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Husserl Stud (2008) 24:243259

DOI 10.1007/s10743-008-9040-8

Noema in the Light of Contradiction, Conflict,

and Nonsense: The Noema as Possibly
Thinkable Content

ukasz Kosowski

Published online: 31 July 2008

 Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Abstract The present paper is guided by the belief that Edmund Husserls concept
of noema can be significantly enriched when considered in light of extreme epis-
temological instances. These include the phenomena of the absurd and nonsense,
but also intentional conflict and cases of consciousness directed to contradictory
objects. The paper shows that the noema, when experienced in such a context,
exhibits interesting characteristics that are rather difficult to note in other circum-
stances. The paper consists of five sections. The first interprets and relates concepts
from Logical Investigations to those from Ideas I. The second section discloses the
noematic ability to assemble senses for which there is no corresponding object. The
third section stresses that the noema must, in some instances, be able to comprise
two separate structures of senses through which two different objects are meant. In
the fourth section, all of these characteristics are shown to be restricted by the
concept of nonsense and the laws of meaning-compounding. In this way, the noema
is clarified as possibly thinkable content. Finally, in Sect. 5, this idea is brought
into dialogue with the most significant interpretations of the noema.

1 Preparatory Remarks: Logical Investigations vis-a-vis Ideas I

Expressions like round square, childless mother, and any other contradiction
exemplify situations for which the intending meaning cannot be unified with the
fulfilling act (Hua XIX/2, p. 544: 2001b/191). However, Husserl also holds
that every particular expression of this sort has its own meaning, despite the fact that
none of them has an object (Hua XIX/1, p. 58: 2001a/200). Hence, expressions that

. Kosowski (&)
Institute of Philosophy, Maria Curie-Skodowska University, Lublin, Poland

244 Husserl Stud (2008) 24:243259

refer to contradictory objects are not meaningless but only objectless.1 This lack of
object is to be understood here as the a priori impossibility of performing the act
capable of fulfilling the meaning that is intended in the act (Hua XIX/1, p. 61:
This way of explaining things appeals to conceptions from Logical Investiga-
tions. Indeed, in the second edition of that text, Husserl describes the issues of
absurdity and nonsense in more detail as a sort of corollary to Ideas I, where he did
not find a place for analysis of this matter (Hua XIX/1, p. 334: 2001b/67). Because
the question of absurdity, nonsense, and contradictory objects is, for present
purposes, noteworthy only insofar as it takes into account the notion of noema, the
next several paragraphs will be devoted to exploring the fact that the conceptions
from Logical Investigations can also be explained by using an apparatus from Ideas
I. More precisely, it will be emphasised that a structure of intentional essence is
analogous to the structure of noema (see Smith and McIntyre 1982, p. 136).
In Logical Investigations, intentional matter is viewed as a component of an act
that determines the object to which the act is directed and in what set of properties
this object is apprehended. Matter establishes a direction and intentional sense for
any kind of act (Hua XIX/1, p. 425: 2001b/119). Moreover, every experience also
involves an intentional quality, which is responsible for differences in how
objectivity is intended, e.g., as possible, questionable, deniable, presented in this or
that manner, etc. (Hua XIX/1, pp. 425, 505: 2001b/119, 162). The matter and the
quality together constitute the intentional essence. The latter, if related to
linguistic acts, becomes a semantic essence (Hua XIX/1, p. 431: 2001b/122). A
simple example can be instructional here.
When one asks Does 65 nm technology guarantee better power efficiency than
90 nm? the intentional matter is equal to what is judged, i.e., to the sense of the
question. As such, the matter plays the role of the constant factor in different acts.
For instance, one may express ones own wish, e.g., I wish that 65 nm technology
guarantees better power efficiency than 90 nm, or claim with certitude that
Indeed, 65 nm technology guarantees In both cases, intentional matter is the
same since the sense remains unchanged; what differs from example to example is
called intentional quality. The latter is responsible for the fact that at one time the
object judged about is questioned and at another time it is wished for or is treated
as a true state of affairs.
The foregoing explanation has disclosed a substantial phenomenological
distinction between the content of judgment and the object judged about
(Hua XIX/2, p. 550: 2001b/195; Hua III, p. 216/227). The content of judgment is
what is judged in the manner as it is judged. Here, this means the unity of intentional
matter and quality. In contrast, the object judged about is the objective unity to
which judgment is referred. In the present context, it is the relation between two
types of technology. The unity judged about, or the object of judgment, is so only
because of the content of the judgment that apprehends objectivity as, e.g., a
Husserl (Hua XIX/1, p. 334: 2001b/67): Die Verknupfung ein rundes Viereck liefert wahrhaft eine
einheitliche Bedeutung, die ihre Weise der Existenz, des Seins in der Welt der idealen Bedeutungen
hat; aber es ist eine apodiktische Evidenz, da der existierenden Bedeutung kein existierender Gegenstand
entsprechen kann.

