1902 Encyclopedia > Friedrich Eduard Beneke

Friedrich Eduard Beneke
German psychologist
(1798 – 1854)




FRIEDRICH EDUARD BENEKE, a distinguished German psychologist, was born at Berlin on the 17 th February 1798. He was educated under Bernhardi at the Gymna-sium Fredericianum, and studied at the universities of Halle and Berlin. He directed his attention in the first instance to theology, coming under the influence of Schleiermacher and De Wette, but afterwards to pure philosophy, studying particularly English writers, and the German modifiers of Kantianism, such as Jacobi, Fries, and Schopenhauer. In 1820 he published his Theory of Knowledge, his Empirical Psychology as the Foundation of all Knowledge, and his inaugural dissertation De Vtris Philosophise Initiis. In all these writings appeared ve strongly his fundamental view, that philosophical speculation must be limited to the facts of inner experience, and that a true psychology, which is the basis of all knowledge, must be formed by treating these facts according to the rigid methods of physical science. His marked opposition to the philosophy of Hegel, then dominant in Berlin, came to the front still more clearly in the short tract, New Foundation of Metaphysics, intended to be the programme for his lectures as privat-docent, and in the able treatise, Ground-work of a Physic of Ethics, written in direct antagonism to Kant's Metaphysic of Ethics, and attempting to deduce ethical principles from a basis of empirical feel-ing. In the same year (1822) his lectures were prohibited at Berlin, according to his own belief through the influence of Hegel with the Prussian authorities, who also prevented him from obtaining a chair from the Saxon Government. He retired to Gottingen, lectured there for some years, and was then allowed to return to Berlin. In 1832 he received an appointment as Professor Extraordinarius in the university, which he continued to hold till his death. On 1st March 1854 he disappeared from his home ; and some months later his body was found in the canal near Charlottenburg. There was some suspicion that he had committed suicide in a fit of mental depression.

Beneke was a most prolific writer, and besides the works men-tioned above, published large treatises in the several departments of philosophy, both pure and as applied to education and ordinary life. A complete list of his writings will be found in the appendix to Dressler's edition of the Lthrbach der Psychologic als Natururissen-schaft, 1861.

The distinctive peculiarity of Beneke's system consists, first, in the firmness with which he maintained, and the consistency with which he carried out the proposition, that in empirical psychology is to be found the basis of all philosophy ; and secondly, in his rigid treatment of mental phenomena by the genetic, or, as Professor Bain has called it, the natural history method. According to him, the formed or perfected mind with its defined faculties is a develop-ment from simple elements, and the first problem of philosophy is the determination of these elements and of the laws or processes by which the development takes place. In his Neue Psychologic (essays iii., viii., and ix.), he clearly marked out his position with regard to his predecessors and contemporaries, and both there and in the in-troduction to his Lehrbuch, signalized as the two great stages in the progress of psychology the negation of innate ideas by Locke, and of faculties, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, by Herbart. The next step wa3 made by himself, when he insisted that psycho-logy must be treated as one of the natural sciences. As is the case with them, its content is given by experience alone, and differs from theirs onlyin being the object of the internal asopposed to the ex-ternal 3ense. But by a scientific psychology Beneke in no wise meant what is now almost invariably thought of under that designation, a psychology founded on physiology. These two sciences, in his opinion, had quite distinct provinces, and gave no mutual assistance. Just as little help is to be expected from the science of the body as from mathematics and metaphysics, both of which had been pressed by Herbart into the service of psychology. The true method of study is that applied with so much success in the physical sciences,— critical examination of the given experience, and reference of it to ultimate causes, which may not be themselves perceived, but are nevertheless hypotheses necessary to account for the facts. (See on method, Neue Psych., essay i.)





Beneke, therefore, starting from the two assumptions that there is nothing, or at least no formed product, innate in the mind, and that definite faculties do not originally exist, and from the fact that our inds nevertheless actually have a definite content and definite modes of action, proceeds to state somewhat dogmatically his scientifically verifiable hypotheses as to the primitive condition of the soul, and the laws according to which it develops. Originally the soul is possessed of, or is, an immense variety of powers, faculties, or forces (conceptions which Beneke, in opposition to Herbart, holds to be metaphysically justifiable), differing from one another only in ten-acity, vivacity, receptivity, and grouping. These primitive imma-terial forces, so closely united as to form but one being (essence), acquire definiteness or form through the action upon them of stimuli or excitants from the outer world. This action of external impres-sions which are appropriated by the internal powers, is the first fundamental process in the genesis of the completed mind. If the union of impression and faculty be sufficiently strong, consciousness (not seZ/-conseiousness) arises, and definite sensations and perceptions begin to be formed. These primitive sensations, however, are not to be identified with the sensations of the special senses, for each of these senses is a system of many powers which have grown into a definite unity, have been educated by experience. From various facts of ordinary experience it must be concluded that a second fundamental process is incessantly going on, viz., the formation of new powers of faculties, which takes place principally during sleep. The third and most important process results from the fact that the "vimbhiation between stimulus Mid power may be weak or strong, if weak, then the two elements are said to he movable, and they may flow over from one to another of the already formed psychical products. Any formed faculty does not cease to exist on the re-moval of its stimulus; in virtue of its fundamental property, ten-acity, it sinks back as a trace (Spur) into unconsciousness, whence it may be recalled by the application to it of another stimulus, or by the attraction towards it of some of the movable elements or newly-formed original powers. These traces and the flowing over of the movable elements are the most important conceptions in Beneke's psychology ; by means of them he gives a rationale of re-production and association, and strives to show that all the formed faculties are simply developments from traces of earlier processes. Lastly, similar forms, according to the degree of their similarity, attract one another or tend to form closer combinations.

