Franz Brentano

Franz Brentano
Born January 16, 1838
Marienberg am Rhein,
Rhine Province, Prussia
Died March 17, 1917 (aged 79)
Zürich, Switzerland
Alma mater University of Munich
University of Berlin
University of Münster
University of Tübingen
(PhD, 1862)
University of Würzburg
(Dr.hab., 1866)
Era 19th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School School of Brentano
Intentionalism ("act psychology")[1]
Empirical psychology[2]
Austrian phenomenology[3]
Austrian Realism[4][5]
Institutions University of Würzburg
University of Vienna
Main interests
Notable ideas
intentional object,
distinction between genetic and empirical/descriptive psychology,[6]
the judgement–predication distinction,
Franz Brentano
Doctoral advisor Franz Jakob Clemens
(PhD adv.)
Other academic advisors Adolf Trendelenburg
Notable students Sigmund Freud
Alexius Meinong
Kazimierz Twardowski

Franz Clemens Honoratus Hermann Brentano (/brɛnˈtɑːn/; German: [bʀɛnˈtaːno]; January 16, 1838 – March 17, 1917) was an influential German philosopher, psychologist, and priest whose work strongly influenced not only students Sigmund Freud, Kazimierz Twardowski, Alexius Meinong, Carl Stumpf, Anton Marty, Christian von Ehrenfels, and Tomáš Masaryk (as well as Masaryk's student, Edmund Husserl), but many others whose work would follow and make use of his original ideas and concepts.


Brentano was born at Marienberg am Rhein, near Boppard. He was the son of Christian Brentano, the brother of Lujo Brentano, and the nephew of Clemens Brentano and Bettina von Arnim. He studied philosophy at the universities of Munich, Würzburg, Berlin (with Adolf Trendelenburg) and Münster. He had a special interest in Aristotle and scholastic philosophy. He wrote his dissertation in 1862 at Tübingen under the title Von der mannigfachen Bedeutung des Seienden nach Aristoteles (On the Several Senses of Being in Aristotle). His thesis advisor was Franz Jakob Clemens.[10] Subsequently he began to study theology and entered the seminary in Munich and then Würzburg. He was ordained a Catholic priest on August 6, 1864.

In 1865/66 he wrote and defended his habilitation thesis, Die Psychologie des Aristoteles, insbesondere seine Lehre vom Nous Poietikos (The Psychology of Aristotle, in Particular His Doctrine of the Active Intellect), and began to lecture at the University of Würzburg. His students in this period included, among others, Carl Stumpf and Anton Marty. Between 1870 and 1873 Brentano was heavily involved in the debate on papal infallibility. A strong opponent of such dogma, he eventually gave up his priesthood and his tenure in 1873 and in 1879 left the church altogether. He remained, however, deeply religious[11] and dealt with the topic of the existence of God in lectures given at the Universities of Würzburg and Vienna.[12]

In 1874 Brentano published his major work, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. From 1874 to 1895 he taught at the University of Vienna; among his students were Edmund Husserl, Alexius Meinong, Christian von Ehrenfels, Rudolf Steiner, Tomáš Masaryk, Sigmund Freud, Kazimierz Twardowski and many others (see School of Brentano for more details). While he began his career as a full ordinary professor, he was forced to give up both his Austrian citizenship and his professorship in 1880 in order to marry, but he was permitted to stay at the university only as a Privatdozent. After his retirement in 1895 (soon after the death of his wife), he moved to Florence in Italy, transferring to Zürich at the outbreak of the First World War, where he died in 1917.



Main article: Intentionality

Brentano is best known for his reintroduction of the concept of intentionality — a concept derived from scholastic philosophy — to contemporary philosophy in his lectures and in his work Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt (Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint). While often simplistically summarised as "aboutness" or the relationship between mental acts and the external world, Brentano defined it as the main characteristic of mental phenomena, by which they could be distinguished from physical phenomena. Every mental phenomenon, every psychological act has content, is directed at an object (the intentional object). Every belief, desire etc. has an object that they are about: the believed, the desired. Brentano used the expression "intentional inexistence" to indicate the status of the objects of thought in the mind. The property of being intentional, of having an intentional object, was the key feature to distinguish psychological phenomena and physical phenomena, because, as Brentano defined it, physical phenomena lacked the ability to generate original intentionality, and could only facilitate an intentional relationship in a second-hand manner, which he labeled derived intentionality.

