Towards a New Brentanian Theory of Judgment

In: Grazer Philosophische Studien
View More View Less
Full Access

In the last few decades, the interest in Brentano’s philosophical psychology, especially in his theory of judgment, has been steadily growing. What, however, has remained relatively unexplored are the modifications that have been introduced over the years into this theory by Brentano himself and by his student Anton Marty. These amendments constitute the focus of the present paper. As will be argued, only by making such changes can the weaknesses of the first formulation of the theory be overcome. Moreover, as the final section of the paper attempts to show, these modifications may even trigger further steps towards what we might label a new Brentanian theory of judgment.


In the last few decades, the interest in Brentano’s philosophical psychology, especially in his theory of judgment, has been steadily growing. What, however, has remained relatively unexplored are the modifications that have been introduced over the years into this theory by Brentano himself and by his student Anton Marty. These amendments constitute the focus of the present paper. As will be argued, only by making such changes can the weaknesses of the first formulation of the theory be overcome. Moreover, as the final section of the paper attempts to show, these modifications may even trigger further steps towards what we might label a new Brentanian theory of judgment.


Brentano’s theory of judgment is one of his most original contributions to philosophy, arguably more so than his famous Intentionality Thesis. As it happens, while putting forward his thesis about intentionality as being the mark of the mental, Brentano did not intend to add anything substantial to what, among others, Aristotle and the Scholastic philosophers had already said on that topic. On the other hand, while discussing his theory of judgment, he explicitly argued in favor of a break with the traditional, Aristotelian account, which was unchallenged until his very days.1

In the last decades, a fair amount of exegetical work has been dedicated to this aspect of Brentano’s philosophy of mind. What, however, has remained relatively unexplored are the modifications the theory of judgment underwent, first at Brentano’s own hands, and then, later on, at the hands of his most faithful student, namely Anton Marty. In the present paper, I focus on this development of the theory: from Brentano’s first formulation to its refinements. As the title of this paper already suggests, we may talk of a movement towards a new Brentanian theory of judgment. Moreover, I am going to propose that we move even beyond the amendments introduced by Brentano and Marty: the new Brentanian theory of judgment may be something that still has to see the full light of day. In the present paper, I attempt a few steps towards it.

The structure of the paper is as follows. Parts one and two present the original formulation of the theory by Brentano (1874) and two crucial problems raised by it. Part three addresses Brentano’s modification of the theory, which led to the introduction of the concept of double judgment. However, as will be seen, this is far from being the sole element of interest in the updated formulation of the theory. Part four turns to a minor but crucial amendment to the theory which was introduced by Marty (1908). In part five, I advance two more steps in the direction towards which the theory naturally tends. Finally, part six addresses some objections to the new Brentanian theory of judgment and its advantages with respect to the theory presented to the public in 1874.

Before getting started, I would like to draw attention to what will not be discussed in the present paper: namely, so-called singular statements, modal statements, and relational statements. As far as alleged singular statements are concerned, one should note that both Brentano and Marty rejected them. We only have general presentations of objects, according to Brentano (1956, 41), thus, arguably, statements may only express general representations of objects. Indeed, Marty (1908, 438–439 footnote) explicitly argued against any direct reference to objects by means of proper names (see Gabriel 1990). With respect to modal and relational statements, a discussion of them in relation to what I call the new Brentanian theory of judgment will have to be the subject of further studies.

1 Affirmation and Denial

Brentano had mainly two reasons for abandoning the traditional account of judgment as a combination of ideas, be it a union in the case of affirmative judgments, or separation in the case of negative ones. First, this approach does not provide us with a sufficient condition for a judgment. For instance, the linguistic signs present in ‘a learned man’ clearly express two ideas which are so to speak combined, but they do not express a judgment. As was also noticed by Gottlob Frege a few years later, if the purpose is to obtain a judgment from a mere combination of ideas, an ingredient is still missing. Frege (1879, 2) characterized this ingredient as the acknowledgment of the truth (Zuerkennen der Wahrheit) of the content of the ideas, i.e. of what he will later label as ‘thought’ (Gedanke). Notice, moreover, that Frege did not admit negative judgments: what we have instead are affirmations of negative contents or thoughts. Brentano, by contrast, introduces two opposite ingredients to obtain a judgment from a mere combination of ideas: namely, affirmation (Anerkennen) and denial (Leugnung). To him, these are two different ways in which contents or objects2 of ideas may be judged (Brentano 1874, 266 [201]).3 Negation is something that pertains to judgment, namely to judgment as denial, and not to the contents or objects of ideas. This is a major difference from Frege, which has for instance been highlighted by Mulligan (1988).4

The introduction of two different kinds of judgment is not the only difference from Frege, though. As we have seen, Brentano agrees with Frege to the extent that both of them do not consider a combination of ideas to be a sufficient condition for a judgment. To Brentano, however, the combination of ideas is not even a necessary condition for a judgment—something which was not really targeted by Frege. True, Frege famously challenged the distinction between subject and predicate. This, however, did not call into question the notion of combination in and by itself.

