Husserl’s Phenomenology as Philosophy of Universalism?
In academic discussions of the past decades – at any rate in disciplines linked to the so-called continental philosophy – it has become common practice to view universalistic notions with extreme suspicion. After the Second World War, the insight into the oppressive character of western rationality and the realization that “the project of modernity” has not delivered and cannot deliver on its promise of an ideal society have led to a conviction that all cultural formations, even when (or rather, especially when) making claims to universality, are inevitably partial and contingent. Monolithic teleological models of world history that depict the present as a legitimate moment in a process of inevitable gradual advancement towards ideality have lost their credibility. Universalism has come to be associated with illegitimate expansionism and homogenizing tendencies of western culture, motivated not by innocent benevolence but by fear of indeterminacy and striving for dominance. And yet, while western rationality has been criticized for its false pretensions, there has been a deliberate push for more universality, most notably in the form of universal human rights and international political co-operation (ideals, one has to add, that in the light of current global crises have once again shown their precarious nature, but perhaps also their indispensability). And remarkably, the push for more universalism has gathered most of its impetus from the same tragedies of modernity that seemingly delivered the irrefutable evidence against universalism. As we have witnessed in the last decade or so, the internationalist tendencies have found a new adversary in the right-wing nationalist movements that in their turn call for cultural inviolability often deploying the argument that different cultures and value systems are irredeemably incommensurable. This argument is strikingly reminiscent of postmodernist ideas of pluralism, albeit with one major difference: in setting the nation-state as its reference point it implies cultural uniformity where a postmodernist view would already recognize incommensurable diversity. All in all, what one can gather from present political and theoretical debates is that there is a massive disagreement over universalism, which not only concerns the desirability of it but the definition of the concept itself.
These tensions are the underlying motivation of Timo Miettinen’s study Husserl and the Idea of Europe. Miettinen sets out to formulate a novel understanding of universalism, which could respond to the current “general crisis of universalism” (4) without losing sight of the problems related to universalist attitudes. As Miettinen argues, a similar interest can be seen as the driving force of Edmund Husserl´s late transcendental phenomenology. For many, Husserl still represents a rigorous philosopher of science, who aimed at establishing a methodological foundation of all scientificity on an unhistorical transcendental structure of consciousness, and in this sense, his phenomenology is easy to understand as a universalist undertaking. But Miettinen shows that as Husserl delved ever deeper into the constitution problematic, the simple image of a self-sufficient transcendental structure had to make way for a more complex and nuanced account of situatedness of all human experience, which at the same time called for a radical rethinking of the concept of universalism. The necessary situatedness of experience is, in fact, reflected already in the title of Miettinen’s book. If the book is ultimately about universalism, one might ask, why not call it “Husserl and the idea of universalism”? First of all, Husserl regarded Europe as the broad cultural space where a special kind of universalist culture was established and developed – a culture of theoretical thought, to which he felt obliged as its critical reformer. In this sense, for Husserl, the idea of Europe is the idea of universalism. But the point is more subtle than that: by omitting the notion of universalism from its title the book implies that what follows has European culture as its starting point and as its inescapable horizon. In other words, what is promoted from the very first page onward, is an idea of universalism that constantly reflects on its own situatedness. “To acknowledge Europe as our starting point,” as Miettinen notes later in the book, “means that we take responsibility for our tradition, our own preconceptions.” (133–134).
In keeping with the idea of situatedness, the first part of the book deals with the historical context in which Husserl was developing new ideas that came to be associated with his late transcendental phenomenology. Like many intellectuals of the early 20th century, Husserl interpreted the present time in terms of a general crisis. Even though a “crisis-consciousness” was sweeping Europe at that time, there was no common understanding as to what was the exact nature or the root cause of the present crisis and what conclusions should be drawn from it. This indeterminacy was, in fact, part of its success, for it made the notion viable in different political and philosophical settings. Nevertheless, some common features of the crisis discourse can be delineated, as Miettinen demonstrates. First of all, the idea of a general crisis was not used in a descriptive context, but rather it “was now conceived as a performative act. For the philosophers, intellectuals, and political reformists of the early 20th century, crisis not only signified a certain state of exception, but was also fervently used as an imperative to react, as a demand to take exceptional measures” (27). By the same token, the idea of a crisis was not solely seen in a negative light but at times – as was especially the case with the First World War in its early days – greeted with enthusiastic hope. There was also a certain depth of meaning attached to the crisis. For example, the war wasn’t interpreted as an outcome of some current historical or political development but rather as a “sign” or a “symptom” of “something that essentially belonged to the notion of modernity itself, as a latent disease whose origin was to be discovered through historical reflection” (31).
The need for a historical reassessment of modernity’s past already points to the question, which Miettinen singles out as the most crucial for Husserl’s considerations. Some notable intellectuals of the time viewed the ongoing crisis as evidence that fundamental ideas of modernity, which up to that point had laid claims to universality, had shown themselves to be finite and relative. For instance, Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West conceived the development of different world-historical cultures in terms of an ever-repeating lifecycle analogous to that of living organisms and implied that the current crisis was a natural end stage, “the death-struggle” of the western culture: “This struggle was something that all cultures descend into by necessity without the possibility of prevailing through a voluntaristic renewal” (33). In addition, Spengler perceived every culture to have a radically distinct worldview incommensurable with others and encompassing spheres that many would consider as universal, for example, mathematics. While Spengler went to extreme lengths, he was by no means alone in promoting a cultural relativist view. From the early nineteenth century onward a tradition of “historicism,” as it came to be known, had established itself and by the early 20th century it was mainly seen as an idea of radical historical relativism, “that all knowledge is historically determined, and that there is no way to overcome the contingencies of a certain historical period” (38).
