Who Needs Brentano? The Wasteland of Philosophy Without its Past
Published in The Brentano Puzzle, ed. Roberto Poli, Ashgate Publishers, 1998, pp. 15-43.
This paper was prepared for the conference on "The Brentano Puzzle," Bolzano, Italy, November 14-16, 1996. It attempts to clarify the peculiar 'invisibility' that has blanketed Brentano for decades, especially from the viewpoint of North American Analytic philosophy. It finds the invisibility to be a matter of a typical historical distortion that causes past thinkers to appear as they are not from within the 'horizon', in Husserl's special sense, of the working philosopher in the current context. The main problem from within that horizon is its governing assumption that 'analysis' is independent of past philosophers. After a discussion of this assumption which draws it into serious question, we attend to four specific points that especially isolate Brentano from those working within the horizon of contemporary American philosophy. The change in the meaning of 'scientific', from Brentano to current philosophy, seems to be of major significance. Philosophy increasingly becomes, under current assumptions, a wasteland of deserted programs and proposals as more or less influential individuals from time to time set and reset the problems for 'analysis' with no regard to the work of past thinkers.
In the volume of studies which forms the immediate background for this conference1, we read of “the oblivion into which the figure and thought of Brentano have fallen,” and of his current “invisibility.” (pp. xv, 9, etc.) I believe Brentano to be someone of great philosophical value in his own right. But it seems to me that the state of affairs thus described with reference to Brentano is much greater than Brentano, and is of profound significance for the understanding of philosophy as a practice and a field of inquiry. Brentano’s invisibility is chiefly a matter of what has come to be regarded as “good philosophical work” in the course of the 20th Century. And this is especially true from the viewpoint of current North American Analytic philosophy, which I shall almost exclusively have in mind with my comments. If we are concerned about the fate of Brentano’s thought, it is essential to deal with prevailing assumptions about how philosophy is done and when it is well done.
I think that similar points as I shall make here with reference to current Analytic philosophy in North America and Brentano could also be made with reference to, say, Hermeneutical philosophy from Heidegger on and Brentano, or to the various other forms of what, in the United States, tends to be called “Post-Structuralism,” or sometimes “Post-Modernism,” and Brentano. But I cannot cover all these areas, of course, and am most familiar with how ‘Analytic’ philosophy is now actually practiced in the United States. And it is philosophical practice that lies at the heart of my concerns.
On the nature of the ‘invisibility’ in question. Now Brentano is not invisible in the sense that he is not seen, or that people do not know about him, or even that they do not discuss him.2 Like Ralph Ellison’s “invisible man,“3 he is seen. Few will blunder into study of him without knowing anything about him beforehand, for example. He is seen, and then it is as if he were not there. He is “not seen” in this sense because he is seen in a certain way. And that is precisely what has to be understood. He is seen but does not count, does not matter.
He is seen by philosophers working now and in recent decades, but as someone who could not possibly be relevant to the work now being done by them and others they take seriously--or at least as someone it is not necessary to pay attention to. He does not automatically come to mind as they write their papers and books, or prepare their lectures and direct their students.
He is seen somewhat as an elderly soldier, decorated with scars and ribbons, or as an athlete “whose fame died before the man,” to use the line from A. E. Houseman. No one would be disrespectful of them, unless they were forced to do so of course. And there might even be pleasant ‘official occasions’ on which they are trotted out and noticed. But no one takes them seriously either, so far as work now to be done--battles now to be fought, contests to be waged--is concerned.
It seems to me that the more fundamental phenomenon involved here might be called that of the historical mirage, or historical distortion. “Invisibility” is only one form of it. In the historical mirage one sees the past event, entity, person or body of work, but sees them as they are not. And they may also be seen in either a favorable or an unfavorable light. On the “favorable” side, outstanding cases of historical mirages, in contemporary American philosophy at least, are Hume, Kant and Frege. They are seen as thinkers who are “good” and on the side of “good work” in philosophy. But what they actually held is quietly set aside, for the most part, and work that is currently being done in association with their name is only thought of as somehow continuing in their manner or spirit, hence, “Kantian,”“Fregian,” etc. But rarely does anyone who admires them actually believe the things they believed about the matters for which they themselves were most concerned to provide a true interpretation.
Hume is a fine case to illustrate the favorable historical mirage. He would be cited by many analytic philosophers working today as the very greatest of past philosophers, and many think of themselves as somehow continuing to do what he did--as being in the line of succession from him. If asked to classify him in current terms, many would certainly say, anachronism admitted, that he was an Analytic philosopher, not whatever it is that is the ‘other’.
And yet every one of his conclusions in philosophy were advanced on the bases of what he regarded as his empirical observations about ‘perceptions’ (impressions and ideas). Now it would be difficult today to find anyone among Hume’s admirers who believes that what he called perceptions even exist, or that, if they did, anything of philosophical (or even psychological) interest could be established by ‘observing’ them. Still, these same admirers are very likely to assume that Hume established, or somehow rendered plausible, things they themselves believe--for example, about the nature of the actual objects of experience, or about causation and personal identity. But how is it possible for them to do so, since his arguments for these conclusions were entirely drawn from premisses which they themselves regard as false?
Most amazingly, perhaps, Hume somehow managed not to notice the linguistic character of consciousness, which is almost universally believed today. He totally missed it--as, incidently, did almost everyone else until it was, in some way rather hard to explain, made ‘obvious’ toward the middle of the 20th century.
Now, how a philosopher who was totally wrong with respect to everything except certain conclusions we happen vaguely to share with him could nevertheless be thought of as doing ‘good’ philosophical work, work which we must attend to if we are to do our work well, is somewhat mysterious. Not impossible, perhaps, but at least requiring explanation. This is a case of what I call a favorable historical distortion or mirage. We see living philosophical substance where there is only a pile of philosophical bones.
Similar comments can be made about Kant and Frege. Who today that admires Kant and thinks of themselves as “Kantian” actually believes what Kant believed about anything fundamental-- in ontology, the philosophy of mind, theory of knowledge or ethics? Much talk about rationality, whether in the philosophy of science or in ethics, for example, presents itself as Kantian because it centers on such things as rationality or the constructs of consciousness. But Kant meant very definite things when he spoke of reason, categorial forms (also non-linguistic by the way), persons and so forth--things which few if any contemporary ‘Kantians’ would have anything to do with. The same question as comes up with Hume comes up also with Kant. How, exactly, is a philosopher who is so mistaken about the entire foundation of his conclusions to be held worthy of study and imitation today? Perhaps he only provides some kind of professionally acceptable umbrella or covering under which we are able or are permitted to do what we could not quite manage on our own.
And with reference to Frege, his discussions of “sense” and “reference” are generally conceded to be milestones in recent philosophy. Strangely enough, however, almost no one working currently would accept his explicitly stated interpretations of what Sinn and Bedeutung are or of how they fulfill the role assigned to them in an account of representation, judgment and linguistic meaning. The most sympathetic of commentators often go to considerable lengths in spelling out how badly wrong Frege went--especially in his interpretation of the “sense,” and, more specifically still, in his views on the “Thought,” the propositional subclass of senses. With very few exceptions they eventually replace what he called “sense,” and possibly even his “reference,” with something essentially’linguistic’--in some liberal or even vague sense of the term, perhaps, but almost certainly contrary to his own understanding.
