Consciousness, Self and World: Husserl and the Phenomenological Turn in Philosophy



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functionalist theories, which provide characterizations of their objects in terms of their functional role. While no actual entity can have a functional role without having some in principle ‘intuitable’ intrinsic properties, functionalist analysis abstracts from the latter. Such abstraction is, for Husserl, legitimate in the context of natural science (Crisis, § 9a, p. 23/26; § 34d), whose central aim is prediction. But it is obviously unacceptable in a discipline which, like phenomenology, aims to offer a fundamental account of the constitutive conditions of world-manifestation.

15 See W. Sellars, ‘Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind’, esp. pp. 164-96.

16 Cf. Id 1, § 38. For an account of Husserl’s wide concept of object, which applies indifferently to items including actual or fictional states of affairs, material objects, phantoms, properties, and indirectly presented experiences, see below.

17 On the wide sense of ‘reflection’, which includes the thematizing of noemata and noematic senses (‘the object as it is intended’) and, founded upon this, of their essential properties, see e.g. Id 2, § 4, p. 5/7; Crisis, § 41. (For more on Husserl’s concept of noematic sense, see note 49 below.) Neither the ‘object as intended’ in an intentional experience, nor its essence, are reell contained in the experience, i.e. they are in one sense ‘transcendent’ of, rather than ‘immanent’ in, the experience . See Id 1, § 38, p. 68/79; Id 1, § 97, p. 202/237. In later writings Husserl tends to stress that the most comprehensive thematic focus of transcendental reflection is on the relations between the structures of the object as it is given and the structures of conscious subjectivity which are necessary conditions for the object thus to manifest itself. See Crisis, §§ 41, 51, 53; pp. 155/152, 177/174, 182/179.

18 Mark Rowlands, Externalism, p. 60-61.

19 Thomas Baldwin, ‘Phenomenology, Solipsism and Egocentric Thought’, pp. 28-9.

20 Herman Philipse has shown that idealist metaphysical commitments are already present in Logical Investigations, despite that work’s avowed metaphysical neutrality. See H. Philipse, ‘Transcendental Idealism’, esp. pp. 272-8.

21 In fact, such an empirical (or phenomenal) externalism is precisely the view Husserl holds (see below). An object is ‘external’ in the relevant sense only if it is experienced and conceptualised in terms of (a) phenomenal, (b) spatial, and (c) causal, properties.

22 Note that the above formulation deliberately falls short of saying that the fundamental thoughts about the external world are co-constituted by external objects, or that external objects necessarily enter into these thoughts themselves. Such formulations, motivated in part by anti-sceptical desiderata, seem rather over-ambitious, although they abound in the externalist literature (see e.g. John Campbell, Reference and Consciousness, pp. 116-20). It would be surprising if scepticism about the particular constituents (as opposed to the general existence) of the external world could be refuted simply by reflection on what is entailed by the concept of thought, or of thought about particulars. As we shall see, Husserl’s commitment to the more modest form of externalism articulated above allows for the theoretical possibility of some fairly strong form of external-world scepticism.

23 Some interpreters maintain that Husserl recognizes a further kind of indirect representation, namely representation by way of mediating ‘abstract’ (ideal) entities, analogous to Fregean senses. Indeed, according to this reading, for Husserl all representations are epistemically mediated in this way. I believe that this interpretation is erroneous. For further discussion of it, see note 49).

