Regional Ontology

It is one of Husserl’s central tenets that the single most important feature of any science consists in its object, and that to different types of objective domains correspond different methods. Given that these objective domains make up the various provinces of the world, the philosophical reflection on the world and on its intelligibility cannot sidestep the question concerning how these domains are to be acquired and what their mutual relations are. This is the fundamental theme of “regional ontology” and “ontological regions,” which I will outline in this section and which constitutes an investigation necessary for the metaphysical completion of the empirical sciences.

As noted by Ursula Panzer, the term “ontological region”103 appears for the first time in the lecture that Husserl gave in the winter semester of 1908-1909 entitled Grundprobleme der Ethik. Surprisingly, Husserl does not introduce it to distinguish the object-domains of the different sciences but to characterize the even more radical gulf separating the objective correlates of theoretical and axiological reason.104 In a text written in view of a lecture delivered in 1910-1911 and published as the Beilage XVII of the Husserliana volume Logik und algemeine Wissen-schaftstheorie, instead, we find a fairly developed terminology, but one which still echoes the language of the preceding analyses. If I now briefly indulge in this formulation before turning to the first book of Ideas I, where Husserl’s ontological terminology reaches what is, by and large, its final form, it is because it contains some illuminating claims and helpful historical references.

In 1910-1911, Husserl explores once more the possibility of extending the XUissenschaftslehre (or the Wissenschaftstheorie) beyond pure logic conceived as the formal theory of meaning (or “formal apophantic”) and formal ontology. As we know, the truths of pure logic constitute moments of the essence of any science whatsoever. To make an example belonging to formal apophantic, no science could ever exist without judgements, or without conjunctions and disjunctions. On the side of formal ontology, it is easy to recognize that ideas such as objects, properties, relations, and numbers are necessary for any objective domain of any science. Husserl also remarks that this idea of logic admits of no further extension and that it is “analytic is so far it brings to pure development a prominent tendency of Aristotle’s analytic.”105 The extension of the doctrine of science is carried out by means of the inclusion of what is necessarily presupposed by at least one particular science, rather than by any science whatever.106 Consequently, one has to drop the abstraction from all “material” elements, abstraction that characterizes pure logic, and turn to disciplines that are not purely analytical but refer to specific types of objects. To begin with, Husserl mentions non-analytic mathematical disciplines (or synthetic-mathematical disciplines) such as geometry (or the doctrine of space) and chronology (or the doctrine of time). These disciplines belong to the theory of science because, relative to a specific area, they behave like “formal disciplines.” Here we encounter again the relativized sense of the word “formal,” which, in the 1906-1907 lectures, Husserl had used for the a priori ontology of reality (or a priori metaphysics) without however differentiating among different regions of reality. This sense of the word “formal” allows Husserl to establish a parallel with Kant’s terminology:

Just as the objectivities, which the title “nature” comprises, are indeed objectivities-subjects of properties, reference points of relations, members of connections, parts of wholes - in short: they have an analytic-ontological form by virtue of which they are subject to the Analytics, nature as such has a form. Kant spoke of natura formaliter spectata. Anything that deserves the name thing has a corporeal form that fits into the space having the formal properties of a three-dimensional Euclidean manifold and, thus, requires the familiar geometry as the unfolding of its essence. Furthermore, every thingly being has its duration and has its mobility in space and is therefore subject to chronology and the pure theory of motion (phoronomy), as far as the time-forms and forms of movement are concerned.107

In this passage, Husserl insists on the idea of the general “form” of nature, which encompasses spatial forms (or shapes), temporal forms, and cinematic forms as so many moments. The term “form” allows a

