Brentano, Franz Clemens (1838–1917)

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

2. Intentionality: pros

Let’s go back to the second half of the nineteenth century to get Brentano’s main contributions to philosophy in view. At this point there is no empirical science that goes by the name of ‘psychology’. In Germany philosophers like Herbart promoted the development of such a science, but they conceived of it as the study of the soul; a mental substance.3 Is there room for an empirical science of psychology that does not posit a soul? If so, what is such an empirical psychology a science of?

Brentano has an answer to this question: psychology ‘without the soul’ is the empirical science of mental phenomena. Psychology is, according to Brentano, ‘the science of the future’ (PES, 19 [I, 36]).4 It is supposed to uncover the nature of judgement – judgement is not predicating a property of something – and motivate a reform of syllogistic logic.5 Similarly, psychology shall lead to a renewal of aesthetics and ethics and indirectly change our practical life.

First things first: what makes a phenomenon a mental phenomenon?6 Brentano’s answer is contained in his famous ‘intentionality quote’:

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 would call, though not with wholly unambiguous terminology, relation to a content [Beziehung auf einen Inhalt], direction toward an object (which is not to be understood here as a reality), 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.

(PES, 92–93 [I, 124–5])

All and only mental phenomena are intentional: no physical phenomenon has a direction towards an object. Hence, psychology is the science of intentional phenomena. Intentionality is supposed to unify the mental.7

If one operates with a common-sense understanding of being about and being mental, one will come up with states and events that deserve to be called ‘mental’, yet seem not to be about anything. If you are anxious or elated, you are not anxious or elated about anything. Brentano’s students responded to such problem cases by classifying being anxious etc. as feeling dispositions (Gefühlsdispositionen): the anxious state is a propensity to have a range of emotions that are object directed, while the propensity itself is not the right kind of thing to be directed.8

Another question is whether there are physical events or processes that are intentional. Is, for example, a disposition to break in the relevant sense directed on its manifestation?9

The problem Brentano wants to solve is whether there is a distinct range of phenomena for which we need a new empirical science: psychology. If the universe contains directed and undirected phenomena and this distinction does not consist in more fundamental properties, Brentano has made a case for empirical psychology. It is the science of directed phenomena. A second, less important, question is how our common-sense conception of the mental, if there is any, corresponds to the notion of an intentional phenomenon. Maybe, on reflection, it fits perfectly, maybe there is overlap, but no perfect fit, anxiety etc. are non-intentional. In either case, if there are directed phenomena, there is room for psychology.

For Brentano, intentionality is an irreducible property or relation. Contemporary theorists find this hard to believe:

I suppose that sooner or later the physicists will complete the catalogue they’ve been compiling of the ultimate and irreducible properties of things. When they do, the likes of spin, charm, and charge will perhaps appear on their list. But aboutness surely won’t; intentionality simply doesn’t go that deep.

(Fodor 1987: 97)

Whether intentionality can be reduced to a combination of physical properties depends on what intentionality is in the first place. Brentano assumed that the nature of intentionality is like, for example, the nature of pain only given when one is aware of and attends to one’s mental life. Such first-person properties seem recalcitrant to physical reductions.

Intentionality is central to the research programme Brentano mapped out for future generations of philosophers. If it is distinctive of mental phenomena that they have an object, then one studies the mind in philosophy by studying the ways in which it is directed on objects and the kinds of objects it is directed on.10

Brentano himself used this approach to reorganise the map of mental faculties that he found in philosophers from Aristotle to Kant. He read Aristotle’s On the Soul as positing only two basic mental faculties: the faculty for thought and the faculty for desire [Begehren].11 The faculty of thinking is exercised in presentations as well as judgements. According to Brentano, Aristotle’s and Kant’s classifications do not carve mental reality at its joints.12 We need a threefold distinction that can be found in Descartes:

  1. Presentations (such as seeing a colour, hearing a sound, imagining a horse).

  2. Judgements (believing in protons, disbelieving in protons).

  3. Acts of love and hate (liking ice cream, disliking ice cream).

The faculty of thought is replaced by two basic faculties: judgement and presentation. Judging cannot be reduced to a particular form of presentation; it is ‘a new intentional relation to an object’. Judgement is rather close to love and hate. 1. to 3. are fundamental mental kinds: every other mental phenomenon is identical with a combination of at least two of these three. Brentano accepted and defended the Cartesian classification.

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