Hanne Jacobs (Ed.): The Husserlian Mind

The Husserlian Mind Book Cover The Husserlian Mind
Routledge Philosophical Minds
Hanne Jacobs (Ed.)
Hardback GBP £190.00

Reviewed by: Mitchell Atkinson III (IFiS PAN)



I am not aware of any recent collection of pieces by Husserl scholars that includes so many of the most important names in the field. Hanne Jacobs has demonstrated an astonishing prowess at organizing not only the material within the text but also in choosing and arranging contributors for this compilation. The book has, in its substance, aspirations to be the definitive introduction to Husserl—and by implication to phenomenological philosophy—in the English language. As philosophers and good critical readers, we must assess these aspirations in light of the works we already have while attempting to bring Husserl to a wider readership within and outside of the academy.

Perhaps it’s appropriate to examine for a moment the question why one makes such a fuss over Husserl in the first place. There has been a line of discussion in phenomenology, and several “post”-phenomenological disciplines, that makes of Husserl a sort of spastic Cartesian, chastised by Frege for psychologism, flailing ineffectually between an outdated dualism, an outdated essentialism, and a metaphysics he dare not name. This sort of dismissal can be found among so-called analytic as well as continental philosophers, although the level and volubility of the attack tends to differ between the schools. Strong phenomenologists have published doubts of central Husserlian notions, including essence and the epoche. Others have attempted to refine or expand Husserl’s work into new domains of human experience. Still others have attempted to use parts of the phenomenological method to deepen work in adjacent disciplines, most notably the social sciences, psychology, and cognitive science. But the question of Husserl’s value remains, nonetheless. We can ask ourselves, as Adorno’s imagined interlocutor says of Hegel, “Why should I be interested in this?”[1] Are there not many other philosophers, many other more contemporary dealers in concepts whose work will bring me closer to the intellectual promised land? The question is related intimately with the question why one does philosophy to begin with. The money’s no good and hardly anyone reads it. If J.K. Rowling or Stephen King wrote a text on transcendental epistemology, would anyone care to read it? Philosophers, as a group, have given weak answers to the question of the utility of philosophy. Socrates, in line 38a of Plato’s apology, famously says the unexamined life is not worth living. Wittgenstein seems to have thought sometimes that philosophy isn’t good for much at all. Philosophers like Schopenhauer see in philosophy the path to a kind of resignation to the dreariness of life. The existentialists give us angst and its attendant pleasures.  And what of Husserl? How would he answer this question? And might we, if we tease out a possible answer for him, not see something penetrating about what it is that Husserl has to offer us today?

One of the problems with trying to catch hold of Husserl’s motivations for doing his philosophy—and by extension what he thought philosophy could do—is that Husserl wrote so much that had implications for so many disciplines. One need only glance at the list of works in Husserliana to get a sense of the dizzying and perhaps dismaying depth of Husserl’s Nachlass. What this means in practice is that one must always interpret Husserl with a certain air of humility. It is always possible that a new page, maniacally scribbled over in his modified shorthand, will be discovered, and one’s prize interpretation will be sent to pot. This difficulty has been noted before, and it haunts all scholars who choose to tangle with prolific thinkers. There is always the threat of another level or dimension in the work which one has not quite reached, an aspect of the work which, having remained obscure to you for years, comes into focus just in time to obliterate the paper you’re currently writing. If our Husserl presents himself as such a bottomless pit of philosophical insight, perhaps the power of philosophy was for him also bottomless. In which case, the answer to the question, what for Husserl, can philosophy do? would be exceedingly simple: everything.

Now, invocations of “everything” are not so common in good philosophy without adequate justification, and we certainly have not yet provided it. Further, if we take a step back and examine our aims in this little review, we will find a much more satisfying route toward the answer that we seek. It is not an undifferentiated omnipotence that Husserl saw in philosophy. What is more differentiated than the work of Edmund Husserl? Rather it is a multifarious form of experiential description, questioning, analysis and elaboration—according to a sharply defined method—that he sees in philosophy. The value of the activity and method we’ll say ever-so-few words about at the end of this text.

