Franz Clemens Brentano

The German philosopher and psychologist Franz Clemens Brentano (1838-1917) is best known for his work in establishing psychology as an independent science.

Franz Brentano was born on Jan. 16, 1838, at Marienberg in the Rhineland into a family of the nobility, whose lineage is traceable to the 13th century and includes many famous members, among them the authors Clemens Brentano and Bettina von Arnim. Franz studied at the gymnasium at Aschaffenburg and then at the universities of Munich, Würzburg, Berlin, and Münster (1856-1860). Raised in an extremely pious and orthodox Catholic household, Brentano early decided to enter the priesthood and was ordained in 1864.

From the first his interests were divided almost equally between theology, philosophy, and mathematics. After a period of increasing doubts about fundamental dogmas of the church, the declaration of papal infallibility in 1870 precipitated his final break with the church 3 years later. Thereafter he turned his attention wholeheartedly to philosophy, which he was determined to pursue in a scientific manner, explicitly rejecting the then dominant trend of German idealism.

After the publication of his best-known work, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (1874), Brentano accepted a chair at the University of Vienna. In 6 years of teaching he gathered there a brilliant set of students through whom his own thought was further developed and more widely propagated. Brentano's teaching activity was disturbed by pressures from reactionary authorities who invoked a law forbidding marriage to clerics. In order to marry, Brentano had to give up his professorship and move to Leipzig. Thereafter he was allowed to return to his circle of colleagues and students, but only as a privatdozent, or lecturer. For 14 years he continued in this position; numerous efforts to restore him to his professorship were derailed by political intrigues. Finally, in 1890, after the death of his wife, Brentano left Vienna and settled in Florence, where he devoted himself to writing and to correspondence with his wide circle of students.

In addition to his work on psychology, Brentano published important works on Aristotle, on ethics, and on esthetics. Brentano's work offers original insights in all the main branches of philosophy from logic to natural theology. He defended the objectivity of value judgments in ethics and esthetics and labored to construct a philosophical theism and a doctrine of immortality.

The onset of World War I drove him from his Italian haven to Zurich, where, now totally blind, he continued to dictate new manuscripts. He died in Zurich on March 17, 1917, and was survived by his second wife and a son, Johannes.


Further Reading on Franz Clemens Brentano

There are few studies in English on Brentano. Two are important: Gustav Bergmann, Realism: A Critique of Brentano and Meinong (1967), and Jan Srzednicki, Franz Brentano's Analysis of Truth (1965), which contains a reliable bibliography of Brentano's works, some of which are available in English.

Additional Biography Sources

Chisholm, Roderick M., Brentano and intrinsic value, Cambridge Cambridgeshire; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Smith, Barry, Ph. D., Austrian philosophy: the legacy of Franz Brentano, Chicago: Open Court, 1994.