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The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. From the Lectures, Winter Semester, 1910-11 (review)

From: Journal of the History of Philosophy
Volume 45, Number 2, April 2007
pp. 338-339 | 10.1353/hph.2007.0047

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Husserl's seminal lectures on the phenomenological reduction and transcendental theory of empathy have finally been translated into English. Known by the title of the course, The Basic Problems of Phenomenology presents some of Husserl's most important innovations in the theory of the phenomenological reduction. In fact, he referred to these lectures more often than any other, and with good reason. They pre-delineate many themes in his mature work, e.g., the phenomenology of intersubjectivity and of empathy, the relation between phenomenology and pure psychology, the lived body as null-point of experience, the life-world as a universal problem for philosophy, the problem of the absolute character of phenomenological givenness, and so on. As the translators suggest in their wonderful preface, these lectures are one of the best available introductions to Husserl's philosophy.

Along with his earlier 1907 lectures, The Idea of Phenomenology, The Basic Problems form the core conception of Husserl's theory of the phenomenological reduction. Yet the latter treads on ground inadequately explicated in the former. A dominant theme in The Basic Problems is the phenomenology of intersubjectivity. This extension to intersubjectivity in the later lectures rests on a recapitulation—or, perhaps better, a clarification—of the eidetic focus of phenomenology in the earlier 1907 lectures. As such, The Basic Problems institutes a shift of concentration by Husserl to the wholeness of individual consciousness. This shift arises from his efforts to integrate into his analyses an adequate description of the temporality of the flowing life of consciousness. Indeed, temporality is perhaps the most dominant thread running through The Basic Problems.

When we look specifically at The Basic Problems, we find not merely that the phenomenological reduction is extended to the field of intersubjectivity. More fundamentally, the reduction as articulated in these lectures is a reduction to the singularity of temporal consciousness, i.e., the whole unified stream of consciousness, from whose basis the field of inter-subjective objectivity is, itself, constituted. Where Husserl sought to advance his phenomenology as a genuinely critical philosophy in the 1907 lectures, he is really working on another plane in The Basic Problems. The earlier is an introduction to phenomenology, and so seeks to articulate what phenomenology is. In The Basic Problems, Husserl seeks, on the contrary, to identify the fundamental problem or cluster of problems with which phenomenology deals. He discloses this to be the problem of the formal structuring principle of the noetic-noematic correlation; and this is temporality, i.e., phenomenological, time. Husserl's major innovation here is to offer a phenomenological description of the plurality of I-monads—all belonging to the same time—which does not deflate to a plurality of temporalities.

In The Basic Problems, Husserl seeks to uncover the full limit of the purely self-given. The science of phenomenology, whose subject matter is appearance, itself, cannot concern itself solely with the abstract now-point of any cogito flowing off in consciousness. The analyses of the temporal structure of consciousness indicate that cogitative phenomena necessarily endure in the streaming life of consciousness. Any singular now-point is, thus, but an abstraction from this more fundamental frame of the flowing unity of a singular consciousness—a consciousness in which the intentive moments all hang together. Thus, absolute living consciousness—intending itself in empathy with a community of other monads—is disclosed in these analyses to be the basis from which it becomes at all possible to abstract an immediate perceptual now-point.

This translation is excellent in every respect. The present work contains the extant transcripts of Husserl's 1910/11 lecture course, along with thirteen appendices. These include his preparatory notes, early revisions and supplements, and later statements of clarification. The Basic Problems not only illustrates the transcendental orientation of Husserl's early work, but also highlights the debt he owes to the work of Wilhelm Dilthey. Though Dilthey is not mentioned anywhere in the lectures, his presence is clearly felt throughout. The reduction to the unitary stream of consciousness intending itself in an effective reciprocity of relations with a community of monads bears striking parallels to Dilthey's descriptive-analytical accounts of life-units in the latter's psychology. In...

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