Edmund Husserl

Edmund Husserl
Edmund Husserl 1900
Image source: Wikimedia  
Edmund Husserl
Edmund Husserl
Image source: wikisofia.cz  

The term “Phenomenology”, as it is used by Husserl and his disciples, designates first of all a principle of philosophical and scientific method.

Phenomenology derives from Greek words “phainómenon" (that which appears) and “lógos” (study}. Phenomena are objects (things and events) we are conscious of. Phenomenology is thus the study of phenomena that appear in acts of consciousness through experience.

Phenomenology is the study of experience and the ways in which things and events present themselves in and through experience, specifically, the study of the structures of experience and consciousness.
Phenomenology attempts to describe the essential features or structures of a given experience or any experience in general.

Phenomenology, in Husserl's conception, is primarily concerned with the systematic reflection on and study of the structures of consciousness and the phenomena that appear in acts of consciousness. This ontology (study of reality) can be clearly differentiated from the Cartesian method of analysis which sees the world as objects, sets of objects, and objects acting and reacting upon one another.

Phenomenology is a philosophy or method of inquiry based on the premise that reality consists of objects and events as they are perceived or understood in human consciousness and not of anything independent of human consciousness. (www.thefreedictionary.com)


By Dan Zahavi 2003

Husserl’s theory of intentionality is a description of the object-directedness of consciousness. Husserl’s transcendental philosophy is a type of idealism’s assertion that subjectivity is world-constituting.

The Early Husserl

(pp 7-42)
Logische Untersuchungen (1900-1901) was not Husserl's first published work, but he considered it to constitute his 'breakthrough' to phenomenology (Hua 18/8). It stands out as not only one of Husserl's most important works, but also as a key text in twentieth-century philosophy.
It is in Logische Untersuchungen, for instance, that one finds Husserl's first treatment of a whole range of key phenomenological concepts, including a detailed analysis of intentionality. It is precisely intentionality that has so often been emphasized as a central theme in Husserl's thinking, and it will serve well as a guideline for a presentation of his philosophy.

It will be necessary to give a brief presentation of his criticism of what is known as psychologism. It was against this critical background that the concept of intentionality was originally introduced.

Logische Untersuchungen consists of two main parts: the Prolegomena zur reinen Logik (which by and large contains the criticism of psychologism) and the six Untersuchungen zur Phänomenologie und Theorie der Erkenntnis (which culminates in the analysis of intentionality).
In the preface to the work, Husserl briefly describes the aim he has set himself, characterizing Logische Untersuchungen as providing a new foundation for pure logic and epistemology. The status of logic and the conditions for the possibility of scientific knowledge and theory are his particular interests.
The concept of epistemology used by Husserl in Logische Untersuchungen, however, is slightly different from the one currently in use. According to Husserl, the cardinal question facing a theory of knowledge is to establish how knowledge is possible. The task is not to examine whether (and how) consciousness can attain knowledge of a mind-independent reality. These very types of question, as well as all questions as to whether or not there is an external reality, are rejected by Husserl as being metaphysical questions, which have no place in epistemology (Hua 19/26). More generally (and this is very crucial when it comes to an understanding of his early concept of phenomenology), Husserl does not want to commit himself to a specific metaphysics, be it a realism or an idealism. Instead, he wants to address formal questions of a more Kantian flavor, particularly questions concerning the condition of possibility for knowledge (Hua 18/23, 208, 19/12, 26).

Husserl’s answer to these questions in the Prolegomena proceeds along two tracks. On the one hand, he is engaged in a critical project which seeks to show that a popular position at that time was in fact incapable of accounting for the possibility of knowledge. On the other hand, he tries in a more positive move to spell out some of the conditions that have to be fulfilled if knowledge is to be possible.

Husserl's Criticism of Psychologism

In Prolegomena, the view criticized by Husserl is known as psychologism. Its main line of argumentation is as follows: Epistemology is concerned with the cognitive nature of perceiving, believing, judging, and knowing. All of these phenomena, however, are psychical phenomena, and it is therefore obvious that it must be up to psychology to investigate and explore their structure. This also holds true for our scientific and logical reasoning, and ultimately logic must therefore be regarded as a part of psychology and the laws of logic as psycho-logical regularities, whose nature and validity must be empirically investigated. Thus psychology provides the theoretical foundation for logic.

According to Husserl, this position commits the error of ignoring the fundamental difference that exists between the domain of logic and psychology.
Logic (as well as, for instance, mathematics and formal ontology) is not an empirical science and is not at all concerned with factually existing objects. On the contrary, it investigates ideal structures and laws, and its investigations are characterized by their certainty and exactness.
In contrast, psychology is an empirical science that investigates the factual nature of consciousness, and its results are therefore characterized by the same vagueness and mere probability that marks the results of all the other empirical sciences.
To reduce logic to psychology is consequently a regular category mistake that completely ignores the ideality, apodicticity (indubitable certainty), and aprioricity (nonempirical validity) characterizing the laws of logic. These features can never be founded in or explained by reference to the factual-empirical nature of the psyche.

The fundamental mistake of psychologism is that it does not distinguish correctly between the object of knowledge and the act of knowing. Whereas the act is a psychical process that elapses in time and that has a beginning and an end, this does not hold true for the logical principles or mathematical truths that are known. When one speaks of a law of logic or refers to mathematical truths, to theories, principles, sentences, and proofs, one does not refer to a subjective experience with a temporal duration, but to something atemporal, objective, and eternally valid. Although the principles of logic are grasped and known by consciousness, we remain conscious of something ideal that is irreducible to and utterly different from the real psychical acts of knowing.

This distinction between the ideal and real is so fundamental and urgent to Husserl, that in his criticism of psychologism he occasionally approaches a kind of (logical) Platonism: The validity of the ideal principles are independent of anything actually existing.

No truth is a fact, i.e. something determined as to time. A truth can indeed have as its meaning that something is, that a state exists, that a change is going on etc. The truth itself is, however, raised above time: i.e. it makes no sense to attribute temporal being to it, nor to say that it arises or perishes. The truth that 2 + 3 = 5 stands all by itself as a pure truth whether there is a world, and this world with these actual things, or not.
(Note: Ideal logical truth vs real empirical facts).

In the First Investigation, which carries the title ‘Ausdruck und Bedeutung,' Husserl continues his argument for a distinction between the temporal act of knowing and the atemporal nature of ideality, but this time in a meaning-theoretical context. As Husserl points out, when we speak of ‘meaning’ we can refer to that which we mean, for instance ‘that Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark’, but we can also refer to the very act or process of meaning something, and these two uses must be resolutely kept apart. After all, it is possible for different people to entertain the same meaning, to mean the same again and again, although the concrete process of meaning is new in each case. Regardless of how frequently one repeats the theorem of Pythagoras, regardless of whom it is that thinks it, or where and when it happens, it will remain identically the same, although the concrete act of meaning will change in each case.

Husserl’s point is that a formal variation in place, time, and person does not lead to a change in meaning. The truth value of the claim 'In January 2000, the Danish prime minister was a man' will remain the same regardless of whether it is being asserted today or tomorrow, by me or by a friend, in Copenhagen or in Tokyo.

The very possibility of repeating the same meaning in numerically different acts is in itself a sufficient argument to refute psychologism as a confusion of ideality and reality. If ideality were really reducible to or susceptible to the influence of the temporal, real, and subjective nature of the psychical act, it would be impossible to repeat or share meaning, just as it is impossible to repeat a concrete psychical act the moment it has occurred, not to speak of sharing it with others. (We can of course perform a similar act, but similarity is not identity.)
But if this really were the case, scientific knowledge as well as ordinary communication and understanding would be impossible. Thus, Husserl can argue that psychologism entails a self-refuting skepticism. To attempt a naturalistic and empiristic reduction of ideality to reality is to undermine the very possibility of any theory, including psychologism itself.

The conditions that have to be fulfilled if knowledge is to be possible

Along with his rejection of psychologism Husserl also tries to specify the conditions that have to be fulfilled if knowledge is to be possible, and he distinguishes between two types of ideal and a priori conditions of possibility: the objective (logical) and the subjective (noetic). The objective conditions are the fundamental principles, structures, and laws that constitute the a priori foundation for any possible theory and that cannot be violated without violating the very concept of theory. Husserl here mentions the demand for consistency and noncontradiction. More surprisingly, however, Husserl also calls attention to the so-called noetic conditions of possibility. These are the conditions that have to be fulfilled if we are to speak of realized knowledge in the subjective sense. If the knowing subject did not possess an ability to distinguish between truth and falsity, between validity and nonvalidity, fact and essence, evidence and absurdity, then objective and scientific knowledge would not have been possible either. ….
Husserl emphasizes, he is not interested in real or causal conditions of possibility, but in ideal ones. That is, his aim is not to discover the factual psychological or neurological conditions that have to be fulfilled if members of Homo sapiens sapiens are actually and in fact to attain knowledge, but to explore the abilities that any subject (regardless of its empirical or material constitution) has to be in possession of if it is to be capable of knowledge.

This opening toward subjectivity becomes even more manifest if one takes the step from the Prolegomena to the second part of Logische Untersuchungen. The central and positive task of the Prolegomena was to show that objectivity and scientific knowledge presuppose ideality. Even if it is impossible to reconcile scientific objectivity with a psychological foundation of logic, one is however still confronted with the apparent paradox that objective truths are known in subjective acts of knowing. And, as Husserl points out, this relation between the objective ideality and the subjective act has to be investigated and clarified if we wish to attain a more substantial understanding of the possibility of knowledge. We need to determine how the idealities are justified and validated by an epistemic agent.

Husserls distinction between the ideal and the real is in many ways similar to Gottlob Frege's distinction. But the very important difference between the phenomenological and the Fregean criticism of psychologism is that Husserl believed it to be necessary to follow up on this criticism by way of an analysis of intentionality, and this interest in subjectivity and the first-person perspective is not shared by Frege.

According to Husserl, psychologism can be radically overcome only if it is possible to present an alternative account of the status of logic and objectivity. But in order to do so, it is necessary to pay direct attention to the ideal objects themselves, and not merely make do with empty and speculative hypotheses. This requires a return to the things themselves, to base our considerations only on that which is actually given.
To phrase it differently, if we are to examine in a nonprejudicial manner what ideality or reality is, we need to pay attention to its experiential givenness. But in order to do so it will also be necessary to undertake an investigation of consciousness, since it is only in, or rather for, consciousness that something can appear. Thus, if we wish to clarify the true status of ideal logical principles or real physical objects we have to turn toward the subjectivity that experiences these principles and objects, for it is only there that they show themselves as what they are. Consequently, the answers to the fundamental questions that we find in epistemology and in the theory of science call for an unnatural' change of interest. Instead of paying attention to the objects, we must reflect on, thematize, and analyze the acts of consciousness. It is only in this way that we will be able to reach an understanding of the relation between the act of knowing and the object of knowledge.

Despite Husserl's strong criticism of psychologism, his interest in the fundamental problems of epistemology made it necessary for him to return to consciousness.
Occasionally, Logische Untersuchungen has been described as a deeply divided work: Prolegomena zur reinen Logik is characterized by the criticism of psychologism, whereas Untersuchungen zur Phänomenologie und Theorie der Erkenntnis culminates in a descriptive analysis of consciousness—but as Husserl writes in the new preface to the second edition of Logische Untersuchungen, the opposition is more apparent than real.
We are dealing with a work consisting of a series of systematically related investigations that approach an increasingly complex level of reflection. And only a superficial reading could lead to the misunderstanding that the work should commit itself to a new type of psychologism.
Although Husserl himself in the first edition had been so imprudent to characterize phenomenology as a descriptive psychology, he soon realized that this was a serious mistake, for he was interested neither in an analysis of the psycho-physical constitution of man, nor in an investigation of empirical consciousness, but in an understanding of that which intrinsically and in principle characterizes perceptions, judgments, feelings, and so forth.

Let me briefly summarize the account given so far. Husserl criticizes the psychologistic attempt to reduce ideality to psychical processes. A proper analysis shows the irreducible difference between the act of knowing and the object of knowledge (in this case, the laws of logic). This difference must be maintained, although there remains a connection between the two, a connection that an adequate analysis has to explore if it is not to make do with empty postulates. If one wants to understand ideality, one ultimately has to return to the conscious acts in which it is given. This return to subjectivity is not a relapse back into psychologism, however. First of all, there is no attempt to reduce the object to the acts, but only an attempt to understand the object in relation or correlation to the acts. Secondly, Husserl wants to understand and describe the a priori structure of these acts. He is not interested in a naturalistic explanation that seeks to uncover their biological genesis or neurological basis.


The Concept of Intentionality

In the Chapters 5 & 6 of the second part of the Logische Untersuchungen, Husserl is occupied with the question of what it means to be conscious. As already mentioned, this does not refer to an analysis of the empirical conditions that have to be fulfilled in order for Homo sapiens to be conscious—for instance the possession of a sufficiently developed brain, an intact sensory apparatus, and so on—but in an analysis of what consciousness as such implies, regardless of whether it belongs to humans, animals, or extraterrestrials (cf. Hua 24/118).

Husserl is not interested in sensory physiology or neurology, but in epistemology, and he is claiming that an answer to questions like ‘what does it mean to imagine a unicorn’, 'to anticipate the coming harvest’, or 'to think of the square root of 4’ can take place in abstraction from the physical and causal elements that empirically and factually might be involved. This is the case not only because Husserl is interested precisely in the strictly invariant and essential nature of consciousness—and not in the nature of the neurological processes that might accompany it empirically—but also because he is interested in the cognitive dimension of consciousness, and not in its biological substratum. Husserl wants to describe our experiences as they are given from a first-person perspective, and it is no part of my experience of, say, a withering oak tree, that something is occurring in my brain. Thus, already early on Husserl stresses the (metaphysical) presuppositionlessness of phenomenology. Phenomenology is to be neither more nor less than a faithful description of that which appears (be it subjective acts or worldly objects), and should, as a consequence, avoid metaphysical and scientific postulates or speculations (Hua 19/27-28).

In his analysis of the structure of experience, Husserl pays particular attention to a group of experiences that are all characterized by being conscious of something, that is, which all possess an object-directedness. This attribute is also called intentionality. One does not merely love, fear, see, or judge, one loves a beloved, fears something fearful, sees an object, and judges a state of affairs. Regardless of whether we are talking of a perception, thought, judgment, fantasy, doubt, expectation, or recollection, all of these diverse forms of consciousness are characterized by intending objects and cannot be analyzed properly without a look at their objective correlate, that is, the perceived, doubted, expected object.

In order to illustrate why this analysis is so significant, Husserl mentions some alternative and still prevalent views.

(I). A widespread position has been that consciousness can be likened to a container. In itself it has no relation to the world, but if it is influenced causally by an external object, that is, if information (so to speak) enters into it, such a relation can be established. More precisely, a conscious state can be said to be directed at an object if and only if it is influenced causally by the object in question. According to this view, intentionality is a relation between two objects in the world. Thus, there is no fundamental difference between feeling (that is, being conscious of) the heat of the sun, and being heated by the sun. That this objectivistic interpretation of intentionality is wrong is relatively easy to show. The real existing spatial objects in my immediate physical surrounding only constitute a very small part of what I can be conscious of. When I am sitting at my desk, I cannot only think about the backside of the moon, I can also think about square circles, unicorns, next Christmas or the principle of noncontradiction. When I am thinking about absent objects, impossible objects, nonexisting objects, future objects, or ideal objects, my directedness toward these objects is obviously not brought about because I am causally influenced by the objects in question.

When I am thinking about a unicorn, I am not thinking about nothing, but about something, and an analysis of our fantasies and hallucinations quickly reveals that they are also intentional. That it is possible to in tend objects that do not exist is a decisive argument against a theory that claims that an object must influence me causally if I am to be conscious of it. To put it differently, my intention does not cease being intentional if it turns out that its object does not exist.

(II). If it turns out that the objectivistic interpretation of intentionality is wrong, one could be tempted to argue for a subjectivistic interpretation instead. Intentionality is a relation between consciousness and its object. This relation can only obtain if both relata exist. However, since the object does not always exist in reality, intentionality must first and foremost be understood as a relation to an intramental object, that is, to an object immanent to consciousness. But this interpretation is also wrong. … This view leads to a rejection of the categorial distinction between act and object. That such a distinction does exist is easy to illustrate (Hua 19/385).

First of all, one can point to the identity of the object. We can be directed toward the same object in different mental acts. … If the object of my intention were really act-immanent, it would imply that I would never be able to experience the same object more than once. Every time I tried to perceive the object anew it would be by means of a new perception and therefore be a new object. For the very same reason it would also be impossible for several subjects to experience the same object.
This view is simply another version of the same fallacy that we already encountered in Prolegomena. Psychologism ignored the difference between the temporal act of knowledge and the ideal object of knowledge and sought to reduce the latter to the first. In a related manner subjectivism (subjective idealism) seeks to reduce the intentional object to mental content.

