Husserl’s Ideas on a Pure Phenomenology and on a Phenomenological Philosophy

Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) was a German philosopher who was born in Prossnitz, Moravia. He taught philosophy at the universities of Halle, Göttingen, and Freiburg. Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was among his students and succeeded him as professor of philosophy at Freiburg after his retirement. Husserl had an important influence on Heidegger, on existential phenomenology, and on the philosophy of mind. He died in Freiburg in 1938. His writings included Logische Untersuchungen (Logical Investigations, 1900-01), Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie (Ideas on a Pure Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy, 1913), Formale und transzendentale Logik (Formal and Transcendental Logic, 1929), and Méditations cartésiennes (Cartesian Meditations, 1931, based on lectures that he delivered in Paris in 1929).

Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology (1931) defines phenomenology as a descriptive analysis of the essence of pure consciousness. Husserl defines pure or transcendental phenomenology as an a priori (or eidectic) science (a science of essential being). He distinguishes between pure phenomenology and empirical psychology (and between transcendental and psychological subjectivity), saying that phenomenology is a science of essences, while psychology is a science of the facts of experience. He criticizes "psychologism" (the theory that psychological analysis may be used as a method of resolving philosophical problems), and he says that only an a priori science can define the essential nature of being.

The Ideas are divided into four sections: (1) "The Nature and Knowledge of Essential Being," (2) "The Fundamental Phenomenological Outlook," (3) "Procedure of Pure Phenomenology In Respect of Methods and Problems," and (4) "Reason and Reality." The first section describes how the realm of essence differs from the realm of facts. The second section describes how phenomenological reduction may be used as a method of philosophical inquiry. The third section describes how noesis and noema may be defined as phases of intentionality. The fourth section describes the relation between consciousness and noematic meaning.

Husserl distinguishes between phenomenology as a science of pure consciousness and psychology as a science of empirical facts. For Husserl, the realm of pure consciousness is distinct from the realm of real experience. Husserl explains that phenomenology is a theory of pure phenomena, and that it is not a theory of actual experiences (or of actual facts or realities).

According to Husserl, essential being must be distinguished from actual existence, just as the pure ego must be distinguished from the psychological ego. Essences are non-real, while facts are real. The realm of transcendentally reduced phenomena is non-real, while the realm of actual experience is real. Thus, phenomenological reduction leads from knowledge of the essentially real to knowledge of the essentially non-real.

Phenomenological reduction is a process of defining the pure essence of a psychological phenomenon. It is a process whereby empirical subjectivity is suspended, so that pure consciousness may be defined in its essential and absolute being. This is accomplished by a method of "bracketing" empirical data away from consideration. "Bracketing" empirical data away from further investigation leaves pure consciousness, pure phenomena, and the pure ego as the residue of phenomenological reduction.

Phenomenological reduction is also a method of bracketing empirical intuitions away from philosophical inquiry, by refraining from making judgments upon them. Husserl uses the term epoche (Greek, for "a cessation") to refer to this suspension of judgment regarding the true nature of reality. Bracketed judgment is an epoche or suspension of inquiry, which places in brackets whatever facts belong to essential being.

Bracketing is also a neutralization of belief. "Doxic positing" (the positing of belief) may be actual or potential. Doxic positing may occur in every kind of consciousness, because every consciousness may actually or potentially posit something about being.

Facts or realities are the objective data of empirical intution, says Husserl, but essences are the objective data of essential intuition. Empirical intuition may lead to essential intuition (or essential insight), which may be adequate or inadequate in terms of its clearness and distinctness. Empirical or non-empirical objects may have varying degrees of intuitability, and empirical or non-empirical intuitions may vary in their clearness and distinctness. Non-empirical intuitions may apprehend objects that are produced by fantasy or imagination.

Husserl describes consciousness as intentional insofar as it refers to, or is directed at, an object. Intentionality is a property of directedness toward an object. Consciousness may have intentional and non-intentional phases, but intentionality is the property that gives consciousness its objective meaning.

The cogito ("I think") is the principle of the pure ego. The pure ego performs acts of consciousness (cogitations) that may be immanently or transcendently directed. Immanently directed acts of consciousness refer to objects that are within the same ego or that belong to the same stream of consciousness. Transcendently directed acts of consciousness refer to objects that are outside the ego or that belong to a different stream of consciousness. The objects of consciousness (cogitata) are the embodied or unembodied things that are perceived and consciously experienced.

The difference between immanent and transcendent perception reflects the difference between being as experience and being as thing.1 Things as they exist in themselves cannot be perceived immanently, and they can only be perceived transcendently. The difference between immanent and transcendent perception also reflects the difference in the way in which things are given and presented to consciousness. Givenness may be adequate or inadequate in terms of its clearness and distinctness, and in terms of its intuitability.

Immanently perceived objects have an absolute being insofar as their existence is logically necessary. The existence of transcendently perceived objects is not logically necessary, insofar as their existence is not proved by the being of conciousness itself. Consciousness itself is absolute being, but the spatial-temporal world is merely phenomenal being.

Husserl emphasizes that phenomenology is concerned with the essence of whatever is immanent in consciousness, and that it is concerned with describing immanent essences. To confuse the essences of things with the mental representations of those essences is to confuse the aims of phenomenology and psychology. Phenomenology is a descriptive analysis of being as consciousness, while psychology is a descriptive analysis of being as reality. The difference between being as consciousness and being as reality is also the difference between transcendental and transcendent being.

Every actual cogito has an intentional object (and is a mode of thinking about something). The cogito itself may become a cogitatum if the principle that "I think" becomes an object of consciousness. Thus, in the cogito, the act of thinking may become an intentional object. However, in contrast to the Cartesian principle that "I think, therefore I am" (cogito ergo sum), the phenomenologically reduced cogito is a suspension of judgment about whether "I am" or whether "I exist." The phenomenologically reduced cogito is a suspension of judgment about the question of whether thinking implies existence. Thus, phenomenology examines the cogito as a pure intuition, and as an act of pure consciousness.

Husserl describes noesis and noema as two phases of intentionality. Noesis is the process of cogitation, while the noemata (or cogitata) are that which is cogitated. Every intentional experience has a noetic (real) phase and a noematic (non-real) phase. Every noetic phase of consciousness corresponds to a noematic phase of consciousness. Noesis is a process of reasoning that assigns meaning to intentional objects. Both noesis and noema may be sources of objective meaning. The noetic meaning of transcendent objects is discoverable by reason, while the noematic meaning of immanent objects is discoverable by pure intuition. Noetic meaning is transcendent, while noematic meaning is immanent. Thus, noesis and noema correspond respectively to experience and essence.


1Edmund Husserl, Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, translated by W.R. Boyce Gibson (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1931), p. 133.


Husserl, Edmund. Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology. Translated by W. R. Boyce Gibson. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1931.

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