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Husserl and the Search for Certitude - 3

OK time for the third and last part in this thrilling series of me pasting bits of lectures into a blog post and writing about them.

Third Lecture - The Achievements

Now we're getting some stuff about intentionality and Brentano, good.

... an essential property of conscious acts is their intentionality : they are directed toward an object (seeing is seeing something, a desire has an object desired, and the same applies to perceptions, volitions, emotions, hopes, and judgments). Brentano, who defined psychological phenomena (in contrast to physical ones) as intentional, was incapable, in Husserl's view, of abandoning the psychological approach because he failed to distinguish the psychological Ego from the transcendental one.
The category of intentionality is fundamental to Husserl's description of conscious acts because only as intentional can consciousness identify the object as being the same in many acts, which amounts to grasping its meaning.

Compare Hume's view that categories are just useful practical abstractions of certain features of sensory impressions. This doesn't allow for identity over time, which Husserl wants to keep:

we can save the commonsense belief that the stone I am seeing now is the same stone I saw a minute ago, and not only that these two perceptions have similar qualities. This identity is valid after reduction-after we suspended the belief in the "transcendence" of objects. However what matters to Husserl is the identity less of physical objects and more of ideal ones, like universals, mathematical and logical concepts, and ideal meanings.

Identity is important in the search for certitude: need things to be true for whole categories, rather than just happening to hold in a number of empirical instances.

(This chapter already looks like it's going to be more technical and harder work than the other two, I might end up skimming more.)

The general category is tied together inextricably with the individual perception, what we might now call top-down and bottom-up perception together. Ah, and this is where time-consciousness comes in, knitting the two together:

Internal time-consciousness is the "form of synthesis" ; and it is through this that I grasp the object not as a part of consciousness but as an objective meaning. This is the inalienable feature of intentional operations: that each subjective process has a "horizon of reference."

Objects contain spatial traces of their hidden parts, and temporal traces of their past and future:

When I see a thing, my intention is directed toward not-perceived aspects. That an object has "the rear side" is not an intellectual assertion but an actual element of the movement of intention. The same has to be said of time aspects: within the intention itself there is the retention, a horizon of the past, an experience of the backward-facing continuity, and there is the protention-the anticipation of the thing as of the future one.

Now there's a section called 'The world as an achievement of consciousness'.

However it turns out soon that the intentional movement of consciousness not only identifies objects but constitutes them as well.

What does this mean?

... the concept of constitution remains vague: it is not a creation ex nihilo; rather it is an act of endowing the world with meaning. In transcendentally reduced consciousness, however, each act of reaching the object is an act of supplying it with meaning; any sense is the product of constitution, including, in particular, the sense of an object as an existing one.

Some stuff about whether this counts as idealism, and if it does how far back in Husserl's philosophy it goes. E.g. Ingarden thinks Husserl's early stuff is equally compatible with realism. Definitely going to skim this bit, this is more philosophy than I can stand.

Ok, though, part of this is interesting and probably a key point in the book. Kolakowski has a story for how Husserl's thought developed towards idealism, as a function of... surprise, surprise... his search for certitude:

Skepticism and relativism can be overcome only if we discover the source of absolute certitude. This certitude can be gained where we do not need to worry about "the bridge" from perceptions to things, where there is an absolute immediacy, where the act of cognition and its content are not mediated in any way (even if their distinction remains valid), where we simply cannot ask how we know that our acts reach the content as it really is-where the content is absolutely transparent to the subject or is immanent. Thus rationality and certitude may be found only if subjectivity is not a "reflection" of objects (if it is, the problem of the bridge remains as insoluble as ever) but constitutes them. Only as it is dependent on the cognitive acts, is the object accessible in a way which makes doubt impossible. In the course of time Husserl repeats for transcendental consciousness all the traditional arguments of empirical idealism, from Fichte to Avenarius.

This is very relevant to Derrida, look at that bit about 'the content is absolutely transparent to the subject'. It's the presence thing.

... This traditional reasoning does not end in relativism precisely because Husserl believed to have discovered a consciousness which is not in the world (is not a part of it) but is entirely independent of empirical consciousness, the empirical world, human psychology, biology, and history. The "insight that this consciousness provides is liberated from all ties with the world.

Difference from Kant:

Husserl, in contrast to Kant, believed that the transcendental conditions of knowledge encompass everything, both the form and the content of perception. There is no dualism of contingent hyle and rational organizing forms.

Something on Bergson's vs Husserl's concepts of intuition which are apparently different but share this similarity:

For both philosophers it turns out that ultimate certitude can be achieved onty in immanence and that the ultimate content of this certitude is incommunicable. To achieve certitude I have to have an insight consisting in a perfect, unmediated convergence of act and content. The insight cannot be replaced by a verbal message which by definition is a mediating device.

