Brentano, Franz (1838–1917)

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Franz Brentano, a German philosopher and psychologist, was the nephew of the poet Clemens Brentano and of the author Bettina von Arnim. He taught at Würzburg and at the University of Vienna. As a teacher he exerted extraordinary influence upon his students, among whom were Alexius Meinong, Edmund Husserl, Kasimierz Twardowski, Carl Stumpf, Tomas Masaryk, Anton Marty, Christian Ehrenfels, and Franz Hillebrand. Brentano became a Roman Catholic priest in 1864, was involved in the controversy over the doctrine of papal infallibility, and left the church in 1873. At his death he left behind voluminous writings and dictation (he was blind during the last years of his life) on almost every philosophical subject. Some of this material has since been published.

The most important of Brentano's works published during his lifetime is Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt (Leipzig, 1874). The two-volume second edition (Leipzig, 1911) includes revisions and supplementary material; the third edition, edited by Oskar Kraus, was published in Leipzig in 1925. The second edition includes Von der Klassifikation der psychischen Phänomene, which had also been published separately (Leipzig, 1911). The posthumously published Vom sinnlichen und noetischen Bewusstsein, also edited by Kraus (Leipzig, 1928), is referred to as Volume III of the Psychologie.

Objects of Mental Phenomena

Brentano took the mental to comprise such phenomena as hearing, seeing, sensing, thinking, judging, inferring, loving, and hating. He held that what is common to mental phenomena and what distinguishes them from the physical is "intentional inexistence," which he also described as "reference to a content" and "direction upon an object." Mental phenomena, he said, may be defined as phenomena that "include an object intentionally within themselves." He did not mean to imply, however, that when, for example, a person thinks of a horse, there is a duplicate of the horse, a mental simulacrum, existing within the mind. The essential point, as he later emphasized, is that a person could think of a horse even if there were no horse. In the second edition of the Psychologie, he contrasted strict relations with mental relations. A and B cannot be related in the strict sense of the term relation unless A and B exist; if one tree is to the left of another, then both trees exist. "But in the case of psychical relations the situation is entirely different. If someone thinks of something, then, although there must be a thinker, the thing that he thinks about need not exist."

Reference or "direction upon something" (Gerichtetsein ) thus is common and peculiar to what is mental, and Brentano classified mental phenomena in terms of the different ways in which they may refer to, or be directed upon, their objects. There are three ways in which one may be "intentionally" related to any object A. (1) One may think of A, or, as we sometimes say, have it "before the mind" or "present to consciousness." (2) One may take an intellectual stand with respect to A ; this stand will consist either of accepting A or of rejecting A. (3) One may take an emotional stand with respect to A : This is a matter of loving or hating A, in a very broad sense of these terms. It is a matter of pursuit or avoidance, or, as one might now say, a matter of having a "pro-emotion" or an "anti-emotion" with respect to A. Brentano identified these three types of phenomena with (1) Vorstellungen (ideas, thoughts, or presentations); (2) judgments; (3) "emotive phenomena," or "phenomena of love and hate," a category including both emotions and volitions.

Ideas, or thoughts, are basic in that the other two types of mental phenomena presuppose them. In judging that there is food, or in wanting it, one has ipso facto the thought of food. Nevertheless, judging is not simply a matter of "combining ideas"; if we combine the idea of gold and the idea of a mountain, we obtain not a judgment but another ideathat of a golden mountain. The members of the third class of mental phenomena, the "phenomena of love and hate," are like judgingand unlike the mere having of an ideain that they involve an "opposition of intentional relation." We adopt toward the object of our idea an attitude of liking or disliking, love or hate.

There is still another respect in which the third class of phenomena is like the second and unlike the first. This is stated in Brentano's Ursprung sittlicher Erkenntnis (The origin of our knowledge of right and wrong; 1889).

