You are on page 1of 10

HUSSERL’S REDUCTION AND ADUMBRATIONS

Joel C. Sagut

Introduction

The topic of this exposition is no longer new to this class since quite a
number of our classmates have already reported on this. Nevertheless, I have
committed to understand this topic since we started with our course, and so, I
would like to share my own understanding of the issue at hand. Let it be
mentioned from the very start that this exposition does not intend to simplify
the thought of our philosopher for such would be a too ambitious goal.
Rather, let this report be an opportunity for me to submit myself to your
assessment as to whether I have understood even a fragment of what
Husserl intends to say. For the possible misreading and shortcomings, I ask
your understanding and consideration.

Husserl’s Journey: The Shift from Naturalism to Phenomenology

Husserl started his career as a mathematician. He had his doctoral thesis in


mathematics. This fact about his training makes some authors believed that
Husserl originally had adopted a realist standpoint. David Bell for example
says, “It seems that for some four or five years after he arrived in Gottingen
Husserl’s philosophical activity was directed towards defending, expanding,
and modifying theories that belonged essentially to the same naturalistic
point of view that had characterized his thought in the Logical Investigation.”1
When Husserl for example uses the word thing in his Logical Investigation as
when he says, “Two meanings can be attached to this objective
interconnection which ideally pervades scientific thought, and which gives
unity to such thought, and so to science as such; it can be understood as an
interconnection of the things to which our thought-experiences (actual or
possible) are intentionally directed…”2 It is notable that the use of the word
thing here resembles the naturalistic tendency to equate thing with the
actually existing (or the ideal/possible) object. It presupposes an objective3
existence of the thing. This is the thing that exists unrelated to its cognition
by anybody.4

However, commentators noted a transcendental turn in the philosophy of


Husserl. Bell announced that “in 1907, he delivered a series of five lectures
which, for the first time, made public the fact that his philosophy had taken a
‘transcendental turn’ away from naturalism.”5

1
David Bell, Husserl. (New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc., 1990), 153.
2
Logical Investigation, vol. 1, 225.
3
Objectivity here is meant to refer to the being’s existence outside consciousness.
4
Cf. Roman Ingarden, On the Motives which led Husserl to Transcendental Idealism, trans. Arnor
Hannibalsson. (Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1975), 5.
5
Bell, 154.

1
The interest of this present reflection is however not to validate or refute this
claim for an original realist standpoint in Husserl. Our mention here of this
particular transcendental turn shall merely be taken as the starting point for
our investigation of the transcendental idealism of Husserl. We start with a
mention of the naturalistic standpoint to offer a comparative description of
naturalism and phenomenology. Hence, our timidity to go into further
investigation about the truthfulness of the claim on Husserl’s naturalism may,
I hope, not be taken to be in itself a violation of the phenomenological
method.

Naturalism and Transcendental idealism

What could have been the reason for Husserl’s shift from naturalism to
transcendental idealism? Commentators have noted that the shift coincides
with Husserl’s changed appreciation of the being of the real world. 6
Naturalism “is committed to the view that the universe contains nothing but
natural phenomena – a natural phenomenon being any object, event,
property, fact, or the like.”7 In other words, naturalism limits the scope of
investigation with the tangible, verifiable things and their properties. Hence,
we have the natural sciences.

Transcendental idealism, on the other hand, is the view that “the mind is not
ultimately just a part of the natural world, but on the contrary must be
assigned some foundational or constitutive role with respect to the natural
world…”8 Husserl later believed that for philosophy to be truthful to its goal, it
must go beyond the naturalism of the sciences.9 Husserl later realized that in
the process of cognition, the role of the mind is undeniably important. The
mind is also constitutive of reality10 and hence, subjectivity should never be
ignored in the process of cognition.

