In a passage (§56) from his 1929 Formal and Transcendental Logic, Husserl expresses frustration at a particular group of interpreters of his Logical Investigations. Fearing the specter of the historical-empiricist move that denies the objectivity of the ideal, these interpreters reject the phenomenological investigations in Volume II of the LI. This rejection is based on the critiques of psychologism that Husserl provides in Volume I. Presumably, what the interpreters found to celebrate in the LI was its insistence that logical formations—e.g. judgments, proofs, theories—are not mental events, which secured the possibility of a purely formal logic. Their disappointment with the foray into the constitutive acts correlative to the logical formations in Volume II likely persisted in light of Husserl’s subsequent publications. Around the time of the publication of Ideas I (1913), Husserl admits to having cooled to formal logical investigation, preferring instead the examination of transcendental subjectivity.
For this reason, Claire Ortiz Hill’s 2019 translation of Volume 30 of the Husserliana Series entitled Logik und Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie may come as a surprise to an English-speaking readership. The volume, with the English title Logic and General Theory of Science, consists of the final version of a series of lectures given by Husserl on the topic of formal logic, its bounds, fundamental formations, and its relation to the Idea of science in general. The lectures date from the Winter Semester of 1910/11 through Winter 1917/18, the same decade that saw the publication of his Ideas I and Ideas II. Given those dates, it would seem that, whatever his interest in the constitutive acts of logical formations, his interest in those objective formations themselves did continue.
The volume is divided into three sections with a series of appendices added to the main text. In Section I, Husserl is concerned with setting the bounds for formal logic. This is a preparatory step for the formal logical investigations in Section II that seek to develop systematically a theory of the forms of meaning. Section III deals with the Idea of Science, which for Husserl includes formal logic but, as he outlines, encompasses more than just formal logic. The appendices are Husserl’s notes and additions to the lectures. In what follows, I give a brief overview of each of the three sections.
Setting the Bounds of Formal Logic (Section I)
The first section is entitled “Fundamental Considerations for the Demarcation and Characterization of Formal Logic.” Husserl begins the section with a series of reflections on the understanding, which, as the activity that sets norms for both the sciences and extra-theoretical life, serves as a leading clue for the scope of logic. Rather than reflecting on the acts of understanding, those “mental activities and achievements” (§1) at work in the norm-setting, we can inquire into the norms themselves, or the forms that the various acts of understanding imprint on their content. The work of logic, Husserl suggests, is to fix these forms conceptually and systematically.
However, before that work can get underway, it is necessary to distinguish understanding as norm-setting from understanding as a mental event. Interpreting the norm-setting activity of understanding as a mental event would result in subsuming logic under psychology, the science that deals with the “inner sphere.” Note that, just as in the earlier Logical Investigations and the later Formal and Transcendental Logic, Husserl is again careful at the outset to disentangle logical investigation from psychological investigation. The major difference between psychology and logic is that, while the latter is normative, the former is not. In other words, logic strives after normative laws by which to measure if purported knowledge is actually knowledge. The origin of the norms of logic lies in, in Husserl’s own words, “the ideal essence of acts of understanding and their contents” (§4), whereas the understanding figures in psychology only as a mental event to be explained according to natural, i.e., causal laws. One of the major consequences of this distinction is that the logical norms are unconditionally binding and discoverable regardless of any reference to factual, or empirical, existence.
Anticipating the controversy of his position (he predicts that he will be pejoratively dubbed a “Scholastic” or “mystic” (§4)), Husserl retorts that the psychologizing interpretation of logic falls prey to the prevalent naturalistic prejudice in the sciences. By naturalism, Husserl understands the rejection of any sort of any non-natural, i.e., non-empirical, non-spatiotemporal, objectivity. Thus, any ideal objectivity, be it logical norms, cardinal numbers, or self-evident statements is reinterpreted psychologically. In contrast, Husserl insists on the admission that Ideas are genuine objects that merely give themselves differently (“as eternal, selfsame, as non-temporal and non-spatial, as unmoved, as unchangeable” (§8)) than spatiotemporal objects.
