Edmund Husserl (1859–1938) was born in Moravia (now the Czech Republic). After attending the University of Leipzig where he studied mathematics and science, he went to Vienna to study under Franz Brentano, who awakened his thought in philosophical psychology. Brentano held that a basic form of consciousness was intentionality. All thought and desire is about something. One never just thinks or desires but thinks or desires something, even though the object may be vague and amorphous. Husserl developed Brentano's ideas, centering his studies on the nature or phenomenology of consciousness. He is considered the father of phenomenology, the basic ideas of which are outlined in the selection that follows.
In 1916 he became a professor at the University of Freiburg, Germany, where he remained until his retirement in 1929. During the last five years of his life he was barred from public activities because of his Jewish ancestry.
In our selection from Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology (1913) Husserl focuses on his notion of phenomenological (or eidetic) reduction: all acts must be reduced to an essence of eidos (essential idea). The perceiver must perform an epoche, that is, suspend judgment on the existence of the objects of consciousness. For example, I should not focus on whether the computer before me really exists but on the essential features of the experience itself. He describes this as “bracketing” the experience. For Husserl I am neither a thinking substance (as Descartes thought), nor a bundle of perceptions (as Hume thought), nor an embodied soul (as Plato thought), but a pure transcendental ego, a consciousness that cannot be bracketed, but transcends its intentional object.
The main criticism of Husserl's program is that it entails solipsism, the idea that the only thing which really exists is the self or ego—all else being uncertain. Husserl tried to answer this objection by explaining how one transcendental ego can experience other such egos.
Dreyfus, Hubert, ed. Husserl, Intentionality and Cognitive Science (MIT Press, 1982).
Husserl, Edmund. Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, trans. W. R. Gibson (Allen & Unwin, 1931).
Kockelman, Joseph. Edmund Husserl's Phenomenology (Humanities Press, 1978).
Kolakowski, Leszek. Husserl and the Search for Certitude (University of Chicago Press, 1987).
Solomon, Robert, ed. Phenomenology and Existentialism (Harper & Row, 1972).
Speigelberg, Herbert. The Phenomenological Movement, 2 vols. (Martinus Nijhoff, 1960).
Stapleton, Timothy J. Husserl and Heidegger (SUNY Press, 1983).