Theodor Lipps

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Theodor Lipps

Theodor Lipps (born July 28, 1851 in Wallhalben , † October 17, 1914 in Munich ) was a German philosopher and psychologist of the late 19th century. He was considered one of the main representatives of psychologism in Germany and one of the leading philosophers of his time. He was the founder of the Psychological Institute at the University of Munich in 1913. Lipps saw himself as a phenomenologist .


Lipps was born as one of three children of the pastor Karl Theodor Lipps and his first wife, the pastor's daughter Elise geb. Hoos born. The mother died when Lipps was two years old. The father moved to Rheingönheim , where Lipps was a pupil of the elementary school. From 1861 to 1864 Lipps attended Latin school in Korntal near Stuttgart. He then became a student at the Herzog-Wolfgang-Gymnasium in Zweibrücken . At the age of 16 (1867) he passed the Abitur as the best of his year. Lipps had a brother, Gottlob Friedrich Lipps (1865-1931), who was also scientifically active as a philosopher and psychologist.

Munich, Friedrichstr. 4. Lipps lived here during his time in Munich.

After studying it Lipps 1867-1871 theology at the request of the father sequentially in Erlangen , Tübingen and Utrecht . During his studies in 1868 he became a member of the Christian student union Uttenruthia . In 1872 he passed his theological exam in Speyer . In Tübingen, Lipps discovered his interest in the ideas of Hegel and Schelling . A hundred years before Lipps, they had lived with Friedrich Hölderlin in the theological monastery and together they had spread the ideas of the French Revolution that were contrary to authority. Contrary to the expectations of his father and the church authorities, Lipps refused further training as a pastor after his exam and instead began to study philosophy and natural sciences in Utrecht .

In 1874, Lipps obtained his doctorate as a guest student in Bonn with a study entitled “On Herbart's Ontology”. During these years he earned his living as a house teacher and high school teacher. In 1877 he completed his habilitation in Bonn with his thesis "Grundtatsachen des Seelenleben" with Jürgen Bona Meyer for philosophy. After a teaching position in Bonn (1877–90) and a professorship in Breslau (1890–94), he followed a call to the University of Munich (1894–1914), where he succeeded Carl Stumpf on the chair for systematic philosophy. His students include the philosopher and sociologist Max Scheler and the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch . Since 1899 he was a full member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences .

In 1909 Lipps fell ill and did not recover. He had to stop his activities and died in 1914. His wish had been to found an institute for experimental psychology in Munich. When he was appointed, this was also promised by the responsible state ministry. The psychological institute opened a year before he died. After his death, the Philosophical Faculty of the Ludwig Maximilian University paid tribute to him as follows: “15 years until a worrying disease occurred, LIPPS had a great and beneficial, widely known and praised effect. ... We have lost in him a leading philosopher, a brilliant lecturer, a reliable colleague and an excellent representative of all university interests. "

Historical context

The emergence of individual natural science subjects in the 19th century at German universities changed the scientific self-image of teaching and research that had previously been dominated by philosophy. Until now, philosophical and psychological research at universities was part of the philosophy faculties. Psychology was seen as a specialty of philosophy. Philosophers who were oriented towards nature and the natural sciences and who represented metaphysics-critical or ametaphysical views - as they are e.g. B. Avenarius , Dingler , Feuerbach , Herder , Mach , Marx , uttered - looked for new answers. They expected new kinds of contributions to the solution of philosophical problems from psychological research, especially in epistemology and logic .

In the course of an upswing in psychological philosophy through experimental methods - as practiced by Wilhelm Wundt , holder of a philosophical chair - philosophical chairs were increasingly filled with experimental psychologists . These changes resulted in conflicts between philosophers and psychologists about the content and methods of philosophy. In 1912, two-thirds of all philosophers teaching at German-speaking universities signed a declaration in which they spoke out against further filling philosophical chairs with experimental psychologists.

Topics of his philosophizing

In addition to philosophical and psychological topics, Lipps also dealt with fundamental questions about the task of scientific philosophy and its function in cooperation with other individual sciences. He understood scientific philosophy as spiritual science or the science of inner experience . This inner experience should be researched and documented through self-observation and - as in the Wundt Institute - with experimental methods of psychology. The establishment of a psychological institute was delayed. Lipps wanted to collect comprehensive knowledge about the activities of human consciousness. He researched in particular in the field of psychological aesthetics ; That was called Lipp's time, he researched theories of perception .

