Gestalt psychology

In Edward Craig (ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. pp. 51-54 (1998)
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The term ‘Gestalt’ was introduced into psychology by the Austrian philosopher Christian von Ehrenfels in an essay entitled “On ‘Gestalt-Qualities’” published in 1890. ‘Gestalt,’ in colloquial German, means roughly: ‘shape’ or ‘structure’ or ‘configuration’, and Ehrenfels demonstrates in his essay that there are certain inherently structural features of experience which need to be acknowledged in addition to simple tones, colours and other mental ‘atoms’ or ‘elements’. His essay thus initiated a reaction against the then still dominant atomism in psychology, a reaction which culminated in the work on ‘cerebral intregation’ of the so-called Berlin school of Gestalt psychology. Max Wertheimer, one of the leading members of this school, was a student of Ehrenfels in Prague. Ehrenfels himself belonged to an impressive list of original thinkers – a list which includes also Edmund Husserl, Alexius Meinong and Carl Stumpf, the founder of the Berlin school – who were students of Franz Brentano. Each of these thinkers attempted to elaborate, both ontologically and psychologically, the doctrine of intentionality put forward by Brentano. The work of Ehrenfels and of the later Gestaltists, too, may be seen as a contribution to the understanding of this mental directedness, and in particular to the understanding of the directedness of perceptual experience.
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