In part, this curious combination of admiration and rejection (always in the form of “interpretations” or “friendly amendments” of course) is due to the fact that Frege was certainly one of the greatest logicians who ever lived. That is thought to be good. But at the same time he was an emphatic ontological dualist, an epistemological realist, a Platonist (a realist “in the Medieval sense”), and an anti-empiricist. This is not so good. Moreover, he spoke with venomous contempt of “that mighty academic positivistic skepticism which now prevails in Germany“4 --a perspective which can fairly be said to remain, with superficial modifications, a dominant ideational force in American Analytic philosophy today.
Thus Joan Weiner correctly points out that “He turns out to be positively hostile to some of the most prominent views attributed to him, and widely held by our philosophical peers.“5 His theory of sense and reference naturally takes its substance from his general philosophical outlook, and one cannot consistently reject the latter and retain the former. So sense and reference must be re-interpreted by his many contemporary admirers. But then, once again, how is it that one who is regarded as fundamentally and pervasively wrong about almost everything he touched can still be thought of as someone who has to be incorporated in one’s own philosophical efforts?6 Again, not impossible perhaps, but certainly strange.
So these favored ones are “constituted” or rendered present to the working philosopher today in a peculiar fashion that is actually false to the main positions they held and the method they used. That is the “historical mirage” in these favorable cases.
From the perspective of leading workers in contemporary American philosophy, on the other hand, people such as Bergson, G. E. Moore, Whitehead, Husserl, Lotze, and of course Brentano--just to name a few--are, by contrast, “unfavorably” constituted. That is, they are seen as people to be disregarded, so far as ones own active engagement with philosophical work is concerned. They do not do “good philosophical work,” and to be Bergsonian, Moorian, etc. is to be mildly odd at best, and certainly it is not thought to be properly engaged with what one should be engaged with in contemporary philosophy. Perhaps a philosophical faculty should have someone who could talk about them in a passably informed and intelligent manner, it is thought, but just enough to steer the serious students away from them. They certainly should not be made to look attractive as workers in the field of philosophy.
But on the other hand one must wonder whether they might not welcome “invisibility,” if “visibility” has nothing to do with the substance of the philosophical view they devoted their lives to working out--if Hume wouldn’t be ‘Humian’, Kant wouldn’t be ‘Kantian’, etc. The question must be raised as to whether philosophy today really uses any of its past, or only misuses it. And what is the effect of that on the quality of philosophical work as such? Can that kind of work be done with no essential involvement of past philosophers? Can it be well done? Many would say it can be, and they practice what they say. This alone is enough to explain Brentano’s invisibility, at least so far as they are concerned.
Brentano’s “invisibility” to American Analytic philosophy is a direct effect of the current understanding in that area of what it is to do ‘good’ work in philosophy. If good philosophical work were understood in such a way that one’s professional conscience tortured and intimidated them into seriously working in and from Brentano for the sake of the salvation of their own philosophical souls--if they felt shame and embarrassment for not involving Brentano in their work--then he would simply not be “invisible.” Analyticus, as might call him, would, upon arising in the morning, begin to worry about Brentano’s statements concerning the various subjects he himself is working on, just as he actually does now worry about the several people on earth whom he regards as capable of stimulating him, discovering his mistakes and out-performing him in ‘analyzing’ their common problems.
More deeply still, Brentano’s visibility or invisibility depends upon how we understand what ‘real’ philosophical work is. For if what he was doing is not regarded as real philosophical work--if some view of what philosophy is other than his own is dominant--then no one is going to worry about his relevance to their own work. That “not worrying” is really the heart of the “invisibility” in question. And let us face it and say once for all, that if ‘real’ philosophical work can be done just as well, or even significantly as well, with Brentano in oblivion as not, then no one needs him. Any interest in him will be essentially antiquitarian. And that is exactly what Analyticus now thinks.
So the most fundamental task involved in assessing the relevance of Brentano is that of coming to clarity about what philosophical work is. And what such work is clearly must not turn out to be an arbitrary matter--simply a matter of what one likes, or of what one can, under present circumstances, manage to get away with in good style. For then one could simply choose ones way around Brentano; or, at best, Brentano would be necessitated for our own work by certain contingent demands coming from our professional environment, not by the very nature of our work itself.
But what is philosophy? The answer to this question that is most reasonable and adequate to philosophy as a millennia long human practice seems to me this: Philosophy is an attempt to determine the--in some sense ultimate--necessary structures of reality, including those of human life and consciousness. It works by means of thought or rational reflection, and the very thought by which it operates is a large part of its own subject matter.
By “thought or rational reflection” (not aesthetic or personal reflection, for example) I understand the search by thinking for non-contingent conditional relationships. These are captured in understandings to the effect that if such and such is the case then necessarily so and so is also. For example, there is Hume’s view that if I have an idea of x I must have had an impression of x (accepted, incidently, by Brentano in his own formulation). Or Quine’s view that “there is no ‘entity’ without ‘identity’.” Or Gadamer’s view that understanding is essentially dependent upon tradition (prejudgments) and so is always ‘historical’ in nature. Of course the discovery of the absence of such modal relationships in particular cases (e. g. Hume’s ‘discovery’: There is no contradiction in the supposition that something exists without a cause) is also a philosophical result.
Finally we should add that the structures which are (mainly) of interest in philosophical work are those that transcend particular areas of research and investigation and more or less concern reality as a whole. They are thus ‘categorial’, or something like what the Medievals meant by ‘transcendental’. Philosophical interest in particular issues--such as the nature of a thought or the nature and significance of evolution or the existence of mathematical entities--is pursued, not for its own sake, but because of how those issues reflect on general questions about reality and knowledge.
Thus, either implicitly or explicitly, philosophy moves toward all-inclusive views. This is as true of a Hume, a Carnap, a Wittgenstein or a Derrida as it is of an Aristotle, St. Thomas or Hegel. A philosophical outlook may formulate some limit for its generalizations, e.g. the constructed (‘phenomenal’), the verifiable, the meaningful, the ‘present’, the grammatical. The necessary structures philosophically studied and advocated will then be claimed to apply only within the limit proposed. But, by some exotic gesture or behind the back indication, what lies beyond the ‘limit’ will be alluded to at least as a mysterious “more”--an absence which is always as such present, or indirectly involved, to use a popular terminology. We see this in Kant, Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Derrida, for example. I think also in Quine and Putnam.
Now in specifying the work of philosophy in this way my intention is not just to make a recommendation about what we might decide to call“philosophy.” I am looking at the work of actual philosophers, say from Parmenides and Heraclitus to now, and I am claiming that if you understand what they are doing in this way, you will see why, in the main, they do what they do. It is, I think, because they are endeavoring, by use of reason or by ‘thinking’, to discover the necessary structures of reality as a whole, including human consciousness and life.
And in my opinion Brentano’s own view of philosophy includes what I have just said, if also a good deal more. In a statement from 1914 he says: “... the science of philosophical wisdom....differs from the other sciences in that it aims at knowledge not just of facts and of that which is impossible apriori but also of that which is positively necessary. It considers what is merely factually known with respect to its that and, by showing that this is indirectly necessary, it presents us with its why.“7 In other statements he makes it plain that philosophy is concerned with ultimate necessities, especially the ultimate being, necessary in itself, and the necessity which that being confers on all else.8
The natural human interest in philosophy. And with all this in view it also seems to me possible to say something about the essential human interest that drives philosophy, thus understood. It is the interest in having a mind and a life which is a whole, where all the parts connect up in some self-consciously intelligible fashion. Any such a life depends either upon tremendous grace or luck, or upon a carefully developed understanding--or at least vision--of the entire field of possible and actual influences upon us and actions by us, so far as such an understanding is possible. Thus philosophy, as here outlined, is a natural outgrowth of the vital need to understand, as well as of the natural desire that we all have to know, or at least to see coherently.
