Life-World, Natural Science, and the Crisis of Philosophy
The Crisis of European Sciences as the Repercussion on Their Scientificity of the Crisis of Philosophy
In this chapter, I will propose a reading of the aspects of the Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology that are most relevant to the issues addressed in this book, and I will do so by situating this Husserlian text in the overall intellectual evolution reconstructed in the previous chapters. The attempt will be, once more, to show that the Krisis reinforces Husserl’s general outlook while at the same time enriching it and clarifying it in many respects.1 Unfortunately, this last, unfinished work heavily relies on a terminology that was unfamiliar to the readers of his main published texts. This is only partly the case for the term “life-world,” but it is certainly so for terms such as “crisis,” “backward questioning,” “origin,” and “internal history,” which Husserl had hardly or never used before. The role that historical considerations play in the Krisis, as well as the rhetorical pathos of the introductory considerations, which resonate with the tragic political context of the time, have not helped readers to see this book as Husserl’s last attempt to formulate a great synthesis of his attempted reform of philosophy, rather than yet another alleged turn in his intellectual evolution. To be sure, considerable effort is required to connect this text with Husserl’ previous intellectual developments. By doing so, however, it is possible to downplay its apparently new and “romantic” aspects and highlight the way Husserl’s analyses in the Krisis expand and clarify the results achieved in his earlier research.
A concept that has been the object of several misunderstandings is precisely that of the crisis of the European sciences. Recently, I have proposed a definition of the crisis-concept that stresses its continuity with Husserl’s concern for the philosophical foundations of the sciences.2 According to this reading, Husserl’s own strategy to circumscribe a notion that, in an age of triumphant scientific and technological progress, sounds highly paradoxical is rather convoluted and can thus be easily misunderstood. As we shall see, only after acquiring a correct understanding of the notion of rhe crisis of European culture, philosophy, and science will it be possible to appreciate the implications of the famous section of the Krisis on Galileo.
In §1 of the Krisis, Husserl begins by stating very clearly that the crisis of a science can only consist in the fact that its scientificity, i.e., its task and method, becomes (to say the least) questionable.3 This first, apparently obvious clarification contains the very essence of what, more generally, the crisis of a cultural formation is for Husserl, namely, a dramatic state of uncertainty and disorientation with respect to the essence inhabiting such a cultural formation as its telos. Now, Husserl is aware that everybody would grant that philosophy is in crisis since it is rather obvious that there is no clarity concerning its task and method. However, given that both natural sciences and the human sciences (albeit more problematically, especially in the case of psychology) continue to achieve remarkable theoretical and practical success following rigorous scientific methods, they certainly continue to manifest a prima facie scientificity. In order to gain access to the kind of deeper scientificity that has become questionable, i.e., in order to make sense of the claim that the triumphant positive sciences are also in a state of crisis, Husserl, in §2, turns to the widespread perception that our sciences have lost their significance for life. He refers to this cultural fact as the “crisis” (among quotation marks), and characterizes it as their loss of “Lebensbedeutsamkeit," significance for life. This perceived “crisis,” which does not concern, by itself, the scientificity of the positive sciences and thus does not correspond to the aforementioned general crisis-concept, is for Husserl a fact revealing the nature of their pathology.4 Such a loss is, for Husserl, a real phenomenon that is due to the prevailing narrow positivistic idea of science as only a science of facts to the exclusion from the horizon of science of all fundamental problems concerning reason and unreason. Husserl characterizes our scientific culture’s inability to address what is crucial for human existence in terms of their disconnectedness from the highest metaphysical questions that all have to do with the problem of reason.5 It is extremely important to notice that these questions connect precisely to the second layer of metaphysics that, as we know, according to Husserl’s philosophical project, follows the “philosophization” of the sciences, their transformation into metaphysics of factual reality, and is based on it. Once the world as understood by the sciences is elucidated in its ultimate being, one must investigate whether such a world and human existence in it have a sense-. whether nature and history have a sense, whether they point to an ultimate source of teleological sense, namely God. This rational normativity in all its different aspects is what positivism, due to its blindness to whatever is not a fact, is unable to address.6
However, the existential irrelevance of the positive sciences is a recent phenomenon, the reasons for which Husserl sets out to briefly indicate (a more detailed account follows in Krisis II).
