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Quotes from the Masters: Edmund Husserl

May 8, 2013

I seek not to instruct but only to lead, to point out and describe what I see. I claim no other right than that of speaking according to my best lights, principally before myself but in the same manner also before others, as one who has lived in all its seriousness the fate of a philosophical existence.

Edmund Husserl. Husserl: “The Crisis of the European Sciences” [integral text, English translation]

Edmund Husserl

I have been studying over the work of Edmund Husserl recently. He is the founding figure of Phenomenology as a philosophical movement. And I think this quote captures well the task of philosophy as a phenomenologist sees it. Husserl set himself the task of breathing life back into a philosophical spirit in touch with modernity and informed about science. In the process, he invented the concept of the life-world, used by later figures such as Heidegger and Habermas. This task he set himself is the philosophical fate that Husserl refers to, and given the temper of his era, he is a very anachronistic figure.

The majority of his contemporaries were concerned to either reduce philosophy to a state of dependence on science, such as in Positivism. Or to go off on idealistic and literary trains of thought, disdaining the scientific approach to knowledge altogether, such as in Existentialism. Husserl is one of the few who tried to steer philosophy between these two seemingly mutually exclusive courses of action. Retaining the scientific respectability of philosophy as a search for rational knowledge, whilst also retaining the spirit of philosophy as an endeavor with meaning and historical significance for ourselves as active contributors to this tradition.

Among the chaos of philosophical movements claiming priority and distinction in the 20th Century, including Positivism, Marxism, Existentialism, I think the sober and modest efforts of phenomenology look more set to stand the test of time, as they have remained informed by the long tradition of philosophy, rather than trying to overthrow it or undermine it.

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