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Husserl, Edmund (1859–1938)


Edmund Husserl (18591938), the founding figure of the philosophical movement known as phenomenology, was born in Prossnitz in Mähren, then part of the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire but now Prostějow in Moravia in the Czech Republic. Husserl studied astronomy at Leipzig from 1876 to 1878 and mathematics in Berlin from mid-1878 to 1881 under the eminent mathematicians Karl Weierstrass (18151897) and Leopold Kronecker (18231891). Husserl completed his mathematical training in Vienna, receiving the PhD in January of 1883, and while completing his degree, he attended the philosophy lectures of Franz Brentano (18381917). Husserl went back to Berlin briefly for further study with Weierstrass, but soon returned to Vienna to study philosophy again with Brentano from 1884 to 1886. At Brentano's suggestion, Husserl studied with Carl Stumpf (18491936) at the university at Halle, where in 1887 he submitted a Habilitationsschrift titled "Über den Begriff der Zahl. Psychologische Analysen." Husserl taught at Halle from 1887 to 1901, at Göttingen from 1901 to 1916, and at Freiburg from 1916 until his retirement in 1928.

Husserl published relatively little during his lifetime, and his publications were for the most part a series of introductions to phenomenology that were largely methodological and programmatic. However, these works were far from the total of his output. At his death he left more than forty-five thousand pages of unedited manuscripts written in shorthand, the continuing publication of which since 1950 has shed much light on the details and development of Husserl's philosophy.

Psychologism, Psychology, and Phenomenology

Husserl's Philosophie der Arithmetik (1891) attempts to realize Weierstrass's program of grounding mathematics in the cardinal numbers by describing those mental acts in which we are conscious of cardinal numbers. While Husserl was satisfied with his discussion of the intuitive presentation of the lower cardinals, he was dissatisfied with the psychologism in his analysis of the symbolic presentation of the higher cardinal numbers. Internal exigencies in Husserl's continued reflections on logic and mathematicseven by 1891eventually turned him away from psychologism. By 1893 and 1894, Husserl clearly distinguished the subjective presentation, that is, the psychological act presenting an object, from both the logical content of the presentation and the object presented in the presentation, a threefold distinction much indebted to Bernard Bolzano (17811848) and Kasimir Twardowski (18661938). Husserl in the following years completed his critique of psychologism, culminating in his lectures on logic at Halle, lectures that form the basis for the Prolegomena to the Logische Untersuchungen (19001901), which is considered by many the locus classicus of the critique of psychologism.

Husserl criticizes psychologism for its reduction of the ideality and transcendence of logical objects (e.g., meanings, concepts, judgments, number, and so forth) to the reality and immanence of psychological contents, and for its reduction of the ideality and universality of logical laws to the factuality and generality of empirical, psychological laws. While rejecting psychologism, Husserl does not, however, altogether reject the descriptive-psychological approach of the Philosophie der Arithmetik or its results, for his anti-psychologism is united with the recognition that insofar as logical laws govern the ideal, objective content of acts of thinking, the relation between these ideal contents and the acts in which they are thought must be elucidated. Husserl's problematic in the main body of the Logische Untersuchungen, then, is to account for the relation between meaning and mind while preserving the objectivity and ideality of meaning. He typically poses this problem as a problem in epistemology, specifically, the problem concerning the relationship between the subjectivity of knowing and the objectivity of what is known. So, Husserl is committed to finding a new, nonpsychologistic epistemology to account for the relations among acts, ideal contents, and objects.

In the first edition of the fifth of the Logische Untersuchungen Husserl identifies phenomenological contents with psychological contents and distinguishes these from intentional contents. Ideal, intentional contents, in other words, are not properly included within the scope of a phenomenological description, and Husserl must account for meaning by appealing solely to the phenomenological-psychological contents. This is suspiciously close to a psychologism that accounts for meaning by focusing on the act. In the discussion of expressive acts in the first investigation Husserl avoids this conclusion by making the contents of the act that account for its intentional directedness the instantiation of an ideal essence, a meaning-species. The meaning itself remains objective and ideal, and the particular act's relation to this ideal meaning is one of instantiation such that the expressive act intends an object, whether or not that object exists, by means of conferring this meaning on a sensible sign.

Husserl contrasts these meaning-conferring intentions with fulfilling intentions that involve the actual presence of the object to consciousness and therefore involve some intuitive dimension. As Husserl later in the sixth of the Logische Untersuchungen turns to the discussion of these fulfilling acts, he recognizes that there are problems in his general account of meaning. Because fulfilling acts present the objects emptily intended in expressive acts, the sense of the fulfilling act is rooted in the object itself rather than in an ideal meaning-species. It is the sense of the object, the significance it has for us in its actual presence, that confirms or disconfirms what we intend as its sense in the expressive act that confers meaning on a sensible sign. Hence, Husserl recognizes that an account of meaning cannot focus exclusively on the subjective conditions of objective knowledge.