Second, Husserl ceaselessly emphasizes the difference between the mode of givenness of our acts and the mode of givenness of our objects.
A physical object, such as my pen, is characterized by its perspectival appearance (Hua 3/86-89); an object never appears in its totality, but always from a certain limited perspective. No single appearance can consequently capture the entire object; the object is never exhausted in a single givenness, but always transcends it. Not in the sense that the object somehow hides behind the appearances.as an unknowable Kantian thing in itself - nor in the sense that it is simply the sum of all the appearances, but in the sense that it is an identity connecting all of the different appearances.

Whereas it is always possible to experience the object from other perspectives than the one from which it is currently given, the situation is different when it comes to the givenness of consciousness itself.
If I attempt to thematize my visual perception in reflection, then this perception will not be given perspectivally. It does, so to speak, not have a hidden backside. … But if the object were really intramental, if it were really contained in consciousness and part of the stream of consciousness, it would have to share the non-perspectival givenness of the act, but this is not the case. This not only holds true for our directedness toward real objects, but also for our directedness toward unreal' objects, which likewise can be characterized as a directedness toward transcendent objects.

[When I promise to give someone a bottle of Beaujolais vintage as a gift, and if I identify the object of my intention with an immanent mental object, the promised cannot be fulfilled by giving him a real bottle of Beaujolais vintage which is a transcendent, extramental, object.]

If I think about a flute-playing faun, we are confronted with an intentional act with a definite structure that intends a faun. But this faun is not contained immanently in the act. …
To claim that the objects of hallucinations and fantasies exist psychically would have absurd consequences. It would imply that those pink elephants or golden mountains and so forth which I imagine or hallucinate exist just as truly and actually as the act of imagination itself. …. (Hua 22/310, 3/49).

The point Husserl is trying to make is exactly that the acts in question are intentional regardless of whether or not their object exists. …. And it is unnecessary to ascribe the unreal' objects a kind of mental existence (or 'intentional inexistence' to use Brentanos terminology) in order to save the intentionality of the acts.

(III). I have frequently talked about the intentional object. This is not to be identified with some mental construction, but is simply the object of my intention. If I look at my fountain pen, then it is this real pen, which is my intentional object, and not some mental picture, copy, or representation of the pen (Hua 3/207-208, 22/305). Indeed, Husserl would claim that in the case of perception we have a direct and unmediated acquaintance with the object in question. By making this claim Husserl is defending a form of direct perceptual realism and is thereby colliding with a still very popular theory known as the representative theory of perception.
This theory starts out with the question of how to establish a relation between the object and the subject of perception. Let us assume that I am looking at a red rose. In this case, I have an experience of the rose, but of course, this cannot mean that the rose qua physical object is present in my consciousness. The representative theory of perception therefore claims that the rose affects my sensory apparatus, and that this causes a mental representation of the rose to arise in my consciousness. According to this theory, then, every perception implies two different entities, the extramental object and the intramental representation.

In contrast, Husserl claims that it is an error to believe that one has clarified the intentional relation between consciousness and object by claiming that the object is outside consciousness and the representation of it is inside (Hua 19/436). The crucial problem for such a theory remains.that is, to explain why the mental representation, which by definition is different from the object, should nevertheless lead us to the object. Husserls criticism is mainly based on this difficulty, but already the assumption that there are two different entities must be rejected as being unfaithful to experience. When I perceive a rose, then it is this rose, and nothing else which is the object of my perception. To claim that there is also an immanent rose, namely an intramental picture or representation of the rose, is a pure postulate that does not explain anything, as Husserl rightly emphasizes (Hua 3/207-208).
According to Husserl, we are ‘zunächst und zumeist' directed at real objects in the world. This directedness is direct, that is, unmediated by any mental representations. So, rather than saying that we experience representations, one could say that our experiences are, presentational, and that they present the world as having certain features.

Given the presentation so far, it should be clear
1) that Husserl claims that intentionality is not merely a feature of our consciousness of actually existing objects, but also something that characterizes our fantasies, our predictions, our recollections, and so forth; and
2) that Husserl argues that the intended object is not itself a part of or contained in consciousness.

If we compare a perception of a withering oak tree with a fantasy of a flute-playing faun,
1) It would be false to say that we in the first case are intentionally referring to an object, whereas this is not the case for the fantasy.
2) It would also be wrong to claim that in both cases we are intentionally referring to an existing intramental object.
3) Nor is it the case that in the perception we are intending an extramental or transcendent object, whereas in fantasy we are intending an intramental or immanent object.
4) It would also be wrong to say that in the first case we are intending an object that exists both immanently and transcendently, whereas we in the second case are intending an object that only exists immanently.
5) The correct description must be that in both cases we are intending or referring to a transcendent, extramental object. The difference is that whereas the referent exists in the first case, it does not exist in the second.

Against this background it can be claimed that the intentions that are directed toward ‘unreal' objects are just as much characterized by their reference to or directedness toward a transcendent object as are ordinary perceptions. In contrast to normal perceptions, however, the referent does not exist, neither intramentally or extramentally. In the case of a hallucination, the pink elephant exists neither inside nor outside of consciousness, but the act of hallucination still contains a reference to a transcendent, extramental, object (Hua 19/206). As Husserl writes:

          If I represent God to myself, or an angel, or an intelligible thing-in-itself, or a physical thing or a round square etc., I mean the transcendent object named in each case, in other words my intentional object: it makes no difference whether this object exists or is imaginary or absurd. 'The object is merely intentional' does not, of course, mean that it exists, but only in an intention, of which it is a real {reelles) part, or that some shadow of it exists. It means rather that the intention, the reference to an object so qualified, exists, but not that the object does. If the intentional object exists, the intention, the reference, does not exist alone, but the thing referred to exists also (Hua 19/439 [596]).

In contrast to the so-called natural relations, intentionality is characterized by the fact that it does not presuppose the existence of both relata (for which reason it might be better to stop calling intentionality a relation). If A influences B causally, both A and B must exist; if A intends B, only A must exist. If it is true that I am sitting on a horse, both the horse and I must exist. If it is true that I intend a horse, the horse does not need to exist. Thus, an important aspect of intentionality is exactly its existence-independency. It is never the existence of the intentional object that makes the act, be it a perception or a hallucination, intentional. Our mind does not become intentional through an external influence, and it does not lose its intentionality if its object ceases to exist. Intentionality is not an external relation that is brought about when consciousness is influenced by an object, but is, on the contrary, an intrinsic feature of consciousness. The intentional openness of consciousness is an integral part of its being, not something that has to be added from without. Thus, intentionality does not presuppose the existence of two different entities—consciousness and the object. All that is needed for intentionality to occur is the existence of an experience with the appropriate internal structure of object-directedness (Hua 19/386, 427):

          That a presentation refers to a certain object in a certain manner, is not due to its acting on some external, independent object, 'directing itself to it in some literal sense, or doing something to it or with it, as a hand writes with a pen. It is due to nothing that stays outside of the presentation, but to its own inner peculiarity alone (Hua 19/451 [603]).

Against this background it should be obvious that one cannot take Husserl's analysis of intentionality in support of a metaphysical realism, as if Husserl should claim that we can only speak of a mind if there is also something mind-independent toward which it can be directed. The analysis of intentionality ‘merely' shows that there are conscious acts that because of their own nature are directed toward transcendent objects. This demonstration is sufficient, however, when it comes to an overcoming of a traditional epistemological problem, namely, the problem of how to make the subject and the object meet. It is not a problem for the subject to reach the object, since the subject is per se self-transcending, per se directed toward something different from itself. In the case of perception, this something is exactly the object itself, and not some image or copy of it.

Thus one of the decisive differences between Husserl's theory of intentionality and the theories that he was influenced by (for instance, Brentanos and Kasimierz Twardowski's theories of intentionality) is that Husserl stubbornly denies that the intentional object should be understood as an intramental content that in the best of cases serves as mediator for our access to the real, mind-transcendent object. As Husserl emphasizes, one can only intend an object if it is the object of our intention, that is, if it is the intentional object:

          It need only be said to be acknowledged that the intentional object of a presentation is the same as its actual o the intentional and the real object. Not in the sense that all intentional objects are real, but in the sense bject, and on occasion as its external object, and that it is absurd to distinguish between them. The transcendent object would not be the object of this presentation, if it was not its intentional object. This is plainly a merely analytic proposition. The object of the presentation, of the 'intention, is and means what is presented, the intentional object (Hua 19/439 [595—596]).

Thus, Husserl would claim that it is senseless to distinguish between that if the intended object really exists, then it is this real object, and no other, which is our intentional object.

The crucial question is now whether Husserl in Logische Untersuchungen is capable of giving a phenomenological account of the difference between the merely intended and the really existing object. When is it legitimate to call an object real? What does it mean that an object exists? In order to answer these questions, it is necessary to take a closer look at Husserls own positive account, and not merely make do with his criticism of different misinterpretations of intentionality.



Act, Meaning, Object

According to Husserl, one can analyze every intentional experience from three different perspectives. One can focus on the psychical process, and analyse the immanent (reelle) content of the act. One can analyze the meaning of the experience, and thereby investigate its intentional content. Finally, one can focus on that which is intended, that is, on the intentional object that the act is conscious of.
I have just mentioned that the intentional object, far from being some mysterious quasi-real entity, is simply identical with the intended object
What about the intentional content? As already mentioned, the intentionality of consciousness is not caused by an external influence, but is due to internal moments in the experience itself. Briefly put, it is the intentional content that makes consciousness intentional, furnishing the act with its directedness.

Every intentional experience is an experience of a specific type, be it an experience of hoping, desiring, remembering, affirming, doubting, fearing, and the like. Husserl called this aspect of the experience the intentional quality of the experience. Every intentional experience is also directed at something, is also about something, be it an experience of a deer, a cat, or a mathematical state of affairs. Husserl called the component that specifies what the experience is about the intentional matter of the experience.
Needless to say, the same quality can be combined with different matters, and the same matter can be combined with different qualities. It is possible to doubt that 'the inflation will continue,' doubt that 'the election was fair,' or doubt that ‘one’s next book will be an international bestseller,' just as it is possible to deny that 'the lily is white,' to judge that 'the lily is white,' or to question whether 'the lily is white.' Husserl's distinction between the intentional matter and the intentional quality consequently bears a certain resemblance to the contemporary distinction between propositional content and propositional attitudes.

Although the quality of the act and the matter of the act are abstract components that cannot exist independently of each other, Husserl nevertheless tends to give priority to the matter. According to him, it is the matter that provides the act with its directedness toward an object, whereas the quality merely qualifies this reference; it does not establish it.
Occasionally, Husserl also designates the matter of the act as the ideal meaning or sense of the act, and his point is exactly that we intend an object by meaning something about it:
In meaning, a relation to an object is constituted. To use an expression significantly, and to refer expressively to an object (to form a presentation of it), are one and the same.

It is meaning or sense that provides consciousness with its object directedness (and of course to speak of an object in this context does not necessarily designate an actually existing object, but just an intentional object, that is an intended object). More specifically, the matter does not only determine which object is intended, but also what the object is apprehended or conceived as. Thus, it is customary to speak of intentional 'relations' as being conception-dependent. One is not simply conscious of an object, one is always conscious of an object in a particular way, that is, to be intentionally directed at something is to intend something as something. One intends (perceives, judges, imagines) an object as something, that is, under a certain conception, description or from a certain perspective. To think about the capital of Denmark or about the native town of Niels Bohr, to think of Hillary Clintons husband or of the last U.S. president in the twentieth century, to think about the sum of 2 + 4 or about the sum of 5 + 1, or to see a Swiss cottage from below or above—in each of these four cases one is thinking of the same object, but under different descriptions, conceptions, or perspectives, that is with different act-matters. Whereas one and the same act-matter can never intend (refer to) different objects, different act-matters can very well intend the same object.

Although we always intend the object by virtue of a meaning, it is important to maintain the difference between the act, the meaning, and the object.
The object (be it an ideal object like the number 6, or a real object, like my antique watch) should neither be confused with the act (the very process of meaning something) nor with the ideal meaning that enable us to apprehend the object.
In ordinary cases, we are not directed toward the meaning, but toward the object: 'Our interest, our intention, our thought—mere synonyms if taken in sufficiently wide senses—point exclusively to the thing meant in the sense-giving act’.
That the meaning and the object should not be identified is perhaps especially clear from cases where different acts can have different act-matters but the same object.

As already mentioned, Husserl also speaks of the immanent content of the act. What is this supposed to be?
In contrast to the intentional object and the intentional content that transcend the act (after all the same object can be intended with the same ideal meaning in different acts, by me as well as by others) the immanent content is in a strict sense intramental and private.
All acts have an immanent content in the sense of an occurrent subjective intention. In addition, some acts include a further immanent element, namely a sensory component.
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In Logische Untersuchungen, Husserl understood the relation between the ideal meaning (that which can be repeated by me and shared with others without losing its identity) and the concrete act of meaning (the subjective process of intending something) as a relation between an ideality and a concrete instantiation thereof.
As he says, the ideal meaning is the essence of the concrete intention: “Meaning is related to varied acts of meaning . . . just as Redness in specie is to the slips of paper which lie here, and which all 'have' the same redness”.
The immanent content of an act is consequently an instantiation of an ideal intentional content that could equally well be tokened in other acts of the same type. Whereas the immanent content is literally contained in the act, since it makes up its constituent part, the ideal intentional content maintains a certain independence of the concrete act.

Sensations are neither mental nor perceptual objects. They are nonintentional experiential elements, moments of experiencing that make up part of the perceptual act. They are part of the experience, not part of that which is perceived.
Since different sensory contents can be lived through although one and the same object is intended, that is, since the same object can be intended across different sensations, it is obvious that the two must be distinguished, and that the object cannot be reduced to a complexion of sensations.

According to Husserl we are not directed toward this intramental content. The sensations constitute the act, but they are not that which is intended, they are not that which the act is conscious of. If I am looking at the Empire State Building, then it is this building, and not my visual act, that I perceive. … An interesting asymmetry is consequently revealed: That which is contained in the act is not that which we intend, and that which we intend is not contained in the act.

One crucial question is the following: What is it exactly that makes it possible to perceive an identical and stable object? It cannot be the mere presence of a manifold of sensations. Indeed, Husserl suggests that the sensations are interpreted and apprehended with a specific meaning, and that it is this objectifying apprehension that provides me with consciousness of an object. …..
It is because of this objectifying interpretation that we can transcend the experienced sensations (in the case of perception) and become directed toward an object. In other words, it is in the interplay between sensations and interpretation that the appearance of the object is constituted. To see a pen is to grasp a manifold of sensations with an objectifying and synthesizing interpretation. To hear a violin is to apprehend and classify the experienced manifold.

          Apperception is our surplus, which is found in experience itself, in its descriptive content as opposed to the raw existence of sense: it is the act-character which as it were ensouls sense, and is in essence such as to make us perceive this or that object, see this tree, e.g., hear this ringing, smell this scent of flowers etc. etc. Sensations, and the acts 'interpreting' them or apperceiving them, are alike experienced, but they do not appear as objects: they are not seen, heard or perceived by any sense. Objects on the other hand, appear and are perceived, but they are not experienced (Hua 19/399 [567]).


Signitive and Intuitive Givenness

When we wish to investigate the ways in which an act can intend an object, it is not only possible to vary the quality and matter of the act, it is also possible to vary the mode of givenness of the intended object.
Example: If one compares the situation where, in the absence of my notebook, I judge 'it is blue' with the situation where the notebook is present, and where I see it and judge 'it is blue’, we are dealing with two acts of judging with the same quality and matter. But there remains an important difference between the two acts, a difference that must concern something beyond the intentional essence. In both cases I am making a judgment about one and the same object—namely the notebook— but whereas in the first situation I have an empty, or as Husserl writes, a merely signitive intention, in the second I have an intuitive, or, to be more specific, a perceptual intention where the notebook is bodily present (leibhaftig) and intuitively given in propria persona.


Husserl attempts to understand knowledge, justification, and truth on the basis of this model of fulfillment. When we are making signitive claims, we are dealing with mere postulates. However these postulates can be confirmed only if our intentions are fulfilled: I cannot remember the color of my notebook, for instance, but think it is blue. I look for it, and when I find it, I realize that I was right. When I no longer merely think the notebook is blue, but intuit it, my belief is confirmed. When the object is intuitively given just as I intended it to be, my belief is justified and true; I am in possession of knowledge. More specifically, knowledge can be characterized as an identification or synthesis between that which is intended and that which is given, and truth as an identity between the meant and the given. It must be emphasized, however, that we are talking of a synthesis of coincidence (Deckung) between that which is intended in two different acts, and not of a correspondence between consciousness and a mind-independent object. We are not talking about a classical correspondence theory of truth, since the coincidence in question is a coincidence between two intentions, and not between two separate ontological domains.

