Brentano, Franz Clemens (1838–1917)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC009-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2020
Retrieved April 15, 2021, from

1. Franz Brentano: life, work, and influence

Franz Brentano (1838–1917) was a descendent of one of ‘the most noble German families’ (Kraus 1919: 3). After his studies he was ordained a Catholic priest in Würzburg in 1864. The church allowed Brentano to pursue his philosophical studies further and he submitted in 1867 his Habilitationsschrift The Psychology of Aristotle. While The Psychology of Aristotle is a work of exegesis, Brentano changed tack in his Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (1874). In the book he sought to lay the conceptual foundations for the emerging discipline of empirical psychology by drawing on Aristotle’s theory of mind and seeking inspiration in British Empiricism (Alexander Bain, both James and John Stewart Mills and William Hamilton) as well as the German Idealist Hermann Lotze. This may sound like strange mixture, but it works. Together with Wilhelm Wundt’s Grundzüge der physiologischen Psychologie (1874) Brentano reconceived psychology. The basic ideas expounded in Brentano’s Psychology inform his work in ethics and aesthetics; they also shape debates in contemporary debates in philosophy of mind.

Brentano became an extraordinary professor in 1872 in Würzburg. His criticism of the dogma of papal infallibility caused problems for him that led to his resignation from his professorship and withdrewal from his priesthood in 1873. In 1874 Brentano moved to a chair of philosophy at the University of Vienna that he held until 1880. In 1880 he gave up his Austrian citizenship, and with it his professorship, in order to marry. He returned after his wedding to Vienna, but was not reinstated as full professor. He continued to teach in Vienna from 1880 to 1895 as Privatdozent (roughly, adjunct professor), but never regained his chair. In 1895 he left Vienna to settle in Florence where he died in 1917.

Brentano was a charismatic teacher and he offered students a research programme to which they could contribute. For example, Edmund Husserl, the founder of the phenomenological movement, describes himself as starting out as a ‘co-worker’ of Brentano.2 While Husserl soon broke away from Brentano, phenomenology still revolves around Brentano’s view of the mind. Other notable students of Brentano are Christian von Ehrenfels (Gestalt psychology), Anton Marty (Intentionalist Theory of Meaning), Alexius Meinong (Object theory), Kazimierz Twardowski (founder of the Lemberg school of philosophy), and Carl Stumpf (Gestaltpsychology, Psychology of Music). Cambridge Philosophers such as George Frederick Stout (see his Analytic Psychology), Moore (see his review of Brentano’s OKRW) and Russell (see his three articles on Meinong in 1904) drew on Brentano and Meinong to renew British philosophy and psychology at the end of the nineteenth century. The father of contemporary analytic philosophy of mind, Gilbert Ryle, started out as a phenomenologist. While he soon came to reject the introspective method of Brentano and Husserl, he continued to engage with Brentano and his school (see Ryle 1962).

Citing this article:
Textor, Mark. Franz Brentano: life, work, and influence. Brentano, Franz Clemens (1838–1917), 2020, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC009-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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