According to Miettinen, Husserl had a twofold attitude towards the crisis discourse. In relation to the present-day debates he characterized his own position as that of a “reactionary,”but this did not stop the discourse from having an impact on his thinking. Yet, as Miettinen points out, the impact of popular debates on Husserl’s phenomenology should not be exaggerated either, since the idea of a crisis can be seen at least in two important ways “as a kind of leading clue for Husserl’s whole philosophical project” (45). Already Husserl’s critique of the objectivist attitude in natural sciences can be interpreted this way. For Husserl, the crisis of the western rationalism was linked to the “radical forgetfulness” regarding the experiential origin of its abstractions. In other words, the modern scientific attitude, just like the “natural attitude” of our every-day-life, takes the objective existence of the world for granted without reflecting the activity of meaning constitution, which makes such an “objectivity” possible in the first place. Although this “transcendental naïveté” is already present in the prescientific domain of the natural attitude and hence an unavoidable feature of human experience in general, for Husserl the real reason behind the present crisis was to be found in the triumphant natural scientific attitude of the nineteenth and 20th centuries, which not only forgot but actively attacked the other side of the transcendental relation, the notion of human subjectivity as the domain of self-responsibility and rationality.
On the other hand, however, the possibility of a positive interpretation of crisis was also built into the basic structure of phenomenology: For Husserl, self-responsible theories and cognitions should be ultimately founded on experiential evidence, on the “originary givenness” of the content of consciousness. But if our way of relating to the world nevertheless tends to “habituate” past experience and forget originary givenness, it follows that our judgments need to be constantly led back to the immediate intuitive evidence. If judgments then happen to reveal themselves as unfounded, a crisis ensues: “From the perspective of acquired beliefs, judgments, and values, a crisis signifies a loss of evidence, a situation in which our convictions have lost their intuitive foundation” (49). At this point the underlying argument of the whole book begins to shine through. Husserl saw the crisis as a possibility of cultural renewal, which called for a self-responsible, i.e. self-critical attitude towards values, convictions, and beliefs. The idea of renewal opposes “false objectivity” by reinstating the relation between genuine human agency and objectivity. But most of all it combats the passivity and fatalism inherent in theories of radical cultural relativity and finitude endorsed by the likes of Spengler. Husserl argued that even though cultural limits must always be considered in self-critical assessments of one’s own situation, these limits are not set in stone but redefinable through self-responsible, self-critical human agency.
In summary, the first part of Miettinen’s book gives an account of Husserl that seeks a balance between cultural situatedness (crisis as “crisis-consciousness”) and inherent logical development of phenomenology (crisis as an overarching theme in Husserl’s project in general). The contextualization does offer an interesting perspective on Husserl’s late phenomenology by drawing comparisons between some main features of the crisis discourse and Husserl’s thoughts. But there is still a certain one-sidedness to the narrative. Miettinen follows the general crisis discourse only up to the point where it becomes possible to distinguish Husserl’s reflections on the crisis, which, as we saw, concentrated amongst other things on the issue of “false objectivism.” However, false objectivism was not an exclusively Husserlian idea, but rather one of the most central themes of the intellectual debate of the early 20th century, and, in fact, of the crisis discourse itself. It was, after all, the problem of objective spirit assuming an independent existence from subjective spirit, which constituted for Georg Simmel “the tragedy of culture” (see Simmel 1919). And it was the issue of reification, which Georg Lukács situated at the core of his History and Class-Consciousness. For Lukács, one of the most disadvantageous effects of the capitalist society was the emergence of a contemplative attitude, which takes the surrounding world as an objectivity that has no intrinsic connection with the subject – a very similar strain of passivity that Husserl was opposing. (See e.g. Honneth 2015, 20–29). One is compelled to ask, then, whether a more thorough comparison of Husserl’s ideas with those of his contemporaries could have shed some new light on the historical situatedness of phenomenology itself.
Even though Husserl did not accept the thesis of radical cultural relativism, he had to reevaluate the role of situatedness in the phenomenological problem of constitution. The second part of Miettinen’s study gives a concise overview on topics related to these questions. First, Husserl became exceedingly aware that acts of meaning-constitution have their own historicity, that they are made possible by prior achievements. The domain of “static phenomenology” needed to be complemented with “genetic phenomenology,” which was to concern itself with descriptions of “how certain intentional relations and forms of experience emerge on the basis of others,” or more broadly “what kinds of attitudes, experiences, or ideas make possible the emergence of others” (62). This opened a set of phenomena that Husserl addressed with a whole host of new concepts. Miettinen manages to introduce this terminology remarkably well by giving concise yet intuitive characterizations that make the general point of genetic phenomenology come across. A reader only superficially acquainted with phenomenology might still take exception to the fact that there are hardly any practical examples of these abstract concepts, and when there are, some of them seem unnecessarily complicated. Take, for instance, the illustration of the term “sedimentation,” which, as Miettinen explains, “refers to the stratification of meaning or individual acts that takes place over the course of time” (64). However, he illustrates this by referring to development of motor skills in early childhood: “children often learn to walk by first acquiring the necessary gross motor skills by crawling and standing against objects. These abilities, in their turn, are enabled by a series of kinesthetic and proprioceptic faculties (the sense of balance, muscle memory, etc.)” (64). As much as acquiring new skills on the basis of prior ones has to do with sedimentation, the emphasis on abstract motor skills leads to a set of problems concerning the complicated topics of “embodiment” and “kinesthesia,” which are quite unrelated to the questions that Miettinen is principally addressing.
Nevertheless, Miettinen describes comprehensibly how questions related to genetic phenomenology led Husserl ever deeper into questions of historicity and cultural situatedness. As the phenomenological problematic expanded to encompass the genesis of meaning-constitution, the notion of transcendental subjectivity had to undergo a parallel conceptual broadening. The abstract transcendental ego made way for a more concrete and historical account of the transcendental person: “We do not merely ‘live through’ individual acts, but these acts have the tendency to create lasting tendencies, patterns, and intentions that have constitutive significance” (64–65). In other words, the transcendental person evolves through habituating certain ways of experiencing that, once internalized, work as the taken-for-granted basis for new experiences. But Husserl’s inquiry to the historical prerequisites of meaning constitution did not stop there either. What becomes habitual to a transcendental person, goes beyond the historicity of the person itself, for the genesis is not a solipsistic process but an interpersonal and intergenerational one, where ways of meaning constitution are “passed forward.” Husserl’s umbrella term for problems of this kind was “generativity.” As Miettinen points out, it was the notion of generativity that really opened up a genuine historical dimension in Husserl’s phenomenology, with far-reaching consequences: “Becoming a part of a human community that transcends my finite being means that we are swept into this complex process of tradition precisely in the form of the ‘passing forward’ (Lat. tradere) of sense: we find ourselves in a specific historical situation defined by a nexus of cultural objectivities and practices, and social and political institutions” (68–69).
