Category Archives: Husserl

Husserl’s claim that intuition precedes empirical science as a foundation for knowledge

Husserl’s claim that intuition comes before scientific empiricism as our foundation of knowledge is making more sense to me. It confused me at first. We tend to think that intuition is a subjective, “gut-feel,” and only through observational, empirical science can we determine what is real. Husserl would respond to that with “balderdash.”

It is intuitively and universally recognized that giraffes are taller than poodles. Without any prior knowledge, without any need to study the situation scientifically, we know with certainty that one is taller than the other. Looking at the two, no one asks, “I wonder which is taller? Can we do an experiment to see which is taller?” Empirical, data-driven science measures a nine foot giraffe and a one foot poodle. The determination is that the giraffe is taller than the poodle. But what’s a “taller than”? From where did that come?

Now, strip away the contingent individual instance of a giraffe and a poodle. Is it not true that any nine foot animal is taller than a one foot animal? Go further. Is it not true that any nine foot thing (animal, building, vehicle…etc.) is taller than a one foot thing? This foundational truth, universally true across any instantiation is what he calls “eidetic.” That a nine foot thing is taller than a one foot thing is an intuitively “eidetic” principle. It is objectively true, universally. Science must first be founded on the objective notion of “taller than” before its empiricism can determine which animal is “taller than” the other. Everything, including science, must be founded on intuition of eidetic principles to even function. Thus, intuition is the foundation of knowledge, not empirical science.

Note also that eidetic intuition completely contradicts the relativism of psychologism. The idea that giraffes are taller than poodles simply because societal and cultural norms have dictated it, and that it could be different under a different set of norms, is that same balderdash.

Husserl’s Logical Investigations were initially an attack on the relativity of psychologism, that truth is whatever we make it to be. Only later, in Ideas, did he develop it into a philosophical methodology called phenomenology.

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.

Objectivity affects consciousness – not the other way around (Husserl)

As one whose life-project is to bring to light how our subjective experiences are grounded in objective truths, we can see how the following statement shattered the darkness.

“I apprehend the world-about-them and the world-about-me objectively as one and the same world, which differs in each case only through affecting consciousness differently.” ~ Edmund Husserl, Ideas 

Husserl’s point here in Part II of his Ideas is a radical disruption to the modern worldview. The axiom here is that the world is an objective reality, and this objective reality affects individual consciousness, not the other way around. The modern “progressive” worldview reverses this by positing that the individual more or less creates his or her (or none?) reality, i.e., individual consciousness determines objective reality for that person. The Phenomenological Husserlian understanding finds this modern view to be intellectually untenable. 

In my earliest manuscript, I asserted that whereas each of us walking the same trail will highlight different moments (the subjective experience), we nevertheless all are walking the same trail (the objective experience). I did not realize how phenomenologically Husserlian was that metaphor. I was saying the same thing Husserl posits in his Ideas.

This phenomenological orientation is why I am unable to cooperate with a society that believes in radical “progressive” individualism and claims that people should create whatever reality suits them (e.g., a man decides that his “reality” is that he is a she). They have it all backwards. Affective consciousness does not create the objective; it is the objective that “affects consciousness differently.” Men cannot be women; though, the objective reality of “manhood” possibly can affect their consciousness to make them think it is so. But a man, they remain.

What is objectivity, then, but “essence” in Husserl’s view? Well, if objective truth is “essence,” then, de facto, no subjective mind can “create it.” To do so is not “essence” (reality) but “imagination.”