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Monism and Particularism: Methodology in Brentano’s Psychology

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The paper argues that Brentano was the exponent of a methodological monism, which is based on the requirement that science should be grounded on experience, and not on a speculative-idealistic principle, as in the case of German idealism. In Brentano’s psychological writings, this methodological requirement concretized in two different theses: (T1) The method of psychology is identical with the method of natural science; (T2) The method of psychology is inspired by the method of natural science. The thesis of this study is that an important part of Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint is elaborated in accordance with T1. By contrast, Brentano’s Descriptive Psychology illustrates the subsequent decision to give up this idea. In its place, the aforementioned requirement is elaborated in the spirit of a methodological particularism that recommends the scientist elaborate his methods according to the specificity of the phenomena under investigation and to the difficulties that need to be overcome when approaching them.

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  1. Brentano (1929, 137). For the sake of convenience, the following abbreviations will be used: AC for the paper “Auguste Comte” (1869), PES for Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (1874a), GE for the lecture “Über die Gründe der Entmutigung auf philosophischem Gebiete” (1874b), and DP for Descriptive Psychology (1982).

  2. Comte (1830, 94); PES, 23 f.

  3. See, for instance, Haller (1988).

  4. Ms. H 45: ‘Gesch. d. Phil. Einteilung der Wissenschaften’ (n. 25253) (apud Hedwig (1987), XIII).

  5. See, in this respect, von Wright’s compelling analysis in Explanation and Understanding. Here Comte’s and Mill’s contributions to methodological monism are well emphasized, without any mention of Brentano’s contribution to the issue. However, Brentano holds the same thesis, while also explicitly aknowledging his being indebted to Comte and Mill.

  6. Brentano (1998, 86 f., 100 f).

  7. In the specialist literature, Haller (1988, 22 f.) has advocated for T0, Mezei and Smith for T1 (1998, 2), Volpi (1989, 19) and Hedwig (1988, 40) for T2. As I shall show below, each standpoint has its legitimacy. For an overview of Brentano’s philosophy relevant for the context of the present discussion, see Poli (1998) and Albertazzi (2006).

  8. Wright (1971, 4); I added the first part of the thesis.

  9. In his lecture on psychology held at the University of Prague since 1880–1, Anton Marty also dealt with this topic, because the second part of his lectures is exactly about the genetic psychology (see Marty 2011; Rollinger 2014).

  10. Comte (1830, 86 ff., 96 f., 111 ff.); see also PES, XXVIII, 23 f.

  11. Baumgartner et al. (1995, p. XVI); DP also contains fragments from his other lectures and some of his papers on descriptive psychology from around 1900.

  12. Brentano (1929, 32 ff).

  13. See, for example, Chisholm (1967), Mulligan and Smith (1984/85), Marek (1989) and Albertazzi (2006, 131–143).

  14. Brentano 1866b, 1889, 1893). For linguistic corrections, I am particularly indebted to Susan Gabriel. I would also like to thank Susan Gabriel and Alexandru Bejinariu for their critical comments that helped me reach a clearer expression of the theses defended in this paper.


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This work was supported by a Grant from Romanian Ministry of Research and Innovation, CNCS—UEFISCDI, Project Number PN-III-P4-ID-PCE-2016-0473, within PNCDI III.

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Correspondence to Ion Tănăsescu.

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Tănăsescu, I. Monism and Particularism: Methodology in Brentano’s Psychology. Axiomathes 29, 397–412 (2019).

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