What are some interesting facts about Husserl

Edmund Husserl and the ideological abstraction



Chapter I Critique of Psychologism and Empirical Abstraction

Chapter II The ideological abstraction

Chapter III Mathematization of nature versus lifeworld

Chapter IV A Broken Path: Critical Considerations and Conclusions


Directory of names

Abstract: In this contribution I will examine a particular aspect of Husserl’s thought, but not for this reason simply accessory, which concerns, in particular, the formation of scientific concepts in the light of his phenomenological approach. The first part is devoted to Husserl’s criticism of psychologism and empirical abstraction; the second one to ideal concepts, while in the third part I will reflect on the reasons that led Husserl to the “abrupt interruption” of that path that he had fruitfully undertaken and that led him to consider the formation of scientific concepts essentially based on idealizing procedures that constantly transcend the empirical data.

Keywords: Abstraction, Idealization, Lebenswelt, Phenomenology, Science.

Giacomo Borbone: Giacomo Borbone (1981), PhD in Human Sciences, is currently a research fellow at the Department of Educational Sciences in Catania, has dealt with the thought of Antonio Labriola, the idealized scientific approach of the Polish epistemologist Leszek Nowak, Cassirer and the history of philosophy. He has essays (also translated into English and Polish) on Leszek Nowak, Ernst Cassirer, Antonio Gramsci, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Ludovico Geymonat, Immanuel Kant, Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Popper, Emanuele Severino, Giulio Preti, Tito Vignoli , Written by Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile. Latest publications: La rivoluzione culturale di Antonio Labriola, Aracne 2012; Questioni di Metodo. Leszek Nowak e la scienza come idealizzazione, Bonanno 2016; Idealization XIV: The Role of Models in Science (edited by G. Borbone e K. Brzechczyn), Rodopi-Brill 2016; La razionalizzazione del mito nella filosofia di Ernst Cassirer, Tipheret 2018; Pensieri al limit. Sostanza, funzione e idealizzazione in Cassirer e Husserl, Diogene Edizioni 2019; Ernst Cassirer's science model. The concepts of substance, function and idealization, Grin Verlag 2019.


When one approaches Edmund Husserl's thought, one cannot help but be impressed by the huge disciplinary area that he covers; on the other hand, Husserl's transcendental phenomenology - known to be complex and articulated - is at the center of a huge intersection of relationships: logic, philosophy, ethics, natural sciences, psychology, mathematics, and so on1. In this work, however, we will examine a certain aspect of Husserl's thinking, but not for that reason simply an accessory that specifically deals with the formation of scientific concepts in the light of his phenomenological approach. We have set ourselves the goal of firstly emphasizing the importance that Husserl attaches to the so-called essences, which the scientist records when researching natural phenomena. Far from being subject to a simple empirical generalization, the latter are captured in their purity through a conscious work of modeling reality, the result of which culminates in what the Moravian philosopher calls idealizing determinations or fictions. Already at the beginning of his Ideas for a pure phenomenology and phenomenological philosophy Husserl makes the following immediately clear about pure or transcendental phenomenology: In contrast, pure or transcendental phenomenology will not be founded as factual science, but as essential science (as “eidetic” science); as a science that only wants to establish “essential knowledge” and absolutely no “facts”. The associated reduction, which leads from the psychological phenomenon to the pure “essence”, or in judging thinking from the actual (“empirical”) generality to the “essence” generality, is the eidetic reduction »2. On the basis of the eidetic reduction (from the word èidos in the Platonic sense) it is therefore possible to draw attention to the essential aspects of a phenomenon in order to obtain states of eidetic things, i.e. ideals such as “the world of numbers” or “the world of mathematical manifolds”3. The way in which mature science works finds a suitable refinement point in such a deformation process: first, in overcoming the logic of the conceptual genre, which is based on the simple generalization of empirical facts, and second in the mathematization of Galileo's experimental method operated nature. It is no accident that Husserl in presenting his theory of the in his work logical researches The present concept begins with an intensive criticism of both psychologies, as John Stuart Mill, Theodor Lipps, Christoph Sigwart and Locke's reflections show, Hume and Berkeley on abstraction, that is the theoretical procedure that draws the universal from the knowledge of certain facts (in in any case, it is possible in all of these authors to find a complete or almost complete disregard for the idealized nature of scientific theories).

Second, Husserl's reflections on modern natural science, the methodology of which we bring back to the Galilean tradition and which we can call the method of idealization and gradual concretization according to the terminology of the Polish scientific philosopher Leszek Nowak, are analyzed. This methodical-oriented approach consists on the one hand of putting those aspects of phenomenal reality in brackets that are considered secondary, and on the other hand of operationalizing those factors that are considered essential4.

