Wolfgang Metzger (1899-1979)

by Heinz L. Ansbacher

Originally published in: Individual Psychology News Letter, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 45-47

Wolfgang Metzger, former chairman of the Department of Psychology, University of Münster and past president of the German Psychological Association, died last December 20th at the age of 80 at his home in Tübingen, West Germany.

We deplore in Professor Metzger's death the loss of a great Adlerian psychologist. But we also reflect on this occasion with satisfaction on the fact that a man of his distinction and achievements dedicated the last quarter of his fruitful life to the advancement of the Adlerian cause. Through his work in perception, creative thinking and problems of education Metzger had become internationally known. He received invitations to lecture in the United States and late in his life to tour China.

Metzger was a warm human being, artistic, sensitive and stimulating, much like Max Wertheimer to whom he resembled also in appearance. On his travels as otherwise, his wife, Juliana, was always his companion, strong, faithful and cheerful. She was also very much a person in her own right, active in the history of toys and children's songs. The Metzgers had six children.

Starting his career in psychology with the Gestalt psychologists in Berlin in the 1920s, Metzger became Max Wertheimer's assistant in Frankfurt in the 1930s and his successor when the Nazis forced Wertheimer out. Early in the 1940s Metzger became chairman at Münster, a position he held until his retirement.

After World War II, Metzger became eventually an outspoken advocate of Adlerian psychology with which he had become acquainted during his Berlin days through Fritz Künkel and later through Oliver Brachfeld who was in Münster from 1960 to 1965. Together with Brachfeld he founded in 1964 the German Alfred Adler Society which became in 1970 the German Society for Individual Psychology.

Metzger represented a personal union of two psychologies which with their common emphasis on the whole and the relativity of psychological 'elements' in respect to their contexts, systematically always belonged together and practically complemented each other. Gestalt psychology verified the common principles experimentally, while Adlerian psychology applied them to clinical problems. Metzger was indeed an experimentalist and an applied psychologist. Much as Adler might have, Metzger stated: "The confrontation of theoretical and applied science is nonsense. A theory is good only if it also permits good application. ... when it facilitates reasonable, appropriate behavior" (Pongratz, Traxel & Wehner, Psychologie in Selbstdarstellungen, 1972, p. 207). In this spirit Metzger also adressed himself to the general reader. For example he protested in a German newspaper in 1963 that the "new" developments in psychoanalytic ego psychology were in fact nothing new. The ego psychologists, about whoese meeting the paper had previously reported, "should have placed wreaths on the graves of Alfred Adler and Fritz Künkel," because these authors had stated long ago what is now being restated. Metzger specified, "The sum total of the new trends - rejection of the 'objectifying' approach of Freud; reference to the indivisible unity of the person ...; to the role of self-preservation and self-assertion ...; to erroneous social coordination as frequent basis of neurosis ...; emphasis on responsibility and life-goal - all these innovations can be found in Alfred Adler half a century ago and were the well known reasons for his seperation from Freud" (J. Individ. Psychol., 1964, 20, 123-124).

Metzger's outstanding contribution to Individual Psychology has been his editorship between 1972 and 1977 of practically all of Adler's books for the Firscher Taschenbuch Verlag. He provided them with excellent critical introductions for the contemporary reader. These paperbacks also have detailed indexes whereas the originals had none. I feel particular gratitude for these volumes because some of my recent work would have been quite impossible without them. With these volumes Metzger has toward the end of his life built his own monument.

Heinz. L. Ansbacher

University of Vermont,
Burlington, Vermont

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