Concerning acts of the first class, none can be called either correct [richtig ] or incorrect. In the case of the second class, on the other hand, one of the two opposed modes of relation, affirmation and rejection, is correct and the other incorrect. The same naturally holds good of the third class. Of the two opposed modes of relation, love and hate, being pleased and being displeased, one of them in every case is correct and the other incorrect.

This significant thesis is basic to Brentano's theory of knowledge and to his moral philosophy.

To judge, then, is to take an intellectual stand with respect to an object, and the object of the judgment is the same as the object of the idea that the judgment presupposes. If one judges that there are horses, the object of one's judgment is simply the object horse, which one thereby accepts, affirms, or acknowledges (erkennt ); if one denies that there are horses, the object of one's judgment is again the object horse, which this time one denies or rejects (leugnet ). In neither case does the judgment take as its object either a proposition or state of affairs or the type of entity that other philosophers have attempted to designate by such phrases as "the being of horses," "the nonbeing of horses," and "that there are horses."

This nonpropositional theory of judgment, which is fundamental to Brentano's theory of truth and his theory of categories, may be put schematically, in slightly oversimplified form, as follows. To judge that there are A 's is to accept (or affirm) A 's. To judge that there are no A 's is to reject (or deny) A 's. To judge that some A 's are B 's is to accept AB 's (A 's that are B 's), and to judge that no A 's are B 's is to reject AB 's. To judge that some A 's are not B 's, therefore, is to accept A 's that are non-B 's, and to judge that all A 's are B 's is to reject them. (Brentano noted, however, that the sentence "All A 's are B 's" is normally used to express a twofold judgment: the acceptance of A 's that are B 's and the rejection of A 's that are non-B 's.)

Brentano attempted to extend his theory to apply to so-called compound judgments. "He judges that there are A 's and B 's" presents no difficulty, since, according to Brentano's theory of categories, if A is a concrete object and B is a concrete object, then the collective consisting of just A and B is also a concrete object. The object of this conjunctive judgment is simply A -and-B, which the judger is said to accept. Brentano suggests two interpretations of "He judges that if there are A 's, then there are B 's." According to the first interpretation, the judger is said simply to reject A 's-without-B 's. The second interpretation is more complex, making use of the terms true and apodictic. (The latter term designates a mode of judgment. To reject A "apodictically" is, in effect, to reject the possibility of A ; but Brentano explicated "possibility" in terms of "apodictic rejection," and not conversely.) If by "a correct A -acceptor" we mean a man who accepts A truly, or correctly, then the hypothetical judgment becomes: "He apodictically rejects judgers who are both correct A -acceptors and correct B -rejectors." The disjunctive judgment "He judges that either there are A 's or there are B 's" could then become "He apodictically rejects judgers who are both correct A -rejectors and correct B -rejectors."

The philosophical consequences of this nonpropositional theory of judgment are far-reaching. One consequence is an interpretation of Immanuel Kant's dictum that "existence" is not a predicate. According to Brentano, when we say that A exists, "it is not the conjunction of an attribute of 'existence' with 'A,' but 'A ' itself which we affirm." The word exists is a synsemantic term that is used to express the act of judgment.

All of the doctrines set forth above fall within the province of what Brentano called descriptive psychology. Unlike experimental psychologyincluding genetic and physiological psychologydescriptive psychology, according to Brentano, is an exact science, capable of arriving at laws that hold true universally and not merely "for the most part." It is the basis for all philosophy and is even capable of providing a characteristica universalis of the sort that Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz had conceived. Descriptive psychology is closely related to what Husserl was to call phenomenology. Husserl had studied with Brentano in Vienna from 1884 to 1886, when Brentano used the expression beschreibende Phänomenologie (descriptive phenomenology) as an alternative name for descriptive psychology. (Husserl later wrote that without Brentano's doctrine of intentionality, "phenomenology could not have come into being at all.") Brentano's conception of psychology has led some of his critics to accuse him of what Gottlob Frege and Husserl called psychologism. This accusation, however, does not take into account Brentano's theory of evidence and his moral philosophy, both of which he took to be branches of descriptive psychology.