Derrida's theme of mediation again!

Husserl's rationalism is mystical because whatever is communicable in words is mediated, and certitude is based on the fact that to the consciousness its own act and its content cannot be subjected to doubt (as may everything else).

Next up is the problem of other people - how do we understand that they have an independent existence when we're stuck in our bracketed world where they appear to us in the same way as other objects? I already remember Cisney talking about this in the Derrida introduction. Levinas as critic of this element of Husserl's thought.

In constituting the world, I give it the sense of being accessible to others' consciousness and therefore (an unexpected conclusion) the first non-ego I deal with is the alter ego, another subject. This is the community of monads which makes objective Nature possible. This transcendental intersubjectivity has its correlate in the common world of experience.
The alter ego is"given" in my experience personally, though not originally (which means, apparently, simply that I do not participate directly in his experience). My empathic sense of him (or appresentation) is therefore indirect. This does not mean that it consists in an intellectual activity, or that it is an inference by analogy (from behavior to subjectivity). It is an intuition of the presence of another person as a subject... Thus I see the body of another person as such, not as a symptom of another person.

Lots more of this stuff. I've only read Kolakowski's Wikipedia page, which doesn't go into a lot of details, but it seems from there like his motivations were somewhat religious. Maybe that is useful information for interpreting this bit.

Husserl's monadology is for me another example of the logical hopelessness of all philosophical endeavors which start from subjectivity and try to restore the path toward the common world.>What is wrong with all questions about the relation of "subjectivity" to the world is that we are not able to express them or to answer them except with the help of spatial symbols, while we know that what matters are not topological relations. Expressions like "in the consciousness," "within perception," "outside," "inside," "to be part of," "to reach the interior," "to stand before," "to be given directly," "immanent," "transcendent" -even the words "object," "subject," and "perception"-are all derivatives of spatial relationships and movements. Our descriptions seem to hinge necessarily on this spatial language, and they cannot get at the literal form.

Now we're on to the final summing-up part, 'The moral of the story'. 'Three remarks'.

  1. 'Husserl believed to have opened the way toward certitude in the sense of knowledge that is entirely independent of our status as biologically, culturally, and historically determined beings.'
  2. '... if we start with Cogito, we can reconstruct the world only as somehow correlated with subjectivity'. Likewise, if we start 'from the outside' with things, we stay stuck on the outside with the things. 'It is possible that philosophy is fatefully condemned to oscillate between these two perspectives, each being arbitrary and each, once admitted, closing the way to the other, and both inexpressible together in the same discourse.'
  3. '... it is arguable-again, a moral from Husserl's development-that a truly radical search for certitude always ends with the conclusion that certitude is accessible only in immanence... This means that a certitude mediated in words is no longer certitude.'

This last point is interesting so I'll quote a longer bit:

Whatever enters the field of human communication is inevitably uncertain, always questionable, fragile, provisory, and mortal. Still, the search for certitude is unlikely to be given up, and we may doubt if it would be desirable to stop it. This search has little to do with the progress of science and technology. Its background is religious rather than intellectual ; it is, as Husserl perfectly knew, a search for meaning. It is a desire to live in a world out of which contingency is banned, where sense (and this means purpose) is given to everything. Science is incapable of providing us with that kind of certitude, and it is unlikely that people could ever give up their attempts to go beyond scientific rationality

I keep thinking about the number twelve thing. In this view we can, with some mental effort, just about keep twelve objects in pure unmediated presence, but with the introduction of an extra one the gates of Eden are slammed shut on us, and we're forced out into the cold sublunary world of signs and indication. There's some connection again here to the romantic temperament, which wants everything to be vivid and immediate.

Finally, Kolakowski talks about what he considers to be the good bits:

I still consider his work to be of tremendous value for our culture, and this for two reasons. . He better than anybody, compelled us to realize the painful dilemma of knowledge : either consistent empiricism, with its relativistic, skeptical results (a standpoint which many regard discouraging, inadmissible, and in fact ruinous for culture) or transcendentalist dogmatism, which cannot really justify itself and remains in the end an arbitrary decision. I have to admit that although ultimate certitude is a goal that cannot be attained within the rationalist framework, our culture would be poor and miserable without people who keep trying to reach this goal, and it hardly could survive when left entirely in the hands of the skeptics. I do believe that human culture cannot ever reach a perfect synthesis of its diversified and incompatible components. Its very richness is supported by this very incompatibility of its ingredients. And it is the conflict of values, rather than their harmony, that keeps our culture alive.

And now I'm finally at the end. This book turned out to be well worth reading, almost exactly what I needed to understand Husserl better. I'm still digesting this, but I'm hoping that it'll help with Derrida too.