This difference in position on the status of Ideas proves consequential for formal-logical investigation. On the one hand, Husserl identifies the failure to recognize Ideas as the basis of a series of errors propagated by traditional logic, a point substantiated more in Section II of the volume. On the other, acknowledging the genuineness of Ideas at the outset opens up an avenue of inquiry in formal logic, namely investigating according to ideal meaning forms rather than empirical contents. To that end, Husserl notes that in these lectures he is foregoing a noetic orientation, i.e., one that takes up the cognitive and related acts constitutive of logical objectivities, for a noematic one. To clarify what he means by a noematic orientation, he points us to a series of distinctions, beginning with that between knowing and known. The former is a cognitive act while the latter leads us towards the ideal. A parallel distinction between judging and judgment (§7) and another between naive judgment as directed at the state-of-affairs and judgment as proposition and Idea (§9-10) help to clarify. Judgments as ideal objects are importantly not determinate, therfore not empirical, and yet they have ideal properties (e.g., all judgments with the form of a contradiction are false). When the idea is made into an object of reflection, it becomes the basis of norms sought in logical investigation.
As far as the demarcation of formal logic goes, the introduction of the Idea of judgment places us in the terrain of apophantics, or the logic of affirmative statements. This harkens back to Aristotle’s original demarcation of pure logic, which he called analytics. Husserl sometimes adopts this term. It is worth noting that he employs several related terms synonymously throughout the lecture, namely analytics, along with pure logic, formal logic, and the mathesis universalis (more accurately, he uses these terms to emphasize different aspects of the same science). In contrast to Aristotle, Husserl’s own demarcation of analytics is not limited to affirmative statements. It includes an underlying level of investigation into more basic forms of meaning. This level both serves as a foundation for a second level of logic and also provides some crucial conceptual distinctions that allows for its expansion. It could be said that one of the ubiquitous features of Husserl’s thinking on formal logic is its effort at expansive unity. The second level of logic, for instance, is not only concerned with the logic affirmative statement (“A is b”), but also with its modifications (e.g. “It is possible that A is b”). Further, in a series of complexifications that occur at the second-level, Husserl further expands the notion of logic to include cardinal and ordinal numbers, sets, and eventually a third level. This third level, the highest of analytics, is the formal theory of manifolds, or the theory of theories (§47).
For Husserl, then, formal logic is a three-tiered science, connecting disciplines and Ideas that were once thought to belong to disparate sciences. Importantly, Husserl’s insistence on the genuineness of Ideas makes this possible. As ideal, the basic meaning forms that constitute the first-level of logical investigation and are the basis of the other two exhibit an ideal structure and conformity to law. These basic meaning structures can then combine in indefinitely many ways in accordance with their conformity to laws, allowing an ideal building up and out of formal logic that itself occurs with lawful regularity. Husserl compares this structure to crystals in that each form exhibits its own structure that is also taken up in the crystal system (§27 B).
The Systematic Investigation into Forms of Meanings (Section II)
If Section I concerns the demarcation of formal logic, Section II jumps into the discipline itself. Husserl’s strategy is to start with the most basic forms of meaning and, insofar as it is possible in a lecture-series, to obtain a systematic overview of the possible kinds. From there, he gradually builds his way up to propositionally simple judgments and beyond to more complex judgments, to inferences, and to theories. My own synopsis of the section is divided into two parts. First, following Husserl, I give a very general outline of the development from the most basic meaning components up to the highest tier of formal logic. Second, I indicate a handful of the concrete ways in which, as I stated above, Husserl imagines that traditional logic’s rejection of Ideas leads it astray.
The point of departure for the investigation of meaning forms is the ideal distinction between independent and dependent meaning (§20). Independent meanings are those which are capable of standing alone, i.e., complete propositions. Dependent meanings, on the other hand, are those that, although they may express something, intrinsically belong to an independent unit as a component. These dependent meanings cannot be put together in any half hazard way, but fall under fixed types governed by laws (e.g., in the proposition S is p, grammatically speaking, p cannot have any kind of meaning (§22)). Any basic component also admits of a conceptual distinction between syntactical form, which refers to its role within the proposition (e.g., the subject-form, object-form, predicate-form), and syntagma, or the “stuff” (§24), the content of the component. The phrase “ethical human beings,” for instance, can function as the subject-form in one case, the antecedent in a hypothetical in another, but in any case retains the same content, namely “ethical human beings.” A further, parallel distinction in the syntagmas between the nucleus-form (e.g. nominal-forms, or adjectival-forms) and the nucleus-stuff gives us the most basic components in our investigation of the meaning of forms. This last distinction is especially important because the nucleus need not contain any definite content and could instead be “an empty something.” For one thing, it allows for the entrance of generality, or universality and particularity. For another, formal logic, says Husserl, is characterized by this emptiness (§26 B), as this emptiness signifies its being ideal rather than empirical.
