What is Husserl's basic project with his phenomenology?

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What is Husserl's basic project with his phenomenology?

Post Number:#1  Postby Phenomexistentialist » May 12th, 2017, 6:37 am

Hi all! First, let me introduce myself. My name is Brian and I'm a 34 year old dude who love philosopher, studied it in school, attempted to pursue it as a career and then left that pathway when I found it was to daunting. Nevertheless, I still love the subject matter and I am looking forward to speaking with you guys about philosophical topics, as I miss having these kinds of discussions on a regular basis. :)

Ok, onward to the topic at hand. So, as my username suggests, I am deeply interested in both phenomenology and existentialism. My academic background is mostly in Heidegger, specifically. Lately, I've found myself wanting to re-engage with the work of Edmund Husserl and started reading Ideas I from the beginning and I'm quite enjoying it.

The first question that comes up for me is: what exactly is Husserl trying to puzzle out with his phenomenological project. For example, a philosopher might address a question like is dualism or physicalism true in the Phil. of mind, how knowledge of the experiential world is possible in epistemology, or who we should run over with a trolley in ethics.

I guess my basic understanding of Husserl's project is that it is a kind of epistemological foundationalist project in the tradition of Descartes and Kant. I think what he's getting at is that, like Descartes argued, we have no firm foundations for our knowledge in any particular science (broadly construed), and phenomenology is the radical new method Hussel proposes to ground the sciences in a kind of absolutely certain knowledge in a way that, in my opinion, Descartes largely failed to do much beyond establishing the certainly of the cogito ergo sum.

Is that roughly right? Is Husserlian phenomenology as first philosophy a basically epistemological project? Or do you think I am interpreting his basic project in the wrong direction. How do you understand what Edmund Husserl is up to?

Thanks all, looking forward to reading some replies and having some cool discussions!

- Brian
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Re: What is Husserl's basic project with his phenomenology?

Post Number:#2  Postby Burning ghost » May 13th, 2017, 9:07 am

I have found Husserl very useful. I set out my own ideas over the years and finally stumbled across Husserl when I was reading a text book on cognitive neuroscience.

I am not going to pretend I have a full understanding of his work. I have read his last (incomplete) work cover to cover ("Crisis").

I have also read a commentary on his Cartasian Mediations, which looks at his text with an overview of all of his work in relation to this (was by ... Smith, Cambridge press I think?). Was a good read, but I felt Smith was pushing his own position little and interpreting Husserl to fit his own needs (I guess no one can help but understand things with their own view onboard - part of what I feel Husserl was addressing).

An old friend of mine mentioned that Logical Investigations is recognized as one of Husserl's most highly regarded works. I have not read this, but I think it is fair to say from that point he has refined his ideas more over time and that from there both phenomenology and existentialism arose. I believe he is probably the most important philosopher in the 20th century in regards to setting the foundation for people like Heidegger, Satre, Foucault, Derrida, Wittgenstein and consequentially a few others. That said I also believe, especially in regard to Heidegger, that his intent was taken off course by Heidegger because I se Husserl's intent being one of a very, very broad nature that refused to adhere to any particular methodology, rather Husserl was interested in the methodology of methodology, and what happen after him was that people took this literally and so moved phenomenology more toward the investigation of language itself (ie. with Heidegger, Derrida and I would even say Wittgenstein too although I have no idea how Wittgenstein is considered in regard to Husserl in academia because I am not an academic student - my hobby is being interested in stuff and here I am).

I have my own view, as we all do, tagged onto how I read Husserl. So I am probably not in a good position to address your question having only read a small part of all that he has written.

I would recommend taking a look at "The Origin of Geometry". It was an essay that seemed to be meant as part of his last work. I read Derrida's critic of it which you can download online. From that they may be able to see my point about how Husserl wrote things in a vague way (on purpose) and how someone like Derrida, being bafflingly obscure, took his written words and IMO got stuck in the linguistics of Husserl rather than seeing Husserl's words as an "adumbration" of X.

If I remember correctly Husserl saw the lineage of phenomenology starting with Plato then Decartes (emphasis on first meditation) and then himself. He used Kant as a way to express his annoyance with psychology as a scientific disapline. Generally his goal appears to have been to move science toward a whole new paradigm of science that investigated subjective reality, and from there, like you say, give empirical science a better "grounding", by realizing the current paradigm of scientific grounding. I have found his idea of "pre-scientific man" to be one of the more difficult concepts to grasp.

One thing for sure about Husserl. He didn't like conclusions, but he didn't like Gestalt either? Sad he died so young because I feel he had a whole lot more to offer in refining his overall ideas regarding his phenomenological reduction.

