Philosophy as Science: The Project of the School of Brentano

What makes science science? What would make philosophy science? These questions dominated 19th century philosophy and determined the structure of academia as we know it today, in particular in conceptualizing the contrast between human and natural sciences. One of the most radical and influential proponents of the idea of philosophy as science was Franz Brentano. On July 14, 1866 Brentano stepped up to the pulpit to defend his thesis that the true method of philosophy is none other than that of the natural sciences. This became the north star of his school. Brentano considered the mind as the main field for philosophy, a descriptive science of consciousness: empirical, but not experimental, and subjective, but not introspective. This engendered the misconception that Brentano wanted merely to establish psychology as a science, but his project was far more ambitious. Only if we grasp the true scope of Brentano’s project, we can understand the theoretical unity of his school. Brentano’s students Stumpf, Marty, Meinong, Von Ehrenfels, Husserl and Twardowski, put his ideal in practice in the movements they founded and influenced: Gestalt psychology, Prague linguistics, phenomenology and Polish logic. Their diversity and success eclipsed the common origin of the underlying ideal and their unity as a school, acknowledging Brentano merely as precursor. My project will show that their shared mission of elaborating philosophy as science fundamentally determined the development of these diverse movements. Contrary to current mainstream interpretations, which dismiss any psychological foundation of science as “psychologistic”, I will avoid such pigeonholing. Overly broad and dismissive labels hide the subtlety and nuance of the foundational debates in the 19th century, which cut across disciplinary sub-divisions. I will show how the ideal of philosophy as science enabled the School of Brentano to overcome the false dichotomy between logical and psychological foundationalism.

(October 2012 – October 2016: NWO VENI Grant )

Former Grants:

October 2009 – September 2012: postdoctoral research grant, FWO – Vlaanderen (“Mathematics and Logic in the School of Brentano”)

October 2004 – September 2009: doctoral research grant, FWO – Vlaanderen


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