Husserl’s and Carnap’s Theories of Space



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Husserl’s and Carnap’s Theories of Space1

Paweł Przywara, Ph. D.

The University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszów, Poland

pprzywara@wsiz.rzeszow.pl

pawel_przywara@yahoo.com


Erschrecken Sie nicht, wenn ich von menschlicher Raumanschauung spreche. In phänomenologischer Reduktion hört die menschliche Raumanschauung natürlich auf, menschliche zu sein.

Husserl (1973, p. 122).


Bei der Raumordnung lässt sich das freilich nur zeigen, wenn die der Konstitution entsprechende Synthese im wirklichen Erkenntnisprozess infolge besonderer Schwierigkeiten nicht so schnell und unbewusst vor sich geht, wie gewöhnlich. Das ist z.B. bei der Orientierung eines Blinden der Fall (…) .

Carnap, (1928, p. 131-132).




0. Preliminary remarks.

At the beginning I would like to arrange some terminological questions and remind four fundamental attitudes to the problem of space. I guess, only in two meanings we can talk about the true space (from the epistemological point of view) because even so-called ‘physical’ or ‘geometric space’ are only abstract models (ideal objects), and so-called ‘phenomenal space’, namely all that we receive via senses (visually, audibly, tactilely etc.) and a sphere of our imagination, despite of their quasi-spatial features and their structures, are only so-called ‘manifolds’2. I am sure it shall be not mine only opinion that only the sphere wherein there are possible a movement and exchange of places between some objects we could in principle call space. Physical-geometric models are abstract objects3 and phenomenal or imaginative manifolds do not have three-dimensional structures, they are, so to speak, “flat”.

Attitudes to the problem of an ontic status of space can be divided similarly to the division of positions with respect to universals, namely we can talk about theoretic-spatial: radical realism (Platonism), moderate realism, conceptualism and nominalism. Radical realists say that space exists independently from existence of physical objects in it and their movements in it, and is some kind of super-container. Moderate realists maintain that existence and structure of space are determined by physical objects; space is a system of places possessed or possible to be possessed by the objects; space is a system of relationships between the objects and it exists as ens rationis cum fundamentum in re. Conceptualists say that space exists only in human mind (or as a construct of human mind), nominalists say that there is no such thing like space, we just use the word space (as some kind of shortly speaking) to describe some relations between real things.

Names of Edmund Husserl’s (1859-1938) and Rudolf Carnap’s (1891-1970) are not compiled by any kind of handbooks of history of modern philosophy. Husserl, as we know, is the founder of transcendental phenomenology and the phenomenological school in XX century, he begins a style of philosophizing typified by complicated methodology and terminology. Carnap is a co-founder and member of the Vienna Circle, logical positivism, philosophical trend wanting in 20s and 30s of XX century to build a new philosophy upon physics as primary science and physical jargon as a fundamental language in science. Carnap and other logical empiricists were world-famous for their metaphysics criticism, saying that metaphysical theses are senseless. Hence Husserl is in short (in popular philosophical literature): a maximalist and metaphysician, and Carnap – a minimalist, analyst and anti-metaphysician. Was there anything connecting them both?

The early (1928) and well-known Carnap’s work called The Logical Building of the World (Der Logische Aufbau der Welt)4 includes already the explicit connections with Husserl and his student O. Becker especially in the theory of space5. A similar situation is with Carnap’s dissertation on space and his some manuscripts from early 20s before the Aufbau, about which I shall talk later. We must not pass the fact from the same early 20s when Husserl as a world-famous philosopher gave his lectures and seminars in Freiburg and Carnap (as a Ph.D.) attends them (he is on the list of members of Husserl’s seminars).

Having those above mentioned proofs we can note in the same time – after a reading of other works of Carnap and his followers – that this surprising connection between a thought of the founder of phenomenology and early conceptions of the logical empiricist6 has been completely concealed. You do not find any mention about it in Carnap’s intellectual autobiography7. The author of the Aufbau for over 30 years did not agree for its translation into English after his coming to the United States in 1935 where his Aufbau was being read as enthusiastically as Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. The English translator of the Aufbau, Rolph George (not knowing about connections between Carnap and Husserl) in his email to me confirmed that the English version of the book had been thoroughly terminologically rearranged to give it a more modern sound8 accordingly to Nelson Goodman’s early philosophy9. The connections interesting to us were not known even to specialists of early Carnap works10. It seems comparing him with the founder of phenomenological school even nowadays sounds really exotic or funny11. One could say that Husserl rather could have learned something from Carnap than vice versa.


