Issue #36 December 2020

Phenomenology — Eine Übersichtliche Darstellung

El Lissitzky — Self-Portrait (‘The Constructor’) (1924)

It is quite impossible to present a complete exhaustive picture of Husserlian phenomenology, but we will attempt to approach the objective as closely as possible. Not only does the difficulty arise from the inherent complexity of the system, nor because Husserl himself would change and revise his views to the extent that the later Husserl stands in direct opposition to his own earlier convictions, but also owing to the sheer amount of unpublished material still held at the Husserliana Archives here at the Institute of Philosophy in Leuven. The very fabric of the phenomenological project may change with new materials entering the scholarly debate every several years. Instead, this paper will focus mostly, but not exclusively on the most basic concepts of phenomenology and primarily in its early development. It will not provide a complete and detailed account of Husserl’s later work, like his philosophy of history, or inter-subjectivity and the life-world, but it will discuss the questions of temporality, passive synthesis, retention, perception and protention briefly as a meeting ground for Husserlian and Heideggerian phenomenological ideas. One of the reasons for this, is that Husserl’s later writing was already influenced by Heidegger’s views and (as already mentioned) undergoing serious revisions. Nevertheless, significant differences will come to light throughout the paper. Husserl’s early works present a much more defined and rigid, systematic edifice. The foundationalism and essentialism of this early period will be the target of the Heideggerian destruction, but the later developments will require a more fine-grained approach, as we will attempt to set the stage for a future deciphering of the differences between the later Husserl and the Heidegger of Being and Time.

First introduced by Franz Brentano, Intentionality is for Husserl the basic structure of consciousness. One cannot stress the importance of the concept of Intentionality enough. Not only is it the basis of Phenomenological analysis, but also the source and foundation for other concepts within phenomenology. Phenomenology revolves around this central notion. Intentional analysis refers to the description and clarification of our first-person perspective; our primary form of engagement with the world.

The title of §84 of Ideas I speaks for itself: “Intentionality as the main theme of phenomenology” (Husserl 2014, 161). Reading further into the text: “By ‘intentionality,’ we understand the distinguishing property of experiences: ‘being consciousness of something.’ … … a perceiving is a perceiving of something, for instance, a thing; a judging is a judging of some state of affairs; valuing is a valuing of a valued state; wishing is a wishing for a wished state, and so forth.” (Husserl 2014, 162) Quoting further from the 2nd volume of the Logical Investigations: “In perception something is perceived, in imagination, something imagined, in a statement something stated, in love something loved, in hate hated, in desire desired etc.” (Husserl 2001, 95). It is important to note that the ‘something’ of which one is always conscious does not have to be a material thing, nor some mathematical or scientific certainty. In fact, one may not be conscious of it in the literal sense. Not only can it be a hallucination, a whim of fantasy or an error, but it may be an unconscious affect. An intention may be empty and frustrated or it may be satisfied. An apple that I desire, is as much an object for me, as the one I will be eating in the future, as well as the one I am referring to using language. These three ways of presentification belong to three different levels of intentional experience. One may remember, perceive or anticipate intentionally, these are all modalities of intentional experience and pose no problems for the theory of intentionality.

Another fundamental phenomenological notion is the transcendental reduction. In order to present the notion of the phenomenological reduction, the technique, to be more accurate, of the Epokhē, translated literally as ‘suspension’, I will draw on Sebastian Luft’s article ‘Husserl’s Theory of the Phenomenological Reduction: Between Life-World and Cartesianism.’ The article presents the method of bracketing, the suspension, as mentioned before, of the naïve, the natural attitude and the every-day attitude as the entrance hall or the gateway into phenomenology. Let us note in passing, that no such thing occurs with Heidegger. The ‘gateway’ metaphor is a very helpful literary device to illuminate the function of the reduction; where Intentionality may be seen as the true center of phenomenological analysis, the very thing discovered as the result of the reduction, the ἐποχή is the starting point and an initiation, without which the phenomenological attitude remains hidden. Not to mention, the constant effort required for one to remain within the phenomenological attitude, upon entering. “The problem of entering this emergent science is not a ladder to be thrown away once climbed. Rather, “the problem of entry” is, and remains, part of phenomenology itself” (Luft 2004).

