Husserl and his others

Franz Rosenzweig stated in a letter to the art historian Rudolf Hallo (1896— 1933) from 1922—in response to the idea of recognizing the wisdom and piety of the “old Orientals”—that: “When we [Europeans] know China, we do not become Chinese. But when the Chinese attempt to know Europe as intensively as we attempt to know China, they become European.”86 Regardless of how wise or pious the Buddha or Rabindranath Tagore might be, world history travels exclusively from Christianity to the world, and not vice versa according to Rosenzweig, when Tagore came to visit the West.87

Husserl asserted the same thesis in more secular terms in the Crisis: the Indian or Chinese person can become European, but the European cannot genuinely become Indian or Chinese.88 According to Rosenzweig and Husserl, there is progress in one direction represented by Judeo-Christian (Rosenzweig) or theoretical-scientific (Husserl) Europe. They are both beholden to the Hegelian tradition, discussed in Chapter 1, which offers developmental histories of progress from antiquity to modernity oriented toward an ideal that is realizable solely in the Occident. Other peoples enter into the universal by becoming European, while Europeans would only lose themselves by becoming Chinese or Indian. What is the justification of this difference in kind between different members of humanity? “China” or “India” signify mere empirical anthropological types, according to Husserl, while “Europe” (as the ideal) is in fact not “Europe” (as fallen in nationalist ideologies).89

Culture—whether European or not—untouched by science consists of finite tasks and accomplishments: “The openly endless horizon in which he lives is not disclosed; his ends, his activity, his trade and traffic, his personal, social, national, and mythical motivation—all this moves within the sphere of his finitely surveyable surrounding world"90 Europe embodies a teleologically driven progress toward the infinite that breaks with tasks that are merely finite, particular, and practical.91 Europe names an infinite and universal horizon that is the proper sense of world history, and its idea is higher than any particular anthropological culture, including the corroded particularities of existing European nations that have lost touch with the scientific spirit and are in desperate need of renewal through reconnecting with the genuine cosmopolitan telos and idea of Europe in the West’s internal dialogue with itself.92

There is one common humanity in which the European conception of humanity is privileged insofar as it alone actively posits common universal humanity.93 Husserl asserts in this context that “even the Papuan is a man and not a beast. He has his ends and he acts reflectively, considering the practical possibilities. The works and methods that grow [out of this] go to make up a tradition, being understandable again [by others] in virtue of their rationality"94 Husserl admits that there is a rationality to the Papuan lifeworld that is traditional, practical, and also reflective to a degree. This insight could be used to discover a plurality of rational forms of life and forms of philosophizing, as considered in the discussion of Misch in Chapter 5, or it could help decenter the absolute privileging of the European lifeworld and European reason as a new and radically distinct stage of life. Husserl, however, does not take either such route:

But just as man and even the Papuan represent a new stage of animal nature, i.e., as opposed to the beast, so philosophical reason represents a new stage of human nature and its reason. But the stage of human existence [under] ideal norms for infinite tasks, the stage of existence sub specie aeterni, is possible only through absolute universality, precisely the universality contained from the start in the idea of philosophy.95

There is no space in Husserl’s space of reason for the Papuan as Papuan or for a Papuan form of reflection and philosophizing. Just as Husserl contended that naturalism relativized rationality and opened the paths of irrationality, Husserl’s own conception establishes an overly narrow standard and measure of reason that excludes most of humanity in its diversity from rationality and thereby makes it irrational despite the reality that every lifeworld relies on its own modes of communicative reproduction and therefore contains possibilities of self-reflection and argumentation.

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