The analysis of existential (general) statements, such as ‘a man exists’ or ‘a ghost does not exist’, is crucial for understanding this further step by Brentano (a statement or assertion is a string of words which expresses a judgment). One may be tempted to argue that the statement ‘a man exists’ expresses the affirmation of a combination of ideas. Brentano, however, argues that this is only an illusion of language. What can the idea of existence be? Here Brentano confronts us with a trilemma in the full spirit of British empiricism: either existence is an idea derived from sensation, or it is an innate idea, or it is an idea derived from reflection upon our mental events.5 Brentano endorses the third horn of the trilemma. As he writes (Brentano 1874, 279 [210]): the idea of existence “is derived from inner experience, and we acquire it only with reference to judgments.” Accordingly, the statement ‘a man exists’ does not express the affirmation of a combination of the idea of a man and of an alleged idea of existence. Rather, what is expressed by it is nothing over and above the mental event of affirming the object of the idea of a man.6 To paraphrase Quine, to be is to be affirmed. Or, more precisely, as stressed by Marty (1884, 33; 39) in his defense and elaboration of the Brentanian approach, to be is to be correctly affirmed (see also Brentano 1930, 79 [47]).

We are led to the same outcome if we focus on (general) negative existential statements. The statement ‘ghosts do not exist’ does not express the denial of the object of the combination of the idea of existence and the idea of a ghost. To the contrary, this statement expresses nothing over and above the mental event of the denial of a ghost. If the idea of existence is thus derived from reflecting upon the mental event of affirming, the idea of non-existence is derived from reflecting upon the mental event of denying. Not to be is to be denied.7 Or, again, to be more precise, not to be is to be correctly denied.

This second step clearly leads Brentano further away from a theory such as the one later to be endorsed by Frege. For Frege, the content or object of the mental event of judging has to be—as we now like to say—propositional: it is articulated, or combined, in a way that mirrors, at least to some extent, the words in our statements. From this perspective, negation is understood as something which is on the side of the object of our thoughts, and which mirrors the use of the word ‘not’ in our language. On the other hand, according to Brentano the object of our judgments is, at least in the case of existential statements, non-propositional: it does not mirror the articulation of our language. Rather, the objects of judgments are like the objects of perception and imagination: they are like the man I see or the ghost I imagine. Moreover, as we shall soon see, existential statements are no exception. On the contrary, according to Brentano, every judgment is directed towards a non-propositional object.8

A further difference between the Fregean and the Brentanian approach should be highlighted: according to Frege, truth and falsity should be properly ascribed to the objects of our judgment. Since such objects mirror statements, and statements are what we usually consider to be true or false, it seems only natural to follow this path. Judgments, then, are only indirectly characterized as true or false, namely if, respectively, they affirm what is true or affirm what is false. Brentano, by contrast, would never say that an object of a judgment is true or false, because this would be like saying that a man is true or a ghost is false. Instead, he talks of the truth or falsity of judgments themselves (the acts of judging), or, more frequently, of their correctness or incorrectness. As noted by Brandl (2014), such an approach should not simply be brushed aside by philosophers who prefer to follow Frege.

2 The First Psychological Formulation of the Square of Opposition

As already announced, Brentano argues not only that some objects of judgment are non-propositional, but for the stronger thesis that all objects of judgment are non-propositional. In his eyes, this is an easy task, because all non-existential statements, which seem to express judgments with a propositional object, may be reduced to existential ones, which, as we have seen, express judgments with non-propositional objects. Brentano shows how this reduction may be achieved by considering the traditional, Aristotelian, square of opposition. Table 1 presents the traditional formulation of the square. Table 2 provides us with its existential reduction. Finally, Table 3 presents the accurate formulation of the judgments expressed by the existential statements, which reveals how their object or content is non-propositional.9


We may start by noticing that particular affirmative statements (I) and universal negative statements (E) pose no problem to Brentano’s strategy. By contrast, affirmative universal (A) and particular negative (O) statements have to be reinterpreted as negative universal and affirmative particular statements, respectively.

The reason behind the reduction of the A form deserves special attention. It would indeed be very awkward to rephrase ‘all men are wise’ as ‘all wise men exist’. Indeed, the fact that all wise men exist would not even exclude the possibility that some unwise men exist, too—which seems to be what is ruled out by the statement that all men are wise. Moreover, this reduction would render the truth of the statement dependent upon the existence (or, more precisely, affirmation) of a wise man, which seems unwarranted (Brentano thus abandons sub-alternation).11

A first outcome of this analysis is that universal statements really express judgments of denial, whereas particular ones always express judgments of affirmation. A second, interesting outcome of this analysis is the fact that the contradictories jump to the fore: once the expressed judgments are taken into consideration, we discover that the A form simply denies what the O form affirms, while the E form simply denies what the I form affirms.

3 Two Objections to Brentano’s Theory of Judgments

There is a wide array of objections that may be raised against Brentano’s theory of judgment. To list the most prominent ones, we may raise concerns about the status of the objects of rejections or about the analysis of compound statements and fictional discourse (see Brandl 2014 for a discussion of these objections). In the present context, however, I am going to focus on two crucial problems: the one raised by the truth-makers of denials, and the other by negative objects.

