Brentano, Franz

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Brentano, Franz

Brentano, Franz (fränts) (brĕntäˈnō), 1838–1917, German philosopher and psychologist. He was a teacher (1866–73) at Würzburg, and in 1874 he became professor of philosophy at Vienna. In 1880 he retired to write and study. His best-known book, Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkte (1874), attempts to establish psychology as an independent science. Brentano believed that mental processes were the data of psychology and were to be regarded as acts rather than as passive processes. He influenced Edmund Husserl and Alexius Meinong.


See studies by G. Bergmann (1967), A. C. Rancurello (1968), and R. M. Chisholm (1986).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Brentano, Franz


Born Jan. 16, 1838, in Marienburg; died Mar. 17, 1917, in Zürich. German philosopher and direct precursor of the phenomenology of E. Husserl.

Brentano began his career as a Catholic priest; later, he was a professor of philosophy in Würzburg (from 1872) and Vienna (from 1874). In his philosophy, the point of departure is the definition of a sharp boundary between physical and psychic phenomena. According to Brentano, the generic characteristic common to all psychic phenomena is their intentionality: consciousness is always in relation to something real or unreal—I become aware of, I feel, I think something. The physical object as such is not intentional: it is an existence resting in itself. Research on psychic phenomena is the task of psychology, which Brentano classifies as descriptive and genetic. Descriptive psychology describes the last elements from which integral consciousness is constructed and establishes their classification. Genetic psychology establishes the laws to which the phenomena of consciousness are subordinate. Phenomenology was an outgrowth of the idea of descriptive psychology (in essence, a philosophical discipline).

Brentano’s concept of truth is connected with the idealistic interpretation of the theory of the objectivity of consciousness. According to Brentano, the experience of the evident, which is in itself further indefinable, lies at the basis of the concept of truth. Breaking down all judgments into three classes—judgments of outer perception, judgments of memory, and axioms—Brentano asserts that only judgments of inner perception and axioms are directly evident. The problem of truth is the problem of the empirical foundation of knowledge, with inner experience playing the decisive role. Since subjects of inner experience and, consequently, subjects of direct perception are only psychological phenomena in Brentano’s theory, one can speak only of the existence of psychological phenomena; one can speak of the external world only with a certain probability.

Brentano’s views were not given a complete and systematic exposition. His idealism followed the path from subjective to objective. Although he sharply criticized Kant’s apriorism, Brentano himself was not very far from Kant’s position, admitting the existence of a priori apodictic judgments. The most contradictory, vague idea in Brentano’s theory was “evidence, ” which became the main point in a critique of his concept.

Writing at a time when the slogan “back to Kant!” was popular, Brentano turned to pre-Kantian philosophy, especially the Scholastic interpretation of Aristotle, but kept in mind the achievements of German classical idealism. This complex synthesis laid the foundation for changes in the treatment of the subject of philosophy that are characteristic of a number of tendencies in modern bourgeois philosophy, in which the subject and his internal world were made the object of philosophic analysis. K. Stumpf, E. Husserl, A. Meinong, M. Scheler, and M. Heidegger accepted the theory of intentionality. Brentano’s logical doctrine and his work in the field of the criticism of language have been continued in modern empiricism, particularly analytic philosophy. Brentano had a significant influence on the development of psychology.


Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt. Hamburg, 1955.
Vom Ursprung sittlicher Erkenntnis. Hamburg, 1955.
Grundlegung und Aufbau der Ethik. Bern, 1952.


Bakradze, K. S. Ocherki po istorii noveishei i sovremennoi burzhuaznoi filosofii. Tbilisi, 1960.
Kastil, A. Die Philosophic F. Brentanos: Eine Einführung in seine Lehre. Munich, 1951.
Cruz, H. M. Fr. Brentano. Salamanca, 1953.
Bergmann, G. Realism: A Critique of Brentano and Meinong. Madison, Wis., 1967. (Bibliography.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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