Husserl’s Conception of Natural Science 67 connection between Husserl’s ontology of nature and Kant’s notion of “natura formaliter spectata”xm To the synthetic-mathematical disciplines that pertain respectively to space, time (here called chronology, but sometimes also called chronometry to convey its parallelism with geometry), and movement (the latter is called, as in Kant, phoronomy), and that were already hinted at back in the 1898-1899 lecture (see Chapter 2, §3),109 Husserl adds the specific “pure science of nature,”110 which investigates the a priori of the material-real and causal aspect of physical events. This theme is slightly more developed in the lecture course Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie, where Husserl specifies that this “Kantian” discipline has so far remained, by and large, a desideratum,111 given that just a handful of its propositions have found application in the real development of physics, such as the impenetrability of bodies, the necessity for a body to move on a continuous trajectory (without leaps), and the principle of causality.112 It is important to stress that it is the part of Husserl’s a priori ontology of nature dealing with material-real aspects of nature that corresponds to Kant’s pure science of nature. As noted by Iso Kern, the distinction within the ontology of nature between, on the one side, geometry, chronology, and phoronomy, and, on the other, the eidetic doctrine of materiality corresponds, for Husserl, to the distinction between Kant’s transcendental aesthetic and transcendental analytic.113

In this text, the concept of ontological region is introduced in relation to the different groups of possible sciences. To each ontological region there corresponds a “regional concept.” Further, within each region, we can identify the “Kardinalen Grundbegrieffe,” which Husserl calls “categories,” in connection with both Aristotle and Kant.114 In the case of the region physical nature, the regional concept is “Naturding,” and the categories are the fundamental concepts on which the different branches of the regional ontology of physical nature are built (space, time, and causality) and that consist of a “pendant,” within this region, of the “analytic-formal categories of being in general.”115

Husserl also indicates two reasons why the task of delimiting the various regions of being has not been carried out yet.116 Both are worth mentioning for they hint at fundamental themes within his thought. The first is the prestige of the physical sciences themselves, which have incited the reduction of all real being to nature. This remark connects Husserl’s notion of regional ontology with his critique of naturalism; and, in a different sense, so does the second reason mentioned by Husserl, which points to the complex interplay between ontological and transcendental phenomenological research. In virtue of such interplay, Husserl claims that it is impossible to grasp the distinction between the different regions of being without interrogating their distinctive mode of givenness, i.e., without studying their transcendental constitution.117

It is therefore not surprising that no clear delimitation of the different regions of reality was possible before the development of a transcendental phenomenological theory of science. Indeed, the relation between phenomenology and ontology is probably the single most important “theoretical knot” of Husserl’s philosophy, the full solution of which would be tantamount to a complete outline of phenomenological philosophy itself. By following the path opened up by the consideration of this interplay, we can now transition to the well-known ontological analyses that open Ideas I.

In the texts thus far considered, little is said about how the partitioning of being into different regions should be made. In Ideas I, Husserl follows a different strategy. Instead of taking as his point of departure the possibility of extending the doctrine of science beyond the “analytic” domain, he introduces, from the outset, the notion of ontological region in the framework of the correlation between different types of giving intuitions, on the one hand, and different regions of being, on the other. This is a correlation that the conversion to the transcendental attitude will reveal as an asymmetric relation in virtue of which the different modalities of giving intentional acts appear as the sources of corresponding types of real being constituted in transcendental consciousness. In this way, the problem of the identification of the ontological regions is brought to its ultimate, authentic ground, i.e., the phenomenological.

There is, therefore, a fundamental correlation between the various domains of reality, collectively making up the totality of the world (as a correlate of the theoretical attitude), and the systems of intentional activities on which the theoretical results of the different sciences ultimately rest. Thus:

To each science there corresponds an object-province as the domain of its investigations; and to all its cognitions, i.e., here to all its correct statements, there correspond, as primal sources of the grounding which validates their legitimacy, certain intuitions in which objects belonging to the province become themselves-given as existing, and at least some of them given originarily.l's

In the case of nature, the domain of natural sciences, the intentionality originarily presenting the individual object is perception (transcendent perception). The world of the theoretical attitude, consequently, includes all the objective domains of empirical facts investigated by the different sciences. Among the latter, the main distinction is that between natural sciences and social and cultural sciences. In Ideas I, Husserl introduces the notion of region and regional ontology in the following way:

Any concrete empirical objectivity finds its place within a highest material genus, a “region,” of empirical objects. To the pure regional

Husserl’s Conception of Natural Science 69 essence, then, there corresponds a regional eidetic science or, as we can also say, a regional ontology."9

