Brentano's Empirische Psychologie

Brentano's Empirische Psychologie

Psychologie vom Empirischen Standpunkte, von Dr. Franz Brentano, Professor der Philosophie an der K. K. Universität zu Wien, Erster Band. Leipzig, 1874.(item t m-r v, item w d)

This is a work which no psychologist should overlook. Its author is obviously a competent inquirer,--one both conversant with the investigations of others and capable of independent personal research. While belonging to the empirical school he shows his appreciation of its most distinguished masters, not by an unquestioning acceptance, but by a keen and continuous criticism of their teaching. Those from whom he has learned most are Mill and Bain, Fechner, Lotze, and Helmholtz; they are also those whose views he most frequently endeavours to correct or contradict. He has discussed in a most elaborate manner the important and comparatively neglected subject of psychological method; he appears to be well acquainted with the physiology of the brain and nerves, but, while sensible of the help which it may yield to psychology, decidedly opposes those who would base on it that science, and who either neglect or depreciate self-consciousness; he can fairly claim considerable novelty of doctrine, which is to a certain extent a merit even when what is new is not true; and, in a word, he occupies within the school to which he belongs a decidedly independent position. His style is clear, direct, and pleasant,--very unlike that in which German works on psychology are generally written. We hope the following analysis of his work, so far as it has yet appeared, may help to bring it more widely under the notice of British students of mental science. They will certainly not fail to find it interesting and instructive, even should they, like the present reviewer, deem not a few of its positions insufficiently established.(9 § 1 ¶ 1)

The work is to consist of six books. Two only are contained in the volume which has been published; the first treats of psychology as a science, or, in other words, of its definition and method, and the second of psychical phenomena in general. Of the four books unpublished, one is to treat of the characteristics and laws of conceptions; another of judgments; a third of the emotions and will; and the last is to discuss how the physical and psychical are connected, and whether the psychical life can outlast the dissolution of the body. Our author has still, therefore, nearly the whole science of psychology to expound. It is difficult to see how he can successfully accomplish this, as he proposes to do, in another volume.(9 § 1 ¶ 2)

He defines psychology both as the science of the soul and the science of psychical phenomena, but prefers the latter definition, because it involves no metaphysical presupposition, yet does not imply the non-existence of a spiritual substance underlying spiritual qualities. He insists strongly, however, that in one sense physics and psychology are not alike conversant with phenomena, since physical phenomena--the objects of external perception--are not in themselves what they appear to be, while psychical phenomena--the objects of internal experience--are just what they appear to be. His definition of what is at present meant by the soul--the substantial support of conceptions and other states founded thereon which, like conceptions, can only be apprehended through inner experience--is not one, perhaps, which will very generally command the assent of either those who affirm or of those who deny the existence of the soul as a distinct agent. In expounding his definitions he takes occasion to combat the view that there is a special science to treat of the relations between physiology and psychology,--a science called by Fechner psychophysics, and by Wundt physiological psychology. He argues that there must be disputes as to the boundaries between psychology and psychophysics on the one hand, and psychophysics and physiology on the other, no less than between physiology and psychology, so that once begun there can be no limit to the process of introducing sciences between sciences; and that the work assigned to psychophysics is work which neither physiology nor psychology can leave undone, since each must so far look to, and borrow from, the other. Does not this reasoning proceed on the assumption that psychophysics treats of the relations between two sciences, whereas it really treats of the relations between two classes of phenomena, bodily and mental phenomena? As phenomena cannot be multiplied ad libitum, the fear of being required to multiply sciences in infinitum is imaginary. Besides, neither Wundt, Fechner, nor any other person claims for psychophysics the honour of being an independent and fundamental science. All that is maintained is that the relations between body and mind are so manifold, complex, and important as to demand a comprehensive and methodical investigation, which, with its results, may as properly be designated a science as many other studies which no one hesitates to call sciences. Prof. Brentano also objects to the celebrated summary of psychological problems given by Mr. Mill in his Logic, B. VI., ch. iv., that it omits the question which had the greatest interest for the older psychologists, viz. that of the immortality of the soul. He himself holds that psychology has a special and incomparable interest because to it falls the duty of instructing us as to immortality, as to the hope of another life and participation in a more perfect state. Few British psychologists of any school will agree with him on this point. Ever since psychology has come to be treated among us as a branch of inductive science it has been acknowledged on all hands that the belief in immortality must be rested mainly not on psychological but on moral and religious considerations.(9 § 1 ¶ 3)

