Husserl and Cartesian Meditations – Setting a Foundation

August 21, 2013 — Leave a comment

These writings are from a lecture series given by Husserl in Paris in 1931. At this point Husserl is a well developed philosopher and intellectual on the European scene. Phenomenology has already spawned many students and variations including Husserl’s own student Martin Heidegger.

Cartesian Meditations

Transcendental phenomenology stems from the Cartesian impulse and attitude; that is, to revise all presumptive methodologies of science and philosophy. This means that it also rejects Cartesian thought itself. Descartes aimed to reform philosophy into a science grounded on an absolute foundation (epistemology – cogito and/or God). Descartes was searching for absolute insights, insights behind which one cannot go back any further. This causes the turn towards the subject himself (cogito ergo sum); a turn which is made at two significant levels. First is for the subject to strip himself of all previous assumptive knowledges and to build anew the sciences from the ground up. The philosopher must have his own absolute insights. A view that he can answer from at any step. So for the subject to strip himself of knowledge and start from a point of poverty is in effect the cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am). This is a clear methodology, it is a normative approach. The second sense of the turn to the self is the way in which the philosopher executes this regress via doubt. When something cannot be doubted it can be posited as an absolute; a foundation.

Where does Husserl go from this Cartesian starting point?

He starts by questioning or rejecting that science can be idealized; grounded in an absolute. He does not renounce the general aim of grounding science absolutely, but rather states that one can not assume that this is necessary or achievable.

“According to intention, therefore, the idea of science and philosophy involves an order of cognition, proceeding from intrinsically earlier to intrinsically later cognitions; ultimately, then, a beginning and a line of advance that are not to be chosen arbitrarily but have their basis ‘in the nature of things themselves’.” (Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, p12)

Husserl becomes focused on the order of cognition. Where does the scientific investigation start? Science is governed by the idea of a definitive system of knowledge. There is epistemology which looks at the structure of this system and its characteristics, but then there is also the ‘boundless infinity’ of prescientific experiences.

Husserl can be complex in his exposition and so I’m going to strive to unravel this thought process. The extract is long and suggests itself to be an important set-up for all phenomenology study ahead:

“Any evidence is a grasping of something itself that is, or is thus, a grasping in the mode ‘it itself”, with full certainty of its being, a certainty that accordingly excludes every doubt. But it does not follow that full certainty excludes the conceivability that what is evident could subsequently become doubtful, or the conceivability that being could prove to be illusion – indeed, sensuous experience furnishes us with cases where that happens. Moreover, this open possibility of becoming doubtful, or of non-being, in spite of evidence, can always be recognized in advance by critical reflection on what the evidence in question does. An apodictic evidence, however, is not merely certainty of the affairs or affair complexes (states of affairs) evident in it: rather it discloses itself, to a critical reflection, as having the signal peculiarity of being at the same time the absolute unimaginableness (inconceivability) of their non-being, and thus excluding in advance every doubt as “objectless”, empty. Furthermore the evidence of that critical reflection likewise has the dignity of being apodictic, as does therefore the evidence of the unimaginableness of what is presented with evident certainty. And the same is true of every critical reflection at a higher level.” (Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, p16)

The ego cogito as transcendental subjectivity (p18 Cartesian Meditations)

This chapter begins the exposition proper on the subject (ego cogito) as the ultimate basis for judgments. The regress has brought us to a point where we have neither a science that we accept nor a world that exists for us. The world only claims being:

“Moreover, that affects the intramundane existence of all other Egos, so that rightly we should no longer speak communicatively, in the plural.” (p19) -extramundane-

Communication with the world takes place only by virtue of the subjects (my) esnsory experience. So no structure inthe sense of language etc. The whole surrounding life-world is only a phenomenon of being, stripped of all supplementary meanings and interpretations and structure.

Question: Husserl posits the phenomenon of being as different to something that is. How are these two phrases or states in opposition or different? Possibly the phenomenon of being claims existence, as opposed to something that is, simply just is?? Phenomenon of being appears to have a normative quality, whereas something that is has a descriptive quality.

Husserl is taking Descartes starting point and rolling it back to the point of no longer accepting the natural belief in existence which accompanies experiencing the world. The similarity to which I cannot yet fully reconcile as different to Descartes is the focus on ‘my noticing regard’; i.e. the fact that the subject is consciously functioning in the first place. Husserl summarizes with a distinction between ‘concrete subjective processes’ and the philosophizing Ego which practices abstention with respect to what he intuits. (p20) To abstain from intuition implies that intuition itself has undesirable structure which clouds analysis of the phenomenon of Being.

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