Husserl Stud (2008) 24:243259 245

relation of power efficiency between 65 and 90 nm kinds of technologies. It can

be also said that in the act of judgment one is directed to the object judged about
through intentional, judgmental content.
On this basis, the possibility of distinguishing an object which is judged from
an object as it is judged emerges. This distinction is spread over the entire sphere
of intentionality. What it means is that for every particular experience, regardless of
what kind of act it is, there must be a precisely distinguished object which is
intended and object as it is intended.2 For instance, the victor at Jena and the
vanquished at Waterloo (Husserls example) both refer to Napoleon. In both cases
the object which is intended, i.e., Napoleon, remains the same but is each time
intended through a different intentional sense. Hence, the object as it is intended
is different in each case, precisely as Napoleon as victorious differs from
Napoleon as vanquished.3
When analysed, the concept of the object as it is intended discloses a structure
that is composed of intentional matter and quality. According to Logical
Investigations, the matter determines the object to which the act is intended
and in what set of properties this object is apprehended. As regards the current
example, Napoleon is the object to which an act is directed whereas, as regards
the first instance, his being victorious constitutes the set of properties. Moreover,
Napoleon as victorious is meant in the mode of certitude, which is conditioned by
the intentional quality.
As was mentioned above, the intentional matter and quality together constitute
the intentional essence. This latter, since it establishes the sense and the manner in
which the object is intended, is equal to the notion of the object as it is intended.
From this point of view, everything that can be said about the intentional essence
points also to the noema. The concept of noema was elaborated for the first time by
Husserl in his Ideas I (Hua III, p. 202/213). According to him, noema refers to
what is thought in the fashion that it is thought, as it is meant (Hua III, p. 203/214).
Thus it is easy to see that this general description can be substituted by the formula
object as it is intended. Moreover, in the case of linguistic acts, the noema is that
component of experience that comprises intentional sense, namely meaning or
judgment (Hua III, p. 216/227).4 All of the relationships which have been
emphasised in the present section are depicted in Fig. 1.
Husserl claims that the noema has a complicated structure (Hua III, pp. 297304/
309316). Treated as the object as it is intended and in the light of previous
systematization, it appears as the unity of intentional matter and quality. In Ideas I
Husserl (Hua XIX/1, p. 414: 2001b/113): We must distinguish, in relation to the intentional content
taken as object of the act, between the object as it is intended, and the object which is intended.
It should be emphasised that the present paper does not intend to clarify anything other than the formal-
ontological distinction between the object which is intended and object as it is intended. In other
words, it is not the purpose of this paper to clarify whether those objects exist in the same or in a different
manner. Here, it must be enough to mention Smith and McIntyres critique of Gurwitsch and the
controversy between Drummond and McIntyre (Smith and McIntyre 1982; Gurwitsch 1964; Drummond
If we are to talk about acts components, it must be noted here that noesis is the second and ultimate
part of experience; but the text distinguishes really inherent components from the noema, which is the
not really inherent, intentional one (Hua III, pp. 200222: 1982/211233).

246 Husserl Stud (2008) 24:243259

Fig. 1 LI and Ideas I a

Fig. 2 LI and Ideas I b

Husserl prefers to talk about noematic characters rather than intentional qualities
and, moreover, rather than talk about intentional matter he introduces and exploits
the notion of a noematic core (Hua III, p. 232/243). Thus, what he called
intentional quality in Logical Investigations is noematic character in Ideas I,
while intentional matter is the same as the noematic core. The core and the noematic
character are the main components of noematic structure.
Nevertheless, analysis of intentionality in Ideas I reaches farther than that it does
in Logical Investigations. According to Husserl, a further component should be
distinguished in the noematic core, namely the nucleus of the core, which he also
calls pure X.5 Thus every noema is to be treated as the unity of the noematic
character, the core, and its nucleus (Hua III, pp. 301304/313316). These three
components together constitute that which in Logical Investigations is called
intentional or semantic essence and in Ideas I is called noema.6 All of these
assignations are pictured below in Fig. 2.7
Husserl (Hua III, p. 299: 1982/311): It is not the just designated core itself but rather something else
which, so to speak, makes up the necessary central point of the core and functions as bearer for noematic
peculiarities specifically belonging to the core, that is to say, the noematically modified properties of the
meant as meant.
At this point it is good to emphasise that every particular noematic component is to be viewed as an
abstract part, that is, moment in the terminology of Logical Investigations (Hua XIX/1, pp. 272274:
A similar idea as to the relation between intentional matter, quality and noema was proposed by Smith
and McIntyre in their famous Husserl and Intentionality, as well as by Jozef Debowski (Smith and
McIntyre 1982; Debowski 1986).