In this way, generativity points to another turning point in the problem of constitution, the constitution of social world through intersubjectivity. Unlike natural or cultural objects, other subjects are given to me as entities that “carry within themselves a personal world of experience to which I have no direct access” (72). This “alien experience” nevertheless refers to a common world and in doing so “plays a crucial role in my personal world-constitution” (72). That is to say: the meaning of a shared and objective validity is bestowed on my world only in relation to other world-constituting subjects. The lifeworld, which is constituted as the common horizon of intersubjective relations, acquires “its particular sense through an encounter with the other” (75). It is easy to see what Miettinen is driving at: if a lifeworld emerges in intersubjective relations, then it is not only in a constant state of historical change but also, especially in the case of an encounter with an alien tradition, open for active redefinition and renewal. However, this renewal cannot just be a matter of transgressing the boundaries between different traditions, as Miettinen makes clear by pointing to the constitutive value of the division between “homeworld” (i.e. the domain of familiarity or shared culture), and “alienworld” (the unintelligible and unfamiliar “outside”). According to Husserl this division belongs to the fundamental structure of every lifeworld, and in a sense, the homeworld acquires its individual uniqueness, its intelligibility and familiarity only in relation to its alien counterpart. It follows, that if the distinction between the home and the alien were to be destroyed through one-sided transgression, the experience of an intersubjectively constituted, shared cultural horizon of meaning would vanish with it, or, as Miettinen sums it up: “In a world without traditions, we would be simply homeless” (78).
This poses a question: if a tradition by necessity has its horizon, i.e. its limits, which cannot be simply transgressed without losing the sense of home altogether, how is universalism thinkable? The third part of Miettinen’s study suggests that Husserl’s generative interpretation of the origins of European theoretical tradition provides the answer to this question. Miettinen gives a manifold and nuanced account of the historical origins of Greek philosophy and of Husserl’s interpretations thereof. Obviously, this account cannot be repeated here in its entirety; an overview of such defining features that point directly to the underlying problematic of universalism will have to suffice.
In this regard the key argument of Husserl, which Miettinen accordingly emphasizes, is that philosophy itself is a generative phenomenon. What makes this idea so striking, is the fact that for Husserl philosophy denoted a “scientific-theoretical attitude,” which takes distance from immediate practical interests, views the world from a perspective of a “disinterested spectator,” and in so doing seeks to disclose the universal world behind all particular homeworlds. However, according to Husserl, even such a theoretical attitude emerged in a specific cultural situation, namely in the Greek city-states, which, as Miettinen points out, were at that time in a state of rapid economic development that called for closer commercial ties between different cultures: “Close interaction between different city-states created a new sensitivity toward different traditions and their beliefs and practices” (95). The encounters did not lead to a loss of the home-alien-division but to a heightened sense of relativity of traditions, which in turn promoted a theoretical interest in universality and a self-reflective attitude towards the horizon of one’s own homeworld: “Through the encounter of particular traditions, no single tradition could acquire for itself the status of being an absolute foundation – the lifeworld could no longer be identified with a particular homeworld and its conceptuality” (97).
Another important generative aspect of this development was the emerging new ideals of social interaction. The Greek philosophy gave birth to an idea of “universal community,” which, at least in principle, disregarded ethnic, cultural, and political divisions and was open to all of those who were willing to partake in free philosophical critique of particular traditions and striving toward a universal and shared world. Moreover, the emerging theoretical thought organized itself as a tradition of sorts, as an intergenerational undertaking that was aware of its generativity. Miettinen avoids calling this new form of culture “tradition,” for it “did not simply replace the traditionality of the pre-philosophical world by instituting a new tradition; rather, it replaced the very idea of traditionality with teleological directedness, or with a new ‘teleological sense’ (Zwecksinn) which remains fundamentally identical despite historical variation.” (111) This unifying idea of an infinite task meant that what was ultimately passed forward from generation to generation, was not some predetermined custom, ritual or even a doctrine but a common intergenerational commitment to the task itself. In other words, the theories of earlier philosophers were in principle open for criticism and had to be assessed always anew in relation to the shared goal of universality. Philosophy was generative also in the sense that it didn’t cast the world of practical interests aside, but rather called for a new kind of rational attitude towards it. Philosophy understood its own domain of interest in terms of universal ideals and norms, which were ultimately to be made use of in the practical sphere of life as well. As philosophical ideals came into contact with practical life, for example with political or religious practice, they changed the surrounding culture itself. As Miettinen puts it, “politics and religion themselves became philosophical: they acquired a new sense in accordance with the infinite task of philosophy” (114).
As stated, Miettinen offers a detailed discussion of Husserl’s views on the origins of European universalism, which, among other things, acknowledges that Husserl’s interpretations of classical Greek philosophy and culture are heavily influenced by his own philosophical ideals. Miettinen’s portrayal does suffer a bit from the multiperspectivity implicit in the subject matter itself. It is not always clear, which parts are meant as presentations of genuine Greek philosophy, which as Husserl’s idealistic interpretations, and which as Miettinen’s own contributions. But the main idea is still quite clear: Husserl interpreted European history from classical Greek culture all the way to his own time in terms of an infinite task that consists first and foremost in critically reflecting and relativizing traditional horizons of meaning constitution. The intergenerational collectivity unified by this task subjects its own accomplishments to the same criticism and strives through infinite renewal towards a universal world behind all traditional homeworlds, towards the “horizon of horizons” (75), as Miettinen calls it with reference to Merleau-Ponty. As the formulation “horizon of horizons” implies, the point of this universalism is not to destroy or occupy but to make the universal lifeworld visible, of which particular traditions, particular homeworlds are perspectives. This is the understanding of universality that Miettinen wants to bring to the contemporary theoretical and political discussions.
