Würzburg School

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Würzburg School


a school of experimental investigation of thought at the Psychological Institute of the University of Würzburg in Germany in the first decade of the 20th century. The founder and main theoretician of the Würzburg school was O. Külpe and its best known exponents were N. Ach and K. Bühler. In 1903 the school’s organ, the journal Archiv für die gesamte Psychologic, began publication.

The basic thesis of the Würzburg school consists in the postulation of the existence of special states of consciousness—“thoughts”—which cannot be reduced to the sensory content. The associationist psychology dominant at the end of the 19th century reduced thinking to the combining of sensory materials according to the laws of association. The Würzburg school psychologists, who on the philosophical plane based themselves on the idealist principles of the phenomenology of F. Brentano and E. Husserl, subjected associationism to critical experimental scrutiny. Having perfected the technique of introspection—by the selection and preliminary training of the test subjects and by the division of the carrying out of the task and the reporting of what was experienced during the task—they established the absence of images in the subject’s consciousness, images corresponding to the content of the task. From this, according to O. Kiilpe, the school derived its basic negative theory of the imageless nature of thought and its irreducibility to the combination of sensations. According to the Würzburg school, as a rule it is not images that are experienced and reported by the subjects but something different—relationships, tasks and attitudes, activities of combining and grouping, and so forth. Summarily and rather vaguely all these were declared to be specific mind entities. Their characteristic trait, according to the principles of phenomenology, was intentionality and a directionality toward something lying beyond the bounds of thought, such as ideas and ideal and real objects.

To explain the progression from one state of consciousness to another the Wurzburg school introduced—in addition to the mechanism of reproduction of ideas connected by associations—the principle of set, or determining tendency (N. Ach). According to this principle, a task, either internal or posed from without, predetermines the sequence of changes in states of consciousness up to its solution. The determining tendency evoked by the task is so strong that it may even break down firmly established associative connections and be present for some time after the completion of the experiment.

The chief merit of the Würzburg school consists in the establishment of the specific nature of the psychological characteristics of the thought process and their irreducibility to the association of ideas. The works of the Würzburg school had a direct influence on the studies of O. Selz, on Gestalt psychology, and also on the development of set theory. The thesis of the imageless nature of thought influenced several aesthetic theories. With the establishment in psychology of objective methods for the study of the psyche and behavior, the work of the Würzburg school, based on introspection, lost its significance.


Krogius, A. A. “Viurtsburgskaia shkola eksperimentarnogo issledovaniia myshleniia i ee znachenie.” In Novye idei v filosofii, no. 16, St. Petersburg, 1914.
Külpe, O. “Sovremennaia psikhologiia myshleniia.” In Novye idei v filosofii, no. 16, St. Petersburg, 1914.
Külpe, O. Vvedenie v filosofiiu, 2nd ed. St. Petersburg, 1908. [Antsyferova, L. I.] “Introspektivnyi eksperiment i issledovanie myshleniia v Viurtsburgskoi shkole.” In Osnovnye napravleniia issledovanii psikhologii myshleniia v kapitalisticheskikh stranakh. Moscow, 1966.
Iaroshevskii, M. G. Istoriia psikhologii. Moscow, 1966. Chapter 12.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.