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“Cartesian Meditations” by Edmund Husserl

Introduction

In the book, Cartesian Meditations, Edmund Husserl speaks about the main problems of phenomenology including such topics as static and genetic phenomenology, reduction and intersubjectivity. The central thesis of Husserl’s mature work is that of the life-world, a term that refers to the concrete reality of an individual’s lived experience, in contrast to the interpretation of that reality made by the scientist. That this is a concept never fully clarified by Husserl may be the reason that phenomenology is a philosophy, comprising several currents that have a common point of departure but move out at different speeds and in different directions. The difficulty of pinpointing the concept of phenomenology is illustrated by the fact that Husserl shifted his thinking several times during his lifetime. What remained constant throughout is his search for a philosophical science divorced from the prevailing positivistic science of the time.

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Discussion Section

In the Fifth Meditation, Husserl refers to intersubjectivity and speaks about the Body (Leib) compared to the other body (Körper) of another person. The meaning of subjectivity is not to be found in terms of a self which is solicitous for its own being, that is, in a self which is “for-itself,” but in a self which is ordered towards what is other than the self, that is, in a self which is “for-the-other.” The sense of the oneself, then, is the birth of the other in the self, a new hypostasis.. Consciousness, then, is not the identity (Zahavi 54). The subject is a term in a hypostasis with the other, and cannot be adequately expressed as an ego, a oneself. The subject is the “one-for-the-other” of responsibility, and this responsibility is an original experience which is not to be derived from some underlying principle which would account for it, provide its justification and endow it with meaning (Sokolowski 34). For Husserl, “‘Thereness-for-everyone’ ‘is always co-intended wherever we speak of objective reality’ (Husserl 124).

Husserl locates being in a concrete life, which, besides being theoretical, is also intentional in its practical and aesthetic aspects. Husserl recognizes that the field of consciousness does not coincide with “awakened” consciousness. Though, for Husserl, consciousness is couched in the language of gnoseological expression, nevertheless, Husserl’s transcendental reduction draws attention to a sense of philosophy other than that of the adequate relation of thought to the world. The motivation of phenomenology is the instability and inadequacy of evidence and the adaptation of thought to the world. It is possible to cite the example of the intentionality of desire which is not a purely conscious event, for it unconsciously goes beyond its object (Welton 41). The unconscious is not to be interpreted as another consciousness which compromises the sincerity of consciousness; consciousness has an ontological function, which philosophy has failed to recognize, in that it establishes a sincere relationship with the world We noted that, for Husserl, consciousness is to be understood, though not exclusively, in terms of an awakening (Zahavi 46). There are two levels to this awakening. Firstly, to master insomnia, the subject can either lapse into sleep, proving itself victorious over an. insomniac relation with anonymous being, or it can awaken to position itself, and assert its own conscious relationship, or hypostasis, with being. The exposition of transcendental subjectivity as the foundation of a comprehensive philosophy was brought to a close in §9 of the Cartesian Meditations with the affirmation of the essential inadequacy of cognitive intuition: what is intended and what is perceived are not the same (Welton 74).

At the core of the ego is not the peaceful possession of a self content within its ontological slumbers, and assigning significance to objects on the basis of access constituting essence; subjectivity finds itself already excoriated by the change of the Other who calls the self-sufficiency of the Same into question, and thereby awakens subjectivity to its true significance. The hypostasis by which a subject assumes position and emerges into the light is shown to be a position, not with regard to being, but with regard to the Other (Welton 77). Husserl writes: ‘The sense “other subjects” that is in question here cannot as yet be the sense: “objective subjects, subjects existing in a world”’ (Husserl 124). Apart from the here of consciousness, there is already, within consciousness, the otherness of a “there” whom consciousness can neither command nor commend Husserl did indicate an intersubjective reduction insofar as evidence is infinitely dispersed and possible meanings are multiple and also open on to other subjectivities who, as alter-egos, threaten the primacy of the ego. Husserl balances this threat by stressing a reciprocity between competing subjectivities which intends mutual agreement. Agreement in Husserl rends to be understood in terms of knowledge and freedom. Agreement is formal. In place of Husserl’s recognition of an alter-ego, Critics (Sokolowski 55draw attention to the alter-ego, that is, the otherness of the other who, in his or her very change, contest the domination and the dominion of the ego.

