Robert A. DeGray, Ph. D. Edmund Husserl a very Short Introduction to his Phenomenology 1859-1938

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Robert A. DeGray, Ph.D.

Edmund Husserl

A Very Short Introduction to

his Phenomenology


In Memory of My Teacher:

Prof. Dr. Joseph J. Kockelmans

Visiting Professor’

Catholic University, Leuven, Belgium

(Martin Heidegger Seminar,

Winter Semester, 1990)

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All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, without the prior express written permission of “Prague Humanities Institute”.
Copyright Robert A. DeGray, 2013.

The moral rights of the author have been asserted.


The purpose of this article is to provide the reader with a very short introduction to the life and work of Edmund Husserl the father of phenomenology. The article is intended for the beginning to advanced student as well as the seasoned Husserlian scholar who would like to have a brief historical introduction to the life and work of Edmund Husserl and his phenomenology.

Moreover, throughout this article I have tried to touch upon some of the most decisive phases of Husserl’s phenomenological development beginning with: 1) his early student years; 2) Husserl’s life and work in Vienna; 3) the impact of Franz Brentano upon Husserl’s thought as a former teacher and friend; as well as introducing the reader to the various “periodizations” of Husserl’s intellectual evolution as exhibited by, 4) the Halle period; 5) the Göttingen period; 6) the Freiburg period; and 7) the later “Jewish Retirement” period of his phenomenological development.

Also, in this very short introduction to Husserl ‘s thought we have attempted to rounded off this present study by taking the student on a “guided tour” to Husserl’s personal residence (along with his family members) located at No. 40 Lorattostrasse, in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany by way of W. R. Boyce Gibson’s personal diary and article entitled: “From Husserl to Heidegger: Excepts from a 1928 Freiburg Diary” which provides the reader with a personal “bird’s-eye-view” of Husserl’s “later” Freiburg period of development from a personal standpoint of view.

At the conclusion of our study we also touch upon the controversial subject-matter of Husserl’s appointment of Heidegger as his successor to the Chair of philosophy, the Husserl-Heidegger break, the rise of Adolf Hitler and the “Nazification” of Germany, the Nazi book-burning ceremonies, Husserl’s subsequent forced “Jewish Retirement” period, as well as, the rescue of Husserl’s Nachlass from Nazi-Germany, in 1938, by Father Hermann Leo van Breda.

These will be some of the major themes and topics presented in my article on Edmund Husserl: A Very Short Introduction to his Phenomenology.
Robert A. DeGray

American University of Prague /

Prague Humanities Institute

Czech, Republic.

Edmund Husserl

A Very Short Introduction to

his Phenomenology


Table of Contents
Edmund Husserl: A Very Short Introduction to his philosophy (1859-1938) / 1

Life and Work / 3

Early Student Years / 4

The University of Vienna / 5

The Impact of Franz Brentano on Husserl / 7

Carl Stumpf and Franz Brentano / 10

St. Gilgen / 12

Students / 13

Philosophy of Arithmetic Dedication / 14

Husserl and Brentano in Florence, Italy / 15

Aura of Transfiguration / 16

The Periods of Husserl’s Development / 17

The Halle Period (1886-1900) / 18

The “Halle Crisis” and Psychologism / 21

The Göttingen Period (1900-1916) / 22

The Göttingen Circle / 25

The Freiburg Period (1916-1929) / 30

Husserl’s ‘Jewish-Retirement’ Period (1929-1938) / 36

The Heidegger Question / 37

Martin Heidegger’s “Der Spiegel” Interview / 41

On Adolf Hitler / 41

On Book Burning / 41

On Edmund Husserl / 43

On the Husserl-Heidegger Break / 44

On Husserl’s Funeral / 46

On Surveillance / 49

On Troubles with the Party / 50

On Digging Trenches / 50

Husserl’s Residence at 40 ‘Lorrettostrasse’ / 53

Husserl’s “Conversion” to Christianity / 60

The Death of Edmund Husserl at Freiburg / 62

The Rescue of Husserl’s Manuscripts from Nazi Germany / 63

A Benedictine Nun – Sister Adelgundis Jägerschmidt / 65

Fr. Van Breda Travels to the Embassy in Berlin / 68

Father Hermann Leo Van Breda and The Husserl-Archives / 71

Endnotes to Article / 75
Appendix I. “From Husserl to Carmel” / 79

Appendix II. “On the Nazi Persecution and Martyrdom of Edith Stein” / 88

Appendix III. “The Rescue of Edith Stein’s Nachlass by Fr. Van Breda / 100
Endnotes to Appendix /
Endnotes to Appendix I. / 104

Endnotes to Appendix II. / 105

Endnotes to Appendix III. / 106



By Robert A. DeGray, Ph.D.