Moral Philosophy

Brentano's ethical views are set forth in Ursprung sittlicher Erkenntnis (Leipzig, 1889; 3rd ed., edited by Oskar Kraus, 1934), translated by Cecil Hague as The Origin of Our Knowledge of Right and Wrong (London, 1902), and in Grundlegung und Aufbau der Ethik (The basis and structure of ethics; edited by F. Mayer-Hillebrand, Bern, 1952). Brentano based his ethics upon the assumption that the members of the third class of mental phenomena, loving and hating, may be said to be correct or incorrect, just as judgments may be said to be correct or incorrect. To say that something, A, is good is to say that it is impossible to love A incorrectly; that is, it is apodictically to reject incorrect lovers of A. Analogously, to say that A is bad is apodictically to reject incorrect haters of A.

The only way to grasp the concept of correct emotion, according to Brentano, is to contrast actual cases of emotions that are "qualified as correct" with cases of emotions that are not. This is analogous to the way in which we understand, for example, what it is to be red and what it is to be colored. Thus we learn that knowledge is good, joy is good (unless it is joy in what is bad), every enrichment within the realm of ideas is good, love of the good is good, love of the bad is bad, and the right end in life is to choose the best among all attainable ends.

The correctness of loving and hating, like that of judging, is objective in that it is impossible for anyone to love correctly what anyone else hates correctly or to love incorrectly what anyone else hates incorrectly. Ethics must make use of the comparative concept better than, for which there is no analogue in the theory of knowledge. "A is better than B," according to Brentano, means that it is correct to prefer A, as an end, to B.

Evidence and Truth

Brentano's views on evidence and truth may be found in the posthumously published Wahrheit und Evidenz (edited by Oskar Kraus, Leipzig, 1930). The distinction between judging on the basis of evidence and judging "blindly" is not to be described in terms of instinct, feelings, degree of conviction, or impulse to believe. We arrive at the general concept of being evident, according to Brentano, in the same way we arrive at the concept of a correct emotion: by contemplating actual instances of the concept, in this case actual instances of evident judgments and of blind judgments.

Every evident judgment is either directly or indirectly evident; if a judgment is indirectly evident, its evidence is conferred, ultimately, by judgments that are directly evident. Directly evident judgments are of two kinds. First, there are the judgments of "inner perception," such as the judgments that I am now judging in a certain way, that I seem to see such-and-such, that I think I remember so-and-so. Second, there are judgments of reason or insights (Einsichten ), such as the judgments that two things are more than one thing; that that which is red is, as such, other than that which is green; that there cannot be a triangle with four sides; or that a whole cannot exist if its parts do not exist.

Every judgment that is evident is true, but not every judgment that is true is evident. Most judgments of "outer perception" (of the external world), Brentano believed, are true, but all of them are "blind"; they are not evident. He argued, however, that the hypothesis of a three-dimensional external world, with its familiar details concerning physical bodies, has an "infinitely greater probability" than any of its alternatives. Judgments based on memory, too, are "blind"; but many of them confirm each other, and they are worthy of our confidence.

In Wahrheit und Evidenz Brentano characterized truth by reference to evidence: "Truth pertains to the judgment of the person who judges correctly hence it pertains to the judgment of one who asserts what the person who judges with evidence would assert" (p. 139). In addition, to say that A exists is to say that anyone who judged about A with evidence would accept A, and to say that A does not exist is to say that anyone who judged about A with evidence would reject A. The "measure of all things," then, is the man who judges with evidence.

These statements, however, relating truth to evidence, do not give us the whole of Brentano's theory of truth. "Evident" is said to be predicate in the strict sense of the term, but "true" and "exists" are not, being only synsemantic. This brings us to Brentano's theory of categories.

Theory of Categories

The basic theses of Brentano's theory of categories may be stated as (1) there is nothing other than concrete particular things, and (2) every judgment is either the acceptance or the rejection of some concrete particular thing. "Concrete" must be taken as the opposite of "abstract" and not as a synonym for "physical." Human souls and God, according to Brentano, are concrete things but not physical things.