In the “Conclusion” to Book I of his A Treatise of Human Nature, David Hume expresses both the vital and the specifically epistemic interests that drive philosophical work through a poignant list of questions: “Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favor shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron’d with the deepest darkness, and utterly depriv’d of the use of every member and faculty.”
These are fundamental questions of the type to be answered by philosophical work if possible, and of course Hume thought it was not possible to answer them. That would be one possible outcome of philosophical work. In his view, the “philosophical melancholy and delirium” brought on by intense engagement with such questions were to be relieved only by amusements and the course of nature, or, as he elsewhere says, by “carelessness and inattention.”
Others have been more hopeful than Hume, not having begun, as he did, with human consciousness interpreted in such a way that it, almost by definition, could not answer the questions which the vital human drive toward wholeness and consistency of life naturally sets before it. Brentano was, of course, such a one. I believe that his exalted view of philosophical work and its role in human life was one of the reasons why he had such incredible influence upon brilliant young minds--some of whom, like himself, were coming to terms with the loss of institutional religion as a vocation and as a guide to life.
Alfred North Whitehead’s description of Speculative Philosophy expresses an ideal for philosophy which both he and many others have thought was substantively realizable: “Speculative Philosophy is the endeavor to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted. By this notion of ‘interpretation’ I mean that everything of which we are conscious, as enjoyed, perceived, willed, or thought, shall have the character of a particular instance of the general scheme. Thus the philosophical scheme should be coherent, logical, and, in respect to its interpretation, applicable and adequate. Here ‘applicable’ means that some items of experience are thus interpretable, and ‘adequate’ means that there are no items incapable of such interpretation.“9
Now while this seems to me to express an ideal outcome of the natural direction of the human desire and need to understand, and therefore not something arbitrary, I do not of course mean that one has always to be thinking about such a grand framework in order to do properly philosophical work. There is a more critical than constructive use of reason which simply aims to understand the concepts we employ and the beliefs that support us as we go about our business of living. This has sometimes been referred to as critical philosophy10, though not in Kant’s sense of course, and it is easy to see the similarity between it and what Analyticus does--or at least thinks he does. But once he takes seriously the task of giving some account of what he does--and most especially, of exactly what a concept is, for example, and of how analysis thereof is to be understood and why it is of use for knowledge and life--he is certainly going to be forced in the direction of philosophy in the more inclusive and traditional sense already indicated. And that is no doubt why he has very little to say on such subjects nowadays, and is apt to respond in a dismissive and possibly hostile fashion when asked to explain exactly what it is he does and why anyone should pay him to do it.
In short, it seems to me that philosophy in the sense where it arises out of a vital human interest in the wholeness of life, including in our times the nature and significance of the scientific enterprise, can only be avoided by lack of attention to significant issues, or by a refusal to be responsive to legitimate questions about what one is doing when engaged in the task of ‘critical’ philosophy, and about why it is of value. In other words, by being outright unphilosophical. I believe that this is exactly the sort of point that a Brentano would be making today if here were here. The problem with Analytic philosophy at present, as I am familiar with it, is not that it is analytic, but that it is not analytic enough. It is not analytic of itself.
If I am right, then, philosophy in the sense I have described it, hoping to do justice to its practice through the millennia as well as now, is not a contingent human interest, like driving race cars or even pursuing university training. This is important to understand in relation to the issue of Brentano’s invisibility. One is not at liberty to invent philosophy, or re-invent it. Of course we could get caught in a historical situation where we were expected to do philosophy in the traditional sense, but didn’t want to, or thought--no doubt on the basis of philosophizing of a quite traditional sort--that it is impossible.
This seems to me to be exactly what happened to many people in the 20th century, with its several “revolutions” and “ends” to philosophy. The usually recognized founders of the analytic movement in philosophy generally understood themselves to be continuing the traditional work of philosophy, but with novel conclusions. Their students, however, went into re-invention (“revolution”) because they wanted or felt they had to do something quite different.10a A part of the re-invention was the fairly elaborate stories that were produced to explain how earlier thinkers fell into the old-fashioned kind of philosophy--through the ‘bewitchment’ of language, being deceived by ‘presence’, etc.11 It was necessary to discredit the old practice--to deliver us from which became a major goal, if not the only justification, of the new practice.
But life calls philosophy forth to meet specific needs, and that purpose--not to ease contemporary intellectual embarassment--is what determines what philosophy is. To turn back to our main topic, the question “Who needs Brentano?” must be answered by “No one,” or, “Only people with certain peculiar interests inessential to ‘real’ philosophical work,“unless immersion in and extension of Brentano’s thought is essential to the satisfaction of the essential human interest from which philosophy has originated and which it still serves.
Analyticus Americanus is currently uneasy about all of this, I believe. But instead of aligning his work with traditional philosophizing and its motivations, such as Brentano’s, he wants to be thought of as working in a way that is somehow “scientific,” for that umbrella gets a lot of immediate respect and intellectual respect is hard to come by. Or perhaps he presents himself as engaged in something that is just an accepted social practice which, for whatever reason, some people find interesting enough to do or pay to have done. (Of course he is not the only type of philosopher to whom Brentano is invisible.)
Horizon and historical distortion. We can locate the peculiar sort of “invisibility” here in question within the essential structures of experience or consciousness as such. It turns out to be sub-structure within the “horizon” described by Husserl as one of the general structures of pure consciousness. What philosophers do they do concretely. And, in Husserl’s words, “all actual experience refers beyond itself to possible experiences, which themselves again point to new possible experiences, and so in infinitum. And all this takes place according to essentially definite specifications and forms of order which conform necessarily to aprioritypes.“12
For the working philosopher today, then, Brentano and his works more or less appear as possible objects of ‘philosophical experiences’ that form a certain margin or “fringe” of their focussed philosophical consciousness while at work. Simply expressed: Suppose I am working on representation, meaning, the nature of consciousness, etc., and I am aware of Brentano as having a lot to say about these topics in his books, which I could study should I choose. He thus, to revert to Husserl’s words, “belongs to the undetermined but determinable marginal field of my actual experience at the time being.”
Just as with the “thing-experiences” which Husserl is specifically discussing in the section quoted from, ‘philosopher experiences’ ”leave open possibilities of a filling out which are in no sense arbitrary, but predesignated in accordance with their essential type, and are, in brief, motivated.” The “motivational” structure of our experience is not, of course, a deterministic one, except along very general lines. In particular, for most North American Analytic philosophers it is not impossible for them to take Brentano seriously. But the likelihood that they will or will not do so is conditioned upon the motivational tendencies concretely embedded in their philosophical experiences in their philosophical world. They will choose to do what they do from within the framework of those tendencies. But whether and to what degree they will take Brentano seriously and integrate his thought into the process of their own philosophizing, and how they will go about it, will be inescapably conditioned (though not forced) by the precise character of that framework.
Thus, there is “the eidetically valid and self-evident proposition, that no concrete experience can pass as independent in the full sense of the term. Each ‘stands in need of completion’ in respect of some connected whole, which in form and in kind is not something we are free to choose, but are bound to accept,.... Every experience influences the (clear or obscure) setting of further experiences.“13
But within what we are not free to choose, we have many choices as to how our experiences will be “completed” or not, and those choices will be framed, as indicated, within the highly complex motivational tendencies that reside in the actual experiences we are having. To illustrate with one story I have heard, Quine once had the thought that he should read Husserl. So he got the Gibson translation of Ideas I and tried to read it. He could make no sense of it, and so, apparently, that was it for Husserl and him. I tell this story--for whose truth I cannot vouch--to illustrate the precarious course of motivational developments, or at least some directions thereof.
