Franz Brentano and his Intellectual Roots (1838-1917)

Franz Brentano
Brentano and his cultural roots

Brentano’s thinking developed around a vast series of core themes[1], which have been the subject of a huge debate, thus placing him “at the origin of the main trends of the 20th century”[2]. However, the reception of Brentano’s thought suffers from the lack of a rigorous critical edition of his works and, in many cases, inaccurate editing, which caused numerous “misunderstandings on the diffusion and reception of his ideas”[3]. It is noteworthy that some arbitrary manipulations of Brentano’s writing are under the responsibility of his direct disciples, as in the case of Alfred Kastil and, along with him, Franziska Mayer-Hillebrandt who, with the intention to compose these writings into an organic corpus, inserted some modifications, deletions and interpolations. This reckless editorial approach is quite apparent in the presentation of Aristotle, included in the History of Greek philosophy[4], and posthumously published by Mayer-Hillebrandt. In the volume, some passages were interpolated, to the point of substituting entire pages, with material that came out not only from Brentano’s Aristotle and his World (1911, English translation 1978), but even from the first volume of Überweg’s history of philosophy, firstly printed in 1863[5]. In other cases, the same text is completed with passages from Brentano’s On the Several Senses of Being in Aristotle (1862, English translation 1975) while the original text, deemed outdated, is substituted with passages from various sources – notes, essays – of the last Brentano, dated to more than fifty years later. In the volume devoted to the problem of God, the various manuscripts here collected and printed are not even separated and dated[6].

As authors such as L. Albertazzi, T. J. Srzednicki[7] and L. McAlister[8] have noticed, the arbitrariness of the criteria adopted in the posthumous publication of Brentano’s writings hamper the study of his thinking. These problems are supplemented by more objective reasons, as it is “a general opinion that Brentano’s thoughts do not form a system for two main reasons. Firstly, the events of his personal life caused, at least partially, a lack of systematicity in his writings; secondly, because he did not have the intention of constructing a system in the style of the German Idealism”[9]. Brentano himself, in a letter sent to Oscar Kraus on 13 January 1916 (almost a year before his death), acknowledged that he had not been able, for external reasons, to provide an accomplished and systematic elaboration to the course of his arguments. “Providence”, he wrote “wise as it always is, has arranged many things in a way different from the one we could expect. Aristotle’s Metaphysic did not reach its completion, and none of his writings reached us in a final edition. As far as I am concerned, external circumstances, amongst many other things, made my work difficult to the point that not a few of the good parts of my production, which I could leave to my neighbours, will be lost”[10].

Thus, it should not be surprising that some pages of his production are still in need of adequate reconstruction and systematization, not only from a critical and biographical standpoint, but also in conceptual terms. Among these pages, the early formation of Brentano’s thinking, concerning some central elements of his reflection, remains insufficiently explored. This is also due to the fact that a large part of the development of his conceptions “is located in his enormous correspondence (1,400 letters to Marty alone)” which has been traced and printed only in a minimal part[11].

For all of these reasons, only the finding and the accurate analysis of his numerous academic lessons as well as of his vast correspondence in the years from 1863 to 1873, with relatives, friends, and students may introduce substantial innovations and contribute to clarifying the context of his works in its main lines. One of these lines, perhaps the most important, includes Brentano’s intent to conduct “the development of Scholastic philosophy, in its deepest issues”[12]out of the shallows of Thomism. This should not be a great surprise if we bear in mind, to recall a few examples, that in 1859, he went to Münster to attend the lessons of Franz Jakob Clemens, who was considered the founder of the German Neo-Scholasticism[13], and under whose supervision Brentano would have completed his Philosophy Ph. D. with a dissertation on Suarez. In Münster, where he remained until March 1861, Brentano had frequent and fruitful exchanges, personal as well as scientific, with Christoph Bernhard Schlütter, the master of the historian of Neo-Scholasticism, C. Baeumker and precursor of Hermann Ernst Plassmann and Joseph Kleutgen. Eventually, in 1862, Brentano entered as a novice in the Dominican convent of Graz and, two years later, he was ordained priest in Würzburg. It ought to be noticed that three of his first students who tenured in universities taught in theological institutions: Ludwig Schütz (1838-1901)[14] at the Episcopal Seminary of Trier, Heinrich Denifle O. P. (1844-1905)[15] at the Dominican school in Steinamanger and then in Graz, and Anton Marty (1847-1914) [16] who taught at the School of Theology in Schwyz. Another member of the first generation of Brentano’s students was Herman Schell (1850-1906), who became a priest in 1873 and was regarded as a forerunner of the II Vatican Council. In his doctoral dissertation of 1872, performed under the guidance of Franz Brentano but defended, for contingent reasons, in Freiburg im Br., Schell developed the theme of the “unity of the soul’s life according to the principles of the Aristotelian philosophy” and followed Brentano on a philosophical-theological field in comparing “modern thought to ancient and scholastic thought”[17].

