Unlike the first English translation in , this edition contains the text corresponding to Brentano’s original edition. First chapter of Brentano’s Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, setting out the philosophical basis of his work. BRENTANO’S PSYCHOLOGY FROM AN EMPIRICAL STANDPOINT: ITS Abstract. While Brentano’s most important philosophical writings were most certainly.

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There are certain phenomena which once seemed familiar and obvious and appeared to provide an explanation for things which had been obscure. Subsequently, however, these phenomena began to seem quite mysterious themselves and began to arouse astonishment and curiosity.

These phenomena, above all others, were zealously investigated by the great thinkers of antiquity. Yet little agreement or clarity has been reached concerning them to this day.

It is these phenomena which I have made my object of study. In this work I shall attempt to sketch in general terms an accurate picture of their characteristics and laws. There is no branch of science that has borne less fruit for our knowledge of nature and life, and yet there is none which holds greater promise of satisfying our most essential needs.

There is no area of knowledge, with the single exception of metaphysics, which the great mass of people look upon with greater contempt. And yet there is none to which certain individuals attribute greater value and which they hold in higher esteem. Standdpoint, the entire realm of truth would appear poor and contemptible to many people if it were not so defined as to include this province of knowledge.

For they believe that empiricwl other sciences are only to be standpoijt insofar as they lead the way to this one. The other sciences are, in fact, only the foundation; psychology emoirical, as it were, the crowning pinnacle.

All the other sciences are a preparation for psychology; it is dependent on all of them.

Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint

But it is said to exert a most powerful reciprocal influence upon them. It is supposed to renew man’s entire life and hasten and assure progress. And if, on the one hand, it appears to be the pinnacle of the towering structure of science, on the other hand, it is destined to become the basis of society and of its noblest possessions, and, by this very fast, to become the basis of all scientific endeavour as well.

The word “psychology” means science of the soul. In fact, Aristotle, who was the first to make a classification of science and to expound its separate branches in separate essays, entitled one of his works peri psychis. He meant by “soul” the nature, or, as he preferred to express it, the form, the first activity, the first actuality of a living being.

And he considers something a living being if it nourishes itself, grows and reproduces and is endowed with the faculties of sensation and thought, or if it possesses at least one of these faculties. Even though he is far from ascribing consciousness to plants, he nevertheless considered the vegetative realm as living and endowed with souls. And thus, after establishing the concept of the soul, the oldest work on psychology goes on to discuss the most general characteristics of beings endowed with vegetative as well as sensory or intellectual faculties.

This was the range of problems which psychology originally encompassed. Later on, however, its field was narrowed substantially.

Psychology from An Empirical Standpoint

Psychologists no longer discussed vegetative activities. On the assumption that it lacked empiricsl, the entire realm of vegetative life ceased to be considered within the scope of their investigations. In the same way, the animal kingdom, insofar as it, like plants and inorganic things is an object of external perception, was excluded from their field of research.

This exclusion was also extended to phenomena closely associated with sensory life, such as the nervous system and muscles, so that their investigation became the province of the physiologist rather than the psychologist.

This narrowing of the domain of psychology was not an arbitrary one. On the contrary, it appears to be an obvious correction necessitated by the nature of the subject matter itself. In fact, only when the unification of related fields and the separation of unrelated fields is achieved can the boundaries between the vrentano be correctly drawn and their classification contribute to the progress of knowledge.

And the phenomena of consciousness are related to one another to an extraordinary degree. The same mode of perception gives us all our knowledge of them, and numerous analogies relate higher and lower phenomena to one another. The things which external perception has shown us about living beings are seen as if from a different angle or even in a completely different form, and the general truths which we find here are sometimes the same principles which we see governing inorganic nature, and sometimes analogous ones.


It could be said, and not without some justification, that Aristotle himself suggests this later and more correct delimitation of the boundaries of psychology. Those who are acquainted with him know how frequently, while expounding a less advanced doctrine, he sets forth the rudiments of a different and more correct viewpoint. His metaphysics as well as his logic and ethics provides examples of this. In the third book of his treatise On the Soulwhere he deals with voluntary actions, he dismisses the thought of investigating the organs that serve as intermediaries between a desire and the part of the body toward whose movement the desire is directed.

For, he says, sounding exactly like a modern psychologist, such an investigation aj not the province of one who studies the soul, but of one who studies the body. I say this only in passing so as perhaps to make it easier to convince some of the enthusiastic followers of Aristotle who still exist even in our own times.

We have seen how the field of psychology became circumscribed. At the same time, and in quite an analogous manner, the concept of life was also narrowed, or, psychologt not this concept – for scientists still ordinarily use this term in its broad original sense – at least the frok of psycnology soul.

In modern terminology the word “soul” refers to the substantial bearer of presentations and other activities which are based upon presentations and which, like presentations, are only perceivable through inner perception. Thus we usually call soul the substance which has sensations such as fantasy images, acts of memory, acts of hope or fear, desire or aversion.

We, too, use the word “soul” in this sense.

In spite of the modification in the concept, then, there seems to be nothing to prevent bbrentano from defining psychology in the terms in which Aristotle once defined it, namely as the science of the soul.