It would be interesting in such a case, if it were possible, to explore the details of the motivations (in Husserl’s sense) that moved Quine first toward and then away from serious philosophical engagement with Husserl, who was and still is somewhere out there on the horizon of his philosophical experiences. Why, exactly, didn’t he say: “I must read Husserl in German”? Was his reaction a philosophically responsible one? I’m sure he believed it to be. For he is a conscientious worker.
Perhaps Quine had an inkling that he should--to be professionally effective and responsible--work on Husserl and associated philosophers, perhaps even Brentano and his other students. Perhaps this came from some other philosopher he had spoken to, or something he read. But then something happens as the relevant “possible experiences” roll along that releases him from that sense of intellectual should, and so he turns away. And the effect is very like inoculation. The philosopher is ever afterward strongly fortified against Husserl ‘shoulds’, Brentano ‘shoulds’ and so forth--perhaps against ‘Continental’ shoulds. And this ‘immunization’ seems communicable. Those close to Quine pick up his immunity. All of this is, to repeat, a matter of motivational tendencies that organize the horizon structure of working
philosophers. Invisibility of the sort here described--or, more generally, “historical distortion”--is a function of the motivational structure present in concrete philosophical activity and, to a rather smaller extent, of how the individual philosopher handles it or responds to it.
“They just refuse to look!” I want to illustrate this rather fully from the American context by two cases. One has to do with Husserl, in fact, and the other illustrates a particular form of current philosophizing in America that really does make Brentano etc. maximally “invisible.” I give more space to this latter because of what I take it to represent for future developments in philosophy.
The same ‘invisibility’ that we find with Brentano certainly comes into play for Husserl. Jonathan Chadwick, a student of J. N. Findlay, wrote me a letter after reading an article of mine on Husserl. Findlay had discussed with him his labors in translating the Logical Investigations into English, describing it as “the most excruciating experience of his academic life.” Chadwick says: “He said (in 1981) that he had tried ‘for fifty years to get “them” (Analytic philosophers, I assume) to read it, but they just refuse to look at it’. Findlay told me that in his opinion ‘the Fifth and Sixth Investigations are as good as anything that has been written in the history of philosophy’ and that he had ‘no problem in mentioning Husserl in the same breath with Plato, Aristotle and Kant’. Powerful words indeed. I think Findlay saw the possibility of the complete transformation of the analytic tradition if only ‘they’ would take a close look at intentionality (which Findlay regarded as maybe the most important philosophical rediscovery of the past hundred and fifty years), and the earlier writings of Husserl in general. Then maybe philosophers could join together and begin to lead universities back on their way to teaching knowledge again.“14
The italicized phrase from Findlay poignantly expresses the situation: “they just refuse to look.” They see, and that puts them in a position to refuse to look. With respect to the Logical Investigations I have had a lot of experience with the refusal to look, and here is a perfect illustration of how the horizon structure of “invisibility” works. In this case nearly everyone who comes across the Investigations has studied something confusedly called “symbolic” logic, and they assume that they know what there is to know about logic because they know “the rules” for the symbolic techniques: truth-tables, derivations, semantic tableau, etc. etc. Anyone who thinks there are further questions of the sort Husserl pursues must be either ignorant or confused, and certainly not worthy of serious study.
Now once we realize that this refusal is not just a whim, nor an act of stupidity or of self-conscious meanness, we begin to sense that the kind of ‘invisibility’ involved here is something with very deep roots. I am convinced that it is something of considerable significance for the self-understanding of philosophy, and especially in its currently dominant versions. That is why I consider this conference to be of potentially great significance. What is it, exactly, that lies back of the refusal to look, buttressed as it is with all good conscience and, presumably, conscientiousness. The above discussion of invisibility as a substructure of the horizon seems to me to give a general answer this question. Simultaneously it signals a standing threat to the possibility of thorough philosophical investigations.
And with this in mind we may also begin to sense a certain futility in direct efforts to get North American ‘Analytic’ philosophers, or perhaps other brands of philosophers as well, to take Brentano, Lotze, Bergson, etc. seriously. What has to be changed, I think, is their sense of what they are doing and how it is well done. It seems likely that the issue of Brentano’s invisibility really has nothing essentially to do with Analytic philosophy--which has now become a quite amorphous sub-cultural mass--but is a deeper, human problem.
“Reasonably well educated citizens.” The second illustration of the effects of ‘invisibility’ that I shall give has more to do with a significant recent tendency in American Analytic philosophy. This tendency consists in taking the presumed results of the natural sciences, or of natural science as a social institution, as an ultimate point of philosophical reference. It appears to identify the institution, in some way that is hardly clear, and then says that whatever comes out of that institution (in the appropriate fashion) is right, or is right at the time.
It is certainly true that many of those now regarded as leaders in the analytic style presume that historical figures and their works are of no essential use to what they have to do. This attitude is at least partly due to the implicit but powerful influence of the styles of G. E. Moore and later of Ludwig Wittgenstein, I think, and to that of the variously overlapping movements of classical Positivism, Phenomenalism, Pragmatism, Logical Positivism and Linguistic Analysis. These movements--together with an occasional cold Continental blast from a Nietzsche or a Foucault--have set an entire cultural tone, which North American philosophers invariably labor under and reflect.
They all have indeed lost credibility as movements. The fundamental pieces of philosophical argument and analysis that permitted them to come upon the scene breathing the fire of “revolutions” have all been seen through or dropped from sheer boredom, and that includes the Analytic movement itself. But the intellectual and cultural workspace which they seared out within the American academic and professional world is now in large part occupied by what might be called a new scientism, and those who represent this scientistic tendency certainly do not think of the study of past philosophers as essential to what they do under the heading of philosophy.
The scientism now present--and perhaps this is only an American phenomena--thinks that there is something to be called “our scientific world view.” To illustrate, I shall give here some statements from John Searle, for I see him as quite representative of a now widespread attitude among those who regard themselves as “Analytic.” -- This “scientific world view is,” Searle says, “extremely complex and includes all of our generally accepted theories about what sort of place the universe is and how it works. It includes...theories ranging from quantum mechanics and relativity theory to the plate tectonic theory of geology and the DNA theory of hereditary transmission.... Some features of this world view are very tentative, others well established. At least two features of it are so fundamental and so well established as to be no longer optional for reasonably well-educated citizens of the present era; indeed they are in large part constitutive of the modern world view. These are the atomic theory of matter and the evolutionary theory of biology.“15
Now taken in a certain sense this remark about the necessary beliefs of “reasonably well-educated citizens of the present era” is philosophically innocuous. But not in the sense Searle has in mind. In the manner of the new scientistic thinkers generally, if I may so call them, he passes results of science off as ontological generalizations. For example he says, “According to the atomic theory of matter, the universe consists entirely of extremely small physical phenomena that we find it convenient...to call ‘particles’.” (p. 86) Now if by “universe” is meant physical universe, the whole of physical existence, it may be fair to say that “the atomic theory of matter” is correctly represented. But pretty clearly Searle understands by “the universe” reality as a whole, in which case the atomic theory of matter simply has nothing to say about it at all. It is just a logical error to suppose that it means or implies any such thing. But scientistic thinkers routinely present their “scientific world view” as if it were a scientific result. One has only to examine any actual science or conjunction of sciences to see that no world view whatever, scientific or otherwise, appears among its necessary assumptions, results or theorems. That is why the error is a logical one
Searle’s specific philosophical task in the volume quoted, The Rediscovery of the Mind, consists in “locating consciousness within our overall ‘scientific’ conception of the world.” (84) This he does by means of the alleged “survival value” of consciousness, and hence its place in the evolution of the human being. “Humans are continuous with the rest of nature.... Consciousness...is a biological feature of human...brains.... caused by neurobiological processes.... Once you see that atomic and evolutionary theories are central to the contemporary scientific world view, then consciousness falls into place naturally as an evolved phenotypical trait of certain types of organisms.” (90) This, Searle oddly supposes, at once preserves the irreducible existence and nature of the mental and solves the famous difficulties of the mind/body problem--all just by giving consciousness a place in accepted scientific theories.