-- Updated May 13th, 2017, 9:16 am to add the following --

Just to add I have HUGE issues with Heidegger's "dasein". I really hate that I cannot find, in his words, a coherent definition of what he is referring to. In many ways he simply renamed a lot of Husserl's ideas and often didn't bother to change them. Some of his terms are subtley diffrnt from Husserl's though.

I read Being and Time once and I have tried to read it again, but flounder early on. I think the only way to read it is to ignore a large part of the opening view chapters. I remember reading about 50 pages and then finding him sum it all up in about 200 words. Why didn't he just start with the 200 words? I never lost that sense of suspicion in his words and lacked convinction he really knew what he was saying half the time. That said I have taken onboard a lot of his ideas and found them useful. It does get confusing though when comparing Husserl to Heidegger because terms like "de-distancing" and "horizon" can, and perhaps should, be taken in different ways. In my mind Heidegger took a very particular route in phenomenology where Husserl insisted the point to be a route-less journey with assiduous focus on where and when to employ precision or vagueness in order to give the reader the best possible clarity. Like Kant himself says in Critic of Pure Reason, in trying to be more and more precise we sometimes end up doing the exact opposite. Heidegger seems not to have considered this in the slightest IMO.
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Re: What is Husserl's basic project with his phenomenology?

Post Number:#3  Postby Consul » May 13th, 2017, 9:40 am

I recommend this book:

* Smith, David Woodruff. Husserl. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Also: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/husserl/
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars
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Re: What is Husserl's basic project with his phenomenology?

Post Number:#4  Postby Burning ghost » May 13th, 2017, 10:13 am

To add ...

Husserl was very concerned with the state of psychology. He questioned its worth because it was being employed as a "positive science". He was attempting to renew the field of psychology and/or dismiss it from positive sciences completely to make way for another "methodology" that was not opposed to "positive science", but essential to it, being continually covered up and ignored by the overwhelming success of the positive natural sciences. This is what the "grounding" of science was as he saw it (so I believe).

He discusses "psychology" in his final unfinished work numerous times. He obviously found this to be an important point to drive home in explicating his "Transcendental Phenomenology".
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Re: What is Husserl's basic project with his phenomenology?

Post Number:#5  Postby Phenomexistentialist » May 16th, 2017, 4:02 am

Burning ghost wrote:I have found Husserl very useful. I set out my own ideas over the years and finally stumbled across Husserl when I was reading a text book on cognitive neuroscience.


Hello Burning Ghost! Nice to meet you.

Burning ghost wrote:I am not going to pretend I have a full understanding of his work. I have read his last (incomplete) work cover to cover ("Crisis").


I have read much of that particular work in an academic setting, although a long time ago now. It's a very interesting one due to what I think many perceive as its Heideggerian-influenced overtones. I also remember having debates with my professor about to what extent Husserl is still doing phenomenology in that work, as opposed to say cultural criticism or philosophy of history some other genre of philosophy.

Burning ghost wrote:I have also read a commentary on his Cartasian Mediations, which looks at his text with an overview of all of his work in relation to this (was by ... Smith, Cambridge press I think?). Was a good read, but I felt Smith was pushing his own position little and interpreting Husserl to fit his own needs (I guess no one can help but understand things with their own view onboard - part of what I feel Husserl was addressing).


Sigh so much historical philosophical thought is cut to push a particular interpretation that may stray very far from the original work's intentions, but as you suggest, that is hard to avoid I suppose. I am guessing you are referencing Woodruff Smith, who I hope to get more familiar with along with Zahavi as far as Husserl interpreters go.

Burning ghost wrote:An old friend of mine mentioned that Logical Investigations is recognized as one of Husserl's most highly regarded works. I have not read this, but I think it is fair to say from that point he has refined his ideas more over time and that from there both phenomenology and existentialism arose. I believe he is probably the most important philosopher in the 20th century in regards to setting the foundation for people like Heidegger, Satre, Foucault, Derrida, Wittgenstein and consequentially a few others. That said I also believe, especially in regard to Heidegger, that his intent was taken off course by Heidegger because I se Husserl's intent being one of a very, very broad nature that refused to adhere to any particular methodology, rather Husserl was interested in the methodology of methodology, and what happen after him was that people took this literally and so moved phenomenology more toward the investigation of language itself (ie. with Heidegger, Derrida and I would even say Wittgenstein too although I have no idea how Wittgenstein is considered in regard to Husserl in academia because I am not an academic student - my hobby is being interested in stuff and here I am).


Husserl is definitely almost obsessive about philosophical methodology and its relation to philosophical content. For sure. It's interesting, but "doing" phenomenology seems a bit different than "doing" traditional ontology or epistemology, for example. I suppose that is kind of grounded in its descriptive rather than traditionally argumentative style. I am wary of that distinction though, since I do believe phenomenological descriptions ARE often arguments of a kind [i.e. reality is experienced THIS way therefore THAT theory of reality seems incorrect].