1. Introduction to Husserlian phenomenology of space.

According to Husserl’s thought we should remember that 1) there are three groups of philosophers referring to it12 that gave their own interpretations of it; 2) there are commentators of it that explain it from, so to speak, evolutionary point of view, namely regarding the changes of phenomenology in (late) Husserl and his students works; 3) there are some self-critical opinions of the author of Ideas formulated by him in 30s and those opinions are interpreted in different ways as well; 4) there are still published Husserlian Forschungsmanuskripten that provoke to new interpretations and commentaries; 5) even Husserl himself did not concern his phenomenology as a philosophical system but rather as a researching science, as a discipline concerning concrete philosophical researches. Knowing that I am conscious that my interpretation of Husserl might be criticized.

I shall try to show now the most important elements of transcendental phenomenology of space, assuming that the Reader has general knowledge of phenomenological procedures and peculiar character of attitude elaborated by the author of the Cartesian Meditations13.

Husserl claims that we perceive space in two aspects: 1) space is co-seen (mitgesehen) by us with spatial things, and 2) space is co-seen as so-called the Relief (so to speak, the multi-shape of things)14. In that case, if we liked to say anything about the phenomenon of space, we should scrutinize first a phenomenon of spatiality of things perceived by us. The author of the Logische Untersuchungen having executed so-called ‘transcendental epoché starts extraordinarily subtle geometrizing analyses of perception (from a completely still, motionless perception to a perception when we move around perceived object).

Knowing that issue of the epoché is the subject of much controversy in philosophical literature I would like to pay our attention to it but only with respect to the phenomenology of space. The transcendental reduction used in phenomenology of space allows Husserl to: 1) focus only on the process and structure of visual perception15, 2) observe the progressive manifesting of a corporality (Leib) of a subject during the processes of perception of what spatial is16, and then 3) regard so-called kinesthesia that means an interwining each other all the corporal sensings17. Having scrutinized that Husserl points to 4) an active role of a subject of perception, namely that one who moves his perceptual organs (‘eyes’, ‘hands’ etc.) and that one who makes his whole body move and to 5) space as an 5a) area affording possibilities for occurring of perception18, 5b) area of movement of objects of perception, 5c) area of movement of corporal subject of perception.

Husserl’s view in our subject matter we could formulate the following: epistemology of space before ontology of space. However, I would like to add another general remark with respect to essence of transcendental phenomenology and especially to Husserlian epoché. If I had to formulate it shortly I would say: epistemology before anthropology19. Theory of cognition, of perception and of knowledge before any philosophy of human (resp. first we should analyze phenomenon of cognition and after that we can build any philosophy of human). If we think deeply enough into it, we shall comprehend an accurate sense of transcendental phenomenology, I believe.

We have to emphasize that Husserl do not attempt to reconstruct our ‘primary joint or contact with space’20. He is not interested in solving the problem of ‘how it happened that we started seeing spatially’. He scrutinizes a phenomenon of our spatial perceiving. The phenomenological questions he poses are: what does the spatiality of our perceiving consist in?, how can we describe it?, how does the space constitute within our perceptions?, and how do we reach our apprehension of the space? The epoché used by Husserl in theory of space do not break off our bonds with the real world (as many of critics of the phenomenological approach assert) but only changes our previous attitude to our perceptions. After the epoché we observe e.g. our visual perceptions – using ‘ultra-cognitive’21 attitude – wanting to apprehend the appearing of space in them, or more strictly, appearing spatial structures in them (hence Husserlian researches of phenomenon of space start from those one that focus on phenomenon of spatial thing; we do not see space itself, it is co-seen by us, as I said earlier, at the same time with the things places in it).

To his description of the process of the ‘opening before us’ of space the author of Ideas submits using phenomenologically interpreted geometry (or, more strictly, topology22, for metric features of objects perceived by us are not in case). It allows Husserl during his analyzing of our experiencing the world to extract a stratum that is strictly spatial (atemporal and non-causal). He proposes here to use some kind of a visual isolation that consists in a ‘stopping’ all the processes of visual perception to start scrutinizing a correlation between a one-sidedly given appearance of an object and its (that appearance’s) way of intentional apprehending23.

