Issue 1-2
Vol. 41

Goethe’s color theory in the perspective of today’s perceptual psychology

V. Sarris

For more than 40 years Johann Wolfgang von Goethe studied diverse phenomena of color sensation. His two-volume color theory (1808-1810) marks the highlight of an ambitious plan to formulate a new conception of color perception. His own theory was meant to be directed against the then ruling approaches in physics and other natural sciences (mostly against Isaac Newton’s theory of optics). Goethe’s studies lead to a number of important natural observations and interpretations like, for example, visual contrast and afterimage phenomena, colored shadows, and even color blindness. However, his color theory remained a controversial topic, long after his own period of time. In modern perceptual psychology, Goethe’s theory may be considered as an interesting protoscientific approach to describe and explain human color perception in meaningful terms.


Key words: Goethe's color theory, cognitive psychology, Gestalt psychology, phenomenology, psychophysics


Psychologische Beiträge, Volume 41, 1999, p. 74-83

Prof. Dr. Viktor Sarris
Institut für Psychologie
J. W. Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Mertonstr. 17
D-60054 Frankfurt a.M.


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