THE FATE OF ANALYSIS, #6–Moore, Brentano, & Husserl on Intentionality.

By Robert Hanna



II. Classical Analytic Philosophy

II.1 What Classical Analytic Philosophy Is: Two Basic Theses

II.2 What Classical Analytic Philosophy Officially Isn’t: Its Conflicted Anti-Kantianism

II.3 Classical Analytic Philosophy Characterized in Simple, Subtler, and Subtlest Ways

II.4 Three Kinds of Analysis: Decompositional, Transformative, and Conceptual

II.5 Frege, The First Founding Father of Classical Analytic Philosophy

II.6 Frege’s Project of (Transformative or Reductive) Analysis

II.7 Frege’s Dead End

II.8 Frege’s Semantics of Sense and Reference, aka Meaning

II.9 Some Biggish Problems For Frege’s Semantics

II.10 Husserl, Logic, and Logical Psychologism, aka LP

II.11 What LP is, and its Three Cardinal Sins

II.12 Husserl’s Three Basic Arguments Against LP

II.13 Has Husserl Begged the Question Against LP? Enter The Logocentric Predicament, and a Husserlian Way Out

II. Moore, Brentano, Husserl, Judgment, Anti-Idealism, and Meinong’s World

III.1 G.E. Moore, the Second Founding Father of Classical Analytic Philosophy

III.2 Brentano on Phenomenology, Mental Phenomena, and Intentionality

III.3 Husserl on Phenomenology and Intentionality

III.4 Moore and the Nature of Judgment

III.5 Moore and the Refutation of Idealism

III.6 Meinong’s World

IV. Russell, Unlimited Logicism, Acquaintance, and Description

IV.1 Russell Beyond Brentano, Husserl, Moore, and Meinong

IV.2 Russell and Mathematical Logic versus Kant

IV.3 Russell’s Unlimited Logicist Project

IV.4 Pursued by Logical Furies: Russell’s Paradox Again

IV.5 Russell’s ‘Fido’-Fido Theory of Meaning

IV.6 Knowledge-by-Acquaintance and Knowledge-by-Description

IV.7 Russell’s Theory of Descriptions

IV.8 Russell’s Multiple-Relation Theory of Judgment

IV.9 Russellian Analysis, Early Wittgenstein, and Impredicativity Again

IV.10 Russell and The Philosophy of Logical Atomism

V. Wittgenstein and the Tractatus 1: The Title, and Propositions 1–2.063

V.1 A Brief Synopsis of the Tractatus

V.2 The Tractatus in Context

V.3 The Basic Structure of the Tractatus: A Simple Picture

V.4 Tractarian Ontology

V.5 Reconstructing Wittgenstein’s Reasoning

V.6 What Are the Objects or Things?

V.7 The Role of Logic in Tractarian Ontology

V.8 Colorless Objects/Things

V.9 Tractarian Ontology, Necessity, and Contingency

V.10 Some Initial Worries, and Some Possible Wittgensteinian Counter-Moves

VI. Wittgenstein and the Tractatus 2: Propositions 2.013–5.55

VI.1 What is Logical Space? What is Real Space?

VI.2 Atomic Facts Necessarily Are in Manifest or Phenomenal Space, But Objects or Things Themselves Necessarily Aren’t in Manifest or Phenomenal Space

VI.3 Logical Space is Essentially More Comprehensive than Manifest or Phenomenal Space

VI.4 Why There Can’t/Kant Be a Non-Logical World

VI.5 A Worry About Wittgenstein’s Conception of Logic: Non-Classical Logics

VI.6 What is a Tractarian Proposition?

VI.7 Naming Objects or Things, and Picturing Atomic Facts

VI.8 Signs, Symbols, Sense, Truth, and Judgment

VI.9 Propositions Again

VI.10 Language and Thought

VII. Wittgenstein and the Tractatus 3: Propositions 4–5.61

VII.1 The Logocentric Predicament, Version 3.0: Justifying Deduction

VII.2 The Logical Form of Deduction

VII.3 Logic Must Take Care of Itself

VII.4 Tautologies and Contradictions

VII.5 What is Logic?

VII.6 Logic is the A Priori Essence of Language

VII.7 Logic is the A Priori Essence of Thought

VII.8 Logic is the A Priori Essence of the World

VIII. Wittgenstein and the Tractatus 4: Propositions 5.62–7

VIII.1 Tractarian Solipsism and Tractarian Realism

VIII.2 Tractarian Solipsism

VIII.3 Tractarian Realism

VIII.4 Is the Tractatus’s Point an Ethical One?

VIII.5 The Meaning of Life

VIII.6 Three Basic Worries About the Tractatus

VIII.7 Natural Science and the Worry About the Simplicity of the Objects or Things

VIII.8 Natural Science and the Worry About the Logical Independence of Atomic Facts

VIII.9 Tractarian Mysticism and the Worry About Metaphilosophy

IX. Carnap, The Vienna Circle, Logical Empiricism, and The Great Divide

IX.1 Carnap Before and After the Tractatus

IX.2 Carnap, The Vienna Circle, and The Elimination of Metaphysics

IX.3 The Verifiability Principle and Its Fate

IX.4 The Davos Conference and The Great Divide

X. Wittgenstein and the Investigations 1: Preface, and §§1–27

X.1 From the Tractatus to the Investigations

X.2 The Thesis That Meaning Is Use

X.3 A Map of the Investigations

X.4 The Critique of Pure Reference: What the Builders Did

XI. Wittgenstein and the Investigations 2: §§28–242

XI.1 The Picture Theory and the Vices of Simplicity

XI.2 Wittgenstein’s Argument Against The Picture Theory: A Rational Reconstruction

XI.3 Understanding and Rule-Following

XI.4 Wittgenstein’s Rule-Following Paradox: The Basic Rationale

XI.5 Wittgenstein’s Rule-Following Paradox: A Rational Reconstruction

XI.6 Kripkenstein’s Rule-Following Paradox: Why Read Kripke Too?

