3 min read

Origin of Geometry notes - 2

Right let's get through the rest of this.

Somewhat ironically for a paper about keeping ideas in lived experience, it took me ages to reanimate my understanding from last time. I spent a long time staring at the text thinking 'buhhhh I don't remember what any of this is, I can't even see where I stopped reading'. Husserl just keeps rolling out this extremely uniform careful ponderous prose, and every bit looks like every other bit, with no useful distinguishing features.

It's also unhelpful that still I have no idea what the overall argument of the piece is supposed to be. And skimming forward and back is not too helpful, because uniform wall of text. Anyway I hope I'm there now and I'll try and make progress with the second half, if I fail I'll just drop it.

So, I'll start where I left off. He's talking about how we deal with a subject like geometry which is just an enormous stack of propositions built on top of each other for millennia, with no hope of keeping it all in living understanding at once. The problem for Husserl is this:

... since meaning is grounded upon meaning, the earlier meaning gives something of its validity to the later one, indeed becomes part of it to a certain extend. Thus no building block within the mental structure is self-sufficient; and none, then, can be immediately reactivated [by itself].

Now there's something about language, and passive and active kinds of meaning ("superficially reading the newspaper", and taking its opinions as your own, versus "extracting one by one" bits of knowledge and actively combining them). In the second one, "The explicated judgment becomes an ideal object capable of being passed on." (It's these damn ideal objects again.)

More stuff about a logical picture of language/thought where new judgements are constructed out of existing ones by logical reasoning. I think he is talking kind of generally, but when he narrows down to geometry specifically this becomes more plausible.

He still wants to distinguish this purely logical assembling of new propositions from "actual geometrical truth" ("self-evident meaning", animated lived meaning, etc.)

OK, this next bit takes a new turn and gets more interesting:

Without the "what" and the "how" of its prescientific materials, geometry would be a tradition empty of meaning; and if we ourselves did not have this capacity, we could never even know whether geometry had or ever did have a genuine meaning, one that could really be "cashed in".

Unfortunately, however, this is our situation, and that of the whole modern age.

Remember this was originally from a book called The Crisis of European Sciences. This is the first indication of what he was worried about, which seems to be this sort of mass production of the purely logical type of proposition assembly.

The inheritance of propositions and of the method of logically constructing new propositions and idealities can continue without interruption from one period to the next, while the capacity for reactivating the primal beginnings, i.e., the sources of meaning for everything that comes later, has not been handed down with it.

There's something that strikes me as very right about all this, even if the underlying theory of how meaning and language works seems dubious looking back now.

Next he speculates on reasons for "the uprooting of an originally genuine tradition".

Very early on, there wasn't too much geometry, and everyone could just walk the chain and reactivate the living meaning. At the same time, it was directly useful for stuff like measuring land, and people would learn practical methods without necessarily understanding them. These practical techniques could propagate themselves, and get added to through purely logical means. Because the living meaning used to be easy to reactivate, "it is understandable that the lost original truth-meaning made itself felt so little, indeed, that the need for the corresponding regressive inquiry had to be reawakened".

Now Husserl seems to be making some other turn, towards history, and I can't be bothered to follow it. This is tiring. I'll leave it here for now.