The Problem of the Transcendental Status of Husserl’s Constitutive Analysis in Ideas II: A Response to Ingarden’s Critiques

As we have seen (see Chapter 3, §7), Husserl’s account of the scientific knowledge of nature has been the subject of philosophical critique and scholarly work on the basis of a conceptual framework originating outside the phenomenological tradition, and more specifically in the English-language philosophy of science. They have been criticized to a lesser extent by Husserl’s own disciples and followers. There is no doubt that Heidegger kept in mind Husserl’s phenomenology of natural science while developing his own radically different reflection in Die Frage nach dem Ding,70 and Merleau-Ponty and Jan Patocka have carefully read these texts and, sometimes, briefly commented on them.71 However,

The Transcendental Constitution of Nature 175 unsurprisingly, given their general outlook, none of these authors have engaged these analyses in a direct and detailed way, trying to understand to what extent they could provide a line of inquiry worth pursuing. This situation reflects the general tone of post-war phenomenology, which either set out to radically reform the very idea of phenomenology, in view of superseding Husserl’s transcendental approach, or else relapsed into a purely exegetical approach of Husserl’s writings. Furthermore, the widespread lack of interest towards the theory of science that has been predominant within continental circles until not so many years ago has also reduced the number of the exegetical studies to but a handful.72

An exception to this general trend is represented by a long essay written by Roman Ingarden for a conference that took place in Fribourg in September 1963 around the theme of “phenomenology and the natural science” entitled Husserls Betrachtungen zur Konstitution des Physika-lischen Dinges. It is no coincidence that the great critic of Husserl’s transcendental idealism felt the need to put Husserl’s ideas on what modern philosophy has so often identified with the “in itself” par excellence, i.e., with nature as determined by theoretical physics, to the test. In this section, I will discuss Ingarden’s most important critiques of Husserl’s position, which, in spite of his reservations, he, too, sees as rather stable from Ideas I up to the Krisis.7i Responding to Ingarden’s critique will allow for a deeper understanding of the method of Husserl’s constitutive analyses.

One should begin by noticing that Ingarden’s explicit task is to explain and scrutinize Husserl’s conception of physics in view of a confrontation with the massive literature produced by logical positivism and its heirs, which he places under the heading of the “so-called philosophy of science,”74 an expression he uses in English.75 This is a historically interesting particular that could prompt a long discussion by itself. We are by now so accustomed to the idea that philosophy of science is a canonical subdivision of philosophy that we tend to forget how recent its establishment and institutionalization is. The term itself does not have a very long history, and its fortune outside the English-speaking world is mainly due to the influence of Anglo-American philosophy.76 By using the English expression, Ingarden conveys the sense of a novel field of study that, within Central European philosophy, is associated to the Anglo-Saxon post-war cultural climate. This choice foreshadows the opposition between the classical German tradition of Wissenschaftslehre, in which Husserl’s phenomenology was so firmly rooted, and the new forms of philosophical reflections on science that were to play such a prominent role in what we now call analytic philosophy.

We know that the reference of the Aestheta to the aesthetic Leib constituted the fundamental step towards the idealization of nature and its transformation into a purely categorial objectivity. Now, Ingarden, in two different places of his essay, expresses serious methodological qualmsabout the compatibility of the analyses developed in Ideas II with Husserl’s own method of transcendental phenomenology.77 Actually, he too claims that Husserl seems to adopt the point of view of critical realism that he had so vehemently criticized.78 The problem is how to provide a clear account of the transition from the thing of perception to the thing of physics. In order to do so, critical realism accepts the existence of our body, its participation in the causal nexus of the world, and the existence of causal relations between external stimuli and sensations. As Ingarden rightly stresses, it is to avoid the circularity implied by these presuppositions that Husserl devised a method based on the suspension of the world along with rhe subject’s Leib.79 From the immanent data of the internal time consciousness to nature as described by physical theory, the theory of constitution must never trespass the limits set by this method. Ingarden, while being optimistic about the in-principle possibility of a coherent theory of transcendental constitution, believes that Husserl has failed to develop a convincing version of it, and suggests that this failure might explain the decision not to publish the existing parts of Ideas II.80 Ingarden takes issue with the fact that, after accounting for the constitution of the thing of perception by means of the perceptual syntheses motivated by ordered series of kinesthetic data, Husserl speaks of the relativity of the perceivable qualities of things in terms of psychophysical conditionality and somatological causality.

