Page:Review of Franz Brentano's The Origin of the Knowledge of Right and Wrong.djvu/4

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fundamental concept. It is the doctrine which explains why he has given to this inquiry the unfortunate title of an inquiry into “The Origin of the Knowledge of Right and Wrong.” Brentano holds, namely, that (as Hume thought) all our conceptions are derived from “concrete impressions”—impressions, which, he says, are either “of physical” or “of psychical content” (p. 12). This doctrine may be perfectly true in one sense; but in the sense naturally conveyed by the words it includes a most important error. Obviously the conception of “good,” as Brentano defines it, cannot be derived merely from the experience of loving, but only from that of “right loving”—from the perception of the rightness of a love: its origin cannot be merely the perception of a love which is right, but in which this quality is not perceived, it can only be a perception in which it is itself contained. But whereas the experience of loving has all the marks which are suggested by calling it a “concrete impression of psychical content,” the “experience of right loving”—i.e., the perception of the rightness of a love—has not. The quality of “rightness” is not a psychical content and the perception of it is not an impression in the ordinary sense of these words. A single mark is sufficient to distinguish it: by a “psychical content” we always mean at least an existent, and by “impression” the cognition of an existent, and “rightness” is not an existent. Brentano is certainly not sufficiently attentive to this distinction between the experience of loving and the experience of right loving. He says he belongs to the “empirical school” (p. 8); and he here shows himself to be under the influence of empiricism, in a sense in which empiricism is certainly erroneous.

The same inattention to the nature of the quality which he means by “rightness” is further shown in the account Brentano gives of our knowledge that one thing is better than another. His first suggestion is that since “good” means “worthy to be loved,” “better” must mean “worthy of more love” (p. 21). It does not seem to have occurred to him that it must mean “more worthy of love,” that is to say, his attention is directed only to that element of his definition, which is a “concrete psychical content,” namely the love, not to the more important element “rightness,” which is not. In asserting that a thing is rightly loved with a greater love, you do not assert that it posseses the quality of being rightly loved in any higher degree than what is rightly loved with a less love; and hence if good means rightly loved, you do not assert that it is