Precedents in Aristotle and Brentano for Husserl's Concern with Metabasis

By O'Connor, John K. | The Review of Metaphysics, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Precedents in Aristotle and Brentano for Husserl's Concern with Metabasis


O'Connor, John K., The Review of Metaphysics


HUSSERL'S WORK is marked by an abiding, if not always explicit, concern to avoid metabasis eis allo genos (a change into some other genus). This concern stands as a common element linking the pre-transcendental and the transcendental phenomenological phases of Husserrs thought. The theme is explicit and pervasive in the Prolegomena to Pure Logic (1900), the first volume of the Logical Investigations (1900-01), where the attack on psychologism exploits the fact that psychological treatment of logic commits a metabasis by confusing the domains of the real and the ideal. (1) The idealism of the Investigations is determined by the need to avoid psychologism's metabasis. In fact, Husserl believed his early idealism to be the lone alternative to psychologism. (2) Later, as he broaches transcendental phenomenology and a new form of idealism, the importance of avoiding metabasis provides Husserl with the basis for "a sufficient and complete deduction" of the need to perform the reduction. (3) Now, as is well known, for the mature Husserl, the transcendental reduction is the necessary means of entry into phenomenology. As a result, phenomenological analyses take their significance from the meaning of the reduction and the field of experience that it discloses. Understanding Husserl's late idealism, then, requires that we understand the reduction--a task which, in turn, requires us to contend with metabasis. Thus, as both Husserl's early and late idealisms arise through the avoidance of metabasis, a proper understanding of this concept promises to shed light on the much-disputed issue of his idealisms. (4) But what is metabasis? Why is it so pernicious?

Despite general acknowledgment of its importance, this concept has, to my knowledge, received no sustained attention, either in the form of a systemic exploration of its role in Husserl or as an examination of his historical sources. (5) This paper seeks to fill this gap by considering these sources and precedents. That is, it reveals the historical roots of Husserl's concern to avoid metabasis. This will, in turn, serve as the foundation for a subsequent examination of its integral role in Husserl. An obvious source for the concept is Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. The fact that Husserl uses the Greek term to refer to the concept--a rarity for him--suggests that he intends the reader to discern its ancient pedigree and at least some of its original sense. (6) Nonetheless, we lack additional evidence that serious engagement with Aristotelian texts was an influence. (7) Thus we should look elsewhere for Husserrs proximate source. Indeed, it is much more likely that his appropriation of Aristotle was mediated by Brentano. Accordingly, the paper opens with a brief examination of the concept's meaning and use in the Posterior Analytics in order to establish context. It then jumps to the 19th century to discuss Brentano's influence, where his insistence on properly delimiting psychology, along with his procedure of separating the senses of equivocal terms, clearly place the notion of metabasis (now under the heading of transgression of scientific or conceptual boundaries) at the heart of Husserl's philosophical upbringing.

I

Aristotle understands metabasis eis allo genos to be a fundamental error of scientific reasoning. That is to say that it is not an error regarding a syllogism as such, but rather an error regarding a demonstration, "a syllogism which produces scientific knowledge." (8) Hence, although it is possible to shift from one genus into another in the course of a syllogism without affecting the formal evaluation of the syllogism, such a transition generally prevents the syllogism from rising to the level of science. In order to understand why this is so, let us consider the account of scientific reasoning in the Posterior Analytics.

To have knowledge of something (x) one must know (a) the cause of x and (b) that x cannot be otherwise. (9) For example, to possess knowledge of the fact that all humans are mortal one must know both its cause/reason (that is, one must know why all humans are mortal) and also that all humans are necessarily mortal. …

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