But this is what is remarkable, that this relativity is clearly interpreted in the sense of a psychophysical “conditionality” - as Husserl expresses himself! - a “conditionality,” in which it is not only a question of a causal relation between the things endowed with sensuous qualities and the Leib, but one also speaks of a dependence of the sensuous qualities intuitively assigned to the thing on the conformation and the state of the perceiver’s Leib.s'

According to Ingarden, this implies a reference . . .

... to the fact that the Leib belongs to the world, as well as eventually also to the fact that the entire world consists of a system of causal relations, so that also the perceiver’s Leib belongs to this system. The sensations, whose occurrence plays such an important role in the appearance of the sensuous qualities of things, are dependent on the processes in the Leib, and the Leib is, moreover, causally dependent on its real environment. In this way, first the existence and the conformation of the Leib - as a something in the context of which both the “internal” and the “external” sensations take place -is presupposed (assumed), further, the Leib is conceived as a member of the real world, so that, eventually, a causal chain between the

The Transcendental Constitution of Nature 177 thing of physics and the thing of the concrete perception is asserted, thus, something that Husserl, in Ideas I, has vehemently opposed.82

These assumptions, Ingarden concludes, transgress the transcendental reduction because they require the presupposition of the validity of sensory perception.83 Husserl would, thus, rely on the actual existence of the correlates of perception. To summarize, according to Ingarden, in §18 of Ideas II Husserl presupposes: (1) the real existence of the Leib as an element of the world (or, better, of nature) along with the physical and physiological processes taking place in it and between it and the surrounding objects; (2) via the conditionality between the Leib and the “internal” sensations, a dependence of the perceived qualities of things on the causal events taking place in and outside of the Leib, and, what is worse, (3) the presence of a causal relation between the things of perceptions and the things of physics.

According to Ingarden, since these three assumptions determine a relapse into the natural attitude, they are incompatible with Husserl’s own transcendental method. The problem lies in the role that conditionality and causality play in the transition from the thing of perception to the thing of physics, which, to Ingarden’s eyes, seems to infringe on the immanent, descriptive method of phenomenology. After all, it is one thing to describe the constitution of a transcendent object of perception by virtue of the coordination between perceptual syntheses and kinesthetic data; it is quite another to justify the theoretical positing of the thing of physics by invoking a factually existing chain of causal/condi-tional interactions involving stimuli produced by external causes, their effects on the sense organs, the emergence of sensations as a result of such effects, and, finally, the appearance of the thing of perception. In the second case, while we do not necessarily endorse Helmholtz’s naturalistic method and his suspicions against immanent psychological reports, at least we do seem, quite literally, to be “placing the epistemological subject in the laboratory,”84 just as Helmholtz required. At the very least, we accept that the perceiver is involved in objective causal processes, which one could also investigate in a systematic way in a laboratory.

Now, in order to take up Ingarden’s challenge, one has to begin with what Husserl says much later in the text of Ideas II, in §49, viz., that the analyses concerning the constitution of material and psychophysical nature were carried out in the naturalistic attitude.

We link our considerations to what has been established in carrying out the pure phenomenological analyses of the preceding sections. In those sections our investigations were related to the naturalistic attitude. It was in that attitude that we carried out our analyses. It is easy to understand, however, that all the investigations will assumethe character of pure phenomenology simply by our performing, in the appropriate way, the phenomenological reductions. As long as we live in the naturalistic attitude, it itself is not given in our field of research; what is grasped there is only what is experienced in it, what is thought in it, etc. But if we carry out phenomenological reflection and the phenomenological reduction, make the attitude itself thematic, relate to it what is investigated in it, and lastly carry out an eidetic reduction and purification of all transcending apperceptions, then all our investigations are transformed into purely phenomenological ones. As subject of the naturalistic attitude we have then the pure Ego ... For the rest, all that has been “put out of play” remains for us, here as elsewhere, preserved in the bracketing-modification: i.e., the whole world of the naturalistic attitude, “nature” in the broadest sense of the term.85