We need to distinguish between the pure regional essence, also called regional eidos, which is the highest material genus under which the empirical objectivity in question falls, and the regional ontology, i.e., the eidetic science whose task is to formulate all truths rooted in the regional essence as well as in its essential ramifications. The regional ontology is a science that aims at formulating synthetic a priori truths about all possible objects belonging to a given region. For instance, material nature is the ontological region to which any actually existing individual, material object, or thing belongs. Therefore, nature, taken as a whole, is the domain of factual existence, of factual individual matters of facts, and just as any of these individual matters of facts has an essence insofar as some of its properties can be modified without altering the essential type of objects it instantiates, nature itself has a contingent factual existence and an essence. Material nature would still be material nature if planet earth did not exist or if it had two natural satellites: empirical individual existences are completely contingent and thus extra-essential for nature. More interestingly, material nature would not turn into something essentially different even if the laws of nature governing its phenomena were not the same. It would still be a material nature, just endowed with a different internal causal regulation. In other words, there is no a priori necessity that the equations governing material nature be the ones that in fact obtain.

Husserl highlights this fact by distinguishing between the universality of natural laws and eidetic universality. As an example, he contrasts a law such as “All bodies are heavy” with a law such as “All material things are extended.”120 The first law does not posit any individual factual existence, but it does posit the factual existence of nature itself. In other words, it is true in this nature, the one actually existing, that all bodies are heavy. The second law, instead, while being true also in this nature, holds also if “the positing of factual existence, carried out on the side of the subject, is suspended.”121 In such a case, it becomes a purely eidetic proposition deriving from the essence of material thing. Hence, let us suppose that there happens to be a physical object. Its existence is contingent; and yet, given that it exists, the fact that it is extended is a priori true. This is an example of what Husserl calls an eidetic necessity, i.e., “a particularization of eidetic laws.”122

The upshot of such considerations is that what is true for an individual matter of fact, namely, that it has a stock of essential properties (without which it would not be the kind of fact that it is), is true also for material nature as a whole. It is therefore possible to rationalize the concept of nature, to purify it from all empirical contingencies so as to obtain the eidos of material nature, which prescribes rules that must hold for any possiblematerial nature whatever. All eidetic truths pertaining to material nature and its ramifications are material or synthetic a priori laws belonging to the corresponding regional ontology. These laws will concern not only the ultimate objects of the region, but also all the categorically structured objects derived from them: properties, relations, states of affairs, etc.123

The distinctions here briefly recalled are, of course, necessary for what Husserl regarded as the important task of classifying the sciences. Admittedly, only a mature transcendental phenomenology (and not an initial breakthrough, as Husserl often characterizes his own philosophy) would allow, according to Husserl, a perfect insight into the ultimate partitioning of the world into ontological regions. Yet, in this respect, Husserl’s position has evolved, at least when considered from a purely methodological point of view. As we have seen, Husserl had maintained that it would be impossible to acquire a reliable insight into the different material ontologies without the aid of phenomenology.124 Subsequently, however, considering to what extent the formal ontologies could grow on their own, unaided by constitutive analyses, and could formulate countless eidetic distinctions without reference to the mode of givenness of the corresponding classes of objects, Husserl makes the following concession:

Now, as for ontology, it is quite conceivable that someone can actually execute such a perfect insight that he, e.g., is able to analyze the essence of mind or of nature purely and completely, is able to fix the axiomatic principles that belong to it. But de facto-, what we succeed so well in mathematics does not turn out successfully for us in the same way in the real ontologies. Here only phenomenology educates us to complete seeing, and although what it strives for is not eidetic doctrine of realities but rather of the constitution of reality and on the other hand of the pure Ego and Ego-consciousness in general, nevertheless, the full eidetic grasp of the real itself, and with it the grounding of ontology according to categorial concepts and principles, will come about only in communion with it.125

Husserl now makes the interesting move of considering regional ontologies themselves as sciences that in principle could be developed naively, without the firm ground of a phenomenological theory of knowledge supporting them, as is the case for formal eidetic sciences such as arithmetic as well as for the empirical sciences. The historical fact that this did not happen (and, most assuredly, will never happen) is imputed to the difficulty of blindly “bumping” into the correct regions and categories of reality without the eidetic seeing that arises in the transcendental attitude and that allows the description of how the different layers of reality, so to speak, grow out of consciousness. An example illustrating how these correlative procedures work will be provided in Chapter 4 while discussing the mathematization of nature in Ideas II.

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