But this is not the place to evaluate this claim, which appears to me to be far from substantiated--if it is even intelligible. But we do want to notice the peculiar turn his discussion now takes. Searle notes that thinkers whose opinions he respects, Wittgenstein in particular, find this view of consciousness to be “repulsive, degrading, and disgusting.” It is typical of how the new scientistic thinkers operate that he mentions emotional reactions, and not the fact that Wittgenstein and others have thought the view in question too confused and mistaken to even be called false. Searle cheerily continues: “Like it or not, it is the world view we have. Given what we know about the details of the world [he now mentions the periodic table, chromosomes in cells and the chemical bond]...this world view is not an option. It is not simply up for grabs along with a lot of competing world views.”
Searle now is freely moving at that heady level of philosophical writing where one discusses the emotions and needs of those who disagree with them. “Our problem is not that somehow we have failed to come up with a convincing proof of the existence of God or that the hypothesis of an afterlife remains in serious doubt, it is rather that in our deepest reflections we cannot take such opinions seriously. When we encounter people who claim to believe such things, we may envy them the comfort and security they claim to derive from these beliefs, but at bottom we remain convinced that either they have not heard the news or they are in the grip of faith.” (90-91, my italics)16
He then gives an illustration of his response to those who “have not heard the news or are in the grip of faith”: He lectured in India on the mind-body problem and was assured by various people that his version of the mind was wrong, for they “personally had existed in their earlier lives as frogs or elephants, etc.” Now, he reports, “I did not think, ‘Here is evidence for an alternative world view’, or even ‘Who knows, perhaps they are right’. And my insensitivity was much more than mere cultural provincialism: Given what I know about how the world works, I could not regard their views as serious candidates for truth.” (91, my italics)
Here again the horizon structure of “invisibility” is beautifully illustrated. I have italicized two clauses in the last two paragraphs because they express the attitude that it is most important to recognize in understanding the phenomenon of the historical mirage, including ‘invisibility’. The language is quite precise. Certain views just cannot be taken seriously. I think we can say in general and with some plausibility that the overriding consideration for the ‘Analytic’ tendency in philosophy throughout the 20th century has been its own status in relation to science. But by “science” at the present time is specifically meant the natural sciences, especially physics and its extensions, and increasingly the formal sciences as mere adjuncts to the natural sciences. And these sciences are treated as anonymous but completely decisive authorities that somehow gives us the word on how things ultimately are.
By contrast, the “scientific” character of philosophical work aspired to by Brentano himself, and by Husserl and many others, had no such built in naturalistic or scientistic bias. However much congeniality there may have initially been between the ideals and practice of Brentano and his students, on the one hand, and the ideals of those now commonly regarded as the original “analytic” philosophers, on the other--we think mainly of Frege, Russell, and the early Wittgenstein--it did not survive to the next generation of Analytic philosophers in the twenties and thirties. Science has increasingly meant, within the ‘Analytic’ life form, what falls within physics and its real or hoped for extensions, and possibly the formal disciplines as well. The shadow of the the Logical Positivist’s “unity of science” program has continued to hang over the discussion, in spite of all that the second Wittgenstein and others inspired by him have said about it.
And this makes immediately clear why, from within that shadow, which I take to extend far beyond analytic philosophers, past figures and bodies of work can hardly ever be more than mirages. Bernard Williams tells how “in one prestigious American department a senior figure had a notice on his door that read JUST SAY NO TO THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY.“17 Searle, in the book quoted from, says he is nervous about misrepresenting the views of others referred to by him, and he explains how the books he read in his “philosophical childhood--books by Wittgenstein, Austin, Strawson, Ryle, Hare, etc.--contain few or no references to other authors.” (p. xiv) As if this eliminated the weight of the past from those works! One does not so easily say “No” to the history of philsophy, but only exhibits philosophical naivete.
Searle makes his remark in the context of apologizing for quoting so much from others in his current book. Then he makes a very revealing statement: “I think unconsciously I have come to believe that philosophical quality varies inversely with the number of bibliographical references, and that no great work of philosophy ever contained a lot of footnotes.” This amazing belief of his--can he really believe that--is only an effect, uncritically evaluated, of the history in which Searle himself stands.
It is also interesting that the people he is worried about quoting are those he opposes. Presumably there would never be any need to quote those who agree with him, or even to refer to them. For of course the proper way of doing philosophy is to work it out yourself. Scientific work does not quote or draw on others for its analyses and arguments, and neither should philosophy. That is the idea. Analysis is a matter of individual insight into logical matters that borrows nothing from the past. Really?
It is ironic that, all the while, Searle and scientistic thinkers in general do their work from the authoritative statements of others. Characteristically they learn to speak some pretty intricate scientific language, but they sustain their discussions only within contexts of others who know even less than they do about, say, physics or neurobiology. Rarely do actual scientists take any interest in them, and never with a view to learning any science from them.
And with good reason. I doubt very seriously that Searle or other philosophers of the same type have independently worked out the evidence for quantum theory or evolution which they nonetheless find themselves compelled to accept. They do not stand on their own intellectual feet in these matters. They are simply working a system of cultural authority. But it is, by far, the most intimidating one going at present. It is, precisely, this framework of authority that very largely determines for them what is and what is not to be taken seriously. And on the paradigm of the natural sciences, past thinkers are, in general, not to be used as essential sources of insight in work being done now. Hence they are of no use.
Searle’s brand of philosophizing has, then, a couple of noteworthy disadvantages: It is based on the logical error of supposing that the sciences provide (at least essential foundations of) a world view, and it routinely takes, and can only take, major assumptions upon authority. Indeed, philosophy as a whole must be governed by authoritative positions and figures, if scientific findings are to be taken as ultimate philosophical premisses.
Now I do understand that Analytic philosophy is not necessarily scientistic, as are some of the people now working under its flag. But the Analytic philosophers share the view that philosophical work is something called “Analysis,” and that analysis is a kind of insight that is essentially independent of the study of past thinkers. And as a matter of fact the authority of science, and its way of working independently of its past, are rarely far from their minds.
In what ways might study of past philosophers help? Now in the face of such a viewpoint we ask how one’s own philosophical work--the development of one’s views concerning the necessary structures of reality and the human self--might benefit from serious intellectual engagement with past philosophers?
First, a comment on the view just mentioned, to the effect that there is no essential way in which it could help. Obviously some philosophers hold this view now, at least in their practice, and perhaps many influential philosophers do. We have looked at Searle. I cannot say whether he would actually advocate this general negative position on the history of philosophy if explicitly asked about it. But on the other hand I do not think such philosophers as he would go on to say that one’s philosophical work cannot benefit from serious intellectual engagement with present philosophers--i.e. with any other philosophers. Perhaps that would be consistent with their posture toward deceased philosophers.
