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I am currently at the conference “The Making of the Humanities III” in Rome, where I will be speaking tomorrow on “Making the Humanities Scientific: Brentano’s project of Philosophy as Science and the Foundations of the Human Sciences”.

This is the first occasion I have to publicly discuss my new research project on Philosophy as Science in the School of Brentano and I will try to convey some basics about Brentano’s position and try to show how they are relevant in the broader context of the humanities.

Brentano’s claim that “the true method of philosophy is none other than that of the natural sciences” rallied his students to his flag in a period in which the natural sciences were making great progress and becoming increasingly specialized. Brentano’s project of the renewal of philosophy as science was a central issue in the School of Brentano, which could provide an independent foundation for the human sciences, while preserving the unity of science.

Brentano meant to give an empirical foundation to philosophy and the Geisteswissenschaften through his well-known re-introduction of the concept of intentionality as criterion to distinguish internal and external perception. While philosophy would use the empirical methods of the natural sciences, its domain would not be nature, but consciousness. The philosophical psychology Brentano envisioned would then be a full-blooded science of the mind that did not require any further reduction to a physical level in order to be scientific. This science of consciousness would be empirical i.e. based on perception and experience, but not necessarily experimental, and it would use subjective methods, but without being introspective.

Brentano’s students Carl Stumpf, Anton Marty, Alexius Meinong, Christian von Ehrenfels, Edmund Husserl and others adapted and spread his theories far and wide in the schools and movements they founded and influenced: Gestalt psychology, Prague linguistics, phenomenology, etc..

Though often forgotten and overlooked due to contingent historical circumstances, the scientific paradigm of the School of Brentano was very fruitful and highly influential in philosophy and the human sciences in general, throughout the second half of the 19th and into the 20th centuries. Still today it can offer a radical perspective on the independent scientific dignity of the humanities.