There is the importance of the relationship with change in his development of the Cartesian notion of the idea of the infinite in the finite and address the notion and force of proximity that the impact of the Other-in-me, or the alter as constitutive of the ego, can be appreciated (Welton 88). Husserl claims: “‘This unitary stratum is further distinguished by being essentially the founding stratum – that is to say: I obviously cannot have what is alien as experience, and therefore cannot have the sense “objective world” as an experiential sense, without having this stratum in actual experience; whereas the reverse is not the case” (Husserl 127). If sensibility is understood in terms of proximity rather than knowing, then a subjectivity irreducible to consciousness and schematization can be described, for proximity is incommensurate with the principle which would found schematization. Subjectivity derives its ethical signification in the passive exposure to the Other (Zahavi 76).

Signification goes beyond consciousness for, with respect to consciousness, the experience of proximity, far from being abstract, presents an excess of meaning, transcendental reduction of consciousness which discovers a self behind the self still understands subjectivity as essentially for-itself, and yields a transcendental ego. Reason and language are linked, but not in the usually accepted sense of words reflecting thought; thought is possible because of the prior situation of language, the essence of which is the relation with the Other (Welton 87). If language — intelligent conversation — is the primordial event, then language cannot simply mirror reason. For Husserl, consciousness, freed from a naturalistic ontology, is to be posited as an absolute. It is that more original phenomenon of existence which alone makes possible traditional philosophy’s distinction between subject and object, which according to the concept of consciousness are two abstractions from the concrete phenomenon of intentional consciousness (Sokolowski 38).

Husserl develops this thought thus: because material reality extends beyond present perception, the concept of consciousness must include more than the central sphere of awakened and active consciousness; objects stand out against a horizon against which they are perceived, and this is a necessary part of the structure of consciousness. his background does not exist independently of the conscious subject, for although the marginal background against which objects make their appearance is always present, though not to actual conscious life, it nonetheless belongs to the sphere of possibilities implied in actual consciousness as potential consciousness (Welton 49).

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Husserl takes the indubitably certain cogito of Descartes as his starting point; by positing consciousness as absolute, consciousness is taken as foundational. Husserl goes further than Descartes, for the absoluteness of consciousness does not simply apply to the certainty of the truths of consciousness but to the very existence of consciousness itself. Since sensibility is subject to error, the existence of the external world could be doubted. Only the cogito is indubitable. Descartes does not question the evidence for the cogito; his analysis stops short of the ontological foundation of consciousness which renders this evidence possible. Husserl, on the other hand, holds that the necessary existence of consciousness does not follow from the cogito; rather it allows a cogito (Zahavi 112). Descartes halted too soon. The knowledge of an object cannot be separated from its being, and so Descartes’s theory of knowledge gives way to a theory of being in Husserl. What needs to be emphasised here is the primacy of consciousness and its absolute existence. Consciousness does not lie behind being but is itself being, and it is within the sphere of consciousness that the meaning of existence is to be sought, and naturalism overcome. Being is to be understood in terms of subjectivity rather than substance (Sokolowski 26).

Ultimately, the act of inquiring is sustained by what is other than the question, for the question is not creative of its object, but is a questioning response to that antecedent object. More precisely, as we shall see when considering treatment of the question, since the question is the question of the meaning of being and is raised in the presence of being, the question about the question, as a question about that which is other than the question, radically thought, must be other than being. Of course, Husserl had already opened the way to such a thought: access to being is part of the constitution of its essence. Phenomenology’s reflection on itself as a mode of access becomes the “essential event of being” (Zahavi 54). But this is to recognize that there is something other than being, that there is something beyond the totality of being and other than the phenomenological conception of evidence; that is, something which, as access, remains in some sense transcendent with respect to the totality. But, since phenomenological reflection links access and essence, phenomenology as access is not straightforwardly excessive with regard to its object, for access itself becomes subject to scrutiny. In other words, phenomenology is not a straightforwardly transcendental pursuit. The very exposition of being threatens phenomenology’s exposition. Husserl had sought to secure phenomenology as a foundation immune from scrutiny, but the fact is that, since the phenomenological “technique” of description can itself be scrutinized, phenomenology no longer offers any transcendental vantage point. And so it is with the question itself. As access to being, it stands apart from being. Further, its aim is not to deliver being in terms of knowledge. “Within the limits of my transcendentally reduced pure conscious life, I experience the world … not as (so to speak) my private synthetic formation, but as alien to me, as intersubjective” (Husserl 123). The framework within which questioning arises is not cognitive nor is its intentionality simply cognitive; rather, questioning arises within the context the intersubjective relation, a relation which, apart from cognition, also involves affection and volition (Sokolowski 102).