In sections 2-4, Husserl reconstructs in a very succinct way the process whereby, during modernity, the revival of the ancient ideal of philosophy as the universal science of being led to the construction of theoretical systems (such as those of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz). Such systems were able to assign to the different sciences a province of reality and a method capable of rationally determining it. It suffices to think of how the object of mathematical physics (i.e., what corresponds to its epistemic task) was interpreted by Descartes as the res extensa, by Spinoza as a mode of the only existing substance, and by Leibniz as a non-substantial nature “perceived” by the monads, which are the real substances. Furthermore the different sciences also acquired a significance for human existence in light of the idea of God.7 In Husserl’s terms, modern metaphysics provided both an interpretation of the being the different sciences investigate and an account of the sense that the resulting rational totality of the world has for our existence. It is important to stress that, if Husserl insists on the connection between reason and unreason on the one hand and the “highest and ultimate questions” of metaphysics on the other, the problem of reason in its generality involves both the doxic acts whereby a real being is posited, and (subsequently) the evaluation of real being in relation to the aforementioned ultimate metaphysical questions. Reason, in this sense, is the title of all unconditionally valid norms and goals, necessarily correlated to a rational world. The collapse of modern rationalism, the causes of which Husserl only vaguely hints at in Krisis I,s and the eventual downfall of modern rationalism, which culminated with Hume’s empiricism, led to the crisis of philosophy, which neither Kant nor German idealism were able to overcome, and to the consequent final triumph of naturalism and positivism. This crisis, once more, concerns the scientificity of philosophy, for it concerns its inability to develop a correct method for its task, i.e., its inability to become the genuine universal science of being.9
Now, having gotten a better handle on the origin of the crisis of philosophy, Husserl is now in a position to answer the question posed in § 1 concerning the nature of the crisis of the positive sciences. In §5, Husserl explains how the repercussion of the crisis of philosophy on the specific sciences led to their crisis. In spite of their prima facie scientificity, in spite of their constant success, the being they investigate becomes enigmatic and so, correlatively, do the truths they discover:
Yet the problem of a possible metaphysics also encompassed eo ipso that of the possibility of the factual sciences, since they had their relational meaning [5zmw] - that of truths merely for areas of what is - in the indivisible unity of philosophy. Can reason and that-which-is be separated, where reason, as knowing, determines what is?
(Krisis, p. 11)
This passage must be read in light of the development of Husserl’s thought as reconstructed throughout this book. Sciences are about being. Their ultimate, fundamental scientificity concerns the way in which the being they investigate is correlated to reason, i.e., the form of the givenness of such being. In the case of the science of nature, the enigmatic character of this being was more than documented by the debate concerning the object of physical theory (see Chapter 1), and by the countless references that Husserl makes to the metaphysical positions that have tried to interpret the being of the world, without affecting the theoretical content of the sciences themselves (see Chapter 2). The crisis of positive sciences can now be characterized, at least in general terms:
Ultimately, all modern sciences drifted into a peculiar, increasingly puzzling crisis with regard to the meaning [nach den Sinn] of their original founding as branches of philosophy, a meaning [Sinn] which they continued to bear within themselves. This is a crisis which does not encroach upon the theoretical and practical successes of the special sciences; yet it shakes to the foundations the whole meaning of their truth [ihre ganze Wahrheitssinn].
(Krisis, p. 12)
Outside of the framework of the correlation between reason and being, the positive sciences are still able to progress, to discover truths about the world, laws of nature, elementary particles, fossils of species that existed in a distant past, facts about memory and imagination, social transformations, remnants of ancient civilizations, etc. They are likewise able to produce practical success. Yet, they amount to nothing more than “theoretical techniques” or “inauthentic sciences”; they are not philosophical sciences, not parts of metaphysics as the ultimate science of reality, for they ignore the sense of being of the province of the world they investigate.10 They are the battlefield of opposing attempts to identify what they are really about and to justify accordingly their method. Consequently, their task, the determination of such being, becomes questionable, and so does their method. How can skepticism about such sciences be countered if their rationality is not clarified?
Thus understood, Krisis I reveals a movement from the loss of significance of positive sciences for life to understanding the crisis of philosophy as the discipline in the unity of which such sciences had a sense for life. Reflecting on the nature of the crisis of philosophy leads to the elucidation, “from above,” of the specific crisis of the positive sciences, which concerns them qua sciences, i.e., their ultimate scientificity. A difference between the general crisis of philosophy and the, so to speak, sub-crises affecting the positive sciences is evident. Whereas the positive sciences can enjoy theoretical and practical success, even
Life-World, Natural Science 207 ignoring the rationality that still lives in them and that silently animates them, this is not the case for philosophy. Philosophy cannot be a theoretical technique. Its crisis is even more radical and prevents it from progressing in any methodic and “positive way.” This crisis emerges not only through the lack of consensus among different schools, but also through the failure to develop the parts of philosophy that were called to decide about the sense for human existence of the results of the other sciences. There is no scientific ethics, no scientific political science, no scientific teleological account of nature and history, no scientific theology. Unsurprisingly, deprived of any practical, axiological, and metaphysical frame, the way in which the positive sciences can contribute to wisdom and happiness and the way in which the world they describe can have a sense remain obscure. As we shall see in detail in the next section, the whole of European culture was bound to be affected by this phenomenon:
Thus the crisis of philosophy implies the crisis of all modern sciences as members of the philosophical universe: at first a latent, then a more and more prominent crisis of European humanity itself in respect to the total meaningfulness [Sinnhaftigkeit] of its cultural life, its total “Existenz.”"