Our language seems to make reference to a great variety of irrealia entities that are not concrete things. In fact, however, "the objects of our thought are never anything other than concrete things," and therefore for every sentence that is true and that seems to mention some nonconcrete thing, "one can form an equivalent in which the subject and predicate are replaced by something referring to a real thing" (Psychologie, Vol. II, p. 163). For example, "There is a lack of gold" becomes "There is no gold" (a rejection of gold); "He believes that there are horses" becomes "He accepts (affirms) horses"; and "Red is a color" becomes "A red thing is, as such, a colored thing." This latter translation is more effective in GermanDas Rotes ist als solches ein Farbiges where adjectives are readily transformed into nouns.

Many philosophically troublesome words, such as "exists," "good," "impossible," and "true," are synsemantic; their linguistic function is not that of referring to concrete things. "Exists" in "God exists," as we have noted, is used to express acceptance of God; "does not exist," analogously, is used to express rejection. "A is good" expresses an apodictic rejection of incorrect lovers of A. "A is impossible" expresses an apodictic rejection of evident acceptors of A of judgers who accept A with evidence.

A true judgment, according to Brentano, is a judgment that cannot contradict an evident judgment. Thus "true," in "It is true that God exists," may be used to express apodictic rejection of evident rejectors of God. "It is not both true and false that God exists" may express apodictic rejection of collectives consisting of evident acceptors and evident rejectors of God. (He also noted that "true" may be used to express agreement and that, at times, it is simply redundant.) Brentano could thus be said to have an expressive theory of truth, but one that involves an objectiveand not merely expressivetheory of evidence. His theories of existence and of the nature of goodness may be similarly described. Brentano's theory of categories contains important material on substance and accident, wholes and parts, the theory of relations, causation, and time and space that cannot be summarized here.


Brentano proposed the following revision of the theory of the syllogism on the basis of his theory of judgment. He wrote "All S are P " (A) as "There is no S which is a non-P "; "No S are P " (E) as "There is no S which is a P "; "Some S are P " (I) as "There is an S which is a P "; and Some S are not P " (O) as "There is an S which is a non-P." Since in this account both A and E are denials, and both I and O affirmations, Brentano was able to say that no affirmative judgment is universal and no negative judgment is particular. Barbara is written as "There is no M which is a non-P ; there is no S which is a non-M ; hence there is no S which is a non-P." And Ferio is written as "There is no M which is a P ; there is an S which is an M ; hence there is an S which is a non-P." Brentano was then able to formulate the doctrine of the syllogism in three rules, which may be confirmed by the two examples just cited.

(1) Every categorical syllogism contains four terms, two of which are opposed to each other and the other two of which occur twice. (2) If the conclusion is negative, then each premise is negative and has a term in common with the conclusion. (3) If the conclusion is affirmative, then one premise will share its quality and contain one of its terms, and the other premise will have the opposite quality and contain the opposite of one of its terms. (Psychologie, Vol. II, p. 78)

The so-called weakened and strengthened moods, according to this account, are invalid. The subaltern inferences from A to I and from E to O fail, but all four propositions, if written in Brentano's notation, may be simply converted.

Other Writings

Vom Dasein Gottes (On the existence of God; edited by Alfred Kastil, Leipzig, 1929), is a systematic theodicy in which Brentano appealed to the fact of contingency and the principle of sufficient reason, a principle that he believed to be logically necessary, in order to prove that there is a Necessary Being. He appealed to the evidence of design in order to prove that this Being is intelligent and good. Here, and in Religion und Philosophie (edited by F. Mayer-Hillebrand, Bern, 1954), he attempted to show that the soul is both spiritual and immortal. The subject of consciousness is said to be a nonspatial substance, forming no part of the physical body but capable of acting upon and being affected by the brain; it is created ex nihilo at the time of the conception of the body. Brentano defended the concept of creation ex nihilo by noting that whenever one calls an image to mind, one creates ex nihilo.

