Johann Friedrich Herbart – Founder of Pedagogy

Johann Friedrich Herbart

(May 4, 1776, Oldenburg, Germany – August 14, 1841, Göttingen, Hanover, Germany) (age 65)
Nationality: Germany
Category: Scientists
Occupation: Educators, Philosophers, Psychologists
Specification: Empirical psychology, Educational psychology
Unique distinction: Founder of empirical psychology, follower of Associative psychology, founder of pedagogy as an academic discipline.

1. So far as it represents or conceives, the soul is called mind, so far as it feels and desires, it is called the heart, or disposition.
2. God is the true centre of all moral ideas and of their illimitable workings, the Father of men and Lord of the world. . . . The Church may maintain relations with the School, but must not dominate it.
3. Concepts become forces when they resist one another.
4. Moral feeling must be given through various interesting representations, which by the approval or disapproval they arouse will lead the child to form principles for himself.
5. It is easy enough, by a study of the example of others, to cultivate theoretical acumen; the moral application to the pupil himself, however, can be made, with the hope of success, only in so far as his inclinations and habits have taken a direction in keeping with his insight. If such is not the case, there is danger lest the student, after all, knowingly subordinates correct theoretical judgment to mere prudence. It is thus that evil in the strict sense originates.
6. In teaching, the greatest sin is to be boring.
7. The mind of an adult, consisting of knowledge and imaginings, of resolves and doubts, of good, bad, strong, weak, conscious and unconscious opinions and inclinations, is put together differently in the cultured and uncultured man, in Germans, Frenchmen, and Englishmen; how it is put together, the individuality of the man determines.

Achievements and contributions:

Social and professional position: German philosopher, psychologist, and educator.
The main contribution (Best Known for): Herbart was the founder of modern scientific pedagogy, the founder of educational therapy and a precursor of child psychiatry. He is also considered a founder of empirical psychology.

Contributions to science:

Herbart – German philosopher, psychologist, and educator. He is considered as one of the outstanding philosophers, the pioneer of empirical psychology and the founder of pedagogy as an academic discipline.


He maintained that true being consists of a plurality of simple «reals», entities that were modelled after the Leibnizian monads.
He held that change was nothing but changing relationships between independent real simple elements. Herbart replaces the term “sensation” with the term “presentation”, thus emphasizing the internal world is relatively isolated from the outside world.
Presentations are not passive elements in the human soul but have their own charge and activity.
He regarded mental life as the manifestation of elementary sensory units, ideas or “presentations” (Vorstellungen). These he conceived as mental forces rather than as mere “ideas” in Locke’s sense. The study of their interactions gave rise to statics and dynamics of the mind, to be expressed in mathematical formulas.


Herbart sought to develop the mathematical and empirical, as well as the metaphysical, aspects of psychology. However, he denied the possibility of a psychological experiment.
His philosophy of mind generated a kind of associationist psychology.
Associationism. Herbart believed that the mind was the sum total of all ideas -“presentations”,  which entered into one’s conscious life.
By assimilation (or apperception) new ideas could enter the mind through association with similar ideas already present.
He felt they grouped themselves into what he called “apperceptive masses”, which content is the individual human experience.
He emphasized the importance of both the physical and the human environment in the development of the mind. On this basis, Herbart developed a theory of education as a branch of applied psychology.
Unconscious. Herbart long before Freud introduced the concept of “unconscious”. He believed ideas crossed a limen of consciousness or a boundary between the conscious and the unconscious.
Сonsciousness consists of three areas: clarity of mind, consciousness and unconsciousness. Moreover, the terms transition ideas from the unconscious into consciousness are the power of the presentation and the number of links this view with the past experience (apperception).
Theory of inhibition. Herbart gave psychology the beginning of a theory of inhibition, or interference in learning, which was to reappear in many guises and in theories in times to come extending from Pavlov’s “conditioned reflex” to Freud’s “repression.”


Herbart maintained that a science of education was possible, and he furthered the idea that education should be a subject for university study.
He stressed the need for moral education through experience and brought the work of teaching into the area of the conscious method.
According to his theory of apperception, new ideas, when properly presented to the student, become linked to existing ideas and form a system of associated ideas called the apperceptive mass.
He developed the theory of education—known as Herbartianism. It had a profound influence on late 19th-century teaching practices, especially in the United States, where educators established the National Herbart Society in 1895.
In Germany, Leipzig and Jena became centres for Herbartianism.
Herbart’s method of instruction has been identified by his students as involving the “Five Formal Steps of the Recitation”, which includes preparation, presentation, association, generalization, and application.
According to Herbart, the soul has no innate natural talents or inborn powers. He said that the individuality of the youth reveals itself more and more under the teacher’s efforts. He called to make teaching a more interesting and attractive field and said that the teacher must represent the future man in the boy.


Herbart stated that the beautiful is to be carefully distinguished from the allied conceptions of the useful or the pleasant, which vary with time, place and person;  whereas beauty is predicated absolutely and involuntarily by all who have attained the right standpoint.

Major works:
Pestalozzis Idee eines A B C der Anschauung (1802), ABC’s of Observation (1804), The Moral or Ethical Revelation of the World: The Chief Aim of Education (1804), General Pedagogics 1806), Chief Points of Logic (1806), Chief Points of Metaphysics (1806), General Practical Philosophy (1808),  System of Psychology (1814), Text-book of Psychology (1816), Psychology as a Science, (1824-5), Allgemeine Metaphysik (General Metaphysics, two-volume work ) (1828-29),  Outline of Pedagogical Lectures (1835).

Career and Personal life:

Family background: Herbart was born on 4 May 1776 in Oldenburg. He was the only child of a gifted mother and a father whose attention was devoted to his legal practice. Growing up as a fragile child because of an unfortunate accident, connected with falling into a vessel of very hot water, Herbart was taught by his mother at home until the age of 12.
His mother a gifted and strong-willed woman, had a tremendous influence on his upbringing by transmitting her mental power to her son.
Education: Herbart was taught by his mother at home until the age of 12. Herbart was a pupil in the Gymnasium at Oldenburg (1788 – 1794) and attended the University of Jena (1794-1799).

Career highlights: 

Becoming a licentiate of the University of Göttingen in 1802, he was appointed extraordinary professor there in 1805. In the same year, he gave his first philosophical lectures. Herbart taught philosophy and pedagogy at Göttingen (1805-1809).
There he began to seek a sound philosophical base upon which to rest his educational theories.
At the close of 1808, he became Kant’s successor as a professor at Königsberg and from 1809 to 1833 held the chair of pedagogy and philosophy at Königsberg.
Later dissatisfied with the way things were progressing in Prussia, Herbart returned to Göttingen in 1833.
Не remained there as a professor of philosophy till his death.

Personal life:

 From 1788 to 1794  Herbart was a pupil in the Gymnasium at Oldenburg.
Then he attended the University of Jena (1794-1799), where studied under Fichte and met Friedrich von Schiller.
During his studies, he was influenced by Leibniz, Kant, and Fichte.
Herbart worked as a tutor to the governor’s three sons at Interlaken in Switzerland, from 1797 to 1800, during which period he made the acquaintance of Pestalozzi.
In 1811 he married an eighteen-year-old Mary Jane Drake, daughter of an English merchant. They lived a happy life with Mary supporting all of her husband’s pursuits and contributions to the fields of pedagogy and psychology.
He died on Aug. 11, 1841, and was buried in Albanifriedhof Cemetery in Göttingen.
Zest: Herbart was a close friend of Pestalozzi.