Let me begin with an overview of how the Brentanian account operates, focusing on the first edition of the Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkte (1874), before examining how it supports the inclusion thesis (T1) and the general reflexivity thesis (T2).
For Brentano, every mental act, for example a representation, includes a representation of itself.Footnote 3 This means that every mental act is conscious for Brentano. In fact, inasmuch as it has a content, every psychic phenomenon is a consciousness (Bewusstein). Therefore the representation of itself that every mental act includes is already a consciousness of that mental act, and that mental act is conscious.Footnote 4
Inasmuch as every mental act includes a representation of itself, a second intentional object is introduced in the mental act. Brentano thus commits himself to double intentionality. Every mental act—for example, a representation—is intentionally directed towards two objects: its primary object and itself.Footnote 5 Thus, according to Brentano’s view, mental acts are not counted according to the number of objects, since a single mental act has several objects (Brentano 2008, p. 146). A same act can be described in different ways (e.g., direct, reflexive) depending on which partial intention one focuses (Brentano 2008, p. 146).
Brentano famously defends his account with two arguments. The first one is based on the threat of infinite regress in reflexive mental acts (e.g., Textor 2017, p. 92). Given that every representation is represented (and therefore conscious), then if the reflexive representation were not included as a part in the same mental act as the first representation, we would need a different mental act for the first representation to be represented, and so on ad infinitum (Brentano 2008, p. 140). In order to escape this regress, one might posit that some representations are unrepresented, that is, they are unconscious. But since Brentano wants to maintain that there are no unconscious psychic phenomena, the only way out of the regress, it seems, is to posit that the representation of a first representation is not a different mental act from the first representation (Brentano 2008, pp. 140–141); rather, the reflexive representation is included as a part in the same mental act as the first representation. The infinite regress is thus blocked and there is no need to postulate a third degree of reflexivity (Brentano 2008, p. 148). The second argument is based on the redundancies that follow from the real distinction between a representation and its own representation; this argument has been labelled the duplication argument (e.g., Textor 2017, pp. 93–94). The problem is that if, say, a representation were distinct from the representation of itself, the first object of the representation would have to feature, redundantly, in every subsequent representation as well (Brentano 2008, p. 140).
But this is not the whole story, since there are various reflexive ways of dealing with a single mental act such as a representation—three to be exact, according to the 1874 edition of the Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkte.Footnote 6 Brentano calls them modes (Weisen, Arten) of consciousness. The representation could be taken as an object of representation, as an object of knowledge, or as an object of feeling.Footnote 7 For a representation to be represented means that that representation (e.g., the act of hearing a sound) is apprehended by the mind. For that representation to be known means that it not only is apprehended but is also the object of a judgement (e.g., the judgement by which I acknowledge the hearing of a sound).Footnote 8 As for the third mode of consciouness, feeling, Brentano’s usual example is that of the pleasure felt when hearing a sound. This pleasure is not directly caused by the sound itself but by the representation of it: it is because I know that I am hearing that sound that I feel pleasure. As such, pleasure is a reflexive mode of the act of hearing (Brentano 2008, p. 108). Moreover, Brentano thinks that these three modes of consciousness not only can coexist in a single mental act, but must coexist. For Brentano, there is a generality (Allgemeinheit) to concomitant knowledge and feeling, so that the initial statement that every mental act includes a representation of itself must be read as: every mental act includes a representation, a knowledge, and a feeling about itself (Brentano 2008, pp. 162–163, 173).
Things are even more complex in Brentano’s theory, since in order to solve another puzzle, that of the simultaneity of mental acts, Brentano states that there can be multiple acts in the mind at the same time as long as they are all united in the same reality, that is, in the same psychic phenomenon (Brentano 2008, pp. 182–183). Brentano insists, however, that the unity of that psychic phenomenon does not entail simplicity. In fact, there can be many parts in a single psychic phenomenon: first, simultaneous acts; second, the parts of these acts themselves. Brentano calls all of these parts “divisives” (Divisive). Unlike a collective such as a herd, whose parts are real things making up a whole that is not a thing, divisives are non-things making up a whole that is a real thing (Brentano 2008, p. 176). Some of these parts are more closely related than others (Brentano 2008, p. 181). Some simultaneous mental acts, for example, could well exist without the others; for example, the representation of a colour could exist without the representation of a sound. However, the representation of a colour and the representation of a sound each include the three reflexive modes as inseparable parts. The reflexive modes are conceptual parts of the mental act because they cannot actually be separated from the act, but only in thought (Brentano 1982, p. 25).Footnote 9
According to this overview, it is clear that in order to account for reflexivity Brentano does not posit a distinct reflexive mental act, but rather insists that there are several reflexive modes that always accompany even the simplest mental act. These modes are inseparable parts of the mental act. Thus, he maintains both that reflexivity, when it occurs, is included as a part in mental acts (T1), and that reflexivity always occurs (T2), since these reflexive modes are always present.
Focusing on (T2), Brentano does not systematically explain in the Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkte how all mental acts could include reflexivity, and thus be conscious. One key problem is that one can give plenty of examples of situations that seemingly entail the existence of unconscious acts; for instance, the fact that I did not realize that I had feelings for someone before, though now I realize that I did (Brentano 2008, p. 133). Or again, to take one of Ulrici’s example that Brentano quotes (Brentano 2008, p. 130), the fact that I can now remember the words that were spoken to me while I was completely distracted. However, Brentano argues that all these situations could be explained without resorting to unconscious acts. Brentano claims that the concept of associations of ideas could play a large part in the explanation of these facts. In the case of the words I now remember, it is just that the laws of association of ideas by which sounds are connected to their meaning did not operate at the time, precisely because I was distracted (Brentano 2008, p. 131). Indeed, Brentano says that the laws of association seem to depend on attention in order to operate (Brentano 2008, p. 136).
The way the generalization of reflexivity is supposed to work is made clearer in the Deskriptive Psychologie, where Brentano distinguishes between implicit and explicit consciouness, or perception and apperception.Footnote 10 If I remember a mental act that I did not realize I had before, it is not that my mental act was unconscious then; rather, it was only implicitly conscious. The distinction between implicit and explicit consciousness depends on the concept of noticing: that is, to be explicitly conscious about a mental act, I have to notice it.Footnote 11 But if I have an act occurring right now and do not notice it, the act is still conscious, though only implicitly. Thus, when Brentano says that every mental act includes reflexivity, he also means (a) that every mental act includes a form of consciousness, namely, implicit consciousness, and (b) that reflexivity does not require noticing.
The conjunction of the inclusion thesis (T1) and the general reflexivity thesis (T2) might seem bold. In Brentano, both theses stem from the rejection of unconscious acts. If reflexivity needs a distinct reflexive act to occur, then at some point in the open indefinite series one will need to posit an unconscious act. And if reflexivity does not always occur with every mental act, then the act for which it does not occur will be unconscious.
The hypothesis I want now to examine is the following: the conjunction of (T1) and (T2) cannot only be found in Brentano but also in both subjectivist and objectivist accounts of reflexivity, which points to a more general division of accounts of reflexivity. In that regard, I will now argue that two medieval theories of reflexivity, a subjectivist one and an objectivist one, both present a conjunction of the inclusion thesis (T1) and the general reflexivity thesis (T2).Footnote 12 I will begin with the subjectivist account, that of Walter Chatton.Footnote 13