6
Cf. Ingarden, 5.
7
Bell, 154. In naturalism, the object exists independent of the mind. This means then that one
object, insofar as it exists, will be perceived uniformly by the perceiving minds. Hence, natural sciences’
reliance on the law of probability. A disease for example is treated in almost the same way because of the
assumption that all diseases, as long as they belong to the same category, can be treated in the same way.
8
Bell, 155.
9
Quine’s comment crystallizes this Husserlian perspective: “naturalism is the abandonment of the
goal of a first philosophy.” (quoted in Bell, 155). This will have some traces in the philosophical project of
Husserl’s student, Martin Heidegger, who endeavors to question the onto-theological character of the entire
Western Metaphysics. Heidegger also claimed that the entire philosophical endeavor of the West is not
really philosophical but an onto-theology. Husserl highly influenced Heidegger to become vigilant on the
life-world rather than on the more speculative endeavor of expounding the “naturalized terms” in the entire
system of western metaphysics. As one author writes, “Each of these German thinkers (Heidegger very
early in his career and Husserl in the last phases of his reflections) is convinced that a survey of the Life-
world is more pertinent than a grand systematic vision. This was and remains a direct challenge to the
traditional canons of truth derived from substance-metaphysics, the main line of Western philosophy.” Cf.
Richard Owsley, “Truth in the Thinking of Heidegger and Husserl,”
http://www.unt.edu/csph/Vol_01_winter00/owsley_art.htm, retrieved last October 01, 2007.
10
This illustrates the Kantian influence in Husserl. Cf. Marvin Farber, “Edmund Husserl and the
Aims of Phenomenology,” http://www.autodidactproject.org/other/farber6.html, retrieved last October 01,
2007.

2
The shift to transcendental idealism is then a necessary consequence of
Husserl’s aim to name the relation between the mind (consciousness) and the
thing of naturalism. He wishes to reconcile “the subjectivity of knowing and
the objectivity of the content known.”11

Naturalism to Rigorous Science

The early training of Husserl, as mentioned, was in mathematics, and this


perhaps has influenced him to seek for a science that would have a “single
system of doctrine”12 for only such science can he consider to be worthy of
the name science. This he calls as the “rigorous science.” Husserl claims that
for philosophy to be a rigorous science, it has to be essentially “self-
responsible and self warranting.” This can only be achieved if philosophy will
in itself become “presuppositionless.”13

He also believed that the natural sciences and the human sciences are so
characterized because of their well-defined domain or field. They are called a
science because they have an item of which they are responsible to explore.
This allows the sciences to have a doctrinal content, which is stable over
time, accepted unquestioningly by the majority of the scientists working
within this discipline, and it is objective, meaning there is no room for private
opinion, notions and points of view.14 This makes these sciences naïve, not
rigorous. A naïve science simply investigates that which is there, as given.
“These natural and human sciences, in other words, are philosophically naïve.
They have an unquestioned commitment to the adequacy of naturalistic
standpoint.”15

In contrast to the naturalism of the sciences, the rigorous science is one


which “has expunged all uncritically accepted assumptions from among its
commitments, whether tacit or explicit…It contains no claims or assertions
that are not absolutely grounded, or fully justified.”16 But such justification is
not to be relative to any antecedently accepted premise, presupposition or
prejudice.

But, Husserl also argues that any science, not just philosophy, can become a
rigorous science. Even natural sciences can become rigorous sciences as long
as it ceases to be a naïve science (dogmatic science). If this is the case, what
distinguishes philosophy from other sciences then is the particular species of
which philosophy is tasked to investigate or describe. So, the question now is:
what is this specific species that is unique of philosophy? We mention here of
transcendental subjectivity.

11
Bell, 157.
12
Cf. Bell, 157.
13
Bell, 157.
14
Bell, 158.
15
Ibid.
16
Ibid, 159.

3
When Husserl speaks then of a rigorous science, he was interested not with
the science that would claim for an ultimate “foundation of certainty” but he
simply wishes to understand the process on how shall we arrive at this
certainty. It is not as if he asks, what are the foundations of certain truths?
But rather he asks, how should we arrive at certitude?17

Ultimately then, Husserl’s concern seems to be the question on the process


on how to arrive at certainty or apodicticity, and not really on the content. He
wishes to wrestle with the question on how should objective truth be attained
with due consideration of the subjectivity of consciousness?

Transcendental Reduction and Natural Attitude

The assurance of philosophy becoming a rigorous science is the method of


TRANSCENDENTAL REDUCTION. David Bell for example says that the
transcendental reduction as a method, performs three accomplishments in
the progress of philosophy: (1) it allows us to escape the commitment of
naturalism, and at the same time, (2) it guarantees the rigor of philosophy
(phenomenology), and lastly, (3) it reveals to us a new region of being, which
will become the main concern of phenomenology, that is, subjectivity.18

But at the outset, it should be clarified, that the transcendental reduction is a


method, a procedure, and not a cognitive content. Our aim should not really
be to know what the reduction is, but to learn how it should be done.

