On the “Ganzheit” and stratification of the mind: the emergence of Heinz Werner’s developmental theory COMMENTARY BY MARTIN WIESER
Though overshadowed by his contemporaries Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, Heinz Werner (1890-1964) was without doubt one of the most creative thinkers in 20th-century developmental science. His works covered such seemingly distant areas as logic substitution (Werner, 1912b), psychophysiology (Werner, 1914), the origin of metaphor and lyric (Werner, 1919, 1924c), the physiognomy of language (Werner, 1932), symbol formation (Werner & Kaplan, 1963) and, most prominently, developmental psychology (Werner, 1926). In this commentary, I do not want to provide an intellectual biography of Heinz Werner (cf. Müller, 2005; van der Veer, 2005). Instead, I want to show how his early theorizing emerged out of contemporary psychological discourses and debates; this was a time when defenders of Gestalt Psychology and holistic psychology argued against psychophysics and associationist psychology, followers of Dilthey’s conception of psychology as an interpretative “Geisteswissenschaft” (Dilthey, 1894; Spranger, 1921) opposed experimental psychologists who wanted to bring psychology closer to the natural sciences (e.g., Ebbinghaus, 1896; Müller, 1904), and Karl Bühler and Wilhelm Wundt publicly argued whether or not “higher” psychological functions, such as verbal reasoning, could be investigated experimentally (Wundt, 1907, Bühler 1908). All these debates between different psychological theories and methodologies culminated in the widespread talk of a crisis in psychology during the 1920s (Bühler, 1927; Vygotsky, 1927/1997). During the two decades of his academic career, Werner was confronted with these major epistemological and methodological debates within German psychology before World War II. Werner’s answer to these debates was his proposition of his radically developmental approach within psychology, which suggests grasping all psychological phenomena as dynamic, functional parts of an organismic whole (“Ganzheit”) that is unfolding over time, rather than a set of distinct timeless elements that should be studied in isolation from each other.