Time, Eternity, and the Transition from Phenomenology to Metaphysics in Edith Stein, Edmund Husserl, and Eric Voegelin

By Tullius, William | The Review of Metaphysics, December 2019 | Go to article overview

Time, Eternity, and the Transition from Phenomenology to Metaphysics in Edith Stein, Edmund Husserl, and Eric Voegelin


Tullius, William, The Review of Metaphysics


I

In his Anamnesis, Eric Voegelin levies a broad criticism against Continental philosophy's preoccupation with the analysis of inner time-consciousness. He writes,

   [P]hilosophizing about time and existence today occupies the place
   that was held by meditation before thinking in Christian categories
   dissolved. The analysis of the time-consciousness of world-immanent
   man is the laicist residue of the Christian ascertainment of
   existence in meditation with its spiritual climax in the intentio
   animi toward God. (1)

Voegelin goes on to note that phenomenology's failure, in particular, to move beyond the domain of immanent temporality led him to search beyond phenomenology for a theory of consciousness capable of accounting for the experience of transcendence and eternity. However, Voegelin's critique might appear to fall flat at least so far as, in several phenomenologists at least, the analysis of time-consciousness does not actually substitute for, but leads precisely to, such contemplation. For example, in chapter 2 of her Finite and Eternal Being, Edith Stein begins her philosophical "ascent" to the meaning of being with an analysis of time-consciousness terminating in an intuition of "eternal being," which envelops her description of the temporally finite with an explicit relation to the divine and eternal "Beyond" of all temporality and all world-immanence. Likewise, Husserl, in select manuscripts, appropriates the Platonic symbolism of anamnesis as a temporal event of the irruption of the eternal and the divine into the ongoing temporal stream of consciousness that takes place in scientific and philosophical insight into the objectivity of the world, as well as in ethical striving.

Nonetheless, the heart of Voegelin's criticism of phenomenology is not ultimately concerned with an improper analytic emphasis upon time-consciousness. Rather, it is directed especially at phenomenology's methodological reduction to immanence, forcing the inquiry to put into brackets the question about actual, eternal transcendence and the tension of human existence toward the worldtranscendent reality of the divine ground of being, which demands that the phenomenologists treat of eternal being as "mere" phenomenon. Thus, it is not infrequent that both Stein in her later work and Husserl in his ethical and metaphysical manuscripts are criticized as having breached the methodological restrictions of pure phenomenology by moving beyond its limits.

This paper argues that both thinkers do indeed transgress the limits of phenomenological methodology as outlined by the Husserlian strictures of the reduction to phenomenological immanence. However, I argue that this is not, for all that, problematic, but is consistent with the consciously articulated (in Husserl especially) teleological aims of phenomenological inquiry as "first philosophy" (erste Philosophie), to be completed by a metaphysics as "final/ultimate philosophy" (letzte Philosophie). (2) Moreover, I argue that the leading clues guiding both Stein and Husserl beyond the purely phenomenological domain in their contemplation of divine, eternal being are nonetheless still grounded in experience, although a dimension of experience that, as Voegelin rightly argues, requires its explication through other than a purely immanent, intentionalist analysis. In developing this account, it will be necessary to motivate Voegelin's initial critique of phenomenology before turning to an analysis of the situation in both Stein and Husserl. By looking closely at the second chapter of Finite and Eternal Being, it will be possible to see the way in which Stein's phenomenology of time-consciousness provides the occasion for embarking on an adventure of metaphysical speculation beyond temporal to eternal being. Likewise, a brief look at a text from Husserl's Nachlass dated to 1916 will reveal Husserl's shared interest in exploration of eternal being given beyond the domain of immanent temporality, but as it opens up within the temporal event of scientific objectification. …

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