Equipped with the most basic meaning components, namely the syntagma, Husserl moves on to the basic forms of simple judgments. He arrives at that basic form by considering in what way the fewest syntagmata might unite to form a judgment. Similarly to Aristotle, he decides that the most basic form involves one nominal and one adjectival syntagma (S is p) (§28). This simple judgment-form is then the basis for another series of variations and complexifications. Of note, here, is his discussion of the effect of empty syntagma (§32), of plural judgments (S is p and/or n) as the origin of the Ideas cardinal numbers, arithmetic, and sets (§34–37), and existential and impersonal judgments (§40). After the simple judgment-forms, Husserl turns to the propositionally complex judgment-forms (conjunction and disjunction) (§41–42), following which is his introduction of modifications (e.g., possibility and probability). This latter topic is of particular note in that it is accompanied by an extended treatment of the Ideas of law, apodicticity, and analyticity (§44–45). Husserl insists not only that analytic (apodictic) laws have been crucial in the investigations up to this point in apophantics, but that a proper conception of analyticity allows for the connection between formal logic, formal ontology, and mathematics to emerge (§46). Finally, Husserl turns to inference, whose ideal laws allow for the introduction of the third-level of formal logic, i.e., the theory of manifolds, or the theory of theories (§47, §54), a discussion which spills over into Section III (§46–59).
That suffices for a general outline of Husserl’s thinking in Section II. Because he is insistent on the unity of what might seem, from the perspective of the history of logic, like disparate disciplines, it might already be visible in broad strokes how Husserl’s own account differs. Additionally, there are several, concrete, and persistent logical problems dealt with in the course of Section II. In general, if Husserl disagrees with logicians, it is on the grounds of their mistakingly rejecting Ideas, and so of not sufficiently recognizing the ideal as the guide in formal logical investigations. For instance, Husserl accuses logicians of conflating equivalence and identity (§29, §39, §48). Two judgments might be equivalent in their relation to a state-of-affairs, but not identical with regard to their ideal meaning form. Among the errors that Husserl identifies in this regard are:
- Traditionally, affirmative and negative judgments (S is p; S is not p) are thought to be coeval. But if analyzed according to their meaning-form, it seems that the negative is a modification of the affirmative, which must then be prior.
- Instead of recognizing the difference in meaning-form between determinative judgments and functional judgments (universal and particular judgments), traditional logic takes all judgments to be either universal, particular, or individual.
These are far from the only topics of interest that Husserl treats in Section II, but it suffices to give the examples mentioned above as an indication.
Reflections on the Idea of Science (Section III)
In Section III, the final section of the lecture, Husserl concludes the thorough, systematic investigation of the forms of meaning and begins to consider the relationship of the science of analytics to other theoretical sciences. By theoretical science, he means those that are not normative and practical and whose primary interest is explanatory. Theoretical sciences, insofar as they are applicable to any particular science without that particular science’s forfeiting its unique domain, comprise the general Idea of science. Analytics has priority because, insofar as it deals with those activities present in every science, it is operative in every science. But there are other sciences that can be included in the Idea of science as well, and even those that deal with a particular region of being can be included insofar as they deal with it in an a priori manner. Among these sciences are pure natural science, which deals with objectivity and spatiotemporal being in general (§61), the science of consciousness, both individually and communally (§63-64), and formal axiology (§61). The final chapter in the Section offers some reflections on noetics, which, as mentioned above, Husserl has set aside in these lectures in favor of a noematic analysis. Central in this chapter is the question of justification of knowledge and the relevant concepts of Evidenz and givenness.