The “sections” in question are the first two of Ideas II.U Husserl begins by referring to the “pure phenomenological” analyses contained therein and to the fact that they lack something that would have made them, properly speaking, a chapter of pure phenomenology. The problem is that those analyses were carried out in the naturalistic attitude. What does this mean? The correlate of the naturalistic attitude is nature, and, if we conduct investigations in that attitude, then we are doing natural science. To what kind of natural science could such analyses belong? The only possible answer seems to be psychology. The first two sections of Ideas II would thus consist of a preliminary psychological investigation into the way in which real embodied subjects experience material and animal nature. This, however, requires three qualifications. First, it is undeniable that most analyses are already carried out at the eidetic level: the role of kinesthetic data in perception, the difference between phantom and thing, and the characterization of causal properties in terms of correlations of states are examples of this kind. Thus, in those cases, the analyses belong to eidetic psychology. This is not surprising. After all, also in Ideas I, eidetic psychology was a preliminary step to transcendental phenomenology, and, as is well known, Husserl insisted that one can switch from one science to the other “by a simple change of sign.” Second, Husserl is certainly relying on eidetic cognition of the essence of material and animal nature - for instance, when he describes the eidetic components of material things, the founded character of animal nature on material nature, the difference between causality and conditionality, etc. This is inevitable insofar as the different eidetic components of material and animal nature must supply the themes for the eidetic psychological analyses of the corresponding experiences.87 This type of eidetic cognition belongs to the a priori ontology of nature, which is, as we know, the a priori part of natural science. Since eidetic psychology also

The Transcendental Constitution of Nature 179 forms a part of the a priori ontology of nature, one would be tempted to conclude that the latter is the all-encompassing scientific discipline here in question. However, this is not the case, and this is the third qualification, because these investigations also contain psychological and, more specifically, psychophysical considerations that are overtly empirical. This holds true particularly of §18, where the transition from the thing of perception to the thing of physics is in question. There, Husserl not only assumes the existence of the Leib and of the surrounding things, he also mentions the four groups of empirical facts pertaining to physical causality and psychophysical conditionality I mentioned in Chapter 4, §2. As we know, in § 18g, he also uses an argument a la Helmholtz about the correlation between quantitatively varying external stimuli that determine completely different perceptual qualities.88 These empirical facts presuppose not only the general positing of the world but also the contingent structure of our bodies, sense organs, and surrounding environment, as well as the likewise contingent causal interweavings among them. In conclusion, the first two sections of Ideas II contain complex preliminary investigations in which the eidetic psychology guided by the ontology of nature is, in some cases, supplemented by empirical psychological and psychophysical descriptions involving the notion of causality and conditionality.

Doubtlessly, points one and two of the reconstruction of Ingarden’s reading presented earlier are correct. Husserl’s analyses do presuppose the naturalist and, a fortiori, the natural attitude and, thus, the validity of perception. The problem, then, is only whether Husserl is right in claiming that the results of his preliminary “naturalistic” investigations can “assume the character of pure phenomenology.” I will argue that they can, and that neither the reference to the existence of the Leib and to psychophysical empirical facts nor the recourse to causality and conditionality raise any particular difficulty for the transition to the transcendental level. I will also argue that point three of Ingarden’s reading is hopelessly wrong.

Pure or transcendental phenomenology of nature is the discipline investigating the eidos of the correlation between transcendental consciousness and any possible nature whatever, or, equivalently, the eidetic science of the transcendental phenomenon a nature in general?9 Consequently, what is true, and, more specifically, what is contingently true in the nature that factually exists is not something laying outside its scope.90 Let us accept the existence of the factual nature that we have before our eyes, the total domain of possible experience, and let us consider it as an object of theoretical interest in the naturalistic attitude. This nature, as we know, is a psychophysical unity. In it, we find not only merely material things and processes, but also living bodies (Leiber) supporting psychological and aesthesiological properties. In particular, we findourselves as human beings. Empirical scientific research indicates that our sensations, and thus the way in which things appear to us, are conditioned by events belonging to the causal nexus linking our bodies with the external environment. To focus but on two of the aforementioned examples, it appears that the ingestion of santonin modifies color perception, and that stimuli that change only quantitatively produce qualitatively different perceptions. These empirical findings may well require placing the epistemological subject in the laboratory. To put it rather vividly, we could name the subject of the naturalistic attitude conducting these investigations /-Helmholtz and conduct this investigation in the first person. /-Helmholtz, in this de facto existing nature, discover the relativity of the Aestheta to the aesthetic Leib. The conclusion is that the experienced things are not “in themselves” the way they appear to me. This provides me with the motivation for going beyond nature as it is given in perception and for attempting to characterize its material stratum as a mathematical manifold along the lines reconstructed earlier. Let us stress that /-Helmholtz take this theoretical step by discovering aesthe-siological and psychophysical facts about real embodied subjects considered in relation to their likewise real external environment: the facts in perceptions (Die Tatsachen in der Wahrnehmung) that /-Helmholtz discover belongs to this nature. In other words, this nature, this domain of all possible experience, of which /-Helmholtz am a member, contains empirical facts that motivate setting the goal of the mathematization of its material stratum.