In the second edition of the Logische Untersuchungen and Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Erstes Buch (both 1913), Husserl incorporates the intentional contents into the phenomenological contents on which he reflects. He thereby turns to the investigation of the correlation between what he in Ideen calls the noesis, that is, the intending act, and the noema, that is, the object just as intended. Some interpreters of Husserl's theory of intentionality as expressed in Ideen understand the noema to be an abstract, ideal intensional entity ontologically distinct from the intended object. This abstract entity can in turn be understood on the model of the Logische Untersuchungen as a type that is tokened in different acts having the same determinate object, or it can be understood as an abstract particular by means of which an object is intended. On both interpretations, the noema serves as a mediator between the act and its intended object. Other interpreters, however, claim that Husserl's continuing reflections on intentionality, especially those acts that can serve as fulfilling acts in which the object is intuitively grasped, made him aware of the philosophical difficulties in saying that the act's intentional relation to an object is mediated by an abstract entity. For these interpreters, the noema is the intended object just as intended (whether or not that object actually exists), and the object is the identity in the manifold of noematic presentations (whether veridical or not).

The Phenomenological Reduction and Transcendental Phenomenology

Husserl's goal was to develop a new philosophical science as the radical critique of the possibility of experience, a science that did not take the possibility of cognition for granted. However, because any science existing on the same plane as the natural and psychological sciences already presupposes both the possibility and the general validity of the experience of the world, this new science must exist on a different plane. This new planethe plane of transcendental subjectivityis disclosed by the methodological technique of the phenomenological reduction. Reminiscent of the universal Cartesian doubt, it is nevertheless different therefrom. Whereas the distinguishing characteristic of Cartesian doubt is that it annuls the positing of an object's existence or the validity of a judgment, the distinguishing characteristic of the phenomenological reduction is that it withholds participation in the positing of the existence of objects and the general validity of experience that characterizes one's natural experiencea positing Husserl characterizes as the general thesis of the natural attitude.

In suspending one's participation in the affirmation characteristic of ordinary experience, the objects given in experience are not lost to reflection but are instead considered only as presumed existents. They remain available for reflection just insofar as they are experienced; the index attaching to them, however, has changed, and their status as objects of experience has been modified so that they are now viewed exclusively in their being as objects of that experience in which they are originally posited. Concrete transcendental subjectivity includes its object as intended without reducing that object to an immanent, psychological content.

The reduction is a change in attitude that leads our attention back to the subjective achievements in which the object as experienced is disclosed in a determinate manner and to the achievements in which we realize the evidence appropriate to confirming or disconfirming their natural experiences. The reduction, in other words, leads our attention to the intentional correlation itself, and Husserl's discussions of intentionality and the reduction are inseparable. The subjective achievements, insofar as they are the medium of access to objects as experienced, have a certain kind of priority over the object that they disclose, but Husserl does not believe that all intelligibility derives from these achievements. The investigation of intentional achievements reveals: (1) how it is that we come to experience objects in determinate manners, including those objects that are always already there for us as transcendental subject before thinking becomes active in the world; (2) how our different experiences are related to one another, and, therefore (3) how the different kinds and levels of objectivity are related; and, finally (4) how our experience confirms or disconfirms in fulfilling intentions what was emptily or mistakenly intended.

Natural straightforward experience is directed to objects in their significance for us. However, it is possible to adjust the manner in which we attend to the object, and when doing so we focus attention not on the object as such but on its significance for us, its noematic sense. This is not to turn our attention to some different entity called a sense or meaning ; it is simply to refocus attention from the significant object to the significance of the object as the object of an intending act. The methodological point picks out what the substantive analyses of meaning reveal as a way of proceeding; that is, we need to focus our attention on both the subjective and objective conditions of meaning by focusing on the essential features of the correlation between the noetic and noematic dimensions of the experiences in which objects are disclosed in determinate ways. To turn our attention to this correlation is to perform the phenomenological reduction.

