For those who follow Franz Brentano’s (1838-1917) published work in English, it is not surprising that Routledge is the publishing house editing the volume under review, The Routledge Handbook of Franz Brentano and the Brentano School (2017). Back in 2006 Routledge provided us with a translation of Descriptive Psychology (1982), having published in 2009 four other volumes under its series “Routledge Revivals”: The Origin of Our Knowledge of Right and Wrong (1889); The Foundation and Construction of Ethics (1952); The True and the Evident (1930); Philosophical Investigations on Time, Space, and the Continuum (1976). The series aimed to provide access to long-awaited book titles that have not been available to the English-speaking reader up to now. In 2014, it added to its string of publications on Brentano Psychology from An Empirical Standpoint (1874).
Brentano, having passed away in 1917, had only a portion of his work published during his lifetime. As Kriegel states in his Introduction, Brentano was not a systematic writer, but he was a systematic thinker (21). English translations of the above-named books appeared much later than the German editions. This means that English-speaking audiences interested in Brentano’s work have been deprived of a user-friendly access to the philosopher, his work mainly having been available to specialists who possess mastery of the German language. The situation has contributed significantly to a lack of references and research on Brentano when compared to the many he has strongly influenced, among them, Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), Alexius Meinong (1853-1920), Carl Stumpf (1848-1936) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). But as Thomas Binder claims, even when it comes to Brentano’s many original manuscripts, a critical edition of his works is needed, being the most indispensable instrument for all future research (20).
Due to the English-language reader’s delayed access to Brentano’s work, Routledge’s Handbook is timely and welcome. A similar edited volume was published back in 2004, entitled The Cambridge Companion to Brentano, edited by Dale Jacquette (1953-2016), Professor for many years at Pennsylvania State University (USA) and later on at the University of Bern (Switzerland). That book featured thirteen chapters. The reference to Jacquette is pertinent because the current Handbook’s editor, Uriah Kriegel, pays homage to him by closing the book with a contribution by Jacquette himself — as if meaning to close the book with a tribute but also leaving it open for those who will develop research on Brentano in the future.
Routledge’s publication of six of Brentano’s works since 2004 aims to have an impact on research of the philosopher, and the current Handbook confirms the intention further, providing encouragement to those who seek an orientation on how to approach the philosopher’s work. Featuring more than thirty contributors, the volume aims to give an updated perspective of Brentano’s current relevance. An option that should be praised is the fact that the Handbook is not exclusively about Brentano but also about the Brentano School.
The Handbook features two parts. Part I is dedicated to Brentano’s work, having three sections (Mind, Metaphysics and Value) underlining the philosopher’s significance for philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and moral philosophy. Part II focuses on the Brentano School, both his students and those he has influenced, making us aware that his work is relevant for understanding the roots of many other thinkers that came afterwards.
An additional good option taken by Kriegel is to open the Handbook with two chapters giving an overview of Brentano’s life and philosophy. One takes a biographical approach authored by Thomas Binder, Supervisor of Brentano’s Archives at the University of Graz (Austria). And a second one, by Kriegel himself (Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science and Associate Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies, at the University of Arizona, USA) delivers a summary of Brentano’s philosophical program.
In Kriegel’s words, “the basic idea behind Brentano’s program is that there are three distinctive types of mental act that proprietarily target the true, the good, and the beautiful…. [T]he true is that which it is correct, or fitting, or appropriate to believe; the good is that which it is correct/fitting to love or like or approve of; and the beautiful is that with which it is correct/fitting to be delighted” (21).
Both Brentano’s thesis (1862) and habilitation (1867) were on Aristotle and the philosopher was a main influence in his work. Part I approaches several main concepts present throughout his work like intentionality, consciousness, the senses, judgement, emotions, will, time and space, truth, reality, and ethics. These are known to have strongly influenced Edmund Husserl, known for being the founder of phenomenology. Husserl was indeed Brentano’s student, having first taken a course with him in 1884, at 25 years old. At the time, Husserl was a mathematics student taking a minor in Philosophy, who decided to go deeper in his philosophy studies. He chose to attend courses lectured by the much talked-about philosopher, Brentano. In the words of Rollinger, also a Handbook contributor, “[w]hat began as a mere curiosity became a great enthusiasm” (Rollinger 1999: 16).
