Dialogue and Universalism








   The main and most extensive part of this Dialogue and Universalism issue entitled GESTALT AS STRUCTURE PRINCIPLES IN SCIENCE, ART AND LANGUAGE is about the idea and theory of Gestalt. The conception of Gestalt has been extended to a philosophical one very soon after its inception. From the first half of the 20th century the Gestalt idea, initially a psychological one, has impacted various philosophical threads as well as disciplines of science. The history of Gestalt theory discloses a striking feature of intellectual endeavors. Recently, this feature is usually called interdisciplinarity, but it may also be interpreted as some arbitrariness, artificiality of classifications or only a partial legitimacy of diving researches into isolated domains. In fact, research domains penetrate and influence each other, develop in permanent interactions and are mutually inspired. Creative intellectual activities flow crossing their formerly set borders. It was so long before the pursuit of interdisciplinarity has been raised. It is hard to find a reasonable criterion of assigning the idea of Gestalt only to philosophy or exclusively to psychology, etc. It can be said instead that it is—as many other basic ideas and concepts of both the epistemological or ontological types—just a property of intellectual legacy in its wholeness.
Besides, this Dialogue and Universalism issue contains the block of papers PHILOSOPHY FOR A MORE HUMAN WORLD. Three papers included in it draw attention to an amazing feature of philosophy: its engagement into most urgent problems of humanity. In its endless struggle for a better human world philosophy—moving from elucidations of the status quo to designs how to change the world—sometimes balances on the edges of its identity. Frequently, the very pursuit of considerations becomes here more important than their phil-osophical “purity” or criteria of philosophical correctness. In this Dialogue and Universalism issue two such borderline studies are presented; they shed light on the recent state of the human world, and form the important problems which should be philosophically elaborated further on.

