The importance of Edmund Husserl

Edmund Husserl is someone whose work we should all get to know. I came to his phenomenology through Edith Stein. He was her mentor and the father of modern phenomenology.

With the introduction of his Logical Investigations around 1900, Husserl gave birth to most of the significant philosophical movements of the 20th century, including Heidegger, Sartre, and Kierkegaard, in addition to Stein. The vast array of directions indicated by this group goes to my point of his significance. Heidegger was an unrepentant Nazis, Sartre was a communist atheist, Kierkegaard was whatever a Kierkegaard is, and Stein was a Carmelite mystic saint who now is one of a handful of patron saints of Europe.

The reason for such diverse movements is that his phenomenology has nothing to do with telling us what is true. It has to do with how we go about figuring out what is true. It is a methodology more than a true philosophy. Husserl was a mathematician and logician who turned to philosophy with the same scientific rigor. He knew objective truth existed. He knew that 2+2=4 with universal certainty. He also knew that we only can know 2+2=4 is universally true through subjective experiential intuition. Husserl made the case that the beginning of all knowledge is intuition, not empiricism, and that even mathematics and science depended on intuition for their foundations, i.e., intuition comes before empirical observation. He attacked the psychologism of relativity, and the latter has yet to fully recover over a hundred years later.

Phenomenology in general makes truth more accessible to our consciousness. It deals with how we construct our understanding of the world around us and helps us make logical inferences about how our lived experience correlates to what we know. It does not tell us what is true but how to think. What we do with the powerful weapon of thinking (lost in the modern world) is up to us. We can become a Nazis, a commie atheist, a Kierkegaard-y type thingy, or possibly even a saint.

As a side note, Husserl was persecuted as a Jew by the Nazis, and his writings were banned in Germany. Stein, as a Jew was executed by the Nazis at Auschwitz, Heidegger ended up digging anti-tank ditches in the mud for the Nazis, and Sartre was celebrated at his death by a grand parade. Kierkegaard went to wherever a Kierkegaard goes.

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