The question about the whole actually compromised the whole for the question about the whole itself intended the whole from a position which is actually beyond the whole. We have already seen similar in Husserl’s phenomenological approach to the inadequacy of evidence and the link between access and essence. Since access to being constitutes the essential event of being lacks an absolute hegemony. Since the question about the meaning of being is the access to being, the question about the question of being cannot be answered in terms of being, and so stands beyond being (Welton 66). This means ultimately that the “who” of the question cannot be answered adequately in terms of ontology. The existentiality of the subject is not ontological, as Heidegger argues, but is, we shall see, ethical. Now, as we said, the manner of relating beyond the continuity of the whole, beyond ontology is neither a comprehension of what is other by the same nor a participation of the same in the other. Rather, the third manner of relating relates the same and the other in such a way that the Other, despite the relation, remains absolute from the relation (Zahavi 132).

The permanent revolution of the phenomenological reduction undertaken by Husserl is that it brings to life again what has been forgotten in knowledge. Methodology is thus subverted in two ways: it can only proceed dialogically and diachronically. Because the subject matter of philosophy is a relationship between the self and the Other who is excessive with regard to the self, but whose very excess will sustain the relationship, the Same and the Other can neither be said in the same time or the same place (Welton 61). Husserl argued against the natural attitude and the spontaneity of reason which presumed the adequacy of perception, the attitude that things are as they appear and are known as such. Now, the fragility of apodictic rationality is addressed by Husserl in the Cartesian Meditations in which “the ‘adequation’ of intuition and the signitive act which intuition fills” is abandoned, since “intuition in its internal sense is… incapable of filling the signitive intention” (Husserl cited Welton 44). Husserl may have roused the ego from its naïve, natural attitude, but he awoke it to a representational relationship with the world; consciousness is not simply consciousness on the intentional object, but calls for an objectifying act as its correlative (Zahavi 143). Husserl claims:

“Neither the other Ego himself, nor his subjective processes or his appearances themselves, nor anything else belonging to what is essentially his own, becomes given in our experience originally. If it were, if what belongs to what is essentially the other’s ownness were directly accessible, it would be merely a moment of my own essence” (Husserl 139)

While some contemporary thinkers do not agree that all three steps of the epochē should be, or can be, attempted, the effort to study things not as entities or essences in themselves but as they are perceived by human beings in a social world demonstrates the importance of meaning for phenomenologists, as for many creative sociologists. Husserl developed and refined this concept throughout his career. His views of intuition and thought were developed in a distinctively non-Kantian direction. Of particular interest is his sixth investigation, where he distinguishes between “sensible” and “categorial” intuition — the capacity for bringing ideal objects or meanings (such as the universal essences of negation, conjunction, unity, number, and the like) to full intuitive understanding (Zahavi 154). Lack of clarity about the nature of thought and intuition prevented the Kantian analysis from realizing its transcendental aspirations for the a priori conditions of knowledge (Sokolowski 88). The formal analytical a priori was defined by reference to principles of logic that were taken to be self-evident; but these principles themselves could not be said to be a priori in the same sense as propositions whose analytic character is determined by these principles. The possibility of synthetic a priori judgments was traced back to the general psychic constitution of human subjectivity; but the factual laws of empirical psychology could not be said to be a priori in the same sense as the forms of thought and their ideal laws (Welton 87).

Conclusion

For Husserl, the main thing is a property of essential intuition and of intuited essences, not principally of logical propositions or of the relations between the terms of such propositions. The a priori defines the invariant essential structures of the contents of intuition, and, as such, is something phenomenological given. It must be remembered that the concept of essential intuition always remained itself a problem for continued investigation for Husserl. As a result, particularly in his later career, the notion underwent complicating transformations in the course of its development, notably in conjunction with the concepts of “constitution” and “passive synthesis.” This meant that the role of prior position-takings and of a passive synthetic “agency” had to be given due consideration in the analysis of various strata of essential intuition, and even the founding stratum of essential intuition as “passive” could not be regarded as receptive. But the issue remained a subject of dispute among subsequent phenomenologists. Not even every transcendental phenomenologist followed Husserl at this point. While the correlativity of “subjectivity” and “objectivity” in the intentional act structure was never in doubt, disagreement centered on whether or not this correlative structure itself evidences or requires a foundation in a transcendental subject.

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Works Cited

Husserl, E. Cartesian Meditations. Kluwer academic Publishers.

Sokolowski, R. Introduction to Phenomenology. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Welton, D. The Essential Husserl: Basic Writings in Transcendental Phenomenology (Studies in Continental Thought). Indiana University Press, 1999.

Zahavi, D. Husserl’s Phenomenology (Cultural Memory in the Present). Stanford University Press; 1 edition, 2003.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 12). “Cartesian Meditations” by Edmund Husserl. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/cartesian-meditations-by-edmund-husserl/

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