Małgorzata Czarnocka, D&U Editor-in-Chief






   This collection of 12 original contributions examines Gestalt as structure principles in science, art and language. It contains papers by researchers from various disciplines (philosophy, psychology, aesthetics, linguistics, organisa-tional sociology). The papers view Gestalt theory as a holistic orientation in philosophical and scientific thought, according to which the idea of integrated whole (Gestalt) has to override the notion of primary elements (associationism), the primacy of the notion of function has to override the primacy of the notion of substance, and the idea of interdependence has to override the notion of sim-ple causality. Gestalt theory emerged in the context of a crisis in the great philo-sophical systems (idealism and positivism) around the turn of the 20th century, at a moment when experimental psychology had achieved the status of an au-tonomous discipline. Its core concept of Gestalt as a structure principle indicates a clear phenomenal approach which attempts to grasp reality in its phenomenal evidence, rejecting all forced reductionism to additional rules or conceptual preforming schemata. The principle stages of this orientation were marked by works of thinkers of various provenance: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s mor-phology and theory of colours, Franz Brentano’s intentionality theory, Ernst Mach’s empiriocriticism, Christian von Ehrenfels’ supposition of Gestalt quali-ties, the Production Theory of the Graz School around Alexius Meinong, Carl Stumpf’s phenomenology and empirical psychology, the Berlin School that arose after him around Wolfgang Köhler, Kurt Koffka, Max Wertheimer, Kurt Lewin. Furthermore, the central ideas of the Gestalt approach were taken up in original ways by other philosophers and thinkers like Ernst Cassirer, Edmund Husserl and Karl Bühler. Even though the rise of Gestalt thought was dramati-cally interrupted by the rise of Hitler in the 1930s, the central ideas of this ap-proach were again embraced after the Second World War and have till this day been developed in various interdisciplinary approaches and applicative fields.
   The papers in this collection range from more historical studies to those fo-cusing on the influence of Gestalt theory on contemporary thought. The aim of the collection Gestalt as Structure Principles in Science, Art and Language is to reconstruct the legacy of the Gestalt approach in various scientific disciplines and its actuality in the contemporary scientific and philosophical debate. The first two papers have an introductory character. The paper by Silvia Bonacchi addresses the semantic development of the term “Gestalt” in a diachronic per-spective and its terminologisation in scientific contexts (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Friedrich Herbart, Ernst Mach, Christian von Ehrenfels up to the fundamental studies within the Berlin School). In the last part it offers a summary overview of the later approaches after the Second World War. In his study, Hellmuth Metz-Goeckel traces the fields where nowadays the Gestalt approach has proven to be very fruitful (perception, problem solving, motiva-tional psychology, social cognition, logic, irony and jokes, meaning, system theory, language, culture and organisational development).
   The next essays examine the Gestalt approach from a historical point of view. Danilo Facca’s paper reconstructs Aristotle’s concept of form in the light of contemporary thought. Facca shows how Aristotle’s theory of form provided him with an adequate theoretical tool for all fields of scientific inquiry. In Fiorenza Toccafondi’s paper we can follow the development of Ewald Hering’s theory of colours from Goethe’s chromatic theory, and the resulting inaugura-tion of a type of (non-Husserlian) phenomenology founded on the fertile con-nection of phenomenological description and empirical investigation which would have its moment of maximum growth in the first three decades of the 20th century with Carl Stumpf, Karl Bühler, Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka. Riccardo Martinelli’s paper is dedicated to an analysis of Wolfgang Köhler’s philosophical ideas expressed in his The Place of Value in a World of Facts (1938). In it, Köhler considered the question of whether science was able to cope with human values as well as natural facts. Relying upon phenomenological analyses and on his previous research in the field of natural philosophy, Köhler introduces his doctrine of epistemological dualism, which turns out to be similar to the philosophical ideas of Köhler’s Berlin men-tor Carl Stumpf.
   The papers of the central part of the collection examine the influence of Gestalt theory on the development of modern thought. The contribution by Serena Cattaruzza is dedicated to Bühler’s last essay The Gestalt Principle (1960). Formulated in the last period of his life, this work gathers together and summarizes the basic ideas of Bühler’s concept of Gestalt theory, which he considered to be the core principle in human and animal life. It highlights some crucial aspects of the difficult relationship between Bühler and the representa-tives of the Berlin School of Gestalt theory. Przemysław Parszutowicz’s essay deals with Ernst Cassirer’s concept of symbolic pregnancy (Prägnanz) devel-oped in the third volume of his Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (1923–1929). Parszutowicz shows that this concept has its roots in the Gestalt concept of Prägnanz developed by the Berlin School. Jagna Brudzińska examines Husser-lian phenomenology as an intentional-genetic theory of experience which inves-tigates the concepts of type as well as of typifying apperception to gain insight into the constitution of subjective experience. Brudzińska shows that in this way phenomenology gets closer to Wilhelm Dilthey’s philosophy of life and to the theory of Gestalt, as well as to the psychoanalytical theory of understanding. Stanisław Czerniak analyses the conceptual relations between Gestalt psycholo-gy and classical 20th-century philosophical anthropology (Max Scheler, Helmuth Plessner). He considers the role which reference to Wolfgang Köhler’s Gestalt psychology plays in Scheler’s philosophical anthropology and seeks categorial parallels between Plessner’s anthropology of laughter and today’s Gestalt- psychology-based comicality conceptions. Anna Michalska considers the role of the Gestalt concept in Thomas Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolu-tions.
   The last two papers study current fields of application of Gestalt principles. Tiziano Agostini and Alessandra Galmonte analyse perceptual belongingness. The concept of perceptual belongingness, developed within the theoretical framework of Gestalt theory, is well rooted in the 20th-century psychological thought: in the assimilation theory proposed by Cesare Musatti, in the theory of Gaetano Kanizsa, and in the theory of binding by Anne Treisman. In Agostini and Galmonte’s paper this wide theoretical framework is used to explain the effects of context on colour appearance. Brigitte Biehl-Missal’s paper offers an overview of new methods inspired by Gestalt theory in the development of aesthetic approaches to organisation and management.

