Biography:Franz Brentano

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Short description: Austrian Catholic priest and philosopher (1838–1917)

Franz Brentano
Franz Brentano portrait.jpg
Franz Clemens Honoratus Hermann Josef Brentano

16 January 1838
Marienberg am Rhein [de],
Rhineland, Prussia, German Confederation
Died17 March 1917 (1917-03-18) (aged 79)
Zürich, Switzerland
EducationUniversity of Munich
University of Berlin
University of Münster
University of Tübingen
(PhD, 1862)
University of Würzburg
(Dr. phil. hab., 1866)
Era19th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolSchool of Brentano
Intentionalism ("act psychology")[1]
Empirical psychology[2]
Austrian phenomenology[3]
Austrian realism[4][5]
InstitutionsUniversity of Würzburg
University of Vienna
Doctoral advisorFranz Jakob Clemens
(PhD thesis advisor)
Other academic advisorsAdolf Trendelenburg
Notable studentsEdmund Husserl, Sigmund Freud, Tomáš Masaryk, Rudolf Steiner, Alexius Meinong, Carl Stumpf, Anton Marty, Kazimierz Twardowski, Christian von Ehrenfels
Main interests
Ecclesiastical career
ChurchCatholic Church
Ordained6 August 1864

Franz Clemens Honoratus Hermann Josef Brentano (/brɛnˈtɑːn/; German: [bʁɛnˈtaːno]; 16 January 1838 – 17 March 1917) was a German philosopher and psychologist. His 1874 Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, considered his magnum opus, is credited with having reintroduced the medieval scholastic concept of intentionality into contemporary philosophy.

Originally a Catholic priest, Brentano withdrew from the priesthood in 1873 due to the dogmatic definition of papal infallibility in Pastor aeternus. Working subsequently as a non-denominational professor, his teaching triggered research in a wide array of fields such as linguistics, logic, mathematics and experimental psychology through the young generation of philosophers who were gathered as the School of Brentano.


Brentano was born at Marienberg am Rhein [de], near Boppard. He was son of Christian Brentano, brother of Lujo Brentano, and paternal nephew of Clemens Brentano and Bettina von Arnim, and of Gunda (née Brentano) and Friedrich von Savigny. 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.[11] Subsequently, he began to study theology and entered the seminary in Munich and then Würzburg. He was ordained a Catholic priest on 6 August 1864.

In 1866 he 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, published 1867), 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 in matters of Faith. A strong opponent of such dogma, he eventually gave up his priesthood and his tenure in 1873. He remained, however, deeply religious[12] and dealt with the topic of the existence of God in lectures given at the Universities of Würzburg and Vienna.[13]

In 1874 Brentano published his major work, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. From 1874 to 1895 he taught at the University of Vienna, Austria-Hungary. Among his students were Edmund Husserl, Sigmund Freud, Tomáš Masaryk, Rudolf Steiner, Alexius Meinong, Carl Stumpf, Anton Marty, Kazimierz Twardowski, and Christian von Ehrenfels 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 Ida Lieben (Austro-Hungarian law denied matrimony to persons who had been ordained priests even if they later had resigned from priesthood), but he was permitted to stay at the university only as a Privatdozent. After the departure of Twardowski back to Lwów and the death of his wife in 1894, Brentano retired and moved to Florence in 1896, where he married his second wife, Emilie Ruprecht, in 1897. He transferred to Zürich at the outbreak of the First World War, where he died in 1917.



Main page: Philosophy: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.

Brentano introduced a distinction between genetic psychology (genetische Psychologie) and descriptive psychology (beschreibende or deskriptive Psychologie):[14] 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).[15] (This concept is roughly equivalent to what is now called empirical psychology,[16] cognitive science,[16] 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.[15] The latter approach was further developed by Husserl and the phenomenological tradition.[17]

Theory of perception

He is also well known for claiming that Wahrnehmung ist Falschnehmung ('perception is misconception') 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.[18]

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). Kazimierz 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.