Kriegel’s Introduction elegantly presents us each of the book’s 38 chapters, providing the reader with a clear vision of the volume’s content. It is particularly useful not only because it allows us to be aware of the main concepts at stake but also because it describes the flow and links between each chapter, providing a sense of unity to the sizeable number of contributions. In what follows, I summarize the content featured in Part I (Chapters 3-24).
Denis Seron (University of Liege, Belgium) authors the first chapter of the first section, which is dedicated to philosophy of mind (Chapters 3-12). In this chapter he presents Brentano’s most famous work, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (1874), where he establishes that the foundation for a scientific approach to psychology is empirical. By empirical, Brentano understands a “purely phenomenal science,” i.e. a science whose objects are not substances but phenomena. This perspective is a powerful statement in the realm of ontology, one that sets the tone for what is now clearly acknowledged as Brentano’s aim of conceptualizing a big system. Psychology, instead of being the science of mental substances (the soul) should be understood as the “science of mental phenomena.” Brentano laid down powerful epistemological principles claiming that science should dispense metaphysical assumptions that there are substances that underlie the phenomena we witness. It is based on this that he favors descriptive psychology. Psychology has two branches, “physiological psychology” and “descriptive psychology.” The first he would name “genetic psychology” and this approach explains mental phenomena, referring to physiological processes. “Descriptive psychology” precedes “genetic psychology” in the sense that it describes the phenomena that are in need of explanation, providing also a classification.
According to Brentano, in order to reflect upon a given subject it is first necessary to establish the terms in which the subject will be discussed and agree upon which concepts will be used. Following this perspective, the first section of the volume under review presents the main concepts founding the philosopher’s epistemology. The main concepts of Brentano’s system are presented in the following sequence: intentionality, consciousness (also its unity and relation with time), sensations and sensory qualities, classification of mental phenomena, judgement, emotion and will, and self-knowledge. Intentionality, addressed by Tim Crane (Central European University, Hungary), is the most peculiar feature of mental phenomena. Brentano uses the concept as a point of reference, classifying kinds and modes of intentionality, and this chapter portrays how the concept has evolved throughout his work. Mark Textor (King’s College London, UK) examines the concept of consciousness, which stems from Brentano’s classification of intentionality in two kinds – “primary” directed at a worldly object and “secondary” directed at the self. The secondary kind will be key to Brentano’s theory of consciousness.
The scope of the philosopher’s understanding of consciousness is approached by Barry Dainton (University of Liverpool, UK), Guillaume Fréchette (University of Salzburg, Austria), and Olivier Massin (University of Zurich, Switzerland). These chapters develop how a unity of consciousness relates to unity at a time and how consciousness, inevitably, involves the passage of time. It is stated that Brentano struggled with this last idea and tried several different formulations in order to convey it. As for sensory consciousness, Brentano will claim that sensations are intentional, like all mental phenomena, which is a stark contrast with the prevailing view.
Classification of mental phenomena is part of descriptive psychology and Kriegel guides us through its taxonomy. It is divided into three kinds: presentations, judgements and “phenomena of love and hate.” Claiming that judgement does not involve predication and does not have propositional content, Kriegel considers Brentano’s theory of judgement one of the most creative theories in the history of philosophy. Michelle Montague (The University of Texas at Austin, USA) accounts for the phenomena of love and hate, framed under the concepts of emotion and will. The idea is to explore how the range of mental phenomena that can go from one extreme to the other has a continuity embodying good or bad intention – evaluating corresponding objects accordingly.
Closing the section on philosophy of mind, Gianfranco Soldati (Fribourg University, Switzerland) identifies three key theses that account for Brentano’s theory of self-knowledge. These are particularly relevant for those interested in the concept of Self.
