Franz Brentano


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Born in Marienberg, Germany on January 16, 1838, Franz Brentano is a philosopher best known for his doctrine of intentionality, influencing students such as Sigmund Freud, Alexius Meinong and Carl Stumpf. Although Brentano helped shape movements of thought ranging from Gestalt Psychology to the School of ‘Gegenstandstheorie’, his career was plagued with setbacks due in part to resignation from priesthood. Brentano became a Roman Catholic priest in 1864, and lectured at the University of Würzburg until religious doubts about the dogma of papal infallibility led him to leave Würzburg and priesthood in 1873. He went to Vienna in 1874 as Professor of Philosophy at the University of Vienna. Problems ensued when he decided to marry in 1880 and the Austrian authorities refused to accept his resignation from priesthood, thus denying him consent to marry. This led to his forced resignation from the University. Although he moved to Leipzig to live with his wife, he returned to Vienna able only to take a post as Privatdozent, or unsalaried lecturer. He remained there until 1895, gaining great popularity. Because he was denied a professorship by the Austrian Emperor, his influence in Vienna was limited to his writings and lectures, both of which had a significant influence, although not nearly to the extent had he been able to work intensively with his students and mentor them in their careers.

Aristotle was instrumental in both Brentano’s psychological and ontological work. In his book, "Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint," Brentano incorporated a more empirical and scientific foundation to both philosophy and psychology. As with other philosophical thinkers in Vienna at this time, Brentano denounced metaphysical studies, espousing a scientific realism in his ontological ideas. It was out of his early empirical work in psychology that he developed his doctrine of intentionality. This could be called a science of the soul, whereby he developed a theory that was directed toward the fundamental acts of one’s mental processes and the relationships one has with objects in their consciousness. For Brentano, these fundamental acts were always sensations; how the human mind perceived and conceived of these sensations in relationship to the self is what interested Brentano.

His inability to secure a professorship in Vienna was a source of great frustration for Brentano, leading him to vocalize his opinions in papers such as Neue Freie Presse and Die Zeit . The public dialogue became heated with the Catholic population at times verbally abusing him in many of their publications (Das Vaterland). This led to his departure of Vienna in 1895, opting to live in Italy. Later, when war was to be declared in Italy, he left for Zurich, Switzerland. In 1916 he had appendicitis, a relapse the following spring caused his death on March 17, 1917. The time that followed his tenure in Vienna was filled with intense and active work. He continued to write and advance his ideas, sharing them with contemporaries through letters and lectures given at various conventions. Brentano’s influence was far reaching, affecting movements in Prague and Berlin, as well as the current movement of 20th-century Polish philosophy. If he had been granted a professorship in Vienna, it would have significantly changed the direction of Austrian philosophy in this century.

-Christina Weber-