Review: Husserl's Position in the School of Brentano, by Robin D. Rollinger

Husserl's Position in the School of Brentano, Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999, ISBN 0-7923-5684-5, USC 170, NLG 285, GBP 99. This review appeared in _Husserl Studies_, Vol 18, #1, p 77-81, 2002.


This useful volume is said by the author to be "first and foremost concerned with Husserl's relation with other pupils of Brentano." (p. 3) "Given the influence of Brentano on Husserl and others," he remarks, "the question naturally arises how Husserl's philosophical orientation stands viz-a-viz that of each of these others." (p. 2) This would help us understand to what extent Husserl actually departed from the Brentanian doctrines and would, in addition, cast needed light upon the early stages of Husserl's thought.

It seems to be the author's view that up through the Logische Untersuchungen Husserl could still be correctly described as in the School of Brentano. (pp. 246-247) A comparison of his writings and views up to that point with those of the other well-known students of Brentano would allow us to determine his "place" or position in that School. The later "transcendental turn," however, "amounts to a radical departure from the School of Brentano (far more so than does the Platonism of the Logische Untersuchungen...." (p. 114)

However, this book does not exactly compare Husserl up to 1901 with the other students of Brentano. First, it devotes a chapter to "Husserl and Brentano" (Chapter One) and a chapter to "Husserl and Bolzano" (Chapter Two). Second, it does not, for various reasons (see pp. 1-4), treat all of the students of Brentano who became well known as Brentanists. Rather, it provides comparisons of Husserl's early thought with the works of, specifically, Stumpf, Kerry, Twardowski, Meinong, and Marty.

The book's value for illumination of philosophical issues seems to me to be of greater value than all of this might suggest. The philosophical issues involved in what it is for a state of mind or language to have a content--for it to be of or about something that is not a part or property of that state of mind or language--could reasonably be regarded as the central issues of philosophy since Descartes. And this much is sure: No group of thinkers has cast more helpful light on those issues, or raised more points of controversy concerning them, than Brentano and his students.

Robin Rollinger's book will be very helpful to any patient inquirer whose aim is to penetrate the fine texture of argumentation about mental acts or states and their contents coming from Brentano through his students. As far as writings in English are concerned, it takes its place as indispensible in this field of study alongside H. O. Eaton's The Austrian Philosophy of Value, Barry Smith's Austrian Philosophy: The Legacy of Franz Brentano, and Albertazzi, Libardi, and Poli, edd., The School of Franz Brentano. It cannot replace these earlier works, nor is it of the same order of significance overall, but it does supplement them in essential ways, and especially in the detailed canvassing of some precise points of disagreement and argument between the early Husserl and the other students of Brentano selected for comparison.

What then is the result of the inquiry for the author's proposed aim? In other words, how is Husserl's place in the School of Brentano (up to 1901) to be characterized? To answer this question the author considers two main points: parallels and contrasts in the other Brentanists to Husserl's rejection of psychologism, and their theories of intentional reference in comparison with his. (pp. 245-246)

With reference to psychologism, Husserl is found to be less "orthodox" than Stumpf and Marty, but more orthodox than Meinong. (p. 246-247) Stumpf and Marty reject the idea of "a pure logic completely independent of all psychology," continue "to regard judgments as the proper bearers of truth," and yet regard relativism as avoidable. (p. 246) Meinong, by contrast, admits of "objects which have no being of any kind whatever." (p. 247) On some kind of scale--presumably that of admitting "weird" kinds of objects--Husserl is closer to Brentano than Meinong is, and still within the camp.

With respect to the characterization of intentional reference, or of what, exactly, it is for a mental act or state to be of or about its object, the work of Stumpf, Twardowski, and the early Marty is closer than Husserl's to Brentano's view of the "inexistence" of objects--that the object 'somehow' exists in the act or state, and that that 'being in' somehow accounts for the fact that the act or state is of or about the particular object which it is of or about. Husserl rejects any form of "immanentism" in this sense. (pp. 247-248) There are many presentations which are of or about certain things (Zeus, round-squares) and these things do not exist or have being at all, neither 'in' the acts in question nor 'outside' them. The later Marty and Meinong turn out to be "no less unorthodox than Husserl" (p. 248) in this regard.

With reference to the main inner articulations and classifications of acts, "Meinong and Husserl again turn out to be the heretics." (p. 249) Husserl's distinction between the matter and quality of the act is a major innovation, present but underdeveloped by some other Brentanists; and his classification of acts, as well as Meinong's, significantly departs from Brentano's "thesis that every act is either a presentation or founded on a presentation." (p. 249)

The early Husserl's departures from Brentano's views are "not to be construed as more radical than Meinong's." And "this is perhaps the most concise statement which can be made about Husserl's position in the school of Brentano." (P. 249)

But the author also holds "that the present study is to help us to evaluate Husserl's pre-transcendental philosophical work." (p. 249) No doubt he has had some success in this objective as well. But the two points of "evaluation" which he stresses throughout the book and in its "Conclusion" (pp. 249-250) are not, it seems to me, strongly supported. Let us consider them briefly.

