The worldboundness of phenomenology

1. Summary

My aim is to stress the importance of Husserl’s ambitious project of founding logic in the prelogical or prepredicative sphere of consciousness; a project which, in some ways, continues the effort raised formerly by the same to criticise the incomplete state of sciences, logics and matemathics included, that would lack of clarity and rationality, even if they have succeded in mastering over nature.

In works like Formal and Transcendental Logic or Experience and Judgment, Husserl defends the point of view according to which logical operators (negation at first) have their roots in the prepredicative experience;disregarding this origin, they would turn into objectivations (’Sustruktionen’in the Crisis turn of phrase) which cover the latent function of transcendental subjectivity.

By facing this kind of problems, we have to distinguish between modalizations (prepredicative level) and modalities (categorial level), and to remark that every logical construction, such as e. g. semantics of possible worlds, while having its foundation on the prepredicative level, is the result of a process of abstraction which takes it away from the world of life. The following short remarks will show also the necessity of a critical reflection on the notion of ‘possibility’, pointing to its rooting in the precategorial life of the Ego.

The significance of this notion, in Husserl’s point of view, is practical, because of its being tied to the notion of ‘I can (Ich kann) as in sentences like ‘I can move my hands’;semantics of possible world then would abstract from this practical move;moreover, it would also neglect the important fact that notions like possibility, imagination, variation, possible world, in a phenomenological point of view, come out as tied concepts which ought to be indexed with senses recalling their worldboundness.

2. Genesis of primitive logical connectives

Husserl supplies us with a phenomenological description of the genesis of primitive logical connectives.

In Experience and Judgment: Investigations in a Genealogy of Logic he claims that the doxastic certainty which pervades our daily lives is sometimes ‘obstructed’ (gehemmt) ;when obstructions occur, consciousness then turns to modalized forms.

Every phase of perception is a ‘radiating system’of actual and potential intentions of anticipation whose tendency in some cases can be obstructed.1

We have e. g. an interest taken in a perceived object; the object continues to be examined, but instead of the fulfillment of the intentions of anticipation, a ‘disappointment’ (Entäuschung) takes place.2

We are leaded to think, while using terms like ‘tendency’, ‘interest’, or ‘disappointment’that the life of consciousness, here taken into consideration, presents clues of activity and, at the same time, of passivity of the Ego. Clues that we cannot analize by distinguishing the amount of passivity from that of egological activity: according to Husserl, even the concept of receptivity cannot in no way be opposed to that of activity; on the contrary, receptivity must be regarded as the ‘lowest level’of activity.

Taken for granted this theoretical frame, we can face now the description of the original phenomenon which can be associated to the process of nullification, or ‘annulment’ (Aufhebung) of a consciousness experience.

Negation is not at first the business of an act of predicative judgment: it, as a matter of fact, manifests itself already in the prepredicative sphere of receptive experience;the essential character of negation is the superposition of a new sense on a one already constituted, along with the displacement of the first by the second.

Husserl, however, takes negation as a by-product of normal, original object-constitution: an object, in its certainty, must be present in order to be able to be modified in its originality:

Negation is a modification of consciousness which manifests itself as such in accordance with its own essence.3

Negation, in his point of view, is always a partial cancellation on behalf of a certitude of belief which is thereby maintained on the basis of the universal belief in the world.

Before going further, it’s important to stress that Husserl’s conception of the origin of negation produces some theoretical difficulties which Derrida so synthesizes:

  1. coming in after that a doxastic certitude has taken place, negation seems a logical by-product of genesis;
  2. admitting that the genesis of negation comes after a doxastic certainty has been established, it follows that it is short of essential necessity and committed to a psychological source.

Negation on the contrary, according to Derrida, ought to be viewed as a mediator between prepredicative and predicative, as the real engine and movement of every genesis.4

A second important aspect to be considered in Husserl’s genetic analysis of negation is the essential link established bewteen this and the protentional character of consciousness: disappointment occurs only when modification of certainty catches on motivating the cancellation of the foregoing protentional anticipations of belief.

Negation, according to Husserl, occurs sometimes as the end result of a process characterized by a ‘becoming-doubtful’: doubt would so represent a mode of transition to a negating annulment. A fundamental modalization of normal ego-acts of perception consists, with regard to the noematic side, in presuming being: the Ego presumes an object to exist in a particular way; it’s in cases of conflict of presumptions of being that the notion of possibility arises: hence possibility is a phenomenon which, like negation, would already appear in the prepredicative sphere.

Even more! Within simple certainty is lodged a primitive form of conjunction: consciousness, in some sense, is initially and originally consciousness of possibilities, because ringed by a ‘halo of anticipatory intentions’,5 that is to say, laced with possibilities, alternative paths that the movement of belief can take.