Starting from his philosophical-psychological focus, Lipps developed ideas under the demand for a “pure science of consciousness” that he assigned to metaphysics . Not even the natural sciences could do without claims to fill the gaps in experience, he said. He assumed that “an all-regulating reason” can be experienced by every person as a fact of consciousness. He described it in more detail as the experience of the “you should”. In connection with this fact of consciousness, he described that the construction of the objects made 'demands' on correct thinking that were of supra-individual quality. He saw in "You-Should" an tangible transcendent, which he described with words such as "absolute subject" or "pure reason". This fact that is inherent in consciousness enables people to objectively recognize and shape reality.

Lipp's writings are a treasure trove of philosophical subjects. With his own ideas he took a stand on the philosophical - including phenomenological - discussions of his time. He explained this competently and knowledgeably under many aspects and gave suggestions for further thinking. This was also in keeping with the way he taught. A number of his publications were based on his lecture notes. He impressed his students above all with his objectivity, as well as relentless openness and honesty with regard to his own and others' views, less with what he taught. Among these students were Karl Jaspers , Max Scheler and Ernst Bloch , who had learned to appreciate authentic philosophizing from him and used it for their own thinking. The autodidactic architect August Endell , also a student at Lipps, said when he was still a student that although he had a different point of view than Lipps, he could learn a lot from him.

Science of Inner Experience

Lipps redefined philosophy. He called it the science of inner experience or spiritual science . Within the historically grown areas of philosophy, namely psychology, epistemology, logic and the science of perception ( aesthetics ), fundamental relationships between 'thinking, feeling and willing' should be examined and described. He also wanted to discuss metaphysical questions, insofar as it arose to talk about them. The central objects of this philosophizing are 'ideas, sensations and acts of will'. They differ from those of other sciences.

I confess that I know no other way of arriving at a practically valuable concept of philosophical science than the one just described.

The only reality that people know directly is that which is familiar to them through feelings and sensations. From their own experience, connected with feeling, feeling and seeing, people form their own world in relation to the things they encounter and the memories of what they have experienced. So together with the inner experience of the consciousness fact 'reason' they come to knowledge and judgments which enable them to act . Edmund Husserl z. B. rejected Lipp's approach, characterizing it as 'psychologistic'. From Husserl's point of view, inner experience and individual experience were not suitable for establishing a scientific philosophy. He wanted to start from the 'objective content' and the ' essence '. On the basis of logical analyzes - especially mathematical judgments - he pointed out that the psyche should be guided by a given objectivity and not objectivity according to the psyche, as Lipps established in his studies.

In contrast to Wundt, Lipps wanted to look at the research results of his science of inner experience independently of current physiological research results, without foregoing the dialogue with the physiologists. Both sciences should stimulate each other.


Lipps became best known for his 'empathy theory' . Even before the relevant neurobiological research results, he moved empathy as a fundamental human ability to the center of philosophizing and psychology. Lipps understood “... by empathy a basic process in the direct understanding of expressive phenomena. Empathy is an inner participation, an imagined imitation of the experience of the other ”. His view, which he had gained through observation and introspectively, developed as a central category for the social and human sciences. 'Empathy', so Lipps, creates the basis for humanity.

With this point of view, Lipps followed up on what David Hume had written about 150 years earlier about sympathy . The neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran , like Lipps, described this process in which "a kind of virtual reality [is] required, an inner simulation of what the other is doing". According to Lipps, knowledge and recognition were not possible without empathy. Corresponding philosophical theories should therefore include this peculiarity of human perception in order to be able to answer your questions. In epistemology and logic he went well beyond what was otherwise philosophically reflected. Lipps also worked out "... systematically the role of instinctive, affective-emotional and cognitive sub-processes" and dealt "... in detail with a possible action-guiding function of empathy."

Thinking, feeling and wanting

People cannot describe how their ideas arise, to which they refer when thinking. Ideas emerge - whether we like it or not - disappear again and if we want we can remember them. Even the usual hints that it is consciousness, intellect, imagination and other instances that cause ideas do not help. At best we can infer something as the cause, but not claim that it is so or that there are such instances. Since we do not perceive it, there is no reason to assume it; For similar reasons, physiologists today, according to Lipps, consider it untenable to locate certain mental processes in a certain place in the brain. The localization theory - like the instance theory - is no longer justifiable. Similarly, thinking and all other activities, including feeling and willing, cannot be perceived in isolation.