But if Husserl conceived the whole of European history within the framework of one massive idealistic undertaking, it seems that Husserl’s understanding of history and historicity amounts to nothing more than a new version of the age-old teleological model, which interprets – and simultaneously legitimizes – historical events as part of a monolithic and predetermined process. In other words, maybe Husserl’s generative interpretation is just another “grand narrative.” In part 4 of his study, Miettinen offers a twofold argument against this assumption. First, Husserl did not understand his teleological model as one that ought to correspond with empirical reality, but rather as Dichtung, as “a poetic act of creation” (145), which has its relevance only in relation to the present situation. Second, Miettinen argues in reference to Marx and Engels that narratives are necessary in criticism of ideologies, for “[i]t is the common feature of dominating ideologies that they seek to do away with their own genesis, for instance by concealing the historical forms of violence and oppression that led to the present. For this reason, historical narratives are needed in order to criticize the seeming naturality of the present moment – in order to show its dependency and relativity in regard to the past” (139). This idea is perfectly in tune with the Husserlian problem of constitution in general and it reinforces the critique of “false objectivism” and the call for self-responsible human agency at the core of Husserl’s late phenomenology. In other words, his notion of teleology should be understood as a critical tool for understanding the finitude of the present and the possibility of going beyond it, or as Miettinen succinctly puts it: “Teleological reflection is crucial, because we are ‘not yet’ at the end of history, or, more precisely: because we constantly think we are” (144).
While this argument is compelling, it still seems to neglect one important aspect in the complicated relationship between ideology and narrative. Not all ideologies are aimed at legitimizing the present as a natural order; on the contrary, some rely on a narrative structure that depicts the current state of affairs as a fall from grace and shows the way out by defining clear-cut ideals to realize. Instead of serving the purpose of legitimizing the present and making subjects passively accept the alleged naturality of it, ideologies of this kind, as Peter V. Zima (1999, 14–21) points out, serve to mobilize people for certain goals, to make them able to act. And precisely ideologies of this kind came under suspicion in the interwar period. As one can read from Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, the ambivalence of all “grand ideas” undermines the credibility of ideologies, narrative structures, and goal-oriented agency all at once (see Ibid., 55–69). This connectedness of narrative form and ideology shouldn’t be taken too lightly in the present political climate either: the most pressing ideological challenges of Europe aren’t, as they perhaps once were, concerned with the loss of ideals in politics or in individual life, arguably facilitated by neoliberalist and postmodernist ideologies, but rather with its dialectical counterpart: the threat of ideological mobilization. The critical potentiality of Husserl’s notion of teleology doesn’t quite seem to allay the suspicions concerned with ideologies of this kind, or if it does, Miettinen doesn’t make clear how.
What obviously makes Miettinen’s study stand apart, is its unique position at the crossroads of traditional Husserl scholarship, history of ideas, and contemporary political philosophy. It not only shows how Husserl’s ideas about historicity, situatedness, and teleology emerged out of the interplay of his phenomenological endeavor and the cultural context saturated with crisis-consciousness; it also seeks to bring these ideas to fruition in the contemporary political and philosophical setting. This kind of hermeneutical approach to Husserl’s philosophy is of course to be whole-heartedly endorsed, but on the other hand, the “in between” -character of the undertaking does also raise some issues: If Miettinen wants to promote a new kind of universalism, which aims at addressing contemporary questions in a novel way, then a more thorough discussion on newer developments in philosophical and political thought might be in order. In keeping with the idea of situatedness, it would be interesting to see Miettinen seriously engaging with contemporary theories, starting perhaps with a more systematic treatment of postmodernist notions of pluralism and going all the way to ideas attributed to the so-called post-humanism, which seems to once again challenge “alien-home”-distinctions in a profound way. In order to highlight the distinct character of his ideas on relativization of horizons, communality, and normativity, he might do well to also define his relation to some contemporary “kindred spirits” (for example, Habermas comes to mind). All in all, one can look forward to Miettinen developing his theory of universalism further, and as he does, he will undoubtedly address these minor issues, too.
Honneth, Axel. 2015. Verdinglichung. Eine Anerkennungstheoretische Studie. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
Simmel, Georg. 1919. “Der Begriff und die Tragödie der Kultur.” In: Philosophische Kultur. Gesammelte Essais. Leipzig: Alfred Kröner, 223–253.
Zima, Peter V. 1999. Roman und Ideologie. Zur Sozialgeschichte des modernen Romans. München: Wilhelm Fink.
Twelve strong essays in this excellent and impressively well-knit collection present different but convergent examinations of master-themes in Husserl’s philosophy like intentionality and the reduction/s, while also discussing specific doctrines relating to psychologism, the eidetic method, objectifying acts, time-consciousness, truth and error, monadological construction, and the intersection of phenomenology and cultural critique. The authors use a variety of approaches, historical or developmental readings and analytic commentary, comparative analysis and speculative interpretation, and, while several authors, along with the editors, are well-known to anglophone phenomenologists and Kantians, even the less familiar ones are easily recognized names in the field (the collection features four deceased philosophers, five emeritus professors, four senior figures, and one younger researcher). The essays were originally written in German, dating mostly from the 1980s-1990s with a few from the first decade of our century, and the translators Hayden Kee, Patrick Eldridge, and Robin Litscher Wilkins have conveyed their different philosophical and rhetorical styles with facility. Overall, the collection promises to present (to a non-initiate, it should be noted) Husserl’s thought through “German perspectives.”
