The Metaphysical Closure of the Empirical Sciences in the Years of Husserl’s Transcendental Turn and an Indication of the Investigations Necessary for It

Shortly after the publication of the Logical Investigations (in the course Logik 1902103s' and in the Allgemeine Erkenntnistheorie Vorlesung 1902-03S2), Husserl repeats the central claims concerning the relation between the theory of knowledge and metaphysics found in the 1898— 1899 lecture. For more interesting formulations, we can start by consulting the Urteilstheorie Vorlesung 1905:

Pure logic and theory of knowledge is, so we might straightforwardly say, formal metaphysics, insofar as, under the abstraction from the particularities in which being presents itself in the specific sciences, it investigates the forms and types of lawfulness belonging to the idea of being in general, and thereby clarifies the ultimate sense of being [den letzten Sinn des Seins] and the corresponding correlations to signification and thought. Material metaphysics, instead, determines on the basis of the theory of knowledge, what now factually exists and how it is; it asks not merely what is essential to being in general

Husserl’s Conception of Natural Science 59 and as such, but as what the de facto existent reality [das de facto Seiende] according to the respective results of the specific sciences of being has to count.83

If metaphysics is the science of real being in the true and ultimate sense, then the theory of knowledge is the precondition of metaphysics. The theory of knowledge is the formal science of being, insofar as it leaves out of consideration being as it factually presents itself in the research about being of the specific sciences, and investigates being in general according to its essential sense.84

This formulation is even stronger than the one contained in the 1898-1899 lecture. If Husserl previously claimed that some questions pertaining to the theory of knowledge are already metaphysical insofar as they determine the metaphysical positions about the relation between the subject and the world, he is now going so far as to call the theory of knowledge, along with pure logic, formal metaphysics or the formal theory of being. In addition, Husserl calls material metaphysics the elucidation of what factually exists. These two passages together show the continuity of Husserl’s thought before and after the Logical Investigations. They also show to what extent the formulation we find in the Logical Investigations only partially reflects Husserl’s ideas at the time.

Metaphysics comprises both the general characterization of being and the elucidation of what in fact exists, as it did in the 1898-1899 lecture. It also clear, from these two passages, that the term metaphysics is more adequate for the latter, since Husserl adds that formal metaphysics or the formal theory of being is only a precondition for metaphysics. Yet, this time, the term is used without qualification. This reflects Husserl’s general tendency to consider what here he refers to as “material metaphysics” to be metaphysics proper. It is also noteworthy that the theory of knowledge qua formal metaphysics is said to clarify the “ultimate sense of being” of what exists. In 1905, Husserl is already developing his transcendental approach and “sense of being” becomes a much more fitting expression to designate the problems that were dealt with by the traditional “metaphysical positions,” positions that Husserl will soon explicitly denounce as meaningless. The 1905 lecture is thus an important step on Husserl’s philosophical journey, for it sheds light on the underlying continuity of Husserl’s thought and allows us to set the Logical Investigations against the wider background of his views about the relation between the phenomenological theory of knowledge and metaphysics. It is also important because it shows that Husserl’s terminological oscillations have obscured the fundamental continuity of his ideas. If one follows the Aristotelian idea of metaphysics as the science of being in general, as Husserl was tempted to do in these years, one may regard the theory of knowledge (as well as formal logic) as the formal, a priori part of metaphysics. This isevident in the 1905 lecture. However, Husserl was also persuaded that, at bottom, metaphysics in the authentic sense is the ultimate science of what de facto exists. This explains why in the Logical Investigations, as well as in all the texts written after 1905, he settles for a sharp demarcation between the purely formal theory of knowledge and metaphysics of factual being. Subsequently, Husserl will drop for good the terminology introduced in the 1905 lecture.85 Yet, this decision of terminology does not change the fact that the theory of knowledge, far from being unrelated to metaphysics, provides the basis for it.