Truth-Makers of Denials

What is it that makes a judgment such as the denial of a ghost true or correct? In his lecture on the notion of truth in 1880, Brentano seems to be providing the following answer to this question: a statement of the form ‘A does not exist’ is made true by the non-existence of A (Brentano 1930, 24 [14]). This, however, is hardly satisfying since (i) it seems to introduce a very peculiar object (see Srzednicki 1965, 78–79), (ii) it seems circular since it explains negative existentials by the notion of non-existence, and (iii) it is just one step away from reintroducing the view of existence as a property of objects (see Van der Schaar 1997, 314–315).12 Indeed, how could we understand the notion of the non-existence of A if not through the notion of an A which does not exist? In a later and more official text (it was printed during his lifetime), on the other hand, we find a different answer. In his appendixes to his Von der Klassifikation der psychischen Phänomene, Brentano (1911, 148 [293]) writes:

It [the truth of a judgment] is a question of a positive agreement with a thing only in the case of the affirmative judgment in the present tense, while for the negative judgment in the modus praesens it is sufficient that there be no disharmony, as there would be, for example, for the denial of centaurs if there really were centaurs.

However, the problem with this second attempted solution is, once again, its circularity. Indeed, negative existentials are explained here by the non-existence of a disharmony.13

Negative Objects

A second, even more damaging, objection is the following. As we have seen, Brentano introduces the notion of a mental event of denial to provide a mentalist interpretation of negation. However, it is not difficult to see how the new formulation of the square of opposition is obliged to introduce negative objects. True, the little word ‘not’ is avoided, but one may argue that it is simply hidden in the notion of an ‘unwise man’. This seems to have been the main motivation which led Brentano to further develop his theory of judgment: the thorough empiricism, towards which Brentano moved in his late, “reistic” years does not allow for such peculiar objects.14

4 Double Judgments

Brentano’s modification of his theory can be traced back to as early as the unpublished letter to Marty of 1886 (see Chrudzismki 2001, 54 footnote). I will, however, focus on his official presentation of the revised theory in his appendix to “Von der Klassifikation der psychischen Phänomene” (Brentano 1911, 145–158 [291–301]).15 Here Brentano provides a sketch of what to him is a more accurate psychological analysis of the judgments expressed by the square of opposition. From such a perspective, the account offered in 1874 becomes, at least partly, fictional, i.e., “it contains certain obvious fictions” (Brentano 1911, 150–151 [295]).

We have seen how, according to Brentano (1874), the I form should be interpreted as expressing a judgment of affirmation of an S which is P. In 1911, Brentano (151 [295]) drastically changes this picture:

Looked at more closely, however, it [the statement ‘Some S is P’] signifies a double judgment (Doppelurteil), one part of which affirms the subject and, after the predicate has been identified in presentation with the subject, the other part affirms the subject which had been affirmed all by itself by the first part, but with this addition—which is to say it ascribes to it the predicate P.

What is really expressed by a statement of the I form is, first, a judgment affirming an object as having one property16 (i.e. the subject of the A form); and, second, after this object has been presented as having one more property (Brentano talks of identification, but objects clearly cannot prima facie be identified with properties),17 a judgment affirming the object as having this further specified property. For our present purposes, moreover, I think we may shorten this rather lengthy description as follows: ‘Some S is P’ expresses the judgment affirming an object as having the property S and a judgment affirming the same object as having the property P, as well.
Brentano then moves on to the more accurate analysis of the O form. ‘Some S is not P’ no longer expresses the single judgment of denial of an object that is S and not-P. Rather, it expresses a double judgment, about which Brentano (1911, 152 [296]) writes:

The one [judgment], as in the case of the I form, consists of the affirmation of S, and this is the basic constituent of the double judgment. The second part relates to it and presupposes it in such a way as to be inseparable from it. And this second part is negative; it does not, as in the I form, ascribe an attribute to the S which was affirmed by the first part of the double judgment, but rather denies one of it.

We may again shorten the Brentanian formulation as follows: ‘Some S is not P’ expresses the affirmation of an object as having the property S and a denial of the same object as having the property P. Moreover, it seems to me that this shorter formulation has the advantage that it operates only with two kinds of judgments: namely affirmation and denial. Brentano’s wording, on the other hand, seems to introduce ascription and denial as two more kinds of judgments. This, however, would lead to an even stronger revision of the first theory, which does not seem to be warranted.
Let us now move on to the E form. The quote is rather long, but it is worth reproducing it in its entirety (Brentano 1911, 154–155 [298]):

Anyone who says, ‘No S is P’ is representing someone judging that ‘An S is P’, and declaring that in representing him in this way he is representing18 someone who judges incorrectly. Now we saw that someone who judges that ‘An S is P’, is making a double judgment, of which the first component judgment affirms S and the second attributes the predicate P to the S affirmed in the first. It is implicit in what has been said, then, that he holds at least one of the two judgments to be false, the second one at any rate, for it implies the first and consequently if the first is false, it cannot be correct either.

