Carl Stumpf
Researched and written by:  Todd Andrew Joy
I attest that the following biography is a product of my own original work.

Carl Stumpf was born in Bavaria to a family with a medical background.   Stumpf’s father was a physician for the county court and other family members had careers in science and academics.  Stumpf became very familiar with science at an unusual age of 6.  Although he was acquainted with science, his main interest at the age of 7 was music and he eventually mastered 6 instruments in a short period of time.  Stumpf was composing music at the age of 10 years old.  Stumpf joined a gymnasium close to home and also started to plan for career other than music, for he did not think he was good enough to make any money in the music industry. Stumpf went on to begin his college career at the University of Wurzburg and studied esthetics for one semester and law the following semester.  

At Wurzburg, he became very interested in the work of a phenomenologist, Franz Brentano and put most of his attention towards philosophy and science.  Brentano encouraged Stumpf to attend the University of Gottingen, and in 1868, he was granted his doctoral degree from Rudolph Hermann Lotze, a perceptual theorist.  Stumpf had a busy academic schedule, and focused much of his attention to the new psychology. Stumpf returned to Wurzburg in 1873 and entered a catholic seminary, which he then studied theology.  His career plans with the seminary were ruined by the dilemma of the dogma of papal infallibilty, which was the circumstance concerning the downfall of Christian dogmatic theology.  Although his future plans were delayed, he still remained in the church until 1921.  Stumpf eventually desired to leave the seminary to go on to become an instructor at Gottingen, in the Department of Philosophy.  Stumpf met Weber and Fechner at Gottingen and participated in their psychological experiments.

When Stumpf turned 25, he went back to become a  Philosophy professor at the University of Wurzburg.  At this time Brentano was forced to leave, leaving Stumpf the head of the Philosophy Department and the only teacher for the department.  With Stumpf’s busy schedule, he was still able to publish a book, called “An Examination of Visual Perception and Particularly Depth Perception”(Hothersall, 1984).  This book focused on a justification on depth perception.  He stressed that there was more to perception than just secondary elements.  Stumpf considered himself to be a psychologist, but he studied phenomena such as tones, colores and images.  He says that these phenomena were either imaginary or sensory.  

In 1894, Stumpf was offered one of the most valued positions in German psychology at the University of Berlin, (Schultz, et al, 2000).  He became the director of the Berlin Psychological Institute.  At the University, Stumpf created his own laboratory, which became an important research facility for the department. 

In 1896, Stumpf took charge of the Third International Congress of Psychology (Hothersall, 1984).  The meeting took place in Munich and at the meeting, Stumpf delivered his mind and body address to the congress.  This address supported “an interactionist position, which he contrasted with the psychophysical parallelism prevalent at the time” (Hothersall, 1984, p151).

Opposing introspection, Stumpf was known to be one of Wundt’s major rivals (Schultz, et al, 2000).  With Stumpf’s knowledge, he taught two of the founders of Gestalt Psychology, which also opposed Wundt’s views. The two students that Stumpf trained were Wolfgang Kohler and Kurt Koffka.  Stumpf’s writing included the perception of space and music.  Stumpf’s two volumes of “Psychology of Tone” were published in 1883 and 1890.  Stumpf and Helmholtz were greatly acknowledged for their work in the psychology of music (Schultz, et al, 2000). He started experimenting with music and composed a seminol experiment where he investigated tonal fusion, consonance, and dissonance.  He observed two different sound combinations that are percieved to be one tone (cohering), when listening to them simultaneously (Consonance and Dissonance, 2002).  He eventually threw out this theory because he was not satisfied with it (Consonance and Dissonance, 2002).

Brentano’s influence on Stumpf led to his belief that phenomena was the primary data for psychology and he taught  “the whole is greater that the sum of its parts”(Bowman, et al, 2000).  In 1904, Stumpf was appointed the head commission of a committee that determined the genuineness of a horse, named Clever Hans, that was known to count and do arithmetic.  Stumpf and the rest of the committee proved that the horse did not have the academic abilities that amazed the public so much. 

 Stumpf created a theory of Phenomenology.  This theory was a type of introspection that Stumpf preferred and it  “examined the experience as it occurred and did not try to reduce experience to elementary elements”(Schultz, et al, 2000, p.101). Wundt and Stumpf engaged in a series of literary battles about introspection and tone.  Stumpf moved on and created the Berlin Association of Child Psychology, while writing about music. Stumpf also opened a facility that he created, which served as an archive for an assortment of music from other countries.   


Bowman, C., Brownell, P.  (Autumn, 2000).  Prelude to contemporary gestalt therapy. Gestalt 1, 4.

Green, D.  (1922). Perception: An introduction to the Gestalt-theorie.  Classics in the History of Psychology, 531-585, 19.

 Hothersall, D. (1984). History of psychology,147-154, New York:Random House

Ohio State University School of Music. Consonance and Dissonanc-Tonal Fusion Theory

Schultz, D. P., & Schultz, S. E. (2000). A history of modern psychology. Gestalt psychology (seventh ed), (pp. 368-337). Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.



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