Home
Up

       

EDMUND HUSSERL

It wasn't until the later nineteenth century that Germany became a country of any note. As Chancellor, Bismarck changed Germany from a backward nation to the most technologically advanced nation in Europe. He accomplished this with a total disregard of the social costs and treated his liberal opponents unmercifully. But he did in fact create a powerful Germany which was respected throughout Europe. We have already seen, in our discussions of the evolution of Western thought, how important the faith of a people in their own culture contributes to their faith in a source of truth. So, in the latter nineteenth century a German, Husserl, suggested that through Phenomenology, philosophy could become a science. By this he meant science in the ancient Greek meaning of the word, of knowledge of what cannot be different than it is.

Phenomenology, Husserl said, can lead to a science that is not possible through natural philosophy because natural philosophy depends for all of its knowledge on knowledge of the existence of things in nature. In spite of the fact that physical being is not the only kind of being.

Only the spatiotemporal world of bodies is nature in the significant sense of the word. All other being, i.e., the psychical, is nature in the secondary sense, a fact that determines basically essential differences between the methods of natural science and psychology. In principle, only corporeal being can be experienced in a number of direct experiences, i.e., perceptions, as individually identical. Hence, only this being can, if the perceptions are thought of as distributed among various "subjects," be experienced by many subjects as individually identical and be described as intersubjectively the same. The same realities (things, procedures, etc.) are present to the eyes of all and can be determined by all of us according to their "nature." Their "nature," however, denotes: presenting themselves in experience according to diversely varying "subjective appearances."

If you can recall the problem of Plato and Aristotle. They had to account for the existence of scientific knowledge, that is knowledge that could not be different than it is, that is unchanging, in the face of the Hericlitean problem that the world of experience is constantly changing. The problem that Husserl was faced with is the Humean problem, that knowledge can only be of relations of ideas in the mind and can never be of facts. The Kantian explanation that we can learn about things in the world by applying a-priori categories to them , but we could never be sure we are right, was not a science in the sense that Husserl was trying to develop. Therefore this explanation of "Nature" was an explanation of what knowledge of the existence of corporeal entities means.

Nevertheless they stand there as temporal unities of enduring or changing properties, and they stand there as incorporated in the totality of one corporeal world that binds them all together, with its one space and its one time. They are what they are only in this unity; only in the causal relation to or connection with each other do they retain their individual identity (substance), and this they retain as that which carries "real properties." All physical real properties are causal. Every corporeal being is subject to laws of possible changes, and these laws concern the identical, the thing, not by itself but in the unified, actual, and possible totality of the one nature. Each physical thing has its nature (as the totality of what it, the identical, is by virtue of being the union point of causalities within the one all-nature. Real properties (real after the manner of things, corporeal) are a title for the possibilities of transformation of something identical, possibilities preindicated according to the laws of causality. And thus this identical, with regard to what it is, is determinable only by recourse to these laws. Realities, however, are given as unities of immediate experience, as unities of diverse, sensible appearances. Stabilities, changes, and relationships of change (all of which can be grasped sensible) direct cognition everywhere, and function for it like a "vague" medium in which the true, objective, physically exact nature presents itself, a medium through which thought (as empirically scientific thought) determines and constructs what is true.

However, is this actually what empirical scientific knowledge has developed? Not really, Husserl said, for the acknowledgement that what is experienced by many exists empirically does not constitute knowledge of what it is. For knowledge of what a thing is, is determined through the application of scientific laws. What has been learned through the application of these laws is not the thing, it is the essence of the thing. As such it is what has been constructed by thought. And thus has not actually been derived from experience.

All that is not something one attributes to the things of experience and to the experience of things. Rather it is something belonging inseparable to the essences of things in such a way that every intuitive and consistent investigation of what a thing in truth is (a thing which as experienced always appears as something, a being, determined and at the same time determinable, and which nevertheless, as appearances and circumstances vary, is constantly appearing as a different being) necessarily leads to causal connections and terminates in the determination of corresponding objective properties subject to law. Natural science, then, simply follows consistently the sense of what the thing pretends to be as experienced, and calls this--vaguely enough--"elimination of secondary qualities." And that is more than an obscure expression; it is a bad theory regarding a good procedure.

Therefore, he said, empirical methods can never lead to a true science. For it is essences and not things in themselves which are the modules of scientific knowledge.

For true nature in its proper scientific sense is a product of the spirit that investigates nature, and thus the science of nature presupposes the science of the spirit. The spirit is essentially qualified to exercise self-knowledge, and as scientific spirit to exercise scientific self-knowledge, and that over and over again.

Returning to Descartes Cogito, what was indubitable, was the I that thinks. For Descartes the I that thinks is something that exists in the world and the problem of philosophy is that of learning about the world in which the I exists. From our discussion of nature above we can see that there is never a question in Husserl's mind concerning the existence of the world. But, he said, to arrive at true science we must make the "phenomenological turn." We must suspend judgment concerning the world. Under that suspension we are aware only of the set of ordered perceptions derived from our experience in the world. What was indubitable for Husserl was the transcendental I, the I that has these perceptions because it is the ground for all phenomenological judgments. Under the "Phenomenological" point of view, then scientific cognition in the sense we have been discussing, can be gained, but only through a study of consciousness, and of the ways in which data is given to consciousness.

What it means, that objectivity is, and manifests itself cognitively as so being, must precisely become evident purely from consciousness itself, and thereby it must become completely understandable. And for that is required a study of consciousness in its entirety, since according to all its forms it enters into positive cognitive functions. To the extent, however, that consciousness is "consciousness-of," the essential study of consciousness includes also that of consciousness-meaning and consciousness-objectivity as such. To study any kind of objectivity whatever according to its general essence (a study that can pursue interests far removed from those of knowledge theory and the investigation of consciousness) means to concern oneself with objectivities modes of givenness and to exhaust its essential content in the process of "clarification" proper to it.

By the act of suspending judgment concerning the existence of an objective world outside of consciousness, and examining only the contents of consciousness, we can eliminate all of the problems of transcendental existence that have plagued philosophy since Hume and Kant. But we must include in that examination the intent and meaning given to the contents of consciousness by the transcendental ego. Husserl spent his life applying the Phenomenological turn to problems in science and philosophy. But what we are interested in here is his role in the development of existentialism, or the philosophy of existence. When Husserl retired his place was taken by Martin Heidegger.