This passage shows how the new theory of judgment does not simply involve a reinterpretation of some prima facie expressions of single judgments as expressions of double judgments. Rather, we are now confronted with the introduction of the representation of judgments, and then with judgments about such representations. In other words, we have to ascend to judgments about judgments, or second-order judgments.

Let me try to reword Brentano’s insight about the E form. To make true psychological sense of ‘No S is P’ we must introduce a judgment about the incorrectness of a judgment, namely of the judgment expressed by ‘Some S is P’. Since, moreover, ‘Some S is P’ expresses a double judgment, this yields the following interpretation (I am relying on the shortened version presented above): ‘No S is P’ expresses the judgment that a representation of an affirmation of an object as having the property S, and an affirmation of the same object as having the property P as well, is the representation of an incorrect double judgment. This may be shortened to the following: it is incorrect to affirm an object as S and affirm the same object as P.

We are now left to consider Brentano’s take on the A form, which parallels the account of the I form (Brentano 1911, 155 [298]). Indeed, the more accurate psychological description of what is expressed by the A form is that I judge that a representation of the double judgment that some S is not P is a representation of an incorrect judgment. Thus, more precisely, I am judging that a representation of an affirmation of an object as having the property S and a denial of the same object as having the property P is a representation of an incorrect double judgment. This, however, may again be shortened as follows: It is incorrect to affirm an object as S and deny the same object as P.

With respect to the previous version of the square of opposition (see Table 3), we may now say that in Table 4 contradictories leap to the eye: judgments in the opposite corners of the square are contradictories not because one judgment affirms what the other judgment denies; rather, one judgment says of the other judgment that it is incorrect. Moreover, we may say that particular judgments—i.e. the lower part of the square—are more fundamental than universal ones—i.e. the upper part of the square: a universal judgment is nothing but a judgment about the incorrectness of a particular judgment. More generally, we should also say that Table 4 presents us with a more accurate formulation of the psychological events at stake. While Table 3 still contained fictions, i.e. something which has no real psychological counterpart, the formulation of the square of opposition in Table 4 perfectly mirrors the mind.


5 Marty on Double Judgments

At this juncture it is interesting to consider an amendment to Brentano’s theory of double judgments which was introduced by Marty. As already addressed, Marty followed Brentano in taking the new theory to provide a more accurate psychological picture of what is expressed by the standard formulation of the square of opposition. However, he departed from Brentano in a minor, but none the less noteworthy detail.

According to Marty, when analyzing the psychology underlying the square of opposition, we may drop the notion of denial altogether. Let us start by considering the O form again. Indeed, it is easy to see how the notion of denial becomes somewhat superfluous once we have at our disposal second-order judgments. Instead of interpreting the O form as expressing the affirmation of an object as having the property S and a denial of the same object as having the property P, we may very well say the following: the O form expresses the affirmation of an object as having the property S and, as Marty says, the reflective judgment (reflexes Urteil) that “it is false that S is P” (Marty 1908, 293) (see Morscher 1990, 185–186). More precisely, following the scheme we have established above, we should say that the O form expresses the affirmation of an object as having the property S and the judgment that the affirmation of the same object as P is false.

Clearly, this approach would need to be applied to the A form as well. Here we would have to say that the A form expresses that the judgment expressed by the O form is incorrect. We will thus reach a fifth declination of the square of opposition (see Table 5).


The upshot of the Martian amendment is that we are not only considering the upper part of the square as being derived with respect to the lower part by means of the notion of incorrectness. Instead, we may also say that the lower right part of the square may be reduced to the lower left part of the square. The I form thus becomes the only primitive form; all other forms may be derived from it by means of the notion of incorrectness.

6 Further Steps

Let us draw a metaphoric line from Brentano’s theory of judgments, as formulated in 1874, to his revision as formulated for instance in 1911, to Marty’s minor yet noteworthy amendment. In this section, I would like to prolong this symbolic line and see how it may lead us, first, to the elimination of the notion of denial, and, second, to a formalization of the new Brentanian theory we have thus obtained.

At this stage, it is indeed legitimate to ask whether we still need the notion of denial and thence a polarity of the mental phenomenon of judging. Marty seemed to believe this to be so. At least in the case of thetic judgments, i.e. judgments expressed by statements such as ‘a ghost does not exist’, we still need the notion of denial. To him, as to Brentano, what such a statement expresses is the mental event of (correctly) denying a ghost. However, it is not difficult to see that the very powerful tool of reflective judgments, or second-order judgments, may provide an alternative interpretation of such statements: to say ‘a ghost does not exist’ is to express the mental event of judging it to be incorrect to affirm a ghost. Why should we then still introduce the notion of denial when all the work may be done by the notions of affirmation and incorrectness alone? Indeed, this seems to be the most natural way to proceed.