Husserl, of course, says much more than I am able to relay here, but the above should suffice as direction for further inquiry. Those who do delve into the volume further will find it readable, and well-edited and translated. As Ortiz Hill mentions in her introduction, that these are lectures make them clearer and more transparent than some of the writings published during Husserl’s lifetime. For any given point, Husserl offers a variety of examples, and approaches it from several directions. Further, Ortiz Hill provides a lucid translation of an already well-edited volume. There are a handful of pesky German terms that are difficult to translate, which she either alerts readers to or leaves untranslated. She decides on “presentation” for Vorstellung, but points to its ambiguity in Husserl’s writing (xliv-xlv)—Husserl himself also notes the difficult ambiguity of the term. I should also note that, in the case of terms like “nucleus-stuff,” the “stuff” is presumably translating Stoff, which more generally means material in German (der Stoff des Mantels—the material of the coat). Given that terms like “nucleus-stuff” are often contrasted with something formal, it might seem more appropriate to translate Stoff as material. However, Husserl does use the latinized Materie sometimes making it seem worthwhile to translate Stoff differently. Only in the case of the terms Geist and Gemüt do I hesitate with the translation. The former, she translates as “mind” (l), which might seem strange in the context of the discussion of community and culture in Section III. For Gemüt and its variations, Ortiz Hill employs adjectival expression with the word “inner.” Although I think this doesn’t quite capture the emotive connotation that translations like “heart” do, this term plays almost no role in the volume. The few passages in which it could cause some confusion, such as its being contrasted with will and understanding at the beginning of Section I (§1), do not interfere with the trajectory of Husserl’s thought. Beyond these terms, there are a handful that Ortiz Hill leaves untranslated, e.g. Unsinn, Widersinn, and Evidenz. In each case, I appreciate the choice to leave the terms in their original German. In the case of the first two, no English equivalents readily suggest themselves that capture their contrast. In the case of Evidenz, the English cognate “evidence” suggests something like external proof, which is different than the “consciousness of fulfillment” that Husserl has in mind.
In closing, I offer a few words on the significance of the volume. For those primarily interested in Husserl or more broadly in phenomenology, the edition offers an interesting link between different periods of Husserl’s thought. Many of the topics that he addresses in Section II, for instance, harken backward to his Logical Investigations (which he himself notes on occasion) and also point forward to the concerns of Formal and Transcendental Logic (such as the preoccupation with the unity of disciplines thought to be disparate under the banner of formal logic). This is especially significant for those who, as I suggest above, accuse Husserl of abandoning formal analyses in favor of transcendental ones. For those primarily interested in formal logic, or in topics predominately discussed in analytic philosophy, the volume represents a significant overlap of concerns. In both the translator’s introduction and a review of the German edition, Ortiz Hill does a remarkable job at indicating the overlap and ultimate differences between Husserl and the school of thought that emerges from Frege and runs through Russell, Carnap, Hilbert, and Gödel. At any rate, readers of all kinds may be surprised to find Husserl undertaking a systematic survey of formal logic in the decade of the 1910’s, and that makes the volume a welcome contribution to the scholarship.
 See Ursula Panzer’s “Einleitung” in the original German volume, quoted in Ortiz Hill’s “Introduction.”
 Ortiz Hill, Claire. “Review of E. Husserl, Logik Und Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie. Vorlesungen 1917/18, Mit Ergänzenden Texten Aus Der Ersten Fassung 1910/11.” History and Philosophy of Logic, 1998.
In The Other in Perception: A Phenomenological Account of our Experience of Other Persons, Susan Bredlau argues that, beginning in infant-caregiver relations, others are integral to the form of our experience of them, and claims that this gives rise to interpersonal trust as “the condition of healthy perceptual development” (3). The major contribution of her study, Bredlau claims, is the phenomenological analysis, or “the concrete working out” of how, beginning in infancy, our experiences of other people are formative of our existence as subjects and of our experience of dwelling in the world. While this might seem to be a well-discussed point central to phenomenology, Bredlau takes this discussion further. She develops a comparison between the formative experiences of early childhood subject development, where we emerge from what might be considered a complete and unchosen vulnerability to the existence of others, into a world that “demands our adherence to what has already been established” (89), and the voluntary high stakes vulnerability of our subjecthood in adult sexual relationships.
Overall, Bredlau’s book is a philosophically rich text. A range of philosophers, for example, Heidegger, Hegel, Beauvoir, and Gallagher, and child development researchers, including among others, psychologist Daniel Stern, are key to the discussion of human behaviour. Primarily, however, Bredlau brings together the thinking of three philosophers—Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and John Russon—relating these thinkers to each other and to what is a central trajectory of thought in phenomenology, and in so doing, continuing the discussion in thoughtful and insightful ways.