It is worth noting that so-called ‘eidetic analysis’ of the essence of a solid (Körper, a spatial thing) in visual perception, in Husserl’s opinion, points to necessary (in perceptual apprehending of a given object) kinetic participation of mobile corporality of a subject. The essence of a solid delimits a spectrum of moves that must be made by a subject if he is supposed to see a whole given object optimally. Those moves in turn can be actualized only within some space that surrounds and includes the object (solid).

In the way mentioned above, namely in the reciprocal appearance-comprehension correlation: a spatial thing (seen at first when perception is stopped, stable) – a spatial subject (stable at first, then starting to move around the spatial thing) intentionally constitutes three-dimensional space24 wherein our visual perception takes place. However, if we wanted to talk about the intersubjective space (not only the ‘oriented’ one, mine) we have to get in touch with other subjects and together with them we should objectivize the structures of our subjective spaces. The correlate of the procedure of that kind of co-objectivization (transcendental transformation), maintains Husserl, is real, objective space (which on the level of individual, monosubjective perception is only ‘conjectured’ but can be categorially intuited).

We have to explicitly state with respect to used by the author of Formal and Transcendental Logic the procedure of geometrization of perception that geometry is taken here in a different way than in “classic” that means pre-reductionally understood formal theory of space. Husserl matches geometric concepts with the pure phenomenological sense and to tools taken from geometry he gives the pure phenomenological intra-descriptive use25. Hence he treats the concepts and tools operationally (from the epistemological point of view) and not objectively.

The founder of transcendental phenomenology conceives the constitution of space both in static and dynamic, monosubjective and intersubjective aspects. Objective space (co-seen by us with the things) constitutes gradually on the way of presenting themselves of the layers of spatiality and within the wider and wider areas of our perception (to begin with stationary perceiving and finishing with perceiving of moving, corporal subject) and on the way of intersubjective (common) objectivization of systems of places, the systems that (eventually or potentially, it depends on that if subject moves and in which area he does so) belong to different transcendental subjects. A dynamic aspect of such conceived constitution is the movement phenomenon (that of objects of perception or of subject himself) and all the sphere of the kinesthetic sensations connected with movement. Those sensations have strictly, says Husserl, connection with the constitution of the corporality of the transcendental subject (and of spatiality as such, of course). It is interesting that the movement has also its quasi-spatial counterpart on the side of subject’s intentionality, for on the way of the wider and wider intentional transformations26 we reach a full view on three-dimensional space. The view, the look is possible thanks to presenting of spatial things and the ‘transparency’ of the vision space (space of sight) attendant upon our acts of perception.

Husserl conceives the constitution of space as the monosubjective intentional transformation of manifold of so-called sensuous fields that we make during our corporal-moving activity (objective space is the correlate of the monosubjective transformation). On the other side27 he conceives it as intersubjective, intentional transformation of structures of subjective perceived spaces that we make (together with so-called ‘transcendental empathy’) within our community of transcendental subjects that communicate each other (hence, the objective space is the correlate of the intersubjective transformation). The ‘physical space’, in Husserl’s opinion, is only an intersubjective construct.

Summarizing we can say that Husserlian conception is realistic (at least at the starting point) and moderate deterministic28 (to the moment of writing Ideas I and II, wherein Husserl starts reformulating his theory of space into the transcendental idealism).


2. Carnap’s attitudes to space (from the Raum to Aufbau-1)

2.1 The Raum

For the first time the question of space Carnap analyses in his dissertation29, making an attempt at an ordering the problems connected with the issue on a certain meta-theoretic ground30. In his opinion previous discussions on space31 are the effect of mixing different methodological attitudes, and the main reason of it is an inappropriate use of a term ‘space’ when speaking of different designates. First we should distinguish different spaces and then against the background of such discrimination we should establish some relations between them and relations between sciences concerning those spaces as well, or strictly, between sentences of these sciences32.

It is also necessary to comprehend, so to speak, a genesis of different spaces, i.e. we have to know in the frameworks of which procedures of our cognition we gain a grasping or constructing of such and such space. In this place Carnap tries to overcome an aporetic (in his opinion) Kant’s conception by means of those borrowed from Husserl33, since he maintains that we cognize different spaces in different ways. Namely, so-called the Anschauungsraum34 is apprehended by us in a different manner than the physical space. It is a result of our eidetic intuition or insight (Wesenserschauung) into the essence of space. It is also the topological space. The insight mentioned above we gain (as we can think) changing eideticly the structure of space given in our sensual experience35.

