Wilhelm Wundt

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Wundt, Wilhelm


Born Aug. 16, 1832, in Neckarau, Baden; died Aug. 31, 1920, in Grossbothen, near Leipzig. German psychologist, physiologist, philosopher, and linguist.

Wundt was a professor of physiology at Heidelberg (1864-74), and he became a professor of philosophy at Leipzig in 1875. He was a member of many foreign academies and scientific societies. In his first works he set forth a plan for the development of physiological psychology as a special science, using the methods of laboratory experimentation to isolate the elements of consciousness and elucidate the laws governing their interconnections. Wundt considered the subject of psychology a direct experience—the phenomena or facts of consciousness accessible to “introspection.” However, according to Wundt, the higher psychological processes (speech, thought, and will) are inaccessible to experiment, and he proposed that they be studied by the cultural-historical method. His viewpoint was that of psycho-physical parallelism, proposing that the phenomena of consciousness are inseparable from neural processes but not causally linked to them. In the field of consciousness, according to Wundt, special psychic causality functions, and behavoir is determined by “apperception.” By the early 20th century, Wundt’s introspectionist psychological concepts had been superseded by the subsequent development of psychology.

Wundt’s greatest contribution was the introduction into psychology of the experimental method, which played a decisive role in psychology’s development into an independent science. The world’s first psychological laboratory (later an institute), which he founded in 1879, became an international center where a whole generation of the first experimental psychologists was trained. At the laboratory, studies were conducted on sensations, reaction time, association, attention, and the simplest feelings. In the ten-volume Psychology of Nations (1900-20), Wundt attempted a psychological interpretation of cultural-historic phenomena such as myth, religion, and the arts.

In philosophy Wundt was a representative of idealism and “voluntarism” (see V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18, p. 58). For him the world was a conforming development of the soul—of the divine world will. In Logic (vols. 1-3, 1880-83) he not only analyzed the forms of thought but also tried to set forth the methods of various sciences and the principles of mathematical logic. In his linguistic research Wundt determined the basic linguistic categories, primarily from an individual psychological viewpoint, although he also recognized the preeminence of the social basis of language over the individual basis. In his opinion, language was one of the manifestations of the “collective will” or “folk spirit.” This concept of language as a dynamic process and the isolation of speech rather than a language system as the major object of linguistic study show Wundt’s affinity to H. Steinthal and his school and, at the same time, his major disagreement with the Neogrammarians.


In Russian translation:
Ocherki psikhologii. [Moscow, 1912.]
Osnovaniia fiziologicheskoi psikhologii, vols. 1-2. St. Petersburg, 1880-81.
Lektsii o dushe cheloveka i zhivotnykh. St. Petersburg, 1894.
Sistema filosofii. St. Petersburg, 1902.
Vvedenie v psikhologiiu. Moscow, 1912.
Estestvoznanie i psikhologiia. [St. Petersburg, 1914.]
Mirovaia katastrofa i nemetskaia filosofiia. St. Petersburg, 1922.


Kenig, E. V. Vundt: Ego filosofiia i psikhologiia. St. Petersburg, 1902.
Iaroshevskii, M. G. Istoriia psikhologii. Moscow, 1966. Chapter 10.
Fraisse, P., and J. Piaget, comps. EksperimentaVnaia psikhologiia: Sb. st., vol. 1. Moscow, 1966. Chapter 1.
Heussner, A. Einfuhrung in Wilhelm Wundts Philosophic und Psychologic. Gottingen, 1920.


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