Before putting forward our analysis, it would be important to consider that, according to Husserl, the term ‘modalization’contains an ambiguity6: on the one hand, it can mean every change in the mode of validity with regard to the original mode of naïve certainty, without however undermining this certainty e. g. splitting it by doubt; on the other hand it can mean a change by which the primal certainty ceases to be certainty.

It is obvious that by passing through a doubt and by taking a decision, we are carried beyond the receptivity to the domain of spontaneous position-taking on the part of Ego; all these instances, however, provide occasion for the formation of modalities of judgment. If we don’t regard the role of the prepredicative sphere for the formation of modalities, we run the risk, according to Husserl, of bringing about the hanging in the air of the theory of the modalities of judgment.

More important to underline is the fact that, even in cases in which actual predicative judgments are at stake (e. g. acts of confirmation), the simple certainty which founds them has been already challenged by some doubt or optionality; confirmatory judgment has always the form of ‘a decision and of taking a position with regard to what has become doubtful’.7

As a matter of fact, concepts like ‘interest’, ‘tendency’ (prepredicative level), ‘decision’, ‘position-taking’ (predicative level) play the role of ‘hinge-concepts’8 which swing phenomenological analysis from one domain (prepredicative) to another one (predicative).

The domain’s transition is a very important problem in Experience and Judgment: even if Husserl in some points (not many) refers to the retroactive effect that predicative acquisitions can have on the prepredicative sphere of experience,9 it is evident that Husserl’s interest is concerned, the most part, with the transition from the prepredicative sphere to the predicative one for the reason that judgments are “completely dependent from the intentional point of view”, that is to say, that they presuppose the events of passive doxa.

It might have some theoretical consequences to stress the point that every encounter of the world is mediated by culture, by linguistic structures or, as Husserl would have said, by theoretical and practical “habits” (Kleidungen) which jeopardize the task of arriving at the ‘immediacy’ (Unmittelbarkeit) of experience.10

3. Modalization vs. Modalities

After having pointed out to the cultural, social relevance of every experience, we can return to our chief concern. In cases in which the ego disagrees with itself, e. g. in doubting, we might say that the subject makes the predicative judgment ‘S is p’only to realize that ‘S’might be ‘q’and not ‘p’. Stuck in this indecisiveness, the subject can express itself by saying ‘S is p or q’, that is to say, articulating the possibilities here arisen with the logical connective ‘or’. Insofar this belief, from a noematic point of view, is related to the world, the world splits into possible worlds; at this point originates the phenomenological justification of possible worlds semantics: but a justification that doesn’t forget to see formal connectives as objectifications and reifications of primitive structures of experience.

According to Harvey and Hintikka, there would be between phenomenology and possible worlds semantics, prima facie, a philosophical discontinuity: for instance, the meaning of a disjunction (S1vS2), in possible worlds semantics, is not explicated in terms of a bifurcation of beliefs, but in terms of the theoretical sets of models (possible worlds) in which S1 and S2, respectively, are true:

What has taken place in the systematic logical theory of our century is not a modalization in Husserl’s sense, but a modelization.11

Notwithstanding this dissimilarity, they argue that, rightly understood, the two approaches “complement” rather than contradict each other: they would approach the same subject-matter even if from different directions; it’s very hard however to see how the two approaches would complement each other and in which sense they would concern the same argument: passivity (modalization) and activity (modalities) involve analysis of different consciousness fields which cannot run in parallel anyway: they entail different forms of temporalization and apply to different kinds of objects (or ‘quasi-objects’in the case of prepredicative apprehensions); for instance, for the substantivation in which the state of affairs is educed from a judgment “there is nothing analogous at the lower level”.12

Moreover, as recognized by Hintikka and Harvey, looking at possible worlds from the phenomenological point of view has the advantage of treating worlds only as ‘motivated worlds’; for the same reason, the notion of possibility, from an Husserlian point of view, needs to be reviewed in favour of motivated possibilities, that is to say, possibilities tied to fundamental background beliefs which predelineate the properties of the objects taken into consideration.

In contrast with Harvey’s and Hintikka’s view, I don’t think that the shift from motivated possibilities to logical one is so plain as supposed by the two scholars.

Possible worlds semantics would disengage the possibilities it deals with from their constitutive sources, operating therefore with reified or pure possibilities; for this reason, possible worlds semantics would be burdened with ‘the naïveté of an ontological discourse’.13

Possible worlds theory of intentionality, according to this critical point of view, would lack descriptive-clarificatory value; if we accept as a matter of fact the issues, strictures and interests of pure Husserlian phenomenology, it becomes difficult to conceive a way of accomodating, as suggested by Hintikka and Harvey, possible worlds theory to pure phenomenology unless we are compelled to alter the nature of the first approach.

