Cairns, Dorion (1901–1973)

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Thomas Dorion Cairns was born on July 4, 1901. His father was a Methodist pastor. Cairns studied phenomenological theory of value with Winthrop Bell at Harvard in 1923 and 1924, used a traveling fellowship to study with Edmund Husserl for two years, returned later for over another year, and received his doctorate with The Philosophy of Edmund Husserl in 1933. After temporary positions in New York, Cairns taught psychology as well as philosophy at Rockford College from 1938 to 1950. During World War II, he won a Bronze Star as a prisoner of war interrogator in the Air Corps. He was invited to the New School for Social Research in 1954 by Alfred Schutz, taught there with Aron Gurwitsch during the 1960s, retired in 1969, and died on January 4, 1973. All who heard him considered him a brilliant teacher, but he published little. However, his translations of Husserl's Cartesian Meditations (1960) and Formal and Transcendental Logic (1969) played an important role. His Conversations with Husserl and Fink (1976), Guide for Translating Husserl (1973), and a dozen essays from his Nachlass have appeared posthumously. The editing of the manuscripts of his New School lecture courses began in 2003.

Some Results of Cairns's Investigations

Cairns's original project was to bring Husserl's earlier work up to the level of Cartesianische Meditationen (1931), but from attempting to repeat the investigations, he came to propose at least seven major revisions.

(1) Like many in modern philosophy, Husserl pursued a first philosophy that seeks grounds in consciousness for everything else. Hence, the positive sciences are grounded in a primal science called transcendental phenomenology. This first philosophy is transcendental because it refrains from accepting the intramundane status of consciousness in order to avoid trying to ground the world in part of itself. Cairns always accepted the transcendental epochē and agreed with his master that it was Husserl's chief contribution.

Husserl's publications emphasize the theory of science (Wissenschaftstheorie ), especially the theory of logic, although there are remarks about valuation and action. Cairns revised Husserl so that the goal of phenomenological philosophy became not merely knowledge, but the integration of critically justified willing, valuing, and believing.

(2) There is a considerable shift in emphasis when Cairns follows his revision of Husserl's goal by affording value theory and theoretical ethics as much attention as epistemology within his presentation phenomenological first philosophy.

(3) Although many stop after defining intentionality (which Cairns came to call "intentiveness") as directedness toward objects, Cairns followed Husserl in using the concept of synthesis to make this insight fruitfulfor example, a synthesis of intentive processes constituting an object as self-identical and different from other objects.

Although Husserl saw intentiveness more clearly than anybody previously, Cairns believed that Husserl still tended to reify the noema (i.e., the thing-as-intended- to in an intentive process), which is easy to do if one conceives of intentionality as a relation, whereas intentiveness is actually a property.

(4) Husserl held that there were sensuous hyletic data immanent in the stream of consciousness. These moments are themselves not intentive and no distinction was needed between sensing and sensa for Husserl, but for Cairns that distinction must be carefully maintained and sensa are transcendent of consciousness.

(5) Cairns held that Husserl left much to be done on the emotions and advanced the account by showing above all how emotion can be critically justified by the evidencing of objects valued in it. By contrast, rationality for most philosophers is wholly a matter of propositions conforming to the norms of logic.

(6) Cairns went beyond Husserl in developing the idea of ethics as a theory of critically justified willing (i.e., a theory of practical reason).

(7) Cairns's most radical revision of Husserl concerns the theory of the other. He objected to the reduction of the sphere of ownness introduced in the latter's Fifth Cartesian Meditation because the procedure described as a suspending acceptance of a noema without a suspending acceptance of the noesis is impossible to perform. Instead, Cairns asserted that a series of noetico-noematic strata of transcendental consciousness must be reflectively suspended through "unbuilding" (Abbau ). Fields of sensa are ultimately reached. Through "building up" (Aufbau ), one allows founded strata to be motivated once again, and thereby can reflectively observe how the intersubjective world is constituted.