Unfortunately, in the course Introduction to Logic and to the Theory of Knowledge of 1906/1907, Husserl modifies his terminology yet again, and in a way that engenders further confusion. Now, formal logic and the theory of knowledge are no longer called “formal metaphysics.” This term, as we shall now see, is reserved for the a priori (eidetic) science of reality. In other words, formal metaphysics becomes an objective a priori discipline of reality. In this course, Husserl further develops his idea of a philosophical completion of the empirical sciences. By reworking a great deal of the material contained in the Logical Investigations and in the other previously mentioned texts, he introduces two interrelated advances: an early characterization of the phenomenological reduction as essential to the theory of knowledge86 and a more developed treatment of the aspects of the theory of science that concern the empirical sciences. These two advances are interrelated because Husserl’s way of dealing with the relation between science and reality will not assume a definite form until the notions of transcendental reduction and constitution are established. After introducing the idea of pure logic as mathesis universalis, the formal theory of science as comprising the totality of formal a priori disciplines necessary for the development of any type of scientific knowledge, and before introducing the idea of the theory of knowledge as the phenomenological elucidation of the totality of the a priori disciplines pertaining to the sciences, Husserl presents, in Chapter 3, an analysis of the tasks of the theory of science in regards to empirical sciences. Once more, we do not find such analysis in the Logical Investigations, although it was prefigured in the 1898—1899 lecture. Furthermore, the last chapter of these lessons contains an analysis of the specific logical and methodological problems pertaining to the sciences of nature, problems only briefly evoked at the end of the Prolegomena in the section about the extension of the mathesis universalis to the pure theory of probability.87

As usual, Husserl begins by denouncing the incompleteness of the empirical sciences. Sciences, prima facie, are so many ontologies, for they investigate different portions of real being,88 and, in principle, the ideal totality of all empirical sciences should be able to provide a complete satisfaction of our theoretical interests in reality. Yet, once more, Husserl warns us that this is not the case. This time, the conceptualization is

Husserl’s Conception of Natural Science 61 more familiar to the readers of the later, much more famous, phenomenological discussions of scientific knowledge. Scientists operate within the “basic model of the natural reflection of the world”89 without submitting it to a radical critique that only an analysis of the subjective activities in which objectivity gains legitimacy can provide. Their goal is the practical mastery of nature and consists in “formulating laws by means of which we exactly foresee and predict the course of empirical processes.”90 Let us notice that the expression “basic model of the natural reflection of the world” translates the German “Grundschema der natürlichen Weltbetrachtung." In Ideas I, the expression “Weltbetrachtung" will refer to the consideration of the world effected in the natural attitude,91 while, as we have seen, in the 1898-1899 lecture, Husserl had spoken of the “prescientific conception of the world” characteristic of the “natural man.” Thus, we are witnessing here a further advance in the gradual development of the fundamental concept of the natural attitude.

Husserl then outlines what, following his suggestion, we can call the pre-metaphysical character of natural-scientific knowledge:

In memory of the much loved Kantian theories, which natural scientists do not by any means tend to understand, they employ the word “phenomenon”, phenomenal thing, phenomenal world, and the like. Things are mere appearances, behind which true Being, the thing-in-itself, is supposed to lie. Now, we have not to debate and to decide here how much truth is to be looked for in this. In any case, it is certain that the knowledge of the world of the natural sciences, even the most highly developed ones, is not definitive knowledge of reality. This is most blatantly apparent in the fact that, while different natural scientists by no means call into question the theoretical content of the sciences developed, they immediately part ways as soon as they themselves begin to reflect on the definitive interpretation of the truth of what it dictates. Therefore, the same science with the same equally recognized stock of theories is yet open to different “interpretations”. Some declare themselves Materialists, others Idealists, a third party a Positivist or Psychomonist, while a fourth party discovers ultimately conclusive truth in the energetistic interpretation of the world.