Husserl seeks to connect truth with knowledge, but he is not concerned with factual knowledge, but rather with the possibility of knowledge. A claim is true as long as it can be intuitively fulfilled, and not only when it is actually fulfilled.

It is in this context that Husserl introduces the concept of evidence. If I think that my notebook is blue and see it, then I realize in evidence that my belief is true.
Is this evidence some specific but inexplicable and mysterious feeling of certainty that accompanies my belief? Is Husserl arguing that the criterion for truth is a private and infallible feeling? The answer is no. Husserl himself explicitly criticizes the so-called feelings of evidence for being psychological fictions and for leading straight to relativism.
For Husserl, evidence in the strict sense of the term designates the ideal of a perfect synthesis of fulfillment where an intention (typically a claim) is adequately fulfilled by a corresponding perception, thus providing us with the very self-givenness of the object. Thus, when the object is no longer merely intended but also given intuitively (just as it is intended), it is given evidentially.
There is nothing particularly private about evidence. Rather, Husserl’s concept of evidence entails a claim about intersubjective validity.

In the work Formale und Transzendentale Logik (1929) Husserl makes use of a clarifying distinction between two different concepts of evidence. On the one hand, the term evidence' is used to designate the originary, that is original and optimal, givenness of the intended object. On the other hand, it is used to designate the existence of an actual synthesis of coincidence: A claim is evidently justified when it coincides with the first type of evidence. Husserl also speaks of truth as the correlate of evidence, and one can therefore also distinguish two different kinds of truth: Truth as disclosure vs. truth as correctness. But although Husserl already operates with a type of truth on the prepredicative level—already the fact that the object shows itself as itself is a kind of (ontologically founded) truth—true knowledge cannot simply be identified with the mere presence of an intuition. Taken in isolation, the intuition is epistemologically irrelevant. It is only when the intuition serves the function of fulfilling a signitive intention that we acquire knowledge. The proper place for knowledge is the judgment.

When a signitive intention is completely fulfilled by a corresponding intuition, the object is given exactly as it is intended—but this is very rarely the case. Physical objects are given perspectivally. And this fact has direct implications for the way in which they can be known.
Our knowledge of physical objects are, as Husserl writes, characterized by a lack of coincidence between the intended and the given. We never perceive the object in its full totality, but always from a specific perspective (which obviously not only holds for three-dimensional objects, but for two-dimensional planes as well).
But although, strictly speaking, we are presented with the profiles of the object, these are not what we intend. On the contrary, we intend the object itself.
As Husserl says: 'Whether I look at this book, from above or below, from inside or outside, I always see this book. It is always one and the same thing'. I intend the chair and not the perspectivally given surface of the front or the back, seat, and legs of the chair.
Of course, I can choose to change my focus and instead intend the surface of the leg (instead of the whole chair), but that will be given in profiles as well. Our intentional directedness toward spatio-temporal objects are consequently characterized by the fact that we persistently transcend the given in order to grasp the object itself.

Although perception is defined as the intentional act that aims at giving a full presentation of the intended object, that is, to let the object show itself fully as it is, this remains an ideal when it comes to physical objects. There will always remain profiles of the object that are not intuitively given. Our perceptual grasp of these objects will always remain inadequate. This is not to say, however, that there is no room for evidence when it comes to perception. Husserl makes a distinction between different types of evidence: apodictic (indubitable), adequate (exhaustive), and inadequate (partial) evidence.
Whereas our insight into certain mathematical relations (that 3 is greater than 2, for instance) might be considered exhaustive and indubitable, this does not hold true for our perception of physical objects, which remains tentative and corrigible. But this is only to be considered a fatal flaw if one makes the mistake of taking mathematics as the sole arbiter of what might count as evidence.

There is obviously no reason to remain satisfied with that which a single perception can present us with. Although we can already speak of knowledge at this stage, that is, insofar as the intuitively given fulfills our signitive intention, our knowledge of the object will increase if more of its profiles are given intuitively.

The concept of fulfillment is consequently a concept with a large scope. It is not the case of an either-or. Either there is (absolute) fulfillment, or there is none. On the contrary, there can be various degrees of fulfillment. Its range can vary, but so can its clarity. If I see a withering oak from afar, then I am certainly confronted with the oak itself, the oak is intuitively present. But it is not as optimally given as if I stood closer by and could discern more details. At the same time it should also be emphasized that Husserl does not define the optimal givenness by means of parameters like light and spatial presence. Stars are best seen when it is dark, and Husserl always understands optimal givenness as the kind of givenness that offers us the object with as much information and in as differentiated a manner as possible.

Categorial Objects and Wesensschau

Husserl’s concept of object is very broad (basically everything about which something can be predicated is an object), and fundamentally speaking he distinguishes between two different types of objects: real (perceptual) objects and ideal (categorial) objects. After all, it is not only possible to think about pear trees or the Empire State Building, but also about ideal notions like justice, the figure 3, the principle of noncontradiction, or about state of affairs {Sachverhalte) like 'the green book is lying beneath the papers on the desk’.
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To summarize: Husserl's concept of experience is far more comprehensive than the one bequeathed to us from empiricism. We not only experience concrete and particular objects, but abstract or universal ones as well. As Husserl once put it in an article for the Encyclopedia Britannica, one of the tasks of phenomenology is precisely to overcome and replace the narrow empiristic concept of experience with an enlarged one, and to clarify all of its different forms, be they the intuition of essential structures, of apodictic evidence, and so forth.

Husserl's essentialism

Husserl claims that we can experience ideal and categorial objects, and he even argues that it is possible to obtain essential or eidetic insights.
At times this claim concerning the possibility of a Wesensschau has been taken to constitute one of the most important features of Husserlian phenomenology But, although it is true that Husserl was more interested in insights into the essential structures of consciousness than in investigations of the factual and empirical composition of human consciousness, and although his phenomenology can in part be seen as an attempt to spell out the necessary and universal laws that govern and structure intentionality, this interest in essential structures is so widespread and common in the history of philosophy that it is nonsensical to take it as a defining feature of phenomenology.

Nevertheless, Husserl did in fact develop and employ some useful distinctions. One of these is the difference between formal and material ontology. Formal ontology is the name for the discipline that investigates what it means to be an object. It is considered a formal enterprise, for it abstracts from all considerations concerning content. It is not interested in the differences between siliceous stones, oak trees, and clarinets, that is to say, it is not concerned with the differences between various types of objects, but in that which is unconditionally true for any object whatsoever. The work of a formal ontology is consequently to be found in the elucidation of such categories as quality, property, relation, identity, whole, part, and so on. In contrast, the material (or regional) ontology examines the essential structures belonging to a given region or kind of object and seeks to determine that which holds true with necessity for any member of the region in question. For instance, what is it that characterizes mathematical entities as such, in contrast to psychical processes or physical objects? Each of the three would, according to Husserl, constitute a unique ontological region with its own proper features. The region of the physical can again be subdivided into a number of more specific regions, the domain of the chemical, the biological, and so forth.

Husserl not only claims that there are essential structures governing different ontological regions, he also claims that we can obtain knowledge about these structures. He points out that we are not only able to intend particular objects characterized by spatio-temporal position—for instance this 400-yearold tsuba that I am currently using as a paperweight, we can also intend that which characterizes physical objects qua physical objects, that is, that which invariantly holds true for all physical objects. To put it differently, there are not only mental acts that are directed toward singular objects, but also mental acts that intend the universal and ideal.

Whereas the investigation of the concrete features of the tsuba is an empirical investigation of a number of features that might very well have been different, this is not the case when it comes to the investigation of that which characterizes the tsuba qua physical object. According to Husserl, an insight into the mental acts that intend the universal and ideal can be acquired through a so-called eidetic variation or eidetic reduction (not to be confused with the phenomenological or transcendental reduction). This variation must be understood as a kind of conceptual analysis where we attempt to imagine the object as being different from how it currently is. Sooner or later this imaginative variation will lead us to certain properties that cannot be varied, that is, changed and transgressed, without making the object cease to be the kind of object it is. The variation consequently allows us to distinguish between the accidental properties of the object, that is, the properties that could have been different, and its essential properties, that is, the invariant structures that make the object into the type of object it is.

According to Husserl, I can obtain an essential insight, a Wesensschau, if through an eidetic variation, I succeed in establishing the horizon within which the object can change without losing its identity as a thing of that type. In that case, I will have succeeded in disclosing the invariant structures that make up its essence.

Of course, Husserl would never claim that through some passive gaze we are able to obtain infallible insights into the essence of each and every object. On the contrary, the eidetic variation is a demanding conceptual analysis that in many cases is defeasible. Moreover, and this must be emphasized, Husserl's work does not consist of hairsplitting analyses of the difference between, say, dogs and cats. On the contrary, he is after far more fundamental distinctions, for instance, what distinguishes mathematical entities from works of art, physical objects, and mental acts.

Husserl’s considerations concerning the possibility of an eidetic reduction and variation, his distinction between material and formal ontology, and his reflections on the relation between sensation and thought are all important philosophical investigations. Nevertheless, in my opinion, they all constitute part of the more traditional heritage in Husserl’s philosophy and should consequently not be taken as the truly distinctive features of his phenomenology.



Theory of Intentionality

Excerpt and condensation from “Theory of Intentionality“ by Ronald McIntyre and David Woodruff Smith

1.Husserl’s Intentionality

Intentionality is a central concept in philosophy of mind and in Husserl’s phenomenology. Indeed, Husserl calls intentionality the “fundamental property of consciousness” and the “principle theme of phenomenology”.

Although ‘intentionality’ is a technical term in philosophy, it stands for something familiar to us all: a characteristic feature of our mental states and experiences, especially evident in what we commonly call being “conscious” or “aware”. As conscious beings, or persons, we are not merely affected by the things in our environment; we are also conscious of these things – of physical objects and events, of our own selves and other persons, of abstract objects such as numbers and propositions, and of anything else we bring before our minds. Many, perhaps most, of the events that make up our mental life – our perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, hopes, fears, and so on – have this characteristic feature of being “of” or “about” something and so giving us a sense of something in our world. When I see a tree, for example, my perception is a perception of a tree; when I think that 3 + 2 = 5, I am thinking of or about certain numbers and a relation among them; when I hope that nuclear war will never take place, my hope is about a possible future state of the world; and so on. Each such mental state or experience is in this way a representation of something other than itself and so gives one a sense of something. This representational character of mind or consciousness – its being “of” or “about” something – is “intentionality”.

Husserl’s interest in intentionality was inspired by his teacher, Franz Brentano, who himself picked up the term ‘intentional’ from its use in medieval philosophy. ‘Intentionality’ derives from the Latin verb ‘intendere’, which means “to point to” or “to aim at”, and Brentano accordingly characterized the intentionality of mental states and experiences as their feature of each being “directed toward something”. (Intentionality in this technical sense then subsumes the everyday notion of doing something “intentionally”: an action is intentional when done with a certain “intention”, i.e., a mental state of “aiming” toward a certain state of affairs.)
Brentano is most famous for a very strong doctrine about intentionality. He claimed that intentionality is the defining characteristic of the mental, i.e., that all mental phenomena are intentional and only mental phenomena are intentional. This claim has come to be known as “Brentano’s Thesis”. But almost all philosophers, including Husserl, consider the first half of Brentano’s Thesis too strong. Moods such as depression or euphoria are not always “of” or “about” something; and as Husserl notes, sensations such as pain or dizziness are not obviously representational or “directed toward” some object. Husserl’s interest is in those mental states or experiences that do give us a sense of an object, and those mental phenomena are intentional; he calls them “acts” of consciousness. Husserl seems to have thought that only states of conscious awareness are intentional, but we need not be that restrictive: if there are unconscious beliefs and desires, for example, they too should be counted as intentional mental phenomena.

Today, the more interestingly controversial part of Brentano’s Thesis is the second half, the claim that only mental phenomena are intentional. Is it true? Photographs are photographs “of” their subjects, symbols “stand for” or “represent” things other than themselves, and the languages we speak are representational systems. Yet none of these things is itself a mental state or experience. Nonetheless, examples such as these do not really falsify the spirit of Brentano’s Thesis. Although these sorts of things do have an intentional or representational character, they have that character only for some person and by virtue of that person’s intentional mental states. Photographs, symbols, and words, in themselves and apart from the meanings and interpretations given them by persons or other creatures possessing mentality, are only so many marks on paper. Their intentionality – their “representing”, or being “of” or “about” things other than themselves – is therefore not a character they have intrinsically, insofar as they are merely the physical objects that they are, but is derivative from their relation to intentional mental states. It is then easy to exclude such apparent counter-examples by modifying Brentano’s Thesis thus: all and only mental phenomena are intrinsically intentional.

2. Husserl’s Phenomenological Conception of Intentionality

At first thought, the intentionality or representationality of an experience seems to be a relation: a relation between the mental state of the experiencer and, in typical cases, some extra-mental thing, event, or state of affairs (let’s call all of these “objects”).
In a typical perception, for example, the object the perception is “of” or “about” – the one to which it is “intentionally related” – is the very same object that causes the visual experience to come about – the one to which the experience is causally related. Consequently, one might think, the intentionality of the perception is nothing but this causal relation. (A sophisticated version of this view is the so-called “causal theory of perception”.)

The most obvious problem with this relational view of intentionality is that the object of an intentional mental state or act is not always some actually existing extra-mental object. If one imagines Pegasus, the flying horse of Greek mythology, for example, that act is an imaginative representation “of” Pegasus; but there is no actually existing object to which the act is externally related. The child who comes to believe that Santa Claus does not exist has a belief “about” Santa Claus; but such a true belief that something does not exist cannot be “about” any object that actually does exist. And as Descartes noted, not even our perceptual experiences are always perceptions of real objects: vivid dreams and hallucinations can provide us the same kinds of experiences, although they fail to relate us to anything that actually exists. Indeed, Descartes held that all our experiences could have just the subjective or phenomenological features they do have – including their intentional “ofness” or “aboutness” – even if there were no world outside our minds at all. What Husserl concludes, from examples such as these and from Descartes’ reasoning, is that the intentionality of an act is independent of the existence of its object – even when it is related to something extramental. Let us call this feature of intentionality its “existence-independence”.

The existence-independence of intentionality means, Husserl believes, that intentionality is a phenomenological property of mental states or experiences, i.e., a property they have by virtue of their own “internal” nature as experiences, independently of how they are “externally” related to the extra-mental world.
And this view is reinforced by a second feature of intentionality that creates problems for the opposing “external-relation” view: even where an act is directed toward an object that does exist, the intentionality of the act changes with its internal character in ways that are independent of what is actually true of its object.

Consider the plight of poor Oedipus Rex. Oedipus despised the man he killed on the road from Delphi although he did not despise his own father; he desired to marry the Queen although he did not desire to marry his mother; and he loathed the murderer of King Laius before he came to loathe himself. But of course the man he killed was his father, the Queen was his mother, and he himself was the King’s murderer. How shall we describe the intentionality of these acts? …………
Oedipus desired Jocasta when he thought about her as the Queen, when that was how he conceived of her or represented her to himself, but not when he came to think about, conceive of, or represent her as his mother. Oedipus’ desire was therefore not simply “for” Jocasta: it was for Jocasta as conceived in a particular way. …
The intentionality of a mental state – an act’s property of representing, or being “of” or “about” some object – differs in this way from the ordinary property of being related “to” some object. For the intentionality of an act depends not just on which object the act represents but on a certain conception of the object represented. Let us call this feature the “conception-dependence” of intentionality.

These two features of intentionality, its existence-independence and its conceptiondependence, pose tremendous problems for all attempts to explain intentionality from a purely objective, external point of view: to explain it causally, or behavioristically, or neurophysiologically, and so on. For they seem to indicate just what Husserl thinks: that intentionality is something we know about first and foremost from our own, “first-person” knowledge of our experiences and their “internal” character; that it is a property our experiences have in themselves, as subjective experiences, and independent of any of their actual relations to the external world; and that therefore intentionality cannot be explained from a purely objective, “third-person”, point of view if such a viewpoint cannot accommodate this internal and subjective character of our experiences. In so thinking, Husserl holds a phenomenological conception of intentionality.

