ribot, T. A. (1879). La psychologie allemande contemporaine (école expérimentale). Paris: Baillière.

Ribot, T. A. (1886). German psychology of today, the empirical school (2nd ed.; J. M. Baldwin, Trans.). New York: Scribner.

Stout, G. F. (1888a). I.-The Herbartian psychology. (I.). Mind, 13, 321-338.

Stout, G. F. (1888b). I.-The Herbartian psychology. (II.). Mind, 13, 473-498.

Stout, G. F. (1889a). I.- Herbart compared with English psychologists and with Beneke. Mind, 14, 1-26.

Stout, G. F. (1889b). II.- The psychological work of Herbart’s disciples. Mind, 14, 353-368.

Ward, J. (1910-11). Herbart, Johann Friedrich. In Encyclopedia Britannica (11th ed., Vol. 13, pp. 335-338). New york: Encyclopedia Britannica Company.





Who is a philosopher? And what is philosophy? One must know the answers to these questions if one is to categorize and evaluate somebody as a philosopher. By the word philosophy, according to Herbart, many people wish to denote a set of rules about the art of conducting one’s life in a manner characterized by tranquillity and dignity. A certain amount of spirit [Geist] acts like a weight in a set of scales, ensuring that equanimity can be preserved despite the uncertainties of life. This viewpoint is often called ‘a philosophy of life.’ 1 And Herbart did indeed have his own philosophy of life. But, for our purposes, it is Herbart’s philosophy considered as science that will be our main preoccupation. A number of differing accounts claim to explain how philosophy can be considered to be a science, but they tend in two main directions.

According to the first tendency, philosophy should incorporate a discussion not only of logical thinking, but also of feeling. At the present time, many would like to see a philosophical division between thinking and feeling because they evoke differing value judgments. Philosophy, it is argued, lies beyond the realm of only the true and the false. Philosophy ought to fill in gaps that are associated with a knowledge based narrowly on only experience by including also considerations concerning the thinker’s individual personality, the historical epoch in which he lives, and the nation to which he belongs; in this way, individual threads of knowledge may be united into one encompassing philosophy [Weltanschauung]. It is not merely truth that is sought out, but more a series of truths that satisfy both the heart and the reason. In short, this philosophy is voluntaristic, that is, it appeals heavily to the affective side [Gemütsseite] of its audience. When expressed in terms of language, this philosophy often seems to partake, in its linguistic ambiguity, of the half-darkness associated with poetry.

Herbart stood solidly against this first tendency, which was already becoming dominant in his time, in all of its manifestations. "The opinion that any present-day school or anything that is generally contemporary can explain exactly what philosophy ought to consist of is entirely unreliable. Philosophy belongs neither to today nor yesterday." 2 By this quotation Herbart implied that his concept of philosophy, [representing the second tendency], is one that is timeless, that is, not grounded in history. As a result, one has to go back many centuries to those philosophers who dominated philosophical debate, namely Plato and Aristotle, to determine what they meant by philosophy. But these writers sharply distinguished knowledge from opinion, and dispassionate assessment [Erkennen] from considerations based on desires, needs, character, contemporary fashion, and so on. These latter considerations, shared with the voluntarism we defined above, represent a bypassing of thinking; they represent imagination, mythology, philodoxy, not philosophy. Philosophy can only express that which can be pointed to or demonstrated to be factual. Therefore, voluntarism can offer no universal Weltanschauung, because we can only have direct knowledge of a very small portion of the world.

It was in this last sense that Kant and - omitting other names - his successor Herbart understood the meaning of the word ‘philosophy’.

From the above, it can be seen, first, that Herbart always strove to base all his thinking on facts and on logic alone; second, that he rigorously upheld the notion that there was a historical continuity and unity underlying philosophy; and third, that he thereby found himself at odds with his own time. He had to contend against Fichte, who saw imagination as the organ of philosophy and believed that the contents of knowledge shifted in accordance with individual inclinations; against Schelling’s doctrine of intellectual intuition [Anschauung]; against Hegel, who thought that philosophy was always bound up by the concepts current at any one time, so that each historical period was associated with a new philosophy; and against the Romantics, to whom philosophy was a form of poetry or personal vision [Bekenntnis].

It is appropriate to have stated these considerations at the outset, because, from now on, we shall be evaluating Herbart mainly in his role as a philosopher. Nobody should look to Herbart to provide something he never set out to give and which, moreover, should never be given by philosophers anyway, according to Herbart’s definition of philosophy, namely, a Weltanschauung that satisfies both the heart and the reason. All considerations of personal goals that may or may not be achievable take a back seat in his philosophy, because the only things that have value for his investigations are general experience and universally valid logic. But this approach provides a much stricter criterion for measuring Herbart’s accomplishments than is customarily associated with a great many philosophers. Herbart wants to be evaluated not only by the criteria of whether his teachings were internally consistent, or whether they were appropriate for his time or not, but also by whether he had proposed methodologies, dealt with problems, and obtained results that were unconditionally partially or completely valid for all times. That is, he wanted his work to be reliable or even necessary for the furthering of science even in our own times. And from this standpoint, it is appropriate that, in what follows, we discuss Herbart’s contributions to each of several subdisciplines of philosophy.

He gave expression to his views on philosophy in the passage with which he begins his practical philosophy: "When, as a result of its exercise, we come to know, cherish and love silent and solitary thought, its searchings and its findings, its worries and its satisfactions, then we come to know, cherish and love philosophy." 3

This sentiment was expressed, not only in all of Herbart’s researches, but also outwardly in the course of his career. His life is poor in deeds; thinking was his deed.

His career was unusually simple, lacking both striking moments, and penetrating blows of fate; he did not lead a public life open for all to see in a market where fame set the prices, but led, instead, a reserved and quiet life of the kind best suited to philosophical thinking. There were no dramatic developments, no rapid fluctuations of events. His life provides us with a portrait of a German scholar and university teacher possessed by a sense that his own fate was being determined by inner events, a sense that he claimed was "just as great as that felt by other people concerning the way their fates are determined by external events" 4; during his whole life, he was able to focus all his spiritual energies on aims higher than those determined by anxieties about the conditions of his everyday life; and all who knew him were obliged to pay him the greatest respect because of his noble personality. For the span of almost half a century, Herbart, armed with an unusual capacity for rigorous reasoning and an unusual breadth of imaginative spirit, was able to consider, as the object of his insightful ruminations, the most important concerns of humankind.


The Herbart family had its origins in southwestern Thuringia, in the Eisenach highlands, specifically, the town of Ostheim. His great-grandfather Herbart resided there; he was a linen weaver living in straitened, oppressive circumstances. His son [Herbart’s grandfather] worked his way up out of poverty and depression largely because he possessed the necessary talents and personal and spiritual characteristics to do so. In 1734, at the age of 31, he was called to serve as the director [Rektor] of the Gymnasium in Oldenburg, an office he graced for 34 years. [Translator’s note: a Gymnasium is a school for teenaged students hoping to enter university.] From his many prospectuses and casual writings, we can infer that he possessed a clear head and was well acquainted with contemporary advances in a number of academic disciplines. He had five children, a daughter and four sons; the next-to-youngest, Thomas Gerhard, a justicial and administrative official in Oldenburg, married Lucie Margarete Schütte, the daughter of an Oldenburg doctor. It was from this marriage that Johann Friedrich Herbart was descended. He was born in Oldenburg on May 4, 1776.

The most important influence exerted on Herbart’s life was his mother. She was an exceptional, remarkable woman who nevertheless could seem somewhat strange and eccentric to persons who did not know her better. In actuality, she combined a lively imagination with the abilities to grasp a situation quickly, make rapid decisions, exercise strong willpower and display endurance to such a degree that, from any point of view, she was able to contribute energetically to all domestic matters. With great clarity and certainty, she would calculate potential outcomes of combinations of circumstances and, with great energy, she would then pursue the course she deemed necessary for the attainment of the most desired outcome. She never really obtained a good degree of rapport with her husband. Although he might openly scold her and act domineeringly towards her, he nevertheless did not raise any objections to the way in which she was bringing up their son. Despite the fact that the tranquillity of domestic life was often broken, these circumstances actually contributed indirectly in a favourable way towards the development of the son. His mother went out of her way to ensure that her son was properly educated. She participated in his instruction and even learned Greek alongside him. In spite of all her love, she insisted on a strong regimen for the boy, accustomed him from an early age to light clothing, hard beds and cold baths. As is often the case with only sons, she tried, in every way, to prevent hazardous situations from arising, and she sought to alleviate the one bodily weakness from which Herbart suffered, namely a discomfort in the eye region that the boy had acquired following an unfortunate fall into a cauldron that had been filled with hot water.

Because of his frail state of health, it seemed to her to be advisable to educate him using private instructors. Her choice of teacher was fortunate, because the individual she selected was sufficiently skilled to arouse, in Herbart, an early interest in philosophy. Having himself been instructed in the philosophy of Wolff, Ülze was, above all, able to impart, to his student, stimulating lessons in religion. He did not restrict himself to the mere retailing of Protestant doctrine, but, at the same time as he was giving exhaustive analyses of various concepts, he would also develop a host of reasons for doubting those concepts and for resolving the doubts; he also dealt with problems in morals, psychology and metaphysics, and presented logic as a formal school subject. A direct effect of this instruction upon Herbart was that he became motivated to develop a level of certainty, clarity and consistency in his own thought-processes that is rarely attained at such an early age. Herbart was able to reproduce arcane [fremd] thoughts with the greatest facility; he was able to write down, from memory, in almost word-perfect manner, sermons he had heard; but very soon, he began to work on his own independent evaluations and elaborations of other people’s ideas. In his fourteenth year, he wrote a short essay entitled "On the doctrine of human freedom." Already, at this early age, he was being driven to express his thoughts. He would preach to his comrades; at the same time, he tried out experiments in physics and played mathematical and geographical games. It was also at this early age that his musical inclinations emerged. Simultaneously, he learned the violin, the cello, the harp and the piano. At the age of eleven, he had already gained well merited applause for his piano playing in private concerts. He even dared to write small pieces for voice; and, as a student, he fulfilled a promise, wrenched half in jest from him by his friends, to publish a sonata. Later, his preparation in music turned out to be fruitful, because he was able to relate his musical knowledge to his psychological and aesthetic investigations.

In the Michaelmas Term of 1788, Herbart entered into the II. Klasse of the Latin School in Oldenburg and in the autumn of 1789, he was transferred to the I. Klasse. Among his subjects of instruction, he was particularly interested in physics and philosophy. The dominant philosophy at that time was that of Wolff, which, in northern and central Germany, had taken on an almost official character. But, while he was still a schoolboy, he also learned about Kant; and in his eleventh year of life, he had already been introduced to logic. Enthusiastically, he would often discuss what he had learned in school with a few friends. He found it difficult to break himself away from any idea once it had taken on a life of its own in his mind; instead, he would pursue it relentlessly into every corner into which it led. He had a close affiliation with only a few of his fellow schoolmates, although he was accorded respect, affection and collegiality by everybody because of his decisive, co-operative and friendly demeanour. In 1793, in his role as head of the class, he delivered the usual valedictory speech to those graduates going on to university; it concerned the theme: "On the general causes that lead to the growth and decay of morality in states." This speech caused such a stir that the publisher of a journal devoted to a variety of topics, von Halem, who had taken a liking to the promising youngster, had it printed in his journal. In much the same way, the Latin oration that he delivered on leaving the Gymnasium also aroused general attention. In the speech, he compared the thoughts of Cicero and Kant on the topics of the ‘greatest good’ and the foundations of practical philosophy. When he left the Gymnasium in early 1794, aged 18, he had been superbly prepared [for university] and equipped with a thorough classical education. Following his father’s wish, he took it upon himself to study law, even though he was disinclined to do so. 5


When Herbart went to Jena, he was suffering from an eye disorder and a dental fistula, and it was for these reasons that his mother initially accompanied him to Jena. Here he found lodgings, which have been described as follows by his friend Smidt, who later became the Lord Mayor [Oberbürgermeister] of Bremen: "His lodgings offered a small garden in which they gathered every Wednesday evening; occasionally, a colleague would read aloud a personally written essay on a favourite topic which then provided the group with material for their next exchange of views. Only literary topics were discussed; the events of the so-called "world of Burschen" were rigorously excluded from the conversation [Translator’s note: A student society formed for the purposes of political activism, rather than for simple socializing, was called a Burschenschaft. These societies arose in Germany at the turn of the 19th century]. This world in general was forcibly kept into the background, even though, at the same time, the French Revolution, the Kantian philosophy, and the first blossoms of German poetry were not absent from the discussions of Herbart’s group. During the whole period of my academic life at Jena, I never once had either the reason or opportunity to join in discussion with, for example, a student of commerce or land management or the like. If one happened to run across a discussion of such topics, we would say to each other ‘How those dull students are enjoying themselves!’