American University of Prague


“I attempt to guide, not to instruct, but merely to

show and describe what I see. All I claim is the right to speak

according to my best lights – primarily to myself and

correspondingly to others – as one who has lived through a

philosophical existence in all it seriousness.”

Edmund Husserl
(The “Krisis” of the European Sciences, Husserliana, VI.)
Edmund Husserl was a famous German philosopher and mathematician. He lived from 1859 to 1938 and his work is important because he discovered a new science called transcendental phenomenology within the field of continental European philosophy. Husserl’s discovery of the new field of pure phenomenology as an eidetic science led him to acquire a huge intellectual following both inside of Germany as well as outside of Western Europe. Moreover, as Husserl’s idea of a pure phenomenology began to spread like wildfire across central Europe, his thinking slowly began to spark other new important phenomenological and existential movements in philosophy both inside and outside of Germany which eventually**http%3a/
Edmund Husserl

The Father of Phenomenology


developed and penetrated into such nearby or neighboring countries as France, Italy, Belgium, England, Spain, and finally, to America. From these new flowerings and

sprinklings of Husserl’s phenomenology, there slowly began to emerge an international and worldwide phenomenological movement which today recognizes and celebrates Edmund Husserl as being the true father of phenomenology.
Where was Husserl born? What schools did he attend? What types of subjects did he study? What was his influences? These are basic questions and considerations which presuppose a more intimate philosophical portrait of Edmund Husserl the man who lived and studied in both Austria and Germany.

Moreover, even though we lack personal contact with Edmund Husserl the man who is one of the most important historical figures in twentieth-century German phenomenology, we can still get a philosophical glimpse or “pulse” of Husserl’s personality and character by examining “excerpts” from letters he wrote as well as from personal recollections and memories on philosophical walks that he took with some of his closest associates while living in Vienna, especially his former friend and teacher, Franz Brentano.

In this very short introduction our task will be to provide the reader with a brief philosophical portrait of Edmund Husserl’s life and work in order to develop some historical background material in order to begin our study.

According to tradition, Husserl was born in Possnitz, Moravia, on April 8th, 1859, which was then part of the Austrian Empire at the time of his birth (as the second of four children). Thus, contrary to popular belief, our famous, twentieth-century


German phenomenological thinker, Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl, appears to have been an Austrian by birth and not a German citizen as one might otherwise expect. Moreover, the fact that Husserl was Austrian by birth meant that he grew up living in a rich intellectual and cultural tradition which greatly contributed to Husserl’s early educational experience. To add to this rich intellectual development, it should also be mentioned that Husserl frequently travelled “outside” of his native Austria to Germany where he studied at the universities of Leipzig and Berlin before completing his doctoral degree in mathematics in the faculty of philosophy at the University of Vienna (1883).


What was Husserl’s early school years like as a young man? What did he study? What knowledge do we have of Husserl’s earliest school days and intellectual evolution during his early student years?

As far as his early primary school development is concerned, it should be pointed out that Husserl completed his early elementary education in Austria around the age of 10 and then went to Vienna to begin his secondary school education as a pupil initially at the “Realgymnazium” in Vienna, and then finally to the “Stattsgymnazium” in Olmutz, before entering the University of Leipzig in Germany.

It was at Leipzig that Husserl studied both astronomy and mathematics from the years 1876 to 1878. However, during this same year, for academic reasons, Husserl was forced to transfer, once again, by moving from the city of Leipzig to the Friedrick Wilhelm University in Berlin in order to study pure mathematics under Karl Weierstrass and Leopold Kronecker. These early “mathematical” influences upon


Husserl’s intellectual evolution and development at this time undoubtedly helped to set the philosophical stage, so to speak, for his later so-called “pre-phenomenological” period of development in philosophy at the University of Halle between the years 1886 to 1900 (which we shall discuss in just a moment) in this short introduction; however, before doing so, let us first briefly turn to Husserl’s early student years at the University of Vienna (1881-85) and the role Franz Brentano’s thinking exercised upon Husserl’s philosophical development.

In the year 1881, (due to Karl Weirstraus’ illness), Husserl transferred from Berlin to the “University of Vienna” in order to complete his “doctoral studies” in the field of pure “mathematics” under Leopold Konigsberger; it was while studying at Vienna that Husserl began to slowly “shift” his academic and intellectual interests away from the field of pure mathematics to the field of “philosophy” under the careful direction and “watchful eye” of his former teacher and friend, Franz Brentano, (a Catholic priest), whose philosophy classes Husserl had attended with great interest and excitement while studying in Vienna. The greatest impact upon Husserl’s thinking during this time came directly from Brentano’s “theory of intentionality” (Psychologie der empirischen Standpunkt, 1874), as well as Brentano’s “descriptive psychology” which led Husserl to develop his own “phenomenological method” of investigation from Brentano’s philosophy in attempting to lay the foundations for his phenomenological thinking; nevertheless, at the conclusion of his studies at the “University of Vienna”, Husserl received his “doctor of philosophy” degree in 1883; he had completed his work under Leopold