Temporality and Passive Synthesis

The revision of the theory of intentionality and the development of the methodological principle of the phenomenological reduction are two of the three major developments in Husserl's thought during the Göttingen years. The third is the development of his views on the nature of the consciousness of inner time, a development that leads to the disclosure of absolute consciousness. A phenomenological description of the awareness of experience as temporally extendedthat is, as beginning in the past, enduring in the present, and aimed at the futurerequires that Husserl distinguish two strata in consciousness: (1) the nontemporal, time-constituting absolute consciousness that makes possible the awareness of inner time by virtue of a compound intentionality directed at once to the now, the just elapsed, and the yet to come; and (2) the flow of temporally ordered experiences themselves. This distinction accounts at once for the temporality of lived experience, for the momentary, prereflective awareness of that experience as a temporal unity, and for the prereflective self-awareness of one's own temporally ordered and unified stream of experiences.

Whereas the revisions in the theory of intentionality and the methodological discussions centered around the phenomenological reduction find their way into Ideen, the reflections on the nature of inner time-consciousness and absolute consciousness, which had reached a mature form by 1911, do not. The implications of the reflections on time-consciousness point toward a less static and more genetic account of the origin of sense or meaning, an account whose development becomes a dominant aspect of Husserl's reflections in the 1920s. These analyses, which develop an approach known as genetic phenomenology, take the form of extensions of the theory of time-consciousness, and in them Husserl describes the intentionalities at work in what he calls passive syntheses. These syntheses occur on two levels: the primary passivities of near and distant association and the secondary passivities of history, tradition, and community. This project comes to fruition in Formale und transzendentale Logik (1929) and Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie (1936).

Transcendental Logic

Formale und transzendentale Logik, in which Husserl returns to the issue of the grounding of logical and mathematical sciences, brings his career full circle. The nature of logic cannot be fully clarified without the phenomenological reduction, for the reduction enables us to see more clearly how sensein a manner relevant for logicarises in our experience. Acts of judging are directed to categorially formed, complex states of affairs. The logical or apophantic domain first emerges in a critical turn occasioned by a concern with the truth or falsity of judgments. The positing involved in the straightforward encounter of objects and states of affairs is neutralized. However, this positing is not denied or negated; nor does the original state of affairs disappear from view to be replaced by a new entitythe propositionthat was always there but an unnoticed mediator in our intentional relation to the state of affairs. Instead attention is turned to the objective sense of the state of affairs as intended in the judging, and this objective sense is considered simply as a supposition in order to seek confirmation or disconfirmation of the state of affairs as supposed.

The judged state of affairs and the proposition are properly distinguished, therefore, by means of a difference in the way the meant objectivity is apprehended. Straightforward experience apprehends the categorial objectivity or state of affairs as such; critical reflection apprehends the state of affairs as supposedthat is, the supposition or proposition and, more precisely, the noematic sense of the intended state of affairs. Such critical or propositional reflection is continuous with our natural concern with the way things are. The natural concern with the truth of things is addressed in the interplay between the critical and natural attitudes, between the judgment as such and the state of affairs as such, between propositional reflection and the categorial intuition of states of affairs. Although it is only phenomenological reflection that grasps clearly what occurs in our apprehension of the logical domain, the critical reflection that focuses on the sense or logical content of an experience is different from the phenomenological reflection that views the object as the correlate of an intending. In a phenomenological reflection, the proposition is considered not in relation to the state of affairs straightforwardly experienced, but in relation to the critical experience in which it is intended.

Formale und transzendentale Logik also explores the relation between the Aristotelian and Leibnizian traditions in logic. Husserl contrasts formal apophantics derived from Aristotle with formal ontology derived from Leibniz's notion of mathesis universalis, but he also views them as inseparably united. The ground of their unity is the intentional relation between acts and their objects. Formal ontology results from the articulation of the formal structures, relations, and combinations of objects. Formal logic arises from the articulation of these same formal structures, relations, and combinations considered as meanings, as objective states of affairs merely as supposed. The meaning-forms are teleologically ordered toward fulfillment in our intuitive apprehension of object-forms. If the meanings are confirmed in fulfilling experiences, then the identity obtaining between meaning-forms and object-forms is disclosed. The identity-in-correlation of the logical and the ontological, therefore, is properly and fully a mathesis universalis realized only at what Husserl calls the third level of logic, the logic of truth.

While both the Méditations cartésiennes (1931), which, like Ideen, present an overview of Husserl's transcendental philosophy, and Formale und transzendentale Logik incorporate the results of Husserl's reflections on time-consciousness and passive synthesis, they remain focused on the nature of theoretical knowledge and the objectivity appropriate to it. They point to the need for regressive inquiries into the constitution of sense, inquiries that reveal the layering of sense over time and its development in intersubjective communities of inquirers. However, they continue to neglect in large part the historicality of the experiences themselves. Husserl addresses this question most explicitly in his last work Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie (1936), as well as in texts collected and published posthumously as Erfahrung und Urteil (1939) and Analysen zur passiven Synthesis (1966).