During my stay in Jena, on vacation I frequently visited students from my home region who were studying in Göttingen at that time. The physiognomy of the two universities presented at that time the sharpest imaginable contrast. Because it was often a common event in Jena that, immediately after the ending of a lecture, the audience would afterwards gather into groups in the street in order to discuss, in a lively manner, what they had heard, it could later happen that one could meet, while out for a stroll, a person, who had never been seen before the lecture, but who had been noticed to have been particularly attentive to it; one could then, with no loss of respect on either side, engage this stranger in conversation and discuss the lecture with him as if he had been encountered on the road to Emmaus. But, if one tried to do this in Göttingen, one would be summarily dismissed with the words ‘Sir, I do not recall that we have been formally introduced’. In Göttingen, it was routine, before the beginning of a lecture for the audience to be classified into groups depending on their social class and addressed by the professors as ‘highly born, highly well born, and well born’ [Hochgeboren, Hochwohlgeboren, und Wohlgeboren]; but in Jena, nobody would dare start a lecture like this without risking an outburst of laughter. Some noble persons, claiming to be cultured, were, to some extent, even ashamed of their nobility; the little word von never emerged either from their mouths or their pens. Indeed, some individuals did not reveal to me, until the moment of our final leave-taking, the secret that they belonged to the nobility.

In order to be accepted as a new member in a student society, there had to be agreement on the part of the current members; but this was not usually based on an application by the person wishing to join; it was more likely that the society would approach him to determine whether he would be willing to deliver a communication to them, and then ask him to wait, without his asking any more questions, to see whether the society would indeed invite him to take part in their meetings. Because of this selective and rigorous procedure, the society earned for itself a certain amount of respect, with the result that individual professors, including Fichte and Paulus, showed little hesitation in taking part in these discussion groups. The fact that the society excluded all members of clerical orders, without in any way presenting a hostile front towards them, and yet at the same time, without attempting to encourage any kind of esprit de corps in those orders; and the fact that, even though no members took part in duels and the like, the members were nevertheless not made to feel guilty because they still felt bound to the group by a sense of inner duty that told them that they could honourably belong to a society that would reject as unworthy any member who, at a time when the highest interests of humanity were a major focus of attention, could only be content to discuss such matters--- both of these facts had drawn high-ranking intellectuals to the society in its first year. Because of this, the society flourished over the course of a dozen years." 6

There were two burning issues at the heart of intellectual life in Jena: philosophy and poetry.

In philosophy, alongside the Kantians, such as Reinhold, the youthful intellectuals were particularly attracted and stimulated by Fichte. Even Herbart, who was personally acquainted with Fichte, was initially an unconditional follower of Fichte, and was a life-long admirer of him.

But shortly afterwards, ideas critical of Fichte’s began to stir in Herbart, some of which he communicated to Fichte himself; he received countercriticisms from Fichte in response.

In his criticism of Fichte, Herbart arrived fairly readily at two points that would become among the most important of his whole system, and in particular, his psychology. First, the I [das Ich] is not something original, not something that is, but is rather something that came into being and continues to grow in being; it is conditioned in a manifold way; it is not, as Fichte had postulated, the principle source of reality [Realprinzip] or the first cause of the spiritual life; it is an effect, not the first thing, but the last thing. Second, in order to create the I, the larger part of one’s thought-life [des geistigen Lebens] cannot endlessly persist in consciousness and yet it cannot at the same time disappear utterly. Here Herbart arrived at the first sign-post pointing to his future doctrine of inhibition and reproduction, pointing even to the way it would be treated mathematically.

But at least as important was the fact that Herbart was thereby enabled to free himself from historical philosophizing. The philosophers of his time believed that they could rely on the opinions of their forebearers without needing to build further on their findings. Hegel elaborated into a system what Schelling himself had thought he had discovered. Schelling had generalized the thoughts of Fichte. Fichte had assumed that Kant had found the truth and that it only needed to be re-demonstrated in a more fundamental way. This was also the opinion held by other Kantians such as Reinhold and Fries. Kant himself, the great critic, relied almost uncritically on the psychology of the school of Wolff.

Herbart began with his criticisms of Fichte and Schelling. He was not particularly upset by the counter-replies of Fichte to his criticisms, but was led thereby to argue that philosophy did not depend, for its continuity, on continuing where some other famous philosopher had left off and that the amount of acclaim accorded to any system at any time, even if it was the latest philosophy, could not serve as the measure of the scientific value of that philosophy. In brief, he broke with historical philosophizing, and was thus driven directly to the history of philosophy. Indeed, he went so far as to inquire into the motives that had brought the corpus of human thought into being and was led thereby to the beginnings of philosophy at the time of ancient Greece. Smidt has asserted that a collection of fragments of Parmenides published by Fülleborn in 1795 made a strong impression on Herbart. Just as Plato and his forebears had found in these writings the actual origins of philosophy, the actually problems of metaphysical thought, so did Herbart. And he remained true to this conviction to the extent of finding, and learning how to find, the points of origin of all later systems in ancient Greek philosophy. He himself said: "When studying the ancients, I felt as if I were being shown, as if it had only arisen yesterday, a display of pedagogical problems analogous to those of today; I felt as if I were being challenged to construct a reliable description of the various social situations that can arise during the period of early youth, but the description had to be as energetic as that of Homer, reducing the situations to their simplest elements and yet possessing philosophical [geistig] appeal." 7

Apart from philosophy, the other burning issue in the intellectual life of Jena was poetry, stimulated especially by the proximity of Weimar and the personal influences of Goethe and Schiller.

Herbart was also exposed to these impressions and influences, and indeed was introduced by his mother to Schiller personally. As a result, Herbart’s circle of friends read the newest poems by Schiller with particular interest. Herbart even set Schiller’s Würde der Frauen [The Value of Women] to music. The works of Goethe and the two Schlegels were read eagerly

alongside those of Schiller. Expeditions were made to Weimar to visit the theatre there "where," said Herbart, "we read the Würde der Frauen while drinking champagne and from one o’clock in the afternoon until midnight, we talked, sang, philosophized, and argued with Berger, Hülsen, Rist, and Gries. A high degree of enthusiasm for philosophy and the beautiful arts united us. All other external circumstances favoured our congress."

One side of Herbart’s character leaned him strongly towards poetry, namely, his sense for everything that was individual. As further support for this claim --- as the stepdaughter of Frau Herbart, Frau Privy Counsellor Sanio, has often told me --- I may mention his astonishing ability to improvise at the piano. This economy, this caring for the individual and for that which had taken place in history, this ability to empathize with other individuals, even if they were foreign, are revealed especially in the continuity with which he tracked identical problems through the course of a variety of historical time periods, be they problems in public administration, in politics, in religion, or, last but not least, in educational theory [Pädagogik]. Underlying all of this effort is his insistence that "the individuality of the pupil should be maintained in as undamaged a condition as possible so that the effects of belonging to one group as compared to another appear minor and effectively disappear." 8 Even in his introduction to philosophy, he does not wish to instruct his pupils in his own philosophy. For Herbart, this would be an abuse of the open receptiveness associated with a beginner.

Even though Herbart, in other respects, very much stressed the importance of individuality including the role of "tenderness of conscience" in the making of moral decisions, there were nevertheless two matters on which he was silent concerning individuality. These concerned the general validity [Allgemeingiltigkeit] of the rules imposed by duty and by science. Steffens had given speeches for good causes and insisted, among other things that the state must regret having to bear as an onerous guilt the fact that each individual cannot live and develop (nowadays, one might say ‘live it up’) exactly according to his or her individuality. To this, Herbart replied: "How fatuous! Does one have to experience guilt, regret, repentance, if somebody is trying to cajole one into being outstanding in every aspect of their own character? Are there as many theories of morality as there are people with different sensibilities?" 9

The other matter from which all that was poetic, personal, or individual should be removed was, for Herbart, science and, therefore, also philosophy.

Just as Kant had derided those who wanted to delineate philosophy as something poetic, Herbart remarked: "Poetry has overflowed its banks. She has flooded philosophy’s territory and ruined it. Twenty-five years ago, the schools of today were just being formed, and it was not merely a time of visionary political expectations but a time when the influences of Klopstock, Wieland, Herder, and, more recently, Schiller and Goethe, were gradually being exerted on the whole educated German public. Confronted with these irresistible forces, Fichte and Schelling adopted a passive stance; the philosophers wanted to ally themselves with the poets and each wanted to be a poet himself in his own discipline. Even Fichte valued imagination [Phantasie] as the foremost talent a philosopher can possess. Flying towards the light that seemed the brightest of all, wings were burned; clear thinking gradually ceased to be fashionable. The true spirit of the philosopher --- influenced by poets who had not been banned from his republic, provided they knew their right place in the society, as Plato had urged --- vanished. Similarly, present-day philosophy, trying to mimic poetry, will sooner or later also vanish." 10

"What has alchemy contributed to chemistry, or astrology to astronomy? What has been solved in the other sciences by the cultivation of unscientific thinking, or the multiplication of opinions? They have lost the simple tools known as precision of thinking and exactitude of observation. The signs of the times are extremely saddening when they announce to so many Germans that the current tendency in philosophical fashion is opposed to that just stated. Because of this, discord and conflict have been the fate of German philosophy, whereas harmony and mutual instruction have been enjoyed by those who ban from their spheres of discourse everything that does not lead to exactitude of thought and understanding [Anschauen]. When will that time arrive when the only characteristic that will be allowed to ornament the name of philosophy will be that which remains linked with the mind after will has been abrogated and the mind has thereby attained a state of calm and unresisting acceptance?" 11

Herbart was already beginning, during his time at Jena, to set factuality against the poetic philosophizing of his time, and later he had developed this contrast to such an extent that Lotze would say that, when Herbart had started off, the manner in which he had expressed his initial arguments made it look as if he might show that the more fantastical kinds of philosophizing of that time could be demonstrated rationally to contain assertions that actually possessed some certainty. For the hallmarks of science are the possibility of proof and counter-proof and the capability of showing that our convictions possess general validity and can be communicated precisely to others.


In May 1797, Herbart left Jena after a stay of 3 years and moved to Switzerland in order to take up the position of tutor in the house of a district governor named von Steiger. He lived either in Bern or on the family’s property in Märchlingen, 7 hours from Bern.

We are fairly well informed about his activities as a private instructor, partly because of the letters he wrote to Herr von Steiger on his pupils, partly because of his description of a visit to Pestalozzi, and partly from a variety of other reports concerning his stay in Switzerland. 12

Rein has testified about this period: "It was not as a beginner, but as an experienced educator, that the 20 year old Herbart began his work. The reports to Herr von Steiger are a significant source for Herbart’s pedagogical thought and for the refined psychological insight with which the spiritual education of his pupils was infused. At the same time, the way he expressed his thought was free of the formulaic notions of the time. It was noteworthy for the power, elegance, and aesthetic appeal that accompanied its wide scope and profundity, so that often it attains a classical sublimity [Hoheit], an advantage that is rarely to be found among German philosophers."

For the rest of his lifetime, Herbart never forgot the events and the inner experiences associated with his stay in Steiger household. Indeed later, he evaluated the profession of private tutor as representing the best training an educator could have. There are many passages in his later writings where Herbart refers to his experiences in his role as a teacher. It is not difficult to recognize, in Herbart’s characterizations of youthful individuals introduced into those writings, the traits of his own pupils, in particular, Karl, to whom he was bound by a warm friendship.

His association with the Steiger family was dissolved under the friendliest of circumstances. For long afterwards, he maintained a friendly correspondence with the family. One of his pupils, Karl, would later meet with him again in Göttingen and they exchanged letters for many years. It was always with gratitude that Herbart remembered the family. He even considered that, if any single source could be acknowledged to have given him the most valuable of his experiences, it would be the Steiger household. It was in these experiences that his general theory of education was rooted and it is to his activities in that house and to his stay in Switzerland that we are indebted for Herbart, the pedagogue.

Herbart left the Steiger household at the beginning of the year 1800. The rationale for this move was in part the political upheaval resulting from the entry of the French army into Switzerland, which did indeed affect the Steiger household, and, in part, his desire to find more time to work on his own scientific projects. For a few years, Herbart resided in Bremen. Here, he dwelled in the house and property of his friend I. Smidt, where he spent a few happy years with some men and women with whom he formed close friendships and where he devoted his time to further preparations designed to improve his scientific effectiveness, and to teaching duties. To be specific, he prepared a young man for entrance into the University, gave lectures at the Gymnasium, and also was able to develop his own pedagogical skills with the help of a number of young women who were members of the Smidt family.

Some reports are available about Herbart’s character at this time.

