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Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 8.4 (2001) 327-329

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Husserlian Comments on Blankenburg's "Psychopathology of Common Sense"

Osborne P. Wiggins, Michael Alan Schwartz, and Jean Naudin

In this essay, Wolfgang Blankenburg sketches his influential view that some of the disturbances of schizophrenia in particular can be interpreted as a pathology of common sense. We think it important at the outset, however, to avoid possible misunderstandings of Blankenburg's point. It is perhaps unfortunate that this point is expressed by use of the phrase, "common sense." As Blankenburg's own essay shows, even among the learned, "common sense" has no definite or univocal meaning. Therefore, it is entirely possible to find many people who, under some conception of "common sense," appear to lack common sense and yet should not be deemed schizophrenic. Consequently, it is probably best to avoid the ambiguous phrase "common sense" altogether and seek to comprehend Blankenburg's point in other terms. That is precisely what we shall attempt here. We do endorse Blankenburg's view. Moreover, we shall pursue his suggestions that a Husserlian phenomenology of our experience of the life-world may provide the basis for developing the kind of psychopathology he seeks. Our ultimate aim, however, is for this phrase "common sense" to vanish into the Husserlian phenomenology we offer, so that all the other meanings of common sense will not threaten Blankenburg's position with misunderstandings.

Our comments must remain a mere sketch. Since, however, Husserl's phenomenology is not well known, we shall have to devote some time to outlining those features of it that we deem relevant here.

For Husserl, every mental process is an awareness of something. In his terminology, it is "intentional." No mental process occurs in isolation, however. It rather occurs within a concatenation of many other mental processes. Some of these co-occurring mental processes intend the same object; they intend other aspects of the object. For example, a woman may be aware of the color of a dress she is considering wearing. Hence, one process in her mental life is (visually) aware of the brown color. But another process in her mental life may be intending it as a "party dress." And yet another process in her mental life may be (tactually) intending the texture of the cloth. Because all of these mental processes (and many others) intend the same object, namely, the dress, Husserl says that they are synthesized with one another. "Synthesis," then, connotes a multiplicity of mental processes united with one another through intending the same object.

Now Husserl believed that it is because the many processes occurring in our mental lives [End Page 327] synthetically intend the many objects we encounter that we experience ourselves as inhabiting a world of objects. If these syntheses failed to occur, we would not experience the world or ourselves as parts of this world. These syntheses make it possible for us to experience objects and events as related to one another in the manifold spatial, causal, temporal, social, political, religious, and other relationships that we do in fact experience. Husserl thus contends that our mental lives "constitute" the world for us. Mental life can accordingly be viewed as "world-constituting." Mental life is thus the condition for the possibility of there being a world of objects for us, to modify Kant's phrase. Husserl thought his notion of world-constituting consciousness sufficiently similar to Kant's for him to appropriate the latter philosopher's concept of "transcendental." Husserl also then spoke of "transcendental consciousness" and the study of this consciousness as "transcendental philosophy."

Husserl made many distinctions among kinds of mental processes and their correlative objects. We shall here explicate only one such distinction. Mental processes must be distinguished as those that are actively generated by an ego and those that are not produced by an ego. The latter kind of mental process occurs automatically or, as Husserl writes, "passively." Husserl calls the first kind of mental process "active." Having mentioned him, however, we should also briefly characterize the "ego...


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