Transcendental reduction and subjectivity

Transcendental reduction is a procedure whose point of departure is what we


call the natural attitude and whose terminus is something called subjectivity,
and whose central component is the neutralization or suspension of every
commitment which, either tacitly or explicitly, appears within or in any way
determines the natural attitude.19 In other words, transcendental reduction is
a movement from one state of mind to another. It is a movement from the
state of natural attitude to transcendental subjectivity.

The Natural Attitude

The NATURAL ATTITUDE is a complex system of interlocking and mutually


supporting beliefs, preferences, commitments, and habits of mind which
permeate and regulate our everyday conduct and our everyday
understanding of things.20 These are mostly the beliefs that are shared to be
virtually universal. There are certain commitments that are constitutive of the
natural attitude. These commitments do not only underlie and make possible
our everyday activities and thoughts, they also underlie and make possible
the pursuit of objective truth by the natural and human sciences.
17
Crisis, ¶ 55, p.189 as quoted in Bell, 160.
18
Cf. Bell, 161.
19
Cf. Bell, 163.
20
Bell, 164.

4
The most significant characteristic of the natural attitude is its philosophical
naivety, a naivety which it therefore transmits to the natural and human
sciences, a naivety which simply consists in the uncritical and largely
unconscious adoption of all these philosophically problematic commitments.

HENCE, Husserl argues that we need to overcome the natural attitude. If we


are burdened by his philosophical naivety, we would need to take away the
commitments that are behind it. But how should we do it? We do it through
TRANSCENDENTAL REDUCTION.

The Transcendental Reduction

The TRANSCENDENTAL REDUCTION is a process of reducing to zero the


commitments of natural attitude. Husserl writes, “instead of remaining in this
attitude, we propose to alter it radically.”21 But how would we alter our
commitments to the natural attitude? Husserl says:

Although it remains what it is in itself, we put it ‘out of action’,


we ‘exclude it’, we ‘bracket it.’ It is still there, like the bracketed
matter inside a pair of parentheses… but we make no use of it.
We put out of action the entire ontological commitment that
belongs to the essence of the natural attitude. We place in
brackets whatever it includes with respect to being.22

What could this mean? This simply suggests that we cannot totally eradicate
our biases because it’s part of the structure of our consciousness. We are
historical and temporal beings, and we are always situated in a given time
and space, and our being-thrown-into-the-world (if we may use the term)
affords us already of some natural attitudes that we could hardly escape. But
for our knowledge to become objective, there is a need for us to bracket, to
put aside, our natural attitude, that is, the prejudices and biases to which our
natural attitude is committed. We refuse to let it affect our present cognition
over the thing perceived.

In concrete terms, how are we to do this?

a) CANCELLATION of the assertoric force: the positing act quality

In a sentence, “an old man is wise” there are two things to consider (1) the
assertion that “old men are wise”, which can be used as a premise of a
deduction; and (2) the description that “old men are thought to be wise.”
There is a meaningful difference between the two. The first one is assertive,
while the second one is simply descriptive. It can be observed that in the
second, there is a cancellation of the positing act quality. The second
statement suspends judgment whereas the first one asserts it. To bracket is
simply to avoid the tendency to avoid to assert. It simply means the
overcoming of either positive (affirmation) or negative (negation) assertion.
21
Ideas ¶31, p.107)
22
Ideas, ¶ 32, p.111.

5
Husserl clarifies further that the content can never be overcome, although
the assertion can be bracketed. Husserl himself says, “when I perform the
reduction, although I refrain from passing judgment into the world, I do not
thereby deny this world, as though I were a skeptic. Rather, I perform the
phenomenological epoche, [and this merely] bars me from using any
judgment that concerns spatio-temporal existence.”23 It is also to be noted
that the bracketing referred to here is not even to be construed as “doubting,
suspecting, supposing, assuming.” One simply becomes indifferent to the
assertion.

b) SUBSTITUTION of a radically different subject matter for our conscious


acts to be about.

But the question that we are to face now is: after the reduction, what remains
to be the object of our consciousness? Husserl is also aware that “it is
necessary now to make transparent the fact that we are not left with just a
meaningless, habitual abstention.”24 Hence, Husserl says that after the
phenomenological reduction, there remains the PHENOMENOLOGICAL
RESIDUUM. This is the specific species of the consciousness.

