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  • Europe’s FrenzyEuropean and Spanish Universality in María Zambrano
  • Stephen D. Gingerich (bio)

In his Vienna lecture of 1935, entitled “Philosophy and the Crisis of European Humanity,” Husserl acknowledges the widespread sense that Europe is undergoing a spiritual crisis: “The European nations are sick” (1970a, 270). Although physicians may be able to cure bodily ailments using their knowledge of the mechanisms of nature, there as yet exists no widely accepted analogous figure to address spiritual illness. For, Husserl says, the humanistic sciences, which relate to the human spirit as the natural sciences relate to nature, have yet to establish solid foundations for a theory that differentiates them from the natural sciences.1 Hence, instead of an entire tradition of trained individuals to practice and further develop techniques of “spiritual” healing, the European mind is accosted by quacks who rely on an unexamined tradition and their own idiosyncratic intuition to effect a cure. More than these spiritual medicine men’s irrational responses to the European crisis, Husserl expressed concern about “a misguided rationalism” (290). In particular, he mentions a “one-sided rationality,” one that disparages [End Page 189] the humanistic sciences for their failure to measure up to the certainties of the natural sciences. Unfortunately, this rationalism “is taken for philosophical rationality as such”; this mistaken rationality, he admits, is “characteristic of the philosophy of the whole modern period since the Renaissance” (292). The history of this mistake, which he calls “objectivism” or “naturalism,” is the theme of The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology proper.

Instead of discarding rationality as a dead end, Husserl will attempt to remedy “man’s now unbearable lack of clarity about his own existence” by returning to “genuine rationality” (1970a, 297). Such a rationality does not merely restore the humanistic sciences to a place of prestige beside the natural sciences; rather, the theory of the spiritual sphere accounts for the natural sciences and their success. “The spirit is not in or alongside nature,” he writes; “rather, nature is itself drawn into the spiritual sphere” (298). Scientists must learn that their very ability to see the natural world as a set of phenomena that appear to them as objects presupposes their immersion in a particular “surrounding life-world” (295). That “life-world” is specific to a particular place and time, and the task of defining and comprehending lifeworlds falls to the humanistic sciences. The failure on the part of the natural sciences and other sciences in thrall to them to recognize their dependence on a “spiritual sphere” carries with it other consequences, such as ignorance of what Husserl calls “the soul in its own essential sense, which is, after all, the ego that acts and suffers” (296). In Europe, or the Infinite Task, Rodolphe Gasché refers to modern science’s inadequacy as an “ethico-philosophical error” that Husserl means to correct with the concept of the lifeworld (2009, 72).

Although one gets the sense that Husserl’s exposition is motivated by the urgency of crisis and the desire for a remedy, Gasché, in his exegesis of the Crisis, becomes interested in another, more affirmative facet of Husserl. It is also a less obvious one. Namely, by shifting the realm of universality from nature to spirit or intellect (Geist), elements and laws that explain nature and human existence take on a clearly historical perspective to take into account the temporality of human being. Rather than timeless truths, the ideas that are born of theoretical speculation in general make up “a fund of premises [End Page 190] for an infinite horizon of tasks as the unity of one all-encompassing task” (Husserl 1970a, 278). As Gasché insists, this “fund” and the shared, universal discourse it comprises are “in the making,” requiring constant renewal and revision to retain any right to their ambitious project. Of course, the project also has a name. Europe, or the Infinite Task describes this project as it develops from Husserl through the phenomenological tradition; Gasché takes stock of the radicality of Husserl’s thinking and follows it though a series of transformations of the idea of the project and universality of Europe. That is to say, rather than following thinkers...


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