If now /-Helmholtz perform the transcendental reduction, this existing nature is bracketed and becomes a pure or transcendental phenomenon. The naturalistic attitude, which “becomes thematic,” as Husserl says, reveals itself as a possibility of my pure ego’s life, the “ultimate subject.” As for the phenomenon “this nature,” nothing changes vis-à-vis its sense and internal articulation. For me, now, it counts only as a phenomenal correlate of my transcendental life. Yet, the validity of all the facts that obtain in it is still part of this phenomenon. This nature, this domain of possible experience, this abstraction made of all value predicates, is the one in which /-Helmholtz exist as a human being among other human beings and animals. As a human being, I have a Leib, with its aesthesiological stratum and all the causal interweavings with the surrounding objects. Except that now I recognize that /-Helmholtz am the self-objectivation of my transcendental Ego. It still appears to me to be the case that, as a natural scientist, I have discovered empirical facts, which motivate the transition to the language of theoretical physics: this nature-phenomenon is such that it contains empirical facts motivating the method of mathematization.

I now perform the eidetic reduction, and I work out, correlatively, the invariant structural components of any possible nature-phenomenon and the corresponding invariant types of constituting intentional acts belonging to the subject of the naturalistic attitude. The factually given

The Transcendental Constitution of Nature 181 nature-phenomenon counts now just as an instantiation of its eidos, or, equivalently, as an instantiation of the phenomenon “a nature in general.” To be sure, to any possible nature-phenomenon belongs a spatiotemporal form and, within it, experienceable things and their causal properties. Of course, the causal style itself may vary. Further, any possible naturephenomenon, as correlate of the naturalistic attitude, contains the self-objectivation of the transcendental Ego in the form of a “human being” capable of experiencing and cognizing nature. But “human,” here, means animal rationale, not homo sapiens: I leave behind the actual form of my embodiment, and, a fortiori, my personal identity as this natural scientist. Yet, a Leib belongs to me in all conceivable situations, and, for this reason, at least, psychophysical beings belong in any nature-phenomenon. The eidetic components of this transcendent “human being” comprise (among other things that we can leave out of consideration) a stream of perceptual Erlebnisse together with the relevant series of kinesthetic data, a Leib with its physical corporeality and support for localized kinesthetic data as well as sensations belonging to the different sensory fields. Furthermore, there belong the psychophysical conditionality between perceptual Erlebnisse and events taking place in the Leib (and, in particular, in the sense organs) and the proper causality connecting the Leib with the external environment. Santonin may not exist, or it may not affect our color perception at all. Sight itself may not exist. Likewise, it may be the case that quantitatively different stimuli do not arouse qualitatively different sensations. Yet, and this is the crucial point, if the specific type of psychophysical conditionality is contingent, its presence is not. As we have remarked, there must be a normal correlation between bodily events and sensations for a stable reality to appear.91 Likewise, the material stratum of the Leib, being itself a thing, is necessarily in a causal connection with the environment. Any possible psychophysical (and, thus, aesthesio-logical) transcendent unit is so constituted that it admits of the existence of psychophysical conditionality and somatological causality as well as of their interplay.

But this is tantamount to saying that any nature-phenomenon contains “facts in perceptions,” allowing the reference of the Aestheta to the aesthetic Leib and at least motivating the attempt to mathematize its material stratum. Some abnormal states of the sense organs or other parts of the Leib must be possible that modify the appearances of things. As Husserl notes, we may indeed conceive of a possible nature in which, de facto, the dependence of the appearances of things from the state of the Leib does not spontaneously manifest itself. Yet, in such a case, one could use surgery to make it evident.92 For this dependence must exist, given that the fields of sensations are connected to the sense organs.