This is what Husserl would call as the paradox. On the one hand, the
phenomenological reduction instructs us to bracket our commitments. But,
after the reduction, we are presented with the “pure transcendental
consciousness (which) is left over as a residuum.”25 This residuum is that
which the phenomenological reduction cannot really bracket. Hence, we
bracket everything, and yet we know that there is a residuum that we cannot
completely get rid of. He calls this a paradox.

The RESIDUUM remains to be the being of our transcendental consciousness.


They are presented to us not as natural entities of our natural attitude but as
objects that have remained after the reduction. Simply put, these objects are
now presented to our consciousness, not as products of traditions, but as if
they are presented for the first time.26 The residuum is the “thing-in-itself” or
the “transcendental being” of phenomenology.

The Structure of Consciousness

Thus, as shown, Husserl believes that even if we arrived at pure


consciousness, as a result of the reduction, this pure consciousness is not
totally devoid of any content because consciousness is not totally isolated but
rather, it is always a consciousness of. But the consciousness that results
from the reduction is no longer the consciousness of the natural attitude, and

23
Ideas, ¶ 32, p.111.
24
Ideas, 41, p. 151.
25
Ideas, ¶ 55, p.170.
26
Bell, 168. The residuum is not to be equated with the universals (the intentional forms or ideas).
The residuum are still sensory data but they are freed from biases and prejudices (commitments) of our
natural attitude,

6
so we have the residuum to account for the ‘something’ in our appreciation of
consciousness as always a consciousness of something.

But after the reduction, what happens now in the consciousness? To this
Husserl says that the residuum that remains after the reduction has twofold
bed: (1) the material bed which he calls as the hyletic data, and the (2) noetic
bed which he calls as the intentional functioning.

The hyletic data

Earlier we speak about the content and the assertion, and we said that the
reduction takes away the assertoric character of the content forms. But the
content remains even after the reduction. This, I believe, is what Husserl calls
as the hyletic data. The hyletic data are comprised of “sensantions, feelings,
sense data, non-intentional sensory stuffs.”27 They are given to
consciousness.

The noesis

There is also a noetic bed of the consciousness. The neotic aspect of


consciousness is given the task of “making sense of, or bestowing meaning
on the hyletic data.”28 Its function is to create unity out of the diverse
contents given to consciousness. It creates a “sense” out of the varied
impressions that entered into the consciousness.

Alloy me to use an imperfect analogy between the movement in the


consciousness according to Husserl and the Aristotelian ideogenesis:

IDEOGENESIS
Sense impression 1 (color)

S
E
OBJECT
Sense impression 2 (shape)
N
Common
S

Sense impression 3 (size)


E
S
sense
phanta

HUSSERL’S CONSCIOUNESS

Hyletic data 1

Hyletic data 2
Noetic process

OBJECT
noema
Hyletic data 3 Synthetic activity of the mind
Passive synthesis

27
Bell, p. 172.
28
Ibid.

7
Active synthesis

The analogy that I intend to bring here is not between ideogenesis and
transcendental reduction, but rather, between the former and Husserl’s
structure of the consciousness. For it seems to me at the outset that there is
a semblance between Husserl’s structure of the consciousness (with the use
of the terms hyletic data, noesis and noema) to the Aristotelian theory of
cognition. Husserl argued that the hyletic data are received passively by the
consciousness (and so are the sense impressions of the object received by
the senses). Then the hyletic data are acted upon by the synthetic activity of
the noesis (in the same way as the common sense unites the sense
impressions to make it a meaningful whole). Then lastly, the “sense” created
by the synthetic activity is called as the “noema” (in the same way, the
phantasm is born as a product of the unifying act of the common sense.

With this analogy then, we investigate on what is new in Husserl’s reflection.


We observe, first and foremost, that the Aristotelian framework is naturalist
because of its assumption of the objective existence of things, whereas
Husserl repeatedly emphasized that the object is always understood
according to the mind that perceives it. Without the mind, the object could
not have an independent existence.

Secondly, the Aristotelian ideogenesis presupposes the tabula rasa nature of


the mind, whereas Husserl says that the mind could never be a tabula rasa
because consciousness is always historical. Consciousness is always a
consciousness of something despite the fact transcendental consciousness is
achieved only after the reduction. The consciousness that Husserl talks about
here is the consciousness of post-reduction.