Burning ghost wrote:I have my own view, as we all do, tagged onto how I read Husserl. So I am probably not in a good position to address your question having only read a small part of all that he has written.


Fair enough but I appreciate you sharing.

Burning ghost wrote:I would recommend taking a look at "The Origin of Geometry". It was an essay that seemed to be meant as part of his last work. I read Derrida's critic of it which you can download online. From that they may be able to see my point about how Husserl wrote things in a vague way (on purpose) and how someone like Derrida, being bafflingly obscure, took his written words and IMO got stuck in the linguistics of Husserl rather than seeing Husserl's words as an "adumbration" of X.



Thanks for the suggestion. Though I have heard of the work I have not read it. I'll look into it.

Interesting, because I haven't thought much about Plato here! But your point makes sense. After all, Plato is perhaps the first great writer of the a priori in philosophy.

Sad, indeed. And yes, there is a sense I get to that his investigations are meant to be ever so open ended so that they can yield newer and newer "conclusions" based on new phenomenological evidence. So, maybe, he reaches conclusions with the caveat that they are highly revisable and subject to change based on future subjective data of consciousness.

Anyway, thanks for your thoughts. My main takeaway from your point is that Husserl is doing a lot of meta-philosophy and methodological theorizing - and practice. Philosophy starts with X method [phenomenological investigation] which lays the foundations for the other philosophical and scientific disciplines.

Thanks again for your reply!
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Re: What is Husserl's basic project with his phenomenology?

Post Number:#6  Postby Burning ghost » May 16th, 2017, 1:49 pm

Well, the last comment you make here does stand along side what he himself says in "Crisis". He is looking at the "origin" and regarded what he was doing as revealing the one true philosophical beginning (may have worded that badly, sorry!) which is of course his "Transcendental Phenomenology".

Pretty sure the text I was referring to was from a guy named A.A. Smith? Another free download online. He also argues that Heidegger did not influence Husserl at all. There has since been evidence to show that Husserl did not simply lift some of Heidegger's (his student for those who didn't know, I guess you do!) ideas, but rather he already had drafts written long before Heidegger published (cannot remember precisely what claims others made about Heideggers influence on Husserl).

I found something very intriguing in Crisis. He uses the term "prescientific man" to try to highlight the difference between a theoretical and non-theoretical attitude. It is a very subtle thing, but I have not read anything like it elsewhere in regards to a criticism toward the idealistaion of scientific method and how it has spilled over into more fundamental philosophical thought. He goes to great lengths to show this paradigm shift with how Galileo "mathematised" nature and created the foundation for modern physics.

Look forward to hearing your views on this. I have paid more attention to Husserl than anyone else up to now.
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Re: What is Husserl's basic project with his phenomenology?

Post Number:#7  Postby Phenomexistentialist » May 21st, 2017, 4:27 am

Burning ghost wrote:-- Updated May 13th, 2017, 9:16 am to add the following --

Just to add I have HUGE issues with Heidegger's "dasein". I really hate that I cannot find, in his words, a coherent definition of what he is referring to. In many ways he simply renamed a lot of Husserl's ideas and often didn't bother to change them. Some of his terms are subtley diffrnt from Husserl's though.

I read Being and Time once and I have tried to read it again, but flounder early on. I think the only way to read it is to ignore a large part of the opening view chapters. I remember reading about 50 pages and then finding him sum it all up in about 200 words. Why didn't he just start with the 200 words? I never lost that sense of suspicion in his words and lacked convinction he really knew what he was saying half the time. That said I have taken onboard a lot of his ideas and found them useful. It does get confusing though when comparing Husserl to Heidegger because terms like "de-distancing" and "horizon" can, and perhaps should, be taken in different ways. In my mind Heidegger took a very particular route in phenomenology where Husserl insisted the point to be a route-less journey with assiduous focus on where and when to employ precision or vagueness in order to give the reader the best possible clarity. Like Kant himself says in Critic of Pure Reason, in trying to be more and more precise we sometimes end up doing the exact opposite. Heidegger seems not to have considered this in the slightest IMO.


Heidegger is difficult to parse because he is trying to use terminology that acts as an alternative to the traditional vocabulary of philosophical and everyday discourse. Of course, he could have said "human being" instead of Dasein," but his reasons to choose the latter term were several-fold. I think the most important reason is that Heidegger believes that the term "human being" already designates that entity as having a specific way of being - "readiness to hand", "occurrentness" or, I think, "objecthood/thinghood." Basically he think the term human being is loaded with these ontological assumptions which he is trying to get away from. His major foils here, I think, are once again Descartes, Kant, and Husserl, who in one way or another basically take the human being as some kind of "body-thing" plus a "mind-thing" unified together. It's not that those things are false, but they conceal the more basic ground layer of what it is to be a human being, which, for Heidegger, I think is, roughly a being that a) is ontological - meaning has a basic though perhaps hazy understanding what it is for things exist and for its own self to exist, in a kind of immediate grasping way. Secondly, the human being is an entity which "exists" meaning that our self-understanding is constituted not by what we are made out of "body and soul stuff", but rather by what we do and who we are. We do things like teach, drive, write, paint, and have social interaction, and we are things like teachers, drivers, fathers, daughters, artists and friends. To Heidegger, those are the most basic characteristics of what it is to be human / dasein, not our materiality or mentality.