XI.7 Kripkenstein’s Rule-Following Paradox: A Rational Reconstruction

XI.8 How to Solve The Paradox: Wittgenstein’s Way and Kripkenstein’s Way

XI.8.1 Wittgenstein and The Rule-Following Paradox: A Rational Reconstruction

XI.8.2 Kripkenstein and The Rule-Following Paradox: A Rational Reconstruction

XII. Wittgenstein and the Investigations 3: §§242–315

XII.1 What is a Private Language?

XII.2 The Private Language Argument: A Rational Reconstruction

XII.3 Is Wittgenstein a Behaviorist? No.

XII.4 Wittgenstein on Meanings, Sensations, and Human Mindedness: A Rational Reconstruction

XIII. Wittgenstein and the Investigations 4: §§316–693 & 174e-232e

XIII.1 Linguistic Phenomenology

XIII.2 Two Kinds of Seeing

XIII.3 Experiencing the Meaning of a Word

XIII.4 The Critique of Logical Analysis, and Logic-As-Grammar

XIV. Coda: Wittgenstein and Kantianism

XIV.1 World-Conformity 1: Kant, Transcendental Idealism, and Empirical Realism

XIV.2 World-Conformity 2: Wittgenstein, Transcendental Solipsism, and Pure Realism

XIV.3 World-Conformity 3: To Forms of Life

XIV.4 The Critique of Self-Alienated Philosophy 1: Kant’s Critical Metaphilosophy

XIV.5 The Critique of Self-Alienated Philosophy 2: Wittgensteinian Analysis as Critique

XV. From Quine to Kripke and Analytic Metaphysics: The Adventures of the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

XV.1 Two Urban Legends of Post-Empiricism

XV.2 A Very Brief History of The Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

XV.3 Why the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction Really Matters

XV.4 Quine’s Critique of the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction, and a Meta-Critique

XV.5 Three Dogmas of Post-Quineanism

XVI. Analytic Philosophy and The Ash-Heap of History

XVI.1 Husserl’s Crisis and Our Crisis

XVI.2 Why Hasn’t Post-Classical Analytic Philosophy Produced Any Important Ideas in the Last Thirty-Five Years?

XVI.3 On Irad Kimhi’s Thinking and Being, Or, It’s The End Of Analytic Philosophy As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

XVI.4 Thinking Inside and Outside the Fly-Bottle: The New Poverty of Philosophy and Its Second Copernican Revolution


But you can also read or download a .pdf version of the complete book HERE.


III. Moore, Brentano, Judgment, Anti-Idealism, and Meinong’s World

III.1 G.E. Moore, the Second Founding Father of Classical Analytic Philosophy

G.E. Moore (1873–1958)

G.E. Moore was the second member of the classical Analytic Trinity (two of whom were also, as it happened, students and then fellows of Trinity College Cambridge, like Wittgenstein a few years later) of Founding Fathers, by virtue of his inventing and promulgating philosophical analysis in the full-strength sense that includes decompositional analysis, transformative or reductive analysis, and conceptual analysis alike.

Paradoxically however, Moore invented and promulgated philosophical analysis not so much by writing about it, as instead by living it, that is, by virtue of his passionately and relentlessly deploying the methods of decompositional analysis and conceptual analysis, especially, in his early philosophical writings,[i] and by the powerful influence of his charismatic philosophical personality on Russell and Wittgenstein.[ii]

So Moore was also, as it were, the fair-haired poster boy of classical Analytic philosophy.

Moore began his philosophical career as a psychologistic neo-Kantian, and wrote his fellowship dissertation on Kant, under the direction of the equally neo- Kantian and Brentano-inspired philosophical psychologist James Ward,[iii] who’d been Moore‘s undergraduate supervisor and mentor at Trinity.

But like other young philosophers with minds of their own — and, ironically enough, quite like the early Husserl in relation to Brentano — Moore vigorously rejected the teachings of his teacher.

Moore‘s specific act of rebellion against his mentor Ward was to develop a sharply anti-psychologistic, anti-idealistic, and radically realistic critique of Kant‘s theory of judgment.

Correspondingly, he also developed a sharply anti-psychologistic and radically realistic (and in particular, moral-intuitionist) extension of Kant‘s ethics, although in this respect Moore quite explicitly followed Brentano’s Origin of Our Knowledge of Right and Wrong.[iv]

In any case, Moore‘s critique of Kant‘s theory of judgment was later published in his remarkable papers “The Nature of Judgment”(1899)[v] and “The Refutation of Idealism” (1903).[vi]

And in the same year as “Refutation,” Moore also published his Brentano-inspired radical extension of Kant‘s ethics in Principia Ethica.

So now let’s see what Brentano was up to, philosophically speaking.

