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Journal of the History of Philosophy 40.1 (2002) 132-133
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The Other Husserl:
The Horizons of Transcendental Phenomenology
Donn Welton. The Other Husserl: The Horizons of Transcendental Phenomenology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000. Pp. xvi + 496. Cloth, $54.95.
Few philosophers have been as ill-served by their reception as Husserl. The books he managed to publish during his lifetime provide a very limited perspective on his thought but have determined what Donn Welton, in this magnificent treatise, calls the "Standard Interpretation," shared by analytic and deconstructionist readers alike, in which Husserl is a neo-Cartesian wedded to epistemological immanentism, methodological solipsism, and ontological idealism. That a very different Husserl is found in his vast Nachlass has long been known, but because of its sheer volume and relative inaccessibility it has had little impact on the Husserl-reception beyond a small circle of specialists. Hence in recovering the "Other" Husserl, Welton's aim is not the usual historical one of stripping away anachronistic readings to arrive at an original reception, but one of negating this Rezeptionsgeschichte to reveal a philosophy that has, in a certain sense, never been present.
In this, the book succeeds wonderfully. Welton threads through the tangle of the Nachlass to reconstruct the unfulfilled "great systematic work" that occupied Husserl off and on from about 1920 until his death, uncovering thereby the revolutionary implications of Husserl's move from "static" to "genetic" phenomenology that force us to reconsider the Standard Interpretation point by point. While admitting that Husserl never abandoned his Cartesian proclivities altogether, Welton shows how these can be read as dependent moments in a system of "transcendental phenomenology" that ends up "much closer to Heidegger's approach than is usually thought" (233). The relevance for current debates in philosophy is made plain, such that Husserl is, at last, our contemporary.
Briefly reviewing a book as ambitious as this inevitably distorts it, but let me comment on its central methodological claim. Transcendental phenomenology emerged from the pre-transcendental phenomenology of the Logische Untersuchungen when Husserl began seeking the "ultimate ground" for scientific cognition (chapters 1-4). This approach, dubbed the "Cartesian Way" by Husserl himself, generated the "Cartesian Enclosures" (chapter 5) of the Standard Interpretation: demanding evidence that is apodictic, adequate, and directly intuitive, Husserl identifies "transcendental subjectivity" with the individual, indeed solipsistic, "stream of consciousness" and interprets this ontologically as the "relativity" of the world. In his pivotal chapter 6, however, Welton shows that Husserl's reflections on time and memory forced him to admit that the "transcendental field" could not be secured by appeal to "adequate evidence" (154). Hence Husserl adopted a "Kantian Way" (158) that supplements intuitive evidence with elements of transcendental "construction" (148). The concept of transcendental "subjectivity" is thereby transformed from an egocentric stream of consciousness to an intersubjective, communicative, embodied, and historical site of the "transcendental genesis" of meaning.
Chapters 7-9 detail how Husserl's increasing interest in the genesis of meaning in the 1920s calls forth this transformation. Tracing the problem on the levels of "speech" and "experience," Welton carefully elucidates how, in moving from static through constitutive to genetic analyses, Husserl came increasingly to see that his original "leading clue"--the phenomenon of cognitive act-intentionality--depended upon the passive syntheses and contexts of "motivation" that make up the world-horizon of pre-cognitive "life." Chapters 10 and 12 argue that Husserl's desire to force these insights into a Cartesian framework yielded the dead-end of "transcendental psychologism" and the dubious teleology of an ethico-political "one-worldism." Meanwhile in chapters 13-15, Welton sketches a phenomenologically more defensible concept of world as "horizon"--a nonperceptual, inherently plural, space of meaning structured as "context" (speech) and "background" (embodiment).
Chapter 11 is central to the argument, since it describes how the Kantian notion of transcendental deduction ("construction") is to be integrated into phenomenological method. Things move very quickly. Welton relies heavily on Jay Rosenberg's idea that transcendental deduction is a species of "practical reasoning," and on Charles Taylor's...