Kafka and Brentano: A Study in Descriptive Psychology
Structure and Gestalt
from Axiomathes 8, 1997, 83-104. For we are like tree trunks in the snow. In appearance they lie sleekly and a little push should be enough to set them rolling. No, it can't be done, for they are firmly wedded to the ground. But see, even that is only appearance. 1 § 1. The Louvre Circle There is a narrow thread in the vast literature on Kafka which pertains to Kafka's knowledge of philosophy and more precisely to the fruitfulness of attempts to interpret Kafka's fictional writings in the light
... of some of the main ideas of Franz Brentano. Such attempts have been roundly dismissed, not least by Max Brod, who denied the role of all theory in Kafka's writings (Kafka 'spoke in images because he thought in images'). As Arnold Heidsieck has thoroughly documented in his recent study of the intellectual context of Kafka's work, however, Kafka's fictional writings are informed by ... academic and public debates during the first decade of the twentieth century on physiology; perceptual, cognitive and linguistic psychology; the philosophy of mind and language; positive law and natural-law theory; criminal procedure; ethics; and religion. (Heidsieck 1994, pp. 2f.) Kafka became apprised of and to some degree involved in such debates not least through his school-friends (including Hugo Bergmann and Emil Utitz), through the courses he attended in philosophy at the Charles University, courses given inter alia by Brentano's students Anton Marty and Christian von Ehrenfels, and through his three-year membership of a discussion-group organized by orthodox adherents of the Brentanian philosophy in Prague. Heidsieck's book 'surveys philosophical theorems that were either intensely contended or opposed' by the Brentanists in Prague, and he attempts to show how 'Kafka embeds them almost serially in his developing themes and paradigms' (op. cit., p. 48). Here I shall concentrate on two such 'philosophical theorems': Brentano's doctrine of intentionality, and Brentano's account of ethical judgment.