Ion Tanasescu

The manifold meanings of the term intentionality in Brentano?s empirical Psychology

The pages 115-116 from Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (1874) Brentano’s are the classical locus of current theories of intentionality. The central thesis of this presentation is that the expressions used by Brentano to advance his theory of intentionality, “intentional inexistence of an object”, “reference to a content”, “direction toward an object”, function in such different theoretical contexts that they cannot be unitarily interpreted. I shall substantiate this claim by starting with the expression “reference to a content”. On one hand, this expression and “intentional inexistence of an object” are equivalent: to say that an act contains intentionally its object is the same with saying that the object exists intentionally, mentally or phenomenally in the act, and this can easily be interpreted from an Aristotelian-scholastic perspective. On the other hand, “reference to a content” can be interpreted from a modern perspective, in the context of the Brentanian classification of psychical acts. Regarding the traditional interpretation of “reference to a content”, this states that the cognitive faculty contains in an improper, immaterial, intentional or objective way its sensible or intelligible form. Brentano adopts this interpretation even in his habilitation thesis, in 1867, by distinguishing between to be properly, materially, contained in something (the warmth is properly contained in the body as its property) and to be improperly or objectively contained in the sense organ (as an object or as a form in late scholastic terms). The fact that in 1904, when reaching the reist stage of his thinking by eliminating the forms or the immanent objects, Brentano explicitly refers to Aristotle’s theory of sense cognition as taking on the form of an object without its matter proves once more how important the traditional terminology of being improperly contained in something was for him. The Aristotelian theory of sense cognition is not the only aspect of the traditional background of the problem of intentionality. In the early works, Brentano does not use the term “objective” only for characterising the improper sense of being of the form in the sense organ, but for separating the proper from the improper senses of being. In the dissertation from 1862 the proper senses of being are the real concepts that are represented by the being of the ten categories and by potential and actual being. As an improper sense of being, being in the sense of being true does not exist outside the mind, but only in the mind, and it consists, on one hand, of judgements about categorial beings, and, on the other hand, of judgements about entities such as logical notions (genus, species, definition), but also imaginary beings as Jupiter and centaurs. According to Brentano, all these entities can only exist in the mind and belong to the being as being true, for even of them we can form a true affirmative judgement. Having this in mind, we can consider that the category of the object or of the immanent content of an act is, in Brentanian psychology, nothing but the adoption and the psychological use of the metaphysical thesis of the improper senses of being. This thesis was firstly used and emphasised in the dissertation and later developed in the lectures on metaphysics held at the Würzburg University starting 1867. The interpretation of the immanent content of the psychic act as an improper sense of being opens a new research perspective of this problem, since through Brentano’s dissertation this can be linked with Suarez’s LIVth metaphysical meditation, which is entirely dedicated to the problem of entia rationis.

Though in the dissertation Brentano makes no reference to Suarez, and he only mentions Aquinas once, it is well known that before writing the dissertation he studied both these authors in detail. Even more, the interpretation of the immanent object as an improper sense of being allows us to explain the references from the passage of intentionality to the distinction between being in the mind and real being in Philo of Alexandria and in Anselm’s ontological argument, references which were thus far ignored by interpreters. As for the modern interpretation of the “relation to a content”, there are at least two aspects which can be emphasized: (1) in the modern interpretation the “content of an act” is no longer a sensible form, in the traditional sense, which exists as such as a real property of things, but a physical phenomenon. In accordance with the physiology of that time, the content of the act does not really exist, but exists only as a content of consciousness – what really exists are but physical causes whose action on sense organs lead to the apparition of the physical phenomena in consciousness, and not physical phenomena as such; (2) the “relation to a content” can be interpreted as a relation specific to judgments and emotional phenomena, and is characterized by the fact that it allows a polarization of its orientation: I can either believe or not believe that an object really exists, but I cannot positively or negatively represent an object, though I can represent an object and its contrary; as the account on judgment from the chapters dedicated to the classification of psychical phenomena shows, the adequate context of interpreting this problem is a modern, not an Aristotelian-scholastic one (Brentano repeatedly refers to J. St. Mill’s theory of judgment). The last arguments which shed light on the aspects that make the unitary interpretation of the intentionality passage a difficult one are: the theory of intentionality from 1874 is not thought of as a theory of reference, but it belongs to a theory of the distinction between psychical and physical phenomena. The purpose of this theory is not to clarify the relation between the contents of consciousness and the objects they mean, but to circumscribe the field of psychology. Once the field has been circumscribed, psychology can try to do with it what the other modern sciences (physics, chemistry, etc.) did with theirs, to obtain “a core of generally accepted truths” which can act as a background for any further research. Within this theory of the distinction between psychical and physical realms there are undoubtedly aspects of the theory of reference (immanent objects are signs of things, the psychical acts are fundamentally characterised through the relation to these objects), but this is not the right place to look for a clarification of these problems; the right place for this is Brentano’s lectures on logic.

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