The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Herbart, Johann Friedrich

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HERBART, Johann Friedrich, German philosopher: b. Oldenburg, 4 May 1776; d. Göttingen, 11 Aug. 1841. His career is evidence of the fact that at least some men may live peaceful lives in stormy times. A student at Jena under Fichte, a tutor in Switzerland, a docent at Göttingen in the theory of education, and after that a professor to the end at Göttingen, at Königsberg, and finally at Göttingen again — that is the story of his life. But if he took no part in the revolutionary tumults that afflicted his country he at least became a leader in her intellectual contests. His metaphysics stands at the opposite pole from that of Hegel. His psychology laid the foundations for modern psychophysics and experimental psychology, while his pedagogics is still the source of much of our best educational theory and practice.

The turning point between Herbart and Hegel lies in the use to be made of the principle of contradiction. Herbart took the orthodox stand that what contradicts itself cannot be truly real or actual, whereas Hegel boldly incorporated the principle of contradiction as a stage in what might be called his dialectic of evolution, which follows the formula, thesis, antithesis, synthesis. The antithesis is the contradiction of the thesis, but only that the two may come together again in a higher synthesis. A familiar illustration is the relation of (1) being, (2) non-being and (3) becoming, in which the second is thought as the contradiction of the first, while the third is conceived as a higher synthesis of the first two, since becoming has elements both of being and of non-being. Herbart, however, rejects such reasoning as insufficient, and demands that philosophy shall accept the validity of the principle of contradiction, and honestly endeavor to remove the contradictions inherent in our everyday thought of the world. Such contradictions are encountered when we consider a thing and its attributes or the ego, which is both subject and object, or when we trace experience back to matter, in which the notions discrete and continuous are seen to be at variance. The effort to remove the contradictions leads Herbart back to a pre-Kantian method of speculation, for he holds himself ready to accept any sort of a presupposition, rational, or irrational, which promises to resolve the difficulty, even though the principle of explanation should forever resist demonstration as to its reality. In other words, we may assume anything to be true which clears up our thinking. But this is the method of Leibnitz, of Spinoza, and of many others antecedent to the time of Kant (q.v.). The fundamental form in which contradiction appears is that the simple is conceived as manifold. For example, the thing we call water is at the same time thought of as heavy, fluid, colorless, having the quality of quenching both fire and thirst, and as being capable of transformation from a liquid to a solid or to a vapor. The way to overcome this contradiction is to assume a plurality of simple beings, and to explain the manifold as appearance arising from their relations. These simple beings that underlie the phenomenal world are atoms, or monads, or as Herbart prefers to call them, Reals. They are conceived to be in mechanical interaction, and to give rise to the manifold we have in experience. Like the atoms of Democritus they are simple and alike in quality, but unlike the monads of Leibnitz they are not points of self-active force, containing an inherent principle of development. Why and how the Reals act and interact Herbart does not explain, not even how they get and exercise their one function of Self-preservation. The inability to explain these things which we most want to know is the penalty attached to this type of metaphysics. Yet it would be unfair to assume that no good results can come from even such pre-suppositions. The Reals are not spatial in the ordinary meaning of that term, for space and time as we know them are themselves phenomenal products, but they may be conceived to be in what Herbart calls intelligible space, in which the Reals exist in a state of partial or total interpenetration. Here they reciprocally “disturb” one another, a “self-preservation” resulting, which is a “state” of the Real. When the Real which is “disturbed” happens to be a soul, the disturbance, or the state of self-preservation, becomes an idea, which is the primary form of mental life. Psychology is, therefore, the science of these self-preservations of the soul-monad, which is like all Reals unknowable, but as Herbart thinks a necessary presupposition of our experience. Psychical life is the reciprocal tension of ideas. Consciousness depends upon the degree of this tension. The lowest degree of strength which an idea can have and still be actual marks the threshold of consciousness. If reduced below this degree it remains as “impulse,” and may rise again when freed from “arrest.” The soul monad has its seat in the brain and is in intimate interaction with a multitude of other Reals. Outwardly originating stimuli are conveyed to the brain by the nerves and reach the soul through the medium of the other Reals present. Since the idea is the primary form of mental life, feeling and volition must be explained through an examination of the inhibitory relations of the ideas. Pleasure arises when there is a furthering of mental movement, and pain when there is an arrest. Volition arises from desire, a state of feeling which has a natural impulse to find satisfaction through action. Since mechanical action and reaction of the Reals is the source of ideas, it seems a natural conclusion that there may be a statics and mechanics of mental states. This led to Herbart's attempt to work out the calculus of ideas, thus opening the road for the modern quantitative study of mental phenomena, as seen in psychophysics and experimental psychology. Herbart claims to have founded psychology anew upon metaphysics, mathematics, and experience. The third of these bases is treated under the term apperception, which has important results for education.

Leibnitz, who introduced the term apperception, employed it in a double sense. Its first meaning is the original power of the mind to unify experiences originating in sensation; this is the sense in which Kant uses the term. The second meaning is the mental assimilation that takes place when we use knowledge already acquired to interpret new knowledge. It is natural that Herbart should emphasize the latter process, for though he could hardly deny the validity of the first form of apperception, yet so slight is the original equipment of the mind — merely the power of preserving itself against the encroachments of other Reals — that all the significance of its activity must he found in acquiring experience. This, it may be remarked, is the process most important to teachers, for they can help to supply and order experience, whereas they have no control whatever over the original constitution of the mind. Herbart sees in each new sensation a stimulus to ideas already possessed, an attractive force for the similar, a repelling one for the dissimilar. The new idea therefore at first holds the centre of consciousness, gathering about itself similar ideas, and repelling hostile ones already in consciousness or newly attracted to it by contrast. But this very domination of the new idea is in most cases the cause of its reduction to a subordinate place, for by bringing to consciousness a body of more deeply rooted related ideas, it enables the old to control the new by placing the new in its true relation to older and better ordered experience. In other words, the new is apperceived by the old. Herbart's theory thus briefly stated, has been extended and freed from contradictions, by subsequent writers, notably Lazarus, Steinthal and Wundt (qq.v.).