We can now see that there are two different kinds of problems about acts and their intentionality. One kind concerns how our acts, and their intentional character, are actually related to the “external” world of nature. Of the objects that our acts represent, which (if any) exist independently of us? Are these objects actually the way our minds represent them as being? Moreover, how are our mental states and experiences related to our bodies – to our sensory organs and to the neurophysiological processes in our brains, for example? Husserl calls these “naturalistic” problems.
“Phenomenological” problems, by contrast, involve questions of a different sort: questions about an act’s intentional character – about what it represents and how – regardless of what is actually true of the object it represents; questions about the act’s own internal structure, however it may be related to the extramental world; questions about how a particular act relates to other mental states and experiences; and so on.
In order to focus our attention on problems of this second kind, Husserl proposes the methodological tactic he calls “phenomenological epoché”: the investigation of these phenomenological problems, he says, should begin with an “epoché” – i.e., a withholding – of judgment about the truth or falsity of all our naturalistic beliefs, including even the fundamental belief that a natural world does in fact exist. The purpose of this tactic, which is quite similar to what some contemporary philosophers have called “methodological solipsism”, is not to get us to believe that nothing does exist outside our own minds. Rather, its purpose is to force us to explain the phenomenological features of acts, including their intentional character, by appealing only to what is intrinsic to acts themselves: to the internal structures of acts that make them the mental states or experiences that they are.

3. The Distinction Between Content and Object

Those “internal”, or phenomenological, features of an act that make it the particular state or experience it is, distinct from other mental states and experiences, Husserl calls the “phenomenological content” of the act. According to Husserl, every act has such a content, which can be articulated independently of how the act is actually related to the extra-mental world of nature. And according to his conception of intentionality, intentional character is itself a phenomenological feature of acts. The goal of a “phenomenological” theory of intentionality, then, is to articulate those aspects of an act’s “content” that explain how the act has this intentional character.

In Chapter 2 of Logical Investigations (1900), V, Husserl discusses his view of content and distinguishes it from another. Husserl himself sharply distinguishes the content of an act from its object. But according to the other view, the content of an act – what makes it intentional – just is the object toward which the act is directed. Since many of the traditional theories of intentionality at least implicitly assume this “object-view” of content, a closer look at it will help us begin to see what is new in Husserl’s theory. The turn to content is motivated by the recognition that an act has an intentional character that is independent of any relation between the act and an “external” object. Nonetheless, object-theories of content insist that this intentional character itself is basically relational in structure: that what makes an act intentional in phenomenological character is its being related to some object, the object that the act represents or is directed toward.
If I imagine Pegasus or wonder whether Santa Claus exists, my acts are not relations to real, physical objects external to my mind. But, according to these theories, that only means they are related to objects of some other kind – not “real” objects, such as horses or people, but “intentional” objects, objects that are themselves a part of the phenomenological content of the acts that represent them. Such intentional objects – my “idea” or “conception” of Pegasus or Santa Claus, for example – can exist in my mind and its acts even though Pegasus and Santa Claus themselves do not exist in extra-mental reality. If these intentional objects are what such acts are “about”, then the non-existence of appropriate extra-mental objects seems irrelevant. So existence-independence is unproblematic.
And the same goes for conception-dependence. We wondered how Oedipus could desire the Queen and not desire his mother, since the Queen and his mother were the same person. But if the intentional-object view is correct, the solution is simply that the second desire would not have the same object as the first: Oedipus’ desire for the Queen is directed toward his “idea” of Jocasta as the Queen, and that is a different object than his “idea” of Jocasta as his mother.

This kind of theory of intentionality has a venerable history. The traditional “theory of ideas”, suggested by Descartes and developed by Locke, Berkeley, and Hume; Brentano’s notion of “intentionally inexistent” objects; Meinong’s theory of “Objects beyond Being”; and the “sense-datum” theories of perception dominant in early twentieth-century British philosophy – all may plausibly be seen as variations on this “intentional-object” theme.

But tradition and history notwithstanding, object-theories of intentionality fail on three counts.
First, they are in many ways counter-intuitive. When I imagine Pegasus, I imagine horse that flies. But since my idea of Pegasus is not a horse and it does not fly (and I do not even imagine that my idea is a horse that flies), how can my imagination be about that idea?
Second, the history of the tradition itself reveals its major failure. All these theories seem to lead inevitably to one or the other of two results: the view that only intentional objects exist, exemplified by Berkeley’s subjective idealism, or the view that we can never know of the existence of any other sorts of objects, exemplified by Hume’s skepticism. For they all face the same problem: if the objects of our mental states and experiences are always merely intentional objects, then we have absolutely no experiential access to any other sorts of objects; and in that case the world of nature must either consist of such objects, à la Berkeley, or it must forever be unknowable, à la Hume.
Third, if our acts are directed toward objects that are “real” in the ordinary sense, then object-theories explain this in a way that leads to an infinite regress. According to these theories, an act can be “about” such an object only by being first and foremost “about” an intentional object that somehow represents that object. But if intentional “aboutness” is to be explained by an appeal to intentional objects, then there must be a second intentional object that explains that first “aboutness”, a third that explains the second, and so on ad infinitum.

By distinguishing content and object, then, Husserl can explain the existence-independence of intentionality in a new way: an act’s being intentional depends only on its content, and an act’s content is independent of the existence of anything external to the act.

4. Husserl’s Theory of Content: Noesis and Noema

By the time of Ideas (1913), Husserl’s notion of content has developed into two distinct, but closely related, notions: the noesis and the noema of an act. (The terms ‘noesis’ and ‘noema’ both derive from ‘nous’, the Greek word for mind or intellect. Their plurals are ‘noeses’ and ‘noemata’.) Roughly speaking, the noesis is an interpretive or “meaning-giving” part of an act, while the noema is an act’s “meaning – basically what we earlier called the subject’s “sense” of an object.
Husserl’s discussions of these crucial notions (in Ideas, §§84-99, §124 and §§128-33) are unfortunately far from clear and unambiguous, and there is disagreement among phenomenologists about just how they should be understood. It is in fact hard to grasp either of these notions on the basis of Ideas alone, for Husserl’s discussion there assumes the reader is already familiar with two other key notions previously elaborated in Logical Investigations: the notions of content and meaning.

The distinction between noesis and noema is not the same as the distinction between content and object. Neither the noesis nor the noema of an act is the object toward which the act is directed. Rather, both noesis and noema are kinds of content. To understand this we need another distinction made in the Investigations: the distinction between what Husserl calls the “real” and the “intentional”, or “ideal”, content of an act.

An act itself is an experience, one of the temporal events that make up a person’s stream of consciousness. Such an experience is surely a complex event, consisting of various phases or experience-components. What Husserl calls the real content of an act is just the sum total of these component parts of an experience, which go together in such a way as to make up the complete experience.
Real content, then, consists of the temporal parts that compose, and so are literally found in, an intentional experience; these will include the act’s “real” quality, which makes it an experience of a particular kind, and its “real” matter, which gives it its particular intentional character.

The real content of an act is something that necessarily belongs to that act alone. ….. there is a sense in which two persons, or the same person at different times, can be said to have the same experience, i.e., experiences with the same content. ……… …. [[Note: Real content of an act is the commonly-sensed content of a particular experience.]]

The intentional content is not literally “in” the act as its actual constituents are; rather, it is an abstract or “ideal” structure that different acts can “share”. …… [[The intent meaning of an act, the universal /abstract/ideal structure of acts of the same type, Plato’s forms, scientific laws, etc ???}]

The real content specific to a particular act, Husserl believes, is in every case a particular and individual exemplification or realization of such an abstract structure, which can also be realized in the real contents of other acts of the same phenomenological type.

Now we can see how, in Ideas, Husserl is able to characterize both the noesis and the noema of an act as kinds of “content”. The noesis of an act, he says, is part of its “real” content, while the noema is the act’s corresponding “intentional” content (see §88 and §97). The noesis, then, is literally a temporal part or constituent of an act’s specific phenomenological make-up. And, the real content of an act may include more than its noesis.

The noesis, Husserl says, is that part of an act’s real content that “brings in the specific character of intentionality” The noema, by contrast, is an “ideal” or abstract structure common to different acts of the same type.

How the real and intentional content of an act give the act its intentional character?
The noesis includes a component that determines the act’s kind. Husserl now calls this the “thetic” component or “thetic character” of the noesis; and there is a corresponding (intentional or ideal) “thetic” component in the noema. (Husserl still has little to say about just how this component works, and we shall pretty much ignore it.)
What is really new in Ideas is Husserl’s treatment of the “matter” of an act, that component of an act’s content that determines its intentional character. As a component of the noesis, or real content, of an act, an act’s matter is now characterized as the act’s “meaning-giving” or “sense-giving” (“Sinngebung”) component. It is this part of the noesis that gives the act its directedness toward a specific object and determines just how that object is represented in the act; and it does so by giving the act a “Sinn”, i.e., a “meaning” or “sense”< br> Correlated with this “real” constituent of the noesis is the Sinn or meaning itself – the subject’s “sense” of an object. This meaning or sense is the main constituent of the act’s noema; it corresponds to the earlier notion of matter as a constituent of an act’s intentional or ideal content. This meaning-component of the noema, or “noematic Sinn” as Husserl calls it, is then an “ideal” or abstract entity, whose role is to determine just which object an act represents and precisely how it represents it.

Thus, the noesis of an act consists of two “real” or temporal components: a “thetic” component and a “meaning-giving” component. And the act’s noema consists of two corresponding “intentional” or ideal components: a “thetic” component and a “Sinn” or “meaning”. Like Husserl, we shall focus on an act’s noema, especially its Sinn; for, on the Ideas theory of intentionality, it is by virtue of being related to such a Sinn or meaning that an act has its particular intentional character.

Why would Husserl have thought the notion of meaning could help explain the intentional or representational character of an act?
One answer lies in a quick observation we made earlier when discussing Brentano’s Thesis: languages are representational systems, by virtue of the fact that conscious beings can give meanings to various sounds and marks. Futher Reading

The key to understanding both linguistic and mental representation, then, is the notion of meaning. Nonetheless, we would emphasize one huge difference between these two kinds of representation. Linguistic expressions are representational because of their meanings, but a linguistic expression cannot give meaning to itself. As we said earlier, the representational or intentional character of language is “derivative”, derivative from the fact that we conscious beings can give meaning to various sounds and marks. Thus, the meanings that make linguistic expressions representational come to them from the “outside”. By contrast, Husserl holds, the representational or intentional character of our mental states and experiences comes to them from the “inside”. The noesis of an act is an intrinsic part of the (“real”) phenomenological content of that act itself, and the chief role of the noesis is to “give meaning” to the act. Linguistic expressions, by contrast, have no such “noesis”. A mental state or experience is intrinsically intentional, then, because it itself includes – as an essential part of the phenomenological content that makes it the experience it is – an intrinsically “meaningful”, or “meaning-giving”, component.


5. Noema and Object

The noema and the object of an act are completely distinct entities. For one thing, they are usually not even the same kind of entities: an act’s noema is the act’s intentional content, its ideal or abstract structure; whereas the objects of acts, in typical cases, are ordinary physical objects in the world of “nature”. Moreover, while every act has a noema, not every act actually has an object: an hallucination, for example, has a noema and so is intentional in character, although no object actually stands before the perceiver at all. And of course the noema and the object of an act play entirely different roles: the object, if there is one, is what the act is “of” or “about”, while the noema is what gives the act its phenomenological character of being of or about that object.

By virtue of the Sinn in an act’s noema, the subject of the act has a “sense” of an object. And, one can have a sense of an object even when there actually is no such object. Nonetheless, it is almost impossible to describe this sense or Sinn, and to distinguish it from other Sinne, without speaking of “the object” that it gives the subject a sense “of”.
Consider, for example, the difference between hallucinating a dagger and hallucinating a tree. It would be natural to say that this difference lies in “what” the subject perceives: a dagger in the one case, a tree in the other. But since the acts are hallucinatory, there is no dagger or tree – or, Husserl insists, any other object – that the subject perceives in either case. This difference in “what” is perceived, on Husserl’s analysis, is therefore not a difference in the objects of perception, for here there are no such objects. Rather, it is a difference in noematic Sinne: the one act has a Sinn that gives the subject a sense of a dagger; the other, a sense of a tree.

If one is speaking “naturalistically” about the relation between a perceiver and the thing she perceives, it refers to the object of the perception; but if one is speaking “phenomenologically” about the intentional or representational character of a perception, it refers to the intentional content of the perception, i.e., to the noema or the noematic Sinn. Husserl’s “as such” terminology is introduced to resolve this ambiguity: thus, Husserl calls the object of a perception “the perceived”, “the perceived object”, or sometimes “the object simpliciter”; and he calls the noema or Sinn “the perceived as such”.

Still, there is an important relation between noemata and objects. Husserl says that all objects [things or events], including those we call “real” or “actual”, are “constituted” in consciousness by the noemata of our acts (Ideas, §135) But this does not mean that our acts create objects or that objects are somehow composed of noemata – as one would suppose if noemata were themselves the objects of consciousness or parts of those objects. Rather, it means that even where an act is related to a real object, such as a tree, it is the noematic Sinn of the act that gives the subject a sense of that object and so places him in an intentional relation with it. And where there is no such object, the Sinn still makes the act as if it were so related to an object. Accordingly, Husserl says, “an object – ‘whether it is actual or not’ – is ‘constituted’” in any experience with the appropriate intentional or noematic structure (Ideas, §135). We shall say that the Sinn, in every case, “prescribes” an object. But, because noemata and objects are distinct, to prescribe an object is not to give it being. At least in the case of natural objects such as trees, it is extra-mental reality that determines whether there really exists any object that “fills” a Sinn’s prescription.

6. The Sensory Content of Perception

According to Husserl, the (real) phenomenological content of every intentional experience includes a noesis, for it is the noesis that gives meaning or Sinn to the experience and so makes it of or about something. But the content of a perception includes more than a noesis, for perceptions are sensory experiences. Merely thinking about a red tomato is quite different from actually seeing it, for example. In Husserl’s terms, a perception is not just an “empty signification” or representation of its object but an “intuition”, in which the object is presented with a character of sensory “fullness”. Accordingly, Husserl says (Ideas, §§85, 97), the real content of a perception consists of two fundamental components: a noetic component, or noesis, which gives the act its intentional character; and a sensory component, a sensation or complex of sensations, which gives the act its sensory character. With the interaction of noesis and sensation, I do not merely represent a tomato in my mind; I see a tomato.

A complex of sensations alone, without a noesis that “animates” it by giving it meaning, Husserl says, cannot be an experience of anything. Adapting Aristotle’s distinction between matter and form, Husserl calls the sensory component of a perception its hyle (“matter”, or sensory “stuff”) and the noetic component of the perception its morphe (“form”). For Aristotle, a thing cannot exist without both matter and form; and similarly, for Husserl, a perception cannot occur without both sensation and noesis. I cannot see a tomato, for instance, unless my experience includes both: a noesis that calls in the Sinn “tomato” and so makes the experience a presentation of a tomato; and a mass of sensation that makes it a sensory presentation of a tomato.

Husserl sometimes uses the terms ‘sensation-data’ and ‘hyletic data’ for the sensory content of a perception, but his account of perception is very unlike the “sense-datum” theories of such British Empiricists as Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore. According to those theories, seeing a tomato involves two acts: a purely sensory, non-interpretive, act of “sensing” or “directly seeing” red (or perhaps a red round patch), and a non-perceptual act of judging or inferring that a tomato before one is causing that sensation. But for Husserl, the sensory content and the noesis in a perceptual experience are bonded together to make just one act: the sensory-and-intentional experience of seeing the tomato.

On Husserl’s theory of perception, moreover, the object that one perceives is ordinarily not just a sense datum, such as a colored patch, but is a full-blown physical object, such as a tomato.
Only a few of the many properties of an object are sensuously presented in a perception. Those properties (e.g., the object’s color and shape as seen from a particular perspective) are said by Husserl to be presented “self-evidently”.
In a normal perception, Husserl holds, the Sinn prescribes the object as having many properties in addition to those that are evidently or sensuously given – including not only sensory properties, such as being colored on its other sides, but even “theoretical” or nonobservable properties, such as being composed of atoms. Thus, the subject of a perception has a sense of the object as something distinct from and independent of the act, having a certain nature in itself – as something that “transcends” that particular act of perception and what its sensory content supports. Still, in perception one is not completely free to posit just any object at all as being the thing one perceives: the noesis must give a Sinn that is compatible with the sensory evidence in the perception. The sensory content of perception thus places certain constraints, or boundary conditions, on the Sinn and what it can prescribe. And such constraints contribute much to our sense of the “reality” of those objects that we perceive.