It looks more like we create ideas ourselves while we perceive, think, feel, feel and want. With this Lipps postulates - half a century before researchers like Humberto Maturana , Heinz von Förster and others changed the scientific world with constructivist ideas - an autopoietic approach.


Lipps distinguished between the objectivity of the individual ego and the objectivity of the absolute ego. Both together only constitute the sense of objectivity in current situations .

Construction by the individual self

Objectivity is and was a central object of metaphysical philosophy or a philosophizing that seeks truth . The individual sciences had long since relativized objectivity in Lipp's time. What a majority of individuals regard as given and as 'so it is' is taken to be objective. This can be called conventional objectivity . It is defined according to the subject of a particular science using commonly accepted criteria.

Lipps suggested a different route with his science of inner experience. There are facts of consciousness that signal that there is something that is independent of me.

I have the "... feeling that something is opposed to me, that I come across something that is alien to me, in short a feeling of a not-me."

So objectivity is something that I determine; it is my feeling that Lipps called a sense of reality or a sense of objectivity . It is this that enables conventional objectivity to come about . The feeling of reality enables us to differentiate between what is fantasized and what is actually experienced . It would be a mistake to consider objectivity or reality to be just a feeling that is somehow available to us as a yardstick. The objectivity feeling a person experiences only when he is in a current relationship with a particular object. We can at best make generalizable statements about the sensation experienced. "The attempt to build an imaginary, absolute objective world freed from all subjective ingredients has run out of steam," said a biologist who was a contemporary of Lipps.

Given or absolute objectivity

The sense of objectivity also has a non-individual component. As a condition for the feeling of objectivity or reality, Lipps explained that the individual ego must behave in a certain way so that a current feeling of reality or objectivity can arise. This behavior is triggered by the "you should". Lipps also called the “you should” the “command of reason” to behave “logically correct”. This commandment, described Lipps, is known to everyone as a separate fact of consciousness.

In this sense, reason is an 'absolute fact' that I only experience in myself.

If the individual ego behaves according to the requirement of this fact of consciousness, it grasps objective reality and 'as a philosopher one is in the world of things in themselves'. This transcendence, in turn, can only be experienced individually. At this point, Lipps' 'objective reality' is likely to connect with Husserl's' essence look '.

That I

The individual self

While z. For example, Kant postulated a non-tangible, 'pure self' for the coherence of his philosophy, which he also called the 'transcendental unity of self-consciousness' , Lipps started from experience or 'direct experience' and relied on it in his representations on:

As the object of psychology, I refer to the ego here. ... I mean the only self that originally deserved this name. I mean the self of immediate experience. I mean the me that everyone means when they say, 'I' feel red or white, 'I' represent a house or a tree, 'I' think this or that, 'I' am funny or sad. I experience this me. I experience, so I experience myself directly in every experience of consciousness.

Continuous experience and experience prevents one from doubting this self. For me I am the closest thing that really is. I am the most natural reality for me. Things are further from me because they are each 'not-I'. I am known to myself and I do not experience the manifestations of my ego, but I experience myself in every moment. To suspect something else behind this, a 'substantial self', would go beyond what can be described.

The assertion that things are 'what is immediately real' is also incorrect. This view is nothing but a comprehensible 'illusion' and a 'consequence of getting used to', which naive thinking and scientific fuzziness evoke. But the inner experience shows that what is 'immediately real' is my self and its activities.

The abstract unity of the ego that Kant imagined was a generalized unity for Lipps that also included the body. However, in accordance with the empirical character of generalizations, it can only be reflected in individual experiences and / or becomes conscious through the different ways in which I feel or experience myself. The ego is therefore the relationship of all psychic phenomena to one and the same person, concluded a contemporary interpreter.

The supra-individual I

In connection with the consciousness fact “Thou shalt”, he stated a “supra-individual I” that can be experienced and enables a world of supra-individual values ​​and judgments. He also called the 'supra-individual I' the 'absolute or transcendent subject' or 'legislative reason'.

I, the individual I "... am determined in my way of being, my judgments, values ​​and wills by the transcendent subject, the reason, although now more, now less."

With this, Lipps had ruled out arbitrariness and named a sense of objectivity that can assert itself. A psychology that does not see the individual ego in relation to supra-individual correct logical thinking, i.e. in relation to the fact that something reasonable can be experienced, deals with an ego that does not exist, concluded Lipps.


