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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


BRENTANO

(1838 — 1917)

 

PHENOMENOLOGY

Born in Marienburg, Germany, Franz Brentano studied Aristotelian philosophy at Berlin before being ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1864. Two years later he was appointed lecturer and in 1872 professor of philosophy at the University of Würzburg only to give up his religious and academic posts the next year. He accepted the Chair at Vienna in 1874 but again resigned four years afterwards so as to marry, though he returned as lecturer in 1895. Among his many distinguished pupils were Freud, Meinong, and Husserl.

 

PHENOMENOLOGY/ KNOWLEDGE/ LANGUAGE

[1] [Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint.] Brentano's descriptive psychology (he was later to call it descriptive phenomenology) is essentially an examination of mental phenomena or acts. He distinguished three classes: (1) representations (Vorstellungen), including ideas, images, thoughts, and sensations; (2) judgements; (3) emotions. Common to all these is "intentional (and mental) inexistence", that is, intentionality, thereby making a distinction between the mental and the physical. 'Representations' ('ideas' in a broad sense) are thus not definitive of our mental life; they have "reference to a content" and "direction upon [or pointing towards] an object". Intentionality is the characterizing feature of mental acts. In a mental act we are aware both of its content and of our awareness of the act itself. However, he rejects the view that we can 'observe' our mental processes by some kind of introspection. Rather, we 'perceive' our mental acts (as opposed to the empirical or scientific 'observing' of 'ideas', such as colours, shapes, sounds) — each act being simultaneously an awareness of the representation and of the act of awareness itself [a]. Leaving aside the common feature of intentionality, Brentano regards the three classes of mental acts as quite distinct. Representations and judgements are not to be considered as themselves both falling under the concept of thinking. Representations and judgements have the same 'content' (within which he distinguishes between the intentional object, towards which the mental act is directed, and the 'immanent objectivity' of a mental phenomenon or act). But objects given to us as bare representations are accepted without any consideration of their truth or falsity, whereas judgements involve our adopting an 'intellectual stance'; we recognise, that is, accept, assent to the objects of a mental phenomenon [b]. These 'objects' are distinct from judgements but are not to be regarded as any kind of propositional 'entity' or 'fact'. This means that Brentano's view of judgement is that it is non-propositional and non-factual, and that the term is sufficient for the expression of its content. To judge that there is, say, a black cat is just to acknowledge an object. To judge all cats are black is to reject non-black objects. In this context Brentano rejected the correspondence theory of truth on the grounds that (1) in geometry, for example, nothing 'corresponds' to true judgements; (2) it cannot account for false judgements (we cannot invoke 'negative facts' for truths to corrspond to); (3) it leads to an infinite regress. In general he was unwilling to commit himself to propositional 'entities' except as a matter of convenience. Underlying his non-propositional view of judgement is Brentano's assertion that predicative judgements (such, as S is P) are a sub-class of existential ones, for example, 'An S (which is P) exists' or 'Some Ss (which are Ps) exist' [c]. As for the third class (emotions), towards these we take up an attitude of loving or hating according as to whether we feel pleased or displeased with the phenomenon. But representations remain primary in that judgements and emotions presuppose them. Brentano's account of judgement not only underpins his epistemology but also reflects his view that logic and the drawing of inferences are grounded in empirical psychology [d].

[2] Brentano argues that language consists of three kinds of terms: (1) referential, (2) 'synsemantic' (both of which would seem to refer to 'entities'; of some kind) and (3) syncategorematic (terms such as 'and', 'is'). The function of the first type is to identify particulars [a]. These may be either concrete, that is, 'real', or abstract. Only concrete things are objects of our thought. However, he says that abstract terms can always be reformulated so as to have concrete reference. Thus, 'Red is a colour' becomes 'A red thing is as such a coloured thing'. He also presents a theory of the 'genuineness' of concepts which appeals to a criterion of asymmetrical dependence. For example, the concept of a 'whole' is genuine, whereas 'part' and 'that which affects or produces' are not. This is because a part can cease without changing itself, while a whole will change itself into a part.