Silvia Bonacchi and Stanisław Czerniak






Tiziano Agostini, Alessandra Galmonte


   The aim of this work is to present the historical evolution of the concept of perceptual belongingness developed within the theoretical framework of the Gestalt theory. This concept has been used to explain the effects of the context on colour appearance. After introducing the concept as Kurt Koffka, Wilhelm Fuchs and Wilhelm Benary have defined it we will present the first scientific reactions to it. Successively, it is shown how the concept of perceptual belongingness is central for the assimilation theory proposed by Cesare Musatti. Furthermore, the position of Gaetano Kanizsa is discussed. Finally, we show the connection between the concept of belongingness and that of binding, developed within the feature integration theory proposed by Anne M. Treisman.

Keywords: perceptual belongingness, Gestalt theory, perceptual organisation, colour appearance, binding by synchrony.


Affiliation: Department of Life Sciences, University of Trieste, Department of Life Sciences, University of Trieste, Via Weiss 21, 34100 Trieste, Italy.

E-mail: agostini@units.it

Affiliation: Department of Neurological, Biomedical and Movement Sciences, University of Verona, Via Casorati 43, 37131-Verona, Italy.

E-mail: alessandra.galmonte@univr.it




Brigitte Biehl-Missal


   Gestalt theory has a promising potential in the area of management studies and practice when it continues its hidden heritage that relates to aesthetics and atmospheres in the workplace and organisational culture. With an aestheticization of the economy, organisational research has acknowledged the importance of aesthetic, sensually perceivable elements in the workplace. Gestalt theory, given its pedigree in early organisational research, lends itself to theory-building in this area and can also contribute practically through so-called arts-based interventions. Arts-based interventions bring people, products and processes from the world of arts into organisations, applying a range of formative methods (in the sense of gestaltende Methoden). Methods like sculpturing and painting in these interventions for example help organisational members in “finding a form” and giving a Gestalt to experiences and atmospheres in the workplace that relate to teamwork, leadership and organisational culture and that can then be addressed, challenged and developed. From a Gestalt theory perspective, organisations can be perceived as “gestalten,” and consequentially, it seems useful to encourage organisational members to “give form” to the ways in which they perceive organisational life. Sculpture as a tool in this context is briefly discussed with an example. This leads to a suggestion of a more diverse application of Gestalt theory in the field of management.

Keywords: Aesthetic economy, arts-based interventions, atmosphere, management,
organisation, Gestalt theory.


Affiliation: Public Relations and Business Studies at BSP Business School Berlin, BSP Business School Berlin—Hochschule für Management Villa Siemens, Calandrellistraße 1-9, D-12247 Berlin; Germany;

E-mail: brigitte.biehl-missal@businessschool-berlin.de




Silvia Bonacchi


   The first part of this article traces the most important phases of the semantic enrichment and “terminologisation” (in the sense of the transformation of a lexical item from a generic word into a scientific term) of the German expression “Gestalt.” The word “Gestalt” (English translations are: “form,” “shape,” “configuration,” “aspect”) was already documented in the Middle Ages (Old High German: gistalt) in the meaning of “appearance, way of appearing.” From the end of the 18th century, the word was beginning to enlarge its meaning; it started to be used in specific domains (literature, philosophy, psychology) to designate an organic whole. In the first decades of the 20th century, it became a specialized term—a terminus technicus in the philosophical and psychological thought—as Gestalt psychology and Gestalt theory emerged as a new scientific and philosophical orientation. Its exact conceptual definition was heatedly discussed in the philosophical and psychological debates that raged in the first two decades of the 20th century after publishing the famous paper by Christian von Ehrenfels “On Gestalt Qualities” (1890) and it was developed in various psychological schools (the Berlin School, the Graz School) and philosophical orientations (phenomenology, Neo-Kantianism). In the concluding part of the paper, the author traces new developments in the Gestalt
approach after the Second World War.

Keywords: Gestalt theory, crisis of science, holism, change of meaning.


Affiliation: University of Warsaw, Department of Applied Linguistics, ul. Szturmowa 4, 02–678 Warsaw, Poland.

