Edmund Husserl

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Edmund Husserl

Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl, (April 8, 1859 - April 26, 1938), philosopher, was born into a Jewish family in Prostějov (Prossnitz), Moravia, Czech Republic (then part of the Austrian Empire). He is known as the "father" of phenomenology. He was a pupil of Franz Brentano and Carl Stumpf. Among others, he would influence Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. (Hermann Weyl's interest in intuitionistic logic and impredicativity also seems to have been as a result of contact with Husserl.) In 1887 he converted to Christianity and joined the Lutheran Church. He taught philosophy at Halle as a tutor (Privatdozent) from 1887, then at Göttingen as professor from 1901, and at Freiburg im Breisgau from 1916 until he retired in 1928. Following "retirement," he used the library at Freiburg to continue his researches and writing. He died at Freiburg on April 26, 1938.

Life and works

Husserl's studies and early works

Husserl initially studied mathematics at the universities of Leipzig (1876) and Berlin (1878) with the then famous professors Karl Weierstrass and Leopold Kronecker. In 1881 he went to Vienna to study under the supervision of Leo Königsberger (a former student of Weierstrass) and obtained his doctors degree in 1883 with the work Beiträge zur Variationsrechnung (Contributions to the Calculus of Variations).

Only in 1884 in Vienna he started following lectures by Franz Brentano on psychology and philosophy. Brentano impressed him so much that he decided to dedicate his life to philosophy. Husserl studied briefly with him and then in 1886 went to the university of Halle to obtain his habilitation with Carl Stumpf, a former student of Brentano. Under his supervision he wrote Über den Begriff der Zahl (On the concept of Number; 1887) which would serve later as the base for his first major work the Philosophie der Arithmetik (Philosophy of Arithmetic; 1891).

In these first works he tries to combine mathematics, psychology and philosophy with as main goal to provide a sound foundation for mathematics. He analyses the psychological process needed to obtain the concept of number and then tries to build up a systematical theory on this analysis. To achieve this he uses several methods and concepts taken from his teachers. From Weierstrass he derives the idea that we generate the concept of number by counting a certain collection of objects. From Brentano and Stumpf he takes over the distinction between proper and improper presenting. In an example Husserl explains this in the following way: if you are standing in front of a house, you have a proper, direct presentation of that house, but if you are looking for it and ask for directions, then these directions (e.g. the house on the corner of this and that street) are an indirect, improper presentation. In other words, you can have a proper presentation of an object if it is actually present, and an improper (or symbolic as he also calls it) if you only can indicate that object through signs, symbols, etc.

Another important element that Husserl took over from Brentano is intentionality, the notion that the main characteristic of consciousness is that it is always intentional. While often simplistically summarised as "aboutness" or the relationship between mental acts and the external world, Brentano defined it as the main characteristic of psychical phenomena, by which they could be distinguished from physical phenomena. Every mental phenomenon, every psychological act has a content, is directed at an object (the intentional object). Every belief, desire etc. has an object that they are about: the believed, the wanted. Brentano used the expression "intentional inexistence" to indicate the status of the objects of thought in the mind. The property of being intentional, of having an intentional object, was the key feature to distinguish psychical phenomena and physical phenomena, because physical phenomena lack intentionality altogether.

The Elaboration of Phenomenology

Some years after the publication of his main work, the Logische Untersuchungen (Logical Investigations; first edition, 1900-1901) Husserl made some key conceptual elaborations which led him to assert that in order to study the structure of consciousness, one would have to distinguish between the act of consciousness (noesis) and the phenomena at which it is directed (the noemata). Knowledge of essences would only be possible by "bracketing" all assumptions about the existence of an external world. This procedure he called epoché. These new concepts prompted the publication of the Ideen (Ideas) in 1913, in which they were at first incorporated, and a plan for a second edition of the Logische Untersuchungen.