Our author devotes the next three chapters to the method of psychology. He first insists on the interest and importance of the subject, and then indicates and characterises the sources of psychological experience, viz., internal perception; memory; external expressions and signs; the study of simpler minds in children, savages, those born devoid of particular senses, and animals; the observation of mental diseases; and the study of extraordinary products of mind, great or singular events, remarkable persons, &c. (ch. ii.) In regard to internal perception he takes up a position which he claims to be entirely original. He maintains that internal perception is the primary source of our knowledge of mind, but that internal observation is impossible, as the objects of internal perception fade away when attention is directed to them; that Comte in France, Mandsley in England, and F. A. Lange in Germany have rightly held that there can be no internal observation, but wrongly inferred that there is no internal perception. The worst consequences, he thinks, have flowed from the neglect of this distinction. Many have been deterred from the study of mind at the very outset by finding themselves incapable of a process which they were taught to regard as of essential importance but which is inherently impossible; others who have persevered have been led to take physical phenomena, such as belong to the phantasy, for psychical. Professor Brentano does not seem to his present reviewer to have established his conclusion. Probably a stronger case could be made out against external observation than he has drawn up against internal observation, owing to the very great difficulty there is of showing that the mind ever gets fairly beyond itself, ever has anything else than its own states to which it can attend. And, perhaps, it would not be difficult to show that in order to render his own view plausible, he has been compelled to confound physical and psychical phenomena at least as badly as the psychologists whom he censures. At the same time, we readily acknowledge that on a subject so important as the question whether internal observation is possible or not, a view at once new and reasoned, like that of Brentano, is profitable to science even though erroneous. It is an advantage that psychologists should have the possibility which it presents distinctly before them and be forced to take it into account. We should be glad to see it receive in the pages of Mind a separate and adequate examination, and regret that we must here leave it undiscussed.(9 § 1 ¶ 4)

The third chapter treats of the induction of the most general psychical laws. The affirmation of Bacon that the mind ascends gradually from the lowest to the highest laws is denied; it has not been found true in the natural sciences, and is not to be accepted in psychology. We are told to seek the principle of the primary division of psychical phenomena, and of their distribution into fundamental classes, without which it is vain to attempt to discover their laws of succession, in the consideration of their general characteristics. The circumstances which facilitate their classification, such as the indications afforded by language, the obviously small number of genera, and the presence of them all in the individual mind, are pointed out. Then, the difficulty of classifying them, notwithstanding these advantages, is dwelt on and traced wholly to a single source,--the impossibility of inner perception becoming inner observation. This, according to Brentano, is the cause why psychologists differ so much as to what are the fundamental classes of psychical facts. We must decidedly dissent from this view. The true causes are to be sought in the phenomena themselves. They are, perhaps, chiefly these two: first, the difficulty of distinguishing and the impossibility of defining ultimate facts of any kind; and, second, the indescribable variety of forms in which the ultimate facts of mind manifest themselves. The latter is the more influential. It is not difficult to distinguish a particular thought from a particular feeling, but it is enormously difficult to find a distinction or distinctions which will hold not merely between some particular thought and some particular feeling, but between any and every thought and any and every feeling, between thought as thought and feeling as feeling, bowing to the countless forms, shades, changes, and combinations, of both thought and feeling. In confirmation I may refer to the fact, that of the eight distinctions which Dr. Fleming, following the guidance of M. Paffé, has laid down in his Manual of Moral Philosophy, as discriminating thought from feeling, no fewer than seven are untenable for this reason. They distinguish some thoughts from some feelings but not all thoughts from all feelings. After remarking on the difficulty of psychical analysis, our author devotes the rest of the chapter to showing that the highest laws of the succession of psychical phenomena are of a merely empirical character, and that a more thorough investigation of their physical conditions is greatly needed, while it is vain to attempt to resolve them into or deduce them from physical laws. He subjects to a most trenchant criticism the attempts of Horwicz and Mandsley to base psychology on physiology. The former, it seems right to mention, has vehemently protested against the representation given of his views (Phil. Monatshefte. Bd. x. H. 6–7), and Brentano has replied (Bd. xi. H. 4).(9 § 1 ¶ 5)