Finally, in the third and last part of the following work, we will try to reflect on the reasons that Husserl led to the "abrupt interruption"5 have led him on his fruitful path and which have led him (rightly in our opinion) to consider the formation of scientific concepts that are essentially based on idealization processes that constantly exceed the sensitive date. As we know, the final parable of Husserl's thinking took on a direction that led him to regard the Galilean mathematization of nature as guilty, neglecting - or forgetting - the much richer ontological dimension of the lifeworld. In this sense it is necessary to agree with the words of Francesco Coniglione, who, referring to this turning point of Husserl, explains that, although the criticism of the empirical tradition in connection with the classical concept of abstraction, “was a constant throughout Husserl's thought stayed », Nevertheless, Husserl is the posthumous Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology «No longer interested in improving the typical mode of scientific knowledge, but in opposing them - because of their artificial character - to the recovery of the“ lifeworld ”as the only resource that is able to support the European sciences in their “Crisis” to overcome. Husserl's reflection is thus part of that broad stream of contemporary philosophy that sees an incurable hostility between scientific rationality and philosophical speculation and wants to restrict the former within narrower limits and remove it from all authentic cognitive values ​​»6.

Though Husserl never questioned the cognitive value of the natural sciences, his philosophical reflection, albeit indirectly, contributed decisively to the growing gap between the latter and scientific thought. It is certainly not our intention to analyze the Hussian concept of the lifeworld and the crisis of meaning again from the mathematical perspective of modern science. More authoritarian scholars than myself have poured ink on the subject7 ; the backbone of our reasoning will necessarily be more circumscribed and based essentially on an examination of the gap between science and philosophy present in the final parable of Husseral's reflection in the light of the concept of scientific idealization. But it is precisely this gap between science and philosophy that exists in the last Husserl that can be viewed as a closed chapter and cannot be further changed? We answer negatively because we instead believe that Husserl's reflection on the ideal nature of scientific constructs is not only correct, but also needs to be restored from a general philosophical point of view, since such a procedure of deforming nature in the Hegelian sense proves to be a valuable tool both in in the natural sciences as well as in the humanities.

Giacomo Borbone

Mirabella Imbaccari, 2019

Chapter I Critique of Psychologism and Empirical Abstraction

In analyzing Husserl's theory of the formation of scientific concepts, we can only start from the criticism that the author makes of psychologism and the theory of empirical abstraction associated with it. But in order to understand this criticism of himself, it is advisable, albeit for brief notes, to recall his first work from 1891, namely the Philosophy of arithmetic, which is known to be an extension of his 1887 thesis entitled About the concept of number represents. A certainly characteristic aspect of this work - at least according to the most widespread interpretation - is that it is strongly based on the work of Franz Brentano. After a short collaboration with the important mathematician Karl Weierstrass - whose illness prevented the young Husserl from remaining his assistant - the Moravian philosopher decided to follow the lessons of his “second” teacher Franz Brentano. In his first work, Husserl takes up Brentano's concept of “intentionality”, which Brentano himself extrapolated from the scholastic-medieval concept of “intentional inexistence”8. The concept of intentionality means to confirm that every psychic phenomenon “is characterized by what the scholastics of the Middle Ages called the intentional (also probably mental) inexistence of an object, and what we, although in not entirely unambiguous terms, the relationship to a content, the direction towards an object (which is not to be understood here as a reality, or which would be called immanent objectivity »9. Essentially, thoughts are necessarily thoughts of something, otherwise they would be thoughts of nothing else, but, like Plato, already in dialogue Parmenides had said it's impossible10. According to Brentano, everything that is psychological relates to something, so that it is clear that his methodological principle is, as Martin Heidegger writes, "to first bring the psychic to face before any scientific explanation"11.

Husserl therefore refers to the concept of intentionality developed by Franz Brentano and considers it possible to derive the concept of number itself from an intentional act that is directed towards a multitude of objects that are contained in an aggregate (Epitome) are summarized: "Every imaginative object, whether physical or psychological, abstract or concrete, whether given by sensation or fantasy, can be combined with any one and any number of others to form an epitome and accordingly and counted"12. Under this premise it follows that the concept of number comes from Husserl, brought back to the act of connecting a multiple; specifically, the Moravian philosopher will speak of collective connection. Husserl, who traces the concept of number back to psychological facts such as the act of counting, drew a lot of criticism, the most violent - albeit stylistically modest - coming from the great logical and mathematical Gottlob Frege, among others. Frege, in a long review of Husserl's first work published in 1894, rejected in its entirety Husserl's attempts to reduce logic and mathematics to the psychological processes of the human mind:

The most naive view is that according to which the number is something like a heap, a swarm in which things are contained skin and hair. This is followed by the conception of number as a property of a cluster, aggregate, or whatever one may call it. Thereby the need is felt to clean the objects from their peculiarities. The present experiment is now one of those in which this cleaning is carried out in the psychological wash kettle. This offers the advantage that things in it take on a very peculiar suppleness, no longer bump so hard in space and let go of many annoying peculiarities and differences13.