Husserl Stud (2008) 24:243259 247

2 Noema as the Sense of Self-contradictory Formulas

According to Husserl, every self-contradictory formula, such as childless mother,

is meaningful and objectless. This means that this kind of expression has meaning
but it can never be used objectively because there are no objects that correspond to it
(Hua XIX/1, pp. 58, 334: 2001a/200, 2001b/67). The lack of correlates is
conditioned by an a priori law that grounds the impossibility of presenting
contradictory objects. Here a further distinction will be helpful, one that helps to
keep objective and objectless meanings separate. Thus, following Experience and
Judgment, the term concept will designate those meanings for which objective
correlates can be found (Husserl 1973, p. 327). The term meaning will have a
broader sense, i.e., it can be considered as objective or objectless.
So, the formula childless mother has a meaning, but there is no object that
corresponds to it and, therefore, it expresses no concept. In accord with Husserls
claim in Ideas I that in linguistic acts meanings and judgments are the same as
noematic content (Hua III, p. 216/227), the analysis of linguistic noemata is the
same as the explication of the structure of meaning or judgment. Moreover, if an act
is carried out, then its corresponding noema is available for analysis. There is no
exception here: every noema can be analysed, even noemata that comprise the
senses through which contradictory objects are intended.
How is the noema structured in this latter case? To answer this question, it will be
helpful to consider what exactly a self-contradictory formula refers to. Simply put, it
names an object that has, for instance, the properties of being a mother and of being
childless. The problem resides in the fact that the object cannot simultaneously be
characterised by both of these attributes because they exclude each other when
treated as the characteristics of one entity. Any x that is a mother cannot
simultaneously be childless, and vice versa. Nevertheless, Husserl argues that we
must understand the idea of childless mother, because otherwise we could not
explain the fact that we know, concerning such an object, that there is no possible
act in which it can be presented (Hua XIX/1, p. 61: 2001a/202). We understand the
impossibility of unifying under the title of one object properties that exclude each
other in respect to this unity. This argument leads Husserl to the conclusion that
self-contradictory formulas are meaningful but objectless (Hua XIX/1, pp. 58,
334: 2001a/200, 2001b/67).
Here, the bearer of properties, when considered from the noematic side, occupies
the place of the nucleus, while the noematic core is comprised of the intentional
senses of objective properties i.e., being a mother and being childless. The core and
its nucleus constitute the noematic structure through which the childless mother is
meant. Hence there is a significant difference between the noematic and the
objective structure, since the former is consistent whereas the latter is not. How is
this possible?
First and foremost, the noema contains only moments of sense. This means that,
whereas objective unity is the subject of properties, in the noematic content there is
only its sense, i.e., the noematic nucleus through which this unity is thought as the
subject of properties. In other words, thanks to this nucleus, something is meant as

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the subject. But the meaning differs from the object, as the latter is not a formation
of sense but rather the target of thinking.8
Here we should also distinguish the objective aspect from the noematic one. An
objective unity can be a mother, childless, green, spooky, etc., whereas the noematic
nucleus cannot. The latter establishes intentional sense, thanks to which properties
are intended, but it is ridiculous to say that the childlessness or the greenness
constitute parts of the noematic core.
To continue the analysis of the differences between noematic and objective unity,
we may note that objective childlessness belongs to its subject but the part of the
noematic core in which a sense of childlessness is constituted does not belong to the
noematic nucleus. Objectively, this connection holds between subject S and
property P, but in noematic content there is no relation of this type; rather, there is
only the sense through which this connection is meant. In other words, the noematic
sense of P is not related to the noematic sense of S as property is to object. Of
course, particular moments of noematic content are connected with each other
because they form a unity of sense, but this is a connection between parts rather than
a relation of property to the object. And this is also why noematic structure can be
consistent even in acts that point to contradictory objects.
Hence, it must be said about noematic content that the nucleus and the core are
unified insofar as every noema must have both, but their contents are independent of
each other. According to this conception, the part of the noematic core that
constitutes the sense of being a mother, and the one through which being childless is
meant, can be easily unified with a nucleus into one noematic structure. Because
contents of noematic parts are independent of each other, a noema can comprise even
arbitrary moments of sense. This explains not only how it is possible that self-
contradictory formulas have meaning, but it also makes clear that even expressions
that ignore ontological order, such as a trapezoid ton c, green sin a, or vanilla
Dt, have meaning.
From this point of view, the difference between the noema considered as the
object as it is intended and the object which is intended is clear enough. It
consists in the fact that no matter what kind of object consciousness is directed to at
a given time, and no matter what set of properties that object has, or even whether
an object is presented at all, the noema is always fully constituted and ready to be
analysed. In other words, any given act of consciousness necessarily entails the
possibility of knowledge about its noema, and in every instance every characteristic
of the noema can be recognized. In contrast, in most cases this cannot be said about
the object meant through the noema.

