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Edmund Husserl

Edmund HusserlAKA Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl

Born: 8-Apr-1859
Birthplace: Prossnitz, Moravia, Austrian Empire
Died: 26-Apr-1938
Location of death: Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Cremated, Guenterstal, Freiburg-Breisgau, Germany

Gender: Male
Religion: Christian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Philosopher

Nationality: Germany
Executive summary: Phenomenological philosopher

Perhaps no other 20th century philosopher has held such a wide-ranging influence over the whole of philosophical discourse than the German philosopher Edmund Husserl. Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Jacques Derrida all owe Husserl a tremendous debt, and Husserl's thought has recently enjoyed a revitalization in both the philosophy of mathematics and the Anglo-American tradition of "analytic" philosophy.

Husserl began his academic career studying mathematics at both Leipzig and Berlin under the tutelage of both Carl Weierstrass and Leopold Kronecker, and then moving on to complete his PhD thesis, "Contributions to the Theory of the Calculus of Variations," at Vienna. As influential as Husserl's thought has been, it is odd that he did not actually seriously begin his training in philosophy until after his PhD work, although in the past he had read David Hume with a great deal of enthusiasm and had attended Friedrich Paulsen's lectures on Kantian idealism. It wasn't until Husserl studied with the empirical psychologist and Aristotelean philosopher Franz Brentano that Husserl's mind truly began to veer towards philosophical questions (perhaps the most important question to Husserl was, "Is there a God?" -- although of Jewish descent, Husserl later characterized himself as a "free Christian," one not bound by the dogmatic ideology of organized religion).

The most important influence that Brentano had over Husserl was the concept of intentional consciousness. During the later 1800s and early 1900s, the concepts of positivism and reductionism were just beginning to become in vogue in philosophical discourse; the former concept is an epistemic turn which rejects metaphysical explanation in favor of scientific analyses, the latter reduces any mental processes to the completely neurological. The concept of intentionality rejects both of these methods without falling back on purely metaphysical speculation. Intentionality states that consciousness must always be about something. Take as a linguistic example, "I see a green tree," or "She hears the loud bells".

Although Husserl had published other works before Logical Investigations in 1900 (including a work on the philosophy of arithmetic, which was heavily criticized by Gottlob Frege which left a lasting impression on Husserl) it was this work that brought Husserl to the forefront of philosophy. The work was somewhat influential in the field of logic, particularly the discussion of existential quanitification, his rejection of both "psychologism" and empiricism as a "grounding" for logic, and his discussion of logic as a "technology" and an "apophantic analysis"; however the work's true point of contention lies in the first in-depth discussion of a "descriptive psychology" he calls "phenomenology".

The term can be traced back throughout the history of philosophy; it is employed by Wolff, Kant, and Hegel, among others, but Husserl was the first to formalize it into a "science of subjectivity" or a way to understand the intentional experience of an a priori consciousness. The idea is novel, to say the least, especially amongst those philosophers trained in the analytic tradition. The whole of philosophy's primary inquiry up to this point in time could generally be subsumed under the header of, "How do we experience something?" The Husserl of Logical Investigations essentially replies that we have been seeking the wrong question. The question should be, "What do we experience?" In other words, the whole of what French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty calls the "objective world" has been founded on this "science of subjectivity".

Husserl's thought underwent several relatively radical transformations, the most important probably being his move from the Cartesian-styled "descriptive psychology" of phenomenology towards a Kantian-oriented "transcendental phenomenology" wherein we do not simply experience events or things phenomenologically, but we must perform a "phenomenological reduction" or epoch? in order to rid ourselves of the "natural attitude". We perform this reduction from a semi-Cartesian "noematic" mode of thinking; in other words, we can make no presuppositions what-so-ever, every piece of knowledge we have must be "bracketed" in order to understand the "things themselves". Merleau-Ponty explains Husserl's conception of the reduction:

For a long time, and even in recent texts, the reduction is presented as the return to a transcendental consciousness before which the world is spread out and completely transparent, quickened through and through by a series of apperceptions which it is the philosopher's task to reconstitute on the basis of their outcome. Thus my sensation of redness is perceived as the manifestation of a certain redness experienced, this in turn as the manifestation of a certain redness experienced, which is the manifestation of a piece of red cardboard, and this finally is the manifestation or outline of a red thing, namely this book.