On the other hand, the need to keep logic and psychology separate has always been a constant in Frege's work, as can be seen from an article entitled logic can recognize: “Logic has to do only with such reasons for judging which are truths. To judge by being aware of other truths as grounds for justification is to conclude. There are laws about this kind of justification, and establishing these laws of correct reasoning is the goal of logic »14.

Husserl was probably able to metabolize Frege's criticism, especially when one thinks of the change of perspective that led the Moravian philosopher to criticize psychology and empirical abstraction, as it is in the Logical investigations was presented15. Indeed, as Vincenzo Costa notes, “Husserl's own investigation was in the Philosophy of arithmetic (1891) took an essentially psychological approach as she tried to explain the concept of number by leading it back to the psychological processes by which it was created »16. But, according to Rosado Haddock, “there are manuscripts by Husserl on the philosophy of mathematics, the draft of which dates back to before 1894 (the year of the Frege-Revue) and which contain essentially the same concepts that were later used in the Logical investigations and in Formal logic and transcendental logic to be introduced"17. Beyond these interpretive controversies, one fact is undisputed, namely Husserl's own dissatisfaction with the overall structure of his first work, as he was in his own Personal records admits: “How immature, how naive and almost childlike this work appeared to me. Well, it was not for nothing that my conscience tormented me with the publication. Actually, I was already beyond that when I published it »18.

Husserl's criticism of psychology and empirical abstraction finds its broadest and most articulated presentation in the introductory part of the work logical researches with the title Prolegomena to pure logic, which begins with a very precise polemical target: the British philosopher John Stuart Mill19. The author of the work System of Logic: Ratiocinative and Inductive found it impossible to separate logic and psychology, since it was the first, according to Mill, a special case of the latter. In the light of this approach it follows that knowledge is to be understood as a psychological process, and therefore the study of its states can only be a psychological study. Another key point of Mill's reflection is closely related to the attempt to infer the truths of logic from mere fact, as Ernst Cassirer in his short but concise essay Structuralism in modern Linguistics well illustrated:

Mill started from the assumption that logic, even if it is a science, must be an empirical science. Like all other laws, logical laws can only be reached by inductive generalization. Logic cannot indulge in sterile academic discussions about the “forms” of thinking, but must analyze the facts of thinking. And like all other facts, these are variables. It is therefore pointless to speak of universal laws of thought. What we call "truth" can never be more than the mental reproduction of our physical environment. A resident of Sirius or another fixed star would have a very different truth from our earthly truth and would not develop our own logic, geometry, or arithmetic. All of this was sharply criticized by Husserl20.

Husserl therefore summarizes the fundamental assertions of Mill and Lipps and Sigwart's psychology as follows: «The essential theoretical foundations lie in psychology; in their area belong, according to their theoretical content, the propositions which give logic its characteristic stamp.Logic is related to psychology as any branch of chemical technology is related to chemistry, as field measurement is related to geometry »21. However, according to Husserl, the principle promoted by psychologism that a technique of knowledge must depend on epistemology by no means proves that all the theoretical foundations of logic, especially the most essential ones, lie in psychology. According to Husserl, the main mistake that regulates itself in psychologism is the attempt (certainly doomed to failure) to give the laws of logic an empirical-inductive basis. For this reason Martin Heidegger himself wrote the following words: "Husserl has precisely the argument that psychologism in general is internally contradicting, all-round justified and applied"22. Although knowledge of the laws of logic is based on experience, it cannot be derived from experience on the basis of a mere abstraction process understood as the generalization of empirical facts:

Nobody will doubt that the knowledge of the logical laws, as a psychic act, presupposes the individual experience, that it has its basis in concrete perception. But do not mix psychological “presuppositions” and “foundations” of the knowledge of the law with logical presuppositions, reasons, and premises of the law; and accordingly also not the psychological dependency (e.g. in the formation) with the logical justification and justification. The latter clearly follows the objective relationship between ground and consequence, while the former relates to the psychic connections in coexistence and succession. Nobody can seriously assert that the concrete individual cases which may be in view, on the “basis” on which the insight into the law comes about, have the function of logical reasons, of premises, as if the existence of the individual had the effect on the general public The Law23.

As Berghofer noted in a very recent paper, this form of extreme empiricism inevitably leads to "an unsustainable kind of skepticism that inferential justification / knowledge is impossible"24. This characteristic of Husserl's criticism of psychology is based on the fact that he wants to establish “philosophy as a strict science”, free it from psychologism, fundamentally and radically differentiate knowledge and “pure form” from that knowledge that instead - as the empiricists would say - on the mere factual situation on which inductive generalizations are built. Rather, as we shall see later, for Husserl the thought categories "of logic, of the sciences - that is, those categories which constitute an objectively determinable" nature "- already as Idealizations be valid"25.