In Versuch über die Erkenntnis (Inquiry into the nature of knowledge; edited by Alfred Kastil, Leipzig, 1925) and Grundlegung und Aufbau der Ethik, Brentano argued that the assumption that there can be absolute chance is self-contradictory and that the thesis of indeterminism is incompatible with the existence of human responsibility. But we have "freedom of the will" in that we are able to bring about some of the things we desire to bring about and are able to deliberate and then to decide accordingly. Moreover, we can "will to will" in that, at any given time, there are things we can do that will affect our volitions at some later time.

According to Die vier Phasen der Philosophie (edited by Oskar Kraus, Leipzig, 1926), those periods in which philosophy flourishes tend to be followed by three phases of decline: the first phase is characterized by a transfer of interest from the theoretical to the practical, the second by a tendency toward skepticism, and the third by a relapse into mysticism. This was the pattern of Greek philosophy; in modern philosophy the period of John Locke, René Descartes, and Leibniz was followed by the Enlightenment, then by the skepticism of David Hume, and finally, according to Brentano, by the obscurities of Kant and the idealists who followed him.

See also Descartes, René; Ehrenfels, Christian Freiherr von; Enlightenment; Ethics, History of; Existence; Frege, Gottlob; Hume, David; Husserl, Edmund; Idealism; Intentionality; Kant, Immanuel; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Locke, John; Logical Terms, Glossary of; Marty, Anton; Masaryk, Tomáš Garrigue; Meinong, Alexius; Propositions; Psychology; Stumpf, Karl; Twardowski, Kazimierz.


Brentano's historical writings include the following works on Aristotle: Von der mannigfachen Bedeutung des Seienden nach Aristoteles (Freiburg, 1862; republished Darmstadt, 1960), an important work that is the source of much of Brentano's later thought; Die Psychologie des Aristoteles (Mainz: Kirchheim, 1867); Aristoteles Lehre vom Ursprung des menschlichen Geistes (Leipzig: Veit, 1911); and Aristoteles und seine Weltanschauung (Leipzig: Quelle and Meyer, 1911). His Geschichte der griechischen Philosophie, edited by F. Mayer-Hillebrand (Bern: Francke, 1963), is compiled from the notes for his university lectures.

Brentano's other writings include Untersuchungen zur Sinnespsychologie (Leipzig: Dunker and Humblot, 1907); Die Lehre Jesu und ihre bleibende Bedeutung, edited by Alfred Kastil (Leipzig, 1922); Grundzüge der Ästhetik, edited by F. Mayer-Hillebrand (Bern: Franck, 1959); and Aenigmatias, 5th ed. (Bern, 1962).

Certain portions of the Psychologie are translated in Realism and the Background of Phenomenology, edited by R. M. Chisholm (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1960); other translations are being prepared.

The most informative works on Brentano are Alfred Kastil, Die Philosophie Franz Brentanos: Eine Einführung in seine Lehre (Bern: Francke, 1951) and Oskar Kraus, Franz Brentano: Zur Kenntnis seines Lebens und seiner Lehre (Munich: Beck, 1919). The latter contains "Erinnerungen an Franz Brentano," by Carl Stumpf and Edmund Husserl. See also G. E. Moore, "Review of Franz Brentano, The Origin of the Knowledge of Right and Wrong," in International Journal of Ethics 14 (1903): 115123.

Works published since this original entry was written in 1967 include the following:

The True and the Evident. Edited by Oskar Kraus. English ed. edited by Roderick M. Chrisholm. Translated by Roderick M. Chrisholm, Ilse Politzer, and Kurt R. Fischer. London: Routledge & K. Paul; New York: Humanities Press, 1966.

Die vier Phasen der Philosophie und ihr augenblichlicher Stand, nebst Abhandlungen über Plotinus, Thomas con Aquin, Kant, Schopenhauer und Auguste Comte, mit Anmerkungen, edited by Oskar Kraus. Hamburg: Meiner, 1968.