Section Two of Part I is dedicated to metaphysics (Chapters 13-19). Werner Sauer (University of Graz, Germany) develops a critical assessment of Brentano’s vital claim for reism: it is impossible to even contemplate, or represent to oneself, anything other than “things” in the relevant sense. This means that he endorses a monocategorial ontology where the only category of being is things. A theory of the soul is crafted by Susan Krantz Gabriel (Saint Anselm College, USA). Brentano identifies two kinds of things, physical and mental, the soul being a mental, immortal substance. Time and space are two basic elements of metaphysics, to which Brentano dedicated much of his attention in his last decade. These are related with substance, the nature of continuum, and the foundations of topology. Wojciech Żełaniec (University of Gdańsk, Poland) is the contributing author addressing this topic. Substances have determinations that allow one to recognize properties and relations among things. Properties are special parts of a thing (either metaphysical or logical), as Hamid Taieb (University of Geneva, Switzerland) shows us, while addressing Brentano’s ontology of relations. Johannes L. Brandl (University of Salzburg, Austria) draws on the nature of truth, a difficult concept, where the main idea at stake is the acquisition of the concept of truth. This follows another contribution by Seron who argues that when it comes to appearance and reality, the theory is the same as its theory of intentionality, meaning that appearances are the intentional objects of conscious experiences and vice versa. The section closes with Alessandro Salice’s (University College Cork, Ireland) chapter on negation and nonexistence. These concepts follow a similar logic to the one used to elaborate his theory of judgement but according to Salice’s critical appraisal the approach is ultimately frail and confusing.
The closing section of Part I is dedicated to value theory (Chapters 20-24). Jonas Olson (Stockholm University, Sweden) argues the all-encompassing significance of Brentano’s metaethics and its relevance to the debates nowadays on key questions such as that of when we say that something is good, what exactly are we doing? While highlighting the philosopher’s relevance to contemporary debates, Lynn Pasquerella (Mount Holyoke College, USA) advocates viewing Brentano as favouring a pluralist consequentialism, i.e. things are instrumentally good when their consequences are intrinsically good. Wolfgang Huemer (University of Parma, Italy) discusses Brentano’s contribution to aesthetics, confirming its solid scientific foundations because again, his main concern was epistemological: he was more interested in defining the framework in which questions should be asked than in addressing aesthetic questions. The foundation was scientific psychology and not subjective speculation. Specifically, he did address the question of artistic genius and the role in art of fantasy and imagination. Ion Tănăsescu (Romanian Academy) reconstructs his view. Closing this section we are presented Brentano’s philosophy of religion in a chapter authored by Richard Schaefer (SUNY—Plattsburgh, USA). As an ordained Catholic priest who decided to leave the Church, he remained deeply religious. He was a rational theologian who subordinated theology to philosophy. Presenting four arguments for the existence of God, Brentano favours the one that appeals to probability theory.
Husserl was not the only philosopher enthusiastic about Brentano. A similar feeling seems to have occurred for many who followed, and whose relation to Brentano is explored in the current book (Part II): Anton Marty (1847-1914), Carl Stumpf, Alexius Meinong, Christian von Ehrenfels (1859-1932), Kazimierz Twardowski (1866-1938) and Hugo Bergman (1883-1975), the Israeli philosopher who was a close friend of Franz Kafka (1883-1924). Also identified are the British psychologist and philosopher G.F. Stout (1860-1944), G.E. Moore (1873-1958), one of the founders of analytic philosophy, and American philosopher Roderick Chisholm (1916-1999). Brentano’s influence on other schools is also addressed: The Prague School, which focused on linguistics, philology, and literature; the Lvov-Warsaw School, established by Twardowski and key to Polish philosophy; and the Innsbruck School, which was mainly engaged in philosophy and psychology. All authors in this Handbook contribute successfully for the reader to be able to build a bridge between Brentano’s original work and that of his students. Part II aims to support evidence that Brentano’s School had a unified view, namely, that philosophy is continuous with the sciences, and that the science all philosophy depends upon is descriptive psychology.
For many years now, Brentano has sparked curiosity mainly because of his influence on Husserl. Brentano is sometimes credited as the one who has laid the ground for phenomenology’s main concepts. Yet, a clear vision of what his work consists of has not been delivered. We are aware that as a renowned professor in his time, he influenced many, but his philosophical program has remained unclear. Only with this program in view we will be able to truly understand his philosophical insights and to evaluate the extent to which he has influenced others. In that sense, Routledge’s Handbook is a highly relevant resource and a significant step further in that direction. Furthermore, it is a clear and scientifically informed introduction to Brentano that invites us, with renewed confidence, to read the philosopher himself. Brentano seems to be a key figure for understanding better the prolific time that was the turn of the twentieth century and that, among many other movements, fostered the development of phenomenology and analytic philosophy, confirming that further research on his work is in order.
