husserl

Life and works of Husserl -A History of Western Philosophy

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Life and works of Husserl -A History of Western Philosophy, Volume 2_ Modern and Postmodern_ From Descartes to Derrida

Edmund Husserl was a German Jew who became Lutheran. He was trained at Leipzig, Berlin, and at Vienna where he received his Ph.D. in mathematics (1881). He attended lectures of Franz Brentano in Vienna (1884—86) and became a philosopher. Wilhelm Wundt had a negative influence on Husserl. He thought Husserl was too analytic and behavioristic in his psychology. The philosopher/psychologist Franz Brentano (d.1917) had a positive influence on Husserl. He liked his synthetic approach and stress on gestalt. Husserl taught in Halle (1887—1901), Gottingen (1901— 1916), and Freiburg (1916—1929), where he spent the remainder of his life. It was these last few years that he was exposed to social and political pressures because of his Jewish ancestry.

Husserl works can be divided into three periods. In the first period he wrote: Philosophy of Arithmetic (1891) and Logical Investigations (1900—1901). In the second period he penned: Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology (1913, Eng., 1931). He also produced the best summary article on “Phenomenology” in Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th edition, 1929, Vol. XVII, 700-702. In the third period he produced: Cartesian Meditations (see English trans. of his 1929 lecture). The development of his thought during these three periods took him from a position that was primarily ontological realism to a distinctive form of idealism.

Husserl’s Philosophy: Three Stages

Philosophy was more than an academic study for Husserl—he approached it with utmost seriousness! His aim was to make philosophy an a priori autonomous science that would function as the foundation for all other sciences. In this scientific approach, philosophers should seek complete lucidity, take nothing for granted and accept no statement as true without scrutiny and no excogitation without interrogation. This science Husserl called “phenomenology.”

Husserl’s phenomenological method comes in three stages. It is here where he attacks psychologism in order to clear  up confusion between psychology and logical order. In his Logical Investigations he argued that a careful description of the nature of logic showed that its principles were universal and necessary. Logical truth has an a priori basis that is not found in empiricism. Empiricism seems to neglect certain aspects of experience and it is phenomenology that is able to bridge this gap and add stability to experience. However, Husserl does not propose a separate realm of essences because essences are understood through a distinctive act of cognition. The mind thinks the object and the properties of phenomenology bring the object to fulfillment. The search for the truth associated with the object is when the object is shown in the perceptual intuition where the individual holds a seemingly paradoxical position. Phenomenology posits that no assumption should be made about the existential status of an intentional object until a reflective description of the law-governed relationship between consciousness and the object is achieved.

The First Stage: The Eidetic Reduction

This stage deals with the object of consciousness. It is an attempt to get the idea or essence through activity (noesis) of the known object (noema). By analyzing an activity one can get at their essential kind, i.e., their essence or idea. In this reduction of acts to idea we have a specific example of a general, that is, a universal meaning particularized in a specific case (i.e., an eidetic reduction). He rejects Kant’s disjunction between phenomena and noumena. For Hussserl believed that the phenomena manifest the noumena; there is a noetic intention and noematic (content, world) parallel.

The laws of logic do not precede consciousness. However, they are discovered by consciousness intuiting abstract meanings and relationships among them. Then, once discovered the laws of logic are normative for discovering truth. There is a meta-logical basis for all logic which is without content, a “pure logic.” No science can justify its own principles; it must begin in prescientific consciousness. His concern is not with factual relations but with ideal ones that can be applied to factual ones. By this he founded a phenomenological descriptive of the way things appear in our consciousness. Initially, one cannot say this is the way things really are, though eventually led to the warranted assertion that particular objects were real and not mind-dependent.