Lipps' contemporaries judged his philosophy differently. Some felt constructively stimulated and supported. Sigmund Freud wrote e.g. B. that he found the basics of his own thinking in Lipps' and was encouraged to develop his theory further. Other contemporaries criticized his “leveling thinking” and the “modest service” he rendered with it.

In the “Kant studies” of his time, Lipps' thinking was described as going beyond Kant, his statements on psychophysics and the presentation of his views were recognized as committed. He was brought close to Schelling's idealism , since he assumed a "world consciousness" that underlies all natural phenomena.

A comprehensive reception and broad scientific discussion of its research results and ideas has not yet taken place. Since 2013 there has been a four-volume collection of most of Lipps' writings edited by the philosopher Faustino Fabbianelli ( University of Parma ). It also contains unpublished texts from the estate. Some of Lipps' texts are now digitally accessible. A number of fonts are available as reprints. Lipps' concepts have so far not been included in the more recent discussions about empathic concepts. It remains largely with historical references to his merit as a source of ideas for the "empathy theory".

Occasionally it is mentioned that Lipps' representations are suitable as a connection between philosophy and neuroscience and contain clear references to David Hume. In art , architecture and cultural studies Lipps' descriptions of perception and his theory of empathy are published as basic texts or used thematically.


  • Basic facts of soul life. 1883.
  • Basic logic. 1893.
  • David Hume: A Treatise on Human Nature. Volume 1-3. 1894 (translation).
  • Spatial aesthetics and geometric-optical illusions. 1897.
  • Comedy and humor. 1898.
  • The basic ethical questions: ten lectures. 1899.
  • About feeling, wanting and thinking. 1902.
  • Guide to Psychology. 1903.
  • Aesthetics. 1903-1906.
  • Philosophy and reality. 1908.
  • Writings on psychology and epistemology; 4 volumes: 1st volume (1874-1899) - 2nd volume (1900-1902) - 3rd volume (1902-1905) - 4th volume (1906-1914) Edited by Faustino Fabbianello (University of Parma). Wuerzburg 2013.


  • Conrad Müller: Theodor Lipps' doctrine of the ego in its relationship to the Kantian. Berlin 1912.
  • Ernst Bloch: Obituary for Theodor Lipps. 1914. in: Werke 10. pp. 53–55.
  • Georgi Schischkoff (Hrsg.): Philosophical dictionary. Alfred Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart 1982, ISBN 3-520-01321-5 .
  • Wolfhart Henckmann:  Lipps, Theodor. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 14, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1985, ISBN 3-428-00195-8 , pp. 670-672 ( digitized version ).
  • Stefan Liekam: empathy as the foundation of educational professionalism. Analysis of a forgotten key variable in education. Munich 2004.
  • Thomas Friedrich, Jörg H. Gleiter (eds.): Empathy and phenomenological reduction: basic texts on architecture, design and art. Munster 2007.
  • Robin Curtis, Gertrud Koch (Hgs): Empathy. On the past and present of an aesthetic concept . Munich 2008
  • Thomas Anz: Emotions in Literature and Science. Empathy as an (old) new way of knowledge. In: Karl Ermert (ed.): And again with feeling ... The role of emotions in culture and cultural mediation. Norderstedt 2011.
  • Christa Dunst: Empathy in Transition. A retrospective consideration towards an expansion of the term in person-centered psychotherapy through the findings of neuroscience . Vienna 2012.
  • Ludwig Binswanger: Lipps and his teaching of the experiences of consciousness In: Ders. Introduction to the Problems of General Psychology . Heidelberg 2013, pp. 158-17.
  • Julius Pikler: About Theodor Lipps' attempt at a theory of the will. Forgotten Books 2013. (First published in 1908.) Julius Pikler: About Theodor Lipps' attempt at a theory of the will
  • Johannes Orth: feeling and state of consciousness. Norderstedt 2015. (First published in 1903.) Google, Sept. 2015, restricted access