III.2 Brentano on Phenomenology, Mental Phenomena, and Intentionality

Franz Brentano (1838–1817)

Phenomenology, according to its founder Brentano, in his Psychology from an Empirical Standoint (1874), is “descriptive psychology,” and descriptive psychology is the a posteriori science of “mental phenomena” or “inner phenomena”[vii]:

We must consider only mental phenomena in the sense of real states as the proper objects of psychology. And it is in reference only to these phenomena that we say that psychology is the science of mental phenomena.[viii]

1. By [descriptive psychology] I understand the analysing description of our phenomena. 2. By phenomena, however, [I understand] that which is perceived by us, in fact, what is perceived by us in the strict sense of the word. 3. This, for example, is not the case for the external world…. 5. Something can be a phenomenon, however, without being a thing in itself, such as, for example, what is presented as such, or what is desired as such. 6. One is telling the truth if one says that phenomena are objects of inner perception, even though the term “inner” is actually superfluous. All phenomena are to be called inner because they all belong to one reality, be it as constituents or as correlates.[ix]

This account clearly and contrastively refers back to Kant’s Paralogisms of Pure Reason in the first Critique, where Kant thoroughly criticizes rational psychology, flowing from the Cartesian and Leibnizian-Wolffian traditions, which fallaciously concludes that the mind is a simple substantial immortal Cartesian soul or Leibnizian-Wolffian monad, or a subjective thing-in-itself, by starting with the true premise that the rational human mind is self-conscious and synthetically unified (CPR 341–405/B399–432).

In other words, rational psychology is the inherently problematic a priori science of mental noumena, whereas descriptive psychology in Brentano’s sense is the empirically well-grounded a posteriori science of mental or inner phenomena.

In this way, Brentano’s technical term “phenomenology” is obviously derived proximally from the Kantian technical term “phenomenon” and also more remotely from the Greek word phainomenon.

Collectively, those earlier terms mean whatever veridically appears (or really manifests itself) to a rational human conscious sensory subject, in inner sense or outer sense.

Brentano also distinguishes between descriptive psychology or phenomenology and what he calls “genetic psychology”:

By calling the description of phenomena descriptive psychology one particularly emphasizes the contemplation of psychical realities. Genetic psychology is then added to it as the second part of psychology… Physiology has to intervene forcefully in the latter, whereas descriptive psychology is relatively independent of it.[x]

In Brentano’s terminology, genetic psychology is physiological psychology, or naturalistic psychology: namely, psychology whose object is the discovery of of causal natural laws underlying mental phenomena.

Phenomenology, by sharp contrast, according to Brentano, yields necessary, infallible, non-empirical truths about mental phenomena.

Hence phenomenology, as “empirical” descriptive psychology in Brentano’s sense, is not an empiricist psychology, but in fact a thoroughly aprioristic philosophical psychology, metaphysically grounded on the notion of a “mental phenomenon,” that specifically consists in a certain threefold denial of rational (Cartesian and Leibnizian-Wolffian) psychology, naturalistic psychology, and also merely empiricistic psychology alike.

Brentano presents five different characterizations of mental phenomena.

Characterization 1 –> In terms of mental acts of Vorstellung.

According to Brentano’s first characterization, mental phenomena are mental acts in which something is directly “presented” to a conscious sensory subject:

Every idea or presentation which we acquire either through sense perception or imagination is an example of a mental phenomenon. By presentation I do not mean that which is presented, but rather the act of presentation. Thus, hearing a sound, seeing a colored object, feeling warmth or cold, as well as similar states of imagination are examples of what I mean by this term. I also mean by it the thinking of a general concept…. Furthermore, every judgment, every recollection, every expectation, every inference, every conviction or opinion, every doubt, is a mental phenomenon. Also to be included under this term is every emotion: joy, sorrow, fear, hope, courage, despair, anger, love, hate, desire, act of will, intention, astonishment, admiration, contempt, etc.[xi]

The term Vorstellung, here translated by Rancurello at al. as “presentation,” was also used as a technical term by Kant, but is usually, and I also think far more accurately, translated by the English term “representation.”

The verb vorstellen means “to place something X (stellen) before (vor) a conscious subject.”

In either Kant’s or Brentano’s usage of Vorstellung, there is no implication whatsoever that anything intervenes between the conscious subject and what is represented by that subject, or presented to that subject.

Hence Vorstellungen orrepresentations in either the Kantian or Brentanian sense are not to be understood as “ideas” in the sense in which indirect realists use that notion.

Kant, Brentano and correspondingly, all other phenomenologists in the Kant-Brentano tradition of the metaphysics of intentionality, are direct realists.

Characterization 2 –> In terms of the distinction between mental phenomena and physical phenomena.

According to Brentano’s second characterization, the distinction between mental phenomena and physical phenomena, mental phenomena are either Vorstellungen or any phenomenon that is based on a Vorstellung (e.g., a judgment, or an emotion):

[T]he term “mental phenomena” applies to presentations as well as to all the phenomena that are based on presentations.[xii]

Acts of Vorstellung are said to be mental acts in which an object appears to a conscious sensory subject:

As we use the verb “to present,” “to be presented” means the same as “to appear.”[13]

Physical phenomena, by contrast, are passive, externally generated sense data:

Examples of physical phenomena, on the other hand, are a color, a figure, a landscape which I see, a chord which I hear, warmth, cold, odor which I sense; as well as similar images which appears in the imagination.[xiv]

Characterization 3 –> In terms of intentionality.