The text is essentially divided into two sections of two chapters each: the first two chapters are structured to cover each of the three philosophers in turn, in this way highlighting both their debt to and differentiation from the work of their predecessors, and establishing the phenomenological perspectives that will be applied in the second half of the book. Central to these discussions is Husserl’s focus on experiences of ‘pairing’, that is, “an experience of actually perceiving—rather than imagining or remembering—another human body.” (31) Here, “[t]he experience of perceiving—in contrast to the experience of imagining or remembering—is inseparable from the body’s position” (31) and as Husserl argues, “The other body there enters into a pairing association with my body here and, being given perceptually, becomes the core of an appresentation.” (Husserl, cited in Bredlau, 31) The final two chapters cover two key aspects of experience whereby our ‘pairing’ with others shapes this experience of the specific other as in some way essential to us. Bredlau argues that it is this pairing that founds our intersubjective relationships throughout life and goes on to claim that, therefore, “trust is the essential medium of our erotic relationships, relationships that in principle carry an equivalent sort of ethical weight to that of caregiver relationships [in childhood]” (4). That is, trust is at the core of her claims regarding the “ethical questions that pervade the intimate bonds we form, whether we form these bonds in affirmation or in denial of the freedom and responsibility that is constitutive of intersubjective relationships” (96).
Bredlau handles the phenomenology of our perception of others particularly well, identifying and concretely mapping out how what is happening in perception goes well beyond perception and encompasses the development of our personality and character, our sense of having a world, and what Merleau-Ponty refers to as ‘the body schema’ through which we experience self and others. This insight will be familiar to readers of Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and Russon, and it is to Bredlau’s credit that she builds so respectfully on these works. One of the great merits of The Other in Perception is its sensitive exegesis of the nuances of each philosopher’s thought and the insights into what amounts to a significant philosophical conversation that is being had over time. In the opening chapters which might be seen as preliminary to the presentation of Bredlau’s own arguments, we find that phenomenological concepts are presented carefully and methodically, with the implications of such thinking made clear. The development of the ontological implications, and how the different philosophers have taken them up, is carefully traced and the commonalities that then appear among them add weight to Bredlau’s overall intentions. On the concept of infant “pairing”, for instance, Bredlau clearly presents both Husserl’s original insights and use of this concept, but also the differences between Husserl’s understandings and Merleau-Ponty’s later thinking about the child’s relations with others. There is a culmination in Bredlau’s presentation of Russon on pairing and how “the significant people with whom we are involved in our lives function more as aspects of the form of our perception than as its contents or objects” (39). Russon’s notion of polytemporality, a concept that references musical experience to draw out how “the many non-thematic dimensions of experience that must be operative if we are to perceive the present sound—the note—as music… provide[s] a basic logic for understanding the larger structure of the world that contextualises our everyday experiences” (17), also serves to demonstrate the affective structures and sense of temporal layering that are produced by such pairing, and how these reflect the situated historical context of all perceptual experience. Importantly, Bredlau then goes on to establish how this developmental capacity can be opened up to renewal through our intimacy with others.
Overall, this is a book that argues for the value of phenomenology. At the outset, Husserl’s radical idea is established: that we must put aside our thoughts about whether things we perceive “correspond” to the things themselves, and start by describing the things we perceive; it is through the process of phenomenological description that we can come to recognise that we perceive real things rather than mental representations. Bredlau takes this up from the outset, carefully explaining that when Husserl describes a physical object as transcendent to consciousness, “he is not claiming that the things we are conscious of as physical objects first exist independently of our consciousness of them, as we presume in [what he calls] the ‘natural attitude’; he is describing the way in which these things exist within our experience.” (9).
Also central is Husserl’s description of pairing as a “second kind” of relation other than object experience: that is, “we “live through”, or “perceive with” another human body and find ourselves in a world as perceived by the other rather than simply by us” (33). Our experience of others is of beings who are themselves conscious of the natural and cultural world as perceiving subjects (not as thinking subjects). We are aware of them as “making specific perceptual sense of their specific physical situation” (29). As such, and central to Bredlau’s argument, there is the understanding that subjectivity is embodied, with our behaviour the activity of a perceiving body.