Even as a student, Herbart had a reputation for firmness and tenacity, and for possessing a manly and penetrating mind. The nearly flawless attractiveness of his disposition, to which any tendencies towards malice were foreign, and from which no petty personal hostilities would be detected when one first made his acquaintance, had already led Herbart to became, for his friends in Jena, the object of affection and respect. This same admirable level of moral worthiness also permeates all the reports that we have heard about him concerning his stay in Switzerland. His personality is gradually being formed so that it becomes increasingly independent. He fought certain damaging influences of the time, which revolted him. At a time that can be labeled "unhistorical," where all sense seems to have been lost of what happened in the past, and everything seems to focused instead on the possibilities of what was new, Herbart preserved his refined sense of history and looked upon history as a major medium for educational purposes. What, at the time, was being called freedom in politics and philosophy, he recognized as tyranny; what was being called equality, seemed to him to be assimilation [Verblendung]. As an example, we may quote what Smidt reported about Herbart’s discourse with the young women mentioned above.

"These young women" said Smidt "were at that time fully enjoying the first years of young motherhood and all of their creative aspirations were aimed at acquiring a meaningful education for their children. Nothing could have been more welcome to them than the opportunity to engage in amicable conversation with a man, whose expression of the same ambition gave them the greatest pleasure and who himself participated in the conversation with the utmost seriousness from the outset, and who omitted any consideration of gender differences, and would not allow any trivial banter; he talked to these women in exactly the same way as if he were in a gathering of men worthy of the greatest respect. The ease with which Herbart initially gained the trust of each woman, a trust that could only be attained by appealing to her serious side, actually grew, it might be remarked parenthetically, directly out of this behaviour; he had no mannerisms but spoke with integrity.

How could it have been otherwise, had it not been that his mother had seemed to him, from childhood onwards, to be l’homme de la famille [the man of the family]. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that Herbart, as he repeatedly assured me, had never been able to detect in himself much sexual attraction toward the opposite sex. Even in Jena, he had quite seriously defended the view that anybody who wished to devote themselves to the sciences should not even think of marrying before the age 40. Then, however, there would be a duty to think seriously about it, because otherwise, there would be no prospect of being able to follow the education of one’s own children right through to their coming of age.

So, three women then listened to his ideas with the greatest confidence in them, and when, just after he had started, he found that he could not always communicate his concepts to them, he actually laid the blame on them, telling them their thought were too scattered and that they allowed their thoughts to wander instead of focusing them on a fixed point. He said that they ought to rein in their thoughts by studying some mathematics and they willingly agreed to do so. In fact, he brought them to a point where they were able to prove Pythagoras’s theorem in more than one way.

Another major point of discussion was the question of how to improve the perceptual abilities of small children before they had learned to talk to one. Then the instructional methods of Pestalozzi and others were described, and a sketch of the history of philosophy was given, with particular attention being devoted to Plato, and to just about anything else that could be related to these topics. In particular, his efforts were devoted to representing, for the benefit of these women, the exercises of science as being as exercises in humanity, and therefore, as worthy of being treated with an almost religious seriousness. It occurred to me that he felt even more of a need to communicate these opinions to respectable women, and thereby gain their recognition, because they compensated for his failure to have persuaded his own mother to approve of Herbart’s own choice of life’s work; she had persistently underestimated its importance to him and had fought in vain to prevent him from starting on it. Herbart sought, and found, in these women’s friendship, an excuse [Apologie] for his work that would have the most beneficial influence on his peace of mind as he progressed along the way he had begun…

Herbart did his best to persuade my two young sisters-in-law, who at that time were as yet unmarried and preoccupied with learning some new languages, of the correctness of his assertion that an acquaintance with the Greek language would facilitate the learning of any other language; he said that everybody should therefore start out by learning Greek, and he was even able to teach them Greek up to a level at which they could comfortably tackle the Odyssey."


In October, 1802, Herbart presented his Habilitation theses at Göttingen; these may be briefly described. [Translator’s note: One or more Habilitation theses are written after a doctoral thesis; if a candidate can successfully defend the Habilitation thesis, he or she is then permitted to offer courses under the auspices of a University.]

In his theses, Herbart reveals himself as a mature thinker whose convictions are presented in their full development; he has passed the stage of being a seeker. The basic standpoint adopted in the theses is essentially that which would persist almost unchanged for the rest of his life. He did not feel himself ever obliged to renounce a single one of his ideas. They show that by the age of 26, he had reached a state of personal conviction with respect to a variety of areas of philosophical investigation. With these theses, his years of wandering are over. His spirit is now moving forward into his years of mastery.

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to state that he had reached this standpoint without many an inner struggle. We possess a few written documents from his years in Jena and in Switzerland that inform us of the extent to which Herbart had suffered from the weight of the task of finding his own way in philosophical thought; they tell us that a stifling degree of doubt as to the correctness of his ideas tormented him, to the detriment of his health, and even to the contemplation of suicide. Lazarus said that he carried both the burden and the pain associated with his philosophical problems. Furthermore, the relationship between his parents deteriorated. His mother lost all her faith in her son; she made up her mind that he would not have access to any inherited goods from her until he was 40, but only be able to borrow, using those goods as security. She also separated from her husband, going to Paris in 1801, and dying there in 1803.

As noted, all Herbart’s hesitations dissipated with his Habilitation. Herbart remained true to his own sense of inner determination, even as his own spiritual and emotional horizons widened and deepened. In his life, and in his philosophical beliefs, he did not go through a succession of periods. He himself never published anything written at the time when he was searching for his underlying principles, a time that may appropriately be called his first period. He knew that he was not yet ready for that.

This continuity will often surface again at specific moments in his life. Most of the time, he was swimming against the current of his times; he expressed himself as saying that "my ideas do not match my times;" but he stood firmly in the middle of the current and always remained connected to all investigators, past or present.

This continuity shows itself above all in his system. He was so strongly against the favoured method of relating everything to one single principle, that he insisted that each discipline had its own particular beginning and own characteristic fashion of proceeding. Nevertheless, he believed that all the philosophical disciplines would ultimately converge into one unified and internally consistent system. He himself compared it with a spring whose individual streamlets emerged independently from the ground but finally flowed together.

Compare him with other thinkers. Lotze sounds at first as if he were a scientist, a realist, a pluralist, and an atomist in the way Herbart was. But then, he drags into his system a completely incompatible monism concerning substances that is more like a contribution from Schelling. A sharply increased duality emphasizing the differences between opposing philosophical perspectives characterizes the ideas of Fechner and Wundt. One can also list here the name of Du Bois-Reymond, whose attitude to the mental [geistig] world is completely uninformative, because he argues that no law of causality determines the course of mental events. When the investigations of Ziehen, Verworn, Mach and others oblige them to introduce into realism those viewpoints conventionally called phenomenalism and psychomonism, then the whole natural and human world is declared to be elevated into nothing but pure phenomena, creations of one’s own self. Herbart’s system is self-enclosed .

The wide-ranging works that he would publish henceforth were themselves rather narrowly interconnected in an inner and personal sense. "For my part, I have offered metaphysical and mathematical contributions, including self-observations, and reports of personal experiences and experiments, all with the aim of establishing the foundations of a true understanding of psychology. And the driving force behind these investigations, which were not without their troubles, was and remains above all my conviction that a great many of the monstrous gaps in our knowledge of pedagogy are a consequence of a lack of knowledge of psychology." 13

Educational Theory (Pedagogy). Herbart’s major work on pedagogy appeared in 1806 and was dedicated to his friend Smidt; its title was: Allgemeine Pädagogik aus dem Zweck der Erziehung abgeleitet [The general principles of the science of education deduced from its aim]. It would not be until much later, in 1835, that he would publish his Umriss pädagogischer Vorlesungen [Lectures on the outlines of education].

An education system, according to Herbart, had to determine the spectrum of thoughts [Gedankenkreis, literally ‘circle of thoughts’] experienced by the pupil and in so doing, create a will whose precepts were consistent with those of [psychological] insight.

The determination of the spectrum of thoughts would be brought about by the arousing of a many-sided and at the same time spiritually elevated level of interest. The task for the instructor is therefore to strengthen the student’s character while at the same time ensuring that this strength of character is supported by discipline. So the main goal of discipline is to build a strong moral character, and may be contrasted with the main goal of instruction, which is many-sidedness of interest. Both may be subsumed under the higher concept of character formation or the formation of a sense of virtue. But in the work itself, this fundamental concept plays a minor role, because [from the outset] the actual enforcement of discipline and of instruction are discussed with respect to goals determined by considerations of practical necessity, an approach seemingly foreign to the overall goal. It is only in Chapter 4 of the third Book, that is, close to the end of the whole work, that instruction and discipline are related to the concept in which both are rooted, namely, character formation. Because of this, the reader may feel self-constrained to read the book again from back to front.

Perhaps the actual content of Herbart’s system of education can be summarized in two sentences: 1. The key point of education is not to be found in discipline and rules, but in a graduated system of instruction. 2. One should expect little from any single measure of education; it is better to rely purely and simply on the effectiveness of a combination of methodical and harmonious interactions between instruction, discipline, and rules.

Herbart himself thought of the book as too obscure to be effective; "it is written for my friends and is constructed out of ideas that I had hitherto communicated here and there only in conversation;" he had meant only to offer "texts to think about." 14

His work did not fail to impress other writers of some profundity. Jean Paul (Levana) acknowledges that in Herbart’s General Education, the writing, despite its language being full of stabs of illumination and stimulation, does not suffice to deter the reader from wishing that Herbart had used the title-word "general" in a somewhat less general fashion, forcing the reader to fill in the spaces in too wide a framework with his own content. But where Herbart wishes to strengthen and extend the muscles and sinews he associates with strong character, he energetically delves into particulars and details with an elegance and exactitude that themselves indicate the degree to which his own character matches, in word and thought, the ideal he is depicting.

Even the French, whose motto is ‘what is not clear is not French’, have been inspired particularly by the stylistic and formal pattern of the book. Mauxion compared it with the ornate, rather than with the sublime, products of Greek art, as well as with Gothic architecture. 15

Herbart’s second great enterprise concerned ethics. His Allgemeine praktiche Philosophie [General practical philosophy], 1808, was supplemented by his Analytische Beleuchtung des Naturrechts und der Moral, zum Gebrauch beim Vortrage der praktischen Philosophie [An analytic clarification of natural law and morality for use in the execution of practical philosophy], 1836.

Herbart saw himself in ethics as continuing the tradition of Kantian practical philosophy in four ways. First, practical philosophy was separated off from theoretical philosophy; second, practical philosophy was seen as opposed to Eudämonismus (theory of happiness); third, the will was considered to be the only object of moral judgement; and fourth, there was nothing new to be discovered in moral theory. Each person, Kant noted, often knows what is moral, and the common man often knows it better than the scholar. "For this reason," said Herbart, "nothing new is to be found; it depends only on finding what is old and on reconstructing, completely and with sharp precision, what was readily available long ago." 16

With his presentation of his well-known five ideas or ideal examples, he maintained a historical continuity with the ethics of all times; Plato and his successors had also presented certain ideals, norms, and cardinal virtues for the benefit of people pursuing planned and active lives.

The first idea, inner freedom, expressed for Herbart that which had been fought for by humans for centuries under the title of spiritual freedom and which had always been deemed to be praiseworthy because one could always trust one’s sense of its validity; and the value of what Kant referred to as autonomy and self-provided law should always be determined by a person exercising an act of will higher than the value or otherwise of the desires associated with his own will. And a single judgement alone should determine what he himself should desire: no alienated motivation, no heteronomy, just behaviour guided by individual conviction, duty, and respect before the law. Fichte wrote that the highest drive in humans is for absolute agreement with itself. Should new events compel one to live one’s life in a context of complete individualism, following formulas such as ‘I am permitted to do that which pleases me’, or ‘I am empowered to do anything that gives me power’, then inner moral freedom becomes a tiny seed of truth buried, out of sight, inside such formulas.

‘Each following his individuality? Does each person then have an individuality? Are not most people part of prepackaged groups [Dutzendware] who vegetate within the group like samples of plants and animals? Only the really outstanding person, the superman, possesses individuality and can exert its unlimited influence in every direction’.

Those familiar with Herbart’s ideas can detect even here the kernel of truth. The idea of completeness, according to which the strong is praised in contrast to the weak, lies at the base of all the speech-making about the sanctity of power, the cult of genius, the energetic judgments, the will to power, the superman, and the victorious in battle.

Other ideas have to be added if the formal struggle for power is to be given a content and therefore, limits and direction. Goethe said, "not everything that belongs to our inner selves ought to be extended outwards. Anything that frees the spirit, but does not give us mastery over ourselves, is ruinous. It is in vain that conflicted minds strive to attain new heights. The master can only reveal his gifts within imposed limits. And it is only law that can give us freedom."

