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

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in principle not be consciously given in the act itself seems a clear breach of Husserl’s ‘principle of principles’. But it is not difficult to see why they are forced into adopting this un-phenomenological position. For according to Husserl, whether early or late, any intuitively fulfilled (non-empty) consciousness of ideal (irreal) , non-spatiotemporal items is founded on the consciousness of particulars, involves spontaneity, and is necessarily a thematic consciousness of higher-order intentional objects (LI 2, § 1; EJ, §§ 63, 81b). Since he explicitly denies that senses are intentional objects for us when we understand them, this leaves Smith and MacIntyre only the appeal to unconsciously grasped idealities. But this appeal makes the understanding of sense entirely mysterious, even more so than does Frege’s theory of a ‘third realm’ (for criticism of the latter, see e.g. M. Dummett, ‘Frege’s Myth of the Third Realm’). There is no need to attribute to Husserl a theory that is both implausible and profoundly at odds with his central methodological commitments. For an alternative interpretation of perceptual noematic sense, see Drummond, Husserlian Intentionality and Non-Foundational Realism, chapter 6.

50 The example of hallucination is also used by Edith Stein, Husserl’s assistant and doctoral student, to illustrate the shift of perspective essential to the reduction. See her Zum Problem der Einfühlung, § 1. On the subjective indistinguishability of perception and hallucination, see HUA 23, no. 1, § 20, pp. 42-3). On the conceptual dependence of the content of hallucination on the content of perception, see also M. Soteriou, ‘The Subjective View of Experience and its Objective Commitments’.

51 On this point, see especially M. Merleau-Ponty, ‘Phenomenology and the Sciences of Man’, pp. 41-95.

52 It is therefore misleading when Heidegger in his 1925 Marburg lectures famously and influentially criticises Husserl for asking the phenomenologist to ‘abstract from the reality of consciousness’. As Heidegger understands Husserl, in the attitude of the reduction ‘the real experience […] is not posited and experienced as real’ (History of the Concept of Time, § 12, p. 109, my emphases). This formulation blurs a distinction Husserl would insist on. If the focus of the enquiry is, as in Heidegger’s objection, on the experience itself (the ‘noetic moment’), it is indeed incumbent on the phenomenologist to experience for herself whatever features are essential to experiences as they are actually lived through, including whatever it is that makes them seem real to the subject (cf. Crisis, § 52, cited above). But Husserl claims, contra Heidegger, that this is possible without what Heidegger here calls ‘positing’ the experience – more precisely, without ‘going along’ with it, that is, without unqualifiedly ‘living through’ it. Whether he is right on this is itself a matter for substantial phenomenological investigation, but it is very far from obvious, as Heidegger takes it to be, that Husserl is precluded from thematizing the being of pre-reflective consciousness merely on account of the phenomenological reduction. Heidegger’s objections in §§ 10-11 of History of the Concept of Time do, however, pinpoint a problematic area in Husserl’s account, from which much of subsequent phenomenology, including Heidegger’s, Sartre’s and Merleau-Ponty’s work, takes its departure. Husserl recognizes that intentional experiences (noeses) are, when normally and non-reflectively lived through (erlebt), conscious, but not as intentional objects. But if this is so, they cannot be presented without distortion or modification – i.e. not as what they phenomenologically are – in reflection, including phenomenological reflection, if all reflection objectifies. Now Husserl’s predominant official view is indeed that reflection makes intentional experiences into objects (Id 1, § 38). But he also is alive to the problems that arise from this view if at least some experiences are necessarily non-object-like in their primary and fundamental manner of presentation: ‘Anger may quickly dissipate through reflection, and modify its content [...] To study it reflectively in its originarity is to study a dissipating anger; which is certainly not pointless, but perhaps is not what was supposed to be studied.’ (Id 1, § 70, p. 130/158). One solution to this inconsistency in Husserl’s account would be to abandon his ‘official’ claim that all reflection objectifies. Dan Zahavi has interpreted some intriguing manuscript remarks by Husserl to suggest such a modified view of reflection as not necessarily objectifying the experiences reflected upon (Self-Awareness and Alterity, pp. 181-94). A further and distinct issue arising from Husserl’s account of pre-reflective experience is whether it is possible in all cases, even in principle, to give ‘faithful’ linguistic expression (Id 1, § 24) to what is experienced just as it is experienced, if all linguistic encoding, by virtue of being conceptual, necessarily objectifies (EJ, § 13, p. 62-3/60-61). If a pre-reflective experience (Erlebnis) is indeed necessarily non-object-like, then it follows that it cannot even in principle be described ‘just as it is given’. Phenomenological language therefore in this case has to resort to metaphor (as Husserl avowedly does in his talk of pre-reflective consciousness as a ‘flow’; Time, A, § 36) which, in conjunction with negative characterizations, can do no more than point the reader to re-living or re-actualizing for herself what is being thus inadequately described (cf. EJ, § 43b, p. 218/185; Crisis, § 52, p. 180/176-7).

53 This argument is premised on Husserl’s claim – which I cannot defend here – that on one (abstract) level of subjectivity, which he calls the transcendental ego, the subject at any moment is (or ‘lives in’) the conscious activity of being engaged with some thematic object or other (Id 2, §§ 22-26; EJ, § 19, p. 90/84-5) This is Husserl’s phenomenological re-casting of Kant’s notion of transcendental subjectivity (Critique of Pure Reason, esp. B157-B159) A thematic engagement in two different cognitive projects simultaneously is therefore incompatible with what Kant would have called the transcendental unity of apperception. For a detailed argument to this effect, see B. O’Shaughnessy, The Will, vol. 2, esp. pp. 22-38.

54 This implies that, while Husserlian phenomenology aims at descriptive, rather than causally explanatory, truths, it has rather more than the modest ambition, often associated with the later Wittgenstein, of merely providing a transparent overview of what we knew already before we started doing philosophy. Rather, the insights of phenomenology are often striking and new, for it sees as one of its main tasks the explication of what is only implicitly conscious in the ‘natural attitude’. On some aspects of Husserl’s account of implicit conscious contents, see Poellner, ‘Non-Conceptual Content, Experience and the Self’.

55 The notion of strong supervenience alluded to here is Kim’s: If A and B are families of properties, then A strongly supervenes on B just in case, necessarily, for each x and each property F in A, if x has F, then there is a property G in B such that x has G and, necessarily, if any y has G, then it has F. (J. Kim, Supervenience and Mind, p. 65.)

56 I have attempted to reconstruct these reasons in ‘Affect, Value and Objectivity’ (forthcoming), esp. Section 5.

57 A. Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, pp. 44-5.

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