24 In Logical Investigations, the point that complete demonstrative senses involve the objects referred to themselves is obscured by, and indeed in tension with, the idea of sense data (later called hyle) which are supposedly reell immanent in intentional experiences and, while not themselves being intentional objects, allegedly serve as ‘representative contents’ necessary for reference to the perceptual object (see also Id 1, § 85 ). This idea of psychically immanent sense data is one of the philosophically most problematic aspects of Husserl’s early and middle period thinking. The kind of considerations he thinks require such non-intentional sense data in fact only point to variations in the way a perceived object may appear which are neither variations in the perceived object nor variations in the ‘intentional essence’ of the experience (e.g. the appearance of the surface colour of an object may vary depending on the lighting conditions, without either the object having changed or the subject changing his perceptual belief regarding the object’s colour; see Id 2, §15c, p. 41; and §18a, pp. 57-9 ). For criticisms of Husserl’s conception of non-intentional hyletic data, see Aron Gurwitsch, The Field of Consciousness, pp. 265-73; and J. J. Drummond, Husserlian Intentionality and Non-Foundational Realism, pp. 63-70, 144-6. Immanent hyletic data are abandoned in Husserl’s later thought from around 1928, which is in this regard actually more consistent with the theory of perceptual demonstratives sketched in Logical Investigations (see R. Sokolowski, The Formation of Husserl’s Concept of Constitution, pp. 177-80, 204-11). In Husserl’s most detailed later account of perceptual content, in Experience and Judgement, psychically immanent hyletic data have been replaced by what might be called a noematic, i.e. non-immanentist, account of ‘the given’ (EJ, §§ 16-17).

25 The adoption of such a broad functionalist conception of attention is one problem with John Campbell’s original development of the Husserlian-sounding thesis that we should be ‘taking demonstrative reference to be a phenomenon of attention’ (J. Campbell, ‘Sense, Reference and Selective Attention’, p. 73). If we mean by attention nothing more specific than ‘selection of information for further processing’ (p. 57), the claim becomes virtually vacuous. However, the notion of attention in play in Campbell’s later Reference and Consciousness does seem to be a phenomenological notion and his argument in that work is to that extent analogous to Husserl’s, although the latter would no doubt object to its particular way of linking intentional, personal-level, and subpersonal levels of description. For example, Campbell’s claim (p. 28) that through conscious attention we select unconscious information-processing routines would be unacceptable to Husserl. While conscious attention supervenes on whatever causes such procedures to come into operation, what we select by means of attention is not them but some aspect of the environment being attended to.

26 For the use of unthematic (background) consciousness, or pre-attentive conscious processing, in empirical cognitive psychology, see e.g. U. Neisser, Cognitive Psychology, chapter 4.

27 It might be objected here that what is needed is not that the general properties in question themselves are perceived, but only that exemplifications or instances of them are. However, the perception of a property-exemplification is not a representation of a general content at all. The form of such a perception is that of a perception as of a particular: ‘this is an instance of sphericalness’. But if the point of the objection is merely that we should articulate the content of ordinary sense perception along the lines of ‘there is an exemplification of sphericalness straight in front of me’, then the criticisms made above in the text have not been addressed at all.

28 Bill Brewer, Perception and Reason, pp. 25-48. See also P. F. Strawson, Individuals, ch. 1.1; and A. Quinton, The Nature of Things, ch. 1, esp. pp. 12-20.

29 While in Logical Investigations he holds – inconsistently, one may well think – that demonstrative and other indexical contents are in principle, albeit not for us, replaceable by ‘objective’ senses (LI 1, § 28), this view is unequivocally abandoned in his later writings: ‘all judging about particular individuals [individuelle Diesheiten] [is] to a greater or lesser extent bound to the situation where they are directly experienced [Erfahrung]. This is mostly indicated also linguistically, by the use of demonstratives or other expressions with “occasion-dependent” [okkasionell] meanings’ (EJ, § 80, p. 384/319).

30 Husserl plausibly maintains that the most fundamental kinds of perceptual representation involve a doxic component: a non-reflective, and in this sense ‘passive’, taking the object to be as it perceptually appears to be. This ‘passive primordial belief’ (passive Urdoxa) or ‘simple certainty’ (EJ, § 21d) may subsequently become modified or neutralized through the experience of conflict or discrepancy among the contents of one’s perceptual experiences (e.g. in perceptual illusions, such as the Müller-Lyer illusion). But his point is that (a) any such modification or questioning of one’s perceptions essentially presupposes the occurrence of other perceptual experiences with the ‘thetic’ character he calls Urdoxa; and that (b) not all perceptual experiences could simultaneously be devoid of this non-reflective, unquestioning, belief character, or have it cancelled or reflectively suspended. The very possibility of questioning some of my perceptions requires others that remain unquestioned at the time. See EJ, §§ 7-10.