In the meantime, it would be nice to get straight about what it is philosophy can do by Husserl’s lights. It so happens the book currently being reviewed is beautifully structured to do just that. Jacobs’ collection is divided into seven parts: (1) Major works, (2) Phenomenological method, (3) Phenomenology of consciousness, (4) Epistemology, (5) Ethics and social and political philosophy, (6) Philosophy of science, (7) Metaphysics. A naive interpretation of the structure of the book would be that Husserl’s thought fits comprehensively within these categories. To the extent that it does, we can say the book captures the Husserlian mind, thereby living up to its title. Where such a set of categories misses Husserl, where he slips away, may mark territory where this collection refuses to follow him.

Major Texts

The book appropriately opens with an overview of Husserl’s major texts. Pierre-Jean Renaudie writes on the Logical Investigations, Nicolas de Warren on Ideas I, Sara Heinämaa on the Cartesian Meditations, Mirja Hartimo on Formal and Transcendental Logic, and Dermot Moran on The Crisis. We can see the logic in this selection of texts. We begin with Husserl’s first mature philosophical book and end with his last one. We have the lynchpin of the transcendental turn in Ideas I. Sara Heinämaa writes persuasively on Husserl’s egology in the Cartesian Meditations, as well as helping us to contextualize the extent to which Husserl can be called a Cartesian. Heinämaa writes, “Husserl presents Descartes’ doubt as a great methodological innovation which provided the possibility of reforming all philosophy. However, he immediately points out Descartes made a series of fundamental mistakes that blocked the entry to the transcendental field that radicalized doubt laid open” (p. 41). Heinämaa shows that Husserl is a Cartesian in a rather qualified sense, in the sense of having received a limited inspiration in the theme of Cartesian skepticism. The themes in Descartes that are most commonly attacked, most notably a rather untenable mind-body dualism, are not at all operant features of Husserl’s mature philosophy. Nicolas de Warren, in his contribution, tells us something illuminating of Husserl’s approach to doing philosophy. The title of his piece, “If I am to call myself a philosopher,” refers to a line from a 1906 writing in which Husserl, characteristically, sets himself a task in order to gain philosophy as such. While de Warren’s contribution is eminently useful as an elucidation of difficult phenomenological concepts like noesis and noema, the natural and naturalistic attitudes, and many others, perhaps the greatest insight it provides is given in this short quotation. Still in 1906, Husserl was writing things like “If I am to be…” He had not, on some level, settled into an image of himself. Or perhaps better, he was still challenging himself to develop in order to match the philosophical aspirations he held so dear.

When setting out a philosopher as prolific as Husserl’s “major works,” there will necessarily be some difficult omissions. Here, one might like to see a chapter on either the Analysis Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis or Experience and Judgment. In that way, with one or both represented, the importance of the theme of genesis, the technique of genetic phenomenology all told, would receive a fuller exposition. No text as comprehensive as this one can possibly avoid the genetic theme altogether, but it would be helpful to see one of the major genetic texts included with the ”major works.”

Phenomenological Method

The second part of this book is, to my mind, the most important for young philosophers. The method of phenomenology must always be front and center because phenomenology is something philosophers do; it is not a list of conclusions other philosophers have already reached. Those who focus on and reiterate the method as Husserl’s major discovery enact a tradition of phenomenology that allows it to be a living, dynamic branch of philosophical practice as opposed to a stodgy cul-de-sac of philosophical history. In this collection, we have Dominique Pradelle discussing transcendental idealism, Andrea Staiti on the transcendental and the eidetic in Ideas I, Rochus Sowa on eidetic description, Jacob Rump on reduction and reflection, Jagna Brudzińska on the genetic turn, and Steven Crowell on Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. Pradelle’s text is absolutely essential for unlocking the association between Kant and Husserl, and the ways in which Husserl suffers under the Kantian influence. An under-appreciation of the nuances in both thinkers might tempt us to characterize the phenomenological reduction as merely a restatement of Kant’s Copernican revolution. Such a reading would see the Kantian transcendental and the Husserlian transcendental as one and the same; their differences, as philosophers, would be relegated to style and method. Pradelle writes that for Husserl, “Kant discovers the region of pure consciousness or subjectivity, which is not intra-worldly but supra-worldly, which is not objective but constitutes all objectivity, and which is not inserted in the spatio-temporality or causality of the world but is fundamentally different from any worldly entity” (77). But for Husserl, as a central feature of his philosophy, the Kantian thing in itself is inimical to consciousness, a strange exteriority to conscious life that can’t, in the end, have anything whatsoever to do with a philosophy grounded in the transcendental as a method as well as a theme.