The second type of terms includes words such as 'exist', 'true', 'good' [on the last see sec. 4]; and Brentano says that their job is to express acceptance or rejection in acts of judgement based on 'evidence'. So if we say, for example, 'x exists', what we are doing is expressing our acceptance of x; while to say 'It is true that p' (where 'p' might be 'x exists' or 'x is red') is to reject 'evident rejectors' of x or y as red. 'Truth' (and 'falsity') for Brentano thus belong to the mental act of judging [b] and not to the object or the immanent objectivity of judgements, or to propositions. By 'evident rejectors' (and 'acceptors') Brentano means those people who in their acts of judgement appeal to evidence (as against 'blind' judgements). Evidence is indirect or direct, the former being grounded ultimately in the latter. Direct evidence relates either to 'inner perception' (involving immediate data of the senses) or to reason or insight (as in the case of judgements about mathematical propostions and logical propositions such as 'a whole cannot exist without parts' or 'that which is of one colour is, as such, other than that which is of a different colour'). All evident judgements are true. The evidence of mathematical and logical judgements would seem to lie in the analyticity of their propositions. We also have direct evidence of our mental acts themselves: we know these as the 'second object'. As for judgements about the external world ('outer perception'), although true they are not evident but 'blind'. However, Brentano allows that such judgements, as well as those relating to memory, may be supposed to have a high degree of probability [c]. [See also The True and the Evident.]

 

ONTOLOGY

[3] [Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint.] Underpinning Brentano's 'descriptive' psychology is a sophisticated but complex doctrine of categories, which, he says, are the various ways in which a subject 'dwells in' (innewohnt) the 'accidental totality'. (The accidental is that which a substance, as concrete individual or particular thing, includes within itself at a particular time, and according to Brentano the subject can exist without accidents but not conversely.) In so far as they relate to both 'inner' and 'outer' perception Brentano's categories are a posteriori [a]. The final 'differentia' of substances, however, are not grasped in inner or outer perception because we have no absolute intuition of time. Furthermore, the concept of unity of consciousness is not a persuasive indicator of a non-spatial, simple 'soul-substance' (he called it 'null-dimensional'), which he regards as the subject of consciousness, although he thinks it might be united with its body or 'physical nature' without contradiction. The problem is that we do not know whether the 'ultimate subject' of what is given to us in inner perception is material or spiritual (seelische). Indeed we can know nothing of any transcendent soul, although he claimed, in the context of his proofs for he existence of God [see sec. 5], that it was created by God out of nothing and is immortal [b].

Like other entities, the soul is understood by Brentano as being a concrete individual, that is, an entity from which further differentia are excluded. However, because our attempts to 'access' it must be made through 'outer' perception a 'universal' element is involved. He argues that there cannot be only universals, as this would lead to a contradiction between identity and difference as applied to the same entity; and in any case sentences containing references to universals as 'abstract' entities and other 'irreal' things can be reformulated in such a way that they refer to real, concrete things [Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, II] [c].

 

ETHICS

[4] [The Origin of our Knowledge of Right and Wrong.] Brentano's ethics derive from the third class of mental phenomena — emotions. These, like judgements, may be 'correct' or 'incorrect'. A good action or thing is then defined 'synsemantically' in terms of the impossibility of loving it incorrectly; and conversely the bad in terms of the impossibility of hating it incorrectly. Thus, to call an action good or bad is to reject (apodictically) incorrect lovers and incorrect haters respectively. For Brentano the correctness is objective in so far as it is not possible for one individual to love correctly or incorrectly what is hated correctly/ incorrectly by somebody else. However, he repudiated absolutist ethics grounded in, for example, a formal categorical imperative. For him, love and hate possess essentially the character of evaluative approval and are not to be regarded as akin to, say, desire. And, indeed, Brentano rejected subjectivist and relativist ethics, and appeals to, for example, fear or authority. The aim of morality is the choosing of the best of all possibly attainable ends [a] (such as, perhaps, knowledge and self-fulfilment). He also allowed degrees of goodness, one end being better than another in the sense that it is 'correct' to prefer it. But ethical knowledge is independent of metaphysics — which alone can answer the question whether the world is meaningful. The possibility of choice — the attribution to individuals of free will and responsibility is not in doubt; he rejects both determinism and indeterminism [b] (he accepts chance but denies that it can be absolute) [Essay on Knowledge].