31 For the argument to show that the basic class cannot consist exclusively of ‘inner’ items (mental states), see below.

32 John Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, Book II, ch. 8, esp. sections 8, 15, 16.

33 For Kant’s conception of empirically external object as essentially spatial, see Critique of Pure Reason, esp. A23/B37–B30/B45, and A367–A380.

34 Another line of argument takes as its point of departure Husserl’s claim that all object-constitution presupposes an affection of the subject by something phenomenally other than itself. See Dan Zahavi, Self-Awareness and Alterity, pp. 115-21.

35 Apparently monadic egocentric manners of presentation – e.g. ‘x is to the right’ – are implicitly relational. Cf. J. Campbell, ‘Joint Attention and the First Person’, pp. 128-31.


36 For the difficulties that arise when seeking to account for causal priority without recourse to the notion of causal power, see J. L. Mackie, The Cement of the Universe: A Study of Causation, pp. 180f.

37 Versions of the view adumbrated here were developed in detail by some of Husserl’s contemporaries, most influentially by Dilthey and Scheler. (Somewhat earlier, it can also be found in Nietzsche.) See Wilhelm Dilthey, ‘Beiträge zur Lösung der Frage vom Ursprung unseres Glaubens and die Realität der Aussenwelt’, pp. 90-138; and Max Scheler, Erkenntnis und Arbeit, esp. pp. 237-50.

38 J. J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception.

39 While for Husserl intentional bodily action essentially involves experiences of acting, it is false to claim, as Hubert Dreyfus does, that this commits him to the idea that such action is characterized by a Jamesian ‘feeling of effort’, or even that when engaged in such action the subject thematically represents her own intentions (see H. Dreyfus, Being-in-the-World, pp. 54-9). Presumably even John Searle, whom Dreyfus rather freely interprets as holding a Husserlian theory of action, and who believes that the content of intentional action includes a reference to the respective intention-in-action itself (cf. John Searle, Intentionality, pp. 83-98), would not wish to say that there is a consciously explicit self-reference of this kind in all intentional actions (cf. Intentionality, p. 92). But whatever Searle’s view may be, Husserl is absolutely explicit that the kinaestheses are, in normal skilled action, unthematic – they are given in the mode of background consciousness (EJ, § 19, p. 89/84). Consequently, pace Dreyfus, the experience of acting cannot by Husserl’s lights be an object of consciousness in such standard skilled actions. While Dreyfus paints something of a caricature of Husserl, there are genuine, and important, differences on this issue between Husserl’s actual position and Dreyfus’s Heidegger: (1) Husserl insists that there are unthematic experiences of acting which distinguish absorbed active self-movement from passive or reflex behaviour (see Poellner, ‘Non-Conceptual Content, Experience and the Self’, pp. 48-51, for a defence of this claim). (2) For Husserl, any absorbed skilled use and awareness of equipment in terms of its instrumental features (its ‘affordance’ or ‘practical’ characteristics; cf. EJ, § 14, p. 68/65-6) presupposes a prior thematic acquaintance with it, or with items of its type, in terms of some of its non-instrumental sensible features (see Id 1, § 37; Id 2, § 4, p. 10/12; § 8; EJ § 18). If he is right on this, it follows that ‘absorbed coping with equipment’ in Dreyfus’s sense cannot be the fundamental form of conscious intentionality

40 For detailed discussion, see J. J. Drummond, ‘On Seeing a Material Thing in Space: The Role of Kinaesthesis in Visual Perception’, pp. 19-32. Also U. Claesges, Edmund Husserls Theorie der Raumkonstitution.