In fact, Husserl wants to take a new, fundamental path that leads into the world of pure forms, pure beings. In fact, according to Husserl's phenomenology, logical laws do not have the property of being based on simple sensuality, but rather an ideal and thus non-empirical character26. Following Immanuel Kant, Husserl speaks of two types of “conditions for the possibility of knowledge”: “Either they are noetic, namely they are based on the idea of ​​knowledge as such a prioriwithout any consideration of the empirical peculiarity of human knowledge in its psychological conditions; or they are purely logical, i.e. they are based purely on the "content" of knowledge »27. In this case, the opposite of a natural, i.e. empirical, law is precisely the ideal law in the sense of a legality that is based purely on concepts - such as ideas, pure conceptual essences - and is therefore not empirical. The psychology, which, as David Hume would say, is a science of matters of facts and is therefore based on experience, cannot lead to the formulation of precise laws that are free from the ambiguity that results from the indeterminacy and opacity of sensitive impressions. On the other hand, Husserl writes, referring to the statements that psychology raises to the rank of laws:

Nor will we meet with contradiction if we add that psychology has hitherto been lacking real and therefore exact laws, and that the propositions which it honors with the name of laws are very valuable, but only vague generalizations of experience are to establish statements about approximate regularities of coexistence or succession, which do not claim to be able to determine with infallible, unambiguous certainty what must exist or must take place under precisely defined conditions. [...] In vague theoretical foundations, only vague rules can be established28.

Husserl essentially aims at the theoretical principle of abstraction, which is understood as a generalization of empirical facts, the natural laws of which he formulated (in Husserl's terminology: empirical) are neither known a priori nor can be substantiated with apodictic proofs. There is only one way to find and justify a law of nature, and that is induction on the basis of individual factual empirical data. But induction cannot establish the validity of the law, only the more or less high probability of this validity; only the probability and not the law has an apodictically obvious justification. If the movement of psychologism was correct, then, according to Husserl, the source of knowledge about the laws of logic should be found in the so-called psychological facts, but, Husserl warns, no logical law implies a “question of fact” or even the existence of representations, judgments or any other cognitive phenomenon. Therefore no law of logic is a law of the fact that psychic life is factual. It therefore seems clear that Husserl's gnostological analysis in the introductory part of his Logical investigations Therefore, in the "Critique of the psychological interpretation of the logical and mathematical formations is condensed, in the sense that their meaning is completely independent of the relative and contingent character of the subjective actions that grasp or think the so-called logical or mathematical truths"29. Another sublime consequence that arises from the acceptance of the fundamentalist preconditions for the movement of psychology is, according to Husserl, the systematic confusion between real and ideal de facto -States. This means what the Greeks defined as μετάβασις εἰς ἄλλο γένος (metábasis eis állo génos), i.e. the confusion of levels, while on the other hand it is necessary to distinguish representation in the logical or ideal sense from empirical representation, warns Husserl. According to Husserl's theoretical perspective, the systematic confusion between these two levels can have very serious consequences: loyalty to principally absurd methods or confusion between the logical levels. Such harmful inferences arise when the essential difference between ideal and real objects and thus between ideal and real laws is not taken into account. An example is John Stuart Mill's theory of numerical concepts, which he reduces to mere empirical experience, while the objects of the mathematical sciences are instead more numbers, variants that are understood as mere means of purely ideal determinations, regardless of whether they are real or Not. Having reduced logical truths to the vague fact of human psychic life and based on induction and experience is exactly what empiricism explicitly teaches us, while Husserl instead adheres to an idealistic conception, while in idealism we use the form of epistemology must understand, which does not take away the ideal through a psychological interpretation, but - as Kant would say - recognizes it as a condition for the possibility of objective knowledge in general. On the other hand, the reality "that one offers oneself is never a factum brutum for Husserl, but a system of validity and meaning that requires a subjectivity, i.e. a conscious life, in order to manifest and develop"30. This idealistic Husserl's conception is in contrast to the method of empirical abstraction that is described in the second volume of Logical investigations with the title The ideal unity of the species and the more recent theories of abstraction is analyzed in detail.

At this point it becomes interesting to make a comparison between Husserl and another student of Brentano, K. Twardowski. The Polish philosopher Twardowski pursues an intellectual path similar to that of Husserl and actually makes three distinctions between the act, content and object of representation. This allows Twardowski to distinguish the psychological image of an object from the object to which it relates. In doing so, the Polish philosopher distances himself from the empirical notion that an object is nothing other than a combination derived from subjective impressions. The content of the representation, according to Twardowski, is part of a different field than that of its object. In this way the autonomy of the object of representation is recognized, and in this way the Polish philosopher manages to depsicologize science and achieve an anti-empirical epistemology. A fundamental distinction that Twardowski made concerns that between perceptual and productive representations. The latter derive from perceptual representations, but modify them because our intellect originally possesses a synthetic ability that allows it to grasp our representations as a whole, the components of which psychological analysis can only distinguish a posteriori. And it is precisely the empirical abstraction that makes this distinction a posteriori, while the abstraction that Twardowski speaks of is more comparable to the kind of relationship that Leibniz than symbolic Are defined31. Similar to Husserl, Twardowski does not understand abstraction as a simple generalization of empirical facts, but rather as a synthetic and creative act.