Late 19th Century Europe

(at the time when Husserl studied under Brentano

in the University of Vienna)


Konigsberger and had written his doctoral dissertation thesis under the title: “Beitrage zur Theorie der Variationsrechnung” (“Outlines Concerning the Theory of Calculus Variations”) before leaving Vienna for Halle where he became a research

assistant under Carl Stumpf in psychology (1886-87) and eventually became a Privatdozent (1887-1901) in philosophy at the University of Halle.
Moreover, as we noted just a moment ago, Husserl slowly began to “shift” his academic and intellectual interests away from the field of pure mathematics to the field of “philosophy” under the careful direction of his former teacher, Franz Brentano, whose philosophy classes Husserl had attended with great interest while studying with Brentano in Vienna. Likewise, it should also be pointed out at this time that it was precisely Brentano’s lectures (Winter semester / 1884-85, Summer semester, / 1886), which became the deciding factor in Husserl making one of the most important decisions of his lifetime, that is, by deciding to turn away from the field of pure mathematics in order to devote all of his attention to the field of philosophy as the goal and aim of his life’s work.
Says Husserl:

“At a time when my interest in philosophy was increasing and I was vacillating

between staying in mathematics and devoting my life to philosophy, Brentano’s lectures were the deciding factor. I went to them at first merely out of curiosity, to hear the man who was the subject of so much talk in Vienna at that time, the man


whom some people respected so highly and admired so much, but whom others (and not so very few) derided him as a Jesuit in disguise, as a rhetorician, a fraud, a Sophist, and a Scholastic. My first impression of him was rather striking. This lean

figure with the powerful head framed by curly hair, the manly, prominent nose, the expressive lines in his face which bespoke not only of mental toil but deep spiritual conflict as well – these lay wholly outside the scope of common life. In every

feature, in every movement, in his soulful, introspective eyes, filled with determination, in his whole manner, was expressed the consciousness of a great

mission….” 1

“In spite of all my prejudices, I could not resist the power of this great personality for long. I was soon fascinated and then overcome by the unique clarity and dialectical accuity of his explanations, by the so to speak, “cataleptic power” of his development of problems and theories. It was from his lectures that I first acquired the conviction that first gave me the courage to choose philosophy as my life’s work, that is, the conviction that philosophy too, is a field of serious endeavor, and that it too can – and in fact must – be dealt with in a rigorously scientific manner.” 2

Moreover, this was the profound impact which Franz Brentano had exercised upon Edmund Husserl as a young man and as a student of philosophy at the University of Vienna as well as upon many other young men and pupils who became philosophy students of Franz Brentano’s at this time which includes such original minds as: Alexius Meinong (On The Theory of Objects), Anton Marty (On Being and Truth), Kasimir Twardowski (On Content and Object), Christian von Ehrenfels (On the Theory of Gestalt), Carl Stumpf (On Tone Psychology), as well as many others, including Edmund Husserl himself, (On The Idea of Phenomenology).**http%3a/
Franz Brentano, S. J.

The University of Vienna


Moreover, like Husserl himself, Carl Stumpf tells us in his memory of his former teacher and friend, Franz Brentano, that, like Husserl himself, he too had also fallen under the great “spell” of his former teacher’s “powerful” personality (Cateleptic power) which exercised a strong and “lasting influence” upon him as well as a young man, so much so, (as he tells us from his memories and recollections of Franz Brentano) that he was even considering even entering the “Jesuit seminary” and following Brentano into the “Catholic priesthood” during his early development under the guidance of his former teacher and friend, Franz Brentano, in Vienna. In his memories and recollections of Franz Brentano, Carl Stumpf also paints a “spiritual portrait” of his former teacher, Franz Brentano, in the following way, when he writes:

“The power that Brentano exercised over susceptible students is shown by the ‘metamorphosis’ that he produced in me. After a few weeks my interest in law began to wane, and before Christmas I sought him out to inform him of my intention of choosing philosophy and theology as my life’s work. I even wanted to follow him into the ‘priesthood’, so much of an example had he set for me. To be sure, I had been religious from childhood, but being always of a cheerful disposition. I had never thought of renouncing the world, and nothing of this sort had happened in my family as far back as we can remember…” 3

“Brentano advised me, as was his duty, to undergo a long period of contemplation and examination but from then on I accompanied him more and more

frequently on his walks…and enjoyed his personal concern and care of every further

phase of my personal spiritual development.” 4

s&h.jpg (36964 byte)

Edmund Husserl and Carl Stumpf

(probably 1928/29)


Moreover, this was the lasting influence which Franz Brentano exercised

upon Carl Stumpf and Edmund Husserl as well as upon many other philosophy

students who attended Brentano’s philosophy lectures at the University of Vienna during this time and who were greatly influenced by him.

