Goldstein, Kurt


Kurt Goldstein (1878–1965) was a philosophically minded neurologist, psychiatrist and psychotherapist. Known in neurology for the first clinical description of the Alien Hand Syndrome, and in psychology for having inspired the American Humanistic movement, Goldstein's broader reflection on the nature of biological knowledge had fallen into relative neglect.

In recent years, his organicist theory of biological knowledge, outlined in his classic The Organism (1934), has attracted increasing attention in philosophical circles. Organicist theories of biology represent an important milestone in the history of ideas, having anticipated themes that are now relevant to contemporary philosophy of biology.

The relative lack of recognition of Goldstein's work may be imputed to a combination of biographical factors (most notably the personal and intellectual setback following his forced exile from Nazi Germany, due to his Jewish origins) and of unwavering eclecticism, which may have hampered absorption and conveyance within the boundaries of particular disciplines.

Key Concepts

  • Kurt Goldstein is an important figure in the history of neurology and more broadly neuroscience, whose legacy might have gone relatively unnoticed due to his eclecticism and biographical vicissitudes.
  • His 1934 magnum opus, the monumental The Organism, encapsulates the empirical findings and clinical observations of a lifetime and organises them under the innovative theoretical framework of organicism.
  • The organicist stance applied to neuroscience leads to a contextual, dynamic and distributed view of the nervous system that has been vindicated by later research.
  • Goldstein's ideas on neuropathology, psychotherapy and individually tailored healthcare have influenced psychological movements such as humanist psychology and are still appreciated for their originality and intrinsic ethical value.
  • Goldstein's organicism, intended as a theoretical framework of interpretation for biology, has recently attracted the attention of philosophers of biology.
  • Under the philosophical respect, Goldstein's organicism presents some stark peculiarities, especially if compared with coeval positions from the same theoretical family. One especially evident feature is the virtual absence of evolutionary dimension to it.

Keywords: organicism; mechanicism/vitalism debate; history of neuroscience; philosophy of biology; philosophy of the life sciences; Ludwig Von Bertalanffy; Jakob von Uexküll; Joseph Henry Woodger

Figure 1. Kurt Goldstein. Pow,‐013‐7020‐1#enumeration.


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Further Reading

Goldstein K (1959) Notes on the development of my concepts. Journal of Individual Psychology 15 (1): 5.

Goldstein K (1995) The Organism. In: A Holistic Approach to Biology Derived from Pathological Data In ManWith a New Foreword by Oliver Sacks. New York: Zone Books.

Hanfmann E, Rickers‐Ovsiankna M and Goldstein K (1944) Case Lanuti: Extreme concretization of behavior due to damage of the brain cortex. Psychological Monographs 57 (4): i.

Scheerer M, Rothmann E and Goldstein K (1945) A case of "idiot savant": an experimental study of personality organization. Psychological Monographs 58 (4): i.

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Ferrario, Chiara Elettra(Sep 2018) Goldstein, Kurt. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0026372]