Every mental phenomenon is characterized by what the Scholastics of the Middle Ages called the intentional (or mental) inexistence of an object, and what we might call, though not wholly unambiguously, reference to a content, direction towards an object (which is not to be understood here as meaning a thing), or immanent objectivity. Every mental phenomenon includes something as object within itself, although they do not all do so in the same way. In presentation something is presented, in judgement something is affirmed or denied, in love loved, in hate hated, in desire desired and so on. This intentional in-existence is characteristic exclusively of mental phenomena. No physical phenomenon exhibits anything like it. We could, therefore, define mental phenomena by saying that they are those phenomena which contain an object intentionally within themselves. — Franz Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, edited by Linda L. McAlister (London: Routledge, 1995 [1874]), pp. 88–89.

Brentano introduced a distinction between genetic psychology (genetische Psychologie) and descriptive psychology (beschreibende or deskriptive Psychologie):[13] in his terminology, genetic psychology is the study of psychological phenomena from a third-person point of view, which involves the use of empirical experiments (satisfying, thus, the scientific standards we nowadays expect of an empirical science).[6] (This concept is roughly equivalent to what is now called empirical psychology,[14] cognitive science,[14] or "heterophenomenology," an explicitly third-person, scientific approach to the study of consciousness.) The aim of descriptive psychology, on the other hand, is to describe consciousness from a first-person point of view.[6] The latter approach was further developed by Husserl and the phenomenological tradition.[15]

Theory of perception

He is also well known for claiming that Wahrnehmung ist Falschnehmung ('perception is misception') that is to say perception is erroneous. In fact he maintained that external, sensory perception could not tell us anything about the de facto existence of the perceived world, which could simply be illusion. However, we can be absolutely sure of our internal perception. When I hear a tone, I cannot be completely sure that there is a tone in the real world, but I am absolutely certain that I do hear. This awareness, of the fact that I hear, is called internal perception. External perception, sensory perception, can only yield hypotheses about the perceived world, but not truth. Hence he and many of his pupils (in particular Carl Stumpf and Edmund Husserl) thought that the natural sciences could only yield hypotheses and never universal, absolute truths as in pure logic or mathematics.

However, in a reprinting of his Psychologie vom Empirischen Standpunkte [Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint], he recanted this previous view. He attempted to do so without reworking the previous arguments within that work but it has been said that he was wholly unsuccessful. The new view states that when we hear a sound, we hear something from the external world; there are no physical phenomena of internal perception.[16]

Theory of judgment

Brentano has a theory of judgment which is different from what is currently the predominant (Fregean) view. At the centre of Brentano’s theory of judgment lies the idea that a judgment depends on having a presentation, but this presentation does not have to be predicated. Even stronger: Brentano thought that predication is not even necessary for judgment, because there are judgments without a predicational content. Another fundamental aspect of his theory is that judgments are always existential. This so-called existential claim implies that when someone is judging that S is P he/she is judging that some S that is P exists. (Note that Brentano denied the idea that all judgments are of the form: S is P [and all other kinds of judgment which combine presentations]. Brentano argued that there are also judgments arising from a single presentation, e.g. “the planet Mars exists” has only one presentation.) In Brentano’s own symbols, a judgment is always of the form: ‘+A’ (A exists) or ‘–A’ (A does not exist).

Combined with the third fundamental claim of Brentano, the idea that all judgments are either positive (judging that A exists) or negative (judging that A does not exist), we have a complete picture of Brentano’s theory of judgment. So, imagine that you doubt whether midgets exist. At that point you have a presentation of midgets in your mind. When you judge that midgets do not exist, then you are judging that the presentation you have does not present something that exists. You do not have to utter that in words or otherwise predicate that judgment. The whole judgment takes place in the denial (or approval) of the existence of the presentation you have.

