Franz Brentano & Psychology: Contributions & Work

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  • 0:03 Perception
  • 0:51 Franz Brentano
  • 1:32 Contributions to Psychology
  • 4:14 Brentano's Students
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Gaines Arnold

Gaines has a Master of Science in Education.

Franz Brentano is a psychologist many have never heard of, but one who had far-reaching influence. This lesson discusses Franz Brentano and his influence on psychology, including his theory of act psychology.


What is the answer to the old riddle, ''If a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?'' For most people the logical answer would seem to be that it did, in fact, make a sound; it doesn't matter that no one was around to hear the fall. This is the common answer because everyone has heard a tree fall and it is not silent. The other side of the argument is equally as valid, though. Since no one was around to hear, who knows whether it made any sound at all. Who knows?

However, a psychologist named Franz Brentano may have had the answer. He would have said that the tree did make a sound because whether anyone was around to hear it or not was secondary to the fact that the sound was made. Although many people have never heard of Franz Brentano, he made a tremendous noise in psychology which resounds to this day.

Franz Brentano

Franz Brentano was a priest first, a philosopher second, and a psychologist to the last. He was born in present-day Germany to parents who fostered his love of learning. Brentano first entered the university to study the philosophy of Aristotle. He believed the scholastic philosophy Aristotle had championed (in which authoritative teachers expound on their thoughts and beliefs), but he was unsatisfied with the teaching as a simple philosophy. He first wrote a dissertation on the philosophy of Aristotle, but he followed that up with another on his favorite thinker's psychology. From his study of Aristotle's thoughts and methods, Brentano developed his own psychological theories.

Contributions to Psychology

Although he first entered the priesthood following his days at the university, Brentano quickly became an opponent of the established church when he argued against the infallibility of the pope. Thus, he went back to academia and became an influential professor.

His primary interest, shared by many of his contemporaries, was to free psychology from the chains of philosophy and make it a singular study. Brentano was one of the first of the new type of psychologist who used empirical methods rather than anecdotal. The difference is that anecdotal evidence is based on opinion whereas empirical evidence is gained through many observations during controlled circumstances in which the observer only reports what is seen and not what the observer thinks about what they have seen.

Through his empirical method and readings regarding Aristotle, Brentano developed what he called act psychology. He believed that psychology should focus on the mind's outputs, its acts (such as perception, and the outward signs of emotions), rather than on how the inner structures of the mind produced those outputs. He was opposed to the newly formed school of structuralism because he believed that how the mind worked was not within the purview of psychology. The mind was a physical machine whose inner workings were the concern of physicians not psychologists.

In writing about and researching act psychology, Brentano defined concepts regarding intentionality, perception, and judgment:

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