Denis Fisette and Riccardo Martinelli have put together the most comprehensive, ambitious, and engaging collection of essays on the philosophy of Carl Stumpf (1848–1936) to date. The volume is impressive in both scope and depth. It covers every single aspect of Stumpf's contribution to philosophy, including issues in the philosophy of mathematics, metaphysics, epistemology, phenomenology, aesthetics, philosophy of language, and the theory of feelings (but not ethics, somewhat surprisingly). It draws on an extensive array of Stumpf's writings, both published and unpublished, and it even features a selection of archival materials, notably, the transcription of a lecture on metaphysics from the late 1880s and some correspondence between Stumpf and Brentano. Some might suspect that we should simply ‘catalogue [Stumpf's] work within the museum of academic curiosities from the turn of the 20th century’ (p. 229), as one of the contributors amusingly puts it. Fisette and Martinelli provide ample evidence that this would be a mistake. The volume is organized in four sections, ‘historical sources’ (pp. 55–144), ‘themes’ (pp. 145–314), ‘influences’ (pp. 315–422), and ‘archivialia’ (pp. 423–542), prefaced by a long and illuminating introduction by Fisette (pp. 11–54). The editor makes a persuasive case for the relevance of Stumpf, whose contribution to philosophy has been unjustly downplayed (p. 15) due to the fact that he was mainly occupied with empirical research in psychology and musicology after the turn of the twentieth century. He notes that historians of psychology who have raised doubts about the value of Stumpf's empirical research have tended to overlook ‘the specifically philosophical dimension in his empirical writings’ (p. 16). Fisette is adamant that ‘Stumpf is first and foremost a philosopher’ (p. 12), but it is precisely the ‘diversified and interdisciplinary nature of his work’ (p. 16) that makes his philosophy attractive in a contemporary context. Stumpf believed in the continuity of philosophic inquiry and empirical science and he advocated for an inductive method in philosophy, the primary task of which would be to identify the most general laws of reality. His writings epitomize rigor, clarity, and careful argumentation. Besides influencing some of the finest minds of his time (such as Edmund Husserl and Robert Musil, to mention but two), Stumpf offers solutions to perennial philosophical problems that are still worth pondering in the present (such as the status of propositional entities or Sachverhalte, the origin of concepts, the nature of space). The historical section offers a vivid picture of Stumpf's early intellectual development (pp. 61–74), and three essays on the sources of Stumpf's philosophy. While Stumpf largely followed the Brentanian approach to logic and advocated a reduction of all kinds of judgement to existential judgement (p. 76), it would be incorrect to consider him just an orthodox disciple of Brentano. Milkov argues that Lotze, Stumpf's Habilitation supervisor, ‘helped Stumpf in distancing himself from Franz Brentano’ (p. 102). In spite of Stumpf's criticism of Lotze's theory of local signs in the philosophy of space, Stumpf's own work on space can be viewed as a recasting of Lotze's anti-Kantian conception of space, according to which space is objective rather than subjective. Finally, Stefano Poggi points towards a hidden yet powerful source for Stumpf's conception of psyche: the ‘monadology’ (p. 123) developed by Herbart and carried forward by his followers. The second section turns to consider key themes in Stumpf's philosophy. For the sake of brevity, let me just mention two of the most striking issues discussed in this section. Riccardo Martinelli shows that Stumpf grappled for his entire life with the problem of categories. In his posthumous book Erkenntnislehre, he attempts to draw a list of categories, albeit ‘neither an ordered “table” of categories, nor even a complete list’ (p. 210). Particularly notable is Stumpf's anti-Kantian argument that the category of substance can be grounded in direct experience by reference to perceptual wholes (p. 211) and his inclusion of ‘truth’ in the list of fundamental categories (pp. 214–216). In one of the strongest showings in this volume, Dominique Pradelle teases out the implications of Stumpf's conception of ‘the autonomy of the sphere of the sensible’ (p. 232), which amounts to an ‘anti-associationist and anti-Kantian’ (p. 234) affirmation of intrinsic, non-subjective, and a priori structures of sensory contents. As Pradelle aptly emphasizes, this line of thought had a major impact on subsequent German philosophy and psychology, including Husserlian phenomenology and Gestalt theory. The third section on influences looks more specifically at ways in which Stumpf's philosophy was received and discussed among his contemporaries. Again, I will only highlight a few aspects of this remarkably rich section. Fiorenza Toccafondi carefully reconstructs Moritz Schlick's Auseinandersetzung with Stumpf in his Allgemeine Erkenntnislehre (pp. 385–403). It turns out that Schlick, too, admired Stumpf's anti-Kantian characterization of the sensory field as structured independently of the noetic functions of the mind (p. 389). Finally, Silvia Bonacchi argues that celebrated novelist Robert Musil's theory of feeling is deeply indebted to Stumpf's own philosophical work on feelings (pp. 405–422). The volume ends with an ‘archival’ section comprising a lecture on metaphysics and some letters between Stumpf and Brentano. The lecture on metaphysics is crucial in that it ‘contains valuable information about the main branches of metaphysics, the delimitation of this vast field with respect to science and philosophy, the most important debates of [Stumpf's] time on that subject, and the relevance of metaphysical questions in philosophy’ (p. 435). In light of their importance and of the ambition of the volume, an English translation of these archival materials would perhaps have been apropos. Given the excellent scholarly quality of the essays, it is a pity that their linguistic and stylistic quality falls a bit short. This is understandable due to the fact that most contributors are non-native speakers of German and English (the two languages of the volume), but a thorough proofreading by a native speaker would have easily improved the final product; however, this remark pertains more to the cosmetics than the substance of the volume. Philosophy from an Empirical Standpoint is a landmark publication. It will have a long-lasting impact on the history of early twentieth century European philosophy and its ramifications up to our present. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Scots Philosophical Association and the University of St Andrews. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Philosophical Quarterly – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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