Traditionally, the phenomenological reduction or the transcendental turn is an epistemological problem. Quite similar to Descartes’ question: ‘How do we know there really is a world?’, but stated a little differently: ‘How is it possible that the conscious mind can grasp things outside itself? How do we transcend the world of impressions and representations to comprehend the things as they truly are?’ The question aims to bring clarity to our experience, as well as a firm grounding for scientific knowledge. Once again, no such questions arise in Heideggerian ontology.

Where Descartes in his Meditations sets all but the most certain knowledge (including the setting aside of the propositions of natural science, things known through the senses, mathematical truths and so forth) aside as false, Husserl sets himself aside from the Natural Attitude, in a way that does not negate nor affirm anything. This marks, again, the distinction between the techniques of universal doubt and phenomenological suspension of knowledge. Analogously, the types of essences, or universal a priori structures discovered as the result of the two ways of intellectual abstinence are the Cartesian Ego and the Phenomenological, Intentional-Transcendental Consciousness, respectively. “Husserl’s philosophy remains a critical transcendental philosophy that can never do without an absolute ego as foundation and starting point of all reflection. It is precisely this “Cartesianistic” motif that Husserl never gives up…” (Luft 2004). Despite all the differnces, one can see quite clearly, that Husserl remains a Cartesian at heart. Once, again, it is important to underline, that the object of this critique is precisely the notion of intentionality (and other eidetic structures) which are based on the transcendental notion of the ego, the absolute ego or pure consciousness. At the moment, I steer clear of the notions of time-consciousness and all unconscious/praxeological forms of intentionality. But these will also be revealed as carrying the Cartesian prejudice.

Gustavs Klucis — Construction

As seen thus far, the basic elements of the Husserlian system are firmly inter-connected. The notions of Noema and Noesis are no exception. Bringing the notion of intentionality to mind, one may, so to speak, dissect it into two parts. On the one hand we have the act of perception, imagination or judgment, and on the other, the object perceived, imagined or judged. The former is called Noesis, the latter — Noema. Intentionality and Noetic essences are interlinked both by definition, and the way in which they are used to carry out phenomenological analyses. Frederick Kersten, in his article, ‘Husserl’s doctrine of noesis-noema’ draws on the Ideas I, to illustrate a similar point: “a mental process always intends to something, and the something to which it intends forms an essential part of the analysis of the mental process” (Kersten 1973). What the mental process intends in this case, is precisely the Noema, whereas the process itself, the mental act is alternatively Noesis. The Noetic-Noematic enquiry presents the more complicated part of phenomenological analysis. This is where the real complexity lies, the place where the tiny knots and bolts of the machine are hidden. They pave the way for more nuanced and elusive concepts like retention, protention, givenness, presentification and positionality. They serve to scrutinize the more dynamic aspects of conscious intentional experiences. They help examine, not only the ‘What’ of the Noetic-Noematic dimension of the first person perspective, but also the ‘How’ of the various phenomenological pathways that are woven within our lived familiarity. Another passage from Kersten may serve to demonstrate the degree of complexity involved at this level of analysis: “The term “presentation” (or “givenness”) is to be taken in a very broad sense to express not only what is strictly presented, but also to express what is not strictly presented” (Kersten 1973).