Rochus Sowa and Andrea Staiti together help us to clarify the eidetic method as we see it in Husserl. Sowa takes us from Husserl’s insistence that descriptions are facts, due to the factual nature of experience, to an analysis of Husserl’s descriptive eidetic laws which Husserl needs to motivate a view of phenomenology as general enough to undergird other forms of human enquiry. Key to this generality of application is the distinction between empirical concepts and pure descriptive concepts, the latter of which apply to possible or ”thinkable” objects and states of affairs irrespective of their empirical instantiation. Sowa also helps us to see that in eidetic work, the examples brought before the mind, whether objects in the world as experienced or possibilities in phantasy, are not the theme of the analysis; the examples are there to help guide us to an essential relation or an eidetic law. It is against such precise considerations that we can read Andrea Staiti’s contribution on the relation between eidetics and the transcendental. Staiti points to a tendency in the literature to treat the suspension of the being of the world as an instant path to essential description, as if all one had to do was dunk one’s head in the transcendental waters to see the colorful essential fish. This idea is sharply incongruous with Husserl’s work ethic, with his almost superhuman drive to add, distinguish, complexify. At the same time, those who acknowledge the need for eidetic work can draw too sharp a distinction between the transcendental and the eidetic, the implication being that we can pick one or the other to motivate our phenomenology. Staiti concludes that the eidetic and transcendental are “inextricably linked’ (96). Although this may sound obvious, it has implications. Perhaps most importantly, it places rigorous limitations on the degree to which phenomenologists are doing phenomenology when they engage in interdisciplinary work. On Staiti’s view, phenomenologists may have much to say about case-specific, empirically oriented studies in the human sciences but their properly phenomenological contributions will be bound by the transcendental and characterized by the eidetic.

Jagna Brudzinska gives us a penetrating overview of Husserl’s turn to a genetic phenomenology, a development in his thinking that is increasingly seen as crucial for understanding his later works. Brudzinska points out that even today many phenomenologists view the eidetic method as purely static. If phenomenology is meant to be anything like a theory of subjectivity, however, a static methodology is bound to be inadequate. The experience of the subject is dynamic, flowing, changing in our awareness of time’s passage. Brudzinska gives us a quick historical overview, making the claim that the importance of the genetic theme was there for Husserl as far back as the Logical Investigations. From there, Brudzinska develops the expansion of the field of inquiry that the genetic method achieves. She says, “In this context, it becomes possible to take into account not only present and immediately intuitive experiences. In addition to consciousness of the past we also gain the possibility to consider alien and future consciousnesses.” (132). Phenomenology needs this breadth of enquiry if it is to become the philosophy of subjectivity, for experiencing subjects are constituted and constituting in time.

Steven Crowell’s contribution is in many ways a commentary on the other pieces in the methodology section. His aim is to further clarify Husserl’s phenomenology by examining his notion of the transcendental and distinguishing it from Kant’s.

Phenomenology of Consciousness

Although the papers on method are some of the most important in this collection for young philosophers, part three, on consciousness, will no doubt be of interest to many seasoned Husserl researchers. Christopher Erhard introduces us to Husserlian intentionality by exploring three questions, why intentionality matters philosophically, what intentionality is, and finally what the lasting impact of intentionality is. He develops, through a reading motivated by a tight logical style, a view of Husserl’s idealism that shows its fundamental differences from both Kant and Berkeley. Maxime Doyan works through the normative turn in intentionality, citing a normative theme in Husserl’s studies of intentionality that is seldom observed. Doyan identifies the most important norms for this discussion as identity and recognition, identifying them with noema and noesis respectively. This allows a discussion of illusion and hallucination to unfold alongside a Husserlian rejection of the conjunctivist/disjunctivist distinction. Doyan here sides with Zahavi and Staiti, claiming that from the Husserlian view the question whether perceptions, illusions and hallucinations are the same kind of experience hardly makes sense at all.

Lanei Rodemeyer’s work on inner time consciousness is required reading for anyone attempting to understand Husserl and his place in the literature today. In her contribution here, she provides an overview of Husserl’s phenomenology of internal time consciousness, displaying as ever her unique pedagogical powers. She reiterates Husserl’s claim that the phenomenology of time is the most difficult of philosophical topics. Indeed, getting the phenomenology of time in a digestible package is difficult for various reasons. Husserl changed his mind concerning the structure of inner time consciousness in at least one major way and his ideas on time are scattered throughout his works. Rodemeyer treats us to a general introduction to the problem in Husserl, discusses the place of content in inner time consciousness and describes levels of constitution in Husserl. There are few practitioners in contemporary phenomenology as helpful in introducing the reader to Husserl’s work on temporalization.