Benevolence, love, and goodness all conform to this law and it forms the kernel of all that is moral. "Everywhere people value and prize strength, energy, bravery, perseverance, well planned actions. But everywhere that even the most primitive coarseness and wildness have been allayed, people praise and love - alongside strength - mildness, goodness, and benevolence." This is generally recognized.

On the other hand, Herbart confronted his whole age when it came to the area of law. Kant was completely a child of his own century in that regard. He had banned hedonism as a principle in his moral doctrine; and, for him, law had no other purpose than that of assuring the continued well-being of the individual. Those goods without which there is no happiness must be protected above all; each person had rights, even before birth, incontrovertible natural rights regarding his person, life, and freedom. The rights would be of no use if laws about them could not be enforced upon people. There is no right when there is no possibility of enforcing it. "Good intentions have nothing to do with the area of natural rights. Law must be enforceable, even if there was not a single person who did have good intentions. Physical power, and that alone, permits the exercise of the law" (Fichte).

Herbart opposed this, especially the separation of law from morality; for him, duties imposed by law were also moral duties, and moreover, force was not a necessary indication of law. Laws remain laws even where they are flawed [gekränkt], suppressed, or unenforceable. Everything, even silent promises in trading, family, and friendly relationships, is founded on law, because conflict does not work. Because of this, law has to be supplemented by the idea of being economical. "Wherever possible jus summum should be avoided, that is, nobody should be pressed unnecessarily up against the borders of what is legal." 17

How does modern jurisprudence consider these opinions?

In books describing current municipal laws, we find multiple expressions such as: a contract should be drawn up bearing in mind "good morals, economical considerations, and traditional evaluations of merit, in appropriate degrees, and, insofar as they do not go against moral duty, trust and faith." "According to this contract, the will of the participants drawing up the contract is more important for decision-making purposes than is the wording of the contract; moreover, those legal stipulations that are binding on behalf of the weaker partner are more important for decision-making purposes than is the desire of both parties to soften the rigidity of the law, in instances where inexperienced people might be hurt." 18

Everything is epitomized in Herbart’s precept that law should never carry within itself the germ of a conflict. But this potential exists in every determination in which, at the time the contract was drawn up, one of the partners could not foresee what consequences for him might arise from an agreement or obligation. It was only later that Herbart noted that he had been too eager to consent to this belief; over the long term he realized that some conflict might be almost impossible to avoid. Contemporary legal arguments, as a result, focus on drawing contracts up in such a way as to make the avoidance of conflict as easy as possible.

It has already been stated that Herbart justifies the use of force in a manner different from that of the upholder of natural rights. This is also the case with respect to punishment.

On this issue, there have been two long-standing points of view, one representing an absolute view of punishment, and the other, a relative view.

The so-called classical school asserts that a crime is the creation of a freely exercised act of will on the part of the criminal; his punishment, therefore, should appear both necessary and fair, given that the punishment represents an expression of the level of wrongdoing associated with the breaking of the law under discussion, and also represents the degree of retribution to which the injured plaintiff is entitled. He will be punished because he has sinned.

The anthropological-sociological school, the international union of criminologists, is less concerned with the deed than with the doer. This person, along with his deed, is judged to be the creation of the environment within and around him. The reckoning is often reduced in degree or even abolished. Punishment is therefore not meant to be a form of atonement or retaliation, but is purposefully selected so as to ensure the security of society and the reduction of damage, and, where possible, the betterment of the criminal. He is punished, in order that no further sins be committed. The thinking here is that the value of punishment is immeasurable if the criminal is improved thereby and society is rendered safe from him. Moreover, if the potential dangerousness of a person is the only reason for punishing him, one can foresee that conditions might arise, as Tacitus indicated did arise under the rule of Tiberius, where mere suspicion is enough to warrant punishment or where somebody is imprisoned or exiled, in order to prevent him from sinning and to make society safe from him.

It can be seen that we have to say more about how these theories compare.

Kant stands recognizably on the side of the first group with all its severities and consequences. Herbart stands closer to the second group insofar as he relies on differences in the degree to which he attributes blame. He still remains a member of the classical group with respect to the idea of retribution; the doer of a criminal act is supposed to endure an equivalent quantity of suffering. But Herbart insists that, in order to avoid any appearance of malevolence, a motive be provided for the punishment, so sees punishment as serving certain purposes such as betterment, deterrence, fear induction, damage reduction, and security. The idea of an economical approach that would establish what degree of suffering would be imposed by the punishment would entail, however, that only the deed, and not the intention or the degree of potential danger, would be punished.

This represents a balance, an attempt at compromise between the two theories of punishment currently in the foreground of our interest.

Herbart’s ethic was, from the outset, a social ethic; it had in plain view the nature and purpose of society and of the state quite as much as the nature and purpose of the individual.

The state, according to those preaching the doctrine of natural rights, has the goal of ensuring the rights of the individual by force; it does not care much about the opinions of its citizens, only about their accomplishments. "The problem of founding a state is solvable even for a people consisting of devils, provided they have some understanding [Verstand]" (Kant). This has led to the aphorism that has been linked to this view, namely, the state is only there to act as a night watchman.

The modern conceptualization of the state has abandoned this viewpoint but the links can be traced back to Herbart. Among the great philosophers, he is the first who, as early as 1808, did not merely think about social ethics and social politics, but outlined an extensive program for their implementation and went some way to carrying it out.

According to Herbart, the state should be considered from two perspectives, a theoretical and a practical, what it is and what it ought to be. Depending on its nature, it is a necessary and natural creation, that does not depend on treaties and is not devised to serve idealized purposes; rather, it is created as a result of long-standing communal relationships between people. The discussion of this physiology or natural science of the state was pursued by Herbart under the names ‘statics’ and ‘mechanics’ of society.

In the context of these perspectives, an attempt might be made to set aside all moral considerations in the name of state security and to consider it as a cleverly constructed mechanism. This can lead to what has been called ‘Manchesterdom’ [Manchestertum] and to the inconsiderate exploitation of the weak. [Translator’s note: A reference to the abusive workplace practices associated with the mills and factories of Manchester, in the North of England, at the turn of the 19th century.]

For these reasons, Herbart demands from the outset that the practical aspects of the theory of the state should be linked to its theoretical aspects. The more refined the needs of people become, the more they transcend simple questions of self defense; the so-called higher needs and interests such as art, science, and social welfare, take on new value, and so, therefore, do ideas. The wish arises to arrange society or the state in such a way that, above all, it is not impossible in practice to implement individual ideas. The demand arises for the state to be formed and transformed following the dictates of ideas. The ideas of themselves do not initially serve as forces uniting society, but over time, they do not lose their force, and demand to be implemented to some degree of satisfaction. Even if states are founded on power alone, they can still be maintained viably by the rule of law. Now, we find ourselves caught in the middle of conflicts between nations, a situation concerning which Herbart’s words are still valid: "Since there can only be one power exerted over one territory, this power must also incorporate one system that is the result of the concentrated forces of culture and administration (and not just of law)." All of the following belong to the program typical of our times, but were all part of Herbart’s demands that the administration of a state be open to public scrutiny: the possession of large means should also imply that particular [beneficial] projects should be carried out; a worker is not judged by his output only, but as a whole being, as a person, so that when he avails himself of occasional benefits, he does not at the same time lose the feeling that he is a citizen equal among others. 19

But Herbart, in his capacities as psychologist, educationist, and political theorist, always took pains to delineate the necessary constraints that would be placed both on individuals and by society as a whole, if ideas were to be put into actual practice. One should never expect, he said, that, from what is excellent, excellent things should always follow, that love should always be followed by gratitude, and that trust should always be followed by faithfulness. The immediate consequence of good actions is nothing other than well-being and satisfaction; but satisfaction always creates new desires! The quenching of one desire can release ten others. The tensions engendered by people’s demands is all the greater, the younger they are and the less accustomed they are to waiting for things or getting by without them. This does not mean that one needs to change one’s assertion that an administrative system should generally be motivated by benevolence in the first instance. Everywhere workers form the major part of a population, and these are people who are controlled by a [government exerting its] will over them. Just think what kind of revolution it would be if the workers wished to become the masters! 20

At the same time, no matter how natural vice, selfishness, injustice, and ingratitude are to humans, or how narrow the range of human competence, or how slow and unrewarding the progress along the path from moral coarseness to moral culture, these limitations are never so strong as to completely cut off any progression along this path. The science or art of stimulating and guiding such a progression is called politics when it is on a large scale, and education when it on a small scale.

Let us say more here about the development or evolution of the moral sense. Herbart does not accept the existence of any innate ideas or any self-created and self-developing ideas. All degrees of mental cultivation [geistige Bildung] depend on sensory impressions, inherited dispositions, experienced feelings and the consequences arising from elaborated versions of these. There is no inheritance of ready-made knowledge or ideas. Every branch of knowledge must therefore be devoted to the correction of natural and inevitable errors. This is true of moral science also. Although the existence of moral judgments affecting the thinking of impartial and unbiased people may seem like evidence for an original sense of morality, this impartiality itself is actually a state of mind that is slow to be attained and may not be reached until late in life; and even then, moral judgments must be discerned amidst the cloud of peripheral thoughts and prejudices that obscure them. This is not always achieved. And what a long way it is from an understanding of what morality is to a situation in which morality is firmly fixed "on high" in thinking, actions, law, and ethics!

We need to have a reliable natural history of both law and virtue, explaining how both of these, as well as concepts related to them, arise in the human breast. 21

Finally, a remark on aesthetics. It is well known that Herbart, following the example of Plato and some of the English moralists, logically subsumed ethics and aesthetics (in its narrow sense) under the heading of aesthetics considered in a broader sense as the study of that which is unconditionally pleasant. He considered such unconditional pleasantness to reside in relationships of the kind that are already known and acknowledged to underlie the theory of harmony in music. Among these particular kinds of relationship are those relationships between intentional willed actions that are based on ethical considerations. Other relationships, such as those between tones, colours, lines and so on form the content of other disciplines and art forms. Insofar as everything that pleases absolutely must depend on relationships, all aesthetics constitute the aesthetics of form [Formästhetik], where it must be understood that many concepts discussed by other aestheticians were included by Herbart under the general concept of form because these concepts involved relationships. These included the unities of thought, character, situation and so on, that other aestheticians had named the ideas or content of a work of art and that had been contrasted by them with the ‘form’ of that work of art.

Moreover, as Kinkel has noted, Herbart’s theory of aesthetic apperception had a direct influence on many later researchers. Even the teachings of modern thinkers concerning empathy as a factor in the appreciation of the aesthetic object, and of the ability of the person contemplating that aesthetic object to endow that object with soul-like attributes, may plausibly be traced back, via Fechner, to Herbart. 22

Hartenstein’s words concerning Herbart’s work on educational theory and practical philosophy up to this point in Herbart’s life are still valid. "A glance over this whole series of these works teaches us, in a way that might not have been obvious had we studied a large number of individual isolated passages within those works, that ethical matters had an overwhelming significance for Herbart, providing the very pulse of his mental life. Theoretical research, therefore, became important to him because all correct behaviour in the real world assumes a knowledge, at least in theory, that what is and what happens in that world is necessarily determined by laws. As a result, these older writings, namely those on general pedagogy and general practical philosophy, are suffused with a warmth and inner feeling that are only perceived gradually by the reader because they are at first concealed by Herbart’s determined avoidance of empty philosophizing and by the calm and reasoned way with which he describes his investigations. But then, the reader grows irresistibly drawn to Herbart’s warmth and inner feeling because they arise from a depth of conviction which, although it does not announce itself on the surface as being particularly attractive or stimulating, nevertheless reveals itself to be so. At the same time, all of these writings are marked by a writing style which, to my eyes, can lay claim to approximating the highest purity of classic times. Everything that reminds one of the pedantry and painfully rigid formalism of school textbooks is avoided; every thought is expressed in clear and sharp definition in his own mother-tongue, with no fragile support being provided by the incursion of foreign technical words; his writing is tight, but nevertheless the main line of the argument progresses clearly to the discerning eye, moving with calm certainty through difficulties that are more concealed from the reader than exposed. His writings resemble buildings whose foundation has been built over and whose scaffolding has been broken away before they were ever offered for viewing 22a; and whose constructor behaved in the way a genuine artist would, namely, he wanted to focus the reader’s attention on what was represented by the building and not on the aggregated difficulties associated with the task of construction itself.