A fundamental distinction for most European and North American philosophers holds between inanimate physical nature and the stratum of animate nature. A course in Indian philosophy with James Houghton Woods at Harvard in 1923 prepared Cairns to recognize that when the sense "animate body" is transferred from one's own body it transfers not to some but to all sensuous objectsrocks, trees, and sky includedand that animism follows. In class, Professor Cairns would say that chairs were rather stupid animals who stood in one place unless moved by somebody else. The distinction between inanimate and animate is then secondary, and may be recast as a distinction between animals with evident organs of sensation and locomotion and those without them. And phenomenology is clearly not merely about human consciousness.

In an era when practically all soi-disant phenomenologists devote themselves entirely to the interpretation of texts, Dorion Cairns is among the few who made a strict distinction between what may be called scholarship, which includes translation as well as interpretation of texts, and what may be called investigation, which is concerned not with texts, but with the "things themselves" in the signification whereby anything is a "thing." Like Husserl, Cairns regularly offered methodological reflections: he not only described the things reflectively observed, but also described how he had been able to analyze them, emphasizing reflection, analysis, "seeing," and description.

Furthermore, Cairns often began by describing the psychological phenomenological epochē and reductiona methodological step whereby consciousness remains intramundane but is abstracted from other mundane thingsbefore contrasting it with the specifically transcendental philosophical epochē and reduction that refrains from accepting the intramundaneity of consciousness and makes the grounding of the world and all sciences of it possible. Although investigation, methodology included, predominates overwhelmingly in the writings of Husserl, it may be hoped that the posthumous publications of his arguably closest critical continuer will also help phenomenologists remember what phenomenology is.

See also Consciousness; Consciousness in Phenomenology; Husserl, Edmund; Phenomenology.


works by cairns

"An Approach to Phenomenology." In Essays in Memory of Edmund Husserl, edited by Marvin Farber, 318. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1940.

"The Ideality of Verbal Expressions." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 1 (1941): 453462.

"Phenomenology." In A History of Philosophical Systems, edited by Vergilius Ferm, 353364. New York: Philosophical Library, 1950.

"The Many Senses and Denotations of the Word Bewusstsein ('Consciousness') in Edmund Husserl's Writings." In Life-World and Consciousness: Essays for Aron Gurwitsch, edited by Lester E. Embree, 1931. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1972.

Guide for Translating Husserl. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973.

"My Own Life," edited by Lester Embree. In Phenomenology: Continuation and Criticism: Essays in Memory of Dorion Cairns, edited by Frederick I. Kersten and Richard M. Zaner. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973.

"Perceiving, Remembering, Image-Awareness, Feigning Awareness." In Phenomenology: Continuation and Criticism. Essays in Memory of Dorion Cairns, edited by Frederick I. Kersten and Richard M. Zaner, 251262. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973.

Conversations with Husserl and Fink, edited by Husserl-Archives. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976.

"Philosophy as Striving toward Universal sophia in the Integral Sense," edited by Lester Embree. In Essays in Memory of Aron Gurwitsch, edited by Lester Embree, 2743. Washington, DC: Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology and University Press of America, 1984.

"Reason and Emotion," edited by Lester Embree, Fred Kersten, and Richard M. Zaner. Husserl Studies 17 (2000): 2133.

"Theory of Intentionality in Husserl," edited by Lester Embree, Fred Kersten, and Richard M. Zaner. Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 22 (2) (2001): 116124.

"The First Motivation of Transcendental Epochē," edited by Lester Embree, Fred Kersten, and Richard M. Zaner. In One Hundred Years of Phenomenology, edited by Dan Zahavi and Frederik Stjernfelt, 219231. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer, 2002.

works about cairns

Embree, Lester. "Dorion Cairns: The Last Lecture Course on Ethics." In Phenomenological Approaches to Moral Philosophy, edited by John J. Drummond and Lester Embree, 139160. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2002.

Kersten, Fred. Phenomenological Method: Theory and Practice. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer, 1989.

Lester Embree (2005)