History and Ethics

The Krisis emphasizes how experiences in both the natural sciences and philosophy itself are formed within the context of living traditions. In this context, Husserl identifies the important notion of the life-world. His account of the life-world is somewhat ambiguous. It means at different times: (1) an abstractly conceived world on which higher meanings of the sort belonging to science, philosophy, and culture in general are grounded; and (2) the concrete world that is already pregiven and taken for granted in our experience, a world that already includes the sedimented deposits of the history of science, philosophy, and culture. The first sense captures Husserl's idea that different levels of experience are built on more fundamental levels, and this abstract notion of the life-world is the meaning-fundament on which higher levels of sense are built. The second sense captures the idea that experience of the world is already historically formed in secondary passivities before someone comes to think actively about that world. This world is already rich in emotional dimensions, functional and practical dimensions, theoretical dimensions, and cultural dimensions. New experiencesnew ways of making senseboth depart from this world and contribute to it. Although experience has an appropriate historicality, this does not negate Husserl's view that the ideal meanings constituted in experience can, in certain cases such as logic and mathematics, be trans-temporal in character.

Another dimension in which the concrete historicality of experience plays an important role is in Husserl's ethical reflections. His move to Freiburg had occurred in a period of political turmoil that soon turned into personal tragedy and that affected his philosophy profoundly. Husserl, who lost one son and whose other son suffered serious injuries in World War I, saw both the war and its aftermath as a sign of a loss of faith in reason. Moreover, although Husserl's postretirement years were active with continued writing and speaking, he was, after the rise of the Nazis to power, no longer free to teach or lecture in Germany. What for Husserl had, early in his career, been a philosophical crisis regarding the proper grounding of knowledge now at Freiburg revealed itself as a cultural crisis, the loss of faith in reason itself. In hindsight it can be said that there was always a moral urgency at the center of Husserl's philosophy, a moral imperative to retrieve a proper sense of rationality and to develop a sense of self-responsibility in which each person seeks the truth and decides about it for himself or herself in the light of evidence.

Husserl's early ethical reflections are centered around two themes: (1) values are constituted in emotional experiences that are grounded in objectifying acts; and (2) there is a need for a formal axiology and a formal theory of practiceboth analogous to formal logicthat will counter ethical empiricism, analogous to psychologism, and establish universal moral norms. These two themes are in some tension. After World War I, however, Husserl focuses on the first theme and speaks of vocationsthat is, commitments to certain goods that order and give moral meaning to lifeand of absolute values grounded in love. Such language makes the enunciation of universal moral principles more difficult, but Husserl never abandoned his commitment to rationality in ethics. But his notion of reason was an expanded one; it is not merely theoretical reason, but axiological reason and practical reason. Just as theoretical reason is teleologically ordered toward the fulfillment of empty cognitive intentions, both axiological reason and practical reason are teleologically ordered toward the evidential fulfillment of empty axiological and volitional intentions.

It is just this commitment to reason and to fulfilling evidences that characterize the moral urgency at the center of all of Husserl's reflections. All are born into moral communities, but all must decide for themselves about what is truly good and about what emotions and actions are appropriate for different circumstances. And if one's vocation is a theoretical or philosophical one, then the search for truth regarding the transcendental conditions for truthfully encountering a world that has intertwined cognitive, affective, axiological, practical, and cultural dimensions must be the unwavering goal of one's reflections.

Husserl's Successors

The continual publication of Husserl's unedited manuscripts not only provides a more complete view of Husserl's thought and its development, but also affects one's view of the relations between Husserl and his successors. Discussions of embodiment, intersubjectivity, passive synthesis, community, tradition, and the life-world were all present in Husserl's work before any of the major works of his successors appeared. This implies that the understanding of these differences between Husserl and his successors must be carefully nuanced. In particular, the idea of a pure consciousness or ego separate from both the empirical ego and the world must be rejected in the light of the discussions of embodiment, volition, and historical community. Nevertheless, Husserl could criticize Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger for failing properly to distinguish, respectively, psychology and transcendental phenomenology or anthropology and transcendental phenomenology. Moreover, given his views on temporality and intentionality, Husserl could criticize Sartre for an inadequate view of the ego and a too voluntaristic account of intentionality. Just as his successors' critiques of him must be nuanced by what is known of Husserl's unedited writings, so too Husserl's critiques or potential critiques must not rely on too sharp a distinction between himself and his successors. This is especially the case with those analyses undertaken by his successors that in their own way involve a transcendental reduction even as they emphasize more than Husserl did the worldliness and existential condition of the subject.

