Johann Friedrich Herbart

Alan Kim, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Dec 10, 2015
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Some good stuff in this new article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and some dead ends. The subject is Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776–1841), "known today mainly as a founding figure of modern psychology and educational theory." Herbart argues that "consciousness is nothing more than the continuous stream of representations." What are these representations? Anticipating Freud, he says these are self-preservations of the psyche, or spirit. He offers a detailed mathematics describing the mechanics of the spirit. Pedagogy, he argues, is designed to foster the many parts of this spirit; "the teacher helps the pupil develop all his unique talents and interests as far and as coherently as possible." This is a process of experience and reflection. "The teacher does not simply give the principle to the child. Rather, his instruction aims to bring the child by stages to recognize the principle on and as its own, by reflecting on its immediate experience." We see in Herbart flavours of Piaget, William James, and cognitivist theories of cognition, all of who would write in the decades following.

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