Of course, Husserl begins to become influenced by this very much by the time he wrote the Crisis with his focus on the life-world or what Heidegger would basically call our average everyday existence.

Hope that helps a little!
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Re: What is Husserl's basic project with his phenomenology?

Post Number:#8  Postby Phenomexistentialist » May 21st, 2017, 4:43 am

[quote="Consul"]I recommend this book:

* Smith, David Woodruff. Husserl. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Thanks! I've been meaning to get to that one.

By the by, I studied for awhile with Taylor Carman who wrote the book on Merleau-Ponty for the same series. Great guy, great professor.
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Re: What is Husserl's basic project with his phenomenology?

Post Number:#9  Postby Burning ghost » May 21st, 2017, 9:51 am

Phenom -

Not sure I can agree with what you say above about Husserl. We'll no doubt come that difference in the future.

Note: I make a very purposeful approach to reading the text as written before going near other critiques or interpretations. If you want to understand someone read what they say and who they read prior to creating their own work. I am not convinced that Heidegger had much influence on Husserl, the opposite is more true (like I said the evidence is that Husserl already had his ideas written down before he read Being and Time. Hard to say where the ideas came from originally though, but I am suspicious of the line Heidegger took ... more of a political point and not really important to the philosophy though!)
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Re: What is Husserl's basic project with his phenomenology?

Post Number:#10  Postby Fooloso4 » May 21st, 2017, 7:35 pm

Burning ghost:

I found something very intriguing in Crisis. He uses the term "prescientific man" to try to highlight the difference between a theoretical and non-theoretical attitude.


I don’t think that this is what he was getting. It is not about a person holding a particular attitude but rather about lived experience as prescientific. It is prior to and a the transcendental condition for science. The objectivity of science is grounded on the subjectivity of lived experience. Thus the scientific attitude is not capable of understanding human consciousness.
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Re: What is Husserl's basic project with his phenomenology?

Post Number:#11  Postby Burning ghost » May 21st, 2017, 11:20 pm

He said "attitude" and I don't think he meant it in the normal way anymore than when he said 'object". I think I am correct in saying he pointed out the "theoretical attitude" as being the difference between science and non-science. The lived experience as brought about into a "scheme" and understood through this scheme in an unlimited and infinite fashion.

I found his use of "finite" and "infinite" very interesting particulary in reference to the general idea of horizons. The objective persues an infinite task and the subjective life world is finite. Only through the theoretical attitude toward the world do we possess the idea of the infinite.
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Re: What is Husserl's basic project with his phenomenology?

Post Number:#12  Postby Fooloso4 » May 22nd, 2017, 3:45 pm

Burning ghost:

I think I am correct in saying he pointed out the "theoretical attitude" as being the difference between science and non-science.


The question of attitude is the question of how the subject stands in relationship the object or how we stand in relation to the world. The prescientific attitude and the scientific attitude are both analyzed within the transcendental attitude that attempts to disclose transcendental subjectivity as foundational.

I would recommend taking a look at "The Origin of Geometry".


Jacob Klein’s “Phenomenology and the History of Science" reprinted here: issuu.com/bouvard6/docs/jacob_klein_-_h ... erl__1940_ provides some insight.

What is at issue is the "sedimentation" of mathematics that occurs with the shift from the Greek concept of number in arithmetic and geometry, which was always tied to the question of “how many”, to mathematical symbolism as the “main instrument and real basis of mathematical physics” (10) .

“Universal science” as conceived by Descartes and others is an analytical art (ars analytice) that deals with symbols and the rules governing symbolic operations.

Upon the combined “sediments” reposes finally our actual interpretation of the world … the “scientific” attitude permeates all our thoughts and attitudes … We take for granted that there is a “true world” as revealed by the combined efforts of the scientists … This idea of a true, mathematically shaped world behind the “sensible” world, as a complex of mere appearances, determines also the scope of modern philosophy. We take the appearances of things as a kind of disguise concealing their true mathematical nature. (20-21).


The prescientific attitude is one in which such assumptions do not come into play. Neither thought nor the world is mathematized in the sense of being regarded as if they were in truth the function of symbolic operations. It is historically prescientific not only in so far as it is temporally prior, it is prescientific in the sense of intentional history. It is in that sense an attitude that can be recovered.
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