I dare to assert that Herbart in his earlier writings had actually strived to represent scientific matters in a manner imitating this old art form; his style seems to have grown as a natural expression of the pure and harmonic articulation with which his own thoughts followed of themselves one from another; as a result, his style of representation, whether he is sketching the broad outlines of a many-branched schema of ideas, or whether he is applying some gentle shading to an isolated detail, always seems, completely without deliberation on his part, to be well-suited to the particular characteristics of the object of his discourse. At a later time, when he was more concerned with teaching and convincing others than with expressing himself in as pure a manner as possible, the stylistic beauty of form that accompanied his mastery and command of his material was, for the most part, lost; but even these older writings seem to me to represent excellent examples of a kind of artistic style applied to scientific writing insofar as, if any sort of mannerism is to be detected in them, it consists of the impression that purity constitutes their major characteristic. The fact that this beauty of writing style might camouflage, for the hasty reader, the systematic nature of its substructure, and the fact that one can assign the description ‘rich in spirit’ to both the smaller and larger works of this period because of the gleams of inspiration that shine forth from isolated turns of phrase therein, even though one cannot see the roots that nourished that spirit, can in no way be used to cause harm to the reputation of the works produced by that spirit."

Apart from this, Herbart’s efforts to express himself in terms as general as possible was motivated by another factor. In Hanover at that time, a strong censorship was being exercised by the Kingdom of Westphalia, and Herbart said "because of this, I had to "disguise" much that I had written concerning state and society. This also made it necessary for me to prepare several alternative explanations of individual issues." 23

The mode of expression characteristic of his later written works is somewhat different because they are consistently taking account of what others, either from the past or in the present, also said about the issue under discussion; the thread of the argument is frequently interrupted by polemical digressions. But, whatever he wrote - and he tried his hand at all literary forms - treatises, orations, reviews, letters, conversations, systematic writings: he was always free of the ponderousness which has given German philosophy elsewhere, namely abroad, a poor name. What can be clearly thought can also be clearly spoken . And should Herbart be misinterpreted, it is nearly always because his thoughts are so distanced from the thoughts of his critic. Herbart’s thoughts may only be extrapolated to with difficulty from the critic’s own mind, or from contemporary thinkers’ minds, if their ways of thinking are to resonate with Herbart’s own way of thinking.

Throughout Herbart’s writing, one finds that he constantly takes account of the reader, including the attention span of the reader and possible misinterpretations by the reader. To this end, he tries to represent a multi-sided view of any topic: for example, he provides several entry points into metaphysics, including realism, idealism, a scientific approach, and a philosophic approach; he puts all speculations to one side and says: I am accustomed to look at any individual thing that may already have been viewed through eyes imbued with a systematic approach a second time, namely, with the eyes of an empiricist unencumbered with any system. 24 He also approached psychology by two different routes, one by way of metaphysics, and the other by way of pure hypothesis and observation [Empirie]. The various philosophical disciplines are for the most part approached in dual fashion, one rather brief and one more extensive. The two-volume book on metaphysics was preceded by a presentation of its main points in what Hartenstein called Herbart’s "lapidary style". It can be seen, therefore, that we have two representations of his psychology, pedagogy, and even practical philosophy, if one considers the light thrown by Herbart on the question of natural rights to be a precursor to the last of these.

He rarely relies on particular expressions. Of moral taste and moral judgment, he remarked, "even if we gave them whatever names we liked: they would still remain calm, clear, fixed and definite judgments." 25 Or "the method of making connections [Methode der Beziehungen, see below] has been found difficult in the abstract. Suppose one took it away: metaphysics would still come to the same results, assuming that the problems were correctly treated." 26 Herbart did not rely exclusively on the expressions and methods that he employed. He only applies mathematics where he thinks it belongs, namely, where concepts involving magnitudes can be manipulated by calculations; he does not use mathematics in ethics, metaphysics, or educational theory. Those who know mathematics also know its limitations. Lazarus, for this reason, stressed that it was particularly characteristic of Herbart’s way of expressing himself that he drew his images from those areas of science and art that we understand most clearly, namely, mathematics, mechanics, and music. 27 Because of the opposition to the ruling philosophy of his time, he could not avoid being obliged to write many polemics. But the following words testify just how unhappy this made him: "I apply myself year-long to my investigations before I can take off a few days to devote to tasks in which I must engage unwillingly in polemics." And how these polemics reveal the calm restraint one would expect of a philosopher! In contrast to Hegel and his colleagues, who, in their journal, used weapons against their opponents that one of these colleagues himself described as being "cudgels, whips, wooden swords," and, by so doing, energetically set up a well planned and well manned literary reign of terror, Herbart, who was quite capable of writing the harshest polemics, refrained from doing so.


In the year 1805, Herbart received a call to Heidelberg, which, however, he declined. On the other hand, he accepted, in 1809, a call to Königsberg to occupy Kant’s Chair. He followed this call with an alacrity that mirrored the rise of French control over affairs in Göttingen. 28 [Translator’s note: Napoléon’s army had a presence in Göttingen between 1806 and 1813.] On January 13, 1811, he married the 18 year old daughter of an English merchant, Marie Drake. He lived with her in a happy and childless union. He wrote to Gries in 1829 that "my good wife has lived with me, by which I mean, as we all know, we have shared good times and bad times, and I may add, she has also worked with me, though not, to be sure, in philosophicis, which is completely foreign to her, as it should be."

The work with which she helped him, as has been related to me by Frau Sanio, concerned his seminary, which was held for a long period of time, in his house. [Translator’s note: The term "pedagogical seminary" describes a class of schoolchildren, organized by Herbart, as an aid in the instruction of university students intending to become schoolteachers.] Frau Herbart gave instruction in knitting, which all the schoolchildren were obliged to learn. 29

Herbart’s stay in Königsberg covered the years of his maturity and it was then that he published his Einleitung in die Philosophie [Introduction to philosophy] and his works on psychology and metaphysics.

Introduction - Lehrbuch zur Einleitung in die Philosophie, 1813. Herbart himself wrote the following about the origins of this book: "In the final memorable months of 1812, I was obliged to print a guide to those lectures that I had continued to give, both in Göttingen and then Königsberg. My lecture room was full of listeners who could no longer find seats and places to write; so those major points that I had previously dictated could no longer be dictated. In fact, I myself had trouble finding a peaceful place to write; while Moscow was burning, Königsberg was being burdened with foreign militia. What I now set down on paper was a shortened, but accurate, sketch of the lectures that I had stored in my memory as a result of repeated delivery. For my own use, this was a convenient teaching aid, but it was a book that could hardly be understood by anybody else." 30

Here, we need only emphasize two aspects of this book. First, we note that Herbart reveals himself to have had an expert knowledge of the history of philosophy, even from antiquity, and that he understands how this knowledge can be used for teaching purposes even to the extent of steering beginners in the direction of philosophizing themselves.

Second, we note that he upholds the old division of philosophy [into separate areas], logic, physics (metaphysics), and ethics (aesthetics), and he justifies this division in terms of the concepts involved. In logic, Herbart had as little reason to deviate from the old formal logic, stemming from Aristotle, as did Kant. But as a result, he thereby stood in direct opposition to Fichte, Schelling, and above all, Hegel, who desired and strove to derive all philosophy from one basic principle, and thereby deprived logic of having a real [real] significance. Hegel insisted on giving up the old logic and finding a new one which would permit contradictions within concepts nevertheless to represent truths, whereas Herbart saw such contradictions as representing, from the start, unavoidable errors in the understanding of the given concept, errors that had to be eradicated with the use of correct logical thinking.

Psychology. Apart from his many articles, Herbart gave the results of his psychological investigations in his short Lehrbuch zur Psychologie [Textbook of psychology], 1816, and in the two-volume work: Psychologie als Wissenschaft, neugegründet auf Erfahrung, Metaphysik und Mathematik, [Psychology as science, newly founded on experience, metaphysics and mathematics], 1824 and 1825.

Herbart himself said about the last of these: The ending of this book was written in 1814 but gradually so many additions were made to it since that time that a critic typical of our times could raise the objection that several hands had written, and added interpolations, to it.

Herbart may be ranked as the founder of modern psychology as a science. This is recognized both by his friends and opponents (for example, Wundt and Ziehen) both inside and outside this country (for example, Ribot’s Psychologie allemande and Stout’s [article entitled] "Herbart compared with the English psychologists"). [Translator’s note: T. A. Ribot’s book had appeared in French in 1879 and in English, with the title German psychologies of today, in 1886; G. F. Stout’s article had appeared in Mind, 1889, 14, 1 -26.]

What aspects of his psychology are generally accepted at the present time? First, his completely scientific outlook, "the genius of his insight and his gifts for exact observations" (Ziehen); second, the precision with which facts are documented and his efforts to separate what is known from the hypotheses designed to explain what is known. In more detail, we note his rejection of a faculty psychology [Seelenvermögen], as if abstract universal concepts such as ‘feeling’ could explain individual feelings. Instead of these, mental phenomena are explained as being the result of the simplest possible processes and their interactions. "Just as physiology constructs the body from fibers, psychology constructs the mind out of sequences of ideas [Vorstellungsreihen]." 31

The Vorstellung of the spatial arises empirically, and not natively, from the association and reproduction of non-spatial simple mental processes with clearly specified magnitudes, but not in such a way that the general Vorstellung of space precedes the Vorstellung of the spatial and thereby is the sole cause of our being capable of identifying individual spatial forms. It is more that the Vorstellung of the spatial has itself spatial properties; for example, the Vorstellung of the triangular might itself possess triangular attributes. The Vorstellung of space is not the cause, but is a consequence of the spatial. In the same way, one’s sense of self [das Ich] is not, as it is in Fichte, a basic principle or cause, or source of mental life; it is the other way around. The sense of self is a creation made from individual mental actions and it is only at the highest levels of personality formation that it plays an active and decisive role in mental life. Herbart is an empiricist, not a logical realist, in the way he regards all universal concepts.

At any one time, the greater number of Vorstellungen are trapped in the unconscious but can be made free, actual, and conscious again at any time, because the conscious and unconscious components of mental life are closely interconnected and alternating.

Imagining, feeling, and desiring are not separate activities, but always belong together; there can be no imagination without feeling, no desires without imagination, etc. The significance of Vorstellungsreihen for every possible state of mind can be explained as an outcome of this. Mental and physical states go together in parallel so that each mental state, even the most abstract of thoughts, corresponds to certain states and movements in the elements of the brain.

The law of the conservation of energy can be applied to mental processes just as it can to physical movements. So, a mental process can be linked up with others, or inhibited, or surpassed in potential energy, but can never be annihilated. Some related concepts and expressions, such as the ‘threshold of consciousness’ and the ‘threshold value’ have now become the common property of all psychologists.

A rigorous lawfulness also applies to mental activities. The term ‘free will’ implies neither an absence of cause nor the absence of lawfulness; it reflects the fact that the self has gradually come to acquire control over other activities.

Individual psychology can be traced back to cultural psychology and political psychology, to the latter of which Herbart had offered substantial contributions.

If it is true that mental life is subject to rigorous laws, then it is necessary to try to apply mathematics to mental life. All of the following universally conventional terms point to the existence of relationships in mental life that can be quantitatively expressed in terms of mathematical values that we should try to calculate: the words ‘equilibrium,’ ‘movement,’ and ‘disturbance’ conventionally apply to moods; the words ‘speed,’ ‘coming,’ ‘going,’ and ‘rising’ apply to thoughts; we talk of ‘greater’ or ‘lower’ degrees of clarity of Vorstellungen, and of ‘greater’ or ‘lower’ levels of intensity of feelings; and we talk of ‘more’ or ‘less’ amounts of willpower or of strength of will.

We do not have time here to go into the details of the objections that have been raised against Herbart’s attempts to provide a mathematical psychology. But here is Wundt’s judgment: "Mathematical psychology has done nothing more than to bring facts that have long been well-known into formulas." Wundt has therefore admitted to us that he thinks that formulas, as well as the results of calculations, need only agree with the facts. Kant said that whatever is known to provide a formula for a mathematician will never be considered to be insignificant. And what else did Kepler and Newton accomplish other than the expression, in terms of formulas, of facts that had long been known to us? This prompted the great mathematician Jacobi to say: "I have read Herbart’s psychology and must confess that, if Herbart was correct in the assumptions that form the starting point of this work, each page of the work has as much value as a page from the natural philosophy of Newton." 32

Herbart based his psychology on metaphysical considerations and these naturally reflect the general modes of thought that underlie Herbart’s metaphysics generally. But he has also taken under his wing a totally different notion that has nothing to do with metaphysics, namely, pure hypothesis. In so doing, he has opened up a totally new approach to psychology and its mathematical aspects, one that is independent of metaphysics. According to this hypothesis, Vorstellungen are to be conceptualized as forces that interact as if they were trying to inhibit each other, associate with each other and reproduce. In his Mathematische Psychologie, Drobisch has rigorously followed up this suggestion.