Thus, such pairings, which are “formative of our self-identity in a way that shapes the very form of our perception,” are the founding, formative context of our perceptual life. Bredlau closely examines pairing at the level of “intrinsic embeddedness of others in our very bodily comportment” (45), evident in infant-caregiver relationality, utilising Merleau-Ponty’s work in “The Child’s Relation to Others”. Here Merleau-Ponty argues that the infant does not “reason by analogy” using reflection on comparisons between her own visible behaviour and that of others. Rather, the infant has not seen her own expressions as she intends to bite the care-giver’s finger and thus what might initially be theorised as reflective behaviour, needs to be understood as “the baby’s direct perception of [her care-giver’s] behaviour as perceptive, as intending a meaningful world” (47). This is, Bredlau stresses, “behavior that is as much expressive of an orientation as it is responsive to a setting” (47). This point is crucial to the parallels Bredlau later draws between infant behaviour and adult intimacy. Also important, Bredlau stresses, is that this is a situation of “play”; the world is there for the infant, “appresented” through the care-giver’s body as a meaningful world; the baby is not strictly speaking imitating, but is, rather, participating in the caregiver’s specific way of perceiving the world, and the baby’s perception is “inherently collaborative” (49).
What is vitally important here, therefore, is, Bredlau’s conclusion: “How, then, the particular caregiver with which a particular infant is paired perceives the world will be of lasting significance for an infant’s perception of the world” (62). Via discussions of how the intentional shifting of the caregiver’s affective tempo, or pace, can influence the infant’s affect or arousal, we see the ethical dimensions of Bredlau’s work coming into sharp focus. It is through the body that the infant experiences how their caregiver sees them and how they belong in the immediate world of the caregiver, and what this world is like. Such understandings become incorporated into our experiential structures through our body schema.
In her second study of a phenomenological understanding of pairing, Bredlau claims that it is reasonable to understand adult intimate relations as another instance of great interpersonal vulnerability, and being thus, “like childhood intimacy, sexual intimacy is ultimately a matter of trust” (87). Here she draws significantly on Russon’s work to demonstrate how, while “what is at stake in sexual experience is mutual attraction and the mutual realization of our autonomy, the vulnerability entailed by sexual experience often leads us to deny these stakes.” In this way, Russon’s work is central to Bredlau’s concrete working out of the ways in which “our sexual practices can embody such denials and thus amount to betrayals of trust—of the intersubjective bonds that are constitutive of our experience” (87).
These betrayals, and it is important that we keep in mind that these are ultimately betrayals of trust, can take two forms: the first being in the form of theft—“claiming what is ours to be solely mine” or; secondly, these can be of a form that “pretends that a bond does not require judgement and appropriation, that it is not ambiguous and shared but is an obvious and settled piece of reality” (87). The first form takes us to thinking about the power plays operating and often indeed seen to be norms of sexual behaviour—where each person is imposing their sexual behaviour on the other while at the same time this other is imposing their sexual behaviour on them, the result being that one of either is controlling the relationship dynamic (theft) or pretending not to be implicated in it (88).
The second form is that whereby we treat sexual relations as “situations governed by pre-existing standards and thus…Both our bodies and other bodies may retreat into explicit codes of sexual conduct or implicit sexual norms and act as if these codes or norms—rather than the unique desire of uniquely embodied subjects—determine how sexual experience should unfold” (88-89). Drawing on Russon, Bredlau argues that “if we take our culture’s definition of a fulfilling relationship as definitive for our sexual relations, we actually deny the reality of our sexual relations” (89). I think that it is important here to point out how Bredlau’s preliminary discussion of male and female sexuality, drawing on Beauvoir, comes back into play and we see the significance of how these two forms of betrayal often overlap and thus compound the betrayal of trust; many of our cultural norms around sexuality point towards women being submissive to the normative ideal of the powerful male.
I think it is important to precisely examine the connection that is being made between adult relations and infant relations and how this might be contextualised within the broader philosophical discussions of trust. For Bredlau, both forms of relations involve experiences of vulnerability and intimacy, with much at stake, both physically and existentially. The crux of the connection is that, similarly to infant relations, where questions “that our bodies can never answer for themselves and must, instead, turn to other bodies to answer” (87), sexual situations are situations of great vulnerability, and thus, “like childhood intimacy, sexual intimacy is ultimately a matter of trust” (my italics, 87).