 

RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY

[5] [On the Existence of God.] Brentano attempted to prove the existence of God as a necessary being by appealing to the principle of sufficient reason (which he supposed to be logically necessary) and starting from the contingency of the world. That God is also good and intelligent can be proved from the evidence of design [a].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Brentano's theory of judgement and his account of knowledge — which would seem to combine something of the 'subjective' certainty of both Cartesianism and Humean empiricism with the more 'objective' moderate realist position characteristic of the Aristotelian Thomist tradition — are both of considerable interest. His importance, however, lies primarily in the influence he had on the phenomenological movement (of which many have regarded him as having been the founder). But his central concept of 'intentional inexistence' has given rise to much critical discussion. Intentionality is supposed to be uniquely characteristic of mental states, and can therefore be pointed to as presenting a difficulty for physicalist accounts for mental life — not least because (it is claimed by some scholars, but contentiously) that Brentano himself held that the language we use to refer to mental states cannot be about real, that is, physical entities. Some philosophers have also argued that if intentionality is essentially a feature of language then it is in fact the same as intensionality; and this leads to problems concerning the attribution of truth-values to sentences when substitutions (of terms, predicates, other sentences) are made in intensional contexts. Many physicalists (who tend to be extensionalists) have also maintained that it is possible to adopt an 'intentional stance' towards physical systems without attributing mental states of consciousness to them.

There are further difficulties with Brentano's concept. (1) Some of our mental states (for example, sensations) would seem not to be 'about' or 'directed' at anything. (2) Brentano regarded intentionality as a characteristic of mental phenomena. But this raises the problem of the mental realm itself: how this is to be understood and whether this postulation can withstand the attacks of physicalists. (3) He was also criticized by Husserl and Frege for his supposed 'psychologism' (a position which Husserl himself had initially adopted). Some commentators, however, have argued that this disregards Brentano's empirical account of 'evidence' and his rejection of 'introspectionist' psychology in favour of 'descriptive' psychology.

Note also that Brentano [in his The Psychology of Aristotle] supposed his central concept of intentionality — the distinction between the real existence of external objects and their 'intentional' existence — to have been anticipated by Aristotle's account of sensation as involving reception of form but not matter [On the Soul — see Aristotle 16c]. Recent scholarship [see especially R. Sorabji, Articles on Aristotle, Vol. 4, pp. 51-3; see also Lawson-Tancred's Introduction to de Anima, pp. 102-3] has tended to regard Brentano as having misinterpreted Aristotle's account of perception and therefore being mistaken in his claim.

 

READING

Brentano: Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt (1874) (Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, trans. A. C. Rancurello, D. B. Terrell, & L. McAlister); Vom Ursprung sittlicher Erkenntnis (1889) (The Origin of our Knowledge of Right and Wrong, trans. R. Chisholm & E. Schneewind); Vom Dasein Gottes (1929) (On the Existence of God, trans. S. Krantz); Wahrheit und Evidenz (1930, posthumously) (The True and the Evident, trans. R. Chisholm, I. Politzer, & K. Fischer).

Studies

R. M. Chisholm, Realism and the Background of Phenomenology.

L. L. McAlisdair, The Philosophy of Franz Brentano.

D. Moran, Introduction to Phenomenology.

Collection of essays

D. Jacquette (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Brentano.

 

 

CONNECTIONS

Brentano

 

Note: Connections with Ockham and other mediaeval philosophers are representative.