All psychical phenomena are explicable by the relation of impres-sion and power, and by the flow of movable elements ; the whole process of mental development is nothing but the result of the action and interaction of the above simple laws. In general this growth may be said to take the direction of rendering more and more definite by repetition and attraction of like to like the originally indefinite activities of the primary faculties. Thus the sensations of the special senses are gradually formed from the primary sensuous feel-ings (Sinnliche Empfindungen) ; concepts are formed from intui-tions of individuals by the attraction of the common elements, and the consequent flow towards them of movable forms. Judgment is the springing into consciousness of a concept alongside of an intui-tion, or of a higher concept alongside of a lower. Reasoning is merely a more complex judgment. Nor are there special faculties of judging or reasoning. The understanding is simply the mass of concepts lying in the background of unconsciousness, ready to be called up and to flow with force towards anything closely connected with them. Even memory is not a special faculty; it is simply the fundamental property of tenacity possessed by the original faculties. The very distinction between the great classes, Knowledge, Feeling, and Will, may be referred to elementary differences in the original relations of faculty and impression.

To follow Beneke into the details of any one of his psychological developments would be impossible within moderate compass. It may be sufficient to say, that on nearly all questions concerning the psychical mechanism, his works contain a mass of unusually rich and instructive material. They are particularly deserving of care-ful comparison with the association psychology of modern British thinkers, most of whose results and processes will be found there thoroughly handled and worked into a comprehensive system.





In logic, metaphysics, and ethics, Beneke's speculations are completely dependent on the results of the psychological analysis. Thus thinking has been by him separated into analytical and synthetical. The first, which consists essentially in the subsump-tion of one concept under another, is the subject of elementary, pure, or formal logic, which, as an art, has to lay down the universal rules according to which such subsumption takes place. Logical reasoning, which adds nothing to our knowledge, but merely clears it up, is at bottom a substitution of one notion for another. In the elaborate theory of syllogism, founded on this principle, Beneke to some extent anticipates Hamilton's New Analytic. (It cannot, however, be thought that Hamilton borrowed his principle from Beneke, as the latter seems to have suspected ;—see Dressler's re-mark, Lehrbuch der Psy., 299. The two approached the matter from quite different sides, and the peculiarity of Hf.milton's system, the definite, explicit, quantification of the predicate, is by no means necessarily implied in anything said by Beneke.) Synthetical thinking, on the other hand, leads to new knowledge, but in its progress it makes use qf principles involving the relation of thought to existence, and which, therefore, find justification in metaphysics. In that science Beneke's fundamental proposition is that in inner experience we cognize things as they are, whereas in outer experience we only know their effects. Real being is given in our intuitions, from which we gradually form a notion of self, and then of other conscious beings like ourselves. /The inference to the real existence of external things is an unconscious reasoning, involving the same elements as the inference to the existence of other conscious beings. The relations which give definiteness and universality to experience, such as substance and cause, are known directly in inner experience, in the systematic relations of the several psychical elements, and are transferred by us to outer beings. In this part of his meta-physical theory Beneke owes much to Schleiermacher.

In his ethical theory, which is worked out with great fulness, and which was, in his own opinion, his most valuable contribution to philosophy, Beneke is thoroughly empirical. The worth of an object is defined to be the degree of pleasurable feeling with which it affects us, and ethical judgments are founded on the relations of worth among the feelings with which we regard objects. There is a gradation of moral worth, because there are higher and lower faculties ; and, as the mental constitutions of all men are funda-mentally alike, this gradation of worth becomes a norm or general rule for estimating moral qualities. An estimate founded on this normal scale appears as morally necessary, or as duty.

The special value of Beneke's works, as has been already said, consists in the many specimens of acute psychological analysis scattered throughout them. As a complete explanation of psychical facts, the theory seems singularly defective. The original hypo-theses, peculiar to Beneke and on which the whole depends, are hastily assumed, are never subjected to critical examination, and after all, like Locke's earlier theory, rest on a clumsy mechanical metaphor. As is the case with all empirical theories of mental development, the higher categories or notions, which are apparently shown to result from the simple elements, are really presupposed at every step, Particularly unsatisfactory is the account of conscious-ness, which is said to arise from the union of impression and faculty. The necessity of consciousness for any mental action whatsoever is apparently granted, but the conditions involved in it are never discussed or referred to. So too the explanation of the origin of the notions, substance and cause, always a crucial test for an em-pirical theory, is completely irreconcilable with the fundamental principle of the system. The same defect appears in the account oi ethical judgment; no amount of empirical fact can ever yield the notion of absolute duty. It is not, perhaps, to be altogether attri-buted to the ideal character of German speculation, that Beneke has been almost entirely neglected, and that his results have found acceptance mainly with practical teachers. Undoubtedly, for the science of education his minute analysis of temperament and care-ful exposition of the means whereby the young, unformed mind may be trained are of infinite value ; but the truth of many of his doc-trines on these points lends no support to the fundamental hypo-theses, from which indeed they might be almost entirely severed.

Among German writers, not professed followers of Beneke, but who have been largely influenced by him, may be mentioned Ueberweg (particularly in the first part of his Logic) and Fortlage. In England, perhaps the only writer who shows traces of acquaintance with his works is Horell (Introd. to Mental Philosophy). The most eminent members of the school are Dressier (whose Beneke oder Seelenlehre als Naturwissenschaft is an admirable exposition), Dittes, and Raue. The compendium by the last-named author has passed through four editions in Germany, and has been translated into French, Flemish, and English. The English translation, Elements of Psychology, 1871, gives a lucid and succinct view of the whole system. (R. AD.)




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