E-mail: s.bonacchi@uw.edu.pl




Jagna Brudzińska


   The article focuses on Husserl’s phenomenological philosophy as an intentionalgenetic theory of experience. I inquire into the elementary forms and principle of the organisation of subjective experiences and investigate the concepts of type in the context of pre-predicative constitution. I attempt to show how far type, conceived as a concrete and acquired coherence of homogenous experiences, determines the process of interest-awakening even before higher predicative procedures—such as discursive and reflexive thinking—take place. Following such a path, phenomenology comes closer to the philosophy of life, to the Gestalt theory, and to the psychoanalytic theory of understanding.

Keywords: expectation, experience, intentional, genetic phenomenology, motivation,


Affiliation: Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, ul. Nowy Świat 72, 00–330 Warsaw, Poland and Husserl-Archive, the University of Cologne, Albertus-Magnus-Platz, D-50923 Cologne, Germany.

E-mail: jagna.brudzinska@uni-koeln.de




Serena Cattaruzza


   Karl Bühler’s last essay dedicated to the principle of Gestalt was published 1960. By publishing it, Bühler closed in the final period of his life the circle he had opened in 1913 with his Gestaltwahrnehmungen. The said essay was essentially founded upon observations, experiments and rigorous measurements. Its introduction stresses the connections between researches in psychology of perception and the field of aesthetics. In particular, it positively comments on the following passage by Adolf Hildebrand, taken from his work Das Problem der Form in der bildenden Kunst (1908): “A play, a symphony, presents an architecture, an internal structure; it constitutes an organic whole of relations, like a painting, a statue, even though the different arts inhabit worlds of totally different forms.” The same quotation opens, almost fifty years later, Bühler’s work Das Gestaltprinzip im Leben des Menschen und der Tiere, enlarging the discussed fields and adding further reflections on language, philology, cybernetics, biology, and the life sciences.

Keywords: principle, intuitive-visual, Gestalt, structure, function, figure, form, symbol.


Affiliation: University of Trieste, Department of Life Sciences, via Weiss 21, I-34128, Trieste (TS), Italy.

E-mail: serenacattaruzza@alice.it




Stanisław Czerniak



   In his paper the author reconstructs the categorial relations between Gestalt psychology and theory and classical 20th-century philosophical anthropology (Max Scheler, Helmuth Plessner). In the first part, entitled Inspirations, it is analysed how the views of a key 20th-century Gestalt theorist Wolfgang Köhler influenced Scheler, the author of The Human Place in the Cosmos. In part two, Parallels, the author investigates the categorial similarities between Plessner’s anthropology of laughter and contemporary comicality conceptions based on Gestalt psychology (Hellmuth Metz- Göckel).

Keywords: Gestalt theory, philosophical anthropology, intelligence, spirit, the whole, field, form, sensation, perception, eccentric position, laughter, joke structures, background-figure relations.


Affiliation: Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Nowy Świat 72, 00–330 Warsaw, Poland.

E-mail: czerniak.l.stanislaw@wp.pl




Danilo Facca


   The reflection on form (eidos, morphe) is situated at the core of Aristotle’s philosophy. Not only it was the bone of contention with Plato and other academic philosophers, who maintained the separateness and immutability of forms, but mature Aristotle’s theory of form provided him with an adequate theoretical equipment for all fields of scientific inquiry, so the concept of form proved to be all-pervasive (transcendental). This issue is examined in the paper. The article also deals with some issues characteristic of the contemporary (postmodern) debate, such as the question of sense and intellectual cognition, the problem of identity, the mind-body problem. Finally, the parallel topic of matter is addressed by showing that Aristotle’s conception still proves incisive in contrasting several theories, lending itself—more or less implicitly—to the Neoplatonic conception.

Keywords: Aristotle, hylemorphism, form, matter, mind-body problem.


Affiliation: Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Nowy Świat 72, 00–330 Warsaw, Poland.

E-mail: dfacca@ifispan.waw.pl




Riccardo Martinelli


   This essay is about Wolfgang Köhler’s philosophical ideas expressed in his The Place of Value in a World of Facts of 1938. Köhler, who strongly supports a scientific worldview, considers the question if science is able to cope with human values, besides natural facts. Relying upon phenomenological analyses, and on his previous researches in the field of natural philosophy, Köhler introduces his doctrine of epistemological dualism. From a historical point of view, this theory shows some similarities with the philosophical ideas expressed by Köhler’s Berlin mentor, Carl Stumpf. It is argued that Köhler’s epistemological dualism actually supports ontological monism and aims at offering a unified view of natural facts and human values.