The apriori character of the Anschauungsraum constists not in that it is an intra-subject form of possibility of any outer experience (in Kantian sense), but in that its structural analysis allows us to fix objective conditions of experiencing whatever. The space is apriori with respect to metric space as well, and the latter, in Carnap’s opinion, is strictly conventional. The physical space in turn is cognizable empirically and after our setting a metric to it that space can be assumed as the metric one36. On the other hand the formal space, as subject of science and as the most general structure can be deduced from logical grounds, it is analytic one, so all the statements of pure geometry can be acknowledged as apriori judgments37. There exist two geometries: analytic and physical (empirical) ones38. The spaces distinguished by Carnap, i.e. the formal, Anschauungsraum and physical ones are researched by Husserlian formal ontology, regional ontology39 and natural sciences.

No doubt that the prospecting logical empiricist modifies in a way the phenomenological understanding of the essence of space40. In accordance with Husserl’s conception the Wesen is an ideal object that is quality-free, timeless, existing independently from subjects of cognition and delimiting the spectrum of possibilities of coming out of its particular, so to speak, exemplifications (i.e. objects that fall under the pure essence). Meanwhile the author of the Aufbau even if he interprets the essence of space as some kind of the ‘ideal form’ (as an idea), he places its existence inside… the mind of a subject of cognition. Simultaneously he asserts that our intuition of the essence of space we attain by means of the eidetic analysis of the contents of our outer experience41, having discovered some figural regularities in it42. On the contrary to Husserl (and referring to D. Hilbert43) he claims that the eidetic insight has a spatial component44 and hence we can talk here about a certain spatial apriori that affords us possibilities to connecting the pure logical structure of space in geometric sense with our experiencing of spatial relations in the physical world45.

Kant was wrong, concludes Carnap, when identifying the perceived space (here the Anschauungsraum) with the Euclidean manifold. The conceptions of asserting that the discovery of non-Euclidean geometries disproves Kantian’s conception of apriori, were wrong as well. We are able to find another solution of the problem: the most general, eidetic form of space is topological46 and also superior with respect to any metric spaces (even Eclidean or non-Euclidean ones), and it determines the condition of experiencing of things of the real world.

Unfortunately, the problems sketched above are not widely epistemologically analyzed in the Raum 47. Just after the publication of his dissertation (1922) Carnap starts working on new theoretic-spatial researches. Most of them will be included after some modifications in the Aufbau-1 in 1928 and some of them will not be published a very long time.
2.2 Works after the Raum

Other Carnap’s writings published in 20s before his joining the Vienna Circle refer to the contemporary discussions about philosophical grounds of Einstein’s theory and the problem of structure of the physical space (after the discovery of non-Euclidean geometries)48. In his articles after the Raum we can find two mentioned earlier ways of investigations: 1) working on philosophical grounds of physics and 2) attempts of working out a new, formal (in a special way) epistemology.

His initial researches49 (since 1922) tend to logistic50 and topological comprehending of epistemologico-ontological problems51. Their point of departure is a peculiar, function-relational52 conception of cognition as well with a conception of constituting of knowledge. In the Quasizerlegung53 Carnap elaborates his own conception of so-called quasi-analysis that consists in formal transformation of a certain relationally grasped object domain into a grasping that regards a characterization of elements being members of the relations. In his Topology of the Spatio-Temporal World 54 (which I omit here) he tends to an axiomatic formulation of the Minkowski-Einstein theory by means of certain logico-topological tools.

The most interesting work from the epistemological point of view is an unpublished manuscript being a prototype of the Aufbau55, under the working but bombastic title From Chaos to the World of Experience56. Carnap uses here his quasi-analysis. The beginning of the text is something like Heraklitean visionary. We can read there about the ‘chaos’ as something source and primary in relation to our all scientific conceptualizations. However, the author simultaneously claims that he tends to arrange the Wirklichkeit in a new way, especially to arrange our knowledge about the world57.

