chapter  18
Phenomenology and Existentialism
Pages 18

The movement to be discussed in this chapter has a history as long as that of modern logic, and indeed, at the beginning, was hardly separable from the new post-idealism represented at its best in the work of Frege. The term ‘phenomenology’, invented by the German eighteenth-century mathematician J.H.Lambert to describe the science of appearances, had been used by Hegel in his work on the nature of the ‘subjective spirit’—spirit as it appears to itself. However, despite the shared language and shared pretensions, it is clear that Hegel and Husserl are engaged in different forms of enquiry; we must therefore look for the latter’s intellectual origins elsewhere. In fact the thinker with the strongest claim to be the founder of the phenomenological movement was, in his own eyes, more a psychologist than a philosopher, and a psychologist who professed allegiance to methods which he called empirical. In Psychology from on Empirical Standpoint (1874), Franz Brentano (1838-1917) embarked on an investigation of the human mind which expressly rejected the premises of idealism, and in particular the notion that the true subject matter of psychology is some universal, abstract ‘Geist’, which pursues its courses through the world as though related to individual humans only occasionally and by accident. Psychology cannot take such abstractions as its point of departure. Like any other science, it must start from the individual case, and that means from the first-person case, which is known to the investigator directly. Brentano, partly because of his emphasis on the first person, did not venture very far into the realm of what we would now call empirical psychology. Instead, he became intrigued by an old philosophical problem, that of the nature of first-person

knowledge. What is it that I know when I am presented with the contents of consciousness? And how is the knower distinguished from the known?