The following concern may be raised with respect to this strategy. Is the notion of incorrectness really less problematic than the notion of denial, so that we obtain a better theory by avoiding introduction of the latter? The answer to this question should be that, no matter whether or not we introduce a notion of denial, we would still need the notion of correctness and incorrectness: a theory of judgment without the notion of rejection is conceivable, but a theory of judgment without a notion of (in)correctness would clearly be deficient. Thus, no matter how hard it is to provide a theory of (in)correctness (i.e. no matter how problematic this notion is), this simply is a task we cannot dispense with. Moreover, I would like to stress that by no means are we obliged to commit ourselves to the Brentanian, epistemic approach to (in)correctness here. This is clearly shown by Marty (1908, 291–294), who endorses a correspondence-theoretic approach to truth instead.

This notwithstanding, there is a price to be paid if we are to follow the path I am suggesting here: we would have to drop the analogy between judgments and emotions, which played an important role for both Brentano and Marty. Just as we have opposite emotions, namely, in the more general sense of the terms, loving and hating, so we have two opposite judgments: namely, affirming and denying. Notice, however, that such an analogy is very dubious: on the one hand, I have a clear idea of what I mean by hating independently of what loving means, namely a certain kind of feeling which I can point at (in a figurative sense, of course); on the other hand, I would be hard-pressed to say what a denial may be, if I cannot advert to the idea of an incorrect affirmation. These notions seem to be logically connected, so that it is intuitively appealing to define the former by means of the latter. We cannot point to an instance of one of them and then point to an entirely unrelated instance of the other.

Finally, a crucial advantage of such a step is the following: we may say that the new Brentanian theory of judgment is on the same side as the Fregean theory. For both only one kind of force attaches to a thought, judgment-content or, in the case of the theory at stake here, objects. For this very reason, the new Brentanian theory of judgments we have now obtained is easily expressed by means of formal logic. We have already seen what the psychology underlying the square of opposition is. Now, we are going to turn to a possible formalization of this psychology, i.e. what is presented in Table 6.


A first remark should address the kind of quantifier at stake in the formalization: it is not the standard Fregean ‘existential’ quantifier, but rather the noneist quantifier introduced by Routley (1980). ‘P’ is short for ‘some’ and the formula PxA should be read as ‘for some object x, it is the case that A’. The reason we cannot rely on the Fregean quantifier should be evident: it would imply that the notion of existence is captured by the particular quantifier. Yet, according to Brentano and Marty, the notion of existence is not captured by the particular quantifier, but rather—as seen above—by the notion of a (correct) affirmation. For the very same reason, there is no place for any discriminating predicate of existence à la Routley in our formalism either. Once again, existence is explained by the notion of a (correct) affirmation and not by the notion of an alleged property instantiated by some objects but not others.

The discussion of affirmation and existence leads to a second remark about the psychological dimension of the formalism. As is the case in classical logic, we should presuppose that every formula is preceded by what Frege (1879) called the judgment stroke, i.e. ‘⊦’. This clearly must apply to the present formalism as well. However, at this stage at least, one may object that the judgment stroke of the formalism seems to have propositional entities in its scope: it seems to be a judgment that rather than an affirming of some object. This, however, is simply related to our habit of reading the formalization. For instance, we would intuitively read the I form as ‘(I judge or affirm that) for some object x, x is a man and x is wise’. Yet nothing speaks against the following reading: ‘(I judge or affirm) for some object x, x as man and x as wise’. Notice, moreover, that the semantics of the noneist predicate logic, like the semantics of classical predicate logic, does not contemplate such things as propositions. Thus, we have no reason to worry here. Nor would it suffice to say that the predicate calculus presupposes such things as propositions because it presupposes the propositional calculus: a Brentanian “propositional” calculus would be a calculus of affirmations and denials. And a new Brentanian propositional calculus would simply be a calculus of affirmations.

A further point concerns the negation sign ‘~’. Does this sign not once again commit us to something like a negation on the object-side? Here, too, the answer will need to be negative. Negation is not a primitive notion, but rather a derivative one: its meaning is explained by the notion of the falsity of a proposition. Stalnaker (1996, 196), for instance, writes: “My assumption about the meaning of ‘~’ is this: ~P is true if and only if P is false. […] I learned this rule in my first logic class years ago.” Philosophers interested in adopting the new Brentanian theory of judgment have no reason to take issue with this—at least as long as we read ‘P is false’ as really meaning the falsity or incorrectness of a given affirmation.

Two final remarks may address the fact that no universal quantification and no material implication are required to formalize the square of opposition (compare for instance with Chrudzimski 2001, 57). The rationale behind this is that—as was noted above—according to the Brentanian picture, universal quantification is secondary with respect to particular quantification and the notion of incorrectness. But then, once such an approach is chosen, there clearly is no need to formalize the A and E form with the help of material implication, although this is often how we are taught to proceed in predicate-calculus courses. True, nothing speaks against introducing into the formalism a universal quantification, defined by means of the particular quantifier and negation (i.e. incorrectness). We should, however, remember that, from a Brentanian, psychological perspective, this notion is a fiction.

7 Objections


As noted above, the main reason Brentano abandoned his first version of the theory of judgment was that it was not able to explain away negation, at least insofar as we were left with ideas of negative objects, or negative concepts (see Brandl 2014, Section 4). The new Brentanian theory, we may now say, successfully addresses this challenge: we no longer have a negation on the side of the objects of mental events.