See also Phenomenology.


works by husserl

Edmund Husserl Collected Works. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, and Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1980. Ten volumes to date of English translations of Husserl's works supervised by the Husserl Archives:

Vol. 1. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. Third Book: Phenomenology and the Foundations of the Sciences. Translated by Ted E. Klein and William E. Pohl, 1980.

Vol. 2. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book: General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology. Translated by Fred Kersten, 1983.

Vol. 3. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. Second Book: Studies in the Phenomenology of Constitution. Translated by Richard Rojcewicz and André Schuwer, 1989.

Vol. 4. On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time (18931917). Translated by John B. Brough, 1991.

Vol. 5. Early Writings in the Philosophy of Logic and Mathematics Translated by Dallas Willard, 1994.

Vol. 6. Psychological and Transcendental Phenomenology and the Confrontation with Heidegger (19271931) Translated by Thomas Sheehan and Richard E. Palmer, 1997.

Vol. 7. The Idea of Phenomenology. Translated by Lee Hardy, 1999.

Vol. 8. Thing and Space: Lectures of 1907. Translated by Richard Rojcewicz, 1997.

Vol. 9. Analyses concerning Passive and Active Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental Logic. Translated by Anthony J. Steinbock, 2001.

Vol. 10. Philosophy of Arithmetic: Psychological and Logical Investigations, with Supplementary Texts from 18871901. Translated by Dallas Willard, 2003.

Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology. Translated by Dorion Cairns. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1960.

Formal and Transcendental Logic. Translated by Dorion Cairns. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1969.

Logical Investigations. Translated by J. N. Findlay. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970.

The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy. Translated by David Carr. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970.

Experience and Judgment: Investigations in a Genealogy of Logic. Translated by James S. Churchill and Karl Ameriks. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973.

works on husserl

Bell, David. Husserl. London: Routledge, 1990.

Bernet, Rudolf. La vie du sujet. Recherches sur l'interprétation de Husserl dans la phénoménologie. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1994.

Bernet, Rudolf, Iso Kern, and Eduard Marbach. An Introduction to Husserlian Phenomenology. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1993.

Bernet, Rudolf, Iso Kern, and Eduard Marbach. Edmund Husserl. Darstellung seines Denkens. Hamburg: F. Meiner, 1989.

Brainard, Marcus. Belief and Its Neutralization: Husserl's System of Phenomenology in Ideas I. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

Brough, John B. "The Emergence of an Absolute Consciousness in Husserl's Early Writings on Time-consciousness." Man and World 5 (1972): 298326.

Buckley, R. Philip. Husserl, Heidegger and the Notion of Philosophical Responsibility. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1992.

Carr, David. Phenomenology and the Problem of History: A Study of Husserl's Transcendental Phenomenology. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1974.

Cobb-Stevens, Richard. Husserl and Analytic Philosophy. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1990.

Crowell, Steven. Husserl, Heidegger, and the Space of Meaning: Paths Toward Transcendental Phenomenology. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2001.

Drummond, John J. Husserlian Intentionality and Non-Foundational Realism: Noema and Object. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1990.

Hart, James G. The Person and the Common Life: Studies in a Husserlian Social Ethics. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1992.

Kern, Iso. Husserl und Kant. Eine Untersuchung über Husserls Verhältnis zu Kant und zum Neukantianismus. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964.

McIntyre, Ronald, and David Woodruff Smith. Husserl and Intentionality: A Study of Mind, Meaning and Language. Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1982.

Mohanty, J. N. Edmund Husserl's Theory of Meaning. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964.

Mohanty, J. N. Husserl and Frege. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.

Mohanty, J. N. The Possibility of Transcendental Philosophy. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1985.

Sokolowski, Robert. Husserlian Meditations: How Words Present Things. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1974.

Sokolowski, Robert. Moral Action: A Phenomenological Study. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.

Sokolowski, Robert. Presence and Absence: A Philosophical Investigation of Language and Being. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.

Sokolowski, Robert. The Formation of Husserl's Concept of Constitution. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964.

Waldenfels, Bernhard. Das Zwischenreich des Dialogs. Sozialphilosophische Untersuchungen im Anschluss an Edmund Husserl. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1971.

Welton, Donn. The Other Husserl: The Horizons of Transcendental Phenomenology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Willard, Dallas. Logic and the Objectivity of Knowledge: A Study in Husserl's Early Philosophy. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1984.

Zahavi, Dan. Husserl's Phenomenology. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.

Zahavi, Dan. Self-Awareness and Alterity: A Phenomenological Investigation. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1999.

John J. Drummond (2005)

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