Edmund Husserl (1859-1938)
April 28, 2009 7:22 PM   Subscribe

Earlier this month, to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edmund Husserl (born April 8, 1859; yesterday marks the anniversary of his death in 1938), the Husserl Archives in Leuven, Belgium, hosted a conference (audio files of the keynotes are available: here's Robert Sokolowski on "Husserl on First Philosophy") in his honor. Husserl's influence on philosophy is difficult to overstate, and continues to this day: as the founder of phenomenology, his contributions to logic, philosophy of mathematics, psychology, philosophy of mind, epistemology, existentialism, and many other areas of thought, has been immense.
posted by ornate insect (15 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for this.
posted by rodii at 7:33 PM on April 28, 2009

The founder of phenomenology? What about Franz Brentano?
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:42 PM on April 28, 2009

Excellent! Check out this old footage of Husserl walking with his daughter, complete with old-timey sounding music, for extra effect. I would recommend the lectures The Idea of Phenomenology (1907) for a short introduction to his thought.

As the story goes, many of the documents that now constitute the Husserl Archives had to be smuggled out of Nazi Germany, for fear they would be destroyed (Husserl was of Jewish origin).
posted by Dia Nomou Nomo Apethanon at 7:47 PM on April 28, 2009

Good post.

I don't think Husserl has had as much an impact on philosophy of logic and mathematics as might be hoped. If you're thinking of his arguments against psychologism, those have been influential in some quarters, but they were largely overshadowed by the work of Quine and Wittgenstein going in the opposite direction. If you're thinking about his work on the phenomenology of the apodictic, it's not much read by logicians or philosophers of mathematics these days. (Incidentally, I think it should be. We live in a time in which philosophers can make claims about something being necessary or certain without worrying too much about vindicating our sense that it is. But sometimes these judgments seem questionable, and in the absence of a phenomenological theory to back them up, we have no recourse but bald assertion.)
posted by voltairemodern at 7:53 PM on April 28, 2009

What about Franz Brentano?

Brentano's proto-phenomenology (and the schools of thought it engendered, which include the Lvov-Warsaw School of logic, the work Meinong, and Gestalt psychology) is--along with the psychology of Wundt, Stumpf, and neo-Kantianism, etc--extremely important in the development of Husserl's thought.

However, there is little dispute that Husserl's work (especially beginning with the publication of the Logical Investigations in 1900/01) begat its own historical movement.

Edith Stein, Max Scheler, Aron Gurwitsch, Alfred Schutz, Adolf Reinach, and others represented the first stream of this movement, but it was the publication in 1927 by Husserl's most famous assistant/student, Martin Heidegger, of Being and Time that inaugurated the second phase. From this followed the French interpretation (Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Marcel, Ricoeur, etc) and also the thread of hermeneutics adopted by Gadamer. And, subsequently, the movements of deconstronism (Derrida's thesis was on Husserl's Origin of Geometry, and he also wrote a book on Husserl's theory of signs).

Thus Husserl's seeds of thought bloomed in unexpected ways, and in recent years he has been brought back to analytic philosophy as well (via Frege, whom Husserl had a lively philosophical correspondence with).
posted by ornate insect at 8:10 PM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Great post. I haven't read Husserl in ages. Thanks.
posted by homunculus at 8:11 PM on April 28, 2009

Husserl was the first philosopher who BLEW MY MIND. And even though I think a fair amount of his philosophy is fundamentally unsupportable, I still find myself drawn back again and again.
posted by klangklangston at 8:28 PM on April 28, 2009

overshadowed by the work of Quine and Wittgenstein

this is the Frege/Carnap/Russell lineage, and the much-ballyhooed analytic/continental split can be traced to the division between Husserl and Frege regarding the objects of logic/mathematics (the question of meaning as well). But Husserl shared with Frege a kind of Platonism, and with Carnap he shared a view of the formal unity of scientific inquiry. Thinkers such as Friedman and Follesdal and Tieszen have helped to re-acquaint students of philosophical history with the logical/mathematical aspects of Husserl's thinking.
posted by ornate insect at 8:32 PM on April 28, 2009

If you're thinking about his work on the phenomenology of the apodictic, it's not much read by logicians or philosophers of mathematics these days.

I'd like to read that if it's not too long...can you name some titles?
posted by creasy boy at 11:44 PM on April 28, 2009

can you name some titles?

Both long and difficult, but they deal with Husserl's notions of formal apophantics, prepredicative experience, and the phenomenology of logic:

Formal and Transcendental Logic

Experience and Judgement
posted by ornate insect at 11:51 PM on April 28, 2009

Drat, I was hoping for an essay or something. Any day now I'm gonna start writing my masters on Wittgenstein (deadline to start writing has been "any day now" for several months) and Husserl is too far removed for me to justify that kind of commitment. But thanks anyways.

This is, to my mind, the biggest difference between analytic and continental philosophy: continental philosophers make you read really long books, analytics give it to you in essay form.
posted by creasy boy at 2:26 AM on April 29, 2009

This I appreciate, and have to second the fondly remembered and too rarely sighted rodii above and thank you for this post. Husserl's name I know but so little else. And then I shall sit for a second in slack jawed awe at some of you smarties around here. Not for the first time, either. It is a humbling experience to be here sometimes.
posted by y2karl at 5:23 AM on April 29, 2009

Wonderful post. Husserl was a bit of a turning point in my life. There was a time I was eating a steady diet of Teilhard de Chardin, and if I hadn't stumbled upon Experience and Judgement, I might have done something foolish...

Like, read Rudolf Steiner, or something.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 6:43 AM on April 29, 2009

Yet another offshoot of Husserl's legacy is in the enactive approach to cognitive science. He has manifestly influenced both Francesco Varela and, more recently, Evan Thompson.
posted by fcummins at 8:58 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Varela, Thompson and Eleanor Rosch collaborated on a fascinating book called The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. The discussion ranges from Husserl to Nagarjuna.
posted by homunculus at 12:43 PM on April 29, 2009

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