The ‘chaos’ (treated here as a certain theoretical fiction58) is confronted with the sphere of our experiences (Erlebnissen) from which we can contructionally reveal ‘objective realms of reality’ and ‘psychic realms’ as ‘my soul’ (Seele), ‘consciousness’ and ‘subconsciousness’. In other words, as a point of departure we should assume a certain radically reduced sphere of experiences, from which we should trace a certain minimum of our knowledge about the world. Speaking of the ‘constitution of the world of experience’59 (within our theory of knowledge) we have to begin with a certain primary level not assigning anything to the ‘chaos’ (i.e. an unformed content of our experience) nor to the sphere of our Erlebnissen60. We should not also say anything about neither ‘sense qualities’ nor even assume the difference between the physical and the psychic. The definitive level out of which we need to start constructing the knowledge about the world are our ‘experiences of living now’ (Gegenwartserlebnisses)61. Within them we can draw the distinction between what the living is and the dead (lebendig-tot)62. The former Carnap calls the ‘sensation’, while the latter – the ‘representation’.

The representation can be divided into that what not remembered is and what remembered is. The remembered can be divided into a manifold of memories and relations between them. This process of analysis happens in time and already not on the level of the living now63. Then Carnap starts formalizing dependencies between those, so to speak, elements of his theory of knowledge discovered by him64. The Erlebnissen are interconnected, claims Carnap, and their contents (here also: the ‘qualities’) allow us to group them into different classes65.

The ‘quality classes’ overlap ‘sense classes’ and then thereby the ‘color classes’ and ‘hue classes’ form the ‘vision class’ (Gesichtsklasse)66. Analogically the ‘hearing class’ (Gehörklasse) is constructed out of the ‘audible qualities’ and so on. In the frameworks of the visual (Gesichtselementen) Carnap points to a peculiar regularity called by him the ‘slow change of appearance’ (Gesichtsveränderung). It points to a ‘point of view’ (Blickpunkt) and to a distribution of parts of a surface, the distribution that reveals the ‘visual field’ (Gesichtsfeld). This way we gain the primary level of our experience and here we can talk about some kind of ‘reality’67.

The expansion of the field of the experience reveals some ‘tendencies’68 i.e. the tendency to leveling any changes, to retaining a given state (by means of the ‘substance category’ (Substanzkategorie) and to stopping a ‘flow’ (by means of the ‘causal category’)69. This way Carnap attains the second level of his construction, claiming that, the construction of the world of experience is carried on by means of the Gesichtselementen because they can help us gain the ‘three-dimensional’ area wherein we can find some ‘solids’ (Körpers) (mobile/immobile, changing/unchanging in time). To the surfaces of the solids are assigned the elements of the ground level and to each ‘visual field’ is assigned a peculiar ‘bundle of beams’ (Strahlenbüschen) which ‘focus’ is located in the center of a certain solid called my corporality (mein Leib) 70.

The main areas of the experience are divided into the ‘quality classes’ and ‘sense classes’, out of which we can infer (on the ground of their arrangement) the most important classes: of seeing and of hearing. Others are inferred in the following manner: a certain ‘visual solid’ (Sehkörper) and a subclass of a certain sense class, i.e. the ‘tactile class’ and they both have the following feature: the mL-solid does not disappear from the ‘area’ of the experienced world.

The ‘quality classes’ (within the tactile class) can be assigned to some parts of the surface of the mL-solid. Analyses on the level reveal other classes, such as: the ‘pressure class’ (Druchklasse), the ‘movement class’ (Bewegungsklasse), the ‘intra-corporal tension class’ (Spannungsklasse) and the ‘kinesthetic sensations’ (Kinäesthetische71 Empfindungen). Step by step there is revealed the whole structure of a subject which, I guess, we gain after forming itself the sensory-corporal sphere.

Among the solids surrounding mL, continues Carnap, we can distinguish (on the ground of their similarity to mL) other solids (andre Leiber) that we can name ‘living’ (beseelt) for the sake of their causal inter-relation and especially the ‘sign-expressional’ relations. However, Carnap tends not to the intersubjective reality but to the field of physics. In his conception the sphere of experiences we can connect (by the means of the formal assignments) with the world of physics72, for all the spheres show the constructional features of the Wirklichkeit.

Carnap here does not concern the essence or structure of space, hence in the Chaos he leaves the researches started when writing the Raum. Perhaps the Chaos’ analyses shall make him to build the whole system of the constitution/construction73 of the conceptual scheme of science on the ground of the special (i.e. logistically, extensionally and ‘eideticly’) conceived so-called ‘elementary experience’74.




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