The Second Stage: The Phenomenological Reduction

This deals with bracketing of the object (epoche) of consciousness where it is a suspension of existential assent. Here Husserl founds a phenomenology based for the implications of his method. He opposes empirical “natural history” approach (of Locke and Hume), insisting that we must study the phenomena itself, unmediated through ideas, the primary “givenness.” We must return to the roots of reality, to pure evidence, to an absolute beginning. In this he attempts to break away from all presuppositions by bracketing existence. Descartes’ cogito (I think) is supplemented by the epoche since the cogito can be denied, but the phenomena cannot. The epoche [bracketing of existence] is
neither doubt nor supposition but suspension of judgment about existence. Hence, the earlier eidetic reduction evolves into a phenomenological description.

The Third Stage: The Transcendental Reduction

This stage deals with the Subject (the ego). Husserl argues that a transcendental phenomenological subject (ego) or “pure consciousness” is present in all my conscious acts; there is an I (ego) in every “I think” or “I do.” This transcendental ego gives meaning to the world. This ego is center from which intentionality emanates. All phenomenal reductions are eidetic (since they treat things as objects), but we need a transcendental reduction to view the subject of consciousness.

The problem with this method is how we can we know other subjects? Husserl’s answer is that we know it by transcendental subjectivity, i.e., by a representation in my consciousness of the other subject (similar to how Leibnitz’s “windowless” monads can know each other by the Super Monad representing them there).

The structure of activity is the structure of the self; we are not natures but “structured processes” which are law-governed as primarily indicated in the intentionality of our consciousness. Only a subject gives meaning to objects and to the world; mere facts in themselves are meaningless in the sense that they are always thought about in a particular way. We have many meanings (intentions) toward objects; these are its subjective meaning. What is left over is “objective” but meaningless. Science is part of the meaning of man, but man gives the world its scientific meaning by the universal laws that govern intentionality. Science is based on a pre-scientific intentionality of man to use the world and to understand it. Hence, there are no strictly self-interpreting facts; all facts are interprafacts. This is not to say the objects in the world are experienced in a certain way and according to law-governed relationship with acts of consciousness. Nonetheless, Husserl fails to overcome the problem he creates, namely, that experiencing these objects posits a neoma in place of the real object. So, while he rejects a Kantian gulf, in his later writings (subsequent to Logical Investigations) he creates a kind of gulf of his own between the knower and the real world.

A Critique of Phenomenology

Many scholars see some serious flaws in phenomenological thinking. Several will be briefly noted here.

First, although it rejects the self-defeating Kantian assumption that there is an unspanable gulf between the phenomena (the thing-to-me) and reality (the thing-in-itself), nonetheless, it creates a kind of gulf of its own by placing the Neoma in place of the real object.

Second, it begins with the unjustified assumption that bracketing reality is the best way to understand reality. But the assumption that this is a presupposition less approach is itself a radical presupposition. Unless one begins in reality, he cannot end there. A realist begins with reality, the finite reality of his experience and moves from there to show there must be an infinite reality (God) beyond the world. Without a starting point in reality one cannot avoid the Kantian criticism or conclude the existence of God.

Third, Husserl’s view is really a form of transcendental idealism. It assumption is that there is no meaning in the world not given it by man. How do they know this? If they could know it, it would be self- defeating. Actually, it is a gross anthropomorphism of making reality in our own image. The meaning of facts in the world is the meaning given to it by its Creator.

Fourth, Husserl provides no real way one can know other minds that is consistent with its own methodology. For if one can only know the “I” of his consciousness by a transcendental argument, then there is no way to know another I in this matter. Leibniz’s monads don’t help since he, unlike the phenomenologists, has an argument for a Super Monad (God) by which the existence of other monads is represented in his consciousness. The phenomenology method as used by Husserl does not offer this possibility.

Husserl also held to some radical views concerning the transcendental ego. He posited that this ego would continue in existence even if after the world was destroyed. This ego would exist as an individual entity. Thus, man has two selves: one familiar empirical one, and the unknown transcendent one. However, this is difficult to defend based on phenomenological data alone.

Life and works of Husserl -A History of Western Philosophy, Volume 2_ Modern and Postmodern_ From Descartes to Derrida

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