Uber die Zukunft Philosophie; nebst den Vorträgen: Uber die Gründe der Entmutigung auf philosophischem Gebiet, Uber Schellings System, sowie den 25 Habilitationsthesen, edited by Oskar Kraus and Paul Weingartner. Hamburg: F. Meiner, 1968.

Vom sinnlichen und noetischen Bewusstsein. Aussere und innere Wahrnehmung, Begriffe. 2nd ed., edited by Oskar Kraus. Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1968.

Kategoriënlehre. Mit Einleitung und Anmerkungen hrsg. von Alfred Kastel, edited by Alfred Kastel. Hamburg: Meiner, 1968.

The Origin of our Knowledge of Right and Wrong. Edited by Oskar Kraus. English ed. edited by Roderick M. Chisholm. Translated by Roderick M. Chisholm and Elizabeth H. Schneewind. New York: Humanities Press, 1969.

The Foundation and Construction of Ethics. Compiled from His lectures on Practical Philosophy, edited by Franziska Mayer-Hillebrand. English ed. edited and translated by Elizabeth Hughes Schneewind. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973.

Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, edited by Oskar Kraus. Translated by Antos C. Rancurello, D. B. Terrell, and Linda L. McAlister. English ed. edited by Linda L. McAlister. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul; New York: Humanities Press, 1973.

The Philosophy of Brentano, edited by Linda L. McAlister. London: Duckworth, 1976.

Philosophische Untersuchungen zu Raum, Zeit und Kontinuum. Hamburg: Meiner, 1976.

The Psychology of Aristotle: In Particular His Doctrine of the Active Intellect: With an Appendix concerning the Activity of Aristotle's God. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.

Aristotle and His World View, edited and translated by Rolf George and Roderick M. Chisholm. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.

Die Philosophie Franz Brentanos: Beiträge zur Brentano-Konferenz Graz, 4-8. September 1977, edited by Rocerick M. Chisholm and Rudolf Haller. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1978.

Aristoteles Lehre vom Ursprung des menschlichen Geistes, edited by Rolf George. Hamburg: Meiner, 1980.

Geschichte der mittelalterlichen Philosophie im christlichen Abendland, edited by Klaus Hedwig. Hamburg: F. Meiner, 1980.

Sensory and Noetic Consciousness: Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint III, edited by Oskar Kraus. English ed. edited by Linda L. McAlister. Translated by Margarete Schättle and Linda L. McAlister. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; New York: Humanities Press, 1981.

The Theory of Categories. The Hague; Boston: Martinus Nijhoff, 1981.

Deskriptive Psychologie, edited by Roderick M. Chisholm and Wilhelm Baumgartner. Hamburg: Meiner, 1982.

Brentano and Meinong Studies. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1982.

Brentano and Intrinsic Value. Cambridge, U.K; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

On the Existence of God: Lectures Given at the Universities of Würzburg and Vienna, 18681891, edited by Susan F. Krantz. Dordrecht; Boston: M. Nijhoff, 1987.

Brentano Studien: Internationales Jahrbuch der Franz Brentano Forschung/Franz Brentano Forschung; Franz Brentano Foundation. Würzburg: Röll, 1988.

Grundzüge der Ästhetik. 2nd ed., edited by Franziska Mayer-Hillebrand. Hamburg: F. Meiner, 1988.

Uber Ernst Machs "Erkenntnis und Irrtum": mit zwei Anhängen, Kleine Schriften über Enrst Mach, Der Brentano-Mach-Briefwechsel. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1988.

Philosophical Investigations on Space, Time, and the Continuum. London: New York: Croom Helm, 1988.

Clemens Brentano: Briefe 18031807: Textedition und Kommentierung. München: s.n., 1989.

Descriptive Psychology, edited and translated by Benito Müller. London; New York: Routledge, 1995.

The Four Phases of Philosophy. Amsterdam; Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1998.

Roderick M. Chisholm (1967)

Bibliography updated by Michael J. Farmer (2005)