7. The Internal Structure of Noematic Sinne

In a typical experience, the subject’s sense of an object is quite complex: an act does not simply represent some object or other; it represents a particular object, and it represents it as having various properties and standing in various relations to other objects. Since it is the noematic Sinn of an act that determines what it represents and how, this means that the Sinn itself is not a simple sense or meaning but a complex pattern or structure of meanings. In Ideas, §§128-131, Husserl adds detail to his theory of intentionality by analyzing the structure of the Sinn in a noema. It is not clear whether the analysis is meant to apply to all types of experience, but it is well suited to Husserl’s paradigm of perceiving an individual thing.

8. Noema and Horizon

Beyond the noema of an experience, Husserl says, lies “another fundamental trait of intentionality”: what he calls the horizon of the experience. Acts directed toward certain sorts of objects – paradigmatically physical objects – represent their objects as “transcendent”, as being “more” than what the Sinn of the act explicitly prescribes. Such an intentional experience thus points toward a “horizon” of further possibilities regarding the object, and hence toward a corresponding “horizon” of further possible experiences of that object.

Trees, for instance, are transcendent objects. When I see a tree, there are many features of its back side that are hidden from my view and not specified in my perception. Moreover, I know little of the internal chemistry of the tree, and even less of this particular tree’s history. Nonetheless, the tree itself has a back side, an internal chemistry, and a history; and so the tree I see outruns or “transcends” my perception of it.
In this sense, as Husserl says, the tree as presented in my perception is incompletely “determined”, or partly “indeterminate”. Or better, there is an “indeterminacy” in the predicative content of the Sinn of my perception: the Sinn prescribes certain of the tree’s properties but leaves open, or indeterminate, the full nature of the object it prescribes. (Ideas, §44; CM, §§19-20; EJ, §§8, 21c.)

The notion of horizon is importantly related to Husserl’s notions of “constitution” and “evidence”. By predelineating a horizon, the Sinn of an act prescribes or constitutes its object as transcendent, as having further properties that further experience may or may not confirm.

But because physical objects are constituted as being transcendent, and because their horizon is open-ended, we can never completely confirm that any physical object we constitute actually does exist. This inadequacy in our cognitive or perceptual powers is no cause for skepticism about the reality of an extra-mental world, and even less cause for thinking that the things we call real are only creations of our minds, however. We ourselves constitute the physical world as transcendent of our experiences and independent of our consciousness of it. What better proof could we have that we have correctly constituted it so than that we can never experience it completely?

9. Horizon and Background Beliefs

Although the horizon of an object, as constituted in an experience, is indeterminate and open-ended, there are limits on what can belong to any given horizon. These limits are imposed in part by the noematic Sinn of the experience in question, for the possibilities in the object’s horizon must be compatible with what the Sinn prescribes of the object. But the structure of a horizon is further constrained by certain beliefs that the subject brings to an experience. These beliefs are the subject’s background presuppositions about the object, or about objects of its type; we shall call them “background beliefs”.

Consider again my seeing this apple tree. It is not compatible with this perception that the object I am seeing should have no back side at all; that possibility is excluded from the horizon of the object as I now experience it. And it is so excluded because it is incompatible with some of my most fundamental beliefs: I believe that trees are material objects, that material objects are three-dimensional, and that trees therefore have back sides. But surely none of these beliefs – or their Sinne – is actually wafting through my mind as I perceive the tree. Rather, they are part of my repertoire of general conceptual knowledge, part of the conceptual background against which all my specific perceptions take place. The belief that material objects are three-dimensional is no doubt an a priori belief, a definitive part of the very concept of a material object. But my perception also presupposes beliefs that are purely the products of previous experiences. Having seen many trees, I have learned that any one tree bears only one kind of fruit. My perception presupposes this belief, and it is therefore incompatible with my perception that the tree I am now seeing should have oranges on its hidden branches. Moreover, the acquired, or empirical, beliefs presupposed by my perception can be of any degree of particularity. If I believe that I planted this tree myself, the possibility that it was planted by someone else is excluded from the tree’s horizon, as I now constitute the tree; if I just saw a nest in one branch of the tree, its having no nest is now incompatible with my perception of the tree even though I can no longer see the nest; and so on.

Such presuppositions of my perception – background beliefs about material objects, or apple trees, or even this particular tree – help define the boundaries of the horizon of the object I perceive, the bounds of what is left open by the Sinn of my perception. The horizon is “predelineated”, then, not just by the Sinn of my perception alone, but by that Sinn together with the background beliefs, or their Sinne, presupposed by the perception.

By unearthing the background presuppositions of an experience, horizon-analysis carries Husserl’s phenomenology beyond noema-analysis.
Physical, mathematical, and aesthetic objects are objects of what Husserl calls different ontological “regions”, and as a philosopher he is concerned about how such “regions” differ from one another. They differ, Husserl thinks, in the different a priori background beliefs that we bring to bear when we experience an object as belonging to one of these regions rather than another: these different beliefs impose different “rules” on the constitution of objects and the structure of their horizons. For instance, Husserl says, the horizon of an object experienced as something “physical” must conform to rules such as these: that physical objects are continuous in time, that variations in their shapes must be compatible with the laws of geometry, and that they must be capable of entering into causal relations with other physical objects (Ideas, §§149, 150). Such rules are “rules of constitution”, and to articulate them is to articulate what Husserl calls a “theory of constitution” for objects of the type in question.

Let us emphasize once again, however, that Husserl’s interest in such rules and theories of constitution does not indicate an anti-realist metaphysical point of view. Husserl explicitly rejects Berkeley’s form of idealism: the view that objects exist only by virtue of their being experienced. But he does accept a version of what Kant calls “transcendental idealism”: the view that we experience objects as we do only because our minds organize experience according to certain “rules”. “Transcendental” philosophy – whether Husserlian or Kantian – studies the fundamental principles of the mind, which lay down the rules by which we can represent any objects of any particular kind. But this kind of “transcendental idealism” is completely consistent with an everyday sort of realism, as Kant himself insisted.
We have interpreted Husserl as sharply distinguishing mental acts from noematic Sinne and both from such ordinary objects as trees. On this interpretation, to say that an object is “constituted” in an experience means, not that the experience gives the object being, but that the experience gives it meaning. Objects are constituted in consciousness according to certain rules because objects are experienced only through noematic Sinne, by virtue of which our experiences are rendered meaningful and coherent. Without noematic Sinne, we can have no consciousness of objects and objects can have no meaning for us.

Husserl’s “transcendental idealism”, then, is not an ontological theory about the being of objects; it is a phenomenological, or an epistemological, theory about how we experience objects. And that theory, in effect, is just Husserl’s theory of intentionality via noematic Sinn.



Phenomenological Reduction and Eidetic Reduction

Phenomenological Reduction

In ordinary waking experience we take it for granted that the world around us exists independently of both us and our consciousness of it. This might be put by saying that we share an implicit belief in the independent existence of the world, and that this belief permeates and informs our everyday experience.
Husserl refers to this positing of the world and entities within it as things which transcend our experience of them as "the natural attitude" .
In The Idea of Phenomenology, Husserl introduces what he there refers to as "the epistemological reduction," according to which we are asked to supply this positing of a transcendent world with "an index of indifference" .
In Ideas I, this becomes the "phenomenological epoché," according to which, "We put out of action the general positing which belongs to the essence of the natural attitude; we parenthesize everything which that positing encompasses with respect to being".
This means that all judgements that posit the independent existence of the world or worldly entities, and all judgements that presuppose such judgements, are to be bracketed and no use is to be made of them in the course of engaging in phenomenological analysis.
Importantly, Husserl claims that all of the empirical sciences posit the independent existence of the world, and so the claims of the sciences must be "put out of play" with no use being made of them by the phenomenologist.

        [Note: The Delphic motto, “Know thyself!” has gained a new signification. Positive science is a science lost in the world. I must lose the world by epoché, in order to regain it by a universal self-examination. (Husserl: Méditations cartésiennes, 157/183).
        Epoché: Suspension of the natural attitudes that phenomena (the world) exists independently of our consciousness.
        Phenomenon: Manifestation of the World.]

This epoché opens us up to the world of phenomena, how it is that the world and the entities within it are given. The reduction, then, is that which reveals to us the primary subject matter of phenomenology - the world as given and the givenness of the world; both objects and acts of consciousness.

There are a number of motivations for the view that phenomenology must operate within the confines of the phenomenological reduction. One is epistemological modesty. The subject matter of phenomenology is not held hostage to skepticism about the reality of the "external" world. Another is that the reduction allows the phenomenologist to offer a phenomenological analysis of the natural attitude itself. This is especially important if, as Husserl claims, the natural attitude is one of the presuppositions of scientific enquiry. Finally, there is the question of the purity of phenomenological description. It is possible that the implicit belief in the independent existence of the world will affect what we are likely to accept as an accurate description of the ways in which worldly things are given in experience. We may find ourselves describing things as "we know they must be" rather than how they are actually given.

The reduction, in part, enables the phenomenologist to go "back to the things themselves", meaning back to the ways that things are actually given in experience. Indeed, it is precisely here, in the realm of phenomena, that Husserl believes we will find that indubitable evidence that will ultimately serve as the foundation for every scientific discipline. As such, it is vital that we are able to look beyond the prejudices of common sense realism, and accept things as actually given. It is in this context that Husserl presents his Principle of All Principles which states that, "every originary presentive intuition is a legitimizing source of cognition, that everything originally (so to speak, in its 'personal' actuality) offered to us in 'intuition' is to be accepted simply as what it is presented as being, but also only within the limits in which it is presented there".

Eidetic Reduction

The results of phenomenology are not intended to be a collection of particular facts about consciousness, but are rather supposed to be facts about the essential natures of phenomena and their modes of givenness.
Phenomenologists do not merely aspire to offer accounts of what their own experiences of, say, material objects are like, but rather accounts of the essential features of material object perception as such. But how is this aspiration to be realized given that the method of phenomenology is descriptive, consisting in the careful description of experience? Doesn't this, necessarily, limit phenomenological results to facts about particular indviduals' experience, excluding the possibility of phenomenologically grounded general facts about experience as such?

The Husserlian answer to this difficulty is that the phenomenologist must perform a second reduction called "eidetic" reduction (because it involves a kind of vivid, imagistic intuition). The purpose of the eidetic reduction in Husserl's writings is to bracket any considerations concerning the contingent and accidental, and concentrate on (intuit) the essential natures or essences of the objects and acts of consciousness. This intuition of essences proceeds via what Husserl calls "free variation in imagination." We imagine variations on an object and ask, "What holds up amid such free variations of an original […] as the invariant, the necessary, universal form, the essential form, without which something of that kind […] would be altogether inconceivable?". We will eventually come up against something that cannot be varied without destroying that object as an instance of its kind. The implicit claim here is that if it is inconceivable that an object of kind K might lack feature F, then F is a part of the essence of K.

Eidetic intuition is, in short, an a priori method of gaining knowledge of necessities. However, the result of the eidetic reduction is not just that we come to knowledge of essences, but that we come to intuitive knowledge of essences. Essences show themselves to us (Wesensschau), although not to sensory intuition, but to categorial or eidetic intuition. It might be argued that Husserl's methods here are not so different from the standard methods of conceptual analysis: imaginative thought experiments.


Phenomenological Reduction

Excerpt and condensation

2.1 Intoduction
The evolution of Husserl’s thought did not follow a linear route. Time and again, crucial changes were taking place in its course. The content of fundamental concepts was shifting; successive discoveries of new thematics were happening; incessant expansions of the ever-under-rework teachings to new fields of application were being developed.
The evaluation of Husserl’s work in its entirety becomes, thus, an extremely difficult task. The huge bulk of the writings, the multifariousness of their thematics, and the successive reforms and shifts in it make the understanding of even the overall plan wherein the intermediate findings fall very difficult.

The idea that phenomenological philosophy is possible only on the basis of a phenomenological reduction occurs for the first time in 1905, in the socalled “Seefelder Blätter,” and publicly in 1907 with the Idea of Phenomenology.
According to Husserl’s own personal estimation of the situation, from 1913, his understanding of the reduction did not become clear until 1908. Until the end of his life, however, Husserl was in fact talking about a multitude of reductions, which, since they are used in Phenomenology, can all be considered “phenomenological.”
Moreover, even though Husserl does not explicitly talk in all cases about this or that reduction, he in fact constantly presupposes one. What makes things even harder is that even before 1905, when he was not yet using the term “reduction,” he had already silently put into play some version of phenomenological reduction.

The distinction between psychological-phenomenological reduction and transcendental-phenomenological reduction:
Most commentators have taken it for granted … and placed … “the” phenomenological reduction in the attitude of Transcendental Phenomenology.
To be sure, in the Ideas I (1913), the first systematic work presenting Transcendental Phenomenology, Husserl himself refers undifferentiatedly to one “phenomenological” reduction.
However, as one can see in Schuhmann’s second edition of that work in the Husserliana series, and more specifically in the second volume of that edition (Hua III.2), Husserl subsequently critically reviewed his personal copies of the Ideas I. He, then, complemented his references to “the” phenomenological reduction, making clear that this is actually a double method.
We see there that he in fact splits the seemingly one, fundamental phenomenological reduction of the original Ideas I (1913) into two: the psychological-phenomenological and the transcendental-phenomenological reductions.

More generally, in the1920s, Husserl realized that, accordingly, the phenomenological analyses themselves also have this dual aspect. He found out that the Psychological reduction leads to a phenomenological science, whereas the transcendental reduction leads to a phenomenological philosophy. Thus, Phenomenology can be developing either as Phenomenological Psychology or as Transcendental Phenomenology. For many years and in a vast extension of research manuscripts, Husserl repeatedly tried to make clear not only the distinction between these two Phenomenologies, but also the special conditions under which they can be realized.

2.2 Transcendence, “Natural Attitude,” and the Phenomenological Stance
The traditional dipole “internal-external” was recognizing the “external” world as transcendent, in comparison to the immanence of the knowing subjectivity.
The world of objects is thus confronted as a universe of self-existing beings that transcends the enclosedness of the bearer of the experiences and of knowledge.
Two independent spheres of reality are thus acknowledged, which enter into contact only from time to time, and wholly accidentally.
On the one side, we supposedly have the “external” reality and, on the other, the “internal” reality.
What is considered as experience and knowledge is the successful incoming and recognition of sensory contents to some suitable sentient ‘chamber’: psyche, nous, soul, mind, intellect, cogito, tabula rasa, consciousness, etc.
In some way, the problem of knowledge must find its solution on the basis of a kind of awareness regarding the contents in the soul, mind, consciousness, etc., which should correspond to, refer to, represent, etc., the external source.

Brentano, Husserl’s teacher, had also accepted this basic epistemological idea, and used it in his analyses under the title of intentionality (“Intentionalität”).
Brentano reformulated the epistemological problem in a form which is nowadays known as “Brentano’s problem”: how does the possession of some content, immanent in our soul, guarantee our cognitive relation to outer reality, which itself transcends our immanence and is totally different from this content?

Husserl was aware of his teacher’s efforts to solve this particular problem. In his 5th Logical Investigations, he moreover argued extensively in order to show the failure of the enterprise to bridge the immanent psychic with some transcending and self-existent real realm.
The Brentanian intentional contents that reside in an immanent psychic sphere should be “related” to the “external” things themselves. Nevertheless, what exactly could the texture of this “relation” be? In the end, Brentano couldn’t find either an adequate analysis for the ontology of the necessary correspondence or reference, or a satisfactory answer to the possibility of misrepresentation.

In the Logical Investigations Husserl offered his own path-breaking understanding of the notion of intentionality. In experience and knowledge we do not just possess some mere contents within the immanent stream of our consciousness’ living experiences (Erlebnisse). ………… …………….. ……………
I experience or I have knowledge of a thing when there is an appearance (Erscheinung) or a manifestation of it as a phenomenon in—or, better, to—my consciousness. But this appearing of phenomena is not identical to the having of contents recorded in the stream of living experiences. ….. ….. . Instead of the mere possession of immanent contents that ‘correspond’ to otherwise untraceable external objects, Husserl now talks about an intentional interpretation or intentional apprehension of the immanently lived-through contents that leads to the conscious appearance of the very things in their evident manifestation for me, firstly as whole perceptual beings that are simply sensorially experienced.
(Note: “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.” (FTL, 132/239). Also, “Neither the world nor any other existent of any conceivable sort comes ‘from outdoors’ into my ego, my life of consciousness” (FTL, 250/257).)

In the Husserlian account of intentionality, consciousness manages, thus, to ‘extend’ itself beyond the Heracletian flux of living experiences and to reach the beings themselves as in-person appearing in the world. With this move, Husserl solves—by actually cutting it like a Gordian knot—what is known as the “problem of epistemological transcendence.” What consciousness experiences or knows has now been put beyond consciousness’ immanence. Consciousness experiences and knows the transcendently appearing beings in the world; not its immanent ideas, representations, or contents of whatever sort.