The main subject of the last chapter of the first book is the want of exactness in the highest psychological laws. The views of Kant, Herbart, and Wundt as to the applicability of mathematics to psychical phenomena are discussed, but not with the thoroughness desirable. The attempt to refute the opinion of the last that the fact of psychical phenomena differing in intensity must facilitate their reduction under the sway of mathematics is particularly insufficient. On the other hand, the criticism of Fechner's statement of Weber's law is both ingenious and suggestive, and seems to prove that the only psychical phenomena which can be brought under that generalisation--those which are excited in the senses by external causes--can be so only in an imperfect and relative manner. While the difficulty of raising psychology to the rank of an exact science is brought into due prominence, induction is at the same time maintained to be capable of rising to laws of comprehensive generality from which special laws may be reached by means of the deductive and so-called inverse deductive or historical method.(9 § 1 ¶ 6)

The Second Book begins with a chapter on the difference between physical and psychical phenomena,--a subject which is rightly judged to deserve a thorough investigation, both for its own sake, and because the views of psychologists regarding it are so confused and discordant. Brentano starts in his investigation from the position that every psychical phenomenon either is an act of conception or presupposes an act of conception, the term conception (Vorstellung) being understood to comprehend whatever appears as an object to the mind in perception, apprehension, imagination, or abstraction. He combats the counterposition that there are feelings which rest on no conceptive basis. He defends the negative distinction between physical and psychical phenomena, viz., that the former are extended and the latter unextended, first against those who deny that all physical phenomena are extended and next against those who deny that all psychical phenomena are unextended; and, at the same time, maintains that Bain errs in supposing that there is no property positively characteristic of all psychical phenomena. What he calls the intentionale Inexistenz of an object--the dualism of subject and object in consciousness--appears to him to be at once common to all psychical phenomena and exclusively peculiar to them. Other distinctions are that psychical phenomena are only perceived directly through inner perception and physical phenomena only through external perception; and that the former alone have an actual, while the latter have a merely phenomenal existence. The distinction drawn by H. Spencer that psychical phenomena only appear one after another, whereas many physical phenomena may co-exist, is rejected. The general impression which this chapter leaves on the mind of the reviewer is that a considerable number of its particular criticisms are just, but that the discussion as a whole is not successful, because these two essential questions are uninvestigated, viz.: Are perceptions not so inseparable from the act of perceiving as to be, in some measure at least, if not entirely, psychical phenomena? and, Are there really any such phenomena as those which our author frequently speaks of, any physical phenomena in the phantasy?(9 § 1 ¶ 7)

Three chapters on internal consciousness, which is surely a pleonastic expression, come next. The second chapter is a most interesting and elaborate discussion of the question, Are there unconscious psychical acts? put very unnecessarily in the paradoxical form, Is there an unconscious consciousness? Our author, after examining all the facts and arguments which have been adduced in favour of an affirmative conclusion, answers with a decided No. As we have space neither to summarise nor criticise his arguments we have no right to express an opinion on his conclusion, but we may be allowed to say that no one should henceforth venture to treat of the subject of unconscious mental modifications without a careful study of this important chapter. The one which follows is an attempt to explain what is implied in consciousness. The simplest psychical act is maintained to have a twofold object, a primary, as, for example, a colour or tone, and a secondary, as, for example, seeing or hearing, and the consciousness of this secondary object is maintained to be essentially threefold, or, in other words, it realises itself as conception, judgment, and feeling. This strange analysis supplies Brentano with the principle of his classification of psychical phenomena. The fourth chapter is a defence of the unity of consciousness, the expression being understood to denote neither the simplicity nor the indivisibility of consciousness, but merely the fact that however numerous, complicated, and developed our psychical acts may be, they are always given in consciousness as the acts of one real being. He refutes the arguments of F. A. Lange and C. Ludwig against the unity of consciousness in this sense.(9 § 1 ¶ 8)