It is worth pausing to consider what this last could mean. For it promises to show a whole force-field of thought determined by linguistic, geographical, and historical connections, and even how these determinations are themselves determined by what is left out, that is, the kind of work occurring in other, principally anglophone traditions. For instance, the collection emphasizes the dense overlap of Husserlian and Heideggerean views as opposed to cleanly separating the two, while it underplays treatments of Gadamer and Merleau-Ponty and with them certain types of questions of aesthetics, materiality, and intersubjectivity, which form a dominant thrust in the anglophone reception of phenomenology in Continental-philosophical quarters. Similar determining occlusions can be mentioned with respect to Analytic-philosophical quarters, for example, the absence of applications of phenomenology to cognitive science (and vice-versa) or the interpretation of Buddhist doctrines, or, given the unifying thread throughout the volume, which understands intentionality in highly active and teleological terms, the absence of treatments of kinaesthesia and action-in-perception views. Finally, aside from the last essay on Husserl’s thought through the Crisis, the collection passes up the chance to examine the very notion of a perspective as cultural, such as one that might be German but also European (itself universalized and universalizing) by way of recovering ancient Greek thought according to a German self-understanding prepared over the 18th and 19th centuries.
Or one could bring under “German perspectives” a number of major, agenda-setting articles unavailable in translation; or those from a devoted journal or issue or proceedings from a signal conference, whose historical significance has been recognized; or the workings of a particularly productive group or research from a particular archive; or translations of introductions to standardized editions of Husserl’s works; or simply the task of introducing some well-known figures and works to anglophone readership as R.O. Elveton’s classic little collection did several years ago, although several authors in the present volume require no introduction; or the relation of Husserl’s thought to other points taken as definitive of German philosophy (Leibniz-Wolff, German Idealism). In their short, elegant introduction, the editors state that the volume simply aims to bring before an English-language reader some previously untranslated articles by important German-language commentators, showcasing conversations they have with other important German-language philosophers. Of course, neither this deflationary description nor the curious designation “German Perspectives” in any way detracts from the high quality of the collection, and, in fact, the conversations linking the pieces in multiple ways, I find, constitute its greatest strength. I take the designation, however, as recording the need for further attempts along lines noted in the list above, some of whose elements can be glimpsed occasionally through the collection, which this review will highlight in the course of addressing each article in order.
Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl (1997) revisits Hussserl’s critique of psychologism in the Prolegomena to show that it was only partially successful, which helps understand in a subtler way the major philosophical re-orientation that followed. Thus, no rectilinear path takes us from the psychologism-critique to the transcendental-philosophical stages of Husserl’s work and questions broached in earlier stages persistently re-appear later. This is because Husserl’s critique did not attend as much to the presuppositions of a psychologistic view as it did to the debilitating consequences of that view, which were taken as endorsing subjectivism and skepticism. This conflated different skeptical charges (logical, epistemological, metaphysical) and missed, quite directly, the issue of a dispute of principles, or the problem of the criterion, between psychologistic and anti-psychologistic standpoints, and, indirectly, the need to interrogate the latent issues of psychologism and Platonism in Husserl’s use of descriptive psychology and the foundations of normativity asserted in both psychologistic and anti-psychologistic models, albeit differently.
Husserl’s development of the phenomenological reduction enabled such interrogations spanning across static and genetic phenomenological inquiries. They did not arise with sole regard to developing a practical-philosophical framing against an overly theoretical one (a view tempted by the later talk of the life-world) but by reframing of the operative conception of science in order to handle the previously overlooked skeptical problems. Pure logic’s “objectivistic” model of science is replaced by a more subjectivistic model supplied by philosophy itself, as the debate shifts from being between logic and psychology to one between philosophy and psychology and the rejection of epistemological skepticism as a condition of philosophy replaces a narrower overcoming of logical skepticism for the sake of pure logic as a science of science (36-38). Rinofner-Kreidl proceeds carefully and meticulously, but perhaps due to this it is hard to find many references to German perspectives beyond the odd citation of a counter-critique from a psychologistic point of view, and one gets the impression that an obvious and influential German elephant in the room has been neglected, namely, the German Idealist shape of this transcendental-philosophical battle with skepticism at the level of principles and over the possibility of philosophy itself as a science of science. Rinofner-Kreidl’s detailed analysis thus sheds light on the dark corners of Husserl’s articulation of the problem of psychologism, but has the unfortunate effect of making the Logical Investigations appear insufficiently philosophical, philosophy itself being discovered by Husserl only afterwards.
Ludwig Landgrebe (d.1991; undated essay), by contrast, stresses the inner philosophical unity running through Husserl’s oeuvre, thus, a unity animating, even if in embryonic form, the early works as well as the psychologism-critique of the Investigations (51-59), by focusing on the concept of intentionality and underlining its achieving, striving character. Further, he provides the German context for a divided reception of this concept: on the one hand, phenomenology took up the descriptive-psychological investigations as de-linked from this inner thematic, widened a growing rift between eidetics- and ontology-centric approaches, and overall divorced from phenomenological studies a deeper ontology-critique that was always a part of Husserl’s efforts; on the other hand, phenomenology retained this deeper critical edge and fundamentally re-thought the inner thematic itself, which Heidegger did in re-situating the analysis of intentionality on the grounds of the facticity of Dasein.
According to Landgrebe, it is not simply the case that Heidegger rejects the reduction as a method (for it was always more than a way to initiate constitution-analyses of consciousness and already engaged the possibility of ontology in Husserl), nor merely that Heidegger begins his intentional analysis from being-in-the-world rather than the other way around (for the Husserlian apprehension of intentionality as active, self-producing and self-temporalizing form already broke through mundane comportments towards their inner structure). Rather, Heidegger contests the model of subjectivity assumed in these conceptions of intentionality and reduction, which comprises reflection and an “attitude of impartial observing” (75) achieved by bracketing one’s determinate Dasein in order to universalize the partial acts of reflection. This, however, conceives oneself as only an indifferent other and fails to apprehend the self-knowing of Dasein in its performance of existence, which takes us to the limits of intentional analysis, since the synthetic constitution of an object can no longer be found here. How an a priori is to be still articulated here, how a metaphysic of facticity is possible – these questions remained on Husserl’s mind in the last years and remain open for future phenomenology, for Landgrebe.