The young Martin Heidegger was very much inspired by Brentano's early work On the Several Senses of Being in Aristotle. 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, Kazimierz Twardowski's Lwów School of philosophy, and Edmund Husserl's phenomenology.[19] Brentano's work also influenced George Stout,[10] the teacher of G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell at Cambridge University.[20]


Major works by Brentano in German
  • (1862) On the Several Senses of Being in Aristotle (Von der mannigfachen Bedeutung des Seienden nach Aristoteles (doctoral thesis)) (online)
  • (1867) The Psychology of Aristotle (Die Psychologie des Aristoteles, insbesondere seine Lehre vom Nous Poietikos (habilitation thesis written in 1865/66)) (online)
  • (1874) Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt) (Online)
    • (1924–25) Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt. Ed. Oskar Kraus, 2 vols. Leipzig: Meiner. ISBN:3-7873-0014-7[21]
  • (1876) Was für ein Philosoph manchmal Epoche macht (a work against Plotinus) (Online)
  • (1889) The Origin of our Knowledge of Right and Wrong (Vom Ursprung sittlicher Erkenntnis) (1902 English edition online)
  • (1911) Aristotle and his World View (Aristoteles und seine Weltanschauung)
  • (1911) The Classification of Mental Phenomena (Von der Klassifikation der psychischen Phänomene)
  • (1930) The True and the Evident (Wahrheit und Evidenz)
  • (1976) Philosophical Investigations on Space, Time and Phenomena (Philosophische Untersuchungen zu Raum, Zeit und Kontinuum)
  • (1982) Descriptive Psychology (Deskriptive Psychologie)
Collected Works
  • Sämtliche veröffentlichte Schriften in zehn Bänden (Collected Works in Ten Volumes, edited by Arkadiusz Chrudzimski and Thomas Binder), Frankfurt: Ontos Verlag (now Walter de Gruyter).
    • 1. Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkte — Von der Klassifikation der psychischen Phänomene (2008)
    • 2. Untersuchungen zur Sinnespsychologie (2009)
    • 3. Schriften zur Ethik und Ästhetik (2010)
    • 4. Von der mannigfachen Bedeutung des Seienden nach Aristoteles (2014)

See also

  • Analytic psychology (Dilthey)
  • Analytic psychology (Stout)
  • Axiological ethics
  • Anna von Lieben (his sister-in-law)
  • Robert von Lieben (his nephew)
  • List of Austrian scientists
  • List of Austrians


  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. Franz Brentano: Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt. Ed. Oskar Kraus, 2 vols. Leipzig: Meiner, 1924–25; ed. Mauro Antonelli. Heusenstamm: Ontos, 2008
  7. Robin D. Rollinger, Husserl's Position in the School of Brentano, Phaenomenologica 150, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1999, Chap. 2: "Husserl and Bolzano", p. 70.
  8. Edoardo Fugali, Toward the Rebirth of Aristotelian Psychology: Trendelenburg and Brentano (2008).
  9. Barry Smith, "Aristotle, Menger, Mises:An Essay in the Metaphysics of Economics", History of Political Economy, Annual Supplement to vol. 22 (1990), 263–288.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Liliana Albertazzi, Immanent Realism: An Introduction to Brentano, Springer, 2006, p. 321.
  11. Franz Brentano at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  12. Boltzmann, Ludwig. 1995. Ludwig Boltzmann: His Later Life and Philosophy, 1900-1906: Book Two: The Philosopher. Springer Science & Business Media, p. 3
  13. Brentano, F. C. 1987. On the Existence of God: Lectures Given at the Universities of Würzburg and Vienna (1868-1891). Springer Science & Business Media,
  14. 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").
  15. 15.0 15.1 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named SEP
  16. 16.0 16.1 Dale Jacquette (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Brentano, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 67.
  17. 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."
  18. 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 López McAlister; English edition edited by Linda López McAlister).
  19. Uriah Kriegel, "Phenomenal intentionality past and present: introductory, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 12(3):437–444 (2013).
  20. Maria van der Schaar, G. F. Stout and the Psychological Origins of Analytic Philosophy, Springer, 2013, p. viii.
  21. Franz Brentano Archiv Graz

External links