We have seen that abstraction consists in extracting the universal from the particular through an ascent of an inductive character that proceeds from the objects sensitively given in the experience and finally arrives at species and genera with a high degree of abstraction. Against the immense grid of data of the real, the scientific concepts of ideal nature (the only ones permissible in mature science) do not attempt to empirically grasp possible similarities or similarities between the objects, as the abstraction of empiricists usually does, but the ideal unity: “How many identical objects may float in front of us in the perception or comparison: they and their similarities are certainly not meant in the second case. What is meant is the “general”, the ideal unity and not these individuals and many »32. It is not possible to grasp the essence of a phenomenon unless we provisionally establish that ideal unity, the only one able to grasp the totality of objects without the senseless burden of the "case by case" process that to a regressus in infinitum is determined:

[...] if you want to make the intention on a species understandable by presenting details from groups of equality in a manner that is always composed, the details presented in each case only include a few members of the groups, so they can never exhaust the entire scope. One can therefore ask what the unity of scope produces, what makes it possible for our consciousness and knowledge, if we lack the unity of the species and at the same time with it the form of thought of allness, through which it gains relation to the conceptually represented ( in the sense of the expression Allness of the A meant) entire manifold of A.. The reference to “the same” moment common everywhere can of course not help. It is numerically as many as there are individual objects of the scope. How can we unite what needs to be unified? Even the objective possibility of recognizing all the members of the circumference as equal to one another cannot help either; it cannot give unity to the scope for our thinking and cognition. This possibility is nothing to our consciousness if it is not thought and understood. But on the one hand the idea of ​​the unity of scope is already presupposed; and on the other hand, it then faces us as an ideal unity. Obviously, any attempt to reinterpret the being of the ideal into a possible being of the real must fail because possibilities are themselves ideal objects. Just as there are few numbers in general and triangles in general to be found in the real world, just as few possibilities. The empirical view, which seeks to spare the acceptance of specific objects by going back to their scope, is therefore impracticable. It cannot tell us what gives unity to scope33.

To emphasize the sterility of the process of inductive generalization, Husserl gives the example of the color “red”, which is subject to the same process as the intuition of essence, which empirically distinguishes the color red - which is subject to the many facets it actually assumes - from Red, which is understood as an ideal unit, or pure eidos: «A pure eidos, a generality of essence is, for example, the species red or the species color; but only if they are conceived as pure generalities, that is, free from all presuppositions of any actual existence, any factual red, resp. any colored actual reality »34. We would like to point out, if only incidentally and for intellectual honesty, that both the critique of empirical abstraction and the example of the color “red” that Husserl uses in his writings represent a repetition of what his master Franz Brentano im last part of the work already mentioned Psychology from an empirical point of view from 1874 had issued. According to a fairly widespread belief, the general concepts are the result of an abstraction that proceeds from something delicate. But the central question arises when we ask ourselves what to mean by this process of abstraction. Indeed, by abstraction we mean the fact that the abstract is also contained in what is sensitively perceived. According to this theoretical procedure, however, it is not possible to make a meaningful distinction using safety points, straight lines, circles and lines in general or a limit. And in fact it is not at all true that the geometrician reaches into the individual triangle, i.e. into the one drawn on the sand, the triangle in general, because the so-called triangle that is drawn on the sand is actually not a triangle at all. In fact, the abstractions of geometries or physicists differ significantly from abstraction, which is understood as a generalization of empirical facts. If we carefully analyze how science works, then we can easily understand the limits of inductive generalization, and therefore the need to approach one extreme35.

However, it seems to be clear that the theoretical process of abstraction is not only unable to free itself from the firm grip of substantiality (which Ernst Cassirer in his work Concept of substance and concept of function by 191036 widely and effectively criticized), but is also unable to explain what can give the extension unity and that for a rather simple reason: How is it actually possible, through simple abstraction, to create ideal objects such as the perfect gas or a perfect to take into account round spheres, which are certainly not accessible by direct observation? It is precisely in this specific case that the generalization of empirical facts fails irrevocably, i.e. when it intends to establish purely categorical laws through simple sensitivity. A simpler way of illustrating what Husserl understands by ideal unity and how abstraction turns out to be incapable of pursuing it is to be found in the chemical formula H2O. This simple formula tells us that water is made up of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen, but, as everyone knows, in reality you never give pure water like that expressed by the formula H2O, but many kinds of "water" empirically. If one wants to understand the concept of water, one certainly cannot rely on the simple cataloging of the endless waters on earth, but must bring them back to an ideal unity expressed by the above formula.But Husserl's criticism is not limited to Mill, but also includes authors such as Locke and Berkeley, who are also guilty of various confusions about the use of abstraction. In fact, John Locke believed that abstraction only worked on the psychological level:

