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Karl Bühler (1879–1963), German psychologist and linguist. Born May 27, 1879 in Meckesheim near Heidelberg. His activities developed in two different directions on the one hand: psychology and linguistics. However, despite the fact that these two are different disciplines, they are closely related to each other and the study of their relationship generates great interest among scientists.

After graduation, he entered the University of Freiburg at the Faculty of Medicine. In 1903, Karl brilliantly defended his thesis on "To the doctrine of the reconfiguration of the organ of vision." In this work, the possibility of experimental development of the theory of H. Helmholtz was considered and not only medical, but also psychological aspects were touched upon.

Already in his student years, Buhler had a craving for psychology, he was keenly interested in modern trends in this science, began to collect a library of psychological literature, and monitored the activities of leading psychologists. It was this passion that subsequently determined the choice of profession. At the end of the institute, he worked for a very short time as an ophthalmologist and in 1903 he unexpectedly entered the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Strasbourg. Literally a year later - in 1904 - Buhler defended his doctoral dissertation, which was dedicated to Henry Hom, an English thinker who dealt with the problems of the psychology of aesthetics. Upon graduation, Buhler was an almost complete theoretical psychologist with his own principles, ideas that required practical implementation.

As a student of Oswald Külpe (German psychologist, founder of the Würzburg school), during the first period of his scientific career, Karl joined the Würzburg school and believed that the main method of studying thinking should be self-observation of subjects who are able to fix the path that leads to the solution when thinking about a problem. The scientist developed methods for the experimental study of thinking, in particular, the method of the subject’s free report on his mental processes in solving complex problems.

During the First World War, he served as a military surgeon on the western front, observed a traumatic speech disorder, which attracted his attention as a scientist. In 1915, after the death of Külpe, he was recalled to Munich. It is from this moment that a truly independent research work of a scientist begins. In Munich, Bühler meets his future wife Charlotte Malahowski, who intended to study psychology here. In April 1916, their wedding took place. In the person of his wife, Buhler acquired not only a devoted and loving friend, but also an ally and assistant in work.

In 1934 Bühler published Sprachtheorie: Die Darstellungsfunktion der Sprache. Starting out from Plato’s Cratylus, he had, in 1918, already developed the concept of speech as an instrument (organon) of communication and had constructed a three-part “organon model” involving a transmitter, a receiver, and a designated object. These correspond to the threefold function of speech as utterance (symptom or sign), release (signal), and representation or information (symbol or sign of what is meant). In 1934 he chose new terminology: expression (by someone), appeal (to someone), and representation (of something). In this triad we again see the triad of the substance of psychology according to his doctrine of three aspects: expression has to do with experience, appeal with behavior, and representation with the object, the objective (das Objektive), the mental (das Geistige), and the cultural achievement. At the same time, the thetic nature of speech, as set agreement and construction, is emphasized, while its spontaneous and physiognomic nature, in the sense of coincidence of sign or symbol with what is designated or symbolized, is rejected. Accordingly, the physiognomies of speech, especially in the version of Heinz Werner (implicit also in that of Albert Wellek), is rejected or reduced to a “sound-painting,” accessory in the body, or the whole, of speech. As early as 1931 Bühler advocated “phonology” as a humanistic science of speech sounds (as distinct from phonetics as a natural science of the same subject). In this he was joined by Prince N. S. Trubetskoi, his Viennese colleague in Slavistics and general linguistics, and by the Prague Linguistic Circle stimulated by Trubetskoi (“Phonetik und Phonologie,” 1931).

After his enforced emigration in 1938, Bühler remained silent for a long time. His friends grieved as many of his profoundest interests appeared to have been extinguished, especially his interest in linguistics and phonology. At the age of 60 he was unable to establish himself firmly in the United States. His style of thought, his manner of lecturing, in fact his entire approach to psychology met with little understanding, and he was neither willing nor able to make an adjustment. His most famous pupil, Egon Brunswik, who had emigrated shortly before Bühler, had joined the Vienna Circle of Moritz Schlick and Rudolph Carnap while still in Vienna. In America Brunswik had come to advocate even more strongly a “unitary science” of operationism, of which he became the outstanding theoretician. Bühler regarded this as desertion, which in exile he found hard to bear.

Only in 1952 did he come forward again - hesitantly, only rarely, and without receiving much attention. He wrote several papers on spatial orientation in man and animals. His last book, Das Gestaltprinzip im Leben des Menschen und der Tiere, was published in 1960. Here he returned once again to large-scale (though no longer concise or even comprehensive) consideration of his old fundamental problem, the relationship between biology and psychology, between life and thought, “modernized” somewhat by investigations in the field of cybernetics. His final conclusion was that what is essentially human - thought and reason, gestaltic and holistic experience - is independent of the machine, or the mechanical principle, and also independent to some extent of what is merely biological in the animal kingdom.

In the 1930s, Buhler turned to linguistic theory, published a number of studies, the most significant of which was the book “Theory of Language. Representative function of language” (1934). Based on the ideas of F. de Saussure and collaborating with scholars of the Prague Linguistic Circle, Buhler sought to identify the general properties of the language, proposing not so much a linguistic as a semiotic concept. Buhler proposed the theory of a speech act, introduced the concept of connotation, and was one of the first to study deictic units - words and stable combinations, meaning the most abstract concepts around which all the nominative vocabulary of a language is grouped.

In 1938, Buhler nevertheless left for America, where he received an invitation to take a professorship at a Catholic university, but he was refused at the very last moment, since it became known that Buhler, being a Catholic, was married in a Protestant church.

In 1945, Buhler and his wife settled in Los Angeles, where he taught psychology at several educational institutions.

Having lived in the United States for another quarter of a century, Buhler was not able to fully adapt and occupy a position corresponding to his merits in the academic hierarchy, almost stopped his scientific career and died after a long, serious illness on October 24, 1963.


Прохоров А. М. «Большая советская энциклопедия», 1969-1978гг. – Издание III;

Bugental, J. F., Wegrocki H. J. "Symposium on Karl Bühler's contributions to psychology.", The Journal of general psychology, 1966.

[Электронный ресурс] Универсальная научно-популярная энциклопедия, https://www.krugosvet.ru/enc/gumanitarnye_nauki/lingvistika/BYULER_KARL.html

[Электронный ресурс] Универсальная энциклопедия Кирилла и Мефодия, ссылка: https://megabook.ru/article/%D0%91%D1%8E%D0%BB%D0%B5%D1%80%20%D0%9A%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%BB

[Электронный ресурс] Encyclopedia.com, ссылка: https://www.encyclopedia.com/

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