According to Brentano’s third characterization, mental phenomena are mental acts in which an intentional object is immanently contained, i.e., acts of intentionality, and these are essentially different from physical phenomena:

Every mental phenomenon is characterized by what the Scholastics of the Middle Ages called the intentional (or mental) in-existence of an object, and what we might call, though not wholly unambiguously, reference to a content, direction toward an object (which is not to be understood here as meaning a thing), or immanent objectivity. Every mental phenomenon includes something as object within itself, although they do not all do so in the same way. In presentation something is presented, in judgment something is affirmed or denied, in love loved, in hate hated, in desire desired, and so-on. This intentional in-existence is characteristic exclusively of mental phenomena. No physical phenomenon exhibits anything like it. We can, therefore, define mental phenomena by saying that they are those phenomena which contain an object intentionally within themselves.[xv]

It’s to be particularly emphasized that in-existence is immanent containment, not non-existence.

Characterization 4 –> In terms of inner perception.

According to Brentano’s fourth characterization, mental phenomena occur in inner consciousness and are perceived only in inner consciousness, which is immediate, infallible, self-evident, and solipsistic:

Another characteristic which all mental phenomena have in common is the fact that they are only perceived in inner consciousness, while in the case of physical phenomena only external perception is possible…. Besides the fact that it has a special object, inner perception possesses another distinguishing characteristic: its immediate, infallible, self-evidence.[xvi]

[I]t is obvious that no mental phenomenon is perceived by more than one individual.[xvii]

Furthermore, only inner perception is immediate, infallible, and self-evident; by contrast, external perception is inferential, fallible, and dubitable:

Of all the types of cognition of the objects of experience, inner perception alone possesses this characteristic… Moreover, inner perception is not merely the only kind of perception which is immediately evident: it is really the only perception in the strict sense of that word. As we have seen, the phenomena of so-called external perception cannot be proved true and real even by means of indirect demonstration…. Therefore, strictly speaking, so-called external perception is not perception.[xviii]

Moroever, only mental phenomena really exist.

By contrast, physical phenomena have a merely phenomenal and intentional existence:

We said that mental phenomena are those phenomena which alone can be perceived in the strict sense of that word. We could just as well say that they are those phenomena which alone possess real existence as well as intentional existence. Knowledge, joy, and desire really exist. Color, sound, and warmth have only a phenomenal and intentional existence.[xix]

Characterization 5 –> In terms of the unity of the mental.

And according to Brentano’s fifth characterization, mental phenomena are not simple items, yet they always appear to us as a unity or whole, while physical phenomena may appear as disconnected or as a mere aggregate:

Mental phenomena, which we perceive, in spite of their multiplicity, always appear to us as a unity, while physical phenomena, which we perceive at the same time, do not always appear in the same way as parts of one single phenomenon.[xx]

Finally, Brentano explicitly holds that the primary characterization of mental phenomena — i.e., the most philosophically informative characterization — is in terms of intentionality, i.e., according to Characterization 3:

that feature which best characterizes mental phenomena is undoubtedly their intentional in-existence.[xxi]

It should be obvious by now that philosophically there is a great deal going on in Brentano’s five different characterizations of mental phenomena.

But for our purposes, here are five crucial points about those characterizations.

First, Brentano’s mental phenomena are essentially the same as the contents of what Kant earlier called “inner sense,”and what William James later called “the stream of consciousness” or “stream of thought.”[xxii]

Second, mental phenomena are occurrent apparent facts about the human activity of consciously representing objects, which Brentano (explicitly following the Scholastics) dubbed intentionality.

But despite Brentano’s use of the Scholastic term “intentionality,” it’s clear that the very idea of intentionality is fundamentally derived from Kant’s cognitive semantics.[xxiii]

According to Brentano, intentionality is a necessary and sufficient condition of mental phenomena.[xxiv]

Conversely, the presence of mental phenomena before the mind is a necessary and sufficient condition of intentionality.

Therefore the very idea of intentionality in Brentano’s sense is necessarily equivalent with Kant’s doctrine of inner sense and his corresponding doctrine of specifically subjective phenomena.

Third, another necessary and sufficient condition of mental phenomena is inner perception, which is an immediate, infallible, self-evident knowledge about intentional facts.[xxv]

Brentano’s notion of inner perception in turn corresponds to what Kant called “empirical apperception” (CPR B132), with the crucial difference that unlike Brentano, Kant does not suppose that empirical apperception is either immediate (because for Kant it’s always mediated by concepts), infallible (because for Kant it’s merely contingent cognition), or certain (because for Kant it’s merely empirical cognition).

Fourth, according to Brentano, every act of intentionality — every mental phenomenon — has an intentional object or “immanent objectivity.”

Intentional objects in turn have the ontological property of ‘in-existence’ or existence-in, which means that their being necessarily depends on the being of the act of intentionality itself.

So for Brentano the act of intentionality literally contains its intentional objects as intrinsic contents.

Consequently, an intentional object in Brentano’s sense cannot also exist outside the mind, as a thing-in-itself or noumenon.