From the Ideen onward, Husserl concentrated on the ideal, essential structures of consciousness. The metaphysical problem of establishing the material reality of what we perceive was of little interest to Husserl (other than when he had to repeatedly defend his position of transcendental idealism, which did not at any point propose that there were no real material objects). Husserl proposed that the world of objects and ways in which we direct ourselves toward and perceive those objects is normally conceived of in what he called the "natural attitude", which is characterized by a belief that objects materially exist and exhibit properties that we see as emanating from them. Husserl proposed a radical new phenomenological way of looking at objects by examining how we, in our many ways of being intentionally directed toward them, actually "constitute" them (to be distinguished from materially creating objects or objects merely being figments of the imagination); in the Phenomenological attitude, the object ceases to be something simply "external" and ceases to be seen as providing indicators about what it is (a way of looking that is most explicitly delineated by the natural sciences), and becomes a grouping of perceptual and functional aspects that imply one another under the idea of a particular object or "type". The notion of objects as real is not expelled by phenomenology, but "bracketed" as a way in which we regard objects instead of a feature that inheres in an object's essence founded in the relation between the object and the perceiver. In order to better understand the world of appearances and objects, Phenomenology attempts to identify the invariant features of how objects are perceived and pushes attributions of reality into their role as an attribution about the things we perceive (or an assumption underlying how we perceive objects).

In a later period, Husserl began to wrestle with the complicated issues of intersubjectivity (specifically, how communication about an object can be assumed to refer to the same ideal entity) and tries new methods of bringing his readers to understand the importance of Phenomenology to scientific inquiry (and specifically to Psychology) and what it means to "bracket" the natural attitude. The Crisis of the European Sciences is Husserl's unfinished work that deals most directly with these issues.

Professor Husserl was denied the use of the library at Freiburg as a result of the anti-Jewish legislation the National Socialists (Nazis) passed in April 1933. His former pupil and Nazi Party member, Martin Heidegger, informed Husserl that he was discharged. Heidegger removed the dedication to Husserl from his most widely known work, Being and Time, when it was reissued in 1941.

In 1939 Husserl's manuscripts, amounting to approximately 40,000 pages, were deposited at Leuven to form the Archives Husserl. Most of this material has been published in the collection known as Husserliana.


Works by Husserl

  • Über den Begriff der Zahl. Psychologische Analysen (1887)
  • Philosophie der Arithmetik. Psychologische und logische Untersuchungen (1891)
  • Logische Untersuchungen. Erste Teil: Prolegomena zur reinen Logik (1900)
  • Logische Untersuchungen. Zweite Teil: Untersuchungen zur Phänomenologie und Theorie der Erkenntnis (1901)
  • Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft (1911)
  • Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Erstes Buch: Allgemeine Einführung in die reine Phänomenologie (1913)
  • Vorlesungen zur Phänomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstseins (1928)
  • Formale und transzendentale Logik. Versuch einer Kritik der logischen Vernunft (1929)
  • Mèditations cartèsiennes (1931)
  • Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzentale Phänomenologie: Eine Einleitung in die phänomenologische Philosophie (1936)

Works on Husserl

  • Rollinger, R. D. (1999). Husserl’s Position in the School of Brentano Phaenomenologica 150. Kluwer, Dordrecht. ISBN 0792356845
  • Schuhmann, K. (1977). Husserl – Chronik (Denk- und Lebensweg Edmund Husserls) Number I in Husserliana Dokumente Nijhoff, Den Haag. ISBN 9024719720
  • Smith, B. and Smith, D., editors (1995). The Cambridge Companion to Husserl Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 0521436168
  • Derrida, Jacques (english published 1976), "Undecidables and old names: Derrida's deconstruction and Introduction to Husserl's The origin of geometry"
  • Derrida, Jacques (French 1967, English 1973), "Speech and Phenomena (La Voix et le Phénomène), and other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs" ISBN 0810103974

External links

Husserl Archives

Pages about Husserl

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