Chad Kidd, in his contribution, seeks to rescue the theme of judgment from philosophical obscurity. His approach outlines Husserl’s theory of judgment while avoiding a reiteration of the commonplace debates concerning psychologism. Roberto Walton provides us with an excellently researched elaboration of Husserl’s work on language as a ground of the common world. Among the piece’s many useful contents, it stresses the distinction between Wittgenstein’s insistence on language as a “proto-phenomenon” and Husserl’s understanding of prelinguistic modes of consciousness that “condition the general structure of predicative statements” (255). Walton’s work sets the stage beautifully for Phillip Walshes’s text on other minds. Walsh is keenly aware that one of the most common charges against phenomenology is that of solipsism, or even more—Cartesian methodological solipsism. Walsh notes that the problem of intersubjectivity, of the constitution of the other in consciousness, is a fundamental phenomenological problem to which Husserl returned again and again. Zahavi’s chapter on three types of ego is the last in the section on consciousness. Because of Zahavi’s extraordinary precision as a scholar and reader of Husserl, his papers on changes to phenomenology, false starts and complete reversals, are incredibly valuable. Here, he unveils the steps Husserl took from an almost absolute disinterest in the ego concept to placing it so prominently in later works like the Cartesian Meditations. The chapter has extraordinary pedagogical value, not least because Zahavi synthesizes Husserl’s complex egology into the three phases given in the title while at the same time going painstakingly over the important details in the body of the text.


Clinton Tolley’s is the first paper on epistemology in Husserl. Here, he helps us understand Husserl’s project as a clarifying of cognition. This task is placed in a Kantian shadow that Husserl labored in throughout his career. Many of his pages were filled with responses to neo-Kantians like Natorp, Cohen, and Rickert. The chapter helps bring into focus the extent to which Kant’s preoccupation with (human) reason is taken up by Husserl. Walter Hopp begins his work with a nod to the challenge posed by the philosophical zombie. He develops an argument whereby we come to see the notion of unconscious intentionality as absurd on its face. Philipp Berghofer’s seeks to establish the sources of knowledge available in phenomenological work. He provides a typology of knowlege that includes types of object, experience, givenness and evidence. Using these categories, we can better understand the range of knowledges available to philosophical discussion. In John Drummond’s contribution, Husserl’s concept of objectivity is explored. Here, we begin by rejecting any reliance on either subjectivism or objectivism. If these categories, as naive theoretical types, are cast aside, the question of what it is to be an object for consciousness remains. Drummond motivates his discussion with what he calls putative and intersubjective objectivity. Hanne Jacobs, the editor of the volume, makes her contribution by discussing Husserl on epistemic agency. Jacobs uses a reading of Husserl to challenge deflationary accounts of epistemic agency, accounts that would minimize the role of our active participation in the formation of beliefs. Husserl’s emphasis on the centrality of attention in our holding of any proposition to be true as epistemic agents. Jacobs takes the reading of Husserl to the realm of personal responsibility, arguing that, for Husserl, one can be responsible not only for positively held beliefs but also for what one does not believe, doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to know.