For instance, in §19 ‘Actuality and potentiality of intentional life’ of the Cartesian Meditations, Husserl discusses the notion of protention as a perceptual anticipation, which is based on the current apprehension of some Noema. We see a tree in the park, its front side resembles a face of an old man, there is no way for us to perceive all sides of the tree, to check whether the other side looks like an old man’s neck, but whatever the other side of the tree looks like, we still know, intuitively, without having to deduce it conceptually or through reasoning, that the tree has some surface continuty all around. “[T]here belongs to every external perception its reference from the ‘genuinely perceived’ sides of the object of perception to the sides ‘also meant’ — not yet perceived, but only anticipated…” (Husserl 1960 44). Contextually, it is precisely the anticipation mentioned above that corresponds to protention. Retention, on the other hand, refers to that which is ‘genuinely perceived’ and retained as memory. Retention and protention are mediated by the intentional Noetic-Noematic relation. The complementary notions of retention and protention apply equally to events both in space and time. Not only do we retain adumbrations or snapshots of objects and anticipate (re-construct) the rest of the object, but more importantly, their central role is to show how the understanding can retain moments of the present as memories in the more general sense and project these onto the future through the act of protention. The really fine details of phenomenology are contained precisely within this sphere, the detailed analysis of the Noetic-Noematic structure which spills over into the notion of time-consciousness, that is, our world as it is experienced in time and its application to all psychological states of conscious activity including memory, phantasy, anticipation, judgment, reflection etc. A complete exposition of these technical terms would be well beyond the scope of this essay and must be left over to Husserl scholars. The critique which is to follow, will however aim to show that there are certain pre-intentional states of consciousness that lack the type of directionality, which classical phenomenology ascribes to consciousness, thereby neutralizing the pre-suppositions which create the conditions for the existence of the very fine and technical terms mentioned above, alleviating the need for the impossible task of an entirely exhaustive presentation and critique of phenomenology. Further, the very distinction (like many other dualisms of Husserlian phenomenology) between Noema and Noesis will collapse with Heidegger and the notions of Dasein, Being and Dasein’s Being-in-the world.

As mentioned before, Husserl’s phenomenological project is a flexible and intertwined, yet a tightly structured whole. Eidos refers to the absolute invariant element in our entire realm of actual and possible experiences. It is, so to speak, necessity par excellence as it reveals itself at multiple levels of perceiving, judging, imagining, striving and so on. We are therefore, according to Husserl, equipped with an Eidos of meaning, conceptual grasping and additionally, an Eidetic Intuition. According to Uehlein (1992), “In eidetic intuition we see and own the eidos in direct evidence and do not build on causal inferences or syllogistic reasoning.” The Eidos of the latter (conceptual inferences) is another type of eidetic structure that exists at another level of analysis. Eidetic Intuition refers to the essence of perception; that which remains the same at the strictly phenomenal level of our life. As different objects enter and exit the chaotic flux and the temporal flow of consciousness, something as a pre-reflective intuition allows for the possibility of their classification and categorization. A type of internal stabilizer for sense-data. It is that which is opposed to ‘difference as such’ — of our experience. Eidetic Intuition ‘prepares’ the object for its entrance into the region of conceptual or syllogistic Eidos. Strictly speaking, Eidetic Intuition is the condition of Eidetic judgments. It is identity — sensed.

Giorgi Vachnadze is a Master of Foucaultian Studies at the University of Lovain, researching various techniques of the self. A critical history of Subjectivity offers ways of self-transformation as critical forms of counter-conduct to modern liberal of governance. In short: How can we change ourselves in order to free ourselves?

Works Cited

Husserl, E., 2013. Cartesian Meditations. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

Husserl, Edmund. 1991 On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time: 1893–1917. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Husserl, E., Moran, D. and Findlay, J., 2001. Logical Investigations. London [etc.]: Routledge.

Husserl, E., 2012. Ideas. London: Routledge.

Kersten, F. 1973. Husserl’s doctrine of noesis-noema. In Phenomenology: Continuation and Criticism pp. 114–144. Springer, Dordrecht.

Luft, S. 2004 Husserl’s theory of the phenomenological reduction: between life-world and cartesianism. Research in Phenomenology, 34(1), 198–234.

Sokolowski, R. 2000. Introduction to phenomenology. Cambridge university press.

Uehlein, F. A. 1992. Eidos and eidetic variation in Husserl’s Phenomenology. In Phenomenology, Language & Schizophrenia pp. 88–102. Springer, New York, NY

Zahavi, D. 2003. Husserl’s phenomenology. Stanford University Press.


December 2020


On Virtuality: Deleuze, Bergson, Simondon

by Matt Bluemink

What Is A Monad? Leibniz’s Monadology

by John C. Brady

Phenomenology — Eine Übersichtliche Darstellung

by Giorgi Vachnadze

Some Notes on Berkeley and the After-life

by Raphael Chim