In the light of this above influence, what, if anything, it should be asked, was Franz Brentano like as a real existential human being or as a man? How does Edmund Husserl, the father of pure phenomenology describe his former teacher and friend Franz Brentano from personal walks they took together in Vienna and St. Gilgen as well as from other recollections which Husserl sketches out for us from personal letters of his memories of Franz Brentano? In this brief introduction of Husserl’s life and work I wish to exhibit briefly some “excerpts” taken from key passages written by Husserl himself that reflect his own personal memories of Franz Brentano on personal walks they took together in St. Gilgen as well as from memories of their philosophical relationship together in Florence, Italy in order to help throw light on Edmund Husserl the man as well as his personal relationship to his friend and former teacher Franz Brentano.

Says Husserl, “in St. Gilgen Brentano liked to join in his wife’s portrait-painting, she being an able painter, and he would make improvements or even completely take over her pictures in progress, although it is true that she then had to lend a helping

hand and do some things over again correctly. This is the way he and his wife together painted me in 1886: ‘an amiable picture’ says Theodor Vischer, the discriminating art historician. With equal zeal Brentano spent afternoons in St.


Gilgen playing boccia (in the ‘garden’ which was a little piece of land behind the rented the rented cottage near the lake). He was not at all enthusiastic about hiking in

the mountains and liked only short walking trips. He lived very simply both in St. Gilgen and in Vienna. One really did not need to know him to observe his living habits for long to realize the ridiculousness of the talk that was going around about his having married his first wife for her money. He had no taste for the pleasures of wealth, and he ate and drank in moderation without really being aware of the differences in food or drink. I was often at his house at mealtimes and I never heard or noticed any reaction from him about food or drink that would indicate that he enjoyed it with any special pleasure. Once when we arrived in St. Gilgen before his wife did and had to eat in a rather bad restaurant, he was quite satisfied, simply not noticing the difference, for he was always occupied with his thoughts or conversation. And he allowed himself only the simplest foods, just as, when he travelled alone on the train, he was satisfied to travel the lowest class. The same was true of his clothing, which was exceedingly simple and often threadbare. Thrifty as he was in all these respects as far as his own person was concerned, he was nonetheless generous when he could do a good turn for someone else.” 5
“In his personal behavior toward younger people he was, on the one hand dignified, to be sure, but on the other hand extremely gracious and kind, constantly

concerned not only with furthering their intellectual development, but with their ethical personality as well. You could not help but surrender yourself completely to this higher guidance, and you felt its ennobling power constantly, even when you


were far away from him. Even in his lectures, someone who had once succumbed to him would be very deeply moved, not only on a theoretical level by their content; but by the pure “pathos” of his personality. And how he gave himself personally! The quite summer evenings’ walks along the Wolfgangsee, when he would often let himself go and speak freely about himself, are unforgettable to me. He had a kind of childlike openness, as indeed he had in general that childlike quality often found in geniuses.” 6

“I have never corresponded very much with Brentano. To the letter in which I asked him to allow me to dedicate the “Philosophy of Arithmetic” (my first philosophical writing) to him, he wrote back and thanked me warmly but tried to dissuade me; he said I should not invite the wrath of his enemies down upon my own head. I dedicated the book to him anyway, but when I sent him the dedication copy I received no reply. It was not until fourteen years later that Brentano noticed that I actually had dedicated the book to him, and then he thanked me in kind and heartfelt terms; he had obviously not looked at it closely, or had, at most, skimmed through it. Of course I had too high a regard for him, and I understood him too well to be really hurt by this.” 7

“There were deeper reasons why no active exchange of letters developed. At the beginning I was his enthusiastic pupil, and I never ceased to have the highest regard

for him as a teacher; still it was not to be that I should remain a member of his school. I knew, however, how much it agitated him when people went their own

way, even if they used his ideas as a starting point. He could often be unjust in such situations; this is what happened to me, and it was painful. Also, the person who is driven from within by unclarified and yet overpowering motives of thought, or who seeks to give expression to intuitions which are as yet conceptually incomprehensible and do not conform to the received theories, is not inclined to reveal his thoughts to someone who is convinced that his theories are right – and certainly not to a master logician like Brentano…. My development was like that and this was the reason for a certain ‘remoteness’, although not a personal estrangement, from my teacher, which made close intellectual contact so difficult later on. Never, I must freely admit, was this his fault. He repeatedly made efforts to re-establish scientific relations. He must have felt my great respect for him had never lessened during these decades. On the contrary, it had only more to value the power and impulses I received from him.” 8

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