Max Dessoir

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Max Dessoir

Max Dessoir , actually Max Dessauer , (born February 8, 1867 in Berlin , † July 19, 1947 in Königstein im Taunus ) was a German philosopher , physician, and psychologist . After initial work in the field of medicine, psychology and the border sciences, in which he coined the terms haptics and parapsychology , Dessoir mainly dealt with the fields of aesthetics and art history . With his descriptive method, he is considered to be the initiator of empirical aesthetics.


Max Dessoir was a son of the court actor Ludwig Dessoir (actually: Ludwig Dessauer ) and grew up in a middle-class family after the early death of his father . In 1885 he passed his Abitur at the Berlin Royal Wilhelms-Gymnasium and in the same year began studying philosophy at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin. He heard from Eduard Zeller and Wilhelm Dilthey . As a student he was already interested in mesmerism , somnambulism , spiritism and telepathy and founded the Society for Experimental Philosophy together with Albert Moll in 1888 . He published regularly in the esoteric magazine Sphinx , also under the pseudonym Edmund W. Rells . Dessoir also became friends with Albert Freiherr von Schrenck-Notzing , who had founded the Psychological Society in Munich in 1886/87 .

In 1889 Dessoir about was Karl Philipp Moritz as esthetician Dr. phil. PhD. In 1892 he was also at the University of Wuerzburg About the skin sense to Dr. med. PhD. In the same year he completed his habilitation in Berlin on the belief of the mentally ill in the reality of hallucinations for philosophy. In 1897 he was appointed associate professor in Berlin at Dilthey's instigation. In 1899 he married the song and oratorio singer Susanne Triepel .

Dessoir was interested in art and published his main work in 1906, Aesthetics and General Art History . In the same year he founded the magazine for aesthetics and general art history , which he also published. In 1908 he founded the Association for Aesthetic Research and in 1909 the Society for Aesthetics and General Art History , as its president he was until his death. From 1913 he initiated four congresses for aesthetics and general art history.

After the outbreak of World War I, Dessoir volunteered for military service in 1914, but was initially not used because of his shortsightedness. From 1915 he was a war correspondent. After the war, he was appointed full professor in Berlin in 1920 and full professor of the Philosophical Seminar in 1923. In 1934 he retired, but was able to continue teaching until his license to teach as a "baptized Jew" was revoked in 1936 and he was banned from publishing. His introduction to philosophy was developed by Alfred Bäumler also for the Nazis not to be compatible. In 1943 Dessoir went to Nauheim with his wife to avoid the bombing raids and further reprisals. After the Second War he held the chair for philosophy at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main .


Dessoir moved in the circles of the occult and met Carl du Prel , Schrenck-Notzing and Madame Blavatsky through Wilhelm Hübbe-Schleiden in Munich . His acquaintances and friends also included writers such as Wilhelm Bölsche , Gerhart Hauptmann , Max Halbe , Friedrich Spielhagen , Richard Dehmel , Friedrich Gundolf , Paul Ernst , Stanislaw Przybyszewski and Stefan George . The latter also read poetry in Dessoir's seminars. Dessoir himself took part in spiritualistic sessions with various media. In an article published in the Sphinx in 1889 , he coined the term parapsychology . As their subject of investigation, he defined the human abilities that went beyond the realm of the normal without being able to be described as pathological. Para is something "that goes beyond the ordinary or goes alongside it, so one can perhaps call the phenomena emerging from the normal course of mental life para- psychic, the science dealing with them ' parapsychology '". As a discipline designation, however, the term only solidified in the late 1920s / early 1930s through the methodological work of Hans Driesch , Joseph Banks Rhine , Hans Bender and Wilhelm Heinrich Carl Tenhaeff . In 1917 the work "Vom Jenseits der Seele" appeared, which was published six times until 1930 and was reprinted in 1967. In it Dessoir dealt with the "occult sciences" and sharply criticized Rudolf Steiner's anthroposophy in particular , this criticism being referred to by Steiner in his book "Von Seelenrätnern" as a criticism of a "caricature" of anthroposophy that Dessoir himself first created.

Dessoir's medical dissertation On the skin sense was discussed intensely by contemporaries. In it Dessoir sought a new, precise terminology and, among other things, coined the term haptics . But then he turned mainly to the topics of aesthetics and philosophy.

Dessoir advocated the separation of aesthetics and art history by declaring aesthetics to be more comprehensive than art and pointing out that the concepts of art history include extra-aesthetic values ​​beyond questions of taste. In his main work, Aesthetics and General Art Science (1906), he moved away from his earlier theory of the psychological foundations of subjective aesthetic impressions and described the objects of aesthetic perception as “carriers of aesthetic values”.