41David Bell, who claims that the Husserl of Ideas I operates with a conception of a disembodied transcendental subject, interprets his analysis of bodily intentionality as marking a significant change of view from this earlier putative Cartesianism (Husserl, pp. 207-14 and 250, note 8). However, the textual facts are not easily squared with this line of interpretation. Husserl offers his first and most detailed description of the necessarily body-involving nature of spatial perception in the lectures on Ding und Raum in 1907. Similar analyses are also prominent in the material that was used for Ideas II, dating mainly from 1912-15. It is just not credible that Husserl simply should not have noticed the incompatibility of these thoughts in his lectures and manuscripts with the conception of a disembodied subject which is said to figure, more or less simultaneously, in Ideas I (1913). A more plausible interpretive strategy is surely to relinquish the conventional reading of Husserl as having been a Cartesian in the relevant sense at the time of Ideas I. In fact, a close exegesis shows that even in that text Husserl states that the concept of a soul is ‘founded on’, i.e. necessarily dependent upon, the concept of a real (physical) object (Id 1, § 17).

42 What is the force of ‘closely analogous’ here? It is intended to exclude, for one thing, Strawson’s conception of a universe of purely temporal, auditory, objects (P. F. Strawson, Individuals, chapter 2). It is difficult to attach any clear sense to, say, the supposition of a subject ‘objectifying itself’ by thinking of itself as being, or being somehow united with, such a purely temporal object, and to its thus being putatively enabled to think of itself as interacting with other real, but similarly purely temporal subjects.

43 Cf. G. Strawson, Mental Reality, chapter 9.

44 Kant suggested influentially that objective time determinations of this kind required representations as of external spatial objects (Critique of Pure Reason, B 274-B279). But I cannot see that his point, if accepted, does anything to undermine the temporal case as a counter-example against Husserl’s transcendental claim about the necessity of bodily self-movement for the representation of spatial particulars.

45 Cf. A. D. Smith, Husserl and the Cartesian Meditations, pp. 121-5.

46 This was clearly recognized by some early readers of Husserl, but not by others. For an insightful interpretation , see J.-P. Sartre, The Transcendence of the Ego, pp. 41-5. An influential early misunderstanding of Husserl as holding that experiences, when ‘lived through’, are immanent objects, is found in M. Heidegger, History of the Concept of Time, pp. 102-7. Among those who have followed Heidegger on this point is Tugendhat (Der Wahrheitsbegriff bei Husserl und Heidegger, pp. 208-11). For criticisms of this reading, see e.g. Zahavi, Self-Awareness and Alterity, pp. 67-82; and Poellner ‘Non-Conceptual Content, Experience and the Self’, pp. 45-56.

47 G. Frege, ‘The Thought’, pp. 307-8. For an interpretation of Husserl along these lines, see David Bell, Husserl, pp. 184-8.

48 Although Husserl’s conception of the details of the process of eidetic intuition – the perception of universals – changes significantly from the early Logical Investigations (see LI 2, §§ 1-4) to the late Experience and Judgement (EJ, §§ 87-88), what remains constant is the claim that any such perception presupposes the continued intuitive (or imitative) presence of particulars exemplifying (or instantiating) the relevant universals during this process. With respect to concepts and propositionally structured senses, the matter is complicated by the fact that he recognizes, after Logical Investigations, that our ‘grasping’ of these is not adequately understood as the exemplification of an ideal object (EJ, § 64d). But this does not mean that he holds that when I understand a declarative sentence, I somehow directly latch onto a non-spatiotemporal ideal object – a Fregean sense. Rather, Husserl is here arguably recognizing the implications of his view that grasping a signitively presented (e.g. verbally articulated) sense is the actualization of an ability. Grasping the sense here essentially involves an awareness of my ability either to verify the sentence or at least to envisage the circumstances that would verify it (CM, § 24). As Gianfranco Soldati has argued, this view is already clearly present in the doctrine of ‘meaning fulfilment’ in Logical Investigations, but is incompatible with Husserl’s official doctrine in that text, according to which the grasping of linguistic meanings is an exemplification of meaning-species (G. Soldati, Bedeutung und psychischer Gehalt, esp. pp. 183-207). Soldati suggests that Husserl should more consistently have spoken of understanding a linguistic meaning as the instantiation of an ability, rather than the exemplification of a property (p. 185). I have followed this terminological proposal.

