chapter  5
46 Pages

Idealism to Materialism and Dualism in Germany

ByBrian D. Cox

Nineteenth-century German philosophy was at a crossroads. In the first decades of the century, from 1800 to around 1840, philosophers were still concerned with discovering the limitations to our knowledge, as the British empiricists had been. Biological and psychological science would also undergo a shift after Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel from idealism to materialism, from the soul to the body. What the German idealists left us with were ideas, metaphors and ways of thinking about the human condition. The chapter discusses how the great German physiologist and physicist Hermann von Helmholtz and his colleagues began the long process of reducing the nervous system to mere physiochemical processes and determined the speed of the nerve impulse. It examines how Gustav Fechner put the process of measuring sensation and perception on a mathematical basis. The chapter describes how Wilhelm Wundt, a former student of Helmholtz, attempted to develop a science in which the mind studies itself by experimental self-observation.