Thanks to some more great feedback last week, I prepared a new draft of my research project. This has a more programmatic nature. It is much shorter and aimed at a broader audience, not at specialists in the history of philosophy or the School of Brentano. The idea is to condense this down to 300 words (it is ~600 now) for the abstract that precedes the formal presentation of the project and, conversely, expand it into the 2000 words for the presentation and detailed background of the project proposal itself. In the abstract I need to capture the committee’s interest, present my fundamental research area and questions, and justify why this is interesting and relevant.

Philosophy as Science

What makes science science? What would make philosophy science? These may appear perennial questions, but, in fact, can be given a precise localization: they became mainstream issues at first in 19th century philosophy in Germany. Here, important forcefields overlap, such as the extraordinary progress and increasing specialization of the natural sciences as well as the increasing growth and progressive professionalization of universities. This resulted in a large number of works being written between Hegel’s death and the first world war in order to answer these questions, mostly bearing “Logik” in the title. Assessing their role requires a profound change in attitude, since the current mainstream interpretation generally does not acknowledge any progress in logic from Aristotle to Frege. These works are generally ignored and set aside under the label “psychologism”, but at the time this label was used by everyone against everyone and is hence completely useless. Only if we get rid of it, we can acknowledge the value of the rich and nuanced discussions of the time, which still determine our thinking about these issues today.

In particular, the School of Brentano emerges as a highly original contribution to the 19th century concern with the idea of philosophy as science. Brentano himself appears as a veritable platypus in any taxonomy of 19th century philosophy. While he was highly influential, it is impossible to pigeonhole him in any other tradition than his own. Brentano held that the true method of philosophy is that of natural science and re-introduced the concept of intentionality in philosophy to distinguish natural and mental phenomena. While philosophy would use the method of natural science, its main domain was not nature, but consciousness: a full-blooded science of the mind that does not require a reduction to the physical in order to be scientific. Brentano defined his psychology as a descriptive science: empirical, but not experimental; subjective, but not introspective. At the same time, amidst the revolution of formal, mathematical logic, Brentano pursued a reform of Aristotelian syllogistics and developed a decidedly un-aristotelian and anti-kantian theory of judgement. His students, while certainly not all orthodox followers, occupied important chairs in philosophy throughout Europe and adapted and spread his theories far and wide: Carl Stumpf, Anton Marty, Alexius Meinong, Christian von Ehrenfels, Edmund Husserl, Kasimierz Twardowski, who gave birth, made possible or influenced (in no particular order) Gestalt psychology, prague linguistics, polish logic, and phenomenology. Moreover, the School of Brentano did not limit itself to navel gazing and worshipping the master. Brentano furthered the 19th century Aristotelian renaissance, introduced Bolzano to his students, made them work on the British empiricists, was in dialog with Mill and up-to-date with the developments of British logic. Brentano’s students were also among the first to read and engage with Frege’s works.

Given the breadth of the above, it is telling to see that Brentano’s claim that the true method of philosophy is that of natural science is one of the core tenets of his school: it is what bound his first students to him and remained a central and lasting project. How are we to understand the relation between logic, psychology and philosophy in the School of Brentano in the context of the 19th century? How are logic and psychology related to the other core disciplines and methods in the School of Brentano, e.g. i.a. descriptive psychology, object-theory, and phenomenology? What is their conception of the natural sciences, the formal sciences and their relation to philosophy? What was the lasting legacy of their ideal of philosophy as science?