For those who wish to delve deeper into the philosopher’s work, the Handbook’s current editor Uriah Kriegel has authored a book titled Brentano’s Philosophical System: Mind, Being, Value (Oxford University Press, 2018), which develops the contents of Part I further, following a similar structure.
Rollinger, Robin D. (1999). Husserl’s Position in the School of Brentano. Dordrecht: Springer.
As the Conclusion to Experiencing Phenomenology suggests, this book encourages us to dwell in Phenomenology in order to judge its claims adequately and in doing so provides a much-needed bridge from contemporary philosophy to the world of Phenomenology. It starts out by providing a basic orientation to the problems of Phenomenology along with a brief history of the subject, but then dives straight into dealing with specific issues starting with an account of intentionality, objects, properties, events, possibilities, before then addressing the meaty subjects of self, embodiement, Others and emotions. Smith provides a good introductory overview of the main authors of the phenomenological tradition namely Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and Stein and relates the theories from these authors to contemporary debates in a range of philosophical disciplines. In this review I will focus upon 4 lacunas in the text and explore whether they can justifiably be left out. In examining gaps in the text I do not wish to say that the text does not function extraordinarily well as an introductory text, but rather to analyse the authors attempt to relate Phenomenology to contemporary concerns and investigate whether such a ‘fusion of horizons’ (Gadamer: 2004) would require a more involved and careful handling of such a project than there is room for in an introductory text.
Competing Visions of Phenomenology
My first qualm about the text is the way a range of authors are presented in conjunction with each other in attempts to solve particular philosophical problems. The first problem Smith addresses is the phenomenological method itself and in doing this he pits Husserl ‘science of experience’ against Heidegger’s attempt to work out the ‘question of the meaning of Being’. The main problem here is that for a beginner this leaves out the central motivations for each thinker’s position. It would be uncontroversial to say that Heidegger and Husserl are up to very different things in their texts, and the same could be said for Sartre and Merleau-Ponty later on in the book. To present them as attempting to address certain specific problems in different ways would seem to stretch to the point of distortion their very particular approaches to the subject. The problems faced by each of the authors covered are bound up with their method, which is itself a question for them that they deal with as part of the outworking of their position. A concern with method is an aspect that is salient in much of ‘continental’ philosophy. Smith writes in the Preface, “[o]ne last thing: you won’t find the terms ‘analytic’ or ‘continental’ in the pages that follow. Good riddance” (Smith 2016: XV). Now the motivation for this statement is presumably that we have come to a point in the Anglophone philosophy where such terms are outdated and unnecessary. Smith maybe has other reasons for wishing to banish these terms from his book that he doesn’t mention, but a clarification of this statement would be good. However, it would seem that these terms can still usefully be applied if it is possible that there are different traditions behind the work done in mainly French and German Phenomenology and contemporary anglophone Philosophy of Mind or Metaphysics. And maybe the divide needs a more careful handling rather than just to ignore it. I will look at these questions in section 3. Suffice it to say that an introductory text might need to give a map of how Phenomenology is significantly different from other fields of the subject that is philosophy and at least nod towards the division that there has been in the past between at least two ways of doing that subject.
To return to the central point, with Husserl’s phrase “back to the things themselves!” we encounter a subject that wants to found a new beginning for itself as Descartes did and is very aware of its relation to the history of philosophy. Arguably this tradition of philosophy is much more dependent on personalities shaping the discipline and the student must be made aware of this. Wanting to find what is common to all Phenomenology is understandably an important concern for an introduction to the subject, but to really dwell in the subject any text on Phenomenology needs to question its own methods in relation to the history of the subject. Questions such as “Is what I am doing here authentic?” arise in relation to any engagement with the work of Heidegger or Sartre. “Can my work in this field be seen as scientific?” is a question that comes out of looking at Phenomenology with Husserl and maybe this is the method that Smith finds works best for what he has in mind and there is evidence that he sees the subject as a collaborative enterprise, where solutions to problems are worked out through argumentation, from the conclusions that he gives to each chapter. And this indeed is an appropriate methodology for an introductory guide. However the fact that the question of method for the text is never itself given an airing means that students are left with a rather disjointed exposition of fragments of the authors’ works and some of the most exciting parts of Phenomenology are left untouched. The most glaring omission to my mind is the absence of Sartre in the chapter on Other Minds, instead including Stein on empathy. This felt very unsatisfactory considering the original phenomenological analysis of shame Sartre gives as the basis for our knowledge of Other Minds and the vignettes he uses to illustrate this. Now this could be because Stein is more incisive here (and also this choice can be seen to grow out of the preceding chapter on embodiement) but it might be instead that Smith chose this author as being more in line with ‘analytic’ concerns and so a phenomenological treasure is passed over.
