Dimitri Uznadze (1886-1950)

Dimitri Uznadze

Dimitri Uznadze was an early 20th century psychologist, philosopher, and educator who established the Georgian school of psychology and influenced educational reform in Georgia. 

Professional Life

Dimitri (Dmitry Nikolaevich) Uznadze was born on December 2, 1886 in Kutaisi, a province in Western Georgia. After being expelled from high school for participating in the 1905 revolution, Uznadze fled to Switzerland and then Germany, where he studied with Wilhelm Wundt at Leipzig University. Uznadze was awarded a PhD in 1909 for his dissertation, Vladimir Solovev: His Epistemology and Metaphysics.

Uznadze returned to his hometown to teach high school history, psychology, and logic. He established educational principles for the education of both boys and girls and initiated the development of the ‘Sinatle’ (light) girls’ school, where he served as headmaster in 1915.

When Uznadze moved to Tbilisi in 1917, he worked with other Georgian scientists and philosophers to found the Tbilisi State University (TSU). TSU remains the oldest university in the Caucasus region. For more than four decades until his death, Uznadze headed the psychology department at TSU. Uznadze was also a founding member of the Georgian Academy of Sciences and was the director of The Institute of Psychology for nearly nine years. He was awarded the Meritorious Science Worker of Georgia title in 1946 for his achievements in the field of science.

During his life, Uznadze was an academic celebrity, frequently giving talks and speeches. He died in 1950 and was buried in the garden at TSU. 

Contribution to Psychology

Uznadze was a philosopher and experimental psychologist who influenced not only Georgian and Russian philosophy and psychology, but European and American philosophy and psychology as well. Uznadze was influential in the development of set theory, a behavioral theory specific to eastern European psychology that identifies a set of conditions fundamental to psychological processes. This set, or system, prepares a person psychologically to act in response to a given situation and comprises behavior, personality, and the conscious and unconscious. Uznadze published Theory of Attitude and Set and The Psychology of Set on the topic of set theory; these works were not translated from Georgian until the 1960s.

Uznadze’s study of behavior and the psychological unconscious lead the way for research and innovations into mental processing. Because the unconscious plays a central role in set theory, Uznadze’s views are often compared to those of Sigmund Freud, who also emphasized the role of the unconscious mind, though many find it challenging to compare Uznadze’s experimental psychology with Freud’s standard psychoanalysis.

In addition to his exploration of mental processes, Uznadze influenced the field of education through his psychological research. While teaching in Tbilisi, he developed theories of educational philosophy that were founded on the belief that wisdom was derived from the highest level of intellectual and spiritual awareness through minimum data. He studied how age influenced thinking mechanisms and how various psychological characteristics were directly affected by those mechanisms. Uznadze was a firm believer in providing a creative and open forum in which children could approach the art of learning.

His humanistic approach delved into the question of purpose and meaning, and he emphasized the importance of all people being able to achieve meaning in their lives. Most of his published works address social philosophy and the ultimate meaning of one’s life relative to society. Uznadze believed that to achieve happiness and life satisfaction, an individual had to pursue a cultural existence and dedicate life to a higher purpose in order to live a life of significance. He also differentiated between the meaning of a person's life for society and the meaning of life for the individual, emphasizing that a truly meaningful life has to have value for both the individual living it and the society in which the individual resides. Uznadze argued against any attempt by any group to assimilate others into their group. Instead, he believed that each individual should have the right to choose his or her own cultural leanings and destiny. Uznadze was also a dedicated lover of poetry and believed that many philosophical concepts were best embodied in poetry.


  1. Angelini, A. (2008). History of the unconscious in soviet russia: From its origins to the fall of the soviet Union1. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 89(2), 369-88. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/203932029?accountid=1229
  2. UNESCO, International Bureau of Education. (2002). Dimitry Uznadze. Retrieved from http://www.ibe.unesco.org/publications/ThinkersPdf/uznadzee.pdf

Last Update: 07-14-2015

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