Thursday, May 27, 2010

Once More from Husserl

There are only two escapes from the crisis of European existence: the downfall of Europe in its estrangement from its own rational sense of life, its fall into hostility toward the spirit and into barbarity; or the rebirth of Europe from the spirit of philosophy through the heroism of reason that overcomes naturalism once and for all. Europe's greatest danger is weariness. If we struggle against this greatest of all dangers as "good Europeans" with the sort of courage that does not fear even an infinite struggle, then out of the destructive blaze of lack of faith, the smoldering fire of despair over the West's mision for humanity, the ashes of great weariness, will rise up the phoenix of a new life-inwardness and spiritualization as the pledge of a great and distant future for man: for the spirit alone is immortal.

--Husserl, "Philosophy and the Crisis of European Humanity"

By the way, in this lecture Husserl makes it clear that for him "Europe" is just synonymous with "the West" - he explicitly includes America and the British Commonwealth nations in "Europe".

Husserl is the modern philosopher for whom I have the most sympathy and admiration. By "modern" I mean that his philosophizing arises out of post-Cartesian modernity and its break with the philosophical tradition of antiquity and the middle ages. (So I leave out modern Catholic thinkers like Maritain or Lonergan.) He knows very little about mediaeval philosophy and rarely mentions it. Nevertheless his insights seem to me more harmonious with the tradition - and at the same time complementary -than anyone else I know. This isn't to say that I endorse everything either in his philosophy or in his claims about transcendental phenomenology; that would certainly be rash (for one thing, although I've read the Logical Investigations, Cartesian Meditations, Experience and Judgment, as well as the Crisis - some of these twice - and a good bit of secondary literature, still there's a vast amount of his writings I'm pretty unfamiliar with, and I can't claim to fully understand every bit of what I've read). From the perspective of the reactionary ontotheologian it's hard to see how the phenomenological method, despite its strengths, can really give us the whole of philosophical truth, or ground a complete metaphysics, rather than just that corner of metaphysics studying esse objectivum. Still I do think he has a lot to offer, and not just in the occasional-golden-nugget-in-a-pile-of-dung sense (like with Nietzsche), and that's a big relief, when most modern philosophers make me either chuckle or shake my head in disgust.


Asello Guzman said...

Notice that both of Husserl's solutions are natural, that is, potentially within the reach of man's unaided powers.

Not having read the book, I do not know how he characterizes "weariness" -- something of the soul, I imagine, but of what sort? Pascal wrote of ennui, often reduced to "boredom" in English translations, which does not really capture the depth of the term. It is a weariness not only due to empty culture but also due to original sin which inclines man to places his hope in natural goods. Husserl is undoubtedly correct that there are natural aspects to the "European problem," and he has fathomed them far more than a mangy donkey like myself, but there is a supernatural problem too: man is estranged from God. And no natural solution can supply a supernatural effect. The fact that Husserl places his hope in philosophy does not mean that he is per se part of the problem, only that he does not have the complete solution.

Lee Faber said...

I have to admit, the more I blunder towards understanding Husserl the less worthwhile I think his thought is. I read an essay the other day by Sokolowski that got me riled up. He was quite clear, and, germane to our previous conversations, he is quite explicit that philosophy is just the description of what is presented to the ego. The problematic nature of this was clearly revealed by the essay, in which fr. S. rejected concepts and any other cognitive element that "given" to the "presence" of the mind's eye/acies mentis of the ego. This somewhat discerting as not only does it rule out lots of other items such as habit, powers, etc., but if we apply it to grace, well, there goes christianity, unless of course someone wants to claim that grace is given in our experience of presence, which i doubt highly. I suppose it leaves room for protestant notions of grace, in which one can experience one's declaration that "jesus christ is my personal lord and savior", but not the catholic theory.

The Sok. article is called "exorcising concepts".

Michael Sullivan said...

Faber, I just read "Exorcising Concepts", and I agree that it was very unsatisfying. He doesn't seem to grapple with a lot of the problems involved. I don't know how genuinely Husserlian it is - Husserl is not mentioned any more than any particular scholastic - but that's neither here nor there.

I don't see that it poses a problem for grace. Grace is for a Catholic not supposed to be "presentified", since you can't have an experience of gratia gratum faciens as such and don't know if you're in a state of grace by any possible experience. This does imply that there is no possible phenomenological description of grace, and if S. is right, perhaps no philosophical reflection on it. But that doesn't mean that grace just doesn't exist, does it? Just that philosophy is limited with respect to it.

Not, of course, that I endorse this position in any way. I never meant to suggest that phenomenology or Husserl has no weak spots or inadequacies. But I'm trying to focus on the positive here!

Michael Sullivan said...

Oh, and I'd like to point out that Husserl seems to accept concepts. Take these sentences, which I came across immediately without searching: "The logically general, the concept, is absolutely identical with itself, and subsumption is absolutely unambiguous. But logical concepts are not concepts taken from what is simply intuitive; they arise through a rational activity proper to them, the development of ideas, exact development of concepts, e.g., through that sort of idealization which produces, out of the empirically straight and curved, the geometrical straight line and circle."

It seems then that, pace Fr Sokolowski, for Husserl at least a concept is not necessarily an mirage about the presentification of the presence or absence of a thing-in-the-world. In fact at least some concepts are precisely idealizations of pure forms which as such could never be present in the sensible world.

Lee Faber said...

Good to know.

JT Paasch said...

Hi all,

I'll throw in my vote for Husserl. I spent a number of good years reading Husserl, and although I rarely agree with anything he said, he always seemed to stimulate me to do a heck of a lot of thinking for myself. I don't know what it is about Husserl, but he just seems to stimulate thought. Perhaps that's why all the great continental thinkers (Heidegger, Levinas, Sarte, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, et al) always had Husserl's Logical Investigations on their desks as undergraduates.

(Oh, and of course, for what it's worth, the Logical Investigations 3 (I think) is the foundation for modern analytic theories of mereology.)