(Theme 2015)

Making philosophy “scientific” was one of the key themes of the 19th century. The proposals to this effect came in many different forms, but were all controversial: German idealists issued bold statements claiming that only philosophy could be genuinely scientific, while all other disciplines could at best aspire at a derivative status; the progress, specialization, and emancipation of the natural sciences was seen by many as forcing philosophy into a defensive position in which only a meta-reflection on the other sciences remained open as a task for philosophy; new players entered the field, most prominently the humanities and psychology, and radically anti-scientific options were also seriously considered. How, then, can one obtain a proper grasp on the 19th century’s involvement with philosophy’s scientificity? Many argued that philosophy could only become scientific by following the lead of the natural sciences; but are these really the only model, or only the most successful model? What makes science science, after all? And what is the function of philosophy concerning this question?

This conference intends to take seriously the idea that the 19th century was everything but an aftershock of great philosophical movements, or only a foreshadowing of new things to come. The question as to whether and how philosophy can be made scientific is taken as crucial for understanding this period. The issues specific to this period concern the fundamental nature of knowledge as much as the demarcation of scientific disciplines and their institutional organization. These topics are approached in a twofold fashion.

1. We intend to start with conceptual debates arising in the period around 1800, in the context – both critically and affirmatively – of German Idealism, and shaping the labels we continue to use until now in order to classify forms of philosophy and forms of science. A particularly salient case is the notion of “empiricism”: How was this notion developed, discussed, specified around 1800? What were alternative notions? Who was considered as being an empiricist (in this respect, big surprises are possible: it was not uncommon in this time to view Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant and Fichte as all being empiricists), and why? Which decisions were made in this period as to how we should use this term, and how did these decisions influence the further course of our thinking of philosophy vis-à-vis the sciences? How does a concept such as “empiricism” relate to the concepts of “realism”, “rationalism”, etc.?

2. One of the strongest advocates of the idea of philosophy as science was Franz Brentano. In opposition to the idealists’ speculative method, Brentano famously claimed that the true method of philosophy is none other than that of the natural sciences. The proper domain of philosophy would be the mind, which led to Brentano’s attempts to establish psychology as a science: empirical, but not necessarily or exclusively experimental; subjective, but not introspective. This project of establishing a scientific philosophy and psychology then became the north star of his school. How exactly are we to understand the ideal of philosophy as science in the School of Brentano? What role did it play in the formation of his school? What lasting effects, if any, did it have on the positions of his students? What is the historical and systematical relevance of Brentano’s thesis?

Between these approaches, we intend to capture key ideas of the 19th century, and of their historical and systematical interaction.