So if the purpose of the words is to serve as the external markers of our inner ideas, which in turn have been derived from the particular things, then, if each individual idea we acquire were to receive its particular name, it should be an infinite number of Give names. To prevent this from happening, the mind causes the individual ideas that arose from the individual objects to become general. This happens because he regards them in the spirit as phenomena that are detached from all other things and circumstances of real existence such as time, place or any other accompanying ideas. This is called abstractionThe ideas that arise from individual things become general representatives of all things of the same species, their names become general names that are to be applied to everything that exists as far as it corresponds to such abstract ideas. Such precise, naked appearances in the mind, in which it is not taken into account how, when or with what others they entered the mind, are kept by the mind (with the names usually associated with them) as standards for those that actually exist To group things according to their agreement with these patterns and to name them accordingly. If, for example, the spirit observes the same color today on the chalk or on the snow that it noticed yesterday on the milk, then it looks at this phenomenon alone and makes it the representative of all phenomena of the same kind. He gives it its name white and by this sound denotes the same quality, wherever he may imagine it or encounter it. This is how general judgments arise, be they ideas or expressions37.

Berkeley38 on the other hand, while criticizing Locke's reflections, denies the possibility of developing abstract ideas: every idea is always specific, that is, there are no ideas without a certain character and thus abstract. However, he admits the existence of general ideas, but, as you know, always understood as particular ideas and therefore representative of other particular ideas of the same kind. This leads to his misinterpretation of the concept of the triangle, as Husserl shows: «He [ Berkeley] confuses the basis of abstraction with the abstract, the concrete individual case, from which the general consciousness draws its intuitive fullness, with the object of the thought intention. Berkeley speaks as if the geometric proof of the triangle of ink were made on paper or for the triangle of chalk on the blackboard, and as if in general thinking it was the individual objects that happened to us, instead of merely supporting our thinking intentions, whose objects were »39.

Even more radical is the thesis of David Hume, who first took up Berkeley's criticism of abstract ideas: “A great philosopher [Berkeley] opposed conventional opinion on this point and asserted that all general ideas are nothing but individual ideas linked to a particular one Names that give them a more comprehensive meaning and that, in the given case, bring other similar individual ideas to mind. I see in this insight one of the greatest and most treasured discoveries that have been made in the realm of science in recent years »40. Second, as is well known, Hume divides all human perceptions into two classes: impressions and ideas, the difference between which is the degree of strength and liveliness with which they influence the mind and with which they penetrate thoughts or consciousness; obviously, according to Hume, it is the impressions that create the ideas. Our perceptions, in turn, can be divided into simple and complex (and that applies to both impressions and ideas). Indeed, for Hume, simple perceptions (impressions or ideas) are such that they do not accept distinction or separation. Complex perceptions, on the other hand, can be broken down into parts. There is only one degree of difference between impressions and ideas, which is why, according to Hume, there are no abstract or general ideas. However, the Scottish philosopher still recognizes with Berkeley that man de facto used certain ideas as if they were universal; indeed, for Hume, some ideas are unique in nature but general in what they represent. Keep it up, Hume:

If we have found that several objects which we have often encountered have similarity, we need the same name for all of them, whatever differences we perceive in the degrees of their quantity and quality, and whatever differences may emerge in them. If this has now become a matter of habit for us, the sound of that name first arouses the idea of ​​one of those objects and causes the imagination to grasp it with all its definite properties and proportions. But as we assume, the same word is often also used other particulars have been employed which in some respects differ from the idea immediately present in the mind. The Word cannot arouse the ideas of all these individual things. It touched but, if I may say so, the soul, and evokes that habit which we have acquired in contemplating it. The individual things are not really and actually present in the mind, but only potential; we do not single out them all in our imagination, but just stand ready to look at any of them as intent or necessity suggests to us at a given moment41.

The mistake here is obvious, because the similarity Hume speaks of is indeed universal and not a particular idea, which is why Hume's treatment in this case is fundamentally wrong from a logical and epistemological point of view. In summary, it can be said that the processes of abstraction and generalization on the one hand fail to give the extension unity, but on the other hand often lead to a confusion between the ideal and the real state and thus do not meet the requirements of scientific methodology. In fact, the example of the triangle is emblematic: it must be made more precise that the sentences used by the reviewer do not refer to numerical material actually drawn on a piece of paper or a blackboard, but to ideal figures that have no direct empirical reference. In his post Plato and the discovery of the a priori Husserl states the following: "As soon as the empirical-spatial concepts are transformed into pure concepts by the idealizing intuition, the empirical spatial shapes into ideal, a purely a priori and deductive thinking becomes possible"42. Precisely in view of the ideal geometrical determinations to which the propositions of geometry refer, it is impossible to find concrete in figures or drawings, since geometrical objects are pure objects which certainly cannot be obtained by simple generalization43. Therefore, what we concentrate on is neither the concrete object of intuition nor an abstract part of the object itself, but the idea in the sense of a specific unit. It is abstraction in the logical sense; and therefore, from a logical and epistemological point of view, this type of abstraction must not only be viewed as an emphasis on a part of the content, but as the special consciousness that is able to grasp the specific unit directly on an intuitive basis.