Lastly, there is a big difference between the unitive function of the


Aristotelian common sense and Husserl’s noesis. Husserl’s Kantian influence
greatly spells out this difference. Whereas Aristotle’s common sense simply
combines sensations, Husserl’s noesis creates a meaning out of the hyletic
data. Subjectivity names a big difference between the two systems.

Here, we see that the concern of Husserl is to remind us that our


mind/consciousness is not a passive container of the perception we get from
the world. Rather, we constitute the sense of the object of perception. Our
mind has a creative component to constitute the meaning of the thing of
perception.

The problem of objectivity and adumbrations

The problem of objectivity

Trying to get a sense of what I have understood about Husserl, I’d like to note
that Husserl was primarily interested in arriving at apodictic truth. But in the
process, he finds out that there are several hindrances. First, he realizes that
the world is not as simple as the early realists would suppose. The world is

8
not as “objectively” existing as Aristotle presupposed it to be. Hence,
apodictic knowledge is not a mere scavenging of what is objectively out
there.

Husserl’s problem is not even the concern of Descartes: that the body and
the senses may fool us in our search for knowledge. For Husserl, the crux of
the problem surfaced with the coming of Kant. When Kant had reflected
about the constitutive character of the mind, there arise the real problem of
apodicticity. Subjectivity is undeniable, and if the mind constitutes reality,
then there can be as many reality, there can be as many meanings, as there
are so much minds. With this, can we now simply abandon our search for an
apodictic and objective truth?

Since the mind is naturally embedded with prejudices and biases, there is a
need for a reduction that would set these biases and prejudices aside. In so
far as we want to arrive at the truth, we try our best to remove the personal
baggage that we tag along with us in our search. But the question now is:
how much of reduction can we really do? How much of ourselves can we
really get rid of?

Even after the reduction, Husserl continues to admit that the mind could not
fully get rid of itself. The residuum remains and the noetic process remains to
be constitutive of the reality of the perceived. This is clearly stated in
Ingarden’s commentary on Husserl: “Thus the fundamental thesis of
transcendental idealism is obtained: what is real is nothing but a constituted
noematic unity (individual) of a special kind of sense which in its being and
quality results from a set of experiences of a special kind and is quite
impossible without them… The existence of what is perceived is nothing “in
itself” but only something “for somebody,” or for the experiencing ego.”29

Adumbrations

Before ending this reflection, there is one thing which I believe is helpful for
our quest for objectivity and apodicticity. This is Husserl’s concept of the
adumbrations. Simply put, the adumbrations refer to the various partial,
perspectival aspects under which a given object can be presented.30 Husserl
simply warns us against the tendency to think “that what I am actually
presented with, the literal content of my experience, is something more or
less static, inert, and self-contained. It is, we might say, something that could
in essence be captured in a photograph, something of which we could
conceivably make a self-contained picture or copy.”31

But the truth about our perception is, it is only always partial, perspectival. It
does not give us the whole truth at one time. Husserl explains, “every
intentional object is surrounded by ‘an empty horizon of possibilities’ which,

29
Ingarden, p.21.
30
Bell, 189.
31
Ibid.

9
despite being only ‘dimly apprehended’ are nevertheless present in the
experience of that object and contribute to determine its nature.”32

Our perception leaves a space for many other possibilities and


interpretations. And yet, despite its partial character, our perception remains
to be contributive in determining the nature of the thing itself. Hence, the
concept of the adumbrations confronts us with the humble admission of the
finitude of our mind. This affirms more the social character of knowledge. The
truth is unfolded as knowledge is shared and communicated because what
we simply know in cognition are mere adumbrations. But as we share this
little knowledge of ours, we begin to see the bigger picture, and this would
give us a better perspective about the thing-in-itself. Knowledge continually
unfolds and it is our task to be patient and vigilant, to be attentive to its
unfolding.

There is indeed a possibility for an objective and apodictic truth. But this
should not be taken to mean the metaphysical, trans-historical, trans-
temporal truths. We can in fact agree without debate that certain things are
as such. Would we still be arguing about the apodicticity of an apple fruit if
we are eating that same apple in a common meal? But despite its seemingly
obvious truthfulness, we are reminded that our cognition remains to be mere
adumbrations, hence we need to be aware of more possibilities in our quest
for knowing.

32
Ideas, ¶ 27, p.103.

10