49 For Husserl’s explicit rejection of Platonism, see e.g. EJ, § 82. David Bell cites as the main evidence for a Fregean reading of Husserl the latter’s observation that the tree as perceived (the ‘perceptual sense’), unlike the tree itself, ‘cannot burn away; it has no chemical elements, no forces, no real [i.e. causal] properties’ (Id 1, § 89, cited in Bell, Husserl, p. 188). But this remark, which is in fact the only explicit textual evidence apparently supporting the Fregean interpretation, clearly allows for less recondite alternative readings. For if the transcendental reduction essentially requires a suspension of judgement about the ontological status of any sample objects examined by the phenomenologist, then it follows that the object presented cannot, in the phenomenological attitude, be considered to have chemical elements or forces, even if it in fact does – and that is precisely Husserl’s point in this passage. For all the phenomenologist knows or cares, the sample tree might be a hallucinated tree, and although it is certainly presented as a particular, it makes no sense to say of a hallucinated tree that it burns away, or has chemical elements, or has forces.

A few more words on Fregean readings of Husserl are in order here, since these are widespread in anglophone Husserl scholarship (although much less so among continental interpreters). These readings originated in Dagfinn Føllesdal’s influential paper ‘Husserl’s Notion of the Noema’ and have found their perhaps most elaborate development in D. W. Smith and R. MacIntyre, Husserl and Intentionality. Smith and MacIntyre argue that the later (post- Logical Investigations) Husserl holds a ‘mediator’ theory of sense which is designed to explain how intentional experiences can be contentful even when their purported object does not exist (as in hallucination). According to Smith and MacIntyre, Husserl attempts to solve this problem by assuming a ‘common element’ in veridical perception and hallucination, which he calls the noematic sense of the perception. This noematic sense is, they argue, closely analogous to Frege’s linguistic senses: it is an ‘abstract’, ideal, non-spatiotemporal entity distinct from the object, is essentially expressible in language (p. 107, but see pp. 216-19), and is ‘entertained’ in intentional experiences. In the case of successful reference, this ideal entity mediates reference to the object, while ensuring the contentfulness of thought even when there is no object. I want to mention just two fundamental problems with this interpretation. First, in the basic perceptual case, it commits Husserl to the deeply implausible view that the existence-independence of intentional relations requires a common ontological element, an entity, shared between situations of successful perceptual reference and situations where there is no, or no relevant, real object. But Husserl nowhere says that he holds such a view and in fact his explicit discussions of this issue sketch a quite different, ‘disjunctivist’ position, denying the ‘common element’ claim (LI 5, appendix to §§ 11 and 20, II/1 p. 425/ II pp. 126-7; Id 1, § 90). Secondly, in the case of both perception and non-perceptual judgement, Husserl is emphatic that, pace Frege, understanding a sense (as opposed to thinking about it) is not a ‘grasping’ of it as an object, propositional or otherwise (FTL, § 42a). Smith and MacInyre seem to acknowledge this (e.g. pp. 80-81). According to them, a Husserlian noematic sense is an ‘abstract’ entity, distinct from the intentional object, by virtue of which an intentional experience is directed to the object (if there is one), but which is itself not only unthematic, but unconscious in the act (pp. 119-25). Noematic senses only become conscious in phenomenological reflection (pp. 106, 122). But here Smith and MacIntyre seem to simply abandon phenomenology altogether in favour of what Husserl would surely call ‘theory’. To explain the constitutive phenomenological structure of conscious ‘acts’ by recourse to entities which can


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