Baruch Spinoza's argument is emblematic of the logical and non-empirical value of the formation of geometric concepts; he attaches great importance to the “nature and power of the intellect” and thus illustrates the famous example of the sphere:

[…] We want to present a true idea in which we know quite reliably that its object only depends on our power to think and does not exist in reality; For in such an idea, as is evident from what has been said, we will be able to trace what we are looking for more easily. So, for example, for the formation of the idea of ​​the sphere, one can assume at will a cause, e.g. that its semicircle rotates around its center and that the sphere emerges from this rotation at the same time. This idea is certainly true, and even if you know that no sphere ever came into being in this way, it still remains a true idea and the easiest way to form the idea of ​​the sphere44.


1 See S. Luft-M. Wehrle (ed.), Husserl manual. Life-work-effect, J. B. Metzler Verlag, Stuttgart, 2017.

2 E. Husserl, Ideas for a pure phenomenology and phenomenological philosophy, First book: Collected Works, Volume III / 1, edited by K. Schumann, Martinus Nijhoff, Den Haag, 1976, p. 6.

3 See E. Husserl, For phenomenological reduction. Texts from the estate (1926-1935): Collected works, Volume XXXIV, edited by S. Luft, Springer, Dordrecht, 2002, p. 283.

4 By Leszek Nowak see the now classic work The Structure of Idealization, Reidel, Dordrecht, 1980. About Leszek Nowak and the method of idealization and concretization we refer the reader to the following general works: G. Borbone, Questioni di metodo. Leszek Nowak e la scienza come idealizzazione, Bonanno, Acireale-Roma, 2016; Id., The Legacy of Leszek Nowak, in «Epistemologia», vol. 34, n.2, 2011, pp. 233-258 and F. Coniglione, Realtà e astrazione. Scuola polacca ed epistemologia post-positivistica, Bonanno, Acireale-Roma, 20102.

5 This “abrupt interruption” is certainly not due to the crisis, because as we will see later in his semester classes 1910-1911, Husserl, inspired by Avenarius, had already developed the concept of the “natural worldview”, i.e. an anticipation of the more mature concept of the Lifeworld.

6 F. Coniglione, Dall’astrazione all’idealizzazione: un approccio storico, in Id., La parola liberatrice. Momenti storici del rapporto tra filosofia e scienza, c.u.e.c.m., Catania, 2002, p. 42.

7 See F. S. Trincia, Guida alla lettura della “Crisi delle scienze europee” di Husserl, Laterza, Roma-Bari, 2012; A. Schütz and Th. Lichmann, Structures of the lifeworld, 2 full., Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt a.M., 1979-1984; H. Vetter, Crisis of Science - Science of Crisis, Lang, Frankfurt a.M., 1998.

8 On the concept of intentionality in Husserl see D. W. Smith-R. McIntyre (ed.), Husserl and Intentionality. A Study of Mind, Meaning, and Language, Reidel, Dordrecht-Boston-Lancaster, 1982.

9 F. Brentano, Psychology from an empirical point of view, First volume, edited by O. Kraus, Meiner Verlag Hamburg, 1973, pp. 124-125.

10 Compare Plato, Parmenides, 132 B-C, in Id., Works, Published by F. Schleiermacher, Realschulbuchhandlung, Berlin, 1818.

11 M. Heidegger, Metaphysical foundations of logic in the outcome of Leibniz, in Id., Complete edition, II. Department: Lectures 1923-1944, Volume 26, edited by K. Held, Klostermann, Frankfurt a.M., 1978, p. 166.

12 E. Husserl, Philosophy of arithmetic with additional texts (1890-1901), in Id., Collected Works, Volume XII, edited by L. Eley, Martinus Nijhoff, Den Haag, 1970, p. 16.

13 G. Frege, review by E. Husserl, Philosophy of arithmetic, in Id., Small fonts, Edited by I. Angelelli, Georg Holms Verlag, Hildesheim-Zurich-New York, 1990, p. 181.

14 G. Frege, logic, in Id., Legacy writings, Volume 1, edited by H. Hermes, F. Kambartel and F. Kaulbach, Meiner Verlag, Hamburg, 1983, p. 3.

15 According to Sandra Lapointe, it is not Frege's criticism, but rather the impulse of Bernard Bolzano's theory of science, that led Husserl to reject psychology in his work logical researches connects: «It cannot be determined with certainty whether it was Frege who wrote Husserl's psychological criticism in the Logical investigations where there is instead much evidence that the real impulse behind Husserl's criticism came from Bolzano's theory of science », S. Lapointe, Bolzano e Husserl, in «Discipline filosofiche», vol. XXI, n.2, 2011, p. 227.