So it appears that just as the natural sciences study the properties and laws of physical bodies, which are the objects of our external perception, psychology is the science which studies the properties and laws of the soul, which we discover within ourselves directly by means of inner perception, and which we infer, by analogy, to exist in others.

Thus delimited, psychology and the natural sciences appear to divide the entire field of the empirical sciences between them, and to be distinguished from one another by a clearly defined boundary. But this first claim, at least, is not true.

There are facts which can be demonstrated in the same way in the domain of inner perception or external perception. And precisely because they are wider in scope, these more comprehensive principles empirkcal exclusively neither to the pschology sciences nor to psychology.

The fact that they can be ascribed just as well to the one science as to the other shows that it is better to ascribe them to neither. They are, however, numerous and important enough for there to be a special field of study devoted to them. It is this field of study which, under the name metaphysics, we must distinguish from both the natural sciences and psycholoyy. Moreover, stanndpoint the distinction between the two less general of these three great branches of knowledge is not an absolute one.

As always happens when two sciences touch upon one another, here too borderline cases between the natural and mental sciences are inevitable. For the facts which the physiologist investigates and those which the psychologist investigates are most intimately correlated, despite their great differences in character.

We find physical and mental properties united in one and the same group. Not only may physical states be aroused by physical states and mental states by mental, but it is also the case that physical states have mental consequences and mental states have physical consequences. Some thinkers have distinguished a separate science which is supposed to deal with these questions. One in empiricql is Fechner, who named this branch of science “psychophysics” and called the famous law which he established in this connection the “Psychophysical Law.

Such a science is supposed to eliminate all boundary disputes between psychology and physiology. But would not new and even more numerous disputes arise in their place between psychology and psychophysics on the one hand and between psychophysics and physiology on the other?

Ort is it not obviously the task of the psychologist to ascertain the basic elements of mental phenomena? Yet the psychophysicist must study them too, because sensations are aroused by physical stimuli.

Is standpoinnt not the task of the physiologist to trace voluntary as well as reflex actions back to the origins through an uninterrupted causal chain? Yet the psychophysicist, too, will have to investigate the first physical effects of mental causes.


Let us not, then, be unduly disturbed by the inevitable encroachment of physiology upon psychology and vice versa. These encroachments will be no greater than those which we observe, for example, between physics and chemistry. They do nothing to refute the correctness of the boundary line we have established; they only show that, justified as it is, this distinction, like every other distinction between sciences, is somewhat artificial.

Nor will it be in any way necessary to treat the whole range of so-called psychophysical questions twice, i. In the case of each of these problems we can easily show which field contains the essential difficulty.

Once this difficulty is solved, the problem itself is as good as solved. For example, it will definitely be the task of the psychologist to ascertain the first mental phenomena which are aroused by a physical stimulus, even if he cannot dispense with looking at physiological facts in so doing. By the same token, in the case of voluntary movements of the body, the psychologist will have to establish the ultimate and immediate mental antecedents of the whole series of physical changes which are connected with them, but it will be the task of the physiologist to investigate the ultimate and immediate physical causes of sensation, even though in so doing he must obviously also look at the mental phenomenon.

Likewise, with reference to movements that have mental causes, the physiologist must establish within his own field their ultimate and proximate effects. Concerning the demonstration that there is a proportional relationship between increases in physical and mental causes and effects, i. The first is to determine which relative differences in the intensity of physical stimuli correspond to the smallest noticeable differences in the intensity of mental phenomena. The second consists in trying to discover the relations which these smallest noticeable differences bear to one another.

But is not the answer to the latter question immediately and completely evident? Is it not clear that all the smallest noticeable differences must be considered equal to one another? This is the view which has been generally accepted. Wundt himself, in his Physiological Psychology p.

In fact, if one just noticeable difference were greater or smaller than another, then it would be greater or smaller than the just noticeablewhich is a contradiction. If someone doubts that all differences which are just noticeable are equal, then as far as he is concerned, being “just noticeable” is no longer a characteristic property of a constant magnitude.

The only thing that is correct and evident a priori is that all just noticeable differences are equally noticeable, but not that they are equal. If that were so, every increase which is equal would have to be equally noticeable and every increase which is equally noticeable would have to be equal. But this remains to be investigated, and the investigation of this question, which is the job of the psychologist because it deals with laws of comparative judgement, could yield a result quite different from what was expected.

The moon does seem to change position more noticeably when it is nearer the horizon than when it is high in the sky, when in fact it changes the same amount in the same amount of time in either case.

On the other hand, the first task mentioned above undoubtedly belongs to the physiologist.

Franz Brentano

Physical observations have more extensive application here. And it is certainly no coincidence that we have to thank a physiologist of the first rank such as E. Weber for paving the way for this law, and a philosophically trained physicist such as Fechner for establishing it in a more extended sphere. So the definition of psychology which was given above appears to be justified, and its position among its neighbouring sciences to have been clarified. Nevertheless, not all psychologists would agree to defining psychology as the science of the soul, in the sense indicated above.

Some define it, rather, as the science of mental phenomena, thereby placing it on the same level as its sister sciences. Similarly, in their opinion, natural science is to be defined as the science of physical phenomena, rather than as the science of bodies. Let us clarify the basis of this objection. What is meant by “science of mental phenomena” or “science of physical phenomena”?