Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Summary of Husserl's 1927 Brittannica article - pt 2

II. Phenomenological Psychology and Transcendental Phenomenology
6. Descartes' Transcendental Turn and Locke's Psychologism

Husserl's aim is to discover an a priori method that will finally deliver the certain, scientific objectivity required to realize the Enlightenment dream of a City of Man. This method is phenomenology. Whereas before it had led to a phenomenological psychology (though Husserl did get ahead of himself in the concluding section), Husserl goes on to say that it can also "open the essence of a transcendental phenomenology." The problem is obtaining the transcendental, that is of arriving at a perspective which is not wholly limited by the senses and escaping the cell of solipsism (re: subjective relativism)

The central problem that lies before Husserl is transcendental subjectivity, and this section is largely an archeology of the same. In his epistemological pursuit, Husserl is following the developments of eighteenth century empiricism, and specifically how the transcendental problem was developed by George Berkeley and David Hume from the original insights of John Locke and Renee Descartes. Husserl provides a paragraph on Descartes that is too good not to quote at length. It reads:

"In Descartes' Meditations, the thought that had become the guiding one for "first philosophy" was that all of "reality," and finally the whole world of what exists and is so for us, exists only as the presentational content of our presentations, as means in the best case and as evidently reliable in our own cognitive life. This is the motivation for all transcendental problems, genuine or false. Descartes' method of doubt was the first method of exhibiting "transcendental subjectivity" and his ego cogito led to its first conceptual formulation."


Now John Lock, Husserl goes on to explain, took over Descartes' epistemological problem with alterations. "Descartes' transcendentally pure mens is changed into the "human mind," whose systematic exploration through inner experience Locke tackled out of a transcendental-philosophical interest." Locke, then, founded psychologism, and it is psychologism that must be overcome if Husserl's project is to succeed. But what is psychologism? What is this "transcendental philosophy founded through a psychology of inner experience"?

Psychology at the end of the nineteenth century was the golden child of German epistemology. Psychology suggested a solution to perplexing problems of logic and the theory of knowledge, as well as affording either a substitute or supplement to philosophical idealism. Many felt that in psychology they had found the fundamental discipline which would ground all logical (philosophical) pursuit. Psychology it was felt clarified the subjective elements in all philosophical reasoning and made them certain. As John Stuart Mill wrote, "[Logic] owes all its theoretical foundations to psychology, and includes as much of that science as is necessary to establish the rule of the art."

Such proponents of psychology took their cue from empiricism (thus Husserl's address to John Locke). Knowledge was believed to arrive only through the medium of experience - an absolutely psychological medium. This is what psychologism is: the belief that knowledge arrives only out of subjective experience. Husserl disagreed.

In Prolegomena to First Logic, the first volume of Husserl's Logical Investigation, Husserl rejected any notion of logical rationality (knowledge) that could be explained by individual, contingently subjective processes (psychologism). Psychology could not support the epistemological certainty Husserl desired. Whereas logic detailed "thinking as it should be" (normative laws of thinking), psychology could only offer "thinking as it is" (natural laws of thinking.) Psychology investigates the facticities of consciousness. Logic, on the other hand, is an a priori science which doesn't depend upon any subject, its subject exists atemporally and apart from the need for factual reality. "Because of the scientific and empirical characteristics of psychology, it failed to understand the essence of things and to reach apodictic knowledge. It was only concern with doxa, not episteme. Only logic, which is “a priori”, and whose laws are “atemporal” and not actual, has the means to know the Truth based on reason."[1] Natural laws cannot be a priori, but are only arrived at by experience. Psychological laws arise from the generalization of experience, and thus are subject to probabilities. Not so the laws of logic, which are "established and justified, not by induction, but, by apodictic inner evidence" which gives logical laws an absolute exactness. Thus, psychologism, which weds the philosophical (logical) pursuit of certainty with the method of psychology in a way characteristic of empiricism, confuses logical laws with natural laws, and then claims the former is as probabilistic and relative as the latter. This confusion plays into Husserl's treatment of John Locke.

Husserl claims that the power and attraction of Locke's psychologism arises from the ambiguity that surrounds subjectivity. To raise the transcendental problem is to invoke the ambiguity of the subjective. Locke's psychologism draws its influential staying power from this ambiguity, and that is why it must be eliminated at its root.

Husserl's strategy for overcoming the ambiguity surrounding the subjective - eliminating Locke's psychologism at the root -- is twofold. First, he must treat in parallel phenomenological psychology (the scientifically rigorous form of a psychology based in pure inner experience) and transcendental phenomenology. Second, having dealt with them in parallel, he must completely separate the two from each other. In doing so, he will also justify the previous claim of this article that psychology is the means of access to true philosophy - a claim that apologetically resonates as established truth at the time qua psychologism but which cannot be. Husserl's argument is nuanced here as to sound like the one but actually be another. We proceed with curiosity, and go right into Husserl's doing what every philosopher does at the beginning of an argument: clarifying terms, in this case the transcendental problem.

