Psychology from An Empirical Standpoint
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Psychology from An Empirical Standpoint

Franz Brentano

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eBook - ePub

Psychology from An Empirical Standpoint

Franz Brentano

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About This Book

Franz Brentano is one of the founding fathers of twentieth century philosophy, celebrated for introducing the concept of intentionality to philosophy as well as making significant contributions to ethics and logic. His work exerted great influence on major philosophers such as Edmund Husserl, but also philosophers travelling in the opposite direction, such Gottlob Frege. He counted Sigmund Freud amongst his students and Freud expressed great admiration for his teacher in several letters.

Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint is Brentano's most important and brilliant work. It helped to establish psychology as a scientific discipline, but did so in a highly original and distinctive manner by arguing for a form of introspectionism. Brentano argued that consciousness is always unified and that the hallmark of the mind is that one's thoughts are always directed towards something – his famous theory of 'intentionality' – arguments that have deep implications not just for philosophy but psychology, cognitive science and consciousness studies.

With a new foreword by Tim Crane.

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1. All the data of our consciousness are divided into two great classes – the class of physical and the class of mental phenomena. We spoke of this distinction earlier when we established the concept of psychology, and we returned to it again in our discussion of psychological method. But what we have said is still not sufficient. We must now establish more firmly and more exactly what was only mentioned in passing before.
This seems all the more necessary since neither agreement nor complete clarity has been achieved regarding the delimitation of the two classes. We have already seen how physical phenomena which appear in the imagination are sometimes taken for mental phenomena. There are many other such instances of confusion. And even important psychologists may be hard pressed to defend themselves against the charge of self-contradiction.* For instance, we encounter statements like the following: sensation and imagination are distinguished by the fact that one occurs as the result of a physical phenomenon, while the other is evoked by a mental phenomenon according to the laws of association. But then the same psychologists admit that what appears in sensation does not correspond to its efficient cause. Thus it turns out that the so-called physical phenomenon does not actually appear to us, and, indeed, that we have no presentation of it whatsoever – certainly a curious misuse of the term “phenomenon”! Given such a state of affairs, we cannot avoid going into the question in somewhat greater detail.
2. The explanation we are seeking is not a definition according to the traditional rules of logic. These rules have recently been the object of impartial criticism, and much could be added to what has already been said. Our aim is to clarify the meaning of the two terms “physical phenomenon” and “mental phenomenon,” removing all misunderstanding and confusion concerning them. And it does not matter to us what means we use, as long as they really serve to clarify these terms.
To this end, it is not sufficient merely to specify more general, more inclusive definitions. Just as deduction is opposed to induction when we speak of kinds of proof, in this case explanation by means of subsumption under a general term is opposed to explanation by means of particulars, through examples. And the latter kind of explanation is appropriate whenever the particular terms are clearer than the general ones. Thus it is probably a more effective procedure to explain the term “color” by saying that it designates the class which contains red, blue, green and yellow, than to do the opposite and attempt to explain “red” by saying it is a particular kind of color. Moreover, explanation through particular definitions will be of even greater use when we are dealing, as in our case, with terms which are not common in ordinary life, while those for the individual phenomena included under them are frequently used. So let us first of all try to clarify the concepts by means of examples.
Every idea or presentation which we acquire either through sense perception or imagination is an example of a mental phenomenon.1 By presentation I do not mean that which is presented, but rather the act of presentation. Thus, hearing a sound, seeing a colored object, feeling warmth or cold, as well as similar states of imagination are examples of what I mean by this term. I also mean by it the thinking of a general concept, provided such a thing actually does occur. Furthermore, every judgement, every recollection, every expectation, every inference, every conviction or opinion, every doubt, is a mental phenomenon. Also to be included under this term is every emotion: joy, sorrow, fear, hope, courage, despair, anger, love, hate, desire, act of will, intention, astonishment, admiration, contempt, etc.
Examples of physical phenomena,2 on the other hand, are a color, a figure, a landscape which I see, a chord which I hear, warmth, cold, odor which I sense; as well as similar images which appear in the imagination.
These examples may suffice to illustrate the differences between the two classes of phenomena.
3. Yet we still want to try to find a different and a more unified way of explaining mental phenomena. For this purpose we make use of a definition we used earlier when we said that the term “mental phenomena” applies to presentations as well as to all the phenomena which are based upon presentations. It is hardly necessary to mention again that by “presentation” we do not mean that which is presented, but rather the presenting of it. This act of presentation forms the foundation not merely of the act of judging, but also of desiring and of every other mental act. Nothing can be judged, desired, hoped or feared, unless one has a presentation of that thing.3 Thus the definition given includes all the examples of mental phenomena which we listed above, and in general all the phenomena belonging to this domain.
It is a sign of the immature state of psychology that we can scarcely utter a single sentence about mental phenomena which will not be disputed by many people. Nevertheless, most psychologists agree with what we have just said, namely, that presentations are the foundation for the other mental phenomena. Thus Herbart asserts quite rightly, “Every time we have a feeling, there will be something or other presented in consciousness, even though it may be something very diversified, confused and varied, so that this particular presentation is included in this particular feeling. Likewise, whenever we desire something … we have before our minds that which we desire.”*
Herbart then goes further, however. He sees all other phenomena as nothing but certain states of presentations which are derivable from the presentations themselves. This view has already been attacked repeatedly with decisive arguments, in particular by Lotze. Most recently, J. B. Meyer, among others, has set forth a long criticism of it in his account of Kant’s psychology. But Meyer was not satisfied to deny that feelings and desires could be derived from presentations. He claims that phenomena of this kind can exist in the absence of presentations.* Indeed, Meyer believes that the lowest forms of animal life have feelings and desires, but no presentations and also that the lives of higher animals and men begin with mere feelings and desires, while presentations emerge only upon further development. Thus Meyer, too, seems to come into conflict with our claim.
