Otto Selz's phenomenology of natural space

Klaus Robering

pp. 97-121

In the 1930s Otto Selz developed a novel approach to the psychology of perception which he called 'synthetic psychology of wholes". This 'synthetic psychology" is based on a phenomenological description of the structural relationships between elementary items (tones, colors, smells, etc.) building up integral wholes. The present article deals with Selz's account of spatial cognition within this general framework. Selz Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 114, 351–362 (1930a) argues that his approach to spatial cognition delivers answers to the long-discussed question of the epistemological status of the laws of geometry. More specifically he tries to derive (a subset of) the Euclidean axioms from the structural laws valid for phenomenal space. After a brief description of the discussion of the status of geometry in the 1920s/1930 (section 2), the present article explains Selz's understanding of "phenomenology" (section 3). Section 4 then deals with Selz's attempt to derive the Euclidean laws from the structural phenomenological laws of space. Selz's attempted derivation suffers from some formal shortcomings, which however can be repaired. The question arises, though, whether the necessary improvements do not rely upon more intricate geometric intuitions and thus render Selz's attempt to base geometry upon the phenomenology of spatial cognition circular.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11097-019-09614-9

Full citation:

Robering, K. (2020). Otto Selz's phenomenology of natural space. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 19 (1), pp. 97-121.

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