The Psychological Foundations of Classification

  • Martin EbelingEmail author
  • Günther Rötter
Part of the Studies in Classification, Data Analysis, and Knowledge Organization book series (STUDIES CLASS)


Phenomenology assumes that human thought is decisively shaped by the conditions of human perception. Therefore, all human concepts have paragons in perception. Accordingly, classification is based on elementary psychic functions, and here, we demonstrate that the same psychic functions are also effective in hearing and music perception. Thus, we deduce the psychological prerequisites of classification from music perception and elementary music cognition. Classification is a certain case of categorization, a mental property which determines all thinking (Sect. 20.1). The principles of categorization were discussed since ancient times, i.e., by Aristotle (Sect. 20.2). Categorization requires the ability to compare objects according to a certain criterion. Carl Stumpf (1848–1936) demonstrated that all comparisons are psychologically based on fundamental relations (German: Grundverhältnisse) which also determine pitch perception (Sect. 20.3). These fundamental relations govern the perception of Gestalt, which follows certain Gestalt laws (Sect. 20.4). Intuitive classification criterions result from differences concerning Gestalt. The importance of the Gestalt laws is demonstrated by some recent studies in current musicology which all refer to the concept of pitch (Sect. 20.5). Remarkably, the pitch space and the number space have the same topological structure. Discrete and continuous parameters in statistic have analogies in discrete and continuous concepts of pitch (Sect. 20.6). Particularly noteworthy is the analogy between periodic data and the cyclic organization of tone chroma by the classification of pitch “modulo octave” due to the sound phenomenon of octave identification (Sect. 20.7).


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Music and MusicologyTU Dortmund UniversityMönchengladbachGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Music and MusicologyTU Dortmund UniversityDortmundGermany

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