Brentano, Franz Clemens (1838–1917)

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

4. Metaphysics of consciousness

We are often aware of our perceiving when we perceive. Is this awareness distinct from the perceiving one is aware of? Is, for example, my awareness of my seeing a red apple the exercise of a faculty – an inner sense – that is distinct from sight? In On the Soul 3.2 Aristotle argued for a negative answer to this question and in Psychology Brentano followed him. Brentano developed a view according to which mental acts are directed on something distinct from themselves as well as themselves ‘on the side’ (en parergo). When you hear a note, you are aware of the note as well as of the awareness of the note. When you say that you hear a note and when you say that you are aware of hearing a note you describe the same mental activity with respect to different objects. Such a view according to which mental acts represent themselves is attractive. It avoids a regress of mental acts – no distinct mental act is necessary for a mental act to be conscious – and underwrites the view that consciousness of present mental activities is an infallible source of knowledge. However, to make this work we need an explanation of what it means that a mental phenomena is directed on itself ‘on the side’ etc.

In his Philosophy of the Unconscious (1869) Eduard von Hartmann (1842–1906) argued that there are unconscious mental phenomena: unconscious drives that cause us to act in certain ways. Freud developed this perspective in his work on psychoanalysis. In contrast, Brentano held that every mental phenomenon is consciousness of something as well as something that is conscious.18 Brentanians are not worried by von Hartmann’s and Freud’s unconscious.19 Unconscious drives etc. are dispositions to act, feel etc. but the person who is so disposed is not able to self-ascribe them on reflection. Since dispositions to mental acts are supposed not to be mental themselves, the problem disappears.

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