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Leopold Petri (ed.): Directory of members of the Schwarzburgbund. Fourth edition, Bremerhaven 1908, p. 64, no.1373.
  2. Thomas Assheuer: Die Companions ZEIT ONLINE, December 18, 2007
  3. Henckmann, Wolfhart, "Lipps, Theodor" in: New German Biography 14 (1985) 670-672 [Online version]; [1] - Further information on the curriculum vitae can be found on the homepage of the Wallhalben parish [2]
  4. Kurt Lukasczyk: The establishment of the psychological institute of the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. Lecture on December 5, 2001 at the memorial symposium of the Faculty of Psychology and Education of the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich on the occasion of Theodor Lipps' 150th birthday.
  5. Cf. Kurt Lukasczyk: The founding of the psychological institute of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. - On this section also: Karl Vorländer : History of Philosophy. Volume 2, Leipzig 5th edition, 1919, pp. 492-503.
  6. See Lipps: Grundtatsachen des Geistenleben , introduction. on-line
  7. Philosophy and Reality , pp. 38f.– cf. a. Max Frischisen-Köhler, Willy Moog: Year Books of Philosophy , Volume 1, 1913, p. 219.
  8. Cf. Roberto Poli : In Itinere: European Cities and the Birth of Modern Scientific Philosophy. Amsterdam 1997, p. 47.
  9. See Helge David : To Beauty. August Endell's texts on art and aesthetics 1896 to 1925. Weimar 2008, p. 13.
  10. Lipps: Grundtatsachen des Geistenleben, p. 3.
  11. See Lipps: Philosophy and Reality. Heidelberg (Carl Winter) 1908. 39 pp.
  12. See Johannes Hirschberger : History of Philosophy, Volume II. Frechen undated, pp. 595–597.
  13. Christa Dunst: Empathy in Transition. A retrospective consideration towards an expansion of the term in person-centered psychotherapy through the findings of neuroscience. Thesis. Vienna 2012, p. 15f.
  14. ^ Marie-Therese Thill : The mimetic brain. Mimesis and empathy in the context of the human mirror neuron system. Diploma thesis , Vienna 2009, pp. 35–38.
  15. Matthias Schloßberger : The experience of the other: feelings in human interaction. Munich 2005, dva pp. 63-76.
  16. Stefan Liekam: Empathy as the foundation of educational professionalism. Analysis of a forgotten key variable in education. Munich 2004, p. 26f. Download
  17. Lipps, Grundtatsachen des Seelenleben , pp. 18–27.
  18. See Lipps: Feeling, Willing and Thinking, pp. 10–12.
  19. Jakob von Uexküll : Theoretical Biology. Frankfurt a. M. 1973, p. 339.
  20. Cf. Thinking, Feeling, Willing , pp. 53–55.
  21. Philosophy and Reality, pp. 27–37.- Cf. a. Wolfgang Röd : History of Philosophy, Volume 12. The philosophy of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Munich 2004, p. 258.
  22. On Husserl and Lipps cf. including Eduard Marbach: The problem of the ego in Husserl's phenomenology . Heidelberg 2013, dva pp. 220-234.
  23. ^ Lipps: Philosophy and Reality. Pp. 7-15.
  24. See Lipps: Vom Fühlen Wollen und Denk, Norderstedt 2015, pp. 180–182. - Johannes Orth: Feeling and state of consciousness. Norderstedt 2015 p. 24f. First published in 1903.
  25. See Thinking, Feeling, Willing , p. 54.
  26. See Philosophy and Reality , pp. 27–37.
  27. Liliane Weissberg : "Courage and Opportunity". Sigmund Freud reads Theodor Lipps. - In: Mark H. Gelber, Jakob Hessing (Hrsg.): Integration and Exclusion: Studies on German-Jewish literary and cultural history from the early modern period to the present. Festschrift for Hans Otto Horch on his 65th birthday. Berlin / New York; de Gruyter 2009, pp. 159–170.
  28. Paul Stern: Sensualism and the problem of thinking. - In: Ders .: Basic problems of philosophy. 1903, pp. 28-24.
  29. Kantstudien
  30. ^ Oskar Ewald: The German Philosophy in 1907. In: Hans Vaihinger et al. (Ed.): Kantstudien 13. 1908, 197-23; v. a. Pp. 216-220.
  31. z. B. with Katharina Anna Fuchs: emotion recognition and empathy. A multimedia psychological study using the example of psychopathy and social anxiety. Heidelberg 2014, p. 44. Google Sept. 2015
  32. See e.g. B. Thill Marie-Therese Thill  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. : The mimetic brain. Mimesis and empathy in the context of the human mirror neuron system. Vienna 2009, pp. 34–37. Download University of Vienna@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /  
  33. ^ Cf. Thomas Friedrich, Jörg H. Gleiter (eds.): Empathy and phenomenological reduction: basic texts on architecture, design and art. Münster 2007. Google Sept. 2015 - Robin Curtis ( Memento of the original from September 27, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , Gertrud Koch (Hgs): Empathy. On the past and present of an aesthetic concept. Munich 2008. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /

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