 

[1a; cf. 2c 3b] 'Descriptive psychology'/ phenomenology; 'intentionality' common feature of mental acts (representations judgements, & emotions); 'inner' mental content 'perceived' not introspectively observed

   Aristotle

   Aquinas

   Duns Scotus

   Ockham

   Descartes

   Locke

   Hume

   Comte

   Mill

Dilthey

   Bradley

   Frege

Husserl [early]

   Russell

   Ayer

   Searle

[16c]

[6d]

[1e]

[2b]

[2a]

[1a 2j]

[1a]

[2c]

[1c k]

[2b]

[1b]

[1a]

[1a c 2d 7e 7f]

[1e]

[1c]

[2b c]

 

[1b] The three classes of mental acts distinct; judgements representations have same 'content' but different quality/ function; judgements involve assent to mental 'objects'; cf. performatory theory

   Aristotle

   Aquinas

   Hume

   Kant

   Bradley

[17b]

[6b]

[1j 2a]

[1a 2a]

[1b]

 

[1c] Judgements non-factual and non-propositional; terms sufficient for expressing content of judgement; predicative judgements sub-class of existentials; rejection of correspondence theory of truth

   Aristotle

   Aquinas

   Locke

   Kant

   Bradley

   Frege

   Russell

   Strawson

[2a]

[6b]

[2i]

[1a]

[6a]

[2g]

[1g]

[1e]

 

[1d] Logic and inference grounded in empirical psychology

   Mill

   Bradley

Husserl [later]

   Russell

[1a]

[1a]

[1a]

[1f]

 

[2a] Language: referential (identify particulars), 'synsemantic', and syncategorematic terms    Ockham [1a]

 

[2b; cf. 1b] Synsemantic terms express acceptance/ rejection based on evidence; truth belongs to mental acts not 'objects', propositions, or sentences; (cf. performatory theory)

   Aristotle

   Ockham

   Frege

   Austin

   Strawson

[2a]

[1d]

[2g]

[1d]

[1e]

 

[2c; cf. 1a 3b] Evidence: indirect grounded in direct (inner perception, reason, insight); evidence for logical/ mathematical judgements lies in analyticity; knowledge of mental acts as '2nd object'; judgements about outer perception not evident but highly probable

   Aristotle

   Aquinas

   Ockham

   Locke

   Hume

   Kant

Husserl

[16a b]

[6c g]

[2b e]

[2j]

[2c]

[1b]

[7a 7f 7i]

 

[3a] Categories — subjects 'dwell' in 'accidental totalities'; are a posteriori and relate to inner and outer perception

   Aristotle

   Ockham

   Kant

[4a b]

[3d]

[2c]

 

[3b; cf. 1a 2c] Soul substance non-spatial and immortal, subject of consciousness, but its nature not known (inadequacy of 'unity of consciousness concept)

   Aquinas

   Ockham

   Descartes

   Hume

   Kant

Husserl

[5e]

[2e]

[2a 3d 3g]

[2d]

[3b]

[5a 7d]

 

[3c] The soul a concrete particular; 'universals' can be eliminated from discourse. through reformulation

   Aristotle

   Aquinas

   Ockham

[16d e]

[6e]

[1e 2d 3e]

 

[4a] Ethics: rejection of subjective relativism and absolute objectivism (categorical imperative); 'good' & 'bad defined in terms of impossibility of incorrect loving/ hating; aim of morality: choosing best attainable end

   Aristotle

   Hume

   Kant

Scheler

[18c d]

[3e g]

[6b-e]

[2b]

 

[4b] Rejection of determinism and indeterminism; man's freedom to choose

   Aristotle

   Aquinas

[10a b d]

[4a]

 

[5a] Proofs for the existence of God (a necessary being): principle of sufficient reason; contingency of world; the design in the world → God as good and intelligent

   Aquinas

   Ockham

   Leibniz

   Hume

   Kant

[3a e h]

[4a]

[1c]

[5a]

[5d 11a]