An intentional object in Brentano’s sense is therefore necessarily equivalent to Kant’s notion of an appearance of inner sense. i.e., a specifically subjective appearance.[xxvi]

Fifth and finally, when an intentional object is represented spatially or by means of what Kant called “outer sense,” whether or not it is represented as actually extended in space (as, e.g., in the case of the visual experience of color, which sometimes is directed proximally to phosphenes — the tiny phenomenal fireworks you experience when you close your eyes and press your fingers on your eyelids — and not distally to colored surfaces), then it’s what Brentano calls a “physical phenomenon.”[xxvii]

Brentano’s notion of phenomenology is therefore, with one crucial qualification, the same as Kant’s notion of empirical psychology, with its exclusive focus on the specifically subjective appearances of inner sense.

Correspondingly, Brentano’s phenomenology, when considered metaphysically, is clearly a version of subjective or phenomenal idealism, according to which the world we cognize is nothing but a structured complex of specifically subjective appearances in consciously-experienced time, but not in real space.

The one crucial qualification here is that whereas for Kant, empirical psychology can never be a genuine science — that is, an a priori discipline whose basic claims are necessarily true, law-governed, and known with certainty — due to the non-mathematizable and idiosyncratically subjective character of its subject-matter (MFNS 4: 470–471), by contrast for Brentano, phenomenology is a genuine empirical science founded on first-person epistemic self-evidence and certainty.

This lingering Cartesian assumption in Brentano’s phenomenology, namely, that there’s a “privileged access” to mental phenomena — implying, in effect, their intrinsic non-relationality, logical privacy, infallibility, ineffability, and immediate apprehensibility, and therefore, in effect, implying that mental phenomena are nothing but phenomenal qualia[xxviii] — has fundamental significance for the phenomenological tradition and for the classical Analytic tradition alike.

For in addition to Brentano’s subjective or phenomenal idealism, to the extent that an assumption of privileged access is also retained by him, it further entails that phenomenology after Brentano, and equally early Analytic philosophy, via Brentano’s influence on Moore, and as a direct consequence, on the Moorean-Russellian notion of a sense datum,[xxix] are always teetering on the edge of Cartesian ontological dualism.

III.3 Husserl on Phenomenology and Intentionality

More precisely, phenomenology as Husserl initially understood it, is the first-person, introspective, non-reductive philosophical psychology of consciousness and intentionality, as opposed to the natural science of empirical psychology (LI V, §7).

As a specifically philosophical psychology, its basic claims, if true, are non-logically or synthetically necessarily true and a priori.

As Husserl points out in Investigation V, “consciousness” (Bewußtsein) is subjective experience, where the notion of “experience” includes both

(i) Erlebnis, i.e., “lived experience” or phenomenal awareness, and

(ii) Erfahrung in Kant’s sense, i.e., “objective experience” or intentionality that is directed towards either cognizable objects (“thick” objects, empirical states of affairs) or merely thinkable objects (“thin” objects, noumena).

In turn, every conscious intentional mental item M has four individually necessary and jointly individuating features:

(i) M is a mental act (psychischerAkt) with its own “immanent content” or “act-matter” and its own specific character (i.e., phenomenal character) (LI V, §§11, 14, 20),

(ii) M’s mental act falls under a specific intentional act-type or ‘act-quality’, e.g., perceiving, imagining, remembering, asserting, doubting, etc. (LI V, §20),

(iii) M’s mental act has an intentional objective reference (obkektive Bezeihung) which at the very least has ontic status or “being” (Sein) and perhaps also actual existence or “reality” (Wirklichkeit), although this object need not necessarily have reality — hence intentional objects can include fictional objects, impossible objects, abstract objects, ideal objects, etc. (LI V, §§11, 17, 20), and

(iv) M has an intentional meaning content or “semantic essence” (bedeutungsmässige Wesen), which presents its target in a certain specific way, where this meaning content is either propositional or referential (LI V, §§21, 31–36).

It’s crucial to note that this general phenomenological analysis holds both for the intentionality of judgment and belief, which presupposes pure formal logic and necessarily requires the existence of natural language and the intentional subject’s linguistic competence, and also for the intentionality of perception and other modes of sensory cognition such as imagination and memory, which do not presuppose pure formal logic or necessarily require the existence of natural language or linguistic competence.

Thus in the Logical Investigations Husserl introduced an importantly new idea about intentionality that was a significant advance over Brentano’s doctrine: namely, a sharp and explicit tripartite distinction between

(i) the subjectively conscious “lived experience” (Erlebnis) or “act” (Akt)of intentionality,

(ii) the objectively existing and intersubjectively shareable logical or semantic“content” (Inhalt) of intentionality, and

(iii) the mind-independent “objective reference”(objektive Beziehung) of intentionality.

More precisely Husserl showed how, while each of these is an intrinsic feature of every intentional mental act, state, or process, each component can nevertheless vary logically independently of the other.

In the same period, Frege also systematically developed essentially the same distinction between what he called

(i*) the subjective “idea” (Vorstellung) or attitudinal “coloration” (Farbung),

(ii*) “sense” (Sinn), and

(iii*) “reference” or “Meaning” (Bedeutung).

Nevertheless, if the truth be told, both Husserl and Frege were merely recurring to Kant’s tripartite distinction, made explicitly in and throughout the first Critique, between

(i**) the psychological Form and Materie (i.e., the representational character and phenomenal character) of inner sense, that is, its subjectively experienced attitudes, desires, feelings, sensations, and images,

(ii**) the Inhalt or mental content of concepts or judgments, that is, their descriptive or propositional sense or meaning, and

(iii*) the Beziehung of intuitions or the Umfang of concepts, that is, their singular objective reference or their general objective reference (i.e., their comprehension or extension — which Russell later called “denotation”).

