Edmund Husserl

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Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl

Edmund Husserl
Full name Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Phenomenology
Main interests Epistemology, Mathematics

Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl (IPA: [ˈhʊsɛrl]; April 8, 1859, Prostějov, Moravia, Austrian Empire – April 26, 1938, Freiburg, Germany) was a philosopher who is deemed the founder of phenomenology. He broke with the positivist orientation of the science and philosophy of his time, believing that experience is the source of all knowledge.

Husserl studied mathematics under Karl Weierstrass, completing a Ph.D. under Leo Königsberger, and studied philosophy under Franz Brentano and Carl Stumpf.
Then Husserl taught philosophy, as a Privatdozent at Halle from 1887, and as a professor:

  1. first at Göttingen from 1901,
  2. then at Freiburg im Breisgau from 1916 until his 1928 retirement.

Biography[change | change source]

Education and early works[change | change source]

He initially studied mathematics but then started attending lectures on psychology and philosophy.
Husserl was so impressed by Brentano that he decided to dedicate his life to philosophy.
His major written work is Philosophie der Arithmetik (1891).

In these first works he tries to combine mathematics, psychology and philosophy with a main goal to provide a sound foundation for mathematics.
He analyzes the psychological process needed to obtain the concept of number and then tries to build up a systematical theory on this analysis.
To achieve this he uses several methods and concepts taken from his teachers.
From Weierstrass he derives the idea that we generate the concept of number by counting a certain collection of objects.
From Brentano and Stumpf he takes over the distinction between proper and improper presenting.
In an example Husserl explains this in the following way: if you are standing in front of a house, you have a proper, direct presentation of that house, but if you are looking for it and ask for directions, then these directions (e.g. the house on the corner of this and that street) are an indirect, improper presentation.
In other words, you can have a proper presentation of an object if it is actually present, and an improper (or symbolic as he also calls it) if you only can indicate that object through signs, symbols, etc.
Another important element that Husserl took over from Brentano is intentionality, the notion that the main characteristic of consciousness is that it is always intentional. While often simplistically summarised as "aboutness" or the relationship between mental acts and the external world, Brentano defined it as the main characteristic of mental phenomena, by which they could be distinguished from physical phenomena.

The elaboration of phenomenology[change | change source]

Some years after the publication of his main work, the Logische Untersuchungen (Logical Investigations; 1900-1901) Husserl made some key conceptual elaborations which led him to assert that in order to study the structure of consciousness, one would have to distinguish between the act of consciousness and the phenomena at which it is directed (the object-in-itself, transcendent to consciousness).
Knowledge of essences would only be possible by "bracketing" all assumptions about the existence of an external world.
He called this procedure epoché.
Husserl then started to concentrate on the ideal, essential structures of consciousness.
The metaphysical problem of establishing what kind of reality we perceive was of little interest to Husserl in spite of his being a transcendental idealist.
Husserl proposed that the world of objects and ways in which we direct ourselves toward and perceive those objects is normally conceived of in what he called the "natural standpoint", which is characterized by a belief that objects materially exist and exhibit properties that we see as emanating from them.
Husserl proposed a radical new phenomenological way of looking at objects by examining how we in our many ways of being intentionally directed toward them, actually "constitute" them (to be distinguished from materially "creating objects or objects" .

In a later period, Husserl began to wrestle with the complicated issues of intersubjectivity, specifically, how communication about an object can be assumed to refer to the same ideal entity (Cartesian Meditations, Meditation V).
Husserl tries new methods of bringing his readers to understand the importance of phenomenology to scientific observation: specifically he refers to psychology) and what he means for "bracketing natural attitude".
The Crisis of the European Sciences is Husserl's unfinished work that deals most directly with these issues. In it, Husserl for the first time attempts a historical overview of the development of Western philosophy and science, emphasizing the challenges presented by their increasingly (one-sidedly) empirical and naturalistic orientation.
Husserl declares that mental and spiritual reality possess their own reality independent of any physical basis.