Ethics, Social, and Political Philosophy

The fifth division of the book collects chapters on ethics, social and political philosophy. One might fault this section for being a kind of grab bag of “social» topics, but in reading the chapters here, one sees how they are inter-related as levels of exploration of the intersubjective theme in Husserl’s phenomenology. Inga Romer imagines Husserl’s history of ethics as a battlefield, pitting reason and feeling against one another. Romer’s text is a deep resource for understanding the works in philosophical history that informed Husserl’s development as an ethical thinker. The chapter also lays bare a tension in Husserl’s sometimes stated aims with respect to formal and material axiology and praxis as a science of ethics and the view of ethics toward which his late phenomenology pulled him. Mariano Crespo situates Husserl’s ethics among his contemporaries, including Lipps, Pfänder and Geiger. In the discussion, Crespo uncovers insights related to live issues in phenomenology, including especially the need for a phenomenology of the will. Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl writes about evaluative experience in prose whose grace is a relief after many turgid lines. Rinofner-Kreidl reminds us that Husserl does not hold that evaluative experiences infringe upon our rationality. The axiology Husserl develops is nonetheless complex, involving top-down formal axiology and formal praxis with bottom-up descriptions of associated experiences. We are even given an analysis of Husserl’s Kaizo articles and a discussion of the complex late ethics, culminating in a teleological view that grants us a universalism, as it were, from within. Sophie Loidolt writes on the fragility of the personal project. Loidolt moves from Husserl’s claim in Ideas II that motivation is the “basic law that governs the life of the person” (393) to a discussion of various topics guiding the debate on personhood and practical agency in Husserlian phenomenology. We end up with the claim that the person for Husserl is not defined as an achieved unity; the person is rather a fragile potential unity, ever missing its ultimate aim. Indeed, Loidolt ends with the rumination that it may only be through the support of others that our fragile projects of personhood can be maintained. Sean Petranovich takes us through Husserl’s work on social groups, exploring Husserl’s mereological work to draw attention to Husserl’s relevance to contemporary discussions regarding mereology and the social. The final chapter in this section of the book is by Esteban Marín-Ávila, discussing Husserl’s conception of philosophy as a rigorous science and its influence on his axiology and ethics. Marín-Ávila tackles the problem of Eurocentrism in Husserl with candor, refusing to dismiss it as an idle charge yet at the same time insisting that a Husserlian ethics, as elaborated in works like the Crisis, have much to say to non-European peoples. Husserl’s unfortunate writings on the impossibility of European peoples “Indianizing” themselves are referenced here, as well as his apparent belief that the achievements of Europe were such as to motivate a kind of rationally motivated mimicry in all other peoples of the world. Marín-Ávila ends with an affirmation of transcendental phenomenology that sees it as an already critical discipline capable of leading us toward a philosophy that matters.

Philosophy of Science

The sixth division of the text takes up Husserl’s work on the philosophy of science. We begin the division with Marco Cavallaro’s text which attempts to outline Husserl’s theory of science and posits a distinction between pure and transcendental phenomenology. Cavallaro sees ”pure” phenomenology as related to the project of a theory of science and transcendental phenomenology as related to ultimate epistemic foundations. Cavallaro is quick to point out this distinction is not made explicitly by Husserl. Jeff Yoshimi is the first in this collection to focus on the deepening field of phenomenological psychology. In this chapter we encounter Husserl’s main contemporary psychological influences (Wundt, Stumpf, Brentano, Dilthey). Yoshimi wants to link phenomenological psychology with transcendental phenomenology, phenomenological with empirical psychology and finally phenomenological psychology with philosophy of mind. One might misconstrue this as an effort to naturalize phenomenology, but it seems Yosimi is after a much more Husserlian move—establishing a transcendental dimension in the philosophies of mind and cognitive science. David Carr’s contribution looks to history as a science and its relation to phenomenology. This piece has pedagogical value as a general introduction to philosophy of history as well as an example of good Husserl scholarship. Carr helps us to see history as a study of the natural attitude in temporal development. Carr’s important Husserlian claim is that in the Crisis phenomenology takes on a decidedly historical character, for it is here that Husserl makes of philosophy as such a human endeavor with a history. The proper description for the historical a priori is something, Carr reminds us, Husserl struggled with until the very end. We are once again in full view of Husserl as a philosopher forever unsatisfied and unwilling to yield to his own limitations. The final contribution on the philosophy of science is Harald Wiltsche’s text on physics. Wiltsche quickly contextualizes the early twentieth century as a time of great upheaval in the sciences, noting above all others the arrival of relativity theory and quantum theory as fundamental disruptions to the way we view the world. He associates these shifts with changes in dominant philosophical discourses. Wiltsche shows that while Husserl himself may have demonstrated limited interest in the cutting edge physics of his day, in the person of a one-time student, Hermann Weyl, Husserlian ideas found their way into the scientific mainstream. Wiltsche also, rightly, points out that the discursive divide between analytic and continental philosophy is still far too robust today, despite our best efforts to pretend its dissolution a thing already achieved.


