Archives For Husserl

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.


Phenomenology is typically said to be:

a return to things in themselves
a descriptive method (not explanatory)
centered on the use of intuition
the study of appearances or ways of appearing
the study of the structures of consciousness
based on a method of reduction
opposed to naturalism (viewing everything in scientific terms)

Existentialism is typically said to be:

concerned with concrete/individual subjects
deny that there is a fixed human nature (‘existence prior to essence’)
emphasize personal freedom and responsibility
consider the meaningfulness of human life
be concerned with individuality and self-fulfillment (as opposed to mass identity)
highlight the transformative power of certain kinds of subjective experiences/emotions (anxiety/nausea) or extreme situations
be ‘anticartesian’

These terms are not particularly illuminating and it seems evident that no two philosophers would discuss any of these labels in the same way. Never-the-less, a starting point for building a map needs to come together. Something to attempt as I go on to read the various Phenomenologists (Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty) is to map out the similarities and differences between them; searching for connections. What’s the connection between Phenomenology and Existentialism??

In his Introduction to the Second Volume of the First Edition of his Logische Untersuchungen (Logical Investigations 1900 – 1901) Husserl speaks of “the phenomenology of the experiences of thinking and knowing”. He is discussing the need for a wide-ranging theory of knowledge. Husserl is treating ‘experience’ in a complex and new way:

“This phenomenology, like the more inclusive pure phenomenology of experiences in general, has, as its exclusive concern, experiences intuitively seizable and analysable in the pure generality of their essence, not experiences empirically perceived and treated as real facts, as experiences of human or animal experients in the phenomenal world that we posit as an empirical fact. This phenomenology must bring to pure expression, must describe in terms of their essential concepts and their governing formulae of essence, the essences which directly make themselves known in intuition, and the connections which have their roots purely in such essences. Each such statement of essence is an a priori statement in the highest sense of the word.”

Dermot Moran describes this project as an ‘a priori transcendental science of pure consciousness”. (p2) Husserl argues for a ‘reduction’ wherein the subject suspends or brackets the everyday natural attitude and all intentional acts which assume the existence of the world. The practitioner is led back into the domain of pure transcendental subjectivity. Importantly, this has to be more than a psychology of consciousness which suggests consciousness as a ‘tag end’ of the world. The philosophical practice has to stem from consciousness unassuming of the real world. Dermot Moran frames phenomenology as a thoroughly modernist outlook as it has its origins in the newly emerged science of psychology (Franz Brentano).

So to study experiences in such a pure form with regards to the experiencer, phenomenology’s first step is to avoid in advance all misconstructions and impostions (relgious, cultural traditions – language as with Gadamer, time as with Heidegger). Phenomenology aims at gaining perspective over the history of philosophical questions. Husserl and Heidegger believed that the real philosophical issue in the traditional skeptical worry about the existence of the external world was not the need to find rational grounds to justify our natural belief in this world, but rather to explain how this kind of worry could have arisen in the first place. (p4)

“But experience is not an opening through which a world, existing prior to all experience, shines into a room of consciousness; it is not a mere taking of something alien to consciousness into consciousness… Experience is the performance in which for me, the experiencer, experienced being “is there”, and is there as what it is, with the whole content and the mode of being that experience itself, by the performance going on in its intentionality, attributes to it.” (Husserl, Formal and Transcendental Logic)

This quotation comes close to painting a picture of what Husserl seeks to posit as experience and consciousness and the relationship between the two terms, but still manages to be elusive. He suggests that there is a directional element to conceptualizing phenomena: that is, we do not consider experience as information from the pre-existing world entering into a pre-existing consciousness. This much is OK. More clarity is needed on experience as ‘being there’ and what performance actually means.

(Introduction to Phenomenology: Dermot Moran Routledge pp 1 – 6)