Jan Patočka (1982) too takes intentionality in its active, dynamic form to be a guiding principle for phenomenology at large and uses it to examine the Husserl-Heidegger relation, although not to see in it a parting of ways but an interweaving of interests and a critical continuity of the phenomenological project. At the heart of such a reconciliation is Patočka’s reading of the reduction as marked by a fundamental circumscription (the suspension of the epoché distinguished from an alleged march to reduce all being to the absolute sphere of consciousness), which both bridges the rift Landgrebe outlined between eidetic and ontological strains of phenomenological research and qualifies Heidegger’s seeming rejection of the reduction. Patočka bases his reading on Husserl’s 1907 lectures on The Idea of Phenomenology to find that the reduction maintains a positivity of being and envisions research into phenomena as resisting a total absorption into immanence by inexhaustible progress through experience, balancing eidetic reflection against the constructions of positivity in science or modernity itself.
Although Husserl couched the reduction in a subjectivist vocabulary stemming from Kant and Fichte, the tension present in it between reifying and non-objectifying aspects, and of questions of being and nothing, allows us to discern Heideggerean motives that are otherwise expressed in the language of moods and errances of being. Thus, “the possibility of an epoché and its limbo is inherent in the experience of annihilation… [I]t is not the epoché that establishes the limbo upon which the phenomenological reduction is built up, but rather the epoché presupposes the experience of the limbo….” (99-100). While Heidegger’s critique takes this nihilating moment to the greatest distances from Husserl in using it to launch a metaphysical critique of the presupposition of acts of negation in formal logic, Patočka believes it possible (and believes Heidegger believed a reconciliation was possible) to see both thinkers grounding their overall visions for philosophy upon a reflection on crisis as such, which remains the task of future shapes of phenomenology.
Dieter Lohmar’s (2005) defense of eidetic intuition and variation as a self-standing phenomenological method continues within the outline of the German reception of Husserl’s thought as given by Landgrebe and continues with Patočka to question the reduction’s claims to be a univocal, unitary phenomenological method. Lohmar argues that eidetic intuition should be seen as a variety of categorial intuition insofar as both preserve a basic orientation to the possibility of knowing an object through a pathway of syntheses of coincidence. This clarifies how eidetic variation is the key element of a method centered on eidetic intuition, which overcomes nagging questions in that method about non-givenness in intuition for certain classes of objects (image consciousness, universal objects) by asserting the functional primacy of free variation in phantasy over perception. One might hold that free variation needs the reduction to get off the ground, but Lohmar explains that both eidetic variation and the phenomenological reduction suspend the factual to reveal universals, but their purposes are different, as reduction targets validity justifications but variation lets us uncover structures of clarity answering to initially vague concepts, thus undertaking the philosophical clarification of knowledge itself.
This is a clear account of the method, and Lohmar does address worries about its limits (how far must we go? when do we stop? do we presuppose a concept in clarifying a concept? is cultural parochialism inherent in the limits of the operation and the concept clarified?), but Lohmar hastily brushes aside other questions in its wake or gestures towards the genetic theory of types for further development of the method, undermining its claims to theoretical independence. If the process sounds like an empiricist account of the generation of concepts or even what Kant calls their logical origin in acts of comparison and abstraction, we are told that Husserl is not indulging in a genetic psychology of concepts, but is in pursuit of universal objects, and in any case, Kant too buried many secrets about the imagination’s powers in the depths of the human soul; if the Platonism charge is recalled at this point, we are told that Husserl really treats Platonism as little more than mysticism and does not assert a separate realm of irreal being; if we ask after the apriority these objects may still claim, even without reminders about their location in the realm of absolute being of consciousness, we are told that Husserlian apriority is not severed from experience like Kant’s but more like Humean induction; if we ask about the Humean legacy, we are referred to Husserl’s un-Humean, mitigated Platonism; etc. What one misses is an actual confrontation with these issues, which are either invoked by Lohmar himself (not only when he brings up Kant as a foil, but also when he describes seeing the a priori in the very ways that trouble Kant’s problematic theory of constructing concepts [137-138n.57]) or which are present in Husserl and call for greater scrutiny (the relation of the doctrines of eidetic intuition and variation in the 6th Investigation to the critique of Modern nominalism and of Humean doctrines like ‘circles of resemblance’ in the 2nd Investigation). Overall, however, that eidetic investigation seems to have kept the Husserl-Archiv in Köln busy relatively recently (133n.1) indicates that this German perspective of inquiry is alive and well, Landgrebe’s diagnoses notwithstanding.
Karl Schuhmann (1991) presents an historical German perspective as he takes us back to Husserl’s manuscripts prior to the Logical Investigations and complicates the story of origins, somewhat as Rinofner-Kreidl did, by arguing that the discovery of intentionality did not occur entirely within the scope of Brentano’s doctrine, as the 5th Investigation may lead us to believe, but emerged from efforts to resolve Twardowski’s proposals in its vicinity. This also yields the corollary that Husserl’s progress towards a theory of noema does not follow directly from the initial conception of intentionality. The problem posed by Twardowski asks about the way representations can both relate to an object (for a representation represents something) and yet not relate to an object (when nothing in actuality answers to it). Twardowski’s solution proposed two kinds of objects to reconcile the universal relation to objects as well (as psychic contents) cases of actual objects. Husserl rejected this solution for its psychological implausibility (unlimited variety and complexity of psychic contents) and epistemological redundancy (the object known is always one and the object of a contradiction does not exist in any guise).
This, however, moved him into treating all propositions as falling under a guiding assumption for the relevant discourse, which modifies not objectivity but the position of the subject and its representations. Husserl’s solution thus turns to the subject, its doxic investments and the discursive form of knowledge, which suggest the new concept of intentionality; but he is still far from clarifying the systematic place of the subject in which these acts and contents take place, the consistency and priorities among different discursive forms of objectivity, and the coherence of judgment forms with perceptual knowing. But the future concept that dealt with the latter issues cannot be said to simply arise from the early concept, because the question of being was not posed in any critical way at all earlier and because the later concept of noema recalls elements of Twardowski’s interpretation, which had supposedly been overcome. Schuhmann leaves us with tantalizingly brief indications (which may be the case when working from fragmentary manuscripts, although Brentano’s and Twardowski’s theses could have been developed more broadly to give a fuller sense of the territory within which Husserl worked), without paving with further clues from developmental history the actual path from here to the theories of intentionality in the Logical Investigations and Ideas I.
