Edmund Husserl was born in what is now the Czech Republic
on 8 April 1859.
His family was Jewish, yet secular. Like Kafka,
Husserl was more “German” than Jewish until World War II made it impossible
to ignore Jewish heritage.
Husserl studied at the University of Leipzig from 1876
to 1878 and the University of Berlin from 1878 to until 1881. His education
and cultural background were definitely “German” in most ways. Husserl
decided to leave Germany in 1881 to complete his studies at the University
During the period from 1884 through 1887, Husserl attended
the lectures of Franz Brentano. Under the mentorship of Brentano, Husserl
came to view philosophy as complementary to science. Husserl became concerned
with linking mathematics and philosophy.
Husserl’s first text, The Philosophy of Arithmetic,
was published in 1891 with a dedication to Brentano.
In 1916, Husserl lost a son to World War I.
The rise of the National Socialists in Germany caused
Husserl to break with his student Martin Heidegger.
Husserl died on 26 April 1938.
Husserl’s writings and lectures greatly affected the
path of existentialism.
The works of Husserl form a slowly declining series: as the fruitful
analyses diminish, the metaphysical generalities increase. The
Logical Investigations, with its fine studies of Meaning, Intentionality,
and Knowledge, is undoubtedly one of the greatest of philosophical masterpieces;
in the later works there is much, but not so much, to admire. But the
influence of Husserl’s thought increased as its philosophical importance
declined: hence the strange drop from Phenomenology to Existentialism.
- Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy & Philosophers;
entry by J. N. Findlay, pp. 144-5
There is a thin, blurred line separating phenomenology
and existentialism. Edmund Husserl was the leading thinker in the Phenomenological
Movement, influencing most future existentialists either directly or indirectly.
Husserl’s phenomenology was a descriptive analysis of subjective processes.
He described it as the intuitive study of essences.
According to Husserl, the goal of philosophy was to describe
the data of consciousness without bias or prejudice, ignoring all metaphysical
and scientific theories in order to accurately describe and analyze the
data gathered by human senses and the mind. The students of Husserl summarized
phenomenology as the study of “the things themselves.”
The pursuit of essences was to be accomplished
in phenomenology via three techniques: phenomenological reduction, eidetic
reduction, and cognition analysis.
Phenomenological reduction, according
to Husserl’s teachings, is the exclusion from consideration of everything
which is transcendent and anything else derived via scientific or logical
inference. A phenomenologist would consider only what was immediately presented
to consciousness. This is familiar to students of Jean-Paul
Sartre, who suggested what you know of a person or item is all that
you can evaluate. An object, even a person, is only what one sees and experiences
of that object. The rest, Husserl suggested, was “bracketed out” from judgment.
Husserl referred to this suspension of judgment as epoché.
As an example, via this theory, a color seen by one individual
is known only to and by that one person. Measuring it scientifically, comparing
to other colors, et cetera, do not truly change that what the individual
sees is the only thing consciousness comprehends. The color experienced
is the “pure phenomena”, the scientific data are held in suspension,
or epoché. Only the phenomenological knowledge is certain, and then only
to the individual.
Husserl, like other saints, fell a victim to his own ecstasy: he was
unable to come out of this transcendental suspension. The harmless “bracketing”
of commonsense realities became the metaphysical thesis that they can
have none but an “intentional” existence in and for consciousness. Husserl
does not see that we cannot suspend a belief if the belief suspended
- Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy; Findlay,
Eidetic reduction is the abstraction
of essences. The essence abstracted via eidetic reduction is the intelligible
structure of the phenomena found in consciousness. The goal is to find
the basic components of a phenomena. For example, a chair might include
the color, the materials used, and the shapes present in the structure.
We apply basic, Platonic forms to all phenomena, according to Husserl.
These basics allow us to communicate and describe a phenomena with some
accuracy, though this lessens the original phenomena in some manner.
Returning to the example of color, one knows there are
component colors. If one thinks to much about the mixture of colors, the
color viewed is devalued. Green is green, according to Husserl, not a mixture
of blue and yellow subtractives. The scientific knowledge of color is the
universal form: there are agreed upon mathematical representations of color.