Chisholm (1982, 24) was unimpressed: to him, the revision of the interpretation of the A form still involved a negation. It seems to me that Chisholm may have had two different reasons to raise this objection.

First, Chisholm may have referred to the negation which the formalism locates within the parentheses. Here, however, we may very well reply that, according to Brentano (1911), this negation is nothing but a denial. Moreover, if we follow Marty (1908), the denial should be analyzed as the affirmation of the incorrectness of a judgment. In both cases, we are able to get rid of the negation as something on the side of the objects of our judgments. Furthermore, Marty’s strategy, as argued above, is convincing because, among other reasons, it works with fewer primitive psychological notions. This is especially the case if, as I have suggested, we altogether drop the notion of denial.

Second, Chisholm may have meant the negation outside the parentheses. This would mean that Chisholm was not convinced that this negation could be interpreted away by means of the notion of a judgment about the incorrectness of another judgment. In other words, the criticism would be that the notion of negation is simply hidden in the notion of incorrectness. I am not sure this is really what Chisholm meant with his objection, especially because he would then have had to raise the same problem with respect to the O form, which he did not. Be that as it may, I think this is really the crucial criticism one may raise against the new Brentanian theory.

The pivotal question is, then, the following: is the notion of incorrectness not simply hiding the notion of negation, being itself something we may call a negative notion? The prefix ‘in-’, after all, seems to be there to show exactly this point. Let us, however, recall Stalnaker’s remark. If the meaning of negation is not that a given proposition (or affirmation) is false (or incorrect), what else could it mean? I think we should hold on to this intuition: falsity or incorrectness explains negation and not the other way around. Notice, moreover, that the negative character of incorrectness or falsity is not as problematic as the one of mysterious negative objects of judgments. What does it mean to say that a proposition is false or an affirmation is incorrect? If we follow Brentano, who considered logic to be a normative discipline, this is simply a normative stance: we should not judge in this way. Don’t do that! This is very different from introducing strange negative objects of mental states. Every child of a certain age and even animals—one may argue—are able to grasp the meaning of ‘Don’t do that!’


Another objection against the theory of double judgments, and thus against the new Brentanian theory, too, was raised by Parsons (2004, 176): Is it not simply implausible that the analysis of something like the A form, i.e. one of the simplest categorical forms, requires us to introduce the notion of incorrectness? One may even widen the scope of the objection: Are not simply all the suggested analyses of the categorical forms, perhaps with the sole exception of the I form, extremely implausible because of their sheer complexity? Notice, moreover, that this objection becomes even more pressing if we want to consider non-human animals as having the capacity to judge.19 Can a dog really engage in such complex second-order thoughts?

However, we should point out that Brentano is not really committing himself to the claim that every time we say ‘All men are wise’ we are really engaging in the rather complex activity described by the analysis of the A form in, e.g., Table 5. Brentano was careful to note that, when we speak, we may apply some obvious fiction: we may act as though we had primitive notions of totality, or ‘allness’, and of negation. These fictions—one should bear in mind—are superfluous or, following the terminology used by Field (1980), “conservative”: everything we achieve through them may also be achieved without them, although in a more circuitous way. They simply allow us a shortcut, which is responsible for the fact that, for instance, we think of the A form as one of the simplest categorical forms. This notwithstanding, in order to understand statements such as ‘all men are wise’ or ‘a man is not wise’, we need to have undergone the rather complex activity described in Table 5 at some stage during our learning process. This does not seem to be an implausible claim. To the contrary, a plausible empiricist approach (we cannot see or imagine negations or allness) speaks in favor of granting this point.

Finally, with respect to the problem raised by animals, I do not consider it too high a price to pay to say that animals probably do not have the capability to make judgments as expressed by the form A, E and O. I would even be rather skeptical about animals having the capacity to make judgments expressed by the I form.

Truth-Makers of Denials

Let me conclude by coming back to a crucial problem raised by the first formulation of the Brentanian theory of judgment, namely, the problem of the truth-makers for denials. We should note that the theory of double judgments put forward by Brentano in 1911 is not sufficient to address this problem. Here we still find the notion of denial, so that one may very well ask: What makes these denials true? However, once we have (totally and not just partially) analyzed away the notion of denial, this problem disappears. The upshot of the new Brentanian theory, as developed in Table 5 or 6, is indeed that we need only one kind of truth-maker, namely, the truth-maker of judgments of the I form (in so doing, I am once again abstracting from considerations about relations and modality). These are positive, so that we can do without the odd ontological entity of absence and agree with Molnar (2000): “everything that exists is positive.” By saying this, however, we should remember that the notion of everything is a useful fiction and the verb ‘to exist’ expresses the mental event of affirming (correctly).

This work has been supported by the SNF project “Meaning and Intentionality in Anton Marty” (University of Geneva). A previous version of the paper was presented at the 1 st Meeting of the Brentano Research Network, University of Salzburg, November 30–December 1st, 2015. Many thanks to the audience for their helpful comments and remarks.