Verena Mayer and Christopher Erhard (2008) take up the concept of intentionality as developed in the 5th Logical Investigation, and, although this essay is a solid and detailed exposition of the main sections of this Investigation (thus filling an oppressive gap in the literature while also conversing with the few who do attend to this topic), it also helps understand more broadly some key areas of concern for the early Husserl signaled by Schuhmann, such as the question of fitting judgment with perception, details from the general background and the internal critique of Brentano that contextualized Husserl’s own forays, the holism about mental contents that enables an analysis at the level of acts rather than isolated attention to representations or images or names or judgments, etc.
Importantly, Mayer walks us through the 5th Investigation as it integrates different mental components into the concept of an act with its intentional essence, which is crucial for understanding the active nature of intentionality as a horizonally shaped process of a cognitive fulfillment. Erhard provides a detailed reconstruction of the concept of objectifying acts, which is important to understand how the intentionality of an experience is variously articulated and modified, sometimes at the level of content, sometimes at the level of quality, in regard either to imaginative variation or to identifying syntheses in actual cognition. Owing to the expository nature of this commentary, one sometimes feels the need for critical argumentation over merely presenting Husserl’s view, which is admittedly hard to discern in these thickets. The authors are aware that the 5th Investigation is tortuous terrain, but precisely its complexity offers a rich field of interaction with Analytic Philosophy and their own effort to craft a workable platform across this terrain is already a necessary step towards such dialogue.
Ulrich Melle (1990) deepens the investigation into objectifying acts by clarifying it against non-objectifying acts, which Mayer and Erhard had noted as a topic developed more fully by Husserl only after the Logical Investigations, and by drawing out the larger context of these acts, which tug at the models of perception and judgment in different ways and inform Husserl’s “pluralistic theory of reason…[as] logical-cognitive, axiological, and practical.” (193) Melle relies on manuscripts of Husserl’s ethics lectures (1908/9, 1911, 1914, 1920) to bring out Husserl’s vexations over adjusting objectifying and non-objectifying acts at different levels, trying at times to understand the latter acts of valuing, feeling, desiring, and willing in terms of the former acts of perception and intellection, recognizing at others a self-sufficiency of non-objectifying acts in terms of objective content or existence-positing modifications.
Even if these attempts are not settled conclusively, Melle persuasively shows both the blurring of the distinction between the two types of acts and the concomitant unification of theory of reason as obtaining over different types of objectivities. This lucid essay is too short, however, to learn more about the way the theory of reason develops along the traditional axes of the true, the beautiful, and the good, while responding to the new objectivities on offer through non-objectifying acts, or about ways to strengthen suggestions that these reflections on value-theory bend Husserl’s overall project or put pressures on particular tendencies in it, such as the content-apprehension scheme. One is left wanting especially in regard to other German perspectives on these questions, whether other phenomenological work on ethics like Scheler’s, or, what is better known in the anglophone world, Heidegger’s attention to the question of being and to art and Gadamer’s investigations of aesthetics.
Klaus Held (1981, with references updated to include recent publications) provides a dense meditation on the phenomenology of time to explicate the Husserlian notion and to outline possibilities beyond it by overcoming its residual Cartesianism. The latter is indicated in the very terminology of time-consciousness that lures the underlying idea into the trap of subjectivism, from which Held seeks to liberate that idea to see time as that which “measures the phenomenal field in its fluctuation” (210; the Aristotelian-Heideggerean punning intended by Held). Like others in this volume, Held views intentionality as a fundamentally dynamical condition and one vividly sees the interaction with other German perspectives here as he thinks collaboratively with other authors in this volume like Landgrebe and Patočka. But he stresses, with distinctively dialectical imagery (placing yet other German perspectives in view), the primacy of various tensions and oscillations, flow and passivity, withdrawals and emergences, which constitute the field of appearance stretching between or before subject and object.
This field of appearance in its essential fluidity should explain subjectivity, rather than the other way around, and instead of getting by with surrogates like “pre-objective” or “primal impression,” one must genuinely get hold of the ways in which unity of presentation is determined by the pulsating functions of the field itself. Further, Held seeks to explain how the latter becomes fixed in form-content distinctions that, as revealed by his dissection of it, cloud Husserl’s account of time-consciousness. Thus, by undoing presuppositions and untying knots in apprehending features of the phenomenal field such as its past and futural directionality, the subjective phenomena of remembering and forgetting, Held intends for his own proposal to remain phenomenological just when it is in danger of becoming an external dialectical construction. Where this danger seems to be greatest is in Held’s attempt to reconcile the appropriatedly revised Husserlian theory with Heidegger’s discussion of moods and the disclosedness of the basic rhythm of life between poles of natality and mortality, which lends the “living present” its material vitality and actional character. The undeniable appeal of the resulting view, however, encourages the interpretive risks.
Rudolf Bernet (2012) continues the attempt to think Husserl along with Heidegger by seeing the latter’s concepts of truth and untruth as grounded in Husserlian viewpoints, which also helps see a continuity between early and late Heidegger himself. Untruth, for Husserl, is thought in terms of empty intending, which is shown to be consistent with accounts of idle chatter in Heidegger, and the way that idle chatter still bears a relation to truth, as do all human comportments, allows consistency with the essential cognitive drive of intentionality for Husserl. Husserl’s conception of falsehood as a disappointment or conflict lies in a stronger dimension of truth than a merely unfulfilled intention. This too agrees with Heidegger’s conception in Being and Time of Dasein’s covering-over comportment, which still manifests a self-showing in cases of semblant appearing.
In one respect, Heidegger’s later conception through alethic disclosing draws closer to Husserl’s conception as he now “think[s] disclosedness and hiddenness through one another” (148) essentially and not only in terms of Dasein’s modes of fallenness. But the increasing role of mystery in the later Heidegger escapes Husserlian synthetic projections entirely, and Bernet tries to show with reference to the Parmenides lectures that this leads to internal problems of its own, as Heidegger tries to derive the concept of mere falsehood and the concept of untruth proper or mystery as both types of a fundamental hiddenness. Bernet’s exploration of the latter point could have been bolstered by an examination of Heidegger’s own critique of logic, which was touched on in Held’s essay. But that would be a different essay, while the present one provides a very economical discussion of the central concepts at play and includes a very helpful list of references to all relevant texts on the doctrine of truth in Heidegger, and also broadens its own German perspectives to works written in French.
