On This Day … 27 May

People (Births)

  • 1879 – Karl Bühler, German-American linguist and psychologist (d. 1963).

Karl Buhler

Karl Ludwig Bühler (27 May 1879 to 24 October 1963) was a German psychologist and linguist. In psychology he is known for his work in gestalt psychology, and he was one of the founders of the Würzburg School of psychology. In linguistics he is known for his organon model of communication and his treatment of deixis as a linguistic phenomenon. He was the dissertation advisor of Karl Popper.


Bühler was born in Meckesheim. In 1899 he started medical school at the University of Freiburg, where he received his doctorate in 1903. He continued working as an assistant, and started taking a second degree in psychology graduating in 1904. In 1906 he worked as an assistant Professor at the University of Freiburg with von Kries, and as an assistant to Oswald Külpe at the University of Würzburg.

He completed his Habilitation thesis at Würzburg in 1907, with the title Tatsachen und Probleme zu einer Psychologie der Denkvorgänge (“Facts and problems of the psychology of thought processes”). This text became foundational for the Würzburg School of psychology and sparked heated controversy with Wilhelm Wundt. In 1909 Bühler moved to the University of Bonn, becoming an assistant to Oswald Külpe.

From 1913 to 1918 Bühler worked as an associate professor in Munich. In World War I he performed military service as a doctor. During the war he married Charlotte Malachowski, a student of Edmund Husserl. In 1918 he was made a full professor of philosophy and education at the Technical University of Dresden.

In 1922 he became Professor of Psychology at the University of Vienna and the head of the Psychology Department. In the same year were also appointed as full professors Moritz Schlick and Robert Reininger who become president of the Philosophical Society of Vienna until its disbandment in 1938. Bühler participated in the founding of the Psychological Institute of Vienna as part of the city’s efforts to reorganize the school system on the basis of new scientific findings about child psychology. He also worked in the field of the philosophy of language as a prosecutor of the school of Brentano, Meinong, Josef Klemens Kreibig and Alois Höfler. Bühler’s wife, Charlotte Bühler, followed him and received a professorship in Vienna. Both taught at the University of Vienna until their common emigration.

On 23 March 1938, Bühler was briefly detained by the Nazis, which caused him to flee to London in 1940, then to Oslo. Finally he emigrated to the United States, where he worked from 1940 to 1945 as a professor in Minnesota and from 1945 to 1955 as a professor of psychiatry at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

In 1959 Karl Bühler was honoured with the Wilhelm-Wundt-Medal of the German Society of Psychology. He died in Los Angeles.

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