Keywords: Wolfgang Köhler, scientific worldview, ethics, value.


Affiliation: University of Trieste, chair of History of Philosophy, Department of Humanities, Androna Campo Marzio 10, 34123 Trieste, Italy.

E-mail: martinel@units.it




Hellmuth Metz-Göckel


   The article reveals the general idea of Gestalt theory, its basic assumptions and their development over around 100 years, concentrating on the most important research findings. Features of the theory and findings of the first generation of Gestaltists are presented, including laws of perception, problem solving and motivation, social cognition. The developments in the last decades of the 20th century comprise contrariness as a perceptual feature and connections to modern system theory, especially to synergetics which offers new insights to existing findings. Also some new ideas explaining the joke structure and its consequences on amusement and laughter are presented. New developments of the possibility of application of Gestalt theoretical principles to topics like language, culture and organizational development are shortly mentioned. Further research activities in these domains are expected. The author intends to show that Gestalt Theory is a wide, productive approach with vital developmental potential.

Keywords: development of Gestalt theory, perception, problem solving, motivation, synergetics, language, culture.


Affiliation: Technische Universität Dortmund, August-Schmidt-Straße 4, 44227 Dortmund, Germany.

E-mail: hellmuth.metz-goeckel@uni-dortmund.de




Anna Michalska


   In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Thomas Kuhn propounded a controversial claim that the scientific change is a form of Gestalt switch. As I point out, he did it apparently without having a full understanding of what Gestalt theory was, and used the concept of Gestalt rather metaphorically, and not entirely consistently. Interestingly, however, Kuhn’s model of scientific change as sketched in The Copernican Revolution and advanced in his subsequent works, bears some obvious structural resemblance to Gestalt theory. In the paper, I confront Kuhn’s model with Gestalt theory, and attempt to show that the latter is able to clarify the basic assumption of the model. It unifies Kuhn’s views on scientific change, and provides a coherent conceptual frame in which scientific development can be analyzed. In particular, Gestalt theory helps to uncover the directionality of changes which Kuhn failed to acknowledge.

Keywords: Gestalt theory, Thomas Kuhn, scientific revolution, scientific change.


Affiliation: Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of Sciences, ul. Nowy Świat 72, 00–330 Warszawa, Poland.

E-mail: michalskanna@gmail.com




Przemysław Parszutowicz


   In the opinion of many scholars the notion of symbolic pregnancy is one of the key concepts in Ernst Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms. Without a proper understanding of its conceptual frame Cassirer’s philosophy lacks a consistent foundation. The notion symbolic pregnancy offers the mechanism of distinction of symbolic forms. The newest investigations (also in unpublished or less known, neglected writings of the philosopher) has shown that the key-notion of symbolic pregnancy has its roots in Gestalt theory (Gestalt psychology). In this school Cassirer saw the most important example of the general tendency in scientific thought, according to which the primacy of the notion of function has to override the primacy of the notion of substance, the idea of integrated whole as well as the notion of primary elements.

Keywords: Cassirer, symbolic pregnancy, symbolic form, Gestalt theory.


Affiliation: Department of History of Modern and Contemporary Philosophy, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, ul. Nowy Świat 72, 00–330 Warszawa, Poland; Department of Social and Philosophical Sciences, Gdańsk University of Technology, Narutowicz’s Street 11/12, 80-233 Gdańsk, Poland.