Karl Mertens (2000) examines the arguably directly German perspective invoked by Husserl himself in his invocations of Leibnizian monadology to articulate problems of intersubjectivity. Since this dialogue, Mertens finds, is ultimately nugatory, it serves to caution against merging traditional metaphysics with Husserlian phenomenology. Yet, it may also be seen as spurring reformulations of phenomenology itself: in this regard Mertens’s essay is well positioned as leading into the last two essays considering Husserl’s thought in the Crisis, and, even if his essay is too short to dig deeper, Mertens rightly recognizes this juncture as a broadening of German perspectives by those opened up by Merleau-Ponty. The endnotes include particularly useful pointers for further (German-language) discussions of various issues, both classic and contemporary.
Husserl turns to Leibniz as to a compatriot seeking to replace the bare Cartesian ego with an appropriately complex account of the concrete structures of subjectivity in the concept of the monad. Leibniz was responding to classical problems about the individuality of substance and so his solutions simply do not work for a phenomenology operating on a very different plane. Indeed, it is a mystery why Husserl looks to Leibniz at all, for the windowless monad allows no genuine intersubjectivity and the perspectivalist approach they seem to share goes no further than superficial similarity. Unfortunately, Mertens does not help understand this mystery, nor the compounding mystery that Husserl foists atop this failed conversation his own problematic account of intersubjectivity, which Mertens, and not him alone, deems irredeemably solipsistic. This creates suggestions for renewed efforts, however, and perhaps Husserl was ultimately driven by the Leibnizian encounter to yet greater interest in the constitution of horizons, as much as he was perhaps held back by his allegiance to notions of consciousness and predicative experience at just the point that phenomenology could have turned to questions of pre-predicative embodiment to articulate the truly social self in a truly worldly perspective.
Elisabeth Ströker (1988) reminds us that Husserl’s interest was directed towards the validity and meaning of science across his oeuvre and the theory of intentionality was prepared for the sake of connecting mind and world in a way that ultimately restores that lost validity and meaning. The meaning of science is related to forms and contexts of practice and the transcendental theory of intentionality is related to the particular cultural-historical actuality of reason. While talk of crisis was very much in the air when Husserl wrote his Crisis, his view is distinctive in taking philosophy as a critique of itself that is a critique of science that is a critique of culture. This rests on a vision of unity of philosophy, science, and humanity, and of history as a long decay of a telic golden past, a “binding inheritance of Greek philosophy” (298). Ströker strives to show how various technical concepts like life-world, constitution-analysis, subjectivity, etc. figure into this easy wisdom, and perhaps all this is forgivable given that this essay was in fact at first a public memorial address rather than a scholarly publication, but, also, perhaps unwittingly, it is a testimony to the kind of tritely tragic and grand-historical self-narrative that too can count itself as a German perspective.
Ernst Wolfgang Orth (1987) complements Ströker’s essay both by turning to the issue of culture primarily (over science) and by lending gravity to the issues at play therein, such as problems about universalizing particular forms of practice or concepts such as “humanity,” which stretches across space and time (Greeks and us) all too easily in Ströker’s essay. Instead, he makes a compelling case for seeing cultural anthropology as uneasily integrated with transcendental phenomenology, which became evident to Husserl himself over the period from the Ideas to the Crisis. The human being is neither that from which the transcendental ego is abstracted nor is the latter a real part of the former, but the human being is constituted from transcendental subjectivity and Husserl increasingly locates in this connection the coevality of a universal human science and a first philosophy.
The resulting approach differs sharply, to Orth’s mind, from a narrowly natural scientific orientation, and progressively complicates phenomenology’s inner premises (many reductions, not a single overarching one; the dialectic of emergence and withdrawal at the heart of intentionality as Held argued). This, in turn, proceeds towards a conception of the cultural sphere, which is neither a mere occasion for transcendental reflection, nor subsumed under transcendental constitution, but, rather, under the title “lifeworld,” names the broader viewpoint in which culture with its own irreducible thickness (which includes naturalized forms within itself) is integrated with phenomenological reflection on humanity, which is a variegated presupposition and a limit idea that constantly shapes the phenomenological project. This is a wide-ranging and powerful proposal that simultaneously sheds light on many methodological questions about the Crisis as well as interfaces with other German perspectives, in this volume but also beyond. But one wonders if, at the end, it is not just the problem of horizons that has been re-discovered under the name of culture, and, moreover, one remains as curious as before if any advance is made on questions of cultural difference, parochialism, and universalism, that is “culture” in the usual senses of the contingent and disparate determinations of human life.
 This is the date of the original German version of the essay. I will provide this information for each essay.
 Resonances with Fichtean exertions over the identity of the transcendental and the empirical subject, the assumed possibility of a science of science, the grounding of questions of method in questions of freedom, are present in several essays implicitly (we can already look back at Rinofner-Kreidl’s and Landgrebe’s essays in the light of these exertions) or explicitly in Patočka’s essay (97; and Hegel’s pistol-shot reference to Schelling is quoted on p. 99) or later in Held’s essay (236). A mention of Fichte (or, for that matter, Hegel) is missing, however, in the helpful Index provided in the book, and perhaps this only indicates the need for including German Idealist background in a consideration of German Perspectives. Another wholly missing index entry is Gadamer, while Merleau-Ponty receives two indexical references to the same page, missing brief appearances on two other pages.
 Brentano’s concept of intentionality asserted a universal relation to an object, while Bolzano upheld objectless representations, so Schuhmann names this “the Brentano-Bolzano” problem. Brentano’s auxiliary theses about converting any existential proposition into a judgment form and distinguishing determining predicates (which enrich a subject, e.g. “educated person”) and modifying predicates (which change the subject itself, e.g. “dead person”) were used by Twardowski to solve the problem.