These considerations, I believe, show that the transcendental conversion of the facts mentioned in points one and two earlier is possible and that Ingarden’s challenge can be met. This analysis also highlightsthat the transition from the thing of perception to the thing of physics requires, by essence, not only the constitution of animal nature, but also considerations pertaining to psychology and physiology. This is unsurprising, given that several classical arguments establishing the distinction between primary and secondary properties concern the relation between perception and the embodied subject.93 In an appendix to Ideas II, Husserl explicitly affirms it:

Physics requires, therefore, aesthesiological physiology and psychology: since, for example, color as secondary thing-quality depends on the organization of the eye . . . ., color is then eliminated as non-physicalistic and is taken as mere manifestation of an Objective quality, as manifestation of the physicalistic correlate of color.94

As for point three, however, it is not difficult to realize that Ingarden is wrong. Husserl does not postulate any causal link between the thing of perception and the thing of physics because, as we know, they are not two distinct realities existing side by side, but two constitutive layers of the same object. The origin of this mistake resides, once more, in the failure to acknowledge that transcendental phenomenology, as anticipated (see Chapter 3, §5), is perfectly capable of making room for a psychophysical causal/conditional account of perception. Let us imagine that, in a laboratory, we are trying to develop such an account by observing how a subject’s perception of external things depends on a number of environmental and somatological variables. The following three levels must be distinguished: (i) the thing of perception that is used to test the subject’s responses (as is often the case, it could amount to a screen on which different colors are projected); (ii) the physicalistic description of (i), i.e., “the thing of physics”; and (iii) the thing of perception as it appears to the subject. Ingarden’s problem is that he conflates (i) and (iii). When we are conducting investigations of this kind, we are not interested in the thing of perception as natural objectivity, but in its appearance for a given subject. What discloses the field of the experimental, psychophysical account of perception is an apperception by virtue of which the correlates of the subject’s experiences are annexed to its psychological life. They are not apperceived as material-natural, but as psychological objectivities. There is a straightforward way to persuade ourselves that this is the case. If, by tinkering with its eyes or brain, we induce abnormal perceptions in rhe subject, we would never think that the “thing of perception” used to test the subject is really changing. The latter remains what it is regardless of the way it appears to the experiment’s subject, because it is an object constituted by a community of normal subjects. And it is in that unchanged thing of perception that the likewise unchanged thing of physics announces itself. Indeed, it belongs

The Transcendental Constitution of Nature 183 to the essence of such investigation to know in advance the conditions of the experimental setting.95 In conclusion, Husserl does not relapse in the error of critical realists. Actually, this example further clarifies the source of their error. If the Helmholtzian facts in perception can be integrated in the transcendental theory of the knowledge of nature, Helmholtz and the critical realists must be rescued from their erroneous epistemological interpretation of their own results. The experimental study of perception presupposes that nature is already constituted as a transcendent being and that we, as embodied subjects, are a part of it. Within this constituted nature, there is no “hidden cause” of perception that physics would try to determine, but only a known perceived thing determined by a likewise known (and tentatively true) thing of physics. The transition between the former and the latter occurs within the already constituted psychophysical nature and thus presupposes the ultimate reference to constituting subjectivity.

These considerations also illustrate the nature of the relation between transcendental phenomenology and empirical/experimental knowledge. The former never presupposes the latter, but that does not mean that it must ignore it. Empirical findings count as possibilities, better as possible correlates of transcendental consciousness, and phenomenology is interested in the essence of the appurtenant correlations. For this reason, it does not matter at all whether the results of Helmholtz’s experiments are valid; all that matters is whether they can be valid in a possible nature. As is well known, the eidetic reduction can take as its point of departure a fact given in perception or an imagined (and thus neutralized) fact.

Finally, let us stress that Husserl has not tried to show that it belongs to the eidos of material nature to be, in itself, a mathematical manifold. While its spatiotemporal form is a priori mathematizable, that all its eidetic components can be fully mathematized is not a claim grounded in the a priori ontology of nature. What Husserl has shown is that it belongs to any possible nature to admit internal horizons of determination which motivate the attempted mathematization of its material stratum. Whether this can be carried out at any level of exactness remains a sui generis hypothesis. This fact was already highlighted by the first step of the world annihilation, in which Husserl imagines a world of perception that does not admit at all any exact determination after the style of mathematical physics. As we shall see, in the Krisis, this will appear to be Galileo’s hypothesis (see Chapter 5, §6).

The discussion of Ingarden’s critique has allowed us to gain a better grasp on the way in which the analyses contained in Ideas II lead to the elucidation of the being of nature promised by transcendental phenomenology. The next section will complete the long movement initiated in Chapter 1 and connect back to the theme of the relation between science of nature and metaphysics.

 
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