In the LI, Husserl did indeed basically restrict himself to the examination of the appearance and structure of the phenomena. He felt content enough with the examination of intentional acts and their transcendently appearing intentional contents (objects). There, instead of engaging in an effort to solve the problem regarding the relation between the phenomena and the supposedly independent, realistic things ‘in-themselves,’ he circumvented the problem of the latter’s existence and meaning of Being. In this way, however, the problem we may call the “problem of ontological transcendence” remained unsolved.

In the LI, Phenomenology had not yet substantially freed itself from the traditional dualism between the psychical and the physically real, and was not suggesting any solution to the problem of ontological transcendence (traditionally understood). For this reason, the analyses there are restricted to the sphere of the intentional psychic and its intentional, transcendently—with regard to the stream of living experiences - appearing phenomena.

As Husserl admitted in 1906, what he had achieved was only a Eidetic-Descriptive Psychology of perceptual and categorial acts together with their phenomena in the corresponding intuitions. In order to fulfill the remaining work, Husserl needed to find a successful solution to the problem of ontological transcendence. And for this, he had to find a way to expand Phenomenology beyond the intentional and transcendent, to be sure, but also merely appearing objects. In other words, what Husserl needed to do was to find a new way to solve the problem of the supposed chasm between the psychical (together with the appearing phenomena) and the realistically understood being(s).

This problem kept Husserl busy during a course of five lectures, which are well known from their publication in volume II of the Husserliana series, under the title The Idea of Phenomenology. There, we have a first exposition of basic ideas connected with his transcendental turn; ideas that were going to take a more systematically elaborated form in the Ideas I (1913). In the Idea, Husserl remarks that we live our everyday lives with the background supposition that, out there, there is an ontologically independent, realistic world. Husserl now calls the stance from which we live such a transcendentally naïve life the “natural attitude” (natürliche Einstellung).

            “[Natural attitude is that] in which everyday life as a whole as well as the positive sciences operate. In it the world is for us the self-evidently existing universe of realities which are continuously before us in unquestioned givenness [Vorhandenheit]. So this is the general field of our practical and theoretical activities.” (PTP, 168/288)

The natural attitude appears as the legitimacy-source of common-sense ontology, as the sum of beliefs that justified dualism and created the unbridgeable gap between consciousness and reality in itself. An autonomously or absolutely self-existing “outer” world is supposed to affect (immediately or mediately) our perception and to become represented in our mind, to be given to the subject, to be contained in our consciousness, etc., in the maximum possible fidelity and referentiality. For the psychological and the empirical ego, which are definable within the context of the natural attitude, the world is already there as absolutely self-existent. From the natural attitude, the world with its beings as a reality in itself, as ‘something’ realistically standing “out there,” is independent of the subjectivity to which it just becomes manifest, to which it just becomes known as a phenomenon (itself, however, remaining always something ‘more substantial’ than its phenomenal appearance).

This fundamental but also generally implicit universal presupposition of the ontological independence is thematized in §30 of the Ideas I, and is called “the general thesis” or “the general positing” (Generalthesis). Husserl makes clear, the general positing, which defines the essence of the natural attitude, is not a propositionally articulated belief, but a universal form of sense-giving (Sinngebung) in our intentional relatedness with the world.
The general positing is the self-evident filter, as it were, through which we run our everyday lives and grasp the various epistemological and ontological problems regarding our relatedness to the world. In the end, the fact that the world appears to our consciousness is taken, by our natural attitude, as an additional and secondary event, which has no ontological but only epistemological significance.


2.3 Psychological-Phenomenological and Transcendental-Phenomenological Reduction
In the Logical Investigations Husserl merely circumvented the problem of the relation between the phenomena manifesting themselves in the psychic sphere with that which—from the natural attitude—is understood as self-subsistent reality. This move was made possible by means of a methodological move that Husserl himself subsequently called “psychological phenomenological reduction.”
This methodological move was presumed as realistic within or behind the appearing phenomena. It puts into brackets the very (realistically understood) actuality—as it is made intelligible from the point of view of the natural attitude and its general positing—without touching upon it. This reduction offers us the possibility of abstaining from the issue regarding the realistic existence or not of the appearing thing and of restraining ourselves methodologically to whatever appears as a phenomenon.
The happening of the appearing, i.e., the ‘shining forth’ of that which appears in what it is, the intentional recognition of a thing in consciousness, can thus be treated within the limits of the psychological sphere as the sphere of intentional acts and their transcendently appearing intentional objects (as appearances). In this—still epistemologically— orientated Phenomenology, the legitimate propositions are articulated only with reference to whatever is intentionally (i.e., in the manner of intentionally appearing) ‘included’ in this sphere.

The psychological-phenomenological reduction methodologically transfers the realistically understood intentionally appearing, transcendent thing to intentionally appearing phenomenon. This move opens up the region of the intentional-psychologically pure consciousness and of the ‘therein’ appearing transcendent phenomena. It discloses the purely intentional-psychological field of (intentional) experiences and their transcendent intentional phenomena (purely and simply). Put otherwise, it highlights the field of the intentional, psychologically pure acts and their intentionally appearing intentional objectities. The mathesis that is thereby inaugurated is called “Phenomenological Psychology”(in the LI: Eidetic-Descriptive Phenomenological Psychology).

However, Phenomenological Psychology remained transcendentally naïve. Its interests are restricted to the unity of the intentional acts, to the unity of the appearing objectities and of their parts, and to their intentional relatedness (later: “correlation”). The transcendental naiveté of Phenomenological Psychology consists in this: whereas it focuses on the intentionally appearing and its constitution, it essentially keeps silently presupposing other realities, e.g., the supposed self-subsistent reality behind the perceptually appearing objects. Whatever appears in the sphere of the psychologically pure experiences was still considered simply as phenomenon of another realistic being, with reference to which the phenomenological psychologist merely suppresses his thoughts and their possible expression. This methodological self-restriction to the phenomena in the sphere of the (intentionally) purely psychic does not solve the problem of the transcendence to the very realistic—whatever this might be—but only demands that the phenomenologist remains mute with regard to it. The latter places the supposed independent reality in brackets, in the sense that it does away with the obligation to form and to express any thought or judgment about it. From this point of view, then, Phenomenological Psychology still moves within the bounds of the positivity that characterizes the natural attitude.

Phenomenological Psychology, to be sure, abolishes the analysis of the cognitive states (broadly speaking) in terms of a mere having of sensory contents. It confronts all intentional acts in terms of interpretation and evident appearing.
However, despite the fact that it transforms traditional epistemology, Phenomenological or Pure Psychology cannot express itself substantially on the issue of the relation between the appearing and the (supposed) realistic reality somehow ‘supporting’ or ‘underpinning’ this appearing of the phenomena. ….. From the psychological-phenomenological point of view, the appearance of the beings as phenomena happens, of course, above and beyond the stream of living experiences.

            Even Pure Psychology in the phenomenological sense, thematically delimited by the psychological-phenomenological reduction, still is and always will be a positive science: it has the world as its pre-given ground**. The pure psyches and communities of psyches [that it treats] are psyches that belong to bodies-in-nature that are presupposed but also simply left out of consideration. Like every positive science, this Pure [Phenomenological-] Psychology is itself transcendentally problematic. (PTP, 96/248–9)

**Phenomenological Psychology, however, is a science, and since like all the other sciences, it is built and developed on the basis of the ontological prejudices of the natural attitude, it is a positive mathesis that remains in need of transcendental clarification and grounding, as regards the meaning and the truth of its propositions.

In sum, even though the traditional problem regarding the relation between the intentionally psychic is set aside and left unthematized, the physical-realistic still retains a latent overall legitimacy.

What Husserl realizes in The Idea (1907) and systematizes in the Ideas I (1913) is that there might be also an ‘ontological’ dependence of the world on the consciousness that experiences it. Furthermore, this dependence is now recognized as a problem falling within the jurisdiction of general phenomenological problematics. It is recognized that the world does not only appear to consciousness, but it also is, what it fully is, for a consciousness and thanks to a consciousness. This time, moreover, talk of consciousness changes, and Husserl begins to refer to a transcendental consciousness**. These latter transcendental phenomenological findings are made possible in the attitude that is opened up by the transcendental phenomenological reduction.

           ** With the move of the transcendental reduction, a doublication of the ego seems to arise. On the one side, we speak about a psychological ego. On the other side, a transcendental ego is now introduced. Husserl, however, immediately remarks that this is only a seeming doublication. Without entering here into the specific issues of the Husserlian egology (in the original eidetic phenomenological-psychological LI, Husserl does not even acknowledge something like an ego), it suffices at present to say that the psychological ego is the ego as seen from the point of view of the psychological reduction, whereas the transcendental ego is the ego as seen from the point of view of the transcendental reduction.

In Phenomenological Psychology, whatever concerned the realistically existent within or behind the phenomenon*** was—at least at first—naively relegated to the natural sciences and, especially, to Physics. Now, however, it becomes clear that these sciences too want to control a truth that is possible only on the basis of a very specific cognitive attitude, the natural-scientific one, the meaning and the Presuppositions of which have not yet been clarified. This means that these sciences themselves, instead of being allowed to unquestionably raise the pretension to found all other knowledge, appear to be critically exposed to the need for a clarification of the conditions for their own possibility. On pain of transcendental circularity, as Husserl claims, the natural sciences can no longer be blindly and uninterpellatedly trusted to offer the ultimate foundation for what is, and for what we know.

           ***In Husserl’s descriptions of the natural attitude, there is no clear distinction between a general thesis positing the known empirical reality as independently existing (self-subsisting) and another positing some unknown metaphysical reality as existing in itself. Both may be meant in Husserl’s treatment of the ontology of the natural attitude. It seems, though, that the second alternative makes better sense and is better justified as a problem.

Husserl suggests that this problem applies only to the context of a very specific stance, i.e., to the natural attitude, and its general thesis or positing. Thus, in order to look at the problem anew, we have to convert our attitude into something new, in order to lift the impasses and paradoxes to which the general positing regulating the natural attitude leads us.

            The whole pre-discovered world posited in the natural attitude, actually found in experience and taken with perfect “freedom from theories” as it is actually experienced, as it clearly shows itself in the concatenations of experience, is now without validity for us; without being tested and also without being contested, it shall be parenthesized. In like manner all theories and sciences which relate to this world, no matter how well they may be grounded positivistically or otherwise, shall meet the same fate. (Ideas I, 62/66)

Now, in the Ideas I, it is realized that the idea about self-subsistent reality, an actuality that is understood realistically, is a radically unprovable prejudice of the natural attitude. Phenomenology’s motto “zu den Sachen selbst!” ought to be re-adjusted to the new findings, to become more radical. Phenomenology must continue to remain focused on whatever is intuitionally given beyond any speculation, without, however, limiting itself to just the structure of the phenomena and without accepting phenomenologically unfounded prejudices.

The discovery of the general positing that accompanies the natural attitude and its annihilation by the transcendental-phenomenological reduction allows exactly for the meeting of all these requirements.

No longer is only the dependence of the appearance of the world on an internally coherent context of conscious living experiences considered unquestionable. Its ontological dependence on the structure of intentional living experiences is now proved equally unquestionable. Every phenomenological unity, which from the point of view of the psychological ego just appears, is now also actually discovered as being (in this or that way) due to the immanent syntheses or intentionally constituting acts of a transcendental ego. Whatever was previously reluctantly recognized as just a phenomenon of some realistically posited dimension now gets upgraded into the full-fledged—and only thusly being—being: it is self-given in its entire actuality, though disentangled this time from any additional positing (as subsisting in itself). From Transcendental Phenomenology’s point of view, no other reality in itself can be legitimately posited beyond this transcendentally constituted being.

The chasm between psychologically meant phenomenon and realistically interpreted being is no longer just overlooked or methodologically circumvented; it is directly abolished—without losing anything crucial at all.

            From that epistemological point of view, then,] nothing is lost when [realistic] existence is put between brackets. But from an ontological standpoint, there is indeed a loss of extra-mental reality. [:::] [With the transcendental reduction, however,] only a certain interpretation is disconnected [i.e., the one owed to the general positing and dictated by the natural attitude]. Nothing is really lost. Insight into the relative mode of being of the thing eo ipso means an awareness of the absoluteness of [transcendental] consciousness. (De Boer 1978, 430)

Note: See Fink’s equally clear statement that “the transcendental ‘noema’ is the world itself [:::]this being itself” (1970, 124), i.e., the actual world with its beings in their actuality understood as intentional correlate of transcendental consciousness.

After the transcendental reduction, every intentional objectity appears in what it is as a noema, i.e., as a transcendent intentional correlate constituted in a corresponding noesis of transcendental consciousness. If the totality of scientific knowledge that is produced in the positivity of the natural attitude is put between brackets, and if the same is done with the general positing that regulates the natural attitude as a whole, then nothing in itself can be sought, behind or within**** the supposedly ‘mere’ phenomena.
Whatever is given in the one or the other degree of evidence and with the intuitionality appertaining to this or that intentional comportment or act, i.e., whatever is given in a noesis-noema intentional correlation, is fully actual.

****Note: In the psychological reduction, metaphysical reality can just stay in suspension, waiting, as it were, for the possibility of a kind of scientific-realist theoretical insight or theoretical-hypothetical interpretation of its constitution. In the transcendental reduction, metaphysical reality as well as empirical reality is definitely deprived of the meaning “existing in itself;” an ontological meaning like this is no longer legitimate. There is no sense of speaking about a metaphysical reality in itself, and an empirical reality is intentionally constituted in its complete being. There could, however, be some kind of higher-order theoretical hypothesis positing some ‘metaphysically real’ dimension in order to explain the appearances (phenomena). To the extent that such an explanation is successful, it might be said that there is also a higher-order experience with some kind and degree of evidence (even a mediate one) that this is how things ‘at bottom’ are. This theoretically posited and theoretically experienced reality, however, should now also be understood as being transcendentally constituted as an interpretation of what appears as experiential being.

Actuality is a ‘category’ appertaining to the in-person or ‘bodily’ (leibhaftig) givenness of a transcendent correlate—with the pre-predicative givenness of the things in simple sensory experience being most primordial.
Realistic actuality or simply reality, on the other hand, is a ‘category’ owed to the general positing of the natural attitude, and is a side-effect of the way in which natural- or nature-things are given.
What is apprehended as phenomenologically transcendent is also considered as ontologically independent.

            [I]t would not be acceptable for someone to say “there is only absolute [i.e., transcendental] consciousness” as if he or she wanted to say “every other being [Sein] is just something that merely appears [nur ein scheinbares], an unreal semblance [unwirklicher Schein], a fiction.” This would, of course, have been fundamentally false. The nature-objects [in simple perception] are self-evidently true objects; their Being [Sein] is true Being; nature is actuality in the genuine and full sense [of the term]. It is fundamentally false to ascribe to this Being a measure different than that which this category demands and, thus, to somehow discredit it [i.e., nature], because it is “constituted” within [transcendental] consciousness; because it has its roots in [transcendental] consciousness. (Hua XXXVI, 70-1)

The ontological Transcendental Phenomenology thus came to decisively complement the epistemologically oriented LI (and especially the 6th LI). Psychological phenomenological epoché from the judgments regarding the existence or nonexistence of the “external” world, under which the analyses of the LI are conducted, had to be abandoned, in order for Phenomenology to attain the undertaking of its responsibilities vis-à-vis all kinds of Being and all kinds of beings. Hence, what one reads in the Ideas I is a reply with regard to the transcendental conditions that make possible, for the first time, something (this or that) to be, i.e., the conditions securing that there is something (rather than nothing). Only at this point does Phenomenology become the universal Ontology that Husserl explicitly required it to be.



Debating Phenomenological Research Methods

Excerpt, Condensation and ESSENCE of the Article

Phenomenological researchers generally agree that our central concern is to return to embodied, experiential meanings aiming for a fresh, complex, rich description of a phenomenon as it is concretely lived. Yet debates abound when it comes to deciding how best to carry out this phenomenological research in practice. Confusion about how to conduct appropriate phenomenological research makes our field difficult for novices to access. Six particular questions are contested: (1) How tightly or loosely should we define what counts as “phenomenology”? (2) Should we always aim to produce a general (normative) description of the phenomenon, or is idiographic analysis a legitimate aim? (3) To what extent should interpretation be involved in our descriptions? (4) Should we set aside or bring to the foreground researcher subjectivity? (5) Should phenomenology be more science than art? (6) Is phenomenology a modernist or postmodernist project, or neither?