So Herbart’s psychology should be interpreted as being completely independent of his metaphysics. Any reader may accept or reject this, but he will only be able to maintain this opinion until he reaches a point that will always remain metaphysical for any psychologist, namely, the concept of the soul.

One could, of course, ignore this concept and occupy oneself with facts alone, but the question will still be posed, at the end of one’s inquiry, as to exactly what it is that does the thinking, feeling, and willing within us. Herbart remained faithful to a strict natural science approach which assumed that there could be no force without a substrate, and therefore, assumed that mental forces were tied in with real entities [reale Wesen]. And since the actual alternation between inner states could not [possibly] take place if one thought of them as being maintained by several real entities, be they single molecules or masses of nervous tissue, then, with respect to any individual, one would be forced to assume the existence of one single, indivisible real entity, which was intimately and reciprocally related to the brain and which would justifiably merit the name ‘soul.’ But such a view would [be obliged to] ascribe personal immortality to those Vorstellungen that had been created [erworben], because, if Vorstellungen are considered to be forces [whose magnitudes reflect energy values], then the principles of the conservation of matter and energy would also have to apply to Vorstellungen.

The most contested [of Herbart’s opinions] was the conclusion that a necessary assumption at the outset of the system was that there actually was a union of consciousness with one real entity. If this conclusion were not to be accepted, then one would have to show how it could be possible that alternations could take place between inner states or Vorstellungen, when, at the same time, these inner states were also states of a variety of other, quite separate, entities.

This would be almost impossible to achieve. 33

But at the same time, it will be difficult to find any fact, using the techniques of present day experimental, physiological, psychology, that will be inconsistent with Herbart’s psychology.

On this matter, Herbart wrote, therefore: I am not pleased with the idea of transforming psychology into physiology. But if we contemplate a functioning human being, is it correct to think that we are only dealing with a purely psychological occurrence? Certainly not. In fact, we see mental activities either limited or activated with the constant accompaniment of bodily activity, and it must be important for us to encompass the manifold activity of the latter in our general outline. It is exactly those differences of situation that bring one individual mental faculty after another into play that oblige us to admit that we cannot explain this interplay in terms of pure psychology; the interplay cannot be ascribed to the soul, nor to Vorstellungen, nor to the series that are built up out of these, nor to the higher products and effects that are brought about by these; the interplay is better ascribed to the physical embodiment that underlies the soul in this or that individual. Much that is considered to be psychological, would, it might be closer to the truth to say, be physiological. 34

The third great research effort from the Königsberg period concerned metaphysics. He published a small work on this topic: Hauptpunkte der Metaphysik [The main points of metaphysics], 1806, and a large one: Allgemeine Metaphysik nebst den Anfängen der philosophischen Naturlehre [General metaphysics including foundations for a philosophy of nature], 1828 and 1829. There were also a large number of articles.

What is metaphysics and what is its purpose? Metaphysics, according to Herbart, is the science dealing with how we conceptualize our experiences, that is, the phenomena of nature. It has no other goal than to make logical sense of certain concepts, namely, those that experience forces upon us. Every speculation must therefore start out from the fixed and incontrovertibly given data of experience. Indeed, a philosophy that did not start out this way, and then came back to it, must be a mere mental exercise of doubtful value. 35 One might compare this with the following words of Helmholtz: "The end goal of theoretical science is to track down the final and unchangeable causes of the processes found in nature. Because we cannot perceive these causes directly, but only by way of their effects, we must ignore, in every attempted explanation of natural phenomena, the realm of imagination, and rely only on things that are acceptable only if determined by the appropriate concepts. Only in this way, can a complete conceptualizability [Begreiflichkeit] of nature be achieved." 36

The aim of theoretical natural science, or of metaphysics, is described by both writers using the same words: conceptualizability of nature or of experience.

Now one asks, is nature then so difficult to conceptualize? What would make it inconceptualizable? Here we encounter a particular characteristic of Herbart, one that put him at odds with the general thinking of his age. Philosophers of his time were generally content with the notion of intuition [Anschauung], whether based on sensation or otherwise (intellectual intuition), and believed that by intuition one could know what was given and that this needed no further explanation. But if science had followed this dictate, it would never even have come into being. Would humankind have been able to apply science based on mere intuition, without ever experimenting, or reasoning, or asking why? If we thought that way, then the earth would still be the center of the world around which everything revolves, the sun would continue to be the small lamp that sinks into the sea in the evening, and so on. If anybody claims that one can put all one’s trust into intuition, these would be the results. So, people did not persist in this way of thinking. And why not? All science, according to Plato, arises out of surprise. Certain atypical situations (aporien), according to Aristotle, force us to investigate further.

Herbart follows this basic approach to scientific investigation whenever he finds incomprehensible, or even contradictory, events in nature; of course, he does not ascribe these to nature herself, but to our initial grasp of nature, that is, the conceptualization that we have formed of nature.

Sometimes, this can lead to a paradoxical state of affairs, or to a recklessness in which difficulties are found when none exist; nowadays, this is self-explanatory.

In Mach, we read: "Our whole psychological life, especially the scientific, consists in a perpetual correction of our Vorstellungen." Why are we forced to make these corrections? Because they are seen to contradict each other if they are not corrected. And for how long must we continue to correct them? Until they are free of contradictions.

Or Wundt: "Whenever we are studying any experience, be it evoked externally or internally, our need for logic forces us to insist that, whatever the object of that experience might be, it must, from a conceptual point of view, be thoroughly interrelated with other experiences. The fact that this postulate about the conceptualizability of experience can actually form an indisputable foundation of our knowledge [das Erkennen] only comes about because we assume that the object of any knowledge-state is itself conceptualizable. Wherever some unavoidable gap occurs in our empirical grasp of the world, then the ‘completion’ of this gap must necessarily demand that we speculate."

The need to do this completion leads to what Herbart described as ‘the method of completion or of making connections [Methode der Ergänzungen oder Beziehungen].’ It is called the method of completion because, as Wundt stated above, the completion concerned involves speculation. That is, the completion is achieved by the postulation of causes for given phenomena, causes which were not actually specified in a previous explanation; and when one cause will not do, several others may have to be added; and when known causes are still insufficient, then unknown causes must be postulated. The astronomer Maedler said: "When perceived phenomena cannot be attributed to any known cause, it must always be possible for them to be attributed to causes as yet unknown, so that we attain thereby a closer knowledge of those unknown causes." Or Helmholtz: "The theoretical part of physical science tries to find the unknown causes of processes by studying their visible effects; it tries to conceptualize these processes in terms of the law of causality. These labours are both necessitated and justified by the fundamental principle that any change in nature must have a sufficient cause. Even those immediate causes that we assert to underlie particular natural phenomena, may themselves be subject to change. But even in these cases, the same fundamental principle must be adhered to, namely, that we must seek to explain these changes themselves in terms of yet further causes, and so on. Finally, we hope to arrive at certain causes that exercise their effects by way of a law that is unchangeable. When this law is in operation, these causes will yield the same effects on every occasion, provided that the external conditions are held constant. The end-goal of theoretical science, therefore, is to discover these ultimate [letzt], unchanging causes of natural processes…"

The method that Helmholtz is following here is that of causality, which is to find out the causes of specific effects, and in particular, the ultimate causes; that is, to find what is invariable from the study of what is variable.

This is Herbart’s method of connections or completion, or the method of causality. One could derive the whole of Herbart’s metaphysics from the knowledge that any incident involving something’s becoming something [das Werden] that is absolute or causeless is a contradiction in terms, and is therefore impossible. If this is believed, then it is impossible to rest content with those variations observed in Nature; one is constrained to search out the causes of these variations and the sought-for causes cannot be of a kind that can change causelessly into others; the sought-for causes must themselves be unchanging. One single being cannot arise of its own accord, that is, be a cause of the world, with all its multiplicity and variability, and yet itself be causeless. On the other hand, one can inquire whether it is possible that several causes, working in relation with each other, might be able to yield effects that a single invariable cause could not. If so, this would entail, not a monistic view of substance, but a pluralism, an atomism. A particular case of relevance here is the question: can I persist in maintaining an absolute idealism in which I consider that my self [mein Ich] can work absolutely, i.e., autonomously, without being subject to any external influences, and thus create for me my Vorstellung of the world? If one rejects the notion that something’s becoming something [das Werden] can occur in an absolute sense, then idealism itself must be rejected and one then has to consider that other kinds of cause, independent of the self, must necessarily play a part in the completion process. Briefly stated, these other kinds of cause would include those associated with an outer world that acts upon the self. Not idealism, therefore, but realism.

The realism being discussed here was arrived at critically in the course of denying the validity of idealism; nevertheless, this realism can be easily linked up with naïve realism. According to this view, our sensations correspond to things in the external world. That these things are not precisely the same as we imagine them to be has long been known. Sugar is not sweet, and salt is not salty, without our organ of taste. Tones and colours depend on vibrations that are themselves colourless and toneless. We distinguish the actual from the apparent locations and movements of the stars. Even in an objective world considered as a thing apart from our sensations, a red surface would be different from a blue one. If they were identical, then we would not be able to perceive them as different, because that would be a case where identical causes would give rise to differing effects. Hard, soft, salty, and sweet differ from each other - though in a dissimilar way - even in the objective world.

Space, time, and movement, each of which is capable of being defined formally, are reflected even more accurately in our experience. In order for us to experience a roughly accurate Vorstellung of a triangle, the muscle sensations derived from eye movements must be directly associated with each other in such a way as could only have arisen if the corresponding object itself were triangular. The Vorstellungen of the spatial, the temporal, and the motion of objects could only be attained if it were assumed that the world itself is organized [geordnet] spatially.

"What we know of nature, is not things in themselves, but relationships between things. Our thinking, therefore, corresponds with phenomena insofar as their regularity gave our thinking its regularity, because our thinking is derived from, and for, phenomena."

If one rejects the idea that something’s becoming something is an absolute, one must also consider that the final causes of activities, acts, or forces can never be devoid of substance. Indeed, one must conclude that there are no forces without matter, no activity without an acting entity, no movement without something’s having been moved, no wave-forms without a substrate (ether), no form without something’s having been formed. In other words, not actualism, but atomism. These latter elements must, in the course of their interconnections and variations, constitute the causes of nature as we know it.

This is how Herbart was led to consider these ultimate elements, namely, as unvarying in themselves, but capable of causing a variety of effects in the course of their varying interactions. And this is the foundation of all modern explanations of nature, discreteness as opposed to continuity. "Without an atomic conception of nature, we find ourselves clueless when confronted with her processes; but, from the standpoint of atomism, nature becomes comprehensible." (Nernst.)

Now how should atoms be thought of ? The physicist Hertz has answered: "The corresponding concept must be logically valid [zulässig], that is, it should include no contradictions that go against the laws of our thinking; and, second, it must be appropriate to the task, that is, it must be possible to explain, with its aid, nature as we know it." These are roughly the same viewpoints that influenced Herbart to distinguish, among the most primitive of the real entities, between fundamental atoms [Grundatomen] and the atoms to be associated with various kinds of ether. The fundamental atoms constitute different kinds of matter on the basis of their chemical activity, while temperature, light, magnetism, and electricity are based on the activities of free or bound [atoms associated with] ether. A different kind of ether was postulated to underlie gravitation because Herbart denied something that was generally accepted in his time, namely, that there could be direct effects acting at a distance through an absolutely empty space. He assumed, following Newton, that there had to be a certain medium that placed certain limits on the phenomena of attraction. This assumption is now general.

With respect to electrical phenomena, for the investigation of which he arranged a special laboratory to be constructed, he did not only distinguish between forms of ether specific to positive, as opposed to negative, electricity, but also distinguished between forms of ether specific to electric, as opposed to magnetic, effects in general.

Even in chemistry, he made observations of a similar quality, long before any chemists had any suspicion of the many-valued nature [Vielwertigkeit] of atoms.

Herbart’s views about the inner workings of states in nature is particularly worthy of comparison with the assumptions of present-day physiology and biology. Herbart took a position in his atomistic-mechanistic natural science that obliged him to reject the idea of a particular life-force that is not inherent in atoms; in contrast, he maintained that the principles of the conservation of matter and energy that hold in physics and chemistry also hold in physiology and psychology. But, at the same time, he leaned in the direction of vitalism insofar as he argued that equilibrium- and movement-processes were not the only activities to be associated with atoms. In fact, each atom could interact with other atoms in such a way as to yield internal states [in a physical medium] that could persist and possess specific qualities, much as Vorstellungen in the mind did. These particular internal states, associated with particular chemical processes in the organism, make it possible that chemical processes in the organism might reveal patterns that deviate in many ways from the patterns of non-organic associations. One might therefore refer to a life-force that is associated with any one of those atoms of organic material if one wished to extend the analogy [between the body and the mind], because in the mind, Vorstellungen also create their own internal states.