All knowledge, feeling, desire and will, being explained by the various relations into which ideas may come, there is no room in Herbart's system for transcendental will, hence no ethical imperatives antecedent to those developed by experience. Ethics consequently becomes a branch of æsthetics, and ethical judgment is founded upon pleasurable or painful feelings as the case may be. The mind spontaneously approves some will relations and as spontaneously disapproves others. These basal relations refer to five fundamental aspects of conduct, two relating to the self as such, and the remaining three to the relations of the self to others. The first two are Inner Freedom (the feeling that arises from good conscience) and Efficiency of Will (the pleasure that is aroused by efficient action). The three other ideas are first Good Will (subjective attitude toward others), the second Justice (the legal basis of rights), and the third Equity (the demand that requital shall be adequate to deed).

Upon the basis of his psychology and ethics as above explained, Herbart built his educational structure. Since there is no source of character but experience, it is to experience, i.e., to organized knowledge or groups of ideas, that we must look for the development of character, which thus has its roots, not in a single department of knowledge as, e.g., that grounded in sacred writings, but in the whole content of the mind. A man must be ethical all over, not in spots only. For this reason the Herbartians speak fondly and proudly of educative instruction, meaning thereby such instruction as shall render all ideas contributory to moral character. But since feeling is the bridge between cognition and volition, this bridge the teacher must induce the pupil to cross if bis conduct is to be adequate to his knowledge.

By means of direct interest incited in the pupil for the subject-matter itself, not amusement connected with the subject-matter, as some have erroneously thought, the pupil's permanent attitude of mind toward the circle of thought itself and consequently toward the aspects of life involved will be established. This interest falls naturally into two groups, first that pertaining to knowledge itself, and second that pertaining to intercourse with others. The first group embraces empirical, speculative (causal), and æsthetic interests; the second sympathetic social and religious interests. This doctrine of interest, so important in modern educational thought, has been brought into harmony with our more spiritualistic systems of philosophy and psychology by Professor John Dewey (‘Interest as Related to Will’). The next important topic arises when we ask how the teacher is to lead the pupil to build his circles of thought adequately, and then to have the right mental attitude toward them.

It is a common experience that faulty methods may easily lead to inadequacy of insight; they may still more easily lead to the wrong attitude of mind, as when the student hates a subject and everything connected with it. The first point to consider is Attention, which is either spontaneous or forced. With the young where forced attention is painful, it is better to induce spontaneous attention, for here the ideas rise freely, producing liveliness and pleasure. Apperception has two marked stages, that of absorption, in which the mind gives itself up to new impressions; and that of reflection, in which the newly acquired elements of knowledge find their appropriate place in the systems of the old. To bring about this two-fold process of absorption and reflection most effectively and most agreeably to the mind, we must observe at least four prominent stages of method. The first of these is clearness, by which is meant the adequate apprehension of the single object or element as such. The second is association, which consists in the progress from one absorption to another related one. The third is system, or the step in which each part of that which is learned finds its proper place in relation to other parts. Steps two and three may be said to embrace the process of generalization. The fourth stage is what Herbart calls method, by which he understands the well-ordered activity of the pupil in the solution of problems and tasks.

Making due allowance for those parts of Herbart's system that are now of historical interest only, it may be seen that many of its elements are still of importance to the world, for they involve the most potent of modern educational processes and aims.

Herbart's chief philosophical works are ‘Lehrbuch zur Einleitung in die Philosophie’ (1813); ‘Lehrbuch zur Psychologie’ (1816); ‘Psychologie als Wissenschaft, neu gegründet auf Erfahrung, Metaphysik und Mathematic’ (1824-25); ‘Allgemeine Metaphysik nebst den Anfängen der philosophischen Naturlehre’ (1828-29); ‘Kurze Encyclopädie der Philosophie, aus practischen Gesichtespunkten entworfen’ (1831). The complete works of Herbart have been edited in 12 volumes by G. Hartenstein (Leipzig 1850-52), Herbart's educational works, including the ‘Allgemeine Pädagogik’ and the ‘Umriss Pädagogischer Vorlesungen,’ were edited by Dr. Otto Willmann in two volumes (Leipzig 1880). The Psychology is translated and to be found in the International Series, while the ‘Allgemeine Pädagogik’ and the ‘Umriss’ are also found in English, the former under the title of the ‘Science of Education,’ by H. M. and E. Felkin (Boston 1893), and the latter under that of ‘Outlines of Educational Doctrine,’ trans. by Lange and annotated by De Garmo (New York 1901). The Herbartian School has produced a literature in metaphysics, psychology and education too voluminous for mention here. Consult Adams, J., ‘Herbartian Psychology applied to Education’ (Boston 1906); De Garmo, C., ‘Herbart and the Herbartians’ (New York 1895); Gockter, L., ‘La Pédagogie de Herbart, Exposé et Discussion’ (Paris 1905); Lang, O. H., ‘Outlines of Herbart's Pedagogy, with a biographical Introduction’ (New York 1894); Wagner, E., ‘Die Praxis der Herbartianer; der Ausbau und gegenwärtige Stand der Herbartschen Pädagogik’ (Langensalza 1900).

Charles De Garmo,
Emeritus Professor of Education, Cornell University; Author of ‘Herbart and the Herbartians’.