In possession of exact mechanics, ac, theory of electricity, etc., we are, nevertheless, not yet in possession of definitive knowledge, of ultimate, conclusive knowledge of the essence of nature, and the fact is that nothing of this is changed by the progress in the natural sciences.92

In the first lines of this passage, Husserl blames working physicists for adhering to a sort of “Kantianism for the masses” according to whichthe objects of their theoretical and experimental research (not only the objects of immediate experience, but also their theoretical “reworking” in terms of electrical currents, magnetic fields, gravitational forces, etc.) are not themselves parts or aspects of reality, but “phenomena,” i.e., ways in which reality manifests itself to us. Present-day scientists (as opposed to the founders of modern science such as Galileo and Descartes) believe that their discoveries have value only for a realm of “phenomena” which they take to be amenable to a rigorous determination. As soon as scientists try to evaluate the epistemic import of their theories qua tentative representations of reality itself, their agreement suddenly comes to an end. Different and incompatible interpretations arise, among which no amount of empirical knowledge can aid adjudication. The ontological interpretations mentioned here are four: materialism, idealism, positivism, and energetism. This time, positivism is opposed to idealism (presumably, Husserl is referring to some form of traditional metaphysical idealism to be distinguished from the “consciousness-idealism” of Mach and Avenarius, i.e., with what he now calls “positivism or psychomonism”). As we know (see Chapter 1, §1), materialism had been a popular doctrine in the 19th century while energetism (see Chapter 1, §2) was a more recent trend introduced first as a physical hypothesis and then as a general metaphysical point of view by the chemist Ostwald. Once more, Husserl’s point is that the existence of a multiplicity of interpretations is due to the lack of clarity concerning the methodological and conceptual foundations of science.93

If no amount of scientific research can settle these issues, and if, as Husserl does, we refuse any skeptical standpoint on them, then there must be a “higher tribunal” able to rule on the matter, i.e., to endow the results of natural science with a final interpretation. Once more, Husserl calls the science of being in the ultimate sense metaphysics, or the science of ontos on.94 But the sense in which we are confronted with a higher tribunal should not be missed. This text highlights even more markedly than the previous texts that the metaphysics in question is not a wholly separate science. It is not even a discipline built upon natural science somehow in the way in which the kinetic theory of heat is built upon thermodynamics, i.e., by supposedly seeing through thermic phenomena and accessing their inner nature. That kind of movement from “phenomena” to “underlying reality” takes place within science and is not mimicked at the highest level by a science able to gain a deeper insight into reality. Metaphysics, in this sense, is not a “hyper-physics” that takes as its starting point the theoretical descriptions of the world provided by science, and, by piercing through them, reaches for the inner essence of things. Instead, “it arises through a certain critical investigation of the ultimate meaning and value of the theoretical foundations of the empirical sciences, through elucidating and ultimately

Husserl’s Conception of Natural Science 63 securing them.”95 Thus, Husserl, without hesitation, can speak of an empirically grounded metaphysics, or a posteriori metaphysics.96 This amounts to much more than merely the claim that the ultimate science of reality must take empirical knowledge into account. This indeed would also be the case for Duhem and, in a completely different way, for Schopenhauer. Husserl believes, as we shall see, that what is not a priori valid in any possible nature, what is factually true in the existing nature, can be discerned only by means of a philosophical elucidation of natural science.