The last five chapters of the volume are all devoted to one subject--the distribution of psychical phenomena into their fundamental and most comprehensive classes. There comes, first, a survey of the chief classifications which have been attempted from the time of Plato downwards (ch. v.); next, a brief general exposition of the classification proposed by the author himself, which is into phenomena of conception, judgment, and love and hate (ch. vi.); then, the endeavour is made to establish and defend this classification by proving, on the one hand, that conception and judgment are two fundamentally distinct kinds of psychical acts (ch. vii.); and, on the other hand, that there is no essential or primordial distinction between feeling and will (ch. viii.); and, finally, the three classes of phenomena are referred to the three moments of internal consciousness, and their natural order and relationship to one another are determined (ch. ix.). Prof. Brentano does not conceal that he is proud of his classification, and seems to derive considerable enjoyment from anticipation of the Kopfschütteln which he foresees it will occasion. That is fortunate, because, we fear, there are likely to be more shakes than nods for what is original in it. The reduction of feeling and will to the same class of phenomena will, of course, command the assent of those who have already reached that conclusion; but it will probably convince few who have accepted the generally received threefold division of mental attributes into intellect, sensibility, and will, only after a careful investigation of its grounds. The really distinctive feature of the classification,--the radical separation of conception and judgment,[31]--is almost certain to meet with extremely little commendation. The ingenuity displayed in its defence is considerable, and no one who follows the laboured course of argumentation in chapter vii. will accuse the author of having taken up without long deliberation the position unhappily suggested to him by certain observations of J. S. Mill on the nature of predicaton and belief, yet a large part of that argumentation must appear to the majority of his readers logically to tend towards a conclusion directly opposed to that which he has drawn from it; to imply that the distinction between conception and judgment, whenever they are properly correlative, instead of being great and fundamental is about the smallest and vaguest which can exist between any two acts that can be distinguished at all; to indicate that a conception is only, as has been said, a contracted judgment, and a judgment only an expanded conception. Then, as to the portion of his reasoning which is relevant, few will be disposed to accept the views as to the nature either of conception or judgment on which it is founded. He congratulates himself that they have led him to original conclusions in Logic, which he promises to expound in a special work, after the completion and publication of his Psychology, but these conclusions are so very original indeed that they are far from likely to lessen any distrust which may have been already awakened by an examination of their principles in themselves. Among them are the following:--1st, Every syllogism has four terms; 2nd, A negative conclusion must have two negative premisses; and 3rd, Even when the conclusion is affirmative one of the premisses must be negative. If these doctrines can be made out, obviously all logicians from Aristotle downwards have been sheer impostors, but the probability is great that they cannot be made out, and that the views as to the nature of conception and judgment from which they have been derived are erroneous. We shall look for Prof. Brentano's Logic with the most lively curiosity, and we very cordially wish that he may bring to a prosperous conclusion the Psychology, which he has, in some respects, so happily begun.(9 § 1 ¶ 9)

R. Flint.

9 § 1 n. 1. As regards conception, our author is unfortunate in his language. His use of the term Vorstellung is extremely vague, confused, and self-contradictory. It is wider and looser even than Herbart's or Lotze's. In fact, the term, as employed by him, is not only incapable of accurate translation into English or any other language, but, corresponds to no generic fact, no peculiar faculty, and no distinctive province of mind.