Theodor Lipps
Theodor Lipps (unknown year)
Born28 July 1851
Died17 October 1914(1914-10-17) (aged 63)
Era19th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolMunich phenomenology
Main interests
Notable ideas
Lipps–Meyer law

Theodor Lipps (German: [lɪps]; 28 July 1851 – 17 October 1914) was a German philosopher, famed for his theory regarding aesthetics, creating the framework for the concept of Einfühlung (empathy), defined as, "projecting oneself onto the object of perception."[1] This has then led onto opening up a new branch of interdisciplinary research in the overlap between psychology and philosophy.[2]


Lipps was one of the most influential German university professors of his time, attracting many students from other countries. Lipps was very concerned with conceptions of art and the aesthetic, focusing much of his philosophy around such issues. Among his fervent admirers was Sigmund Freud. There were at least two theories that made an impact on Freud's works. The first was Lipps' theory of the unconscious mental events.[3] Lipps was then a main supporter of the idea of the unconscious.[4] The second was Lipps' works on humor.[3]


He adopted Robert Vischer's notions of empathy or esthetic sympathy (Einfühlung, literally translated to "feeling-into"). He was responsible for popularizing the term by modifying Vischer's conceptualization.[5] Particularly, Lipps concealed some of the thinker's mysticism, hiding it within the sphere of scientific psychology in his work, Aesthetics of Space and Geometrical Illusions.[5] The term was used to describe the process of contemplating art objects as representation of our feelings.[6] Lipps developed it into an aesthetic theory, which was refined further by other thinkers such as Roger Fry and Vernon Lee.[6] This concept of aesthetic resonance finds parallels throughout aesthetic philosophy. In this concept, empathy is said to begin with both the object and the pleasure drawn together in a single act instead of a separate object with which we have aesthetic enjoyment or with pleasure taken in an object.[7] According to Lipps, empathy incorporates movement or activity, which is bound up with observed object by: 1) being derived from it; and, 2) by being inseparable from it.[7] For his works, he is considered one of the most important representatives of the psychology of aesthetics alongside Stephan Witasek and Johannes Volkelt.[8]


Lipps was an important adherent of psychologism early in his career. This philosophy was based on the Neo-Kantianism that became influential in German philosophy during the second half of the nineteenth century.[9] He became a spokesman of this school as evidenced in his early publications.[10] In his work, Logik (1893), he declared his "unlimited foundational logical psychologism", which is based on a partial identity of psychology of thinking and the logic of thinking.[11] Here, logic is considered the "physics of thinking" rather than an "ethics of thinking".[11] According to Lipps, "logic is a psychological discipline, as certain as the cognition occurs only in the psyche, and the thinking, which completes itself in the cognition, is a psychical event."[11]

Late in life, Lipps adopted some ideas from Edmund Husserl as he developed in another direction. Disliking his psychologism, some of his students joined with some of Husserl's to form a new branch of philosophy called phenomenology of essences. Among them there was Moritz Geiger who wrote one of the first phenomenological essays on the essence and meaning of empathy in which the influence of Lipps is relevant.[12] There was also Paul Ferdinand Linke who studied under Lipps at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat and dealt with Husserlian phenomenology in his first publication, Die phaenomenale Sphaere.[13]

In the so-called aesthetics of "oughtness", Lipps attempted to reconcile "ought" with "is".[14]

See also


  1. ^ "Theodor Lipps | German psychologist". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-11-07.
  2. ^ Curtis, Robin; Elliott, Richard George (December 2014). "An Introduction to Einfühlung". Art in Translation. 6 (4): 353–376. doi:10.1080/17561310.2014.11425535. ISSN 1756-1310. S2CID 161752306.
  3. ^ a b Smith, D. L. (2013). Freud's Philosophy of the Unconscious. Dordrecht: Springer Science & Business Media. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-7923-5882-4.
  4. ^ Pigman, G.W. Freud and the history of empathy, The International journal of psycho-analysis, 1995 Apr.; 76 (Pt 2):237–56.
  5. ^ a b Buse, Peter; Hirschkop, Ken; Taithe, Bertrand; McCracken, Scott (2006-09-19). Benjamin's Arcades: An Unguided Tour. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. p. 74. ISBN 0-7190-6988-2.
  6. ^ a b Dean, Carolyn J. (2004). The Fragility of Empathy after the Holocaust. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. p. 6. ISBN 0-8014-4162-5.
  7. ^ a b Berleant, Arnold (1993). Art And Engagement. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. p. 16. ISBN 0-87722-797-7.
  8. ^ Allesch, Christian G.. (2013). "STEPHAN WITASEK UND DIE PSYCHOLOGISCHE ÄSTHETIK". The Aesthetics of the Graz School, edited by Venanzio Raspa, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, pp. 113-128.
  9. ^ Simissen, Herman (2021). Theodor Lessing's Philosophy of History in Its Time. Leiden: BRILL. p. 59. ISBN 978-90-04-46476-6.
  10. ^ Simissen, Herman (2020). Theodor Lessing's Philosophy of History in Its Time. New York: BRILL. p. 59. ISBN 9780190251765.
  11. ^ a b c Jacquette, Dale (2006). Philosophy, Psychology, and Psychologism: Critical and Historical Readings on the Psychological Turn in Philosophy. Dordrecht: Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 88, 89. ISBN 1-4020-1337-X.
  12. ^ Gödel, Florian (2015), "An introduction to Moritz Geiger’s psychological contribution on empathy." Dialogues in Philosophy, Mental and Neuro Sciences, 8(1):161–8.
  13. ^ Staiti, Andrea; Clarke, Evan (2018). The Sources of Husserl's 'Ideas I'. Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. p. 383. ISBN 978-3-11-055159-4.
  14. ^ Fizer, John (1981). Psychologism and Psychoaesthetics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing. p. 223. ISBN 9027215065.


  • Hatfield, G. Psychology Old and New, Institute for Research in Cognitive Science Technical Report No.IRCS-01-07 (University of Pennsylvania, 2001)
  • Lyubimova, T. "On the Comic", in: Aesthetics, Art, Life: A Collection of Articles, compiled by T. Lyubimova, M. Ovsyannikov; general editorship by A. Zis; translated from the Russian by Sergei Syrovatkin (Moscow: Raduga Publishers, 1988), pp. 200–211.