The 1898-1899 lecture already prefigured the two directions, subjective and objective, of this critical activity. The subjective direction consisted in going back to the sources of knowledge and, without accepting the general assumptions underlying prescientific life, elucidating how the results of the subject’s operations acquire objective validity. In the 1906-1907 lectures, Husserl takes a step towards the final characterization of this subjective direction as now involving the suspension of the natural attitude and the ensuing systematic analysis of the subject’s intentional activities as well as of their evidential character. On the other hand, in the 1898-1899 lecture, just like in the Logical Investigations, Husserl pointed to objectively directed analyses concerning the essences corresponding to the most important notions of science, not only the formal ones, such as unity and multiplicity, but also the ones pertaining to reality, space-time, cause and effect, etc. However, it also appeared that, in both texts, these analyses were not taken up by a unitary and autonomous discipline different from both the theory of knowledge and the properly metaphysical investigations concerning factual truths. This second type of inquiry now finds its place among the disciplines contributing to the critique of science under the heading of the a priori metaphysics of reality, which is said to consist in the “necessary foundation of the empirically grounded metaphysics of actual reality.”97 Husserl characterizes this discipline as the systematic investigation of “the truths grounded in the essence of real Being as such.”98 It is an a priori ontology, but not a purely formal one, for it does not deal with the empty and general notion of being as the object of true predications. Interestingly, this a priori metaphysics of reality already comprises disciplines such as a priori kinematics and Euclidean geometry, i.e., the usual “a priori” parts of physics that Husserl will evoke virtually in all his various introductive texts to phenomenology and which will become components of the regional ontology of material nature. Doubtlessly, this research anticipates the idea of the different material ontologies qua special ontologies pertaining to fundamentally heterogeneous categories of objects. However, the articulation of reality in different regional ontologies does not yet appear at this stage. Reality is treated as one single domain having a general apriori, which, regretfully, is also called “formal.” Yet, “formal” here refers to the a priori structure of reality in general, not to the empty form of “any object whatever.” A priori ontology is thus either purely formal (formal ontology) or metaphysical (a priori ontology of reality). The following passage shows to what extent Husserl is struggling with the terminology, but also how the sense of his choices is coherent with the underlying conceptual development:

The a priori ontology of the Real is, we could again say, formal metaphysics, though, the term is better avoided. Metaphysics in the authentic sense is material metaphysics. The former, we could further say, is a priori, the latter, a posteriori metaphysics. The former is prior to all empirical sciences; the latter comes after the empirical sciences."

In the first sentence, Husserl claims that this a priori metaphysics could be named “formal” inasmuch as it does not refer to any specific actual reality, but only to the non-empty “form” of reality. The second sentence warns the reader that metaphysics, in the authentic sense, is concerned not just with reality, but also with factual (here = “material”) reality. At least, this is the unusual sense of “material” that this passage seems to imply, given that it is based, as the subsequent sentence indicates, on the double opposition between what Husserl considers the two parts of metaphysics, namely, formal/material and a priori/a posteriori.100 From this text, it is already clear that Husserl hesitates to employ the word “metaphysics” for a priori (later to be termed “eidetic”) disciplines, and, actually, in subsequent years he will refrain from doing so. As I have anticipated at the beginning of this section, this use of formal metaphysics clashes also with the Urteilstheorie Vorlesung 1905, where “formal metaphysics” was used to indicate formal logic and the theory of knowledge while the label “material metaphysics” refers in both cases to the elucidation of factual existence.101

In conclusion, in the 1906-1907 lectures, it appears that the critical activities required to develop the ultimate ontology of what de facto exists, i.e., empirical or a posteriori metaphysics, are the theory of knowledge and the a priori metaphysics intended as the a priori ontology of real being. To these disciplines, Husserl also adds logico-formal ontology, which “provides a substructure to this metaphysics inasmuch as it is really obvious that what belongs to Being as such, also belongs to real Being.”102 The latter type of inquiry, with which we are already familiar, will not be the central concern of the next sections of this chapter precisely because it was already developed in the years preceding Husserl’s transcendental turn. I will focus, instead, on the way in which the first type of inquiry will be taken up by the phenomenology of reason and the second by the different regional ontologies. I will also

Husserl’s Conception of Natural Science 65 stress that, in the subsequent years, when Husserl develops his more mature terminology, he will not establish a systematic parallel with his early employ of the word “metaphysics” (although, as we shall see, this term will be present in most of his major works). This fact has obscured the connection between the theory of constitution from Ideas I onward, and Husserl’s own original quest for a metaphysical closure of the empirical sciences.

In the next sections, we will see how Husserl’s early preoccupation with the metaphysical interpretation of natural science is carried over to the later analyses formulated in the terminology familiar to the readers of Ideas I and of Cartesian Meditations. In this exposition, I will begin by following Husserl’s developments along the objective line of inquiry, and, consequently, I will first present the notions of ontological region and regional ontology. Subsequently, I will move to an outline of transcendental phenomenology as the universal ground for the solution of all epistemological problems. It will appear that this choice only apparently reverses the intrinsic hierarchal order of philosophical disciplines.

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