However, if we assume that possible worlds semantics ought to be tied to a world home with a “principle of production” lodged within that world, that is to say, anchoring the principle of production of possibilities to a cognizing subject, we run the risk of rendering this approach unrecognizable.

“Indexing”14 the key notions of possible worlds semantics with some, so to say, precategorial findings of the genetic phenomenology would amount, in my point of view, not to a complement operation, but to the recognition of their reciprocal impossibility to be reconciled.

Harvey and Hintikka quote a lot from Mohanty’s essay “Husserl on ‘possibility’”,15 but, I think, they neglect the more important point of it; if we, as a matter of fact, support a phenomenological point of view, we cannot give up an essential distinction concerning the notion of possibility:

It is of importance that we elaborate in an exemplary fashion the contrast emerging here between possibility in the sense of merely ‘logical possibility’, mere possibility in the sense of merely ‘logicalpossibility, mere possiiblity on the basis of intuitive representation, and practical possibility as the to be-able-to.16

In Husserlian point of view, logical and practical possibility derive both from a neutrality modification: the former from a neutrality modification of intuitive representation, the latter from a neutrality modification of acting into a quasi-acting.17

If we accept the primal of practical over against the theoretical, then we can construe the empty horizons belonging to any experience as a system of possibilities for practical intervention; all doxic-logical possibilities could be reduced, at least, to the practical ‘I can phantasise’.18

As stated by Mohanty:

… since positing any object, real or ideal, implies the possibility-egological as well as inter-subjective-of reiterating certain confirmatory and evidence-producing processes (such as possible perceptions in the sense of perceptions I would have were I to walk around the object), “without such ‘possibilities’there would be for us no fixed and abiding being, no real and no ideal world”.19

4. Bound (gebundene) variations

All the questions discussed up to now point to a more fundamental matter of fact: the link between the actuality of perception and imagination, or bewteen the world and its eidos.

The world with which in the past its denizens were acquainted is very different from the present world which is experienced in another way, even if a kind of continuity could be retained:

Die mythische Welt ist eine andere als die Welt des wissenschaftlichen Zeitalters, aber dieser Wandel der Weltanschauungen birgt in sich doch eine Einheit … zu allen Zeiten alle Menschen dieselbe Welt erfahren, nur dass sie sie in verschiedenen Weisen auffassten.20

The point of departure is, according to Husserl, the world in its original giveness;the world nevertheless, in its doxastic certainty, because of its open horizon, can go, in Husserl’s words, through variations:

Es scheint gar leicht, die vorgegebene Welt zu variieren- rein als Erfahrungswelt-statisch-und freie Weltmöglichkeiten bildend überzugehen zur Erschauung des Wesens möglicher Welt überhaupt. Aber die originale Gegebenheit der Welt in der Form der schlichten Wahrnehmung ist nur ein Anfang; die Welt ist gegeben, aber mit einem unerschlossenen Horizont.21

It arises however the problem of moving by free variation to the eidos ‘world’: it’s at this point of analysis that we can establish phenomenological motivated links bewteen terms like ‘phantasie’, ‘umdenken’, ‘fingieren’. According to Husserl, every imagination cannot be totally independent from the actual world:

… ganz anders ist es mit dem Phantasie-Ich, das als phantasiertes prinzipiell nicht konkret und vorgegeben sein kann, sondern immer nur nach-gegeben als vom Phantasieansatz her leer Mitgesetztes, aber in einer Linie, die ich nur erfüllen kann durch eine freie, obschon nicht völlig freie Fiktion.22

Even if Husserl recognizes in Cartesian Meditations that we can accomplish a variation free from ‘bindende Voraussetzung’, he thinks that

jede fingierte Welt ist schon Variante der faktischen und nur als solche Variante zu konstruiren, und so ist das invariante Eidos aller so zu gewinnenden Weltvarianten an das Faktum gebunden.23

The theoretical proposals of Hintikka and Harvey remain even more unsatisfactory when confronted with some thesis Husserl puts forth in Experience and Judgment when he is confronted with the theme of the unity of time and connection in imagination and the problem of individuation.

Husserl treats here some ‘essential limitations’of the unity of imagination which must not be overlooked: every individuation or identity of the individual, as well as the identification founded on it, ‘is possible only within the world of actual experience, on the basis of absolute temporal position’.24

Accordingly, experience of imagination in general provides no individual objects in the true sense but only a quasi-individuality25 and a quasi-identity26 within the boundaries of an imaginary world: for this reason, any account of possible worlds lacking a genetic approach and all the phenomenological themes involved by this kind of analysis would result abstract, losing the worldboundness of our experience.