There is, however, a fundamental meta-philosophical tension in Logical Investigations.

This tension is that Brentano’s phenomenology, as a descendant of Kant’s empirical psychology of inner sense, is at bottom factual and empirical, while Husserl’s phenomenology is irreducibly modal, non-empirical, and non-logical.

Husserl’s response to this tension is to reinterpret Brentano’s notion of self-evident inner perception as a priori insight (Einsicht) or a priori self-evidence (Evidenz).[xxxi]

So for Husserl Phenomenology has an a priori foundation, and its basic truths are synthetically necessary and a priori.

It may then seem that Husserl is back safely in the Kantian fold of transcendental psychology.

Nevertheless there’s another problem.

Brentano’s phenomenology has no rational soul as a subjective foundation, but instead only a functional unity of human intentional activities, and Husserl had explicitly adopted this conception of the phenomenological ego in the first edition of Logical Investigations:

I must frankly confess, however, that I am quite unable to find this ego, this primitive, necessary centre of relations.[xxxii]

But by the second edition, Husserl explicitly realized that this would not suffice for an epistemic foundation of his apriorist version of phenomenology, and that he had to upgrade to a higher-order ego:

I have since managed to find [this ego], i.e., have learnt not to be led astray from a pure grasp of the given through corrupt forms of the ego-metaphysic.[xxxiii]

In other words, Husserl managed to find a Kant-style transcendental ego in order to ground his theory of intentionality.

According to Husserl in his Idea of Phenomenology (1907), Ideas I (1913), and Cartesian Meditations (1931), finding a transcendental ego requires a special philosophical effort, or more precisely a series of such efforts.

Recall that the function of a transcendental ego for Husserl is to ground his a priori rationalist phenomenological epistemology.

And a transcendental ego in the Kantian sense isn’t a Cartesian mental substance, but instead an innately specified spontaneous non-empirical generative cognitive capacity for self-consciousness.

So the nature of a transcendental ego must be such that the act of self-conscious reflection suffices for the knowledge of the propositional content of intentionality.

This in turn requires

(i) that this propositional content be guaranteed to be true, and

(ii) that this content be grasped by the thinking subject with self-evidence.

And that in turn requires

(i*) that this propositional content be materially identical with the truth-making object of the proposition, and

(ii*) that the form of this propositional content be immediately and infallibly apprehended by the thinking subject.

Now Husserl secures condition (i*) by means of what he calls “the transcendental-phenomenological reduction.”

This treats the mental content of intentionality (now dubbed the noema, as opposed to the noesis, which is the intentional act) as identical to the objective referenceof intentionality, and is therefore broadly equivalent to Kant’s breathtaking fusion of transcendental idealism and empirical realism.

But there’s a subtle difference.

Whereas Kant had argued for both his transcendental and empirical realism theses via his thesis of the transcendental ideality of space and time, as explicated and defended in the Transcendental Aesthetic of the first Critique, Husserl takes a different route, which he rather unhelpfully calls by the Greek term epoché, and only slightly more helpfully calls “abstention” (Enthaltung), “bracketting” (Einklammerung), and “putting out of play” (außer spiel zu setzen).

The basic idea goes back to Brentano’s idea of an intentional Vorstellung of an object and to Husserl’s own corresponding notion of a “mere presentation (Präsentation)” in Logical Investigations V: it is one thing to represent an object or state-of-affairs as actually existing, and another thing altogether to represent it merely as possibly not existing.

Given Cartesian skeptical doubts, the object possibly does not exist.

Assuming that this possibility obtains in a relevant relation to the actual world, then all that remains for the thinking subject of intentionality is the content of intentionality which represents the object in a certain way.

So this content itself becomes the new or indirect object of intentionality.

Frege discusses essentially the same idea under the rubric of the “indirect reference” of meaningful expressions in “opaque” contexts — that is, ordinary referring expressions falling within the scope of certain psychological verbs followed by propositional complements, such as ‘believes that’ or ‘wonders whether’, and so-on — although without the Cartesian and Kantian metaphysical backdrops assumed by Husserl.

What the parallel with Frege shows is that transcendental idealism and empirical realism do not automatically follow from the transcendental-phenomenological reduction, but must in fact be a further metaphysical hypothesis added by Husserl in order to guarantee the truth of the propositional content to which the truth-making object has been “reduced.”

Correspondingly, Husserl secures condition (ii*) by means of what he calls “seeing essences” (Wesensschau, Wesenserschauung) and “eidetic intuition.”

Despite the obvious allusion to the Platonic eidos however, seeing essences isn’t supposed by Husserl to be Platonic insight, or a mysterious infallible grasp of mind-independent, non-spatiotemporal, causally inert, universal, ideal objects; nor is it supposed to be Cartesian insight, i.e., the infallible, certain, clear and distinct awareness of innate ideas.

Instead it’s in effect Kantian insight or Einsicht, which is a reflective awareness of just those formal elements of representational content that express the spontaneous transcendental activity of the subject in synthesizing that content: “reason has insight only into what it itself produces according to its own design” (CPR Bxiii).

So Kantian insight is a special form of self-knowledge.