The final division of the text is devoted to metaphysics. We may find the inclusion of these chapters strange because, as Daniele De Santis points out, Husserl’s relationship to metaphysical philosophy is all-too-often taken for granted. If for no other reasons (and of course there are other reasons) the chapter is useful in that it contributes to the literature refuting the charge that Husserl is a naive metaphysician of presence. De Santis is a systematic thinker whose penetrating Husserl scholarship attempts to make the development of the metaphysical in Husserl something clear and useful for scholars. Claudio Majolino takes on the Herculean task of mapping Husserl’s ontology. The difficulty, as Majolino points out, is that Husserl is so vast and many of his works have ontological elements and implications. Majolino’s work here—using Burnyeat and Aristotle to seek out contours of Husserl’s ontology—is too original for a few lines in a review such as this. The chapter is worth serious study. Timo Miettinen’s contribution begins with a general introduction to the theme of teleology, moving quickly to a detailed exposition of the place of teleology in Husserl’s phenomenology. Miettinen notes the importance of genetic method in exploring the development of experiential structures demonstrating immanent teleological character. This means that early static analyses of teleology were not sufficient given the temporal requirements of goal-directed experience. Miettinen also, here, deepens our understanding of Husserl’s alleged Eurocentrism, responding to an accusation by Derrida that, Miettinen shows, relies on a crucial misreading. One unresolved question in the chapter is whether and how all of Husserl’s teleological descriptions can be subsumed under transcendental phenomenology. The final chapter of the final section of the book is Emiliano Trizio’s paper on teleology and theology. Trizio, more than any other scholar in this compilation, is concerned with Husserl’s investigations of the nature of God and what they can do to deepen our phenomenological understanding. For Trizio, God is a necessary theme of phenomenology. Trizio shows how theology fits within Husserl’s overall phenomenology. And, finally, Trizio develops a non-objectivist reading of Husserl’s most theological passages.

Concluding Remarks

Having commented on these contributions, we are left dizzied by the depth and variety of Husserlian concern. Beginning this review, we confronted two basic questions. The first, Why Husserl?, asks us to assess Husserl as a thinker today. The second, What for Husserl can philosophy do?, is a refinement and extension of the first. What perhaps a collection like The Husserlian Mind gives us is the scope to determine, for ourselves, the answers to these questions. At the very least, we have within these pages the first lengths of many different paths one might take through the mind of Edmund Husserl and accordingly through philosophy as such. In so doing, we can discover for ourselves the value of great minds and the philosophies they make.


Adorno, Theodor W. 1993. Hegel: Three Studies. Translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen. MIT Press.

Husserl, Edmund. 2001. Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental Logic. Translated by Anthony J. Steinbock. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

———. 1970. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy. Translated by David Carr. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.

———. 1973. Experience and Judgment. Translated by James Spencer Churchill and Karl Ameriks. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.

[1] Adorno (1993: 109).

Nikos Soueltzis: Protention in Husserl’s Phenomenology, Springer, 2021

Protention in Husserl’s Phenomenology Book Cover Protention in Husserl’s Phenomenology
Phaenomenologica, Vol. 230
Nikos Soueltzis
Hardback 103,99 €
X, 215

Alfred Schutz: Life Forms and Meaning Structure

Life Forms and Meaning Structure Book Cover Life Forms and Meaning Structure
Routledge Library Editions: Phenomenology
Alfred Schutz. Translated by Helmut R. Wagner
Paperback £32.99

Reviewed by: Mohammad Shafiei (Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran)

“Life Forms and Meaning Structure” is the translation of “Theorie der Lebensformen” which contains Alfred Schutz’ writings from his so-called Bergson period, namely the years between 1924 to 1928. As the Editor has explained in his introduction, the manuscripts were supposed to consist of a book; a project which was abandoned in favour of another book plan which turned out to be Schutz’ master piece, namely “Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt” published in 1932. What happens in between is Schutz returns to Husserl and chooses again to advance his project, “to obtain a theory of founding” (17) in respect with sociology, principally within the method of phenomenology. Schutz’ masterpiece, translated into English as “The Phenomenology of the Social World” is an outstanding work and has been well-received both by sociologists and phenomenologists. However, what makes “Life Forms and Meaning Structure” of a particular interest for a phenomenologist, besides all the other points, is to see why and how Schutz displays dissatisfaction with, up to those days available, phenomenological analyses and how Schutz would progress with an alternative (but not necessarily incompatible) path. The book is the attempt by the author to offer a basis for social sciences extracting the basic ideas from within Bergson’s philosophy. Therefore, the fact that the author has temporarily discarded phenomenological framework by turning to Bergson, and that such a project finally is relinquished, may have some implications concerning the potentialities and perhaps shortcomings of phenomenology.