  • Beaney Michael (ed.) 1997. The Frege Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Brandl Johannes 2014. “Brentano’s Theory of Judgement.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2014 Edition), Zalta Edward N. (ed.), URL = <>.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brentano Franz 1874. Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt. Leipzig: Dunker. English translation in Brentano (1997) (references to the English translation in square brackets).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brentano Franz 1911. Von der Klassifikation der psychischen Phänomene (Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt, vol. 2). Leipzig: Duncker und Humblot. English translation in Brentano (1997) (references to the English translation in square brackets).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brentano Franz 1930. Wahrheit und Evidenz. Edited by Kraus Oskar , Hamburg: Meiner. English translation in Brentano (1966) (references to the English translation in square brackets).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brentano Franz 1956. Die Lehre vom richtigen Urteil. Bern: Francke Verlag.

  • Brentano Franz 1966. The True and the Evident. Edited by Chisholm Roderick , London: Routledge & Kegan.

  • Brentano Franz 1977. Die Abkehr vom Nichtrealen. Briefe und Abhandlungen aus dem Nachlass (second edition). Edited by Mayer-Hillebrand Franziska , Bern: Francke.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brentano Franz 1981. The Theory of the Categories. Edited by Chisholm Roderick & Guterman Norbert , The Hague/Boston/London: Nijhoff.

  • Brentano Franz 1997. Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. Edited by McAlister Linda , London and New York: Routledge.

  • Chisholm Roderick 1982. “Brentano’s Theory of Judgement.” In: Brentano and Meinong Studies. Edited by Chisholm Roderick , Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1736.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chrudzimski Arkadiusz 2001. Intentionalitätstheorie beim frühen Brentano. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

  • Eisenmeier Josef , Kastil Alfred & Kraus Oskar (eds.) 1918. Anton Marty: Gesammelte Schriften . Bd. II/1, Halle: Niemeyer.

  • Field Hartry 1980. Science without Numbers: A Defense of Nominalism . Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

  • Fréchette Guillaume 2014. “Austrian Logical Realism? Brentano on States of Affairs.” In: Defending Realism. Epistemological and Ontological Investigations. Edited by Bonino Guido , Cumpa Javier , & Greg Jesson , Berlin: De Gruyter, 379400.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Frege Gottlob 1879. Begriffsschrift, eine der arithmetischen nachgebildete Formelsprache des reinen Denkens. Halle: Verlag L. Nebart. Preface and Part 1 translated in Beaney (1997, 4778).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Frege Gottlob 1918–19. “Der Gedanke.” Beiträge zur Philosophie des Deutschen Idealismus 2, 5877.

  • Gabriel Gottfried 1990. “Why a Proper Name has a Meaning: Marty and Landgrebe vs. Kripke.” In: Mulligan (1990: 6775).

  • Geach Peter 1965. “Assertion.” The Philosophical Review 74/4, 449465. Reprinted in: Peter Geach, Logic Matters. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1972, 254–269.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hume David 2000. A Treatise of Human Nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press (references to the volume, book, section and paragraph in square brackets).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jacquette Dale 2004. The Cambridge Companion to Brentano. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Kriegel Uriah 2015. “Thought and Thing: Brentano’s Reism as Truth-Maker Nominalism.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 91, 153180.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Martin Wayne M. 2006. Theories of Judgement. Psychology, Logic, Phenomenology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Marty Anton 1884. “Über subjectlose Sätze und das Verhältnis der Grammatik zu Logik und Psychologie” IIII. Vierteljahresschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie 8, 5694; 161–192; 292–340; Reprinted in Marty (1918, 1–35, 36–62, 62–101) (page numbers refer to this edition).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Marty Anton 1895. “Über subjectlose Sätze und das Verhältnis der Grammatik zu Logik und PsychologieVIVII. Vierteljahresschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie 19, 1987, 263–334; Reprinted in Marty (1918, 189–247, 247–307).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Marty Anton 1908. Untersuchungen zur Grundlegung der allgemeinen Grammatik und Sprachphilosophie. Vol. I. Halle a. S.: Max Niemeyer.

  • Meinong Alexius 1910. Über Annahmen . Leipzig: Barth. Reprinted in Gesamtausgabe Bd. IV. English translation in Alexius Meinong. On Assumptions. Translated by James Heanue, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Molnar George 2000. “Truthmakers for Negative Truths.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 78, 7286.

  • Morscher Edgar 1990. “Judgment-Contents.” In: Mulligan (1990, 181196).

  • Mulligan Kevin 1988. “Judgings: Their Parts and Counterparts.” Topoi (Supplementa 2), 117148.

  • Mulligan Kevin 1990. Mind, Meaning and Metaphysics: The Philosophy and Theory of Language of Anton Marty. Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Parsons Charles 2004. “Brentano on Judgment and Truth.” In: Jacquette (2004, 168196).

  • Poli Roberto 1998. “La teoria del giudizio di Franz Brentano e Anton Marty: giudizi tetici e giudizi doppi.” Epistemologia 21, 4160.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Reinach Adolph 1911. “Zur Theorie des negativen Urteils.” English trans. in: Parts and Moments. Studies in Logic and Formal Ontology. Edited by Smith Barry , München: Philosophia Verlag, 1982, 95140.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Routley Richard 1980. Exploring Meinong’s Jungle and Beyond. Canberra: Research School of the Social Sciences.