Phenomenology is a meditative philosophy that describes the concreteness of personal lived experience and person-world relations. Phenomenological research methods are responsive to both the phenomenon and the subjective interconnection between the perceiver and the perceived.

What Counts as “Phenomenology”?

Many different research methods and techniques are practiced under the banner of phenomenological research. What are the boundaries, the defining characteristics, of phenomenology? What distinguishes our work from other variants of qualitative research that focus on subjective meanings?

Focusing specifically on psychological phenomenological approaches1, Giorgi (1989) has stated that four core characteristics hold across all variations: The research is rigorously descriptive, uses the phenomenological reductions, explores the intentional relationship between persons and situations, and discloses the essences, or structures, of meaning immanent in human experiences through the use of imaginative variation. Elsewhere Giorgi (1997), more straightforwardly, argues that the phenomenological method encompasses three interlocking steps: (1) phenomenological reduction, (2) description, and (3) search for essences.

There are variations in phenomenological methodology. Some adhere reasonably closely to Giorgi’s framework based on the reduction and imaginative variation while, at the same time, offering their own emphases (e.g., the open lifeworld approach of Dahlberg et al. 2008; van Manen’s, lived experience human science inquiry based on University of Utrecht tradition, 1990; the dialogal approach, Halling et al., 2006; the Dallas approach, Garza 2007; Todres’ embodied lifeworld approach, 2005, 2007; and Ashworth’s, lifeworld approach, 2003, 2006).

There also exist a number of phenomenological methods which focus on rich descriptions of lived experience and meanings, but which do not explicitly use Husserlian techniques such as eidetic variation. Smith’s Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), which has gained considerable purchase in the qualitative psychology field in the United Kingdom, is one such example. Smith argues that his idiographic and inductive method, which seeks to explore participants’ personal lived experiences, is phenomenological in its concern for individuals’ perceptions. He also, however, identifies more strongly with hermeneutic traditions which recognize the central role played by the researcher, and does not advocate the use of bracketing (Smith, 2004).

Linda Finlay: “My own position on this question is that phenomenological research is phenomenological when it involves both rich description of the lifeworld or lived experience, and where the researcher has adopted a special, open phenomenological attitude which, at least initially, refrains from importing external frameworks and sets aside judgements about the realness of the phenomenon. Put another way, I support Husserl’s idea that varying modes of “givenness” can only be unfurled through the reduction and, as Marion (2002) puts it, with more reduction we get more givenness.”

Any research which does not have at its core the description of “the things in their appearing,” focusing on experience as lived, cannot be considered phenomenological.

General Description or Idiographic (‘Individual’) Analysis?

Phenomenologists contest what should be the focus of their research. Many, like Giorgi (following Husserl), seek to throw light on the essential and general structures of a phenomenon.
One version of this approach is to explicitly focus on the lifeworld, which is seen to be a human universal consisting of essential features
A variant of lifeworld research is a reflective and practical focus on lived experience adopted by many in the pedagogic and health care field. Other phenomenologists concentrate on the narratives emerging from data.

With these different approaches, the phenomenon in question varies subtly. For instance, in researching the topic of anxiety, one could explore the lifeworld of a person who is anxious; another could aim to explore the general structure (or essence) of the lived experience of “being anxious”; yet another could explore the stories people tell of their experience of feeling anxious. Underlying these different approaches, with their varying points of focus, are questions that ask to what extent the phenomenology practiced aims to describe the experience in general (i.e., as one shared by many), or is it instead focused on explicating individual experience?

Giorgi (2008) is clear that the purpose of the method he has developed is to clarify the nature of the phenomenon being studied in a more traditional, normative, and scientific sense.
In Giorgi’s method, idiographic analysis may form part of the process of analysis but the eventual aim is to explicate—eidetically—the phenomenon as a whole regardless of the individuals concerned. Idiographic details are thus discarded or typified and generalized.
In contrast, other phenomenologists explicitly seek out idiographic meanings in an attempt to understand the individual which may or may not offer general insights.

Linda Finlay: “For my part, I have also favored an approach with a strong idiographic, narrative element when exploring how particular health conditions may be experienced by individuals. For example, I was interested in explicating how one woman experienced her particular variant of multiple sclerosis (Finlay, 2003), and how another coped with her particular journey related to receiving a cochlear implant.” (Finlay and Molano-Fisher, 2008)

There is also a middle position. Halling (2008) accepts both the particular and general by arguing that idiographic research can also be general in that it may well identify general structures of experience. He suggests that phenomenologists engage three levels of analysis: firstly, they look at particular experience, such as one person’s story of being disillusioned; secondly, they concern themselves with themes common to the phenomenon (for instance, the nature of disillusionment in general); thirdly, they probe philosophical and universal aspects of being human, by asking what is it about our nature and relationships that creates disillusionment. Halling counsels researchers to move back and forth between experience and abstraction—between experience and reflection—at these different levels.

Building on Halling’s formulation, we could say that single cases may offer insight into individual essences (as opposed to typical or universal essences). Husserl (1913/1983) lends support to this position when he says, “Eidetic singularities are essences which necessarily have over them ‘more universal’ essences as their genre, but do not have under them any particularization in relation to which they would themselves be species” (p. 25). Thus, the choice of a single case may provide sufficient access to a phenomenon depending on the epistemological goals of the project, and the rigor of the eidetic approach adopted. If the research aims for generality across the field, then a wider sample representing different aspects is required. Todres and Galvin (2005) provide an example of research which examines the phenomenon of the “caring narrative” both generically (thematically) and idiographically.

Description or Interpretation?

Phenomenological research characteristically starts with concrete descriptions of lived situations, often first-person accounts, set down in everyday language and avoiding abstract intellectual generalizations. The researcher proceeds by reflectively analyzing these descriptions, perhaps idiographically first, then by offering a synthesized account, for example, identifying general themes about the essence of the phenomenon. Importantly, the phenomenological researcher aims to go beyond surface expressions or explicit meanings to read between the lines so as to access implicit dimensions and intuitions. It is this process of “reading between the lines” which has generated uncertainty. To what extent does this approach involve going beyond what the person has said and enter the realm of interpretation?

While all phenomenology is descriptive in the sense of aiming to describe rather than explain, a number of scholars and researchers distinguish between descriptive phenomenology versus interpretive, or hermeneutic, phenomenology.
With descriptive (i.e., Husserl-inspired) phenomenology, researchers aim to reveal essential general meaning structures of a phenomenon. They stay close to what is given to them in all its richness and complexity, and restrict themselves to “making assertions which are supported by appropriate intuitive validations”

Interpretive phenomenology, in contrast, has emerged from the work of hermeneutic philosophers, including Heidegger, Gadamer, and Ricoeur, who argue for our embeddedness in the world of language and social relationships, and the inescapable historicity of all understanding. “The meaning of phenomenological description as a method lies in interpretation,” says Heidegger. Interpretation is not an additional procedure: It constitutes an inevitable and basic structure of our “being-in-the- world”. We experience a thing as something that has already been interpreted.

The division between these descriptive and interpretive variants of phenomenology finds reflection in research. Giorgi, a proponent of a thorough, descriptive Husserlian method, provided the impetus for what became known as the Duquesne approach or tradition.
Others have embraced more explicitly hermeneutic versions, including the existential, hermeneutic approaches of the Dallas School; the open lifeworld approach of Dahlberg et al.; the dialogal approach of Halling and his colleagues; the embodied enquiry approach of Todres; and the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis in use by Smith and his colleagues.

Some scholars prefer to see description and interpretation as a continuum where specific work may be more or less interpretive. Langdridge notes that in practice there are no hard and fast boundaries between description and interpretation, as “such boundaries would be antithetical to the spirit of the phenomenological tradition that prizes individuality and creativity” (Langdridge, 2008, p. 1131).

Researcher Subjectivity

Phenomenologists all accept that researcher subjectivity is inevitably implicated in research—indeed, some would say it is precisely the realization of the intersubjective interconnectedness between researcher and researched that characterizes phenomenology. The question at stake is to what extent, and how, researcher subjectivity should be marshalled in phenomenological research. As Giorgi (1994) has firmly stated, “nothing can be accomplished without subjectivity, so its elimination is not the solution. Rather how the subject is present is what matters, and objectivity itself is an achievement of subjectivity” . Phenomenologists also concur about the need for researchers to engage a “phenomenological attitude.” Using this attitude, the researcher strives to be open to the “other” and to attempt to see the world freshly, in a different way. The process has been described variously as disciplined naïveté, bridled dwelling, disinterested attentiveness, and/or the process of retaining an empathic wonderment in the face of the world (Finlay, 2008).

While phenomenologists agree about the need for an open attitude, there remains debate as to whether or not it is necessary to engage the reduction and, if so, what it involves.

Some phenomenologists emphasize the reduction as a process of rendering oneself as noninfluential and neutral as possible. Here researchers aim to “bracket” their previous understandings, past knowledge, and assumptions about the phenomenon so as to focus on the phenomenon in its appearing. ……. In fact, bracketing involves a process whereby “one simply refrains from positing altogether; one looks at the data with the attitude of relative openness” (Giorgi, 1994, p. 212).
More specifically, Ashworth (1996) suggests that at least three particular areas of presupposition need to be set aside: (1) scientific theories, knowledge and explanation; (2) truth or falsity of claims being made by the participant; and (3) personal views and experiences of the researcher which would cloud descriptions of the phenomenon itself. Importantly, this “setting aside” is carried out throughout the research process and is not just a first step.

Other researchers—particularly those of hermeneutic sensibility—would deny it is possible, or even desirable, to set aside or bracket researchers’ experience and understandings. They argue instead that researchers need to come to an awareness of their preexisting beliefs, which then makes it possible to examine and question them in light of new evidence (Halling et al., 2006). Researchers need to bring a “critical self-awareness of their own subjectivity, vested interests, predilections and assumptions and to be conscious of how these might impact on the research process and findings” (Finlay, 2008, p. 17). Researchers’ subjectivity should, therefore, be placed in the foreground so as to begin the process of separating out what belongs to the researcher rather than the researched. Colaizzi (1973), for example, argues that researcher self-reflection constitutes an important step of the research process, and that preconceived biases and presuppositions need to be brought into awareness to separate them out from participants’ descriptions. Gadamer (1975) describes this process in terms of being open to the other while recognizing biases. According to him, knowledge in the human sciences always involves some self-knowledge.

Science or Art?

All phenomenologists agree on the need to study human beings in human terms. They therefore reject positivist, natural science methods in favor of a qualitative human science approach. As a human science, phenomenology aims to be systematic, methodical, general, and critical (Giorgi, 1997). At the same time, phenomenology also pursues the intertwining of science with art, the imparting of a “poetic sensibility” to the scientific enterprise. In this sense, science blends with the stylistic realms of the humanities. Where phenomenologists disagree, is about how much weight should be accorded to scientific versus artistic elements.

While Giorgi supports the need to have a “certain openness and flexibility” (2008a, p. 42) when it comes to applying his method, he insists that criteria associated with scientific rigor need to be completely respected. Any discerned meanings that come out of the research need to be seen as based on data and achieved through a systematic process of free imaginative variation which allows a kind of internal validity check10. A rigorous application of this eidetic variation involves freely changing aspects of the phenomenon in order to distinguish essential features from particular or incidental ones. Other phenomenologists recommend engaging modes beyond the scientific—art, literary prose, and poetry. They seek methods that retain their concrete, mooded, sensed, imaginative, and embodied nature. Todres, for example, recommends balancing textural and structural forms as part of communicating the aesthetic dimensions of human experience (Todres, 2000, 2007).

Embracing the Utrecht School tradition, van Manen (1990, 2007) advocates the writing up of phenomenological research as including, ideally, an artistic dimension to “stir our pedagogical, psychological or professional sensibilities”

Linda Finlay: “Sometimes, researcher arguments are best presented by emphasizing the systematic nature of research methods applied and the scientific credentials of the research. At other times, the research may be more memorable when creatively presented.” As Behar (1996 as cited in Bochner 2001) once said in reference to anthropology, research which “doesn’t break your heart just isn’t worth doing anymore” (p. 143). A phenomenological text is most successful when readers feel addressed by it (van Manen, 2007).

Modern or Postmodern Paradigms?

Phenomenology is sometimes linked to a modernist agenda (Moran, 2000). Some would argue that it offers an inductive methodology to explore human subjectivity systematically in terms of what individuals are really feeling and experiencing. “The main function of a phenomenological description is to serve as a reliable guide to the listener’s own actual or potential experience of the phenomena” (Spiegelberg, 1982, p. 694). Here, phenomena are seen to be made up of essences and essential structures which can be identified and described if studied carefully and rigorously enough. In such characterizations, phenomenology can be seen as tending towards being a realist, modernist project where there is a belief in a knowable world with universal properties (at least in some senses), and the aim is to examine the “real world out there.”

Others would deny such a simplistic and static view of the phenomenological project. For one thing, attributing fixed immutable properties to human phenomenon is antithetical to the phenomenological project. ….. Also, phenomenological philosophy originally arose, at least in part, in critique of the effects of modern natural human scientific outlook on human beings.11 If modernism is aligned to a worldview of an ordered universe ruled by mathematical laws which can eventually be uncovered by science (Polkinghorne, 1992), then phenomenology might be better described as postmodern. In this context, many phenomenologists favor an approach which forgoes any search of true fixed meanings, recognizing that truth is a matter of perspective. Instead, they embrace ambiguity, paradox, descriptive nuance, and a more relational unfolding of meanings (Merleau-Ponty, 1968). They recognize the relative, intersubjective, fluid nature of knowledge. They argue that researcher and participant cocreate the research; that subject-object/self-other are intertwined in intergivenness (Marion, 2002).12 In such a paradigm, also, the phenomenological researcher’s epistemological authority is disrupted.

The argument about whether phenomenology is a modernist or postmodernist project largely rests on how one defines these concepts (Kvale, 1992). If postmodernism is seen as a perspective that avoids privileging any one authority or method, and denies that any one approach has a clear window on subjectivity/human experience, then many phenomenologists would feel comfortable with this position. In fact, it could said that even Husserl’s early work laid the foundations of the postmodern movement by highlighting varying modes of givenness and relativity of appearances (Rodemeyer, 2008). Here, relativity of understanding is stressed instead of relativism as such (Churchill, 2002).

For some, however, postmodernism involves the dissolution of the autonomous, rational subject: the “self is anesthetized” (Mills, 2005, p. 166). Postmodernism is also associated largely with the poststructural, relativist, deconstructive turn where language is seen as an unstable system of referents, thus making it impossible to adequately capture meanings of social actions or texts leading to messy, critical, reflexive, intertextual representations.


Researchers entering the phenomenological field have to decide for themselves where they stand on questions concerning what paradigm phenomenologists embrace, what their research means, and to what extent interpretation can be involved in the basic descriptive project. They need to work out whether they are seeking normative or idiographic understandings, how to manage researcher subjectivity, and whether phenomenology should be treated as a science, an art, or both.



A Summary of Husserl's Ideas: General Introduction To Pure Phenomenology

Principal Ideas Advanced

Natural sciences are, by nature, dogmatic; the phenomenologist must undertake a critical study of the conditions under which knowledge is possible.
To distinguish within experience that which experience from that which is experienced, one must suspend natural beliefs; this suspension of belief is made possible by a method of bracketing by which we talk not about trees and selves as items external to experience but of the “tree” and the “perceptions” of experience.
Noema, that which is perceived, is dependent upon noesis, the perceiving; but noema has the kind of being peculiar to essences.
The absolute forms or essences which owe their actuality in consciousness to acts of perceiving are Eideia, eternal possibilities of quality, related to other Eideia by external relations.


The term “Phenomenology”, as it is used by Husserl (1859-1938) and his disciples, designates first of all a principle of philosophical and scientific method. The usual method of natural science proceeds from a body of accepted truth and seeks to extend its conquest of the unknown by putting questions to nature and compelling it to answer.
The phenomenological method adopts a softer approach. Setting aside all presuppositions and suppressing hypotheses, it seeks to devise techniques of observation, description, classification which permit it to disclose structures and connections in nature which do not yield to experimental techniques. It has been widely fruitful in psychology and social sciences, as well as in epistemology and value-theory.