1. 'Platonism': Husserl's realism with reference to universals is given the name "Platonism" and is clearly regarded by the author as a major error. He cites Marty's claim that "The Aristotelian arguments whereby the Platonistic theory of Ideas is refuted,...also suffice for the refutation of Husserl's theory." (p, 232) Acknowledging Husserl's claim that his own "ideal" objects are "totally different <clearly an overstatement by Husserl> from Platonic Ideas," the author does not explore the relevant distinctions and arguments except for a very brief reference (pp. 233-234) to the passage in the IInd "Untersuchungen" (§ 3), where Husserl claims that similarity between two entities can only obtain in virtue of a respect in which they are identical. It is not obvious that he was entirely wrong on this point, if the argument is developed. And in this same chapter there are at least three other arguments for 'Platonism' that are logically independent of the one here found lacking by the author.

To "evaluate" Husserl's philosophy on these matters would require a serious look at the distinctions and arguments he actually makes relevant to them. These conspicuously occur in various parts of the Ist and IInd "Untersuchungen," and in the Second Chapter of Ideen I.

The claim that "Husserl's 1894 essay on intentional objects has much in its favor, including a possible escape from Platonism," (pp. 249-250) is really quite strange. The suggested "way of escape" which "Husserl himself did not pursue"--and for very good reasons to his own mind--is, presumably, to treat universals as fictive objects, like Zeus.

Now Husserl actually discusses and rejects the treatment of "ideal" objects as fictive as well as normative (Kantian "ideas") objects. The reason he rejects the fictive treatment will be clear upon examination of his overall treatment of issues involving universals. Briefly, it is that we have, or can have, intuitions--not just representations or thought--of many universals and of their direct, Ideal-law connections (hence, not through individuals that happen to instance them). There are none such of Zeus, round squares, etc. But the author regards "intuition of essences" as "mystical sounding" (p. 115), and that, no doubt, takes care of that.

The idea that in his view of universals Husserl is "misled into ontological excesses by notions which are concocted purely for the sake of convenience" (p. 244) will, to say the least, not withstand scrutiny.

A large part of Husserl's genius consisted in his insight into the necessity of placing all investigations involving consciousness, knowledge and language in the framework of a clarified and plausible general ontology. The problems he met with in trying to understand knowledge (and first, the knowledge of the mathematician) drove him back and back into issues of general ontology until, by 1901, he had pretty well worked out all the main points without making it a special project. Not, of course, that he was right about everything in the domain of general ontology. But at least he had a general ontology. And many of the disagreements and arguments in the school of Brentano have to be seen, I think, as a result of not having a clarified general ontology--a charge which I must, regretfully, lay at the feet of Brentano himself, for all his fine work on Aristotle and various central points in metaphysics. He fell victim to his reism, which might be mistaken for a general ontology, but in fact simply makes one impossible. And in this respect Husserl ceased to be in the School of Brentano at some point in the 1890s.

2. "The obscure talk about the apprehension of phenomenological contents": "Nowhere," the author says, "does Husserl illuminate the nature of this apprehension." (p. 224) Now depending on what one is demanding as an "illumination" (one of Husserl's favorite terms, "Aufklärung"), this is perhaps true. With reference to phenomenological ultimates--including of course "apprehension"--his view, I think, was that he had done what could be done: To locate cases and bring them into view, to call attention to their necessary elements and structures, to describe these and interrelate them as best one could, and then invite others to look, to explore the same phenomena. It is not, I think, clear what the author is asking for by way of an illumination.

Certainly one would have to admit that lengthy passages are intended to supply the illumination in question--of "apprehension," also called "interpretation" and "apperception." For example, see the long discussion in §14 of the Vth "Investigation", or the one in §85 of Ideen I. And perhaps one could point out exactly why and how they fail, in an evaluation of his early thought. Of course if (p. 115) "mystical-sounding" is bad, and laws of essence supposedly established for knowledge and its components through intuition of "the things themselves" is mystical-sounding, all is lost for Husserl.

In short, then, I would have to say that, while the author's main purpose of identifying Husserl's place within the School of Brentano seems fulfilled, the aim of evaluating his early thought needs further development. Still, he works through much valuable philosophical material, and the relevant issues are among the most difficult.

In concluding, the appendices to the book will be of great value to students of Husserl and Brentano and his students. First, there is a translation of the important 1894 paper on "Intentional Objects." It is from a text improved by Professor Karl Schuhmann over the one published in Hua. XXII, and is a much better translation than the one I published of the latter text in Edmund Husserl, Early Writings in the Philosophy of Logic and Mathematics, Dordrecht, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994, pp. 345-388. It should be used instead of mine. Then there are two syllabi from Stumpf's courses, one on Psychology and one on Logic. These are simply invaluable for anyone trying to understand the issues and the terminology alive in the group working around Brentano.

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