This claim asks us to undertand all that Bredlau has presented about infant perception and the formation of meaning as subjectivity and subjectivity of our world, as ultimately a matter of trust. Given this claim, we might now expect some significant discussion connecting perceptual experience to trusting experience. Yet, in the whole text, there is only one section that is specifically directed towards the question of trust; Chapter 3, “The Institution of Interpersonal Life”, titled Pairing and Trust. This might be anticipated to be not only a culmination of thought as it pertains to Bredlau’s central argument regarding trust, but also a bringing together of this phenomenological work with some of the broader philosophical discussion of trust. Yet, this is not the case, and nor does Bredlau return, in any substantial discussion, to matters of trust directly. While Bredlau is clear that her discussion of forms of betrayal are about betrayals of trust, this needs, I believe, the modes of trusting be made visible, if we are to see how trusting is iressolvably intertwined with our experience of subjectivity “precisely as embodied”, and this is to be considered a substantial contribution to philosophical thinking about trust. My point is that Bredlau does not present trust to us through a conceptual lens. That said, she is contributing phenomenological work important if thinking about trust is to deepen; she is contributing phenomenologically rich descriptions of lived experiences that are themselves trusting or concerning our trusting, and that we recognise them as such. We generally know what trusting is without the exact contours of the philosophical concept being explained to us.
In order to highlight the significance of Bredlau’s phenomenological insights and identify how these contribute to a broader discussion of trust, I think that it is important to go beyond Bredlau’s text and bring some of the broader philosophical work on trust into the discussion. For example, discussions of trust often refer to the way that trust seems to be everywhere, is amorphous and difficult to define. Bredlau’s work, identifying the ways that the contextual intimacy of perceptual experience that is foundational to world and self development is essentially about trust, can give us insights into how it is that trust might appear to be everywhere. Perhaps more specifically significant is to bring Bredlau’s work into the context of Annette’s Baier’s reflections on how we might understand infant trust. Baier, who has written at length and insightfully about trusting, refers to the experience of ‘innate’ trust. Innate trust is unreflective and unwilled and can readily be seen in the situation of infants who will generally respond to parents without apparent concern for assessing threats to their vulnerability (Moral Prejudices, 107). She goes on to argue that, for trust to be trust proper, the situated context of this innate trust, as it occurs in our adult experience, must also come into my awareness as a situation of risk that requires evaluation and commitment by me, while the trust that seemingly got going without me, is maintained. Baier does not explain the innate capacity of the infant but, importantly, she does describe its fundamental forms and makes some significant caveats, including, in particular, that infants
… cannot trust at will any more than experienced adults can … One constraint on an account of trust which postulates infant trust as its essential seed is that it not make essential to trusting the use of concepts and abilities which a child cannot be reasonably believed to possess. (Baier, Moral Prejudices, 110)
It is this very point that directs analysis of infant innate trust to the various stages of infant development, pointing to, for example, the development of basic social emotions in early childhood. What Baier calls innate trust is also, in philosophical investigation, called “basic” trust, suggesting that it might be, perhaps, more in tune with instinct. Indeed, Baier is drawing the same sort of line in the sand; while identifying the importance of trust, she indicates there is something called trust proper, that is, the trust that is warranted in its relationship to the trustworthiness of others. Innate or basic trust has thus tended to be considered as not of consideration as concerns trust and moral development, separated because we do not choose it, while it merely exposes us to the underdetermined trustworthiness of others. These are serious and significant moral issues, and any connection between infant trust and adult reflective trust must come to grips with these questions.
If we now return to Bredlau, we see that what has been achieved is a concrete presentation of how it is the experience of perception in infanthood that is the experiential medium instituting meaning of self, world and others. Bredlau argues that in adult experiences of sexual intimacy we are opened to the possibility of a fundamental recognition and thus re-emergence of subjectivity. She claims that it is these experiences of perception that are essential to trusting. I agree most ardently with Bredlau on this point and see that it is exactly the sort of work that Baier’s caveats require. This is not bringing adult forms of knowing and judging into infant experiences of trusting in order to explain how infant experience is one of trust. Bredlau’s work re-centres the focus of examination in order to show how adult experiences of trusting are grounded in on-going perceptual experience that begins in infancy. However, on my reading of her text, while her claims around trust provide a most interesting perspective on the work being undertaken, it is a perspective that, in the end, might be easy to overlook. There remains much important work to do, bringing the insights that Bredlau has made look easy to the broader philosophical discussion of trust. We can all be grateful for Bredlau’s contributions to this discussion, and how this future work might itself be just that little bit easier because of her contributions.
