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date: 25 February 2021

William Stern (1871–1938), Eclipsed Star of Early 20th-Century Psychologylocked

  • James LamiellJames LamiellGeorgetown University, Department of Psychology

Summary

In the literature of mainstream scientific psychology, German scholar William Stern has been known primarily (if at all) as the inventor of the intelligence quotient (IQ). In fact, however, Stern’s contributions to psychology were much greater and more consequential than this. In this all-inclusive article, I have sought to provide readers with a fuller appreciation for the breadth and depth of Stern’s work, and, in particular, for that comprehensive system of thought that he elaborated under the name “critical personalism.” Drawing frequently on translated quotations from Stern’s published works, and on his personal correspondence with the Freiburg philosopher Jonas Cohn, I have endeavored to show how Stern was much more than “the IQ guy.” During the first 20 years of his academic career, spent at the University of Breslau in what is now the Polish city of Wroclaw, Stern founded that sub-discipline of psychology that would be concentrated on the study of individual differences in various aspects of human psychological functioning. He also made major contributions to that sub-discipline referred to at the time as “child” psychology, and laid the foundations for a comprehensive system of thought that he would name “critical personalism.” After relocating to Hamburg in 1916, Stern continued his scholarly efforts in these domains, taught courses both in psychology and in philosophy at the university that opened its doors there in 1919, and played major administrative roles there in the institutional homes of both disciplines until forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1934. The present chapter highlights ways in which, over the course of his scholarly career, Stern boldly opposed certain trends within mainstream thinking that were ascendant during his time.

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