  • Russell Bertrand 1905. “On Denoting.” Mind 14, 479493.

  • Srzednicki Jan 1965. Franz Brentano’s Analysis of Truth. La Haye: Martinus Nijhoff.

  • Stalnaker Robert 1996. “Impossibilities.” Philosophical Topics 24, 193204.

  • Vallicella William F. 2001. “Brentano on Existence.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 18/3, 311327.

  • Van der Schaar Maria S. 1997. “Judgment and Negation.” In: The Philosophy of Roderick M. Chisholm. Edited by Hahn Lewis Edwin , Chicago: Open Court, 291318.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

This is not to say that we cannot find any forerunners to Brentano’s theory. Both Descartes and, especially, Hume seemed to have been moving in a very similar direction. Martin, on the other hand, highlights how the traditional account of judgment had already been at least implicitly challenged before Brentano by Kant, Fichte, and Herbart (Martin 2006, 49–62).


Brentano (1874) makes no conceptual distinction between object and content of an idea.


The English translation (Brentano 1997) renders the German term ‘Anerkennung’ as ‘­affirmation’. It would be more literal to translate the term with ‘acknowledgement’ or ‘acceptance’.


Marty (1884, 58), while discussing Frege’s Begriffsschrift, explicitly criticized him for not recognizing that negation is on a par (Ebenbürtigkeit) with affirmation.


From a contemporary perspective, one may prefer to talk about ‘attitude’ rather than ‘mental event’, i.e. a mental event directed at something. From a Brentanian perspective, however, this is a distinction without a difference for, according to his philosophical psychology, every mental event is directed at something.


Brentano writes: “But in what does this simple affirmation of A [in the example: a man] differ from the affirmation of the combination of A and the attribute ‘existence’ which is supposed to be expressed by the sentence, ‘A exists’? Obviously it does not differ at all” (Brentano 1874, 276–277 [208]).


The fact that Brentano defines existence by the notion of affirmation and non-existence by the notion of denial is highlighted by Chisholm (1982, 20). Chisholm also notes that one may be tempted to speak of Brentano’s affirmation as an “affirmation ‘as existing’.” Strictly speaking, however, this way of talking is misleading, since the notion of existence, and thence the very term ‘existence’, is explained away by the notion of affirmation (see also the critical remarks by Geach (1965, 458–459) and Simons’s Introduction to Brentano (1997, xviii)). The normative element, by contrast, is introduced to avoid an obvious objection. According to the non-normative interpretation, if A says ‘God exists’ and B retorts ‘God does not exist’, A and B would not be really disagreeing but simply expressing, respectively, their affirmation and denial of God. As soon as the normative element is introduced, however, the disagreement between A and B is vindicated: A claims that God should be affirmed, while B claims that God should be denied.


This was noted by Marty (1884, 57) in his discussion of Frege’s Begriffsschrift.


In the literature on Brentano, the symbols ‘+’ and ‘–’ are often used to express, respectively, affirmation and denial (e.g., Brandl 2014). Since this is only the first stage in the development of Brentano’s theory, I prefer to avoid any formalism at this stage.


It could be argued that our linguistic intuition may lead us to interpret this sentence as meaning “There is some unwise man and he is denied”. However, the sentence “There is some unwise man and he is denied” would have to undergo the Brentanian interpretation and become the contradictory “An unwise man is affirmed and denied”. Thus, philosophical insight has to trump linguistic intuition here.


Brentano writes: “the existence of a man cannot be deduced from the proposition (Aussage) ‘All men are mortal’” (Brentano 1874, 285 [215–216]).


Van der Schaar also stresses that, according to Brentano, ultimately the truth of a judgment must be explained by adverting only to the notion of evidence (Evidenz). This, however, is an epistemological perspective, which leaves the ontological problem intact: How should things be for a negative judgment to be true? This question cannot be sidestepped and Brentano himself addresses it time and again in his writings.


Fréchette (2014, 391) suggests that Brentano was never really satisfied with his attempted solutions to the problem of non-existence.


See the letter to Kraus, in which Brentano rejects his previous treatment of negative properties (Brentano 1977, 201); Chrudzimski (2001, 54 footnote) draws attention to this letter in this context.


Poli (1998), on the other hand, focuses his attention on the discussion of double judgments in Marty (1895).


In this context, I am not going to join the discussion as to whether the property-talk commits us to the existence of universals. In his late years, Brentano, as discussed by Chisholm (Brentano 1981, 2–3), considered predicates as standing for things, thus avoiding any talk of properties. For a recent discussion of Brentano’s strategy to avoid universals, see Kriegel (2015).


This however, may be linked to Brentano’s view according to which predicates stand for things (see previous footnote). From such a perspective, one may indeed talk of identification.


The English translation relies on the more general term ‘thinking’ to render the German ‘Vorstellen’.


Thanks to Kevin Mulligan for raising this point.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 209 36 1
Full Text Views 199 1 0
PDF Views & Downloads 25 4 0