The Edmund Husserl reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Edmund Husserl

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Edmund Husserl

Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl (April 8, 1859 - April 26, 1938) was born into a Jewish family in Prostejov (Prossnitz) in Moravia (now in the Czech Republic). He was the founder of the phenomenological movement and a pupil of Franz Brentano and Carl Stumpf. Among others, he would influence Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. (Hermann Weyl's interest in intuitionistic logic and impredicativity, for example, seems to have been as a result of contact with Husserl.)

Table of contents
1 Life and works
2 Bibliography
3 External links

Life and works

Husserl's studies and early works

Husserl initially studied mainly mathematics at the universities of Leipzig (1876) and Berlin (1878) with the then famous professors Karl Weierstrass and Leopold Kronecker. In 1881 he went to Vienna to study under the supervision of Leo Königsberger (a former student of Weierstrass) and obtained his doctors degree in 1883 with the work Beiträge zur Variationsrechnung (Contributions to the Calculus of Variations).

Only in 1884 in Vienna he started following lectures by Franz Brentano on psychology and philosophy. Brentano impressed him so much that he decided to dedicate his life to philosophy. Husserl studied briefly with him and then in 1886 went to the university of Halle to obtain his habilitation with Carl Stumpf, a former student of Brentano. Under his supervision he wrote Über den Begriff der Zahl (On the concept of Number; 1887) which would serve later as the base for his first major work the Philosophie der Arithmetik (Philosophy of Arithmetic; 1891).

In these first works he tries to combine mathematics, psychology and philosophy with as main goal to provide a sound foundation for mathematics. He analyses the psychological process needed to obtain the concept of number and then tries to build up a systematical theory on this analysis. To achieve this he uses several methods and concepts taken from his teachers. From Weierstrass he derives the idea that we generate the concept of number by counting a certain collection of objects. From Brentano and Stumpf he takes over the distinction between proper and improper presenting. In an example Husserl explains this in the following way: if you are standing in front of a house, you have a proper, direct presentation of that house, but if you are looking for it and ask for directions, then these directions (e.g. the house on the corner of this and that street) are an indirect, improper presentation. In other words, you can have a proper presentation of an object if it is actually present, and an improper (or symbolic as he also calls it) if you only can indicate that object through signs, symbols, etc.

Another important element that Husserl took over from Brentano, is intentionality, the notion that the main characteristic of consciousness is that it is always intentional. While often simplistically summarised as "aboutness" or the relationship between mental acts and the external world, Brentano defined it as the main characteristic of psychical phenomena, by which they could be distinguished from physical phenomena. Every mental phenomenon, every psychological act has a content, is directed at an object (the intentional object). Every belief, desire etc. has an object that they are about: the believed, the wanted. Brentano used the expression "intentional inexistence" to indicate the status of the objects of thought in the mind. The property of being intentional, of having an intentional object, was the key feature to distinguish psychical phenomena and physical phenomena, because physical phenomena lack intentionality altogether.

Later developments

Some years after the publication of his main work, the Logische Untersuchungen (Logical Investigations; first edition, 1900-1901) Husserl made some key discoveries, that led him to assert that in order to study the structure of consciousness, one would have to distinguish between the act of consciousness (noesis) and the phenomena at which it is directed (the noemata). Knowledge of essences would only be possible by eliminating all assumptions about the existence of an external world. This procedure he called epoché. These new concepts prompted the publication of the Ideen (Ideas) in 1913, in which they were at first incorporated, and a plan for a second edition of the Logische Untersuchungen.

From the ideen onward Husserl concentrated more and more on the ideal, essential structures of consciousness. As he wanted to exclude any hypothesis on the existence of external objects, he introduced the method of phenomenological reduction to eliminate them. What was left over was the pure transcendental ego, as opposed to the concrete empirical ego. Now Husserl's (transcendental) phenomenology is the study of the essential structures that are left in pure consciousness: this amounts in practise to the study of the noemata and the relations among them.

In a later period, Husserl shifted to a still more explicitly idealist position, which is best expressed in his Cartesian Meditations (1931).

Husserl, being a Jew, was eventually denied the use of the university library at Freiburg former, because of the racial cleansing laws issued by the Nazi party, and carried out at the university by Martin Heidegger, Husserl's most famous pupil. Moreover, Heidegger removed the dedication to Husserl from his most widely known work Being and Time when it was reissued in 1941.


Works by Husserl

Works on Husserl

External links

This article is part of the Influential Western Philosophers series
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