3 Noema in the Sphere of Conflict

The present consideration will now turn to the radical conflict between properties.
This time, the context will be slightly extended in order to make the structure of the
noema more intuitive and sharper.
An exception is constituted by immanently directed acts, since in these the acts are (or can be) directed
toward thoughts.

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To explain the consciousness of conflict in Logical Investigations as well as in

Experience and Judgment, Husserl uses the example of a mannequin (Husserl
1973, p. 91; Hua XIX/1, pp. 458461: 2001b/137139). According to him, one
encounters a conflict when one finds oneself in the middle of a doubting process.
This latter is instantiated every time the ego cannot find any intuitive motivation to
choose between two competing apprehensions, e.g., when one cannot find a reason
to decide whether the object one sees is a mannequin or a living body. This situation
can be explained in more detail in following manner.
Upon seeing the mannequin from far away, one may believe that what one sees is
a living body. But that conviction can change, as one follows some new intuitive
motives, into the perceptual belief that one sees a mannequin. This latter act can
again be modified into the perception of a living body, and vice-versa. Everything
depends on the weight of the intuitive motive on the basis of which the perceiving
ego decides as to which apprehension should be asserted. If the given motive is not
sufficient and a decision cannot be made, then during the period of uncertainty in
consciousness there are constituted two apprehensions: apprehension of a manne-
quin and of a living body.
From time to time, one of these gains a privileged place in the activity if the
intuitive motive is strong enough. When this happens, the second apprehension is
situated on the nearest passive horizon, which means that it is still intentionally
presented but now as background for the competing apprehension. In such a case, no
matter which act occurs, its object is not asserted; in other words, it is not an object
of certitude but of doubt. Here, according to Husserl, one deals with a situation in
which the same intuitive core involves double and competing apprehensions
(Husserl 1973, p. 91). If so, then in this case the noematic structure seems to be
composed in an extraordinary manner, since it apparently comprises more than one
objectifying unity of sense.
At this point it is important to look closely at this structure, in which the
intentional sense of a sensuous substrate can be found. In particular instances this
sensuous substrate serves as the basis for apprehending activity. Husserl called this
the common intuitive core (Husserl 1973, pp. 9293). This is easy enough to
grasp when one considers the hyletic content of the example in question. Here, the
set of hyletic data remains relatively constant, while the object for consciousness
varies in that at one time it is a mannequin and at another time a human body.9 The
difference is determined only by the animations of hyletic data, i.e., by
apprehensions. At one time, data are animated into the appearance of living tissue;
at another time into the appearance of a piece of wood. Thus, the sensuous substrate
constitutes the common intuitive basis for both apprehensions, whilst in the
noematic core there is its sense.
Moreover, one can also note that the particular apprehension determines only a
part of the core. Further content is provided by the moments coming from the
competing apprehension. Therefore, the noema comprises the sets of moments
through which two different objects are apprehended. One part of the core is

Of course in practise there is always a constant flux of sensational data, but here it is presupposed that
this fact has no impact on the theoretical results.