The crucial point of contrast with Husserl’s eidetic insight, however, is Kant’s fallibilistic thesis that insight yields at best only a subjective sufficiency of belief or “conviction” (Überzeugung),but not, in and of itself, objective “certainty” (Gewißheit) (CPR A820–822/B848–850).

The world must independently contribute a “given” element, the manifold of sensory content, in order for knowledge to be possible (CPR B145).

Husserl, by sharp contrast, takes eidetic insight to be infallible and certain, which again shows his troublesome tendency to run together Kantian transcendental idealism/empirical realism, which is explicitly anti-Cartesian, and Cartesian indirect realist epistemology, which entails a corresponding Cartesian metaphysics of ontological dualism.[xxxiv]

Descartes’s indirect realist epistemology is forever haunted by skepticism, and his ontological dualism of mental substance (whose essence is thinking) vs. physical substance (whose essence is extension) is forever haunted by the unintelligibility of mind-body interconnection and causal interaction.

Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations should have been called Kantian Reflections.

Let me now try to make this critical point more clearly, using Husserl’s distinction between noesis and noema.

For the transcendental-phenomenological Husserl, the noesis is the intentional act, as self-evidently grasped from the standpoint of the phenomenological reduction, and the noema is the mental content of intentionality, as self-evidently grasped from the standpoint of the phenomenological reduction.

The pure transcendental ego is the metaphysical ground of all noetic acts and noematic syntheses.

The intentional object, correspondingly, is the object as prescribed by the “core” or objective essence of the noematic content.

Therefore, the intentional object is identical to the “core” or objective essence of intentional content.

Now there is one and only one one object, the intentional object, whether taken from the standpoint of the natural attitude or from the transcendental standpoint.

This doctrine, in turn, is essentially the same as Kant’s strong transcendental idealism on The Two Aspect interpretation, which says that the real empirical object, which is identical with the well-formed content of judgments of experience, is such that it can be both regarded or taken as phenomenal or “for us,” and also regarded or taken as noumenal or ‘in-itself’ (see, e.g., CPR Bxxvii).

But even leaving aside any reasonable worries one might have about The Two Aspect Theory,[xxxv] there’s a much more serious worry about Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology: Does this mean that necessarily, all the contents of intentionality (i.e., all the noemata) and also all the real intentional objects go out of existence whenever we go out of existence?

As far as I can see, Yes.

So Husserl’s transcendental-phenomenological theory of intentionality entails strong transcendental idealism, which, I think, is objectively false.[xxxvi]

III.4 Moore and the Nature of Judgment

But the real target is Kant, and more specifically Kant’s theory of judgment in the Critique of Pure Reason.[xxxvii]

Moore‘s basic objection is that Bradley‘s (read: Kant’s) theory of judgment involves a psychologistic confusion between two senses of the “content” of a cognition:

(i) content as that which literally belongs to the phenomenally conscious mental act of cognizing (= the psychologically immanent content, or intentional act-content), and

(ii) content as that which the mental act is directed at, or “about” (= the psychologically transcendent content, or objective intentional content).

The communicable meaning and truth-or-falsity of the judgment belong strictly to objective intentional content.

According to Moore, the Bradley-Kant theory of judgment assimilates the objective intentional content of judgment — that is, the proposition — to the act-content of judging.

This is what, in the Preface to Principia Ethica, Moore glosses as

the fundamental contradiction of modern Epistemology — the contradiction involved in both distinguishing and identifying the object and the act of Thought, “truth” itself and its supposed criterion.[xxxviii]

Given this “contradiction,” the communicable meaning and the truth-or-falsity of cognition are both reduced to the point of view of a single phenomenally conscious subject.

The dual unpalatable consequences of that double reduction are

(i) that meaning becomes unshareably private (semantic solipsism) and

(ii) that truth turns into mere personal belief (individual cognitive relativism).

For Moore himself by contrast, judgments are essentially truth-bearing or falsity-bearing connections of mind-independent platonic universals called “concepts.”

So concepts are decidedly not, as they were for Kant, simple or complex unities of mental content under the analytic and synthetic unities of self-consciousness.

Nor do Moorean concepts and judgments relate to objects in the world, as concepts and judgments alike had for Kant, via directly referential, singular, existential, non-conceptual sensory mental representations, or intuitions (Anschauungen).

On the contrary and in explicit rejection of Kant‘s theory of judgment, for Moore complex concepts and judgments alike are mind-independent logically unified semantic complexes built up out of simple concepts grasped by direct platonic insight.

But not only that: according to Moore, the world itself is nothing but a nexus of simple or complex concepts insofar as they enter into true propositions, and this thesis constitutes Moore’s platonic atomism.[xxxxix]

No wonder then that, as his fellow Cambridge Apostle and philosophical sparring partner, the logician and economist John Meynard Keynes, later wrily reported, Moore once had a nightmare in which he could not distinguish propositions from tables.[xl]

III.5 Moore and the Refutation of Idealism

Here Moore ingeniously doubly assimilates Kant‘s transcendental idealism to Brentano and to Berkeley by interpreting Kantian appearances as sensory intentional objects that “in-exist” or are nothing but immanent contents of phenomenal consciousness.

This of course completely overlooks Kant‘s crucial distinction between inner sense and outer sense, not to mention his equally crucial doctrine of empirical realism, and his “Refutation of Idealism” (CPR B274–279).

