Christian von Ehrenfels

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Christian von Ehrenfels
Born June 2, 1859
Rodaun near Vienna, Austria
Died September 8, 1932
Lichtenau, Austria
Era 19th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School School of Brentano
Notable ideas
Gestalt psychology, Gestalt qualities

Christian von Ehrenfels (also Maria Christian Julius Leopold Freiherr von Ehrenfels; June 2, 1859 – September 8, 1932) was an Austrian philosopher, and is known as one of the founders and precursors of Gestalt psychology.


On June 20, 1859 Christian von Ehrenfels was born in Rodaun near Vienna and grew up at his father's castle Brunn am Walde in Lower Austria. He joined secondary school in Krems and first studied at the Hochschule für Bodenkultur in Vienna and then changed to the Universität Wien.

There he studied philosophy, was a pupil of Franz Brentano and Alexius Meinong, promoted under supervision of Meinong, following him after his move to the Karl-Franzens-Universität (Graz), in 1885 on the topic of Größenrelationen und Zahlen. Eine psychologische Studie ("Relations of magnitude and numbers. A psychological study"). He obtained his habilitiation in 1888 in Vienna with the work Über Fühlen und Wollen ("On feeling and willing"). From 1896 to 1929 he was professor of philosophy at the German university of Prague. Interested in his lectures were among others Max Brod, Franz Kafka and Felix Weltsch.

His daughter was the author Imma von Bodmershof and his son Rolf, a professor of anthropology who converted to Islam in 1927 and assumed the name Omar. Omar Rolf's wife, Elfriede von Bodmershof, was a literary person. As well, she registered the pseudonym "Kurban Said" as belonging to her for the novels "Ali and Nino" as well as "Girl from the Golden Horn."[1] However, Lucy Tal whose company E.P. Tal had published "Ali and Nino" wrote her lawyer saying, "I had never heard of the Baroness... Also my late husband's right hand and secretary knew nothing of the Baroness. Only much later, when for some reason, we looked at Buchhaendler Boersenblatt, we discovered the Baroness as Kurban Said. Of course, under the Nazis pseudonyms were born, people unrightful had themselves as authors ..."[2]

Intellectual contributions[edit]

The idea of Gestalt has its roots in theories by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Ernst Mach. Max Wertheimer is to be credited as the founder of the movement of Gestalt psychology. The concept of Gestalt itself was first introduced in contemporary philosophy and psychology by Ehrenfels in his famous work Über Gestaltqualitäten (On the Qualities of Form, 1890). Both he and Edmund Husserl seem to have been inspired by Mach's work Beiträge zur Analyse der Empfindungen (Contributions to the Analysis of the Sensations, 1886) to formulate their very similar concepts of Gestalt and Figural Moment respectively.

His analysis of the transition of a melody to another key became famous. Ehrenfels explained that a melody consists of individual sounds, but that it is considerably more than the sum of these notes. The individual notes would be able to join themselves for completely different melodies, while the melody would remain the same, if transposed into another key and containing single tones. This new opinion, that came up to a “perception of the whole” compared to its “parts” Ehrenfels called Gestaltqualitäten (Figure qualities).
(Compare with: Aristotle (trans. 1952) “In the case of all things that have several parts and in which the whole is not like a heap, but is a particular something besides the parts, there must be some such uniting factor”.)[3]

Ehrenfels argued in numerous culture-scientifical and sexual-political writings against the cultural harmfulness of monogamy and for the utopia of a polygynian social order. He defended the opinion that monogamy would hinder a darwinistic reproduction-logic and procreation-selection, which would have a devastating effect on society in a cultural-biological way and therefore monogamy should be combated. With those theories, Ehrenfels exposed himself to massive criticism, because he offered with his theories unimaginable thoughts to contemporary Western conventions.

The Czech Zionist, philosopher and friend of Kafka Felix Weltsch wrote many essays and memos about Ehrenfels, who himself was of partly Jewish descent.[4] Weltsch was one of Ehrenfels's most important pupils.


Poetry and Fiction[edit]

  • 1876 - Hadmar von Kuering (Bourgeois tragedy)
  • 1876 - Brutus (Bourgeois tragedy)
  • 1876 - Richard Löwenherz (Bourgeois tragedy)
  • 1885 - Die Brüder von Hartenstein (Drama) -, Graz 1885
  • 1890 - Der Kampf des Prometheus (Libretto)
  • 1886 - Metaphysische Ausführungen im Anschlusse an Emil du Bois-Reymond
  • 1888 - Über Fühlen und Wollen: Eine psychologische Studie -, Carl Gerold & Sohn, Wien 1888
  • 1890 - Über Gestaltqualitäten -, In: Vierteljahrsschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie 14 (1890), (Page 249-292) (English: "On the Qualities of Form", 1890)
  • 1893 - Werttheorie und Ethik -, In: Vierteljahrsschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie 17 (1893), (Page 26-110, 200-266, 321-363, 413-425)
  • 1894 - Werttheorie und Ethik -, In: Vierteljahrsschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie, 18 (1894), (Page 22-97)
  • 1897 - System der Werttheorie -, O. Reisland, Leipzig 1898, (2 volumes)
  • 1904 - Sexuales, Ober- und Unterbewusstsein -, In: Politisch-Anthropologische Revue 2 (1903-4), (Page 456-476)
  • 1904 - Die sexuale Reform -, In: Politisch-Anthropologische Revue 2 (1903–1904) (Page 970-994)
  • 1907 - Sexualethik -, J. F. Bergmann, Wiesbaden 1907
  • 1911 - Leitziele zur Rassenbewertung -, In: Archiv für Rassen- und Gesellschaftsbiologie 8 (1911), (Page 59-71)
  • 1913 - Richard Wagner und seine Apostaten. Ein Beitrag zur Jahrhundertfeier. -, H. Heller Wien & Leipzig 1913
  • 1916 - Kosmogonie, Diederichs, Jena 1916
  • 1922 - Das Primzahlengesetz, entwickelt und dargestellt auf Grund der Gestalttheorie -, Reisland, Leipzig 1922
  • 1930 - Sexualmoral der Zukunft -, In: Archiv für Rassen- und Gesellschaftsbiologie, 22 (1930), (Page 292-304)

Secondary literature[edit]

  • Ehrenfels Christian Frh. von - In: Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon 1815–1950, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien 1957, (Volume 1, page 226f.)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Leela Ehrenfels, Letter to the Editor about the Copyright of Ali and Nino, in Azerbaijan International, Vol. 12.4 (Winter, 2004), pp. 10 ff. Photos.
  2. ^ Letter to F.A.G. Schoenberg of Belmont & Co, Friendly House 21/4 Chiswell Street, London EC1, Lawyer of Lucy Tal of 242 West 76th Street, Apt 12C, New York City 10023, on June 1, 1987. Skala Collection.
  3. ^ Aristotle. (1952). Metaphysics (R. Hope, Trans.). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. (Book Eta, 1045a8-10)
  4. ^ Iris Bruce - Kafka and cultural Zionism: Dates in Palestine, page 67


Regarding personal names: Freiherr is a former title (translated as Baron), which is now legally a part of the last name. The feminine forms are Freifrau and Freiin.

External links[edit]