But, if I am not mistaken, the conflict is more apparent than real. Several of his expressions suggest that Meyer has a narrower concept of presentation than we have, while he correspondingly broadens the concept of feeling. “Presentation,” he says, “begins when the modification which we experience in our own state can be understood as the result of an external stimulus, even if this at first expresses itself only in the unconscious looking around or feeling around for an external object which results from it.” If Meyer means by “presentation” the same thing that we do, he could not possibly speak in this way. He would see that a condition such as the one he describes as the origin of presentation, already involves an abundance of presentations, for example, the idea of temporal succession, ideas of spatial proximity and ideas of cause and effect. If all of these ideas must already be present in the mind in order for there to be a presentation in Meyer’s sense, it is absolutely clear that such a thing cannot be the basis of every other mental phenomenon. Even the “being present” of any single one of the things mentioned is “being presented” in our sense. And such things occur whenever something appears in consciousness, whether it is hated, loved, or regarded indifferently, whether it is affirmed or denied or there is a complete withholding of judgement and – I cannot express myself in any other way than to say – it is presented. As we use the verb “to present,” “to be presented” means the same as “to appear.”
Meyer himself admits that a presentation in this sense is presupposed by every feeling of pleasure and pain, even the lowliest, although, since his terminology differs from ours, he calls this a feeling and not a presentation. At least that is what seems to me to emerge from the following passage: “There is no intermediate state between sensation and non-sensation…. Now the simplest form of sensation need be nothing more than a mere sensation of change in one’s own body or a part thereof, caused by some stimulus. Beings endowed with such sensations would only have a feeling of their own states. A sensibility of the soul for the changes which are favorable or harmful to it could very well be directly connected with this vital feeling for the events beneath one’s own skin, even if this new sensitivity could not simply be derived from that feeling: such a soul could have feelings of pleasure and pain along with the sensation…. A soul so endowed still has no Presentations.”* It is easy to see that what is, in our view, the only thing which deserves the name “feeling,” also emerges according to J. B. Meyer as the second element. It is preceded by another element which falls under the concept of a presentation as we understand it, and which constitutes the indispensable precondition for this second phenomenon. So it would seem that if Meyer’s view were translated into our terminology, the opposition would disappear automatically.
Perhaps a similar situation obtains, too, in the case of others who express themselves in a manner similar to Meyer’s. Yet it may still be the case that with respect to some kinds of sensory pleasure and pain feelings, someone may really be of the opinion that there are no presentations involved, even in our sense. At least we cannot deny that there is a certain temptation to do this. This is true, for example, with regard to the feelings present when one is cut or burned. When someone is cut he has no perception of touch, and someone who is burned has no feeling of warmth, but in both cases there is only the feeling of pain.
Nevertheless there is no doubt that even here the feeling is based upon a presentation. In cases such as this we always have a presentation of a definite spatial location which we usually characterize in relation to some visible and touchable part of our body. We say that our foot or our hand hurts, that this or that part of the body is in pain. Those who consider such a spatial presentation something originally given by the neural stimulation itself cannot deny that a presentation is the basis of this feeling. But others cannot avoid this assumption either. For there is in us not only the idea of a definite spatial location but also that of a particular sensory quality analogous to color, sound and other so-called sensory qualities, which is a physical phenomenon and which must be clearly distinguished from the accompanying feeling. If we hear a pleasing and mild sound or a shrill one, harmonious chord or a dissonance, it would not occur to anyone to identify the sound with the accompanying feeling of pleasure or pain. But then in cases where a feeling of pain or pleasure is aroused in us by a cut, a burn or a tickle, we must distinguish in the same way between a physical phenomenon, which appears as the object of external perception, and the mental phenomenon of feeling, which accompanies its appearance, even though in this case the superficial observer is rather inclined to confuse them.
The principal basis for this misconception is probably the following. It is well known that our perceptions are mediated by the so-called afferent nerves. In the past people thought that certain nerves served as conductors of each kind of sensory qualities, such as color, sound, etc. Recently, however, physiologists have been more and more inclined to take the opposite point of view.* And they teach almost universally that the nerves for tactile sensations, if stimulated in a certain way, produce sensations of warmth and cold in us, and if stimulated in another way produce in us so-called pleasure and pain sensations. In reality, however, something similar is true for all the nerves, insofar as a sensory phenomenon of the kind just mentioned can be produced in us by every nerve. In the presence of very strong stimuli, all nerves produce painful phenomena, which cannot be distinguished from one another. When a nerve transmits different kinds of sensations, it often happens that it transmits several at the same time. Looking into an electric light, for example, produces simultaneously a “beautiful,” i.e. pleasant, color phenomenon and a phenomenon of another sort which is painful. The nerves of the tactile sense often simultaneously transmit a so-called sensation of touch, a sensation of warmth or cold, and a so-called sensation of pleasure or pain. Now we notice that when several sensory phenomena appear at the same time, they are not infrequently regarded as one. This has been demonstrated in a striking manner in regard to the sensations of smell and taste. It is well established that almost all the differences usually considered differences in taste are really only differences in the concomitant olfactory phenomena. Something similar occurs when we eat food cold or warm; we often think that it tastes different while in reality only the temperature...

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Citation styles for Psychology from An Empirical Standpoint
APA 6 Citation
Brentano, F. (2014). Psychology from An Empirical Standpoint (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2014)
Chicago Citation
Brentano, Franz. (2014) 2014. Psychology from An Empirical Standpoint. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
Brentano, F. (2014) Psychology from An Empirical Standpoint. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Brentano, Franz. Psychology from An Empirical Standpoint. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.