In this respect, Herbart sees no need for an unbridgeable chasm between lifeless and living material, or between material and mental processes. Each part of nature, organic as well as inorganic, has at any one time an ‘inner workings’ aspect determined by movement-processes, followed immediately by an ‘outwardly expressed’ aspect brought about by the processes that yield a state of equilibrium. It would be appropriate, then, to say that the ‘inner workings’ and the ‘outwardly expressed’ aspects are only different aspects of a common substrate that itself is quite unknown and will remain so. But if no contradictions are to arise from this viewpoint, the unknown substrate will have to be considered to be, not just one thing, but a multiplex of qualitatively differing real entities, atoms. When atoms are working together, both aspects, the ‘inner workings’ and the ‘outwardly expressed,’ are available for use at any one time and, indeed, both aspects will everywhere be available simultaneously. The two aspects are interdependent, each being a condition for the other, and the one being a function of the other; but they are not identical, because it can never happen that an ‘outwardly expressed’ movement-state can disappear as such and be described as being part of the ‘inner workings’ (or vice versa). Rather, both conform rigorously to the principle of the conservation of energy.

One sees the similarities, but also the differences, between Herbart and some of our recent biologists. The latter assert that there is a substantial unity that pervades all of nature, as we know it and as it might be. Or, if they speak of atoms, they simultaneously see them, as Herbart did, not as fixed entities, with no inner workings, but rather, as striving, thinking, feeling, willing entities. With this last assertion, they overshoot the mark.

We may further note that the doctrine of internal states can provide a theoretical basis for certain modern beliefs concerning development. In order for development to occur, entities are first required that remain what they were in respect of quality, but develop [something new] in respect of activity. That is, they are not developments in the sense of being pure energies, or movements without having been moved, or actualities without substrate. Second, they must be entities capable of possessing varying inner workings and of being subjected to their influence, not autonomously or as the result of some causeless kind of activity, but in the course of reacting against other entities. Third, it is necessary to assume that, if the idea of development is be shown to apply to thinking, any thought-states, having once arisen, must never disappear in the absence of some other precondition, nor must they ever be transformed into other entities in the way that movement-states can. Instead, it must be assumed that they persist in such a way that they interlink with each other to form specific systems within the medium [Wesen] under consideration. And finally, it is assumed that the outwardly expressed states are determined by the movement- and equilibrium-states (and, therefore, the configuration) of the inner workings. A mental configuration [Form] must be based on a combination of inner workings along with the systems that result from those workings.

Let us compare Herbart’s theory with modern theories or ‘isms’.

His theory can be related to only one form of theory of descent or evolution. According to Herbart, everything that nature has to reveal, from the lowest to the highest, has become that way, for the variety of states reflecting inner workings in simple real beings could only have arisen gradually, and must have begun with the simplest of such states. Even if one were to apply the names ‘animism,’ ‘panpsychism,’ or ‘voluntarism’ here, doing so would not run counter to Herbart’s beliefs because each individual element of organic material carries an analogy to mental formations [geistigen Bildung] by way of its system of inner workings and tendencies, so that "one element of the human brain might carry within it a greater degree of internal organization than does the mind of many an insect."

So it must be the case that all mental formations, whether considered ontogenetically or phylogenetically, must initially consist of the very simplest formations. Exactly as in my theory of the state, remarks Herbart, I am accustomed to see mental life, whose origins can be traced back to animals, savages, and children, and whose highest pinnacle is that of the genius, as being a continuum of phenomena, the assessment of whose total possible range of achievements, including all its processes and its associations, is an inseparable part of psychology’s task.

If one wishes to call this Darwinism, then one must remind oneself that Darwin himself traced the earliest beginnings of organic formations to the activity of a creator. For Herbart, this same possibility could be justified for several reasons. First, he rejected Kant’s categories along with the associated opinion that we ourselves transferred our subjective understanding of purpose to nature itself. Second, he rejected the opinion associated with the pantheistic nature-philosophy of Schelling and Hegel, according to which everything that came into being and everything that developed, did so purposefully and rationally, without further explanation. Third, he saw the most basic elements as having developed their isolated nature from within themselves; they were free of all mystical attributes, such as the striving for a higher state, a drive for completion, organizational propensities [Talenten], and so on. 38

And so the notion of a creative intelligence was close to his heart as the first cause of the purposeful amalgamation of suitable elements in the course of building and further developing organic forms. If one does not agree with this conclusion, the only alternative is to ascribe the formation of organisms to a chance amalgamation of the elements. And this seems most unlikely, although not impossible theoretically.

In the course of these thoughts, Herbart did not consider himself to have provided a proof, but only a confirmation of his faith in a personal God, the creator of the world. 39 "Whoever feels himself pressured, as a result of considering actual causes, into believing in end-causes is just as mistaken as a person who thinks that, because we know end-causes, we can dispense with the investigation of actual causes. For wherever something is conceived to be intentional, then actual causes are assumed to be working together in the service of the end cause. This means that they do not operate according to their own laws, as if no end-cause had motivated their presence. Even though physicists behave as if they ignored purposefulness in nature, they can in no way deny the possibility of end-causes." 40

As a result of Herbart’s finding his way directly to his own metaphysics, we find that some of his discoveries and methods cohere very precisely, at one and the same time, with the findings of our theoretical explanations of nature while other discoveries of his can be viewed as maintaining an exact continuity within the history of metaphysics. For example, he shared the with the Eleatic philosophers the concept of absolute Being; he believed, with the Atomists, the proposition that, in the real world, Many can never become One, and from One can never be derived Many; he acknowledged with Plato the premise that contradiction can arise when things are transforming themselves; he shared with the Sceptics the proposition that true Being can never be known directly, given only the evidence before us; he believed with Leibniz that anything in reality that is in the process of becoming a being must be non-spatial; he believed with Kant that Being was not a quality of objects, but was only an artifact of the fact that real elements can never be active in their own right, but only in connection with others, and that any speculative theology lay in the realm of impossibilities; he believed with Fichte that the self can never be conceived as being a case where subject and object are identical; and finally, along with Hegel and Heraclitus, he acknowledged that there could be contradictions associated with concepts concerned with events [das Geschehen, literally, ‘that which happens’].

In 1833, Herbart received a call to the University of Göttingen.

About Herbart’s activities in Königsberg, and his leave-taking from that town, Simson has reported: "Following Kant’s death and a temporary occupation of his position by Krug, Herbart was called to the great Chair of the great Königsberg institution and was very pleased to receive this mark of respect. Both his lectures and his pedagogical seminaries, as well as the residence that he set up for students, were all greatly appreciated. In a course that was spread out over a sequence of semesters, he lectured on every aspect of his system, including his logic and his introduction to philosophy, right up to his metaphysics and psychology. Because he read his lectures in his own house at the end of Königsstrasse (at that time, professors, almost without exception, read their lectures in their own houses), many students, including Simson himself, chose to attend lectures in addition to those required by Herbart, because they had to travel so far to his house from the center of town. So it came about that Simson heard Herbart’s introduction to philosophy, as well as his lectures on pedagogical theory, at about the same time, which frankly, would have been at too early a stage in his education for a young man aged 16.

Although Herbart’s textbook served as a foundation for each of these lectures on pedagogy, Herbart himself spoke extemporaneously, and Simson acknowledged that he had never heard any lectures more complete than these. Herbart’s external appearance was always most elegant, right down to wearing clothes that conformed to the latest fashion. The degree to which Herbart exerted an influence and an attraction on Simson was so profound that, as a student, he not only heard all Herbart’s lectures, but much later, when Simson himself became an ausserordentlicher professor, he once again heard most of the lectures from the beginning and always with the greatest interest [Translator’s note: This rank allowed Simson to offer University courses without actually having the title of "Professor" in the "ordinary" sense of being a full-time faculty member - ausserordentlich means "outside-of-ordinary"].

As a result of Hegel’s dominance in the realm of philosophy, Herbart was for many years completely neglected at Berlin. Simson later heard that one Johannes Schulze (a zealous Hegelian, who, at the time, was the official in the Prussian ministry responsible for University appointments) had called Herbart’s philosophy "a stale and intellectual philosophy" [abgestandene Reflexions-Philosophie], an expression that indeed was later manfully contradicted by Leopold Ranke. But then in Berlin they conceived the idea of offering some kind of compensation to Herbart, so he was nominated to a position on the School Board [Schulrat], and, in 1833, he was awarded a medal as an expression of appreciation for his accomplishments in educational theory particularly.

This treatment led Herbart to reconsider a previous call that had been made to him by Göttingen, where he had taught prior to his installation in Königsberg. Simson would never forget the evening of Herbart’s farewell, at which the revered teacher gave a demonstration to the circle of assembled guests of his musical virtuosity by way of an improvisation at the piano. The first thing the following morning (September 7, 1833), Simson wrote a letter to his bride describing the particular meaning that he drew from this lecture in music, and the deep impression that it left with him:

"Favoured by the weather, all his students, and a few other people he had invited, met yesterday…in Herbart’s garden, which we had to leave at about 9 in the evening because of the cold, despite the beauty of the night. We went, without too much ceremony, up to where various tables had been laid out for an evening meal. Here, interesting conversations alternated with student songs, in which everybody took part, and I would have been quite content with the evening as it was, even if had not ended in what, to me, was a truly moving manner. Herbart listened to our entreaties that he fantasize at the piano. He began softly, as if shy and hesitant; one might imagine it to be his first time at the instrument. But with a growing sense of self-awareness and inner feeling, he kept on and became louder, as if he felt justified by increasingly better results. A sudden leap took him into a new world [die Ferne], and one realized that it was nothing less than Kant’s Chair that he was leaving. At times, the wild war-years seemed to pass by him; but we felt his knowledge grow under his hands and understood that others, both subordinate and otherwise, had begun to recognize his achievements. Then there appeared small variations that gradually increased in number and in strength till they stifled the harmonies, and yet one could still detect occasional echoes of the sadness that his mistreatment had aroused in the great man. But, at last, a broader prospect began slowly to reveal itself as we felt these impediments falling away, and we caught a glimpse of a fulfilment yet to come, though not untinged by regret at taking leave of the social circles in which he had been loved and admired. And finally, like a sign that his affection for his noble King had in no wise waned, despite all the mistreatment, the harmonies gradually, but with staggering effect, merged into the strains of "Heil dir im Siegerkranz". [Translator’s note: A song having the same tune and meaning as "God save the King"]. There were very few, among those transported as they listened, who failed to understand what he meant; but, for me, his thought processes were so transparent, that I was tempted to believe that everybody understood him completely. We thanked him with tears in our eyes, and I was so moved, that I seized an opportunity to slip away unnoticed." 41


His life in Göttingen, as always hitherto, was devoted entirely to studying and lecturing. Only once was he temporarily shaken by a profoundly upsetting event, namely, the well-known Göttingen catastrophe of 1837. [Translator’s note: Seven professors were forced to resign because they protested against a re-imposition, by the King, of censorship outlawing the expression, by university faculty, of anti-governmental sentiment.]

Herbart’s behaviour with respect to this event has been described in conflicting ways, but even those who criticized him, recognized that his motives and character were of high moral integrity. The number of voices who considered his behaviour to be morally and politically correct has also grown since his time. 42

Herbart had always participated both in theory and in practice in both internal and external politics; but he himself noted that "a thinker should never go into political activity with the sole aim of having an effect on the history of his age. That would be presumptuous so long as different systems of philosophy remained in contradiction. One consequence can be that both State and Church start to be afraid of science and to restrict its freedom of activity." 43 There were plenty of examples from his own time period that served as warnings.

At the same time, Herbart’s activities were not without some considerable public influence. This is best exemplified through his system of education, which is only now becoming genuinely effective. The French writer Compayré said of this: "What will be the future of this almost universal movement, which has carried the name of Herbart to all corners of the earth? We firmly believe that it will persist and become wide-spread."