E-mail: pparszutowicz@ifispan.waw.pl




Andrew Targowski


   The aim of this investigation is to find to what degree globalization and rising the global civilization is sustainable. The methodology is based on the transdisciplinary, big-picture view of civilization in the 21st century, within the context of its rise and decline. Among the findings are the following: the global civilization is not sustainable since it leads to super-consumerism (promoted by the global financial elite) and the depletion of strategic resources. Practical implications: Instead of forcing one global market, one global government (?) and one civilization it would be better to promote the development of a universal civilization as the second layer upon the existing civilizations (Western, Easter, Chinese, Japanese, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic and African) with the common, accepted set of values, presented in this study. Social implications: The sustainable future of the civilization depends on the next generation taught in schools about those values which promote tolerance and the avidness of conflicts and wars. Originality: This investigation, by providing the transdisciplinary and civilizational approach at the big-picture level, has provided an answer to the question of what is and could be the role of universal values in the development of a sustainable and wise civilization.

Keywords: globalization, global financial elite, global civilizations, universal values, Universal civilization, Wise civilization.


Affiliation: Western Michigan University, 1903 W Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49008, USA.

E-mail: andrew.targowski@wmich.edu




Fiorenza Toccafondi


   Stating that experience is the testing ground for scientific theories is undoubtedly a sort of truism. In the case of the investigation of human perception, however, it is worth pinpointing and understanding exactly what kind of experience science must avail itself of. Cherishing and taking into account the lessons learned from Goethe’s Farbenlehre, Ewald Hering inaugurates a type of phenomenology which believed in the fertility of the connection between the phenomenological description and the empirical investigation. The direction indicated by Hering will be embraced by important authors of non-Husserlian phenomenology in the first three decades of the twentieth century: Carl Stumpf, Karl Bühler, the Gestaltpsychologie of Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka, to name a few. This paper intends to show the interest and topicality of this approach.

Keywords: Experience, science, perception, phenomenology, colours, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Ewald K. Hering, Gestaltpsychologie.


Affiliation: University of Parma; Department of Classical Studies, Languages, Education,and Philosophy — A.L.E.F., Philosophical Area, via Massimo d’Azeglio 85, 43100 Parma, Italy.

E-mail: fiorenza.toccafondi@unipr.it




Philip Ogo Ujomu


   This paper examines the prevailing problems of insecurity and terrorism in Nigeria that have triggered fear, chaos, conflicts, violence and instability. The increase of terrorist activities bordering on the state sponsored, home grown and transnational types of insurgency in Nigeria now pose serious threats to the viability and stability of the social order. A traditional pathway to addressing terrorism and insecurity is through the “hard” or paramilitary or military approaches. The military approach has not been too successful owing to deficiencies such as a motivation, a lack of focus, poor training and equipment, corruption and loss of public or citizens’ support among other shortfalls. As such an opening has been created for a broader approach that employs civilian security and militia formations to participate in the restoration of security and a social order free from terrorism. This paper tracks this social trend and examines the problems and prospects.

Keywords: terrorism in Nigeria, insecurity, transnational types of insurgency, human rights, corruption, social order.


Affiliation: Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Faculty of Humanities, Management and Social Sciences [FHMSS] Federal University, Wukari, Taraba State, Nigeria.

E-mails: pujomu@yahoo.com, ujomuphilip@yahoo.com




Halina Walentowicz


   This essay confronts Karl Marx’s early globalisation premonitions with the reflections of three observers of contemporary globalisation trends known to endorse the heritage of the father of historical materialism—Max Horkheimer, Zygmunt Bauman and Chris Harman. The author shows the deep chasm between Marx’s optimistic visions of a world order founded on the peaceful coexistence of an integrated humanity and their observations about the negative economic, social, political and psychological effects of globalisation today. While Marx’s social emancipation idea merged freedom with equality, Horkheimer’s “administered world” sacrifices freedom for equality’s sake. For Bauman, on the other hand, the “disorder” generated by the globalising world precludes both. References to Chris Harman serve to remind that the essence of capitalism remains unchanged despite its evolution, because, today as in Marx’s day, capital is a vampire which feeds on the blood of wage labour. Like Marx, the British theoretician sees the potential for social emancipation in the working class, which is much more numerous today than ever before in the history of capitalism.

Keywords: globalisation, capitalism, capital, labour, emancipation, freedom, equality.


Affiliation: Social Philosophy Department, Institute of Philosophy, the University of Warsaw, ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 3, 00-047 Warszawa, Poland.

E-mail: halinawalentowicz@uw.edu.pl

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