16 V. Costa, Husserl, Carocci, Roma, 2009, p. 16. Renzo Raggiunti, on the other hand, is not of the opinion that Husserl's reflection on mathematical concepts actually represents "a detachment from Brentano's naturalistic psychology": R. Raggiunti, Introduzione a Husserl, Laterza, Roma-Bari, 1970, p. 12. This very complex and controversial topic cannot be dealt with here, which is why we recommend the following volumes to the reader: G. Scrimieri, Analitica matematica e fenomenologica, Levante, Bari, 1970; J. P. Miller, Number in Presence and Absence. A Study of Husserl’s Philosophy and Mathematics, Nijhoff, The Hague-Boston-London, 1982.

17 G. E. Rosado Haddock, Remarks on Sense and Reference in Frege and Husserl, in C. Ortiz Hill-G. E. Rosado Haddock, Husserl or Frege? Meaning, Objectivity, and Mathematics, Open Court, Chicago and La Salle, 2000, p. 32.

18 E. Husserl, Personal records, in "Philosophy and Phenomenological Research", vol. 16, n. 3, 1956, p. 294.

19 See J. S. Mill, A System of Logic: Ratiocinative and Inductive, John W. Parker-West Strand, London, 1843.

20 E. Cassirer, Structuralism in modern Linguistics, in “World”, vol. I, n. 2, 1945, pp. 102-103.

21 E. Husserl, logical researches, First volume, fifth edition, Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen, 1968, p. 51.

22 M. Heidegger, Recent research on logic (1929), in Id., Complete edition, I. Department: Published writings 1914-1970, Part 1, Early writings, Edited by F.-W. by Hermann, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt a.M., 1978, p. 22.

23 E. Husserl, logical researches, P. 75.

24 P. Berghofer, Why Husserl’s Universal Empiricism is a Moderate Rationalism, in “Axiomathes”, vol. 28, 2018, p. 542.

25 G. A. De Almeida, Meaning and content in the genetic phenomenology of E. Husserl, Martinus Nijhoff, Den Haag, 1972, p. 206.

26 See W. Huemer, Husserl’s Critique of Psychologism and his Relation to the Brentano School, in A. Chrudzimski-W. Huemer (eds.), Phenomenology and Analysis: Essays on Central European Philosophy, Ontos, Frankfurt, 2004, p. 202.

27 E. Husserl, logical researches, Pp. 237-238.

28 E. Husserl, logical researches, P. 61.

29 R. Raggiunti, Introduzione a Husserl, P. 21.

30 C. Di Martino, Esperienza e intenzionalità. Tre saggi sulla fenomenologia di Husserl, Guerini e Associati, Milano, 2013, p. 141.

31 See K. Twardowski, On the content and object of presentation. A Psychological Investigation, Edited by R. Grossmann, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1977, p. 102.

32 E. Husserl, logical researches, Volume two, Part one, edited by U. Panzer, in Id., Collected works, Volume XIX / 1, Springer, Boston-Dordrecht, 1984, p. 119.

33 E. Husserl, logical researches, Volume Two, pp. 119-120.

34 E. Husserl, Experience and judgment. Studies on the genalogy of logic, Edited by L. Landgrebe, Claasen Verlag, Hamburg, 1964, p. 425.

35 See F. Brentano, Psychology from an empirical point of view, Third volume: From sensual and noetic consciousness. External and internal perception, concepts, Edited by O. Kraus, Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg, 1968.

36 See E. Cassirer, Concept of substance and concept of function, Bruno Cassirer Verlag, Berlin, 1910.

37 J. Locke, Experiment on the human mind, Volume I: Book I and II, Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg, 2006, pp. 179-180.

38 See G. Berkeley, A Treatise on the Principles of Human Knowledge, Translated by F. Ueberweg, Hofenberg, Berlin, 2016.

39 E. Husserl, logical researches, P. 160.

40 D. Hume, Treatise on human nature, Translated by E. Köttgen, Verlag von Leopold Voss, Hamburg and Leipzig, 1895, p. 30.

41 D. Hume, Treatise on human nature, P. 34.

42 E. Husserl, Plato and the discovery of the a priori, in Id., Introduction to philosophy. Lectures 1916-1920: Collected Works, Volume IX, edited by H. Jacobs, Springer, Dordrecht-Heidelberg-New York-London, 2012, p. 51.

43 See E. Husserl, Transcendental idealism. Texts from the estate (1908-1921): Collected Works, Volume XXXVI, edited by R. D. Rollinger, Springer, Dordrecht, 2003, p. 51.

44 B. Spinoza, Treatise on the Improvement of the Mind, Translated by J. K. von Kirchmann, Heimann Verlag, Berlin, 1871, pp. 29-30.

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