The book begins with the Editor’s introduction containing helpful data about the manuscripts and the process of forming the book.  It also contains a useful explanation about the structure of the work and also some issues concerning the translation.

In the author’s introduction, he declares his discontent with the Husserlian approach for it is, according to the author, mathematical in essence. This is the attitude that Schutz also attributes to Kant and neo-Kantians. Its aim, as Schutz describes it, is “to find lawful regularities in the inanimate world” (15). Therefore, Schutz considers Husserl’s method useless as far as we are dealing with the issues belonging to the realm of the social and to animate objectivities in general.  In this respect, Schutz admires Cassirer, Siemel and Bergson for their attention to life and to the significance of non-mathematical approaches.  Schutz also mentions Weber and approves of his ideas, especially for putting “understanding” in the centre of social studies. However, this is Bergson’s approach which is particularly chosen and frequently referred to throughout the investigations to come. Schutz considers Bergson’s formulation as “a first attempt for constructing ideal types of consciousness” (18). However, there are some shortcomings in Bergson’s theory and it is incomplete, which is the fact that might justify the current project of the author. According to Schutz, Bergson’s theory is incomplete due to the following factors:

  1. The historically conditioned limitations of the sciences of Bergson’s time;
  2. A taking for granted ‘the givens’ (so of the social world), the viewpoint which has been turned out more and more problematic;
  3. The overemphasizing the biological themes as a path into metaphysics;
  4. The overrating of action, is in no way justified, as constituent of (a) memory, (b) intellect, (c) the material world and thus of time and causality;
  5. The omission of drives, of values and of the Thou.

The main thesis is that “there exist, between the Kantian antithesis of sensuality and cognition or between Bergson’s duration and reason, a series of intermediate stages. Each of them is adequate to a different ‘symbol sphere’.” The relation among these symbol spheres is that of relative non-communicability. It means that “the experiences of the deeper intermediate stage, although understandable in its own characteristic symbol system, are non-transferrable into the higher sphere. “ (21) Therefore, between the pure duration and the highest conceptual consciousness there are a continuity of layers, called by Schutz, “life forms”, each of which having its own symbol system and its own manner of experiencing. “[A]ll experiences of the total I enter into every life form. It is subjected to the restriction that all experiences enter into the given life forms only as symbols.” (22) Schutz says that the number of such layers, sometimes referred to as “plans of consciousness” is not limited. Nonetheless, a definite number can be chosen in regard to the investigator’s purpose. Schutz himself has distinguished six life forms and aimed to investigate them.  These are the layers of pure duration, memory-endowed I, acting I, Thou-related I, speaking I and thinking I. However, the main body of Schutz’ work, which is included as part I in the book and it is about 90 pages in the English edition, deals mainly with the first three and remains unfinished. Three other texts which go back to the Bergson period and which are mainly concerned with  the life form of speaking I are included as part II. Part III is a text which contains only a few lines as an outline (or better combination of some outlines) for some non-accomplished project related to the current topic. Perhaps the introductory part is the richest in regard to the explanation of the thesis.

The thesis itself is very interesting and it is accompanied by some inspiring remarks. It is a pity that the project has not been completed; one would especially expect what Schutz would state about the analysis of I-You relation. In several occasions inside the text the author announces that he is going to investigate Thou experience and the like but it is never really actualized. For the most part the analyses rely on the notions of duration and memory. The discussions of the first sections of part I, in which the author intends to explicate the constitution of meaning (Sinn, and this would be better translated to” sense” if we want to attach, in some respects, the current project to the phenomenological method) on the basis of memory, are somehow repetitive and not well-structured. Of course we should notice that we have only an incomplete and unpolished draft before us. Nevertheless the sections 10 and the rest of part I offer very stimulating and original explorations of certain aspects of human life. Here the author introduces the notion of the acting-I and investigates the constitution of, among others, body, movement, space and thing.

The texts included in part III are “Meaning Structures of Language”, “Meaning Structures of Literary Art Forms” and “Meaning Structures of Drama and Opera”. These titles are chosen by the editor and the German titles for the manuscripts were, respectively, “Spracharbeit”, “Goethe: Novelle” and “Soziale Aspekte der Musik als Artform”. The first one deals with the constitution of the word and the acts of name-giving and communication. The discussion in some places turns out to be very rich and fascinating especially when the author puts forward investigations on the genesis of noun, adjective and other categories of expression on the basis of his theory of life forms. In the second chapter, the author tries to explain the characteristics of various genres of literary art on the basis of the reciprocal relation between the speaker and the listener and their different positions in each genre. Here he uses the idea of the distinction between the subjective meaning (sense) and objective one which he has introduced before. The third chapter contains a somehow specialized discussion concerning opera and drama which is interesting in its own right.