The Importance of Psychopathology in the Phenomenological Tradition
It would seem very unfair to point out particular subjects that an author omitted in an introductory work where tough choices will have had to be made about what to include considering the accessible size of the volume. However, for reasons I will elaborate, psychopathology is central to an understanding of the subject of Phenomenology and at least deserves a mention on the basis of its contribution to methodology. Phenomenology aims at an accurate description of the structure of experience and in order to do this it needs examples. Smith goes back again and again to his contemplation of his place of work to illustrate phenomenological points. This could reasonably be thought of as normal experience. The critical thing about psychopathology (particularly of cases of delusions, hallucinations and unusual bodily and self experiences) is that it enables us to look at abnormal experience and see what the structure of experience must be in terms of extremes. It provides real cases for giving conclusions about the imaginative thought experiments found in the method of Husserl’s eidetic reduction. Jaspers (1997) is the main exemplar of the tradition of phenomenological psychopathology and his General Psychopathology from 1923 is still in circulation among psychiatrists to this day. Although Smith occasionally peppers some of his arguments with psychiatric cases, Jaspers is mentioned only once in passing and not in relation to psychopathology. There is a grand tradition of phenomenological psychopathology including the Zollikon Seminars by Heidegger (2001) and it is currently in ascendency among philosophically inclined mental health professionals and some mention of it would have helped show a wider view of the subject and its potential practical ramifications. The need to reflect on out of the everyday experiences should be highlighted to the student new to the subject in giving them tools to be able to dwell in the subject. The scope of the book is ample and many of the chapters would have been helped by examples from psychopathology including the ones on embodiement, self-awareness and Other minds. Hopefully if the book runs to further editions this may be remedied.
Mind the Gap: Acknowledging Differences in the Analytic and Continental Traditions
An exemplar of someone who draws on both the analytic and continental is Stanley Cavell (1979) for example in The Claim of Reason, but unlike Smith he acknowledges the split of mind between the two traditions and integrates the two styles of philosophizing into his own original voice. I would argue that trying to overcome the divide between the two traditions necessitates at least acknowledging that there is a divide that needs to be overcome rather than refusing to talk about it. This is especially important in an introductory text as students may not be aware of the history of the different practices in Anglophone and Continental institutions. How the divide came to be is not something I will go into here, but that there is a difference seems undeniable. The ability to relate the philosophers from the different traditions takes careful handling as the student introduced to a particular philosopher may read up on a reference and be left in perplexity as to how the writing of someone in the continental tradition relates to what they have done before in philosophy. Heidegger’s neologisms can be a large stumbling block to someone trying to read the primary text for the first time and may put the student off a seminal work in philosophy unless given guidance on what to expect. The frequent references to Derrida by Smith would lead the uninitiated to think that reading his texts is a straight forward matter as there is no acknowledgement that they can be quite difficult to enter into without some background contextualization. Although his exposition of various concepts in the work of the authors he focuses on are very clear, this aspect of Phenomenology needs addressing by Smith. Again to convict him of missing out something when the scope of the work seems constrained by the fact it is introductory would seem unfair. However, as Husserl and Heidegger are such important figures to understanding works by Derrida, Levinas and Ricoeur it would have made sense to outline their place in what has been known as the ‘Continental’ tradition as a guide for future reading and also to point out that a straightforward transposition to the concerns of contemporary anglophone philosophy can require a translation of concepts. To be fair to Smith he does a good job of combining the two perspectives but this is because he focuses on matters that are the concern of the two traditions such as intentionality rather than issues mainly from the continental tradition such as authenticity, or the Nothing that might well be of interest to more inquisitive students.