7. The Transcendental Problem

The transcendental problem "places in question the world and all the sciences investigating it." (One could even go so far as to argue that it is the central problem of philosophy, as it is said that Greek philosophy began with the admission that the senses lie.) The transcendental problem discovers itself (Auftreten) as we begin to question what our sense tell us, or, rather, when we become aware of the foundational role our senses play in relationship we have to the world. It is an astonishing reversal of common experience. We realize that "the 'world' is for us precisely that...world which is present to us." Every sense the world has for us is something generated and formed in a process Husserl calls subjective genesis. What we used to call the world we now call our sense of the world (weltlichen Sinn). "Every acceptance of something as validly existing is effected within ourselves; and every evidence in experience and theory that establishes it, is operative in us ourselves, habitually and continuously motivating us."

Husserl's language invokes David Hume. Where Hume reduced the iron certainty of causation into a subjective mental habit, Husserl finds that in the light of the the transcendental problem "the world in its whole mode of being acquires a dimansion of unintelligibility, or rather of questionableness." Just as with Hume, self-investigation results in a profound loss of confidence. "As human creatures...we ourselves are supposed to belong to the world." "Unintelligibility is felt as a particularly telling affront to our very mode of being [as human beings]."

Of course, Husserl hasn't yet advanced on Locke and psychologism. He has only stated the problem, in its origin and extent, as well as in its effect upon human place-holding. The first trumpet of assault announces itself by the word, How. He writes:

One's first awakening to the relaedness of the world to consciousness gives no understand of how the varied life of consciousness, barely discerned and sinking back into obscurity, accomplishes such functions: how it, so to say, manages in its immanence that something which manifests itself can present itself as something existing in itself, and not only as something meant but as something authenticated in concordant experience.

In other words, his critique is going to focus on how the seeming randomness and subjectivity of meaning-making in a world governed by the transcendental problem actually produces a world which we believe and can share in that belief with others. Further, interrogation must also begin with ourselves and our conscious life-process, because it is there that the "sense [of the everyday world] is first formed" and it is there that "it has gained and can gain its sense and validity."

Husserl goes on from here to discuss possible worlds. This is, at first, an odd step. But given the all-encompassing nature of the transcendental problem it makes perfect sense. If the world is what our senses tell us it is, then our world is one possibility among many. Any world is but the negotiatied product of our senses. Thus, Husserl writes:

If we vary our factual world in free fantasy, carrying it over into random conceivable worlds, we are implicitly varying ourselves whose environment the world is: we each change ourselves into a possible subjectivity, whose environment would always have to be the world that was thought of, as a world of its [the subjectivity's] possible experiences, possible theoretical evidences, possible practical life.

This problem is not dissimilar to Descartes' problem of brains in vats. How do we know that our world is not the world assigned to us? How do we know there are other worlds, or, if there is a correct world, that ours is, in fact, that correct one?

The solution to all this, writes Husserl, rests in those things which are untouched in variation. Invariable essences (Identitäten) which, in his language, "have their existence in eidetic universality" remain untouched by the whirl of possible worlds. They are like higher platonic forms. They relate to each subjective consciousness in a direct intentionality that transcends variation. Thus, they provide a solid place for Husserl's interrogation to stand, and dictate that the method of investigation needed into the transcendental problem is eidetic.

8. The Solution by Psychologism as a Transcendental Circle

Husserl's previous work, outlining the ability of a phenomenologically pure psychology to identify the essential structures of consciousness in a subject, seems ready-made to serve as the vehicle which will overcome the transcendental problem outlined in the previous section. Alas, no. Phenomenological reduction, when applied to the subject, does not truly leave the natural attitude. "Even in eidetic research, the psyche retains the sense of being which belongs in the realm of what is present in the world; it is merely related to possible real worlds." The only way to escape the transcendental problem is to escape the situation which gives rise to it, the spatial world. A natural attitude takes its assumptive definitions for words such as "mind" "I" and other subjects from the presence of a possible spatial world. Instead, the transcendental interest must be decisive. For transcendental philosophy, the subjectivity of consciousness can no longer serve as the beginning point of our interrogations. The regions of the transcendental and the subjective must be clearly defined from each other.

Now the theme of transcendental philosophy is a concrete and systematic elucidation of those multiple intentional relationships which, in conformity with their essences, belong to any possible world whatsoever, where said possible world serves as the one practically and theoretically accessible for any corresponding subjectivity. Again, for any subjectivity that is related to a possible world, transcendental philosophy systematically and concretely details the multiple intentional relationships which would, in conformity to their essences, belong to that world, and any other possible world.

This subjectivity must be assumed as beyond question. This anonymous subjectivity cannot be put into question by the transcendental problem. Otherwise, the question could not be asked, nor the solution sought. Yet this does not mean that a good deal is put into question. Indeed, whatever is associated with or takes its subject from the whole realm of the natural attitude must be subjected to an epoche. This would include, then, psychology. And this is exactly why psychology cannot answer the transcendental question, whether it be empirical psychology or eidetic-phenomenology. But then we have discovered a new insight. We cannot base transcendental philosophy on psychology - to do so would be to create a transcendental circle - and yet the transcendental question occurs to some subjectivity. This subjectivity, then, the subjectivity that asks the transcendental question, must be other than the consciousness with which psychology deals.

9. The Transcendental-Phenomenological Reduction and the Semblance of Transcendental Duplication

more to come....

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Read the entire summary via Google Docs.