And not altogether coincidentally, it also ushered in another hundred years of phenomenalistic interpretations of Kant‘s theory of appearances.[xli]

By vivid contrast to Kant‘s supposed phenomenalism however, Moore’s radical realism is the thesis that every object exists as the external relatum of the intentionality of a sheer transparent subjective consciousness.

But this implies, in an odd reversal of Brentano‘s doctrine of mental phenomena — whereby intentional objects reduce to “immanent objectivities” — that all intentional contents are now external intentional objects, and that therefore there will be as many mind-independently real objects as there are fine-grained differences between intentional contents.

So Moore uses the transparency of consciousness to escape what I’ll dub “Brentano‘s Box” — i.e., the domain of narrowly ideal phenomenal content enclosed within the individual intentional act — only to lose himself in a looking-glass world of unrestrictedly many real intentional objects, one for each and every distinct act of thought — presumably even including the six impossible things that Lewis Carroll‘s White Queen boasted of believing before breakfast.[xlii]

Carroll, of course, was really Arthur Dodgson, an Oxford philosophical logician and semi-contemporary of Moore and Russell, and the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871), “What the Tortoise Said to Achilles” (1895), and Symbolic Logic (1896).


[ii] See, e.g., P. Levy, Moore: G.E. Moore and the Cambridge Apostles (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980).

[iii] See J. Ward, “Psychology,” in Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edn., 29 vols., New York: Encyclopedia Britannica Co., 1911), vol. xxii, pp. 547–604.

[iv] Moore, Principia Ethica, pp. x-xi.

[v] In G.E. Moore: Selected Writings (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 1–19.

[vi] In G.E. Moore: Selected Writings, pp. 23–44.

[vii] See F. Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, trans. A. Rancurello et al., (London: Routledge, 1995), book I, pp. 3–73; and F. Brentano, “Descriptive Psychology or Descriptive Phenomenology,” in D. Moran and T. Mooney (eds.), The Phenomenology Reader (London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 51–54.

[viii] Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, p. 100.

[xix] Brentano, “Descriptive Psychology or Descriptive Phenomenology,” p. 51.

[x] Brentano, “Descriptive Psychology or Descriptive Phenomenology,” p. 51.

[xi] Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, pp. 78–79.

[xii] Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, p. 80.

[xiii] Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, p. 81.

[xiv] Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, pp. 79–80.

[xv] Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, pp. 88–89.

[xvi] Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, p. 91.

[xvii] Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, p. 92.

[xviii] Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, p. 91.

[xix] Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, p. 92.

[xx] Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, p. 98.

[xxi] Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, p. 98.

[xxii] See W. James, Principles of Psychology, 2 vols. (New York: Dover, 1950), vol. 1, ch. IX.

[xxiii] See R. Hanna, “Transcendental Idealism, Phenomenology, and the Metaphysics of Intentionality,” in K. Ameriks and N. Boyle (eds.), The Impact of Idealism (4 vols., Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013), vol. I, pp. 191–224, also available online at URL = <>.

[xxiv] Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, pp. 88–91.

[xxv] Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, p. 91.

[xxvi] Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, p. 81.

[xxvii] Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, pp. 83–85.

[xxviii] See, e.g., D. Dennett, “Quining Qualia,”in D. Chalmers (ed.), Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2002), pp. 226–246.

[xxix] See, e.g., G.E. Moore, “Sense Data,” in G.E. Moore, Some Main Problems of Philosophy (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1953), pp. 28–40; originally written and presented as a lecture in 1910.

[xxx] E. Husserl, Logical Investigations, 2 vols., trans. J.N. Findlay (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970).

[xxxi] This is made clear in the second edition version of the Introduction to vol. 2 of the Logical Investigations, which was published in 1913.

[xxxii] Husserl, Logical Investigations, vol. 2, p. 549.

[xxxiii] Husserl, Logical Investigations, vol. 2, p. 549, n. 1.

[xxxiv] See also L. Kolakowski, Husserl and the Search for Certitude (Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1987).

[xxxv] See, e.g., R. Hanna, Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon/Oxford Univ. Press, 2001), pp. 108–109; and R. Hanna, Kant, Science, and Human Nature (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006), pp. 422–423.

[xxxvi] See, e.g., Hanna, Kant, Science, and Human Nature, ch. 6; and R. Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2015), section 7.3.

[xxxvii] See Hanna, Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy, pp. 55–56.

[xxxxviiii] Moore, Principia Ethica, p. xx.

[xxxix] See, e.g., T. Baldwin, G.E. Moore (London: Routledge, 1990), chs. I-II.

[xl] J.M. Keynes, “My Early Beliefs,” in J.M. Keynes, Two Memoirs (London: R. Hart-Davis, 1949), 78–103, p. 94. The Cambridge Apostles were (and still are) a highly-selective Cambridge secret debating society. See also Levy, G. E. Moore and the Cambridge Apostles.

[xli] Phenomenalistic interpretations of Kant‘s idealism have been around, and possibly even dominant, from at least the time of the Christian Garve-Johann Feder review of the first Critique in 1782. See also, e.g., P. Strawson, The Bounds of Sense (London: Methuen, 1966) and J. Van Cleve, Problems from Kant (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999). Most of the many changes made by Kant in the B edition of 1787 were directed against this interpretation.

[xlii] L. Carroll, Through the Looking Glass (New York: Dial, 1988), p. 92.


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Tuesday 7 April 2020.

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