In fact I imagine that more might be said for such a totally negative position than would at first be thought. The monologue or “meditation” has been highly regarded as a form of philosophical work, and it has much to recommend it. But it is not so regarded now. Yet, one might want a reason why engagement with other current philosophers would be essential or useful to one’s own work, but engagement with past philosophers would not. I cannot, myself, think of any very good reason for such a position, and I can think of reasons against it. Admittedly the ‘engagement’ would be of a somewhat different nature in the two cases. But the fact that living philosophers can “talk back” is not a decisive advantage.
But let us set that all aside and assume for the moment that essential benefit for my current work is to be gained from studying past philosophers. What form might it take?
A form it would not take is passive reception of “the truth.” I suspect that the strong revulsion which many North American Analytic philosophers manifest for “the history of philosophy” is based upon the idea that its only use is the discovery and passive reception of opinions and arguments of past thinkers on the basis of their authority--i.e. passively, so far as one’s rational powers are involved. Such a use, it is correct to say, is not philosophical work and does not lead to the kind of integrity of mind and life which is the human objective back of philosophical inquiry. The aim of philosophy is not just to come out with true views, but to personally arrive at such views, or at least rationally defensible ones, as a result of one’s own rational activity, culminating in insights that are ours.
But that objective surely could be achieved through work involving the study of past philosophers. It may even be it can be achieved in no other way, or that it is for some reason best achieved in that way. To fill in these possibilities a bit, what exactly do we find when we study a past philosopher’s work--say Descartes’Meditations or Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind? The first obvious thing we encounter will usually be some argument or sequence of arguments. For example, that we should not rely on the senses (or sense perception) for knowledge because they from time to time mislead us into believing what is false; or that there is an essential internal “diremption” of the seemingly simple now and here. These arguments will involve certain distinctions and relations that are themselves not contingent, e.g. that being mistaken (deceived) is essentially distinct from being right (not deceived), that perception and dreaming are distinct, but necessarily have certain things in common, that noon and night are both ‘nows,” etc. etc. Such conceptually based distinctions and relations are the second sort of thing we encounter when we read a philosopher.
The third type of thing we encounter is what we might call a plausible or seemingly rational extension of these arguments and distinctions toward a picture of reality and consciousness as a whole. Of course this will always be a pretty long story. For example, in Hegel’s case it turns out that “internal diremption”
is an essential feature of everything--everything short of the Absolute itself, in which all the other diremptions are somehow preserved and elevated--or, in Descartes, that clear and distinct ideas are a reliable guide to all of truth and reality.
Sometimes these extensions are presented as if they were a matter of more or less ‘standard’ logic. The classical rationalists seem fairly representative of this way of doing it. And perhaps the one thing they truly showed, by the time one works all the way through Spinoza and Liebniz to the final picture, is that you cannot really succeed in that way. Others, consequently, try to invent new ‘logics’--transcendental, dialectical, empirical, ‘ordinary use’, etc. etc. logics. And others still (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche) just say “Forget logic,” so far as your “extensions” are concerned, and make them stand up in other ways (the “Rhetoric ain’t bad” theme). But, it seems to me, they always do whatever they do to achieve their extensions on the ultimate basis of certain fundamental logical lines of argument and conceptual distinctions drawn in the manner just indicated. A fairly standard logic or formal analysis seems to me a part of what is essential to every philosophical position, and if one tried to base everything on mystic flights or strange ‘logics’ or empirical or historical structures, his work could not be regarded as homogeneous with the philosophical enterprise or as achieving its aims. Some academic practitioners in my home environment seem to take just such a course, which they then call “Postmodernism” or “Poststructuralism.” Political arguments against logic in general are not unheard of.
Now by what I have just said I do not mean that you absolutely cannot get the required “extensions,” from the basic arguments and distinctions to something like the necessary structures of all reality, by moves within the scope of “standard logic.” But I think it has never been done. And I do not by what I have said mean to undermine or invalidate those “extensions” or “world views” in any way. It may be that something like the efforts at extension which we see in the history of philosophy is actually a means of rational insight into the necessary structures of reality--though of course not all such efforts need be counted successful. Such understanding as we have of rationality, insight, validity and associated matters does not force us to deny construction and extension, as practiced by philosophers, an essential place in the rational work of philosophy or of life. Rationality is more than logic.
On using material from other philosophers. Having now distinguished, within the “rational reflection” that goes on in philosophical work, between the three aspects of argument, analysis (for short) and construction, there are a few especially important points to be made with reference to our central topic.
First, to engage with a dead philosopher in this threefold work need not be done passively, or in such a way as to sacrifice one’s own achievements of integrity of mind and life, anymore than in the case of engagement with a living philosopher. I take this to be a pretty obvious point, and I suppose that most of those who teach philosophy actually do try to teach students how to read texts in such a way that their own personal integrity as rational beings is preserved and enhanced. Of course there are contexts where this does not happen, where the premium is on coming out with the right views, and this can be seen happening in “Analytic” contexts as well a whatever the other kinds there are--even Brentanian, no doubt.
Second, to eschew the study of other philosophers’ analyses, arguments and constructions is de facto to make the assumption that one can on their own come up with whatever distinctions, inferences and constructions are required to deal successfully with the philosophical problems that concern them. It is to assume that whatever of these might come into my hands through appropriate studies of Aristotle, Kant, Locke, Lotze, Brentano, Russell, Dummett etc., can and will come into my possession by my own thought efforts, or simply fall on me from my environment. This assumption is, I think, often made in practice, and is a part of the extreme individualism that has come to characterize European humanity, especially in its North American forms. It is of a piece with the idea that young people should and must come up with their own morality, which is now routinely assumed. Few people would be able to come up with their own algebra, chemistry or even geography, of course. And this is so obviously so that no one attempts it. But philosophy is.....different.
Or is it? Surely the idea that anyone literally thinks up their own philosophy, or should do so, is extremely irreflective, to say the least, and is quite certainly false. We always do import significant elements of ideas and arguments, and possibly our overall orientation, from others, even though we may conscientiously work through them on our own as we move forward in our philosophical development. But this latter is no simple task, and possibly few who think they have done it actually have done it. Whether or not one quotes and footnotes has, of course, absolutely nothing to do with it.
Third, given that one need not passively receive from past philosophers studied, and given that no one can actually invent their own philosophy, it is still highly likely that some past (or living) philosophers are more useful to study than others. Moreover, given the particular horizon an individual philosopher has, with its necessarily constricting motivational network, some philosophers are going to be more accessible to the individual than others. For example, if it has soaked into your philosophical bones that philosophical work is in one way or another about or through language, then Lotze and Brentano will be hard to take seriously. You will at least systematically have to translate their problems, methods and solutions into ‘linguistic’ terms which say what they ‘really’ (i.e., by your lights, could only have) meant. Or if you think science as now existing is the center of the philosophical world or a significant part thereof, then of course you are going to keep your distance from Husserl and Heidegger and, possibly, Wittgenstein, and certainly from Emerson, Marcel and Levinas. Or else you will read a lot of Kuhn, Feyerabend and Habermas. And so forth.