It can be said that in these texts Schutz develops various interrelated but also independently presentable ideas. The most prominent is that of life forms. The second is the importance of duration and memory. In some places Schutz states that all life forms are reducible to that of pure duration (96) as if every feature of the living ego can be derivable from duration (and memory) alone.  However, he adds the remark that the functions of life forms do not reach down to the more primitive ones (54). Whether or not this can be considered as a tension in Schutz’ position, he himself tries to render some peculiar notions to that of time passage and memory. He announces that he will do this for the thou-experience but he does not execute it, rather he says that ‘I’ recognizes thou also because it “can be compared to the memory images of my own past I” (127). Most importantly Schutz tries to explain meaning (sense) on the basis of the function of memory. This can be considered as the third idea forming the project. Others are those related to the constitution of spatial objectivities, word and linguistic categories, and literary genres. The main idea is very inspiring but the arguments concerning the second and third ones are not very convincing, at least when compared to the phenomenological analyses.

One of the reasons that Schutz left the book project unfinished and returned to phenomenology is that Husserl’s “Vorlesungen zur Phänomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstseins” appeared at the same time. Accordingly, Schutz revises his analysis of inner duration and developed it using the themes introduced by Husserl. However, interestingly, one of the figures that Schutz brings in is “Theorie der Lebensformen” in order to illustrate his account of time passage which is quite similar to one of Husserl’s in the aforementioned book. It is a pity that the English translator omitted the figures. He gives some reasons for doing that, but in any case, an enthusiastic reader is somehow frustrated. This gives me the motivation to reproduce the most important one here (figure 3 of the German text).

This figure resembles the figure brought in (Husserl, 1991: 98), however, there are two important differences. For Schutz the vertical lines stand for memory as if in order to make the time-awareness two dimensional, we need memory. Indeed this figure is to represent the stream of consciousness of the memory-endowed I in contrast to pure duration which had been represented as a horizontal line in figures 1 and 2 of the original text. For Husserl the vertical line stands for retentional modifications, so that the whole diagram is to represent inner time awareness. The idea of retention and also that of reproduction are adopted by Schutz in his major work. The other difference is that Schutz’ diagram includes an oscillating line, between experience and memory or between perception and sense, which is to represent the status of memory-endowed I. This idea of oscillation is a very interesting one and does not appear in Husserl’s figure, though elsewhere he speaks of oscillation in consciousness, between dull and alert cogitos.

Another notable point in comparison with Husserl’s works, this time with the works which was available at the time, concerns the analysis of sense (Sinn, which is translated as meaning in this edition). This is directly related to the theory of noema. However Schutz does not recall this theory and only once he mentions the word noema and somehow equates it with his idea of objective meaning (sense). Husserl’s theory of noema does not strictly depend on memory, as Schutz’ theory of sense in this project does. Although Husserl speaks of memory when analyzing various noematic layers, and although noema or noematic sense itself has a peculiar relation to time, it itself cannot be described as memory image, which is the delineation of sense according to Schutz. Nonetheless, in his major work, Schutz frequently refers to the concept of noema. I would like to add, en passant, that it is not unproblematic to consider noema as objective sense, if we mean by objective sense the ideal meaning. This latter can be seen as tightly related to noematic nucleus but is by no means identical with the full noema itself.

Even if one finally rejects the author’s conception of time awareness and his theory of sense, there are still a lot of inspiring ideas in the book. The theory of life forms is very attractive and the analyses offered in some passages reach a high degree of originality and insightfulness. The book enjoys a fluent translation. However, I wish it had also comprised the figures and their explanations. Also one should keep in mind that “meaning” is used as a translation for Sinn, for which “sense” would be a more precise translation, while meaning should be reserved for Bedeutung. However, this is not a defect, since the book does not belong to phenomenological literature and the translation is coherent—it employs “meaning” for Sinn and “significance” for Bedeutung throughout the book.


Husserl, Edmund. 1991. On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time, translated by John Bamett Brough. Kluwer Academic Publishers.