Tag Archives: Edmund 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.

Edith Stein’s reconciliation of Husserl and Aquinas

I’m making what in my mind is astonishing progress. I’m reading ‘Phenomenology Explained – From Experience to Insight’ by David Detmer. It is a superb summary of Edmund Husserl’s work. I am in his discussion of Husserl’s “time-consciousness.” Thus far this is the most elegant and integrative of Husserl’s philosophy (which really is a methodology).

He starts by pointing out that whereas Martin Heidegger formally is credited with editing this piece of Husserl’s influential Logical Investigations, actually it was Edith Stein who did the heavy lifting. The concept is difficult to refute. Husserl’s insight is that perception is not bound by linear time; when we perceive we are synthesizing the past – retention – and the future – protention – into a whole. Retention is not memory, and protention is not imagination. They are different.

But to the progress I am making, I now the see the profound connection to Stein’s main accomplishment, that of reconciling the medieval scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas’ Aristotelianism and Husserl’s modern day Phenomenology. Stein takes Aristotle’s (and Aquinas’) potency and act and interprets it through the lens of Husserl’s time-consciousness. Does not “potency and act,” Aristotle’s big concept, have to do with time? Of course. Things move from potency to act only over time. But how does one understand the essence of coming from potency to act over time? Of what it really means? Of its objective truth? Of the point of it all?

Stein applies her insights stemming from editing Husserl’s works to the less elegant, somewhat clunky concept of Aristotle’s potency and act. Suddenly, potency and act becomes more elegant, more explainable, more intuitively real than Aristotle or Aquinas could ever accomplish. She loved Husserl’s work, and she loved Aquinas and his Aristotelianism. She married them.

I have noted this for some time. I never knew how to explain what she did until now. I think that if we would follow Stein’s insights, the world would be a much better place. This may all sound irrelevantly esoteric; however, through it we would better understand the world around us. And right now, it seems that few if any of us understand the world around us.

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.

Two pinnacle questions – Husserl and Edith Stein

There are two pinnacle questions that drove me to study both Edmund Husserl, the father of modern day phenomenology, and his student Edith Stein. It is analogous to walking around a piece of art in amazement, trying to understand what is its essence, or perhaps listening in awe to a pianist elevate and unveil an unseen but very beautiful and very real substance that exists above and beyond us. 

Edmund Husserl developed a model of thought that purposefully, deliberately excluded facts. He loved science but found science’s claim to be a pathway to truth as absurd and circular in its reasoning. His model is, in his mind, the science of all sciences and one without which natural science can never achieve its stated goal. Husserl’s model is one of pure consciousness and apriori reasoning. For Husserl, reason directs science, not the other way around. That was the first of my pinnacle questions. Why?

His student Edith Stein, a Jewish atheist, assisted him in the organization of his work. She was transfixed on Husserl’s work. One day she came across the book St. Teresa of Avila’s Autobiography, who was the founder of the Discalced Carmelite Order. There is reason to believe that Edith read it overnight in one sitting. When she finished the book, she closed it and said, “This is truth.” That was my second pinnacle question. Why?

Why did two well-recognized philosophers believe that truth could be found through pure essence, pure consciousness and reason, such that it could even direct the natural sciences, and why did one of them, Edith Stein, close St. Teresa’s book and posit, “This is truth”?

These are my two questions, the answers to which I seek. Stein later would give me a clue. There is something, she said, that consistently is there, unchanging, in the flow of our life, something higher and toward which we move in space in time, something toward which each artist, each person, strives. Ultimately, she would fulfill her phenomenological mission. She would discover that this something toward which we move, toward which we strive, that we seek to unveil, is a Trinity of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

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.”

The model influenced by Edith Stein and Edmund Husserl

The model I have been developing for the past twelve years to which I often refer is, as stated in my writings, bimodal. That was the beginning form. Over these many years, I have focused on two particular phenomena, a sudden “instant instance” whereby I received an intuition about Thérèse of Lisieux and a sudden “instant instance” whereby I received an intuition about Joan of Arc. This bimodal experience became the definition of my life, and anyone who knows anything about Thérèse of Lisieux also knows that she and Joan together represent a spiritual speciation of a more encompassing genus of French Spirituality. Thus, by simple syllogism, my life became defined by French spirituality. 

My efforts the past few years have been around modeling the experience, the idea being that the instantiation of Joan and Thérèse in my life is an objective reality given to me in my own subjectivity. The challenge to objectify subjective phenomena began. The solution came through the philosophy of Edith Stein and her mentor Edmund Husserl. As I integrated Stein into my work, it became clear the she was the only philosopher who could close the system and give me relief in my search.

Through Husserl, I came to define the bimodal “instant instances” (my term) as his “primordial dator” which, according to him is the “principle of all principles.” The area under the curves represents the speciation of the model through intuition of essential essence (Husserl) with the model developed in a “step-by-step” fashion (Stein).

The capstone for me, though, has been the one principle I added on my own that gave the model its final presentation and life – syntax. I added syntax after reading Husserl and experiencing the most serendipitous (seemingly) encounter with the works of the French pop artist Nolwenn Leroy (how unexpected!). That experience brought to light the principle of syntax which demonstrated how the model was “ordered” so as to be a complete instantiation of my “primordial dator” experiences in 1984 and 2008. Syntax represents the spirit that orders it to a certain rhythm and mathematical beauty.