Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Anti-Psychologism and the Path beyond Reductive Egology in Husserl

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Anti-Psychologism and the Path beyond Reductive Egology in Husserl

Article excerpt

Many criticisms of Husserl center upon his notion of an apparently all-enveloping ego.1 Recent responses to this line of attack emphasize the decidedly "non-Cartesian" elements of Husserl's later genetic phenomenology, a phenomenology marked by themes of intersubjectivity and historicity.2 As important as these genetic analyses are, they take their significance from "within" the phenomenological reduction. As critics might contend, despite the best efforts of Husserl and his expositors, reliance on the reduction brings the analyses right back to the ego. This essay employs a different strategy to address charges concerning Husserl's "reduction to the ego." Instead of appealing to Husserl's late work, it examines an anti-reductionist tendency in his early logical work. This tendency, which is clearly evident in his anti-psychologism, falls under the broad heading of "avoidance of metabasis eis allo genos" (change into some other genus). My essay consists of three parts. Part one examines the concept of metabasis and articulates Husserl's early distinction between the real and the ideal. Part two moves to an explanation of the claim that psychologism, resting upon a metabasis, eliminates the ideal in favor of the real. Part three then characterizes Husserl's early idealism as the result of avoiding psychologism, metabasis, and ontological reductionism. I conclude by pointing toward the significance of Husserl's attempts to avoid this category mistake for our understanding of his later works.

The Concept of Metabasis and the Ideal and the Real

In his Prolegomena, Husserl introduces the concept of "metabasis eis allo genos" (or simply "metabasis") in the general context of scientific field delimitation.3 Sciences develop by means of a hermeneutic relationship between the state of the science as practiced on one hand and that science's definition and the understanding of its proper objects on the other. The science as practiced gives rise to its definition and a determination of its field. This determination, in turn, guides the subsequent practice of the science.4 Thus, the importance of properly determining the field of a science is clear. Accurate definitions aid, while inaccurate definitions often hinder, scientific progress. But this is not an instrumentalist view. A given field demarcation is not considered accurate simply because it aids progress; rather, it aids progress because it is accurate. Hence Husserl writes that

The field (Gebiet) of a science is an objectively closed unity: we cannot arbitrarily delimit fields of truth where and as we like. The realm (Reich) of truth is objectively articulated into fields: researches must orient themselves to these objective unities and must assemble themselves into sciences.'

There are two basic ways in which a science can fail to properly orient itself to its objective field. The first occurs when the boundaries of a scientific field are drawn too narrowly. In such a case, the objects studied by the science comprise a subset of the full, objectively unified field that constitutes the science's true field. This is an innocuous mistake when compared with the second type, metabasis. This latter is identified as an especially pernicious mistake. As Husserl explains, metabasis is

the confusion of fields (Gebietsvermengung), the mixture (Vermischung) of that which is heterogeneous in a putative fieldunity, especially when this rests on a complete misreading (Mißdeutung) of the objects (Objekte) whose investigation is to be the essential aim of the proposed science."

When a science is sufficiently misaligned with the "objective articulations of the field of truth" that its understanding of its field of research combines or transgresses the objeclively articulated fields, then it commits a metabasis. Clearly, ontological reductionism would be one form of this error.

While the concern with field delimitation remains central to the meaning of "metabasis" in the Prolegomena, the concept is not limited to mistakes of this scale. …

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