Is Phenomenology a Scientific Enterprise?
The question of method permeates Smith’s book in the way he presents the subject matter. He seems to come down on the side of Husserl that Phenomenology is a science of experiences and its methods are comparing phenomenological descriptions in a collaborative deductive exercise that will eventually lead to the truth of the structure of experience. In contrast to this he gives an airing to Heidegger’s ‘Hermeneutic Phenomenology’ but does not follow through on an analysis of this method of Phenomenology, one that requires a greater role for culture in elucidating the structures of experience. Heidegger’s method is a more historically and literary based questioning of experience. Although it includes the critique of others in advancing the subject, the validity of its claims are based on the authenticity of the self-questioning involved. To put it another way, Husserl’s method relies on the paradigm of a scientific inquiry whereas Heidegger’s method points to the paradigm of a religious confession where the truth of the matter is based on the honesty and self-examination of the questioner. Heidegger’s method has been hugely influential in the continental tradition so this method should not be dismissed out of hand. Modern anglophone philosophy would seem to side on the whole with Husserl’s tendencies, but it should be noted that Wittgenstein’s (1963) Philosophical Investigations, an important work for inheritors of the analytic tradition, starts by quoting Augustine’s Confessions suggesting that Wittgenstein was not wholly adverse to Heidegger’s conception of method in philosophy. So to raise the question in earnest, which method would seem to have the most going for it? As this question goes beyond the scope of a book review, I will only make a few brief points that suggest that the question of method might be something Smith may need to go into in more detail in future editions. Phenomenology is based on articulating experience and so honesty with ones self about the character of experience would seem to be of upmost importance. This would involve trying to find the truth for yourself at a distance from the opinions inherited from others and your upbringing and this itself is perhaps the kernel of truth in Husserl’s phenomenological reduction. This is not to say that others should be ignored but rather that the role of the other is to help you to better scrutinize yourself, what Heidegger terms ‘being-ahead’ of the another person and trying to help someone attain transparency to themselves. The other person’s role is to articulate the internal voice of conscience. This suggests that virtue is indeed required to perform the aims of Phenomenology adequately and further hints that one should rely upon one’s own self-examination rather than looking for the results to be given through a collaborative, objective, science-like enterprise. Smith presents the results of the conclusions of his chapters in the style of the latter; hopefully I have raised sufficient doubt about the necessity of that method to make plausible the idea that an introductory text in Phenomenology, to be fair to the subject matter, requires more reflection on the method of its composition.
Experiencing Phenomenology is a bold attempt to provide access for beginners to the wealth of a tradition that holds out the hope of charting human subjectivity. In his book Smith accomplishes his aim with a deft handling. The critique of the text provided here is merely to point out some of the structural problems that could be addressed to further his aims in future editions. In ignoring the analytic-continental divide Smith seems to be writing from the perspective that questions of method and presentation have already been decided in favour of the paradigm of science and the doubts I have raised here should help the reader to keep this as an open question. Aside from this I would thoroughly recommend the text to undergraduate students and scholars keen to look at Phenomenology in dialogue with the analytic tradition while noting that there are important issues that explicitly need addressing in order to avoid confusion.
Cavell, S. 1979. The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality and Tragedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gadamer, H. G. 2004. Truth and Method 2nd Revised Edition. trans. J. Weinsheimer and D. Marshall. London: Continuum.
Heidegger, M. 1962. Being and Time. trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson. Oxford: Blackwell.
Heidegger, M. 2001. Zollikon Seminars: Protocols-Conversations-Letters. trans. M. Franz and R. Askay. ed. M. Boss. Illinois: Northwestern University Press .
Jaspers, K. 1997. General Psychopathology. Volume 1. trans. J. Hoenig and M. Hamilton. London: The John Hopkins University Press.
Smith, J. 2016. Experiencing Phenomenology: An Introduction. Oxford: Routledge.
Wittgenstein, L. 1963. Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
 I shall refer to ‘Phenomenology’ with a capital, for the reason that, as I argue in the text, I do not believe it is possible to separate the subject from an understanding of its tradition.