Still, color is a personal and subjective phenomena, further complicated
by differences in human senses, such as color blindness.
Cognition analysis is the detailed comparison
between the phenomena as presented in consciousness and the universal form
of the phenomena. We, as humans, struggle to align our experience of color
with our scientific knowledge of color. Phenomenology attempts to reconcile
what humans experience with what humans suppose know via theory. There
is a distinction between the phenomenon as experienced and the cognition;
Husserl compared appearance to that which appears.
Husserl’s Triad: Ego, Cogito, Cogitata
What a phenomenologists considers important is that which
can be experienced via the human senses. After reduction and abstraction,
what remains is what an individual knows, regardless of the scientific
or transcendental data. After removing the transcendental and the scientific,
what remains is the Phenomenological Residue of the phenomena.
This residue exists in three forms: ego, cogito, and cogitata.
Phenomenological Ego is the stream of
consciousness in which one acquires meaning and reality from the surrounding
environment. Husserl considered it a great mystery and wonder that a group
of beings was aware of their existence, in effect human consciousness is
the phenomenological result of introspection. By observing that “I can
touch and see my being,” we recognize that we exist. The science proving
we exist is not of value to human consciousness. The ego is always present,
or nothing exists for the individual.
Cogito or cogitations comprise all the
acts of consciousness, including doubting, understanding, affirming, denying,
et cetera. The ego exists only as a result of these cogitations and these
cogitations continue only as long as we are self-aware.
Cogitata are the subjects of thought
or objects of consideration. One cannot deny or understand nothing — something
must be under consideration for thought to occur. In the presence of nothing,
there is no person, no individual.
“Everything which is and has reality for me, that is,
for man, exists only in my own consciousness,” Husserl stated. According
to Husserl, through reduction, the Phenomenological Ego can become and
observer of itself, aware of itself, and self-conscious. Since we gain
knowledge via this ego, we learn about the ego as we learn about the environment
Humans presuppose that other egos exist. We assume that
other humans are self-aware, with no proof of this since we cannot observe
the thoughts of others — only their actions. Husserl sought a “community
of selves” in which all were aware of each other. “I experience the world
not as my own private world, but as an intersubjective world.”
Since we learn about the world through observing external
phenomena, and that is how we learn about ourselves, we in effect must
learn about ourselves through others. Consider that you need a mirror to
see yourself, you have no internal self-knowledge of your facial features.
Likewise, you can only observe the results of your emotions and thoughts
through the responses of other humans.
The Lebenswelt is the life-world one can view
and experience. It cannot be understood via science, which limits it to
mathematical formulas and chemical equations. It is one thing to know that
water is two hydrogen and one oxygen molecule, it is another to see, feel,
and taste water. Cognition analysis allows us to reconcile the scientific
with the observed, but we only perform this analysis on demand — it is
not an ongoing process. If it were, according to Husserl, the world would
lose meaning. This theory was expanded upon by Maurice
The Philisophy of Arithmetic (1891)
Gottlob Frege was critical of Philosophy of Arithmetic,
accusing Husserl of relying too much on the metaphysical and not enough
on the logical aspects of mathematics. As the recognized founder of mathematical
logic, Frege’s criticisms of Husserl nearly doomed the young mathematician’s
career as a professor. Husserl’s Logical Investigations secured
his reputation ten years later, but Frege and others never accepted Husserl
as a practioner of true logic.
I am still searching for a complete biography of Husserl, and there is
little available in the way of basic introductions to his works in English.
Also, I admit that I am working my way slowly through my reading lists
until I reach Husserl.
Husserl, Edmund; The Crisis of European Sciences
and Transcendental Phenomenology; an Introduction to Phenomenological
Philosophy (Evanston, Ill.:
Northwestern University Press, 1970)
Smith, David Woodruff; Husserl (London: Routledge,
Velarde-Mayol, Victor; On
Husserl (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2000) ISBN: 0-534-57610-9