In yet another connection, one can perhaps speak of an indirect political influence exerted by Herbart. In celebrating the centenary of Herbart’s birth on May 4, 1876, Simson gave the opening address. [Translator’s note: This was after 1871, the year in which Prussia, Saxony and other kingdoms, principalities, etc. had united into an independent Germany.] In the course of it, Herbart’s services to Germany were acknowledged. To this one guest replied: "It was well known that one of Herbart’s fundamental ideas was that philosophy could not be effective directly in the course of everyday transactions. This principle, however, did not arise from any indifference toward the Fatherland, nor to a lack of desire to contribute to the greater interests of humanity. If I am now honoured with the ability to serve my Fatherland, I must express my gratitude in no small measure for this to the philosophy of Herbart. It would certainly have been extremely comforting to him, had it been the case that, in his own lifetime, during which he had to endure so much from indirect influences from outside the country, he could have foreseen that he himself would be able to exercise such a significant and direct influence on the development of a German nation. It has been one of the most fortunate events of my life that I was able to sit at Herbart’s feet so early in my life and for so long (1826 to 1833)." 44

Herbart died on August 14, 1841, after he had given his lectures of August 11 in complete bodily and mental health. The last thing he read on his death-bed was one of Beethoven’s notebooks. Professor Liebner based his memorial sermon at his funeral on the 11th Sunday after Trinity on the first Epistle of Peter, 5, 6. 45

The cross on his grave carries the inscription:

Der Wahrheit heil’ge Tiefen zu durchdringen,

Für Menschenwohl mit Freudigkeit zu ringen,

War seines Strebens Ziel. Nun ruh’ hier seine Hülle,

Nun schaut sein freier Geist des Lichtes Fülle.

[To penetrate into the sacred depths of truth and fight joyously for the good of humankind was the goal towards which he strove. His remains lie here; but now his spirit is free to gaze on the fullness of the light.]

Herbart’s personality has been sketched for us by one who knew him, Hartenstein: His stature was no more than middle height. His build was compact and muscular, and his movements were rapid, energetic, sure and decided. He had deep blue eyes. His external appearance was that of an outstanding man, worthy of respect, measured in his movements, and possessing a calm seriousness that suggested a well-balanced individual. He never let himself go, either in his demeanour or in his conduct towards others, or in his manner of speaking or in the course of conversation.

He was a celebrated teacher. Moral seriousness and moral integrity dominated [his demeanour] to a high degree. The categorical imperative was embodied in him. Superficially, he could appear cold and formal, but deep down, he was full of benevolence, sociability and goodness. The sublime seemed closer to his ideal than the beautiful. For this reason, it was Beethoven’s music that he particularly liked. He spoke naturally, but only after deliberation.

Strümpell: "Herbart considered the historical revelations of religious faith as a possession to which a believer has rights equal to those he has for any other possession; these rights, therefore, should not be wantonly attacked. Herbart considered that he had two reasons for maintaining this conviction. On the one hand, there was a reason imposed from without; it seemed to him that there were good moral grounds for insisting that reciprocal tolerance between faiths should be considered indispensable to society. On the other hand, there was a more personal reason, namely, that he possessed his own individual religious life deep within himself; he had learned that, if he put aside the purely scientific work that mainly occupied his thinking, he found he could attain a feeling of tranquillity, when he contemplated the Christian faith and its associated world-view, because it was part of his own history, as well as that of the real world. As he himself put it, he carried his faith wrapped up in an old homespun overcoat within himself. Herbart testified to his Christianity, not merely in the general sense that he was a truly pious man, but also to the extent that he participated, with the deepest seriousness, in the sacramental offices prescribed by the Church. In everyday life, his moral character was pleasingly allied to his natural and open friendliness. One felt oneself constrained to adopt a corresponding degree of respect, and yet at the same time, one noted that there was never any need to fear disrespect on his part. Upon closer acquaintance, his many-sided conviviality and kindness would be clearly displayed."

Rist: I cannot guarantee without hesitation that every one of his dealings was guided by the most scrupulous of motives. But, if he ever did make a mistake, it should not be forgotten that there are very few people with his purity of heart who have wandered the earth.

His wife: My husband has never consciously or intentionally hurt another person’s feelings in his life.

His colleague in Königsberg, the well-known philologist, Lobeck, delivered the following memorial oration in the Aula of the University of Königsberg: "Herbart’s name has been inscribed in the yearbooks of our high school [Hochschule], and his fame and his image survive in our memory; we recall his unruffled brow and his clear gaze; we recall how his speeches, expressed in carefully chosen but often surprising phrases, dazzled us with their brilliant play of colours; and we remember how these outer signs had their counterpart in an attractive personality whose nobility and worthiness of thought always shone through in his words and deeds, whether he was dealing with friends or with strangers. Whether it was the result of a painfully achieved level of self control, or the outcome of an innate sympathy for others, who has ever heard come out of his mouth a hurtful word or an improper joke, either in intimate circles or under the influence of the god of relaxation, who even melted Cato’s virtue? It is certain that he was a living proof of the truth of the old saying concerning the calming and ennobling powers of knowledge, and his humanity justifies the name "studium humanitatis," much as do disciplines that carry the names of the "liberal and noble arts," because they once were part of an education system designed to build liberal and noble character.

Herbart encompassed his whole area of expertise, not merely in terms of having a general grasp of it, but knowing it as an expert in a non-superficial way with a definite preference for the area that we now denote by the name classical literature. He knew the ancient languages as only a few of his fellow faculty did, being capable of expressing himself in Latin with complete fluency, both orally and in writing; he was at home, both in the worlds of Greek poetry and of the philosophical writers, being particularly close to Plato and the Eleatic school. His interaction with classical antiquity led to the incorporation of many aspects of ancient wisdom into his own thinking. The euphemisms of his modes of expression and judgement were Hellenic in nature; his sense of beauty and the elegance with which the outer forms of his conduct were endowed remind one of the worship of beauty associated with the ancient academics, and his lack of acquaintance with the sycophants of life, and his innocent faith in the power of law and in the law of power, appear to us nowadays to be Socratic. And just as his own spirit had unfolded in the light of antiquity and in the contemplation of its masterpieces, so there unfolded in his own educational theory the idea that instruction in philology could be a particularly influential force, assuming it to be shorn of its grammatical detail. For he thought that, at the commencement of the education of a person, the living picture, depicted by the Ionian poets, of a world in which the most extreme sense of morality was united with the deepest feeling for the sacred and the beautiful - an unsurpassable revelation of a future humanity filled with nobility - would be more rapidly and culturally effective in the education of that person, than would be the architectonics of the spoken word, the sublimity of whose proportions cannot always be measured even by the trained eye."

In 1876, a monument was raised to Herbart in Oldenburg.


On Herbart’s life, philosophy, writings, school, and literature, see Herbart und die Herbartianer, Langensalza 1897, an offprint from Rein’s Encyclopädischen Handbuch der Pädagogik.

[Translator’s note: In many of Flügel’s endnotes, he gave references to quotations from each of the two sets of Herbart’s collected works that were available to him in 1905. These sets were those of G. Hartenstein (Leipzig: L. Voss, 1850-1852, 12 volumes) and K. Kehrbach (Langensalza: H. Beyer & Söhne, 1887-1912, 19 volumes).]

1. Herbart’s encyclopedia N. 9; H. (Hartenstein’s edition) vol. II, p. 15; K. (Kehrbach’s edition) vol. IX, p. 30.

2. Intro. ' 10; H. I. 52; K. IV. 48.

3. H. VIII 3; K. II. 333

4. From the Life of Gries. Hamburg 1853.

5. According to Rein.

6. According to Hartenstein.

7. H. I. 12; K. IV. 9.

8. H. X. 38; K. II. 37.

9. H. IX. 148, 156; K. IV. 568, 575.

10. H. XII. 461

11. H. IX. 34; K. II. 246.

12. v. Sallwürk, Einl. zu H.’s pädagog. Schriften, Langensalza 1904, pp. 19ff. - Dix, Herbarts Mitteilungen an den Herrn v. Steiger. Im Jahrbuch des Vereins für wissenschaftl. Pädagogik 1870. - Steck, der Philosoph Herbart, Bern 1900.

13. H. XI. 380; K. III. 293.

14. K. III. 153; H. VII. 51.

15. M. Mauxion, Éducation par l’instruction et les théories pédagogiques de Herbart 1901.

16. H. III. 60; K. VII. 10.

17. H. IX. 400.

18. Stammler und Duncker, Soziale Gedanken im Bürgerlichen Gesetzbuch. Berlin 1900.

19. H. IX. 397, 433.

20. H. IX. 423.

21. H. IX. 355; H. VIII. 352, 364, 381, 396; K. X. 420, 429, 441, 452; H. II. 48; K. IX. 61, K. III. 283.

22. W. Kinkel, Joh. Fr. Herbart sein Leben und seine Philosophie. Giessen 1903, p. 170.

22a That this should be taken to have a literal meaning can be proved by giving one

example among many. In the Allgemeine Pädagogik will be found the words: "empirical interest depends on the intensity, the variety of colours [Buntheit], the novelty, and the changeability of the phenomena." The choice and order of these concepts might appear random; but this is not so as the following schema, which is still available in a hand-written draft of this book, shows:


23. Felsch, Erläuterungen zu Herbarts Ethik. Langensalza 1899. - Thilo, Ueber Herbarts Ideenlehre und das 2. Buch der prakt. Phil. In: Zeitschr. f. exakte Philos, XV. 225, 341, XVIII. 1, 241. - Willmann, Ueber die Dunkelheit der allg. Pädagogik Herbarts. In: Jahrbuch des Vereins f. wissenschaftl. Pädag. 1873.

24. H. IV. 575; K. III. 203.

25. H. X. 123; K. II. 96.

26. H. II. 375; K. IX. 332.

27. Lazarus, Ideale Fragen. 1878, p. 10.

28 More on Herbart’s call to Königsberg, his seminar, the award of his medal, and his final settlement in Göttingen will be published soon in the form of a report from the Prussian Ministry.

29 Sallwürk (in Herbart’s pädagogische Schriften, 1890, p. 73) has described Herbart’s wife in the following words: "She was remarkably gentle and kind; when she raised her soulful brown eyes, the effect was unforgettable to those who knew her. In Königsberg, she took the ill, barely alive child of the widow of one of the instructors into her house and later, she seemed to be as pleased as if she had been the child’s real mother at every little step in intellectual progress made by her foster child." He followed the Herbart family back to Göttingen, and Drobisch wrote of him in his Empirische Psychologie, p. 95: "This fourteen year old child, who at one time had been believed to be retarded, was only enabled to attain a certain level of mental development thanks to the untiring efforts of Frau Herbart. He had only learned to read with difficulty, and the incompleteness of his pronounciation of what he read made most people find him hard to understand. Nevertheless, he loved reading so much, that he could recite from memory pages of a Latin text that he had read, but not understood."

30. H. I. 19; K. IV. 15.

31. H. V. 192; K. V. 180.

32. Volkmann’s Lehrb. der Psychologie I. 511.

33. Compare O. Flügel, Die Seelenfrage, K` then, 1901 and Ueber die persönliche Unsterblichkeit. Langensalza.

34. H. X. 359, 384.

35. H. I. 255, IV. 17; K. IV. 208.

36. Helmholtz in his monograph on the conservation of energy.

37. All these observations by Herbart were based on the now outdated theory of emissions. They have been followed up by C. S. Cornelius in his molecular physics.

38. Compare O. Flügel, Die Bedeutung der Metaphysik Herbarts in der Gegenwart. Langensalza 18, 26, 175, 187.

39. Compare O. Flh gel, Die Religionsphilosophie in der Schule Herbarts. Langensalza.

40. H. I. 6; K. IV. 5.

41. From Simson’s Leben. Leipzig, Hirzel 1900.

42. Thilo in: Zeitschrift für exakte Philosophie XIII, p. 404. Haage, Der Umsturz des hannoverschen Staatsgrundgesetz im Jahre 1837. In: Reichsboten 1904, No. 1. Thimme, Historische Zeitschrift für Niedersachsen 1899, p. 273. We have been promised a published version in this serial publication of an illuminating correspondence between Otfried Müller and Count Münster on the protest of the Seven.

43. H. I. 48; K. IV. 53.

44. Zeitschr. f. Philosophie u. Pädagogik. 1899, p. 323.

45. Printed by Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht 1841. Pictures of Herbart were almost all based on the portrait by Steffens, including those appended to Hartenstein’s edition. This portrait represents Herbart at the age of about 60.

The bust of Herbart that can be obtained from Herr Rektor Rude at Nakel an der Netze was also based on this portrait. 72 cm high in ivory, 28 marks, in gypsum, 12 marks; 45 cm high in ivory, 10 marks, in gypsum, 6 marks.

Another bust made by Heidel can be obtained from Micheli, Berlin NW, Unter den Linden 76a; 55 cm high in ivory, 48 marks, in gypsum, 24 marks. This shows Herbart at the age of about 40. A photograph of this bust is represented as the frontispiece of the present volume.

We are most grateful to the University Library in Leipzig, who put a letter handwritten by Herbart at the disposal of our publishing house to publish as we wished. [Translator’s note: This facsimile is not reproduced here; it is a letter, dating from 1830, from Herbart to Drobisch, and will be found on p. 44 of Flügel’s book.]

Acknowledgements: Funding for this article was provided by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Grant 410-99-0831 awarded to the first author. We are grateful to Louise Wasylkiw for her assistance.