The problem of Brentano’s theory of judgment is not the idea that all judgments are existential judgments (though it is sometimes a very complex enterprise to transform an ordinary judgment into an existential one), the real problem is that Brentano made no distinction between object and presentation. A presentation exists as an object in your mind. So you cannot really judge that A does not exist, because if you do so you also judge that the presentation is not there (which is impossible, according to Brentano’s idea that all judgments have the object which is judged as presentation). Twardowski acknowledged this problem and solved it by denying that the object is equal to the presentation. This is actually only a change within Brentano’s theory of perception, but has a welcome consequence for the theory of judgment, viz. that you can have a presentation (which exists) but at the same time judge that the object does not exist.


Brentano's focus on conscious (or phenomenal) intentionality was inherited by Carl Stumpf's Berlin School of experimental psychology, Anton Marty's Prague School of linguistics, Alexius Meinong's Graz School of experimental psychology, Kasimir Twardowski's Lwów School of philosophy, and Husserlian phenomenology.[17] Brentano's work also influenced George Stout,[9] the teacher of G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell at Cambridge University.[18]


Major works by Brentano in German
Collected Works edition

See also


  1. Franz Brentano –
  2. E. B. Titchener, "Brentano and Wundt: Empirical and Experimental Psychology", The American Journal of Psychology, 32(1) (Jan. 1921), pp. 108–120.
  3. Robin D. Rollinger, Austrian Phenomenology: Brentano, Husserl, Meinong, and Others on Mind and Object, Walter de Gruyter, 2008, p. 7.
  4. Gestalt Theory: Official Journal of the Society for Gestalt Theory and Its Applications (GTA), 22, Steinkopff, 2000, p. 94: "Attention has varied between Continental Phenomenology (late Husserl, Merleau-Ponty) and Austrian Realism (Brentano, Meinong, Benussi, early Husserl)".
  5. Robin D. Rollinger, Austrian Phenomenology: Brentano, Husserl, Meinong, and Others on Mind and Object, Walter de Gruyter, 2008, p. 114: "The fact that Brentano [in Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint] speaks of a relation of analogy between physical phenomena and real things existing outside of the mind obviously indicates that he is a realist and not an idealist or a solipsist, as he may indeed be taken to at first glance. Rather, his position is a very extreme representational realism. The things which exist outside of our sensations, he maintains, are in fact to be identified with the ones we find posited in the hypotheses of natural sciences."
  6. 1 2 3 4 Huemer, Wolfgang. "Franz Brentano". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  7. Edoardo Fugali, Toward the Rebirth of Aristotelian Psychology: Trendelenburg and Brentano (2008).
  8. Robin D. Rollinger, Husserl's Position in the School of Brentano, Phaenomenologica 150, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1999, Chap. 2: "Husserl and Bolzano", p. 70.
  9. 1 2 Liliana Albertazzi, Immanent Realism: An Introduction to Brentano, Springer, 2006, p. 321.
  10. Franz Brentano at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  11. Boltzmann, Ludwig. 1995. Ludwig Boltzmann: His Later Life and Philosophy, 1900-1906: Book Two: The Philosopher. Springer Science & Business Media, p. 3
  12. Brentano, F. C. 1987. On the Existence of God: Lectures Given at the Universities of Würzburg and Vienna (1868-1891). Springer Science & Business Media,
  13. The first published occurrence of the term is in Brentano's Vom Ursprung sittlicher Erkenntnis (The Origin of our Knowledge of Right and Wrong) published in 1889 (see Franz Brentano, Descriptive Psychology, Routledge, 2012, "Introduction").
  14. 1 2 Dale Jacquette (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Brentano, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 67.
  15. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, Phenomenology World-Wide: Foundations — Expanding Dynamics — Life-Engagements A Guide for Research and Study, Springer, 2014, p. 18: "[Husserl] entrusts this analysis to a pure or phenomenological psychology whose links with Brentano's descriptive psychology are still clearly visible."
  16. See Postfix in the 1923 edition (in German) or the 1973, English version (ISBN 0710074255, edited by Oskar Kraus; translated [from German] by Antos C. Rancurello, D. B. Terrell and Linda L. McAlister; English edition edited by Linda L. McAlister).
  17. Uriah Kriegel, "Phenomenal intentionality past and present: introductory, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 12(3):437–444 (2013).
  18. Maria van der Schaar, G. F. Stout and the Psychological Origins of Analytic Philosophy, Springer, 2013, p. viii.
  19. Franz Brentano Archiv Graz

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