In closing, I would like to draw attention to one final point, one that assumes we take Bredlau’s claims about the significance of trusting as given. While Bredlau speaks here to sexual intimacy as offering a prime example of high stakes vulnerability, and this as having ground in the development of the existential intimacy of the infant and her meaningful world, there are, of course, other experiences that demonstrate the profound significance of understanding “subjectivity precisely as embodied” (85). The forms of perception that Bredlau presents are ways of bodily “thinking” and “judging” that necessarily involve others and our capacity to trust them, the circumstances we find ourselves in, and our own capacity to respond, and these are developed experientially over time. A difficulty that emerges in most discussions of trust is the way that there is, at some level, a trusting that is assumed. This is an issue that needs close attention as we take up Bredlau’s claims about infant perceptual experience being essential to trust.
The world is largely presented here as a place to be trusted, and, in this, situations are trustworthy, or not; the caregiver’s capacity to trust and be trusted belongs to this world that is directly experienced by the infant. Our developing sense of the world as trustworthy is informed therefore via the caregiver’s capacity to trust, which is itself shaped by intersubjective experiences beginning at this foundational level. The significance of this was not lost on Susan Brison, for example, who, after being raped, experienced post-traumatic flashbacks and panic attacks about a world that had become untrustworthy—a profound example of what is discussed by Bredlau as a form of betrayal of the intersubjective bonds that are constitutive of our experience. Brison, on becoming pregnant some years later, becomes acutely aware of the need to bring her child into a world that will be perceived as trustworthy and not wanting her one experience to create a whole world for her child. Through Brison’s experience we catch a glimpse of how the infant-caregiver relation is one of mutual intimacy and vulnerability, with the collaboration mutually transformative. Brison says:
While I used to have to will myself out of bed each day, I now wake gladly to feed my son whose birth, four years after the assault, gives me reason not to have died. He is the embodiment of my life’s new narrative and I am more autonomous by virtue of being so intermingled with him. Having him has also enabled me to rebuild my trust in the world around us. He is so trusting that, before he learned to walk, he would stand with outstretched arms, wobbling, until he fell, stiff-limbed, forwards, backwards, certain the universe would catch him. So far, it has, and when I tell myself it always will, the part of me that he’s become believes it. (Brison, 66)
This work by Brison serves to emphasise the potential of Bredlau’s work. The body, and our perceptual relations with others, offer the opportunity for authentic experience that has the capacity to continue the processes of intimate pairing. These processes, that shape the infant’s lived sense of “I can”, also continues the adult’s world building, and this is both beyond and incorporated into the life of the infant. These insights mean that we can begin to think about how the opportunities that are our body as our opening onto a world of meaning, are numerous, and in many instances, ordinary, all instituting trust as a “pattern in the weave of life”, with this patterning “under the aspect of meaningfulness and purpose” (Lagerspetz and Hertzberg, 36).
Susan Bredlau. 2018. The Other in Perception: A Phenomenological Account of our Experience of Other Persons. State University of New York Press.
Susan Brison. 2002. Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Annette Baier. 1994. Moral Prejudices. USA: Harvard University Press.
Olli Lagerspetz and Lars Hertzberg. 2013. “Trust in Wittgenstein.” In Trust: Analytic and Applied Perspectives, edited by Pekka Makela and Cynthia Townley, 31-51. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi.
Phillipe Rochat. 2010. “Trust in Early Development.” In Trust, Sociality, Selfhood, edited by Arne Grøn, Claudia Welz, 31-44. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.
 See for example, Phillipe Rochat, who, as developmental psychologist, argues that trust, as a concept, is used to refer across a variety of experiences covering “basic social emotions and affectivity to cognition, morality, the laws, politics, economics, and religion” (Rochat 2010, 31) and identifies that the common ground to the various experiences to which the concept is referred is the sense of “holding expectations about people and things” (33); from our earliest existence, we are inclined towards creating “stability and unity over constant changes, to construct some mental anchorage for harnessing the constant flux of perceptual experience” (33).