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A Letter from Edmund Husserl to Franz Brentano from 29 XII 1889


Among the correspondence between Husserl and Brentano kept at the Houghton Library of Harvard University there is a letter from Husserl to Brentano from 29 XII 1889, whose contents were completely unknown until now. The letter is of some significance, both historically as well as systematically for Husserl’s early development, painting a vivid picture of his relation and indebtedness to his teacher Franz Brentano. As in his letter to Stumpf from February 1890, Husserl describes the issues he had encountered during the elaboration of his habilitation work into the Philosophy of Arithmetic, but also announces that he has finally found "clarity" regarding the arithmetica universalis.

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  1. Franz Clemens Brentano Correspondence, 1867–1917 (MS Ger 202). Houghton Library, Harvard University. Husserl’s letter to Brentano from 29 XII 1889 is number 2074.

  2. The digital guide to Brentano’s correspondence is available on-line:

  3. Letter from Franz Brentano to Lujo Brentano from Easter Sunday (30 March) 1907, number 3214 in Brentano’s correspondence (MS Ger 202) at the Houghton Library.

  4. See Franz Clemens Brentano Compositions, 1870–1917 (MS Ger 230). Houghton Library, Harvard University, manuscript PS 78 Ausgewaehlte Fragen aus Psychologie und Aesthetik. Kolleg 1885/1886, esp. 59601 ff. and 59619 ff.

  5. Manuscript K I 50/47 in the Husserl-Archives Leuven; also see Schuhmann (1977, p. 16). A picture of the first page of the manuscript (with title and date) can be found in Sepp (1988, p. 157). The surrounding pages in the manuscript contain excerpts and critical discussions of Riemann and Helmholtz, which also were the topic of Husserl’s early lectures at Halle.

  6. Not his first publication, as it is preceded at least by his article on “Der Folgerungscalcul und die Inhaltslogik” (Husserl 1891a) and possibly by his “Rezension von E. Schröder, Vorlesungen über die Algebra der Logik” (Husserl 1891b).

  7. Husserl’s Habilitationsschrift was never published as such. The work that has been published in Hua XII as “Über den Begriff der Zahl” is in fact just the first chapter of the Habilitationsschrift, as Husserl himself very clearly states in his last footnote to the work. For a more extensive discussion of these matters and an attempt at a reconstruction of the lost parts of the habilitation work, see Ierna (2005).

  8. I would like to thank Robin Rollinger and Thomas Vongehr for their assistance with the translation and edition of the letter and Steven Crowell for his helpful comments and corrections. The discovery was made during my stay as Visiting Fellow in Philosophy at Harvard University, which was enabled by my NWO VENI grant, nr. 275-20-036.

  9. In the preface to his treatise On the Origin of Moral Knowledge Brentano had written: “These thoughts form a fragment of a Descriptive Psychology, which, as I now venture to hope, I may be enabled in the near future to publish in its complete form” (Brentano 1889, p. VI, translation from Brentano 1902, p. VIII).

  10. Brentano (1889). In Husserl’s library at the Husserl-Archives Leuven with signature BQ 65.

  11. The lectures on Praktische Philosophie from the WS 1884/85 and WS 1885/86. Eduard Leisching’s notes of these lectures are kept at the Husserl-Archives Leuven with signature Y 4 and Y 5. Also see Franz Clemens Brentano Compositions, 1870–1917 (MS Ger 230). Houghton Library, Harvard University, manuscript Eth 21.

  12. The Philosophie der Arithmetik was dedicated to “Meinem Lehrer Franz Brentano in inniger Dankbarkeit” (“To my teacher Franz Brentano with heartfelt gratitude”).

  13. A reference to Goethe’s Faust, specifically to the dialog where the Erdgeist, the earthly spirit, speaks to Faust: “Du hast mich mächtig angezogen, an meiner Sphäre lang gesogen”.

  14. Carl Stumpf, who had supervised Husserl’s habilitation in Halle, transferred to the University of Munich in 1889.

  15. Benno Erdmann (1851–1921), professor in Halle from 1890 to 1898.

  16. Erdmann (1877). In Husserl’s library with signature BQ 126.

  17. According to a letter from Malvine Husserl to Elli Rosenberg from 26 February 1933: “Frau Loening, eine Pflegetochter der Gräfin Wersowetz (die bei Loenings in Halle lebte u. mit der ich auch viel verkehrte), ist mir in sehr lieber Erinnerung, eine schöne anmutige Frau, etwa 7 Jahre älter als ich, die ich sehr anschwärmte u. die mir auch sehr zugethan war.” Schuhmann (1988, p. 122) also points out that Prof. Edgar Loening (1843–1919) had been a friend of Husserl’s. The connection of the Brentanos to the Loenings remains unclear.


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Ierna, C. A Letter from Edmund Husserl to Franz Brentano from 29 XII 1889. Husserl Stud 31, 65–72 (2015).

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  • Moral Knowledge
  • General Arithmetic
  • Vivid Picture
  • Descriptive Psychology
  • Houghton Library