|Born||21 April 1848
|Died||25 December 1936
Carl Stumpf (21 April 1848 – 25 December 1936) was a German philosopher and psychologist. Inspired by Franz Brentano and Hermann Lotze, he is known for his impact on phenomenology, one of the most important philosophical trends of the twentieth century. He had an important influence on Edmund Husserl, the founder of modern phenomenology, as well as Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka, co-founders of Gestalt psychology. Stumpf is also considered one of the pioneers of comparative musicology and ethnomusicology, as documented in his study of the origins of human musical cognition The Origins of Music (1911). He held positions in the philosophy departments at the Universities of Göttingen, Würzburg, Prague, Munich and Halle, before obtaining a professorship at the University of Berlin.
Carl Stumpf was born in Wiesentheid, Franconia, in southern Germany. His father was the country court physician, and his immediate family included scientists and academicians, like his grandfather, who studied eighteenth century French literature and the philosophers Kant and Schelling. Stumpf showed precocious musical talent as a child, learning the violin by the age of 7 and five other instruments by age 10.
Stumpf attended the local Gymnasium, where he developed a passion for philosophy, especially the works of Plato, before enrolling at the University of Würzburg at the age of 17. He spent one semester studying aesthetics and one studying law. Then, in his third semester, he met Franz Brentano, who taught Stumpf to think logically and empirically. Brentano also encouraged Stumpf to take courses on the natural sciences because he considered both the substance and methods of science important to philosophy. After two semesters of studying with Brentano, he transferred to the University of Göttingen to study under Hermann Lotze, a German perceptual theorist. After receiving a degree from Lotze in 1868, Stumpf returned to Würzberg to prepare for Catholic priesthood. He entered a seminary in 1869 and studied theology, but left almost immediately due to a crisis over papal infallibility.
Upon return from seminary, Stumpf was granted a position as an instructor at the University of Göttingen in the Department of Philosophy. There Stumpf met Ernst Weber and Gustav Fechner, and served as an observer in their psychological experiments. Their careful approach to a problem of aesthetics, specifically the visual appeal of rectangles of different proportions, appealed to Stumpf and reinforced the notion learned from Brentano that psychological acts or functions can be studied empirically.
In 1873, Stumpf returned to the University of Würzburg as a professor in the Department of Philosophy. Although he was forced to teach all of the philosophy and psychology courses due to Brentano's forced departure from the university, Stumpf completed his first major psychological work, an examination of visual perception, particularly depth perception. He proposed a nativist explanation for depth perception, and his book has been cited as an outstanding early contribution to the debate between the nativist and empiricist views of perception.
In 1894, Stumpf was appointed to the chair of philosophy at the University of Berlin. At Berlin, he also held an adjunct appointment as director of the Institute of Experimental Psychology at Berlin. The Institute originally occupied three dark rooms, but by 1920, had moved to twenty-five rooms in the former Imperial Palace. In 1896, Stumpf presided over the Third International Congress of Psychology, and delivered the inaugural address on the relation between mind and body; he advocated an interactionalist position that opposed the popular notion of psychophysical parallelism. Finally, from 1907 to 1908, Stump served as the rector of the University of Berlin.
Stumpf began his Tonpsychologie (Tone Psychology) in 1875, a work considered to be his greatest contribution to psychology. He distinguished between phenomena and mental functions, suggesting that phenomena such as tones, colors, and images are either sensory or imaginary. Stumpf termed the study of such phenomena as phenomenology. He did a wide range of studies of the phenomenological characteristics of the sounds of different instruments, the determinants of melody, tonal fusion, and the consonance and dissonance of tones. This research was made possible by the excellent collection of acoustic devices at the Institute of Physics.
In 1903 and 1904, Stumpf was involved in two well-publicized debunking episodes related to sensational phenomena. First, an engineer from Prague claimed to have invented a machine that could change photographs of sound waves into sound. Stumpf, after attending a demonstration, wrote an article challenging its legitimacy, causing it to never be heard about again. However, the case of Clever Hans, an apparently brilliant horse owned by Wilhelm von Osten, was even more sensational.
Wilhelm von Osten, to all appearances, had successfully trained Hans to add, subtract, multiply, divide, work with fractions, and even tell time and keep track of the calendar. Von Osten would pose questions would be posed both orally or printed on cards. Due to the great public interest in Hans and his achievements, the German Board of Education appointed a commission to evaluate von Osten's claims. This commission issued a report concluding that there were no tricks or intentional influences during Hans' performances. Recommending an additional investigation, one of Stumpf's assistants at the Berlin Institute, Oskar Pfungst was recruited.
First, Pfungst investigated the role of visual cues. Hans was fitted with large blinkers and was questioned with the questioner standing either directly in front of Hans or to the side. He found that Hans answered the questions correctly only 6 percent of the time when the questioner stood to the side, but when the questioner stood directly in front of Hans, 89 percent of the answers were correct. Pfungst was able to discern that when the horse was given a problem, the questioner would lean forward to watch Hans' response; at the correct response, the questioner would make a slight involuntary upward movement of the eyebrows. Once this cue was determined, Pfungst was able to elicit any response he wanted by making the slight upward movement. The case of Clever Hans indicated the importance of subtle cues and movements an observer may provide.
The majority of Stumpf's later work did not include sensational or interesting research, like that of Clever Hans. With the outbreak of World War I, many students left the Institute of Experimental Psychology to fight in the war. Furthermore, the war between Germany and the allied nations disrupted many professional relationships he had with other psychologists. Stumpf retired from the University of Berlin in 1921 and was succeeded as director of the psychological institute by his former student, Wolfgang Köhler. Unfortunately, many of Stumpf's contributions to the field of auditory perception and aesthetics was lost within sensory psychology because his work was not elaborated by later generations, due to the severing of contact with Stumpf by the war.
- Stumpf, C.: 'The Origins of Music', ed. and trans. David Trippett. Oxford University Press, 2012
- Sprung, H.: Carl Stumpf – Eine Biografie. Von der Philosophie zur Experimentellen Psychologie. München/Wien: Profil, 2006.
- Bonacchi, S. / Boudewijnse, G.-H. (eds.): Carl Stumpf – From Philosophical Reflection to Interdisciplinary Scientific Investigation. Wien: Krammer, 2011
- Short biography, bibliography, and links on digitized sources in the Virtual Laboratory of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
- Autobiography from History of Psychology in Autobiography Vol. 1 (1930), p. 389-441, at York University "Classics in the History of Psychology"