Husserl, in his (1900-1901), did much to advance general phenomenological studies. But he had in view a specifically philosophical application of the technique which many of his associates did not completely grasp, or failed to share. Ideas was written with a view to clearing up the distinction between phenomenological psychology, which he regarded as a legitimate, but secondary, science, and phenomenological philosophy, which, he was prepared to maintain, is the foundation of all science. When a sociologist or psychologist conducts a phenomenological investigation, he puts aside all the usual theories and assumptions which have governed research in that field: but he cannot rid himself of all presuppositions (such as, for example, the belief in the existence of the external world, the constancy of nature). As Plato saw, every science must proceed upon some assumptions – except philosophy. To fulfill its promise, the phenomenological approach must bring us at last to an absolutely presupposition-less science. Pure phenomenology, or phenomenological philosophy, is, in Husserl’s opinion, precisely that. (It has long been the aspiration of philosophers to make their science an absolute one, one that rids itself of all presuppositions and stands with open countenance before pure Being. Husserl stands in this tradition).

Phenomenology is not to be confused with “phenomenalism”, a name sometimes given to extreme forms of empiricism, such as that of Ernst Mach, which maintains that nothing is real except sense data. In fact, this is one of the misconceptions which phenomenology is designed to overcome.
If the empiricists are right, the unity and order which we are accustomed to find in the world are not given in experience but put there by the activity of the mind. ……. …….
Husserl argued, however, that the empiricists were wrong, that …… …they have misconceived the task of psychology in supposing that it can discover in the mind laws which give rise to the meaning of the world, and that it is incumbent upon us to set about developing new accounts of logic, knowledge-theory, aesthetics, and ethics which stand on their own evidence. In place of psychologism what is needed, if justice is to be done to experience, is phenomenology (science of phenomena, or appearance).

Husserl takes his place, then, in the forefront of those twentieth century philosophers who have sought to reaffirm the autonomy of various philosophical disciplines over against psychology. He was equally concerned to turn back the tide of the popular scientific view of the world which he called naturalism. The particular sciences, by nature, are dogmatic. That is to say, they proceed without examining the conditions under which knowledge is possible. This is not to be held against them. But when anyone attempts to build a natural philosophy on the findings of the sciences, his uncritical procedure opens the way to scepticism, because the categories in terms of which we grasp natural events are unsuited to take account of conscious events, including the pursuit of scientific truth. It seems innocent enough to establish consciousness in terms of natural causes until we recollect that matter and the laws which govern its behavior are themselves part of our experience. This, according to Husserl, is the point at which the philosopher must step in. His primary task, in fact, will be to distinguish within experience the part that experiences from the part that is experienced.

There are many overtones of Descartes in Husserl’s writings. The former philosopher, in order to escape from the ambiguities and uncertainties of our ordinary, natural experience, developed a method of doubting. By bringing under question the whole phenomenal world, he laid bare a world of logical forms which he could not doubt. Husserl adopts a similar method. He talks of “suspending” our natural beliefs, including the fundamental conviction of every healthy mind that there is a world “out there”, that there are other selves, and so on. We are asked to “alter” this natural standpoint, to “disconnect” our beliefs about causation and motion, to “put them out of action”. This is, of course, only a methodological procedure, in order to help us overcome our animal bias and make it possible for us to take a coolly intellectual view of things. Greek philosophy used the term epochē to indicate the suspense of judgment. Husserl presses this term into his service.

To make his meaning clear, he uses the example of looking with pleasure into a garden where an apple tree is blossoming. From the natural standpoint, the tree is something that has transcendent reality in space and time, and the joy of perceiving it has reality in the psyche of a human being. But Descartes has reminded us that perceptions are sometimes hallucinations. We pass, therefore, from the natural to the phenomenological standpoint, bracketing the claims of both the knower and the known to natural being. This leaves us with “a nexus of exotic experiences of perception and pleasure valuation”. We can now speak of the content and structure of the situation without any reference to external existence. Nothing is really taken away from the experience, but it is all there in a new manner. In order to indicate this, the use of quotation marks is helpful. We can now speak of “tree”, “plant”, “material thing”, “blossoming”, “white”, “sweet”, and so forth, and be sure that we are talking only about things that belong to the essence of our experience. Similarly, at the opposites pole, we can distinguish “perceiving”, attending”, “enjoying”, and other ego-acts. These each have their special characters, and repay analysis.

Husserl was at one time a student of Franz Brentano (1838-1917), who had said that what distinguishes mental acts from non-mental acts is that the former invariably refer to something other than themselves. Drawing from the scholastics, he said that they are “intentional”. Husserl makes constant use of this discovery. To designate the ego-acts, which are not limited to cognition but include as well various attitudes such as doubting and supposing, as well as volitions and feelings, he uses the Greek word noesis (literally, a perceiving). To designate the corresponding objects, for instance, “tree”, “fruitful”, “charming”, he uses the corresponding word noema (literally, that which is perceived). An important part of the analysis of consciousness consists in tracing the relation between these. In each case, the noesis is real and fundamental, but noema is dependent and, strictly speaking, unreal.
In our example, “the perceiving of the tree” is actual and constitutive of “the tree perceived”. But conversely, though it does not have reality, noema has being, which is lacking to noesis: that is to say, it is composed entirely of essences, which are eternally what they are and stand in necessary or a priori relations with each other. The same thing is true of volition and other modes.
“The valuing of the tree” is a noesis. It has the same reality as “the perceiving of the tree”. Correspondingly, “the value of the tree” is a noema. It does not have reality, but it has the same kind of essential being as the structure and properties have which make up the object of cognition. The value-characters likewise take their place in an a priori system together with other values.

As long as our interest, as philosophers, is directed primarily toward the life of the mind, we shall be chiefly interested in exploring the various noeses.
Husserl’s delineation of these is subtle and perceptive, and goes a long way toward persuading the reader of the necessity of this descriptive groundwork, although as is sometimes true of the drawings of a microscopist we may have difficulty in recognizing in it the familiar features of the mind.
His account of “meaning”, for example, should be studied by those who are interested in semantics, and his analysis of “sentiment” and “volition” provides an instructive approach to the question of the relation between emotions and values.
One thing is common to all noeses, according to Husserl” all are at bottom thetic, or postulational; Husserl speaks of them as doxa (Plato’s word for “opinion”). This does not imply that some of our noeses are not characterized by “certainty”, just as others are characterized by a “sense of likelihood” or “doubt”. But in any case, it is what we commonly call a “moral certainty”. The conviction is a mode of the perceiving” rather than a function of anything lying in the “perceived”.

But in the present work Husserl does not consider mental acts per se.He studies them because they provide the key to the various grades and types of objects which make up the noemata; for, corresponding to “perception” there is the realm of “colors”, “shapes”, and “size”; and corresponding to “perceptual enjoyment” there are “dainty” ink and “gloriously” scented. These qualities owe their actuality in consciousness to the noeses; but they are part of an order of being which is absolute and independent.
Husserl calls all such absolute forms or essences Eideia, to avoid the ambiguities of such words as Idea and Essences. They are eternal possibilities, each perfectly definite and distinct from every other, but also linked with every other in a system of eternal relations. Thus, “pink”, “white”, “green” are species under the genus “color”; and “color” itself stands in a hierarchy of perceptual “qualities”. A similar hierarchical structure embraces the noema of value.

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In the present volume, as is proper in an introduction, Husserl is able only to indicate the direction which the investigation must take. And one must look to his other works, and those of his disciples, to see tha analyses carried out in detail. While Husserl worked chiefly in the field of epistemology, his disciples carried the method into axiology and philosophical anthropology (Max Scheler), aesthetics (Theodor Lipps), sociology (Karl Mannheim), and ethics (Nicolai Hartmann), not to mention the “existentialism” of Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. For the ordinary reader, these developments are more interesting and fruitful than pure phenomenology. But that is because it is difficult for most people to exercise themselves about the sheer possibility of knowledge. Husserl’s significance, as a philosopher, is that, like Descartes and Kant, he appeared at a time when the foundations of science were themselves threatened, and irrationalism, skepticism, and nihilism threatened the very nerve of Western civilization. He sought to revive knowledge, to make possible once again a rational view of the world and of the human enterprise. He was conscious of being the continuer of a long tradition, and with some reluctance admitted to falling under the classification of idealist. He most resembles Kant, and his work can be summed up as the search for transcendental conditions which make “meaning” (scientific, ethical, aesthetic, religious) possible.

Husserl's Ideas for a Pure Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy (1913) is one of the key texts of twentieth century philosophy. It is the first of Husserl's published works to present his distinctive version of transcendental philosophy and to put forward the ambitious claim that phenomenology is the fundamental science of philosophy. In Ideas, Husserl introduces for the first time the conceptual arsenal of his mature phenomenology: the principle of all principles, the phenomenological epoché and reduction, pure consciousness, and the noema. All these difficult notions have been influential and controversial in subsequent philosophy, both analytic and Continental. In this commentary, thirteen leading scholars of Husserlian phenomenology set out to clarify and defend Husserl's views, connecting them to the vast corpus of his published and unpublished writings, and discussing the main available interpretations in the existing scholarship. The result is a detailed and comprehensive account of the most original form of transcendental philosophy since Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.



As mentioned, for Brentano intentionality indicates the central property of every mental phenomenon in reference to its content: conscious acts “intend” extra-mental objects. In Brentano’s Psychology from Empirical Standpoint the author explains his viewpoint with the following words:

Every mental phenomenon is characterized by what the Scholastics of the Middle Ages called the intentional (or mental) inexistence of an object, and what we might call, though not wholly unambiguously, reference to a content, direction toward an object (which is not to be understood here as meaning a thing), or immanent objectivity. Every mental phenomenon includes something as object within itself, although they do not do so in the same way. In presentation, something is presented, in judgment something is affirmed or denied, in love loved, in hate hated, in desire desired and so on. (1973, p. 101)



An Introduction of Husserl's The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology

Husserl's 'The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology
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Husserl's 'The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, An Introduction' by Dermot Moran
Husserl's 'The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, An Introduction' by Dermot Moran
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PREFACE pp 3-4
Phenomenology may be characterized broadly as the descriptive science of consciously lived experiences and the objects of those experiences, described precisely in the manner in which they are experienced.

Husserl’s understanding of phenomenology evolved and changed over his life, and the Crisis represents the mature expression of his transcendental phenomenology. Initially, he focused on individual processes of consciousness—perception, imagination, memory, timeconsciousness, and so on—understood as ‘lived experiences’ (Erlebnisse), mental episodes.
But gradually he came to recognize the need to address the manner in which the flowing, connected stream of conscious experiences is unified into a life, centred around an ego but interconnected with other egos in a communal life of what Husserl calls broadly ‘intersubjectivity’, leading, finally, to the shared experience of a world as a whole (primarily experienced as the familiar ‘life-world’). This turn to the ego especially, led Husserl’s phenomenology in a transcendental direction (and Descartes is for Husserl the father of transcendental philosophy). The Crisis revolutionized phenomenology with its introduction of the life-world understood as the historical world.

Husserl had a deep fear that his phenomenology had been misunderstood. In his draft Introduction, Husserl fears that his labours in the development of phenomenology are in danger of being discarded as irrelevant and outmoded especially with the growing interest in life-philosophy, existentialism and what Husserl broadly characterizes as ‘irrationalism’ in philosophy. Husserl’s urgent tone reflects not just his own sense of impending mortality, his need to critically assess his own achievement, but also the need to confront the intellectual crisis shaking Europe at a time--the mid 1930s--when the Nazification process was in full swing in Germany. Husserl had the strong sense that the whole scientific culture of Europe was being threatened and undermined by a descent into irrationalism. Husserl outlines the dangers confronting European culture and the intellectual confusions lying at the very heart of the positive sciences that appear, on the surface, to be so successful. Indeed, the Crisis is-a decade before Heidegger’s famous critique of humanist ideals in ‘Letter on “Humanism”’ (1947)10--a profound critical interrogation and reflection on the meaning of humanity and on the humanist ideals of the Enlightenment.

PREFACE pp 5-8
Husserl begins the Crisisby announcing a ‘crisis’ not just in the extraordinarily successful natural sciences but in the ‘total meaningfulness’ of cultural life (C 12). …
The move towards naturalism in modern philosophy mirrors the scientific embrace of naturalism and objectivism, with a consequent loss of a way of understanding values and indeed a complete misunderstanding of the ‘enigma of subjectivity’. …

Husserl’s extended meditation on the development and current predicament of modern science and modern philosophy includes a critical evaluation of the circumstances that give birth to the (then relatively new) science of psychology. Husserl is concerned to show that empirical psychology is a failed science since it fundamentally misunderstands the true nature of subjectivity, due to its acceptance of the fundamental split between objectivity and subjectivity brought about by modern science and further installed into the heart of modern philosophy by Descartes and his successors. For Husserl, the crisis of psychology (with its retarded development and methodological difficulties, C 4; K 2), is emblematic of the crisis facing the cultural sciences as a whole; these sciences have a distorted conception of subjectivity which is threatening their very meaningfulness as sciences. He therefore embarks on an intensive investigation of the meaning of human cultural interpenetration with the world, the world of living experience, what he calls the ‘life-world’ (Lebenswelt),as a way of re-orienting and grounding both the natural and the human sciences. …..
The life-world, as Husserl characterizes it, is the world of the pre-given, familiar, present, available surrounding world, including both ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ (however they may be defined), that envelops us and is always there as taken for granted. The life-world also provides a set of horizons for all human activity. The life-world is, in Husserl’s terms, the ‘fundament’ for all human meaning and purposive activity.

Although he is fascinated by the idea of the evolving human historical and cultural world (which has been the object of the particular sciences for millennia), in fact, in the Crisis, he is not specifically interested in the life-world for its own sake (what he would regard as a ‘naïve’ science of the life-world) but rather to meditate on the life-world as both support and counterpoint to the world of science as a way to understanding transcendental phenomenology. Husserl wants to understand the life-world in terms of the manner it provides cooperating subjects with the background and horizons necessary for the whole accomplishment of the objective world.

In the Crisis, Husserl makes a number of bold and interrelated claims:
1. There is a crisis of foundations in exact sciences
2. there is a crisis brought on by the positivity of the sciences
3. there is a crisis in the human sciences since they model themselves on the exact sciences
4. there is an explicit crisis in psychology, the supposed science of human spirit
5. There is a crisis in contemporary culture (‘a radical life-crisis of European humanity’)
6. There is a crisis in philosophy (traditionally understood as the discipline which addressed the crisis in the sciences and in life)

All these crises are interlinked and they have, according to Husserl, a common solution: transcendental phenomenology with its secure and grounded clarification of the concept of subjectivity offers a way out of these crises. ….

The overall crisis, for Husserl, then, is the failure of European rationality, despite the enormous advances of the sciences in the technological domination of the world and in the technical organization of society, to have supplied a cure for social and psychic illness of the time, because of the crucial neglect of the subjective contribution to the experience of the world. Thus, in his 1935 ‘Vienna Lecture’, he … wonders why there has been no scientific medicine for cultural ailments. Phenomenology will provide that cultural medicine for our time.

PREFACE pp 15-16
According to Husserl in the Crisis, phenomenology is the final evolution of modern philosophy in its transcendental turn. It aims at a comprehensive account of what he calls the a priori correlation between objectivity and subjectivity.
As he recounts at several points in the Crisis (i.e. §41, §46 and §48), this a priori correlation presented itself to Husserl as a new insight around 1898:
            The correlation between world (the world of which we always speak) and its subjective manners of givenness never evoked philosophical wonder (that is, prior to the first breakthrough of “transcendental phenomenology” in the Logical Investigations), in spite of the fact that it had made itself felt even in pre-Socratic philosophy and among the Sophists—though here only as a motive for skeptical argument. This correlation never aroused a philosophical interest of its own which could have made it the object of an appropriate scientific attitude. (C 165; K 168)

According to this a priori correlation, the manner in which entities in the world present themselves is always related to the subjective way of apprehending these entities. Thus the properties of the seen object has to be understood as related to the subjective act of visual perception, and so on. As Husserl puts it in his 1917 Inaugural Address to Freiburg University:
            To every object there correspond an ideally closed system of truths that are true of it and, on the other hand, an ideal system of possible cognitive processes by virtue of which the object and the truths about it would be given to any cognitive subject.

This correlation is uncovered through a specific kind of reflection. In his Amsterdam Lectures given in 1928, shortly before he delivered the Paris lectures of February 1929 that formed the basis of the Cartesian Meditations, Husserl gives an illuminating description of how he means to proceed in phenomenological reflection:

We will refrain from any traditional prejudgments, even the most universally obvious ones of traditional logic, which already have perhaps taken from Nature unnoticed elements of meaning. We will hold ourselves resolutely to what phenomenological reflection presents to us as consciousness and object of consciousness, and purely to what comes to actual, evident self-givenness. In other words, we will interrogate exclusively the phenomenological experience, clearly and quite concretely thinking into a reflective experience of consciousness, without interest in determining concretely occurring facts. Such [phenomenological] experience does not have the individual experience [in view], but the form most immediate to all as Self-Experience. …