5. References

  • Derrida J., Le problème de la genèse dans la philosophie de Husserl, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1990.
  • Harvey Ch., Hintikka J., ‘Modalization and modalities’in Seebohm Th., Follesdal D., . Mohanty J. N (eds.), Phenomenology and Formal Sciences, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1991.
  • Husserl E., Phänomenologische Psychologie. Vorlesungen Sommersemester: 1925, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968.
  • Husserl E., Formal and Transcendental Logic, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1969.
  • Husserl E., The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970.
  • Husserl E., Experience and Judgment, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973.
  • Landgrebe L., ‘Unmittelbarkeit der Erfahrung’, in Edmund Husserl. 1859-1959, La Haye: Martinus Nijhoff, 1959.
  • Mohanty J. N., ‘Intentionality and Possible Worlds: Husserl and Hintikka’in Dreyfus H. (ed.), Husserl, Intentionality and Cognitive Science, MIT Press, Cambridge 1982;
  • Mohanty J. N., ‘Husserl on ‘possibility’’, Husserl Studies, 1, 1984;
  • Waldenfels B., Das Zwischenreich des Dialogs. Sozialphilosophische Untersuchungen in Anschluß an Husserl, Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff, 1971.

  1. E. Husserl, Experience and Judgment, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973, p.87; herafter EJ. ↩︎

  2. EJ,88. ↩︎

  3. EJ, 91. ↩︎

  4. See J. Derrida, Le problème de la genèse dans la philosophie de Husserl, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1990; see in part. ch. VI. ↩︎

  5. EJ, 92. ↩︎

  6. See EJ,100. ↩︎

  7. EJ, 272. ↩︎

  8. See Ch.Harvey, J. Hintikka, ‘Modalization and modalities’ in Th. Seebohm., D.Follesdal, J.N. Mohanty (eds.), Phenomenology and Formal Sciences, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1991, pp.59-78; hereafter MM. ↩︎

  9. EJ,64. ↩︎

  10. Ludwig Landgrebe writes on this subject of matter: ‘Wenn damit ein neuer Weg der Erschliessung der unmittelbaren Erfahrung gewiesen ist, so treten in der Durchführung dieses Programms doch Schwierigkeiten auf, die zeigen, dass dieser Weg für sich allein nicht genügen kann. … Aber solche reine Beschreibung bedarf der Ausdrücke, in denen das Beschriebene erfasst wird, und wenn wir auf Erlebnisweisen reflektieren, so hat eine mehr als 200jährige Tradition die zu Termini verfestigten Ausdrücke geschaffen, in denen das Erleben, das Bewusstsein und seine Weisen erfasst warden (L. Landgrebe, ‘Unmittelbarkeit der Erfahrung’, in Edmund Husserl.1859-1959, La Haye: Martinus Nijhoff, 1959, p.253); he continues then stating that the immediacy of experience amounts to a tangle of description and critical investigation: ‘Der Weg zum Unmittelbaren der Erfahrung ist also ein Ineinander von Deskription und kritischer Prüfung der dabei zunächst naiv angewandten Termini auf ihre ursprüngliche Bedeutung hin … Nur in solchem Ineinander von Deskription und ‘Destruktion’ kann sich die Erschliessung des Unmittelbaren der Erfahrung als eine Bewegung der Auslegung, Hermeneutik vollziehen’ (L. Landgrebe, cit., p.257). ↩︎

  11. MM,66. ↩︎

  12. EJ,239. ↩︎

  13. J.N.Mohanty, “Intentionality and Possible Worlds: Husserl and Hintikka” in H.L. Dreyfus (ed.), Husserl, Intentionality and Cognitive Science, Cambridge: MIT Press 1982, p.251. ↩︎

  14. MM,74. ↩︎

  15. J.N. Mohanty, “Husserl on ‘possibility’”, Husserl Studies, No.1,1984; herafter HP. ↩︎

  16. E. Husserl, Ideas pertaining to a pure phenomenology and to a phenomenological philosophy, second book, Dordrecht: Kluwer 1989, p.275. ↩︎

  17. See HP, p. 26. ↩︎

  18. See E. Husserl, Phänomenologische Psychologie. Vorlesungen Sommersemester:1925, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968, p.205. ↩︎

  19. HP, p.27. ↩︎

  20. Ms. A VII 14/63b. ↩︎

  21. Ms. A VII 14/63b. ↩︎

  22. Ms. C 13 III/<3>. ↩︎

  23. Ms. E III 9/8b; see also B. Waldenfels, Das Zwischenreich des Dialogs.Sozialphilosophische Untersuchungen in Anschluß an Husserl, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1971;here Waldenfels states that variation is not a game suspendend in the air, but a ‘gebundene Variation’ (p.278). ↩︎

  24. EJ,173. ↩︎

  25. EJ, 174. ↩︎

  26. EJ, 174. ↩︎