Antonio Russo

[1] For a brief, yet useful, overview of the most recent literature on Franz Brentano, see Albertazzi, 1999: 133-184. Albertazzi is also the Italian editor of one of Brentano’s main works, Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt(1997. La psicologia dal punto di vista empirico, Bari: Laterza). On Brentano’s school, see the collective volume by Albertazzi et al.1999, which provides a general overview of the main thinkers and schools of thought related to the philosopher of Aschaffenburg, and features the contributions, in addition to those by the main authors, of K. Schumann, P. Bozzi, P. Simons, B. Smith, J. Wolenski among others. However, there is no mention of Denifle.

[2] Albertazzi 1999: 135. See also Albertazzi 2006. For the reception of Brentano in some sector of contemporary analytic philosophy, see Berti 1998.

[3] Albertazzi 1999: 144.

[4] Berne 1963.

[5] Brentano, F. 1998: 372.

[6] For these questions, see Tomasi, P. 2007. “The unpublished ‘History of Philosophy’ (1866-1867) by Franz Brentano. Axiomathes, 1:99-108. See also Tomasi 2009 and Antonelli 1992.

[7] See Srzednicki, 1962 and 1963.

[8] McAlister, L. 1982: 1-2.

[9] Albertazzi 1999: 104.

[10] Brentano, F. 1956: 9.

[11] Albertazzi (1999: 162). See also Kraus 1919: 82, where the importance of this correspondence for the understanding of Brentano’s thought is highly acknowledged.

[12] Brentano, F. 1969: 455.

[13] See Walter 1988:134.

[14] For L. Schütz, see the short note, with an essential bibliography, by Jüssen 2000. Ludwig Schütz (1838-1901) is the author of Thomas-Lexicon (1881, Paderborn), still useful to these days, professor of Philosophy in Trier from 1868 to 1897, co-founder, with Georg von Hertling and Paul Leopold Haffner, of the Görres-Gesellschaft zur Pflege der Wissenschaft im katholischen Deutschland and author of a work on Divi Augustini de origine et via cognitionis intellectualis doctrina ab ontologismi nota vindicata 1867: Mainz.

[15] Esteemed medievalist, archivist, scholar of German mysticism and Luther, Heinrich-Suso Deinfle O. P. (1844-1905) in September 1861 entered the monastery of Saint-Anne in Graz (Austria) to become a member of the Order of Preaching Friars, where Franz Brentano was his companion in the last months of novitiate (Brentano was admitted in the same community on 18th June 1862 under the name of Frater Angelicus and left it the 25th of September in the same year, on his own will). On the controversial, but decisive, contribution of Deinfle to the Lutherforschung, see the authoritative judgement of B. Lohse, historian of Luther and the Church, professor of Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte at the university of Hamburg (Lohse 1981). O H. Pesch also recognizes Denifle’s merits in the study of Luther’s medieval sources (Pesch 1982: 83).

[16] On Marty, see Kraus 1916. Albertazzi, L. “Anton Marty” in Albertazzi et al. 1999: 83-108.

[17] Hasenfuss 1978: 16.