But, in any case, given the actuality of “horizons” and how they work in practice, accessibility to another philosopher is no simple matter, and there is also always the chance that the philosophers most accessible to you--the ones you are most apt to read, given your horizon--are not as good philosophically or not potentially as useful for you to study, as ones that are less accessible, or hardly accessible at all. This is surely a sobering thought, and hard for many of us to think. But it might also be enough to make one think again about who needs Brentano.
Fourth, there must be an ideal way to study another philosopher, one that maximizes the possibility of getting one’s own vision of the ultimate structures of reality right, or as close to right as possible. At least some ways are better than others. I suggest the ideal way would mean--whatever else--that we would not approach past philosophers with our problems uppermost in our minds. This is primary to liberation from the bondage of those horizons we automatically inherit whether we know it or not. We will benefit most for our own work and results if we make it our first objective, in studying a past philosopher, to set our pre-existing problems, work and results aside and devote ourselves to determining, as accurately as we can, what his problems were and why and how they presented themselves to his mind in the way they did. (Among other things, this may keep us from being immediately turned away by the strange language and the foreign assumptions we are bound to meet with in them.) There is, I suggest, no clearer illustration of failure to do this than many approaches that have been taken to Brentano’s views of the mind, and especially of “intentionality.“18 I trust it goes without saying--but possibly it doesn’t--that our intention should be to establish the exact extension, intension and interconnections of the author’s fundamental concepts and terminology, and the precise rules of logic by which his inferences proceed, and the principles of interpretation or construction by which he advances to his overall view of “the necessary structures of reality and of human life and experience.” This should be done without constantly thinking of where it all comes out with reference to our problems and views.
Then, finally, we should make the effort to view the world, so far as possible for us, as our author viewed it from within the perspective of his own understanding. This is difficult, to say the least, and may be in some cases impossible. Training in philosophy should help us to do it. For the sake of the integrity of our own work this is one of the best uses we can make of our study of other philosophers. This way of reading stands a good chance of significantly reducing “historical distortion,” favorable or not. It seems to me much of what Brentano did in training his students was to teach them to read in this way, and especially to read the British philosophers. It is in part for lack of such training that the horizon of a highly professionalized philosophy today becomes a trap, and makes Brentano and many other worthwhile philosophers “invisible.”
Some of Brentano’s particular views that maximalize his current “invisibility.” There are several points of Brentano’s philosophy which, I think, make it almost insurmountably hard for contemporary American Analytic philosophers to gain a beneficial engagement with him, given their horizon.
First, there is no small irony in the fact that within the horizon of current philosophers Brentano does not seem to be a scientific philosopher or to be doing ‘scientific’ philosophy at all. I understand that he wanted to do philosophy scientifically, which in a certain important sense he did. And I am aware of the considerable effort that has been put into showing the importance of his influence in the rise of the “scientific philosophy” later associated with the Vienna Circle and allied groups and movements. But after Brentano there was a crucial shift or drift in the meaning of the talk of “science” and the “scientific” that now, simply, leaves Brentano out.
When Brentano spoke of philosophy being “scientific” he had in mind a certain quality of intellectual work that he admired in outstanding scientists of his century. This involved factors such as attention to facts, of whatever kind, thorough analysis of problems and methods as to their assumptions and conceptual content, painstaking description of phenomena to eliminate unfounded introjections, utilization of concepts that are as exact as possible as to extension, intension and logical interrelationships, and the utmost care in the logical analysis and organization of judgements and in the specification of logical rules of inference employed. Any investigation developed in, roughly, this manner was, for Brentano, “scientific,” and the result would be a “science.” Obviously that would leave out much of past and present philosophy, and especially much that has been called “metaphysics.” But on the other hand it left in, for example, a “science” of the in itself necessary first cause of the universe, and a similarly “scientific” treatment of the human self and its immortality. Of course the self is not a “substance,” in Brentano’s language, for substance in his view must go, along with “metaphysics.” Instead of a substance/soul there is, for him, a life, which is the subject of philosophical investigation in a scientific manner.19 But today there is no “scientific” treatment of what he had in mind by self or life, nor has there been one for decades.
Indeed, God and the self/life as he presented them have become paradigmatic of what is not scientific and cannot be. For--as already noted--what is “scientific” today is determined by the subject matters and methods of the “natural sciences.” Since Brentano’s day, the natural sciences have developed into social institutions with a social identity, not an identity in terms of inherent qualities of intellectual work. Sciences are socially recognized practices and the “scientific” is matter of what goes on in some close association with those practices. And of course the lion among the socially recognized practices is physics--or, more generously perhaps, the ‘hard’ sciences. “Scientific philosophy” then becomes philosophy that is in some strong way associated with these sciences as institutional practices: perhaps by limiting its discourse to discourse about the discourse of science (“Philosophy is the logical syntax of the language of science.”); perhaps by proposing to serve science in some way, giving it a clarity and order it doesn’t provide to itself; perhaps by limiting its discussions to matters dealt with in the sciences, and drawing its conclusions only or largely or ultimately from premises provided by the results of the sciences.
Now it is obvious that Brentano’s idea of “scientific” philosophy was nothing like this. He did not suppose that philosophy was to take its direction from institutionalized scientific practice and results, nor from the results and methods of individual natural scientists, no matter how brilliant. And of course that allowed his philosophical activity to be one that ceaselessly involved the works of other philosophers, present and past. There was nothing in that which was incompatible with a scientific character for his own work, as there would be today.
A second point that marks Brentano as ‘obviously irrelevant’ in the eyes of many North American philosophers today is precisely what he has to say about the mind and mental acts: the “life” which, for him, “empirical” psychology studies. There are many points that come up here. One is that language is not involved in the essence of the mental act or mind for him. Language has a certain importance for the mental life, and he does not disregard it, but gives it extensive attention in appropriate places.20 Nevertheless, acts of consciousness are not linguistic, and neither in the definition of the psychical nor in the classification of psychical acts into kinds is there any essential reference to language. By contrast someone such as David Pears can now say: “Pieces of knowledge are made out of words, or at least out of symbols, and they must be meaningful.“21 And this captures what now must be so--though “words” and “language” often turn out to be something quite different from what one would expect. But then Brentano seems to be from another planet. A similar point is to be made of his views of the physiological in relation to the mind and its acts.
A third point: Brentano thought that the basis for psychology as a “natural science” was perception and experience.22 Knowledge of psychical phenomena and their laws could never be achieved, according to him, by any means that by-passes interior perception. (Not inner observation [Beobachtung] of course.) Moreover, inner perception provides us with a direct grasp of necessary connections that are expressed in genuine law statements. Also, inner perception allows us to clarify fundamental epistemic concepts, such as that of the evident. Not only does inner perception provide us with absolute certainty of existence, but certain judgments (e.g. that I am now thinking) can be seen directly and immediately to be correct by means of it.23 Here, he thought, was a vast field of scientific knowledge. But once again it sets Brentano at a quite incredible distance from current understandings of what must be and what could not possibly be so with reference to knowledge of the mind. (Just think of Ryle or Wilfrid Sellars or Quine, for example. And who has recently disagreed with them on such matters?)
And for one final point, Brentano had a very exalted view of philosophy, both in terms of its inherent worth--the intrinsic value of the (scientific) knowledge it provided--and its potential service to humankind. In this respect he was not unlike many previous philosophers, but he is certainly unlike most American philosophers after John Dewey, and unlike nearly every Analytic philosopher after what we might call the first generation.
