Hans G. Furth

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Hans G. Furth (born December 2, 1920 in Vienna , † November 7, 1999 in Washington) was an American psychologist . Furth became known in the 1960s and 1970s for his psychological and educational work with deaf children and for his books on the pedagogical implementation of the theories of the Geneva developmental psychologist Jean Piaget : Thinking without Language (1966), Piaget for Teachers (1970) and Thinking goes to School (1974).


Furth came from a Jewish family called Fürth, whose ancestors had lived in the Bavarian city of the same name. When the Nazi regime established itself, he left his Austrian homeland as a teenager. Part of his family, including his father, perished in concentration camps. Furth came to England with false documents and was interned as an enemy alien for a year and a half in the Hutchinson Internment Camp on the Isle of Man . Even before that time, Furth had converted to the Catholic Church. After his internment, he joined the Carthusian Order while still in England, but left it again after seven years. In England he envisaged a career as a pianist, but failed because his social manners were considered too rough.

He changed lifestyle and continent, moved to Canada and later to the USA, where he started a family. He studied clinical psychology in Portland , Oregon . After separating from his first wife, Furth entered into a second marriage. Geographically he felt homeless - all the more he threw himself into science. Apart from several trips to Europe and South America, Furth stayed in Washington, where he taught at the Catholic University of America until 1990. He died in 1999.


Furth initially worked with deaf children and became acquainted with the developmental psychology of Jean Piaget (1896–1980). He, who himself suffered from a severe visual impairment, demonstrated that the ability to think and cognize in the deaf does not develop more slowly than in normal children. In doing so, he confirmed a central thesis in Jean Piaget's work: as essential as language is for thinking, it also depends on the ability to coordinate actions. In the 1960s and 1970s he wrote (partly together with Harry Wachs ) a number of books on thinking training for children. In the mid-1960s, Furth spent a year at the Geneva “Center d'Epistémologie Génétique” with Jean Piaget. On his return to Washington he brought the finished manuscript with him for an introduction to the theory of the Swiss psychologist, which helped make it known in the USA ("Piaget and Knowledge", 1969; German: "Intelligence and Recognition", 1972).

In the eighties and nineties Furth worked on clarifying the relationship between logic and passions, between logos and libido . In “Knowledge as Desire” (1987) he drew the synthesis from Piaget's developmental psychology and Freud's psychoanalysis .


Furth's work was inspired by Sigmund Freud as well as by Jean Piaget. Piaget's basic statement - human knowledge is a structure-forming process - leaves open how the dynamics of structural genesis get going and how it is maintained. Furth locates the answer in Freud's theory of instincts . However, this can not explain the specifically human aspect of the instinctual life, the replacement of fixed instincts (which are innate) by motives (which can be formed cognitively and for learning processes ). Motifs differentiate and branch out individually and adapt to the respective living conditions. Behind the dynamics of these ramifications lies - as a basic engine, as it were - human society. “Desire for Society” is the title of Furth's most recent study (1996).

Furth sees Piaget's work as an important contribution to peace education. In contrast to Piaget, who was apolitical throughout his life, Furth was also actively involved in the American civil rights movement and organized debates on the Vietnam War in American universities . War and peace also interested him from a developmental point of view. Furth concentrated on the topics of destructiveness and war especially after his late retirement (1990). In old age he devoted himself thoroughly to reflecting on the Holocaust - he himself had lost several family members in concentration camps - and on the possibility of human beings to destroy their own species: cultural development has not prevented people from repeatedly attempting to wipe out entire ethnic groups , and technological development gives them the means to carry out this attempt without great effort. In the events in Auschwitz and the atomic bombing in Hiroshima , Furth diagnosed a psychological and a technical threshold that our species has begun to cross.

Three days before his death, he meditated in a letter on the question of the probability that humanity could come into contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. “We will not discover such civilizations,” writes Furth, “for the simple reason that they do not exist. For a civilization of beings with an intelligence related to humans, capable of building radios with interstellar range, will also have developed weapons suitable for mass destruction and a lifestyle of environmental destruction. Intelligent civilizations that may have sprung up elsewhere have likely reversed their progress overnight - just as we now run the risk of doing so. ”These sentences sound like a legacy.


  • Thinking without Language. Psychological Implications of Deafness . New York: Free Press 1966. doi : 10.1177 / 000271626837700178
  • Piaget and Knowledge. Theoretical Foundations . Englewood Cliffs (NJ): Prentice-Hall 1969; 2nd ed. University of Chicago Press 1981. ISBN 0-226-27420-9
  • Piaget for Teachers . Englewood Cliffs (NJ): Prentice-Hall 1970. ISBN 978-0-13-674937-0
  • Thinking goes to school (together with Harry Wachs). Piaget's Theory in Practice. New York: Oxford University Press 1975. ISBN 978-0-19-501927-8
  • The World of Grown Ups. Children's Conceptions of Society . New York: Elsevier 1980. ISBN 0-444-99065-8
  • Knowledge as Desire. An Essay on Freud and Piaget . New York: Columbia University Press 1987. ISBN 0-231-06458-6
  • Desire for Society. Childrens Knowledge as Social Imagination . New York: Plenum Press 1996. ISBN 0-444-99065-8