Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Cuts and Bonds: Husserl's Systematic Investigation of Representation

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Cuts and Bonds: Husserl's Systematic Investigation of Representation

Article excerpt

This essay was originally written for a panel devoted to some systematic aspects of Husserl's phenomenology. One might reasonably assume that the topic requires a clear conception of what systematic philosophy is. No such conception is put forward here, however; indeed, the exploration of the general nature of systematic philosophy would require a panel of papers in its own right. In the absence of that, this essay will operate with a simple and ad hoc notion of systematics, though one attuned, I hope, to the character of Husserl's thought.

There are several senses in which Husserl is not a systematic philosopher. He does not start with definitions and axioms from which he logically deduces conclusions about being, knowing, and how one should conduct one's life, thereby wrapping up the universe in a tidy package, as Spinoza did. To the contrary, Husserl describes phenomenology as "presuppositionless" and sees himself as a philosopher of infinite tasks. Furthermore, Husserl does not attempt to deduce what would systematically follow if one were to suppose, say, that the world conforms to the mind knowing it rather than the other way around. Nor does he suggest that the mind imposes a conceptual grid on the chaotic matter of raw experience, endowing it with an intelligible, systematic structure. True, Husserl may be a transcendental philosopher of a sort, but he staunchly defends the view that eidetic structures are embedded in experience and that it is the business of phenomenology to root them out. Finally, he does not attempt to show that everything is a moment of a single progressively unfolding process, as an Absolute Idealist would. Husserl, after all, claimed to be a perpetual beginner in philosophy.

A philosophy of infinite tasks, without presuppositions (at least unexamined ones), and always starting anew, would seem to be an unlikely candidate for inclusion in. the class of systematic philosophies. Husserl does have a method, however, and, if not exactly presuppositions, then at least certain starting points--the notion of intentionality, above all. What is systematic in Husserl's thought derives from that method and those starting points. Thus intentionality, the reduction, noetic and noematic analysis are the grounds and instruments for his systematic investigations. I stress investigations because I think that it is in his actual investigating of the phenomena that the systematic dimension of Husserl's thought emerges. I will attempt to illustrate this by examining a few aspects of Husserl's explorations of certain forms of representation [Vorstellung], specifically, perception, image-consciousness (as in painting and sculpture), symbolic or signitive consciousness (as in overhead signs in airports indicating the location of restaurants and the like), memory, and phantasy, especially as they appear in the rich collection of lectures and sketches collected in Husserliana XXIII, Phantasie, Bildbewusstsein, Erinnerung (1898-1925).1 My essay focuses, then, on a corner of "the things themselves" and the systematic way in which Husserl investigates them. Much of the real phenomenological work, and certainly much of the interesting work in Husserl's texts, gets done on this level, particularly in the material published posthumously, such as Husserliana XXIII, in which one finds Husserl actually doing phenomenology rather than talking about it as a philosophy and method.

Making Distinctions

In what sense is Husserl's investigation of this region of representation "systematic"? Primarily in that he makes distinctions or "cuts" and reveals relationships or "bonds" between, among, and within the phenomena. Making distinctions and showing connections, distinguishing while disclosing what distinct phenomena have in common, go hand in hand in Husserl. To say that Husserl makes distinctions, however, is not to say that he makes them casually and occasionally, as philosophers commonly do. Distinction-making is a cardinal principle of Husserl's phenomenological analysis. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.