Moreover, he was generally optimistic. He was optimistic about the prospects of the universe, of the individual, and of the pursuit of philosophical understanding. This is now incomprehensible and unforgivable among North American philosophers--except as a “personal” matter. And as soon as it is detected, philosophers either turn away or treat it as something other than philosophical. It is now widely held that nothing in philosophy can actually be shown true--though a lot of things can, apparently, be shown false, or at least foolish.
An elevated view of things is now unforgivable, for it must, it is now generally thought, be either a fraud or, possibly worse, sincere. It is bound to be combined with vagueness and confusion, and especially if sincere. Some words of G. J. Warnock about Bernard Bosanquet perfectly capture the attitude that has prevailed: “He wrote sometimes with an air of vague high seriousness, in which the serious intent was almost completely muffled by the vagueness. And in the writings of the lesser men [among the British Idealists] solemnity and unclarity seem to rise not seldom to the pitch of actual fraud.“24 In one of his famous “reviews” of phenomenological literature (I think it was of Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit), Gilbert Ryle said that “Phenomenology was a bore from its inception.” He had primarily in mind elevated seriousness of tone, which had been found by the early Analytic philosophers to be associated with “solemn humbug,” as it was sometimes called. We would be fortunate indeed if humbug were restricted to solemnity. But I venture to say that one can do humbug in the canonical schemata of Principia Mathematica or in Polish notation.
What we actually see here, in my opinion, is the progressive identification of ‘scientific rigor’ with a literary and rhetorical style (presumably that of the sciences) and, through the association of that style with institutionalized science, with a certain range of acceptable subject matters. Such a view of the scientific is, I think, a purely reactionary view, and one that has nothing essentially to do with the genuine intellectual rigor which Brentano so much admired and so earnestly practiced--and which has never been needed more than it is today.
Intellectual rigor is not really a matter of verbal form and style at all, nor is it a matter of limiting oneself to certain subject matters. It is an inherent quality of thought. Brentano and his students knew more about this per capita, I suspect, than any group of philosophers before or since. But for all their brilliance and dedication they could not impede the glacial advance of exteriorization (“objectivization”) in a culture that had, much earlier, been bitten to the heart by Empiricism (finally to become physicalism, with its technological imperative) and that will not even allow professionalized philosophers to escape it grasp. And so Brentano becomes, precisely, “invisible.”
The philosophical wasteland. When philosophical work is treated as an individualistic enterprise, perhaps significantly interconnected with other philosophers now living, whom we happen to be with or are required to study to attain professional qualification, then the works of past philosophers become simply irrelevant. Warnock, whom we have just quoted, remarks about “metaphysical systems”--specifically those of the British Idealists--that they “do not yield, as a rule, to frontal attack.... Such systems are more vulnerable to ennui than to disproof. They are citadels, much shot at perhaps, but never taken by storm, which are quietly discovered one day to be no longer inhabited. The way in which an influential philosopher may undermine the empire of his predecessors consists, one may say, chiefly in his providing his contemporaries with other interests.“25
But now, of course, this pattern so nicely depicted by Warnock applies to the works of Analytical philosophers themselves. It is not restricted to “metaphysical” systems, and the current continuous shifting and drifting to the next professional preoccupation has no necessary reference to ‘metaphysics’ in that pejorative sense so customary to 20th century philosophy. The philosophical highway back through the historically brief Analytical past already traverses a wasteland strewn with a mass of smaller “citadels discovered one day to be no longer inhabited.” Logical Atomism, Logical Behaviorism, the quest for the “perfect dictionary” (Austin), Ideal Language Philosophy (G. Bergmann), and preoccupations of lesser scope, such as Possible Worlds semantics, Formal Pragmatics, Depth Grammar, Semantics for Natural Language, and how many others, now stand there unoccupied and irrelevant, so far as any noteworthy significance for philosophy is concerned.
This state of affairs is, I imagine, the historical completion, if not the logical outcome, of the view of ‘real’ philosophy and ‘good’ philosophy that also makes a Brentano invisible. To make Brentano visible it will not be enough to do good work on Brentano, though that should also be done. We must also develop a convincing portrayal of how the horizon functions in philosophical work, and of what one must do in order to avoid being victimized by one’s own horizon. This would, I think, necessarily have to be part of an adequate “phenomenology of philosophical experience.” Brentano and his students could be of great help in such a project, I think, but it must be creatively taken in our hands today. And it will face strong professional opposition. Do not our philosophers already adequately understand what they are doing in their work? And is the invisibility of Brentano really anything for me to worry about?
Some Additional Thoughts:
I have been ‘puzzled’ by the Brentano case for decades. I first came across him, while a graduate student, through reading Moore’s review1 of the English translation of his Vom Ursprung Sittlicher Erkenntnis, which then led me to the book itself. I thought then and still do think that Brentano’s book contains essential insights into what it is for something to be good, and into our knowledge thereof--not entirely different from that to be found in Henry Sidgwick’s The Methods of Ethics--that cannot be bypassed for an understanding of that important subject.2 But it requires, of course, a view of mind and reality and their interrelationships which, I believe, Brentano may not have been fully in possession of, and certainly Sidgwick, and his student Moore, was not even close to having. Husserl came much closer to having it, at least, in my opinion.
Now the ‘invisibility’ we have been edging our way up to--the seeing but not seeing of Brentano--resolves “the Brentano puzzle,” at least as I would understand it. I take the Brentano puzzle to be the question: How could Brentano have been so profoundly influential on brilliant intellectuals of the immediately following generation, and yet be without any direct influence on the workings of philosophers and others today? The answer that appealse to me is, he is and has long been invisible. I presume we can here, at least, all agree that it is not because he has nothing to offer contemporary thinkers. I would think that by any reasonable standard he is easily in the “top twenty” among philosophers in the Western tradition. On the other hand, if he is now invisible that would surely serve as a sufficient condition for his lack of appropriate influence upon philosophers now at work. So I shall have nothing more to say on the “puzzle” and just concentrate on the ‘invisibility’.
Now it seems to me that there are two fundamentally different lines of inquiry that should be pursued in explicating Brentano’s invisibility or his negative mirage. The first has to do with the inherent nature of Brentano’s work and philosophical position, including specific theses he maintained. There are important things to be said here, and I shall comment on a number of them later. But I think, frankly, this is not the heart of the matter.
The other has to do with what philosophy became in the course of the 20th century and is now. This is not entirely disconnected with the first line of inquiry, but with regard to this second line the thesis I shall maintain is that the inherent nature of Brentano’s work has little or nothing to do with his invisibility, and that he would have been just as invisible no matter what he might have said or done. Had he said and done other things and were now visible, the difference would not be a consequence of his having said and done different things, especially things more philosophically and personally meritorious or wise--whatever that is to mean.
The most fundamental issues involved in Brentano’s invisibility all come together around two questions: What is philosophy? And: How do you do it? Philosophy as I am acquainted with it is now done in such a way that it invariably constitutes past figures as mirages, favorable or unfavorable, and deals with those figures in such a way as to prevent them from having a rational influence on philosophical work we are now doing.
Let us start with the second question. There is, for the most part, nothing personal about the seeing-but-not-seeing of Brentano. We have already indicated that others, in various ways, share his fate, though it may be very few of them approximate to his actual stature as a philosopher. (This surfaces another question on which few today will explicitly speak: namely, how to compare philosophers as to “better” or “worse,” and how to assess the greatness of a philosopher and hence their worth to contemporary work. This reluctance is surely tied to reluctance to deal with the first question mentioned above: What is philosophy?)
Those who now do leading work in analytical style philosophizing generally presume that historical figures and their works are of no use to what they have to do.