In 1947 Dessoir published his autobiography Book of Memory .


Memories Dessoirs
  • The double me. Second, increased edition. Ernst Günthers Verlag, Leipzig 1896.
  • History of modern German psychology. Duncker, Berlin 1902.
  • The subconscious. Secrétariat du Congrès 1909.
  • Outline of a History of Psychology. Winter, Heidelberg 1911.
  • War psychological considerations. Hirzel, Leipzig 1916.
  • From this side of the soul, psychological letters. Dürr & Weber, Leipzig 1923.
  • Aesthetics and general art history, in the main. Ferdinand Enke, Stuttgart 1923.
  • Contributions to general art history. Ferdinand Enke, Stuttgart 1929.
  • Introduction to philosophy. Ferdinand Enke, Stuttgart 1946.
  • Book of memory. Ferdinand Enke, Stuttgart 1947.
  • Speech as art. Erasmus-Verlag, Munich 1948.
  • Psychological letters. Wedding-Verlag, Berlin 1948.
  • The I, the dream, the death. Ferdinand Enke, Stuttgart 1951.
  • The history of philosophy. Fourier, Wiesbaden 1981, ISBN 3-921695-51-1 .
  • From the beyond of the soul, the occult science in critical examination. Löwit, Wiesbaden 1979.

SOUND RECORDING: November 16, 1930 Introduction to the lecture series "INTRODUCTION TO THE PHILOSOPHY" 4'10 "


  • Annette Dorgerloh : The artist couple Lepsius. On Berlin portrait painting around 1900. Berlin 2003.
  • Andreas house: Max Dessoir. In: Walther Killy (ed.). Literary dictionary. Authors and works of German language. Bertelsmann Lexikon, Gütersloh 1988–1993, ISBN 3570037010 , pp. 31–33.
  • Christian Herrmann: Max Dessoir, man and work . Ferdinand Enke, Stuttgart 1929.
  • Gertrud Jung:  Dessoir, Max. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 3, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1957, ISBN 3-428-00184-2 , p. 617 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Adolf Kurzweg: The history of the Berlin "Society for Experimental Psychology" with special consideration of its initial situation and the work of Max Dessoir . Dissertation, Berlin 1976.
  • Rudolf Steiner: Of soul puzzles. Anthropology and anthroposophy. Max Dessoir on anthroposophy. Franz Brentano: An obituary. Sketch-like additions (GA 21), 1917 (online version)
  • Holger Tiedemann: Max Dessoir (1867-1947). In: Volkmar Sigusch and Günter Grau (eds.). Person lexicon of sex research. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2009, ISBN 9783593390499 , pp. 112–114.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b Volker Gerhardt, Jana Räter and Reinhard Mehring: Berliner Geist. A history of the Berlin university philosophy up to 1946. With an outlook on the present of the Humboldt University. Akademie Verlag, Berlin 1999, ISBN 9783050072593 , p. 240 f.
  2. Max Dessoir. In: trivium, 6.2010. Fondation Maison des sciences de l'homme, May 2, 2010, accessed on August 20, 2019 .
  3. Priska Pytlik: Occultism and Modernity. A cultural-historical phenomenon and its significance for literature around 1900. Zugl .: Regensburg, Univ., Diss., 2003. Schöningh, Paderborn 2005, ISBN 9783506713827 , pp. 69 f., Cited. P. 70.
  4. Anna Lux and Sylvia Paletschek: Institutionalization and Parapsychology. An introduction. In: Anna Lux and Sylvia Paletschek (eds.). Occultism in the case. Institutionalizations of parapsychology in the 20th century in an international comparison. De Gruyter, Berlin 2016, ISBN 9783110466638 ( Occult Modernism . V.3), pp. 1–36, here p. 11.
  5. Steiner, Rudolf: From soul riddles. Anthropology and anthroposophy. Max Dessoir on anthroposophy. Franz Brentano: An obituary. Sketch-like extensions (GA 21), 1917. p. 8 ibid. It says: "Instead, Dessoir's" criticism "compelled me to show how he brings a distorted image of my views to his readers, and then not about them, but speaks about what he has put forward that has nothing to do with my views. "
  6. Martin Grunwald and Matthias John: German pioneers of research into human haptic perception. In: Martin Grunwald (ed.). Human haptic perception. Basics and Applications. Birkhäuser Basel, Basel 2008, ISBN 9783764376116 , pp. 14–40, here. Pp. 21-23.