The Routledge Companion to Nineteenth Century Philosophy

By Dean Moyar | Go to book overview

28
FRANZ BRENTANO

Peter Simons


Life and works

Philosophers are creatures of the mind and the circumstances and events of a philosopher’s life are usually marginal to their philosophical ideas, achievements and outputs. In the case of Franz Brentano this is not so. His status as a lapsed priest led to his being denied the standard reward of a successful academic, a university chair, a denial which became a cause célèbre in late nineteenth-century Vienna. This, his several shifts of country, his blindness in later life, his fraught relationships with former students, and his many and complex changes of mind and doctrine, resulted in his published works being just a small and unrepresentative fraction of his thought. His influence was exerted not through the printed but through the spoken word. An inspiring lecturer and a dedicated mentor, he was perhaps the most successful teacher of philosophy in the history of the subject, inspiring two generations of students with his vision of a rigorous scientific philosophy. His best students filled chairs of philosophy and psychology throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire and abroad in Germany and Italy: they also numbered two heads of government and the founder of psychoanalysis. The fragmented and chaotic nature of Brentano’s scientific Nachlass and its initial unscholarly editing and posthumous publication mean that his work is still not properly available to the historian of philosophy. The breadth of his influence on subsequent philosophy is considerable, but his own philosophy remains partly hidden and unknown.

Franz Clemens Honoratus Hermann Brentano was born in 1838 in the Rhineland into a distinguished German literary and Roman Catholic family of Italian ancestry. His father Christian was a writer and Catholic publicist, brother of the noted romantic poet Clemens. Brentano’s father died when he was thirteen. His mother Emilia, née Genger, was very pious and strongly encouraged him to enter the priesthood. His aunt Bettina von Arnim was also a notable romantic author famously associated with Goethe.

Brentano early showed an aptitude for study and scholarship. In his teens he was fascinated by Aquinas and scholastic philosophy. He specialized in philosophy and theology, studying, as was the custom, at several universities, including Berlin with the notable German philosopher Adolf Trendelenburg, who had written an influential

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