The end of Husserl's life was undoubtedly depressing. On 7 April 1933, the National Socialist Party imposed "the re-establishment of a permanent civil service," which disallowed non-Aryans from holding positions in state services. As a Jew teaching at Freiburg, Husserl was ejected from his position; to add insult to injury, the decree was co-signed by his former assistant, Martin Heidegger. Husserl was eventually stripped of his German citizenship, and was prohibited from publishing anything inside of Germany.

Husserl considered his students to be practicing a bastardized form of phenomenology: Martin Heidegger was working on his conception of Dasein, or what Husserl calls a "philosophical anthropology"; Max Scheler, often times considered the co-founder of phenomenology, worked out a conception of phenomenological life-philosophy; and Edith Stein converted to Catholicism, rejecting the doctrine of phenomenology altogether. This inspired Husserl to write his final work, The Crisis of European Science, which actually remains incomplete. He died on 27 April 1938, after remaining sick in bed for quite some time.

The concept of phenomenology still remains a somewhat controversial argument within the arena of philosophy. It has fallen under attack by both analytic and continental philosophers, the former usually arguing that it has no point-of-reference and that its reasoning is circular and the latter often dismissing it for not giving a competent account of intersubjectivity (Levinas, a phenomenologist himself, oftentimes argued from this standpoint).

If phenomenology really is nothing more than philosophical mumbo-jumbo, it still remains causally important. Phenomenology, possibly more than any other philosophical movement, has inspired countless pieces of art, literature, architecture, and music as well as inspiring disciplines as diverse as theology, anthropology, and ecology. The playwright-cum-novelist Albert Camus owes a great debt to Husserl, as do theologians such as Martin Buber and Paul Tillich. Phenomenology can be seen as the precursor to other philosophical movements, including post-structuralism, post-modernism, deconstruction, and even select trends in the analytic tradition. As the 21st century begins, we can reflect on the previous century and see that no other philosophical tradition has had quite the cultural reverberations that phenomenology has granted.

Father: Adolf Husserl (d. 24-Apr-1884)
Mother: Julie Husserl (born Selinger; d. Jul-1917)
Wife: Malvine Steinschneider (m. 6-Aug-1887)
Daughter: Elisabeth Franziska Carola Husserl (b. 2-Jun-1882)
Son: Gerhart Adolf Husserl (b. 22-Jun-1893)
Son: Wolfgang Husserl (b. 18-Oct-1895, d. 8-Mar-1916)

    University: University of Leipzig (1876-)
    University: University of Berlin (1878-)
    University: PhD, University of Vienna (1883)
    Scholar: University of Halle
    Professor: University of Göttingen (1901-16)
    Professor: University of Freiburg im Breisgau (1916-28)

    Jewish Ancestry

Author of books:
Philosophy of Arithmetic (1891, philosophy)
Logical Investigations (1900, philosophy, revised 1913-21)
The Idea of a Phenomenology (1907, lectures)
Ideas for a Pure Phenomenology, Book I: General Introduction (1913, philosophy)
Ideas: General Introduction to Phenomenology (1913, philosophy)
The Phenomenology of Inner Time-Consciousness (1905-10, philosophy, published 1928)
Formal and Transcendental Logic (1929, philosophy)
Cartesian Meditations (1931, philosophy)
Experience and Judgment (1948, philosophy)
Ideas for a Pure Phenomenology, Books II & III (1952, philosophy)
The Crisis of European Sciences (1954, nonfiction)

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