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The Mind of the Nation: The Debate about Völkerpsychologie, 1851-1900

Klautke, E; (2010) The Mind of the Nation: The Debate about Völkerpsychologie, 1851-1900. Central Europe , 8 (1) 1 - 19. 10.1179/174582110X12676382921428. Green open access

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Abstract

Völkerpsychologie or ‘folk psychology’ has a bad reputation amongst historians. It is either viewed as a pseudo-science not worth studying in detail, or considered a ‘failure’ since, in contrast to sociology, psychology, and anthropology, it never established itself as an independent discipline at university level. This article argues that Völkerpsychologie as developed by Moritz Lazarus and Heymann Steinthal was an important current in nineteenth-century German thought. While it was riddled with conceptual and methodological problems and received harsh criticism from academic reviewers, it contributed to the establishing of the social sciences since key concepts of folk psychology were appropriated by scholars such as Georg Simmel and Franz Boas. The article summarizes the main features of Lazarus and Steinthal’s Völkerpsychologie, discusses its reception in Germany and abroad, and shows how arguments originally developed for folk psychology were used by Lazarus to reject antisemitism in the 1870s and 1880s. It concludes that Lazarus and Steinthal’s Völkerpsychologie epitomized the mentality of nineteenth-century liberals with its belief in science, progress, and the nation, which was reinforced by their experience of Jewish emancipation.

Type: Article
Title: The Mind of the Nation: The Debate about Völkerpsychologie, 1851-1900
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1179/174582110X12676382921428
Keywords: VölkerpsychologieVölkerpsychologie, antisemitism, Germany, philosophy, psychology, social sciences, Moritz Lazarus, Heymann Steinthal
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > SSEES
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/19064
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