Richard Melson

August 2006


Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology
by Edmund Husserl


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It is somewhat ironic that Phenomenology, as a term or as a philosophical school, has yet to really reach the popular consciousness, given that phenomenology is in many respects a study of consciousness and how reality impacts consciousness. Phenomenology in the most formal sense of being a school of philosophy is largely traced to Franz Brentano (1838-1917) and Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). Husserl's great work at the turn of the last century, Logical Investigations, set the stage for the development of phenomenology as a way of seeing, a descriptive study with roots in empiricism going back to inspiration from Aristotelian ideas. This is a key word - description. Rather than being a set of constructs and principles typical of previous philosophical systems, Phenomenology attempts to describe reality fully as reality is presented to our senses.

Phenomenology is different from scientific study in that it does not pretend toward a universal truth or experience unmediated through our subjectivity (a principle modern science seems to be incorporating more and more). Editor Dermot Moran has a solid introduction to the subject, including distinctions of different kinds of study, some of the personalities involved in the development of phenomenology, and the current state of the discipline.

This book by Husserl is one written late in his career. The Nazi party was well on its way to taking complete power in Germany, and other forces of despair were very present in the Western culture. Husserl's protege Heidegger had gone from phenomenology to existentialism, a philosophical framework that Husserl distrusted, but understood as completely in keeping with the
overall crisis of meaning and purpose that he saw taking root in society at its very core.

Husserl's work from 1900 forward was always involved in recasting and adapting phenomenology to the current culture; each of his books in that time had as a title or subtitle 'An Introduction to Phenomenology', and this particular text was no different. Often overlooked in this text's presentation is that it was actually unfinished at Husserl's death, and had once again taken phenomenology in new directions. Perhaps the most radical departure of this version of phenomenology to Husserl's earlier constructs is the incorporation of psychological ideas.

Husserl's concern is to overcome the lack of meaning found in science and technology, the lack of telos and the lack of an inherent moral structure. Husserl traces the history of ideas and search for meaning in intellectual enterprise, and ends with a sense of a 'life-world' that draws closer to the aims of existentialism than he had ever done before.

This is a fascinating text.

Written at the end of his career and on the eve of the Holocaust, the Crisis stands, I believe, as one of the greatest one volume educations in print today. Unlike his more "technical" works which rigorously deal with phenomenology in itself, the Crisis is more of a look at the need for phenomenology and phenomenological psychology in modern humanity's life. Looking at the history of science and philosophy, Husserl traces the development and "success" of scientism and materialism. In doing so phenomenologically, Husserl makes a very strong case for the need of phenomenology in order to overcome the lifelessness of materialism and inaugurate a "heroism of reason" and humanism. Anyone interested in philosophy, science, sociology, civil rights, etc. I urge to read this book actively and critically. For non-specialists and people who aren't "scholars" of any kind or degree may find the language a bit dense or heavy at times, but ! . . . it's good for you. The volume also features appendices which include the classic Vienna Lecture as well as other essays and lectures. The Crisis is a classic and brilliant look into science, philosophy and society which, unlike a lot of theory today, offers a cohesive system grounded in humanism, to wit, Husserlian phenomenology. Please read this book.

Husserl, Globalization, Science & Crisis

August 20, 2006