250 Husserl Stud (2008) 24:243259

occupied by the sense of a mannequin and the other part by the sense of human
flesh. Thus, in light of such an interpretation, the noema refers to two different
As in the case of contradictory objects, the noematic core here comprises
moments of sense that cannot be unified in the same subject, because human flesh
cannot simultaneously be a wooden figure. But this fact does not impact the
noematic structure, since in its core the whole complex of senses bestowed by
the apprehension of a mannequin is unified with the complex constituted by the
apprehension of human flesh. Despite the fact that from the noetic side one deals
here with a complicated situation in which differently formed apprehensions take
place, there is only one noema regarding the consciousness of conflict.10
Finally, in this case noematic content also comprises intentional characters such
as the moment of doubting and the conflict that appears between parts of the core.
In Husserls writings there are many other examples that justify the already
discussed conviction according to which the noema can assemble more than one
objectifying structure of sense. Here, one more instance will be considered in detail
in order to enhance the foregoing conception and to pin down its uncertain points.
The case that will be analyzed is the intentional conflict between the object as it is
perceived and the object as it is expected to be perceived. This can be explained
in following manner.
When one looks at one side of a red thing, one may believe that the other side is
also red. And if this belief for some reason is not confirmed, then it engenders a kind
of intentional conflict. In place of the red there could be any other colour, for
example yellow. Conflict arises between an intention of a red back side that is
empty and a fulfilled intention of a yellow back side. After the intention of a red
back side has been denied and superseded by a competing one, it does not
disappear but undergoes intentional negation (Husserl 1973, p. 91). In the
noematic core there are still moments of sense thanks to which a red back side is
intended, but this part of the noema is characterized as null, is nullified. The same
noema also comprises the competing, intentionally asserted moments of sense, i.e.,
the ones through which a yellow side is meant.11
Undoubtedly, the noematic content must be able to assemble two apprehensions,
i.e., x has a red back side and x has a yellow back side, since a conflict arises
between two objects and this situation is meant in one act through the one noematic
core. If we deny that the noema can be structured in this manner, then the
intelligibility of the whole phenomenon is hard to explain.
Alternatively, one might want to hold that a conflict takes place between two
objects for which separate noemata can be found. But if that is so, one must also

Husserl (1973, pp. 9293): Since the empty horizons constitute objectivity only in unity with the
common intuitive core, we accordingly have, as it were, a bifurcation of the original normal perception,
which in unanimity constituted only one sense, into a double perception. They are two perceptions,
interpenetrating each other by virtue of the content of their common core.
Husserl (1973, p. 345): However, what is seen as unity in the conflict is not an individual but a
concrete hybrid unity of individuals mutually nullifying and coexistentially exclusive: a unique
consciousness with a unique content, whose correlate signifies concrete unity founded in conflict, in

Husserl Stud (2008) 24:243259 251

accept that the consciousness of conflict is constituted by the two different acts,
since a particular experience involves only one noema. Further, one must hold that
both acts occur in exactly the same period of time. Nevertheless, this whole
conception is erroneous for two reasons.
First, if we accept that in the same moment of internal time consciousness there can
be constituted two different acts, this blurs the conception of experience since the
criterion that helps to distinguish one act from another is its place in time. Second, two
different acts that refer to two different objects do not yet constitute conflict, since their
objects must be intentionally related to each other. This can be accomplished,
however, only in another synthetic act. If this is the case, then the most that can be said
is that the consciousness of conflict is constituted by the comprehensive experience
that embraces partial acts. But phenomenological analysis discloses that the noema in
this synthetic act comprises two objectifying unities of sense, since consciousness is
simultaneously directed to two separate entities.
All considerations in this section have emphasised that the singular noematic
structure can comprise the sets of moments through which two different objects are
apprehended. In other words, this conviction can be expressed as follows: the
noematic stock is able to assemble formations of sense thanks to which two objects
are constituted upon one substrate. This ability makes the noema entirely different
from the object that is meant through it. Moreover, in this fashion, the noema cannot
be considered as the object as it is intended any longer, since the latter concept is
conceived as a structure of sense that can objectify only one entity at a given time.

4 Noema in the Sphere of Nonsense

As mentioned earlier, in the case of acts pointing to contradictory objects, as well as

in any kind of doubting, and, more generally, in every kind of experience where
intentional conflict is particularised, the set of noematic parts comprises moments
that cannot be simultaneously fulfilled by any intuitive unity. In other words, there
are no objects for the senses prescribed by the total content of the noema. What is
more, it should be emphasised that the conception that allows the noematic core to
assemble arbitrary moments of sense specifies the idea of thinkable content. The ego
is generally understood to be rather free in shaping its own thoughts. Thus, the
limitations on forming noematic content are the same as the limitations on shaping
thoughts. The extension of noematic content often reaches far beyond the sense
for factual existence, since the ego may think about existent, non-existent, possible,
or impossible objects in any physical or logical sense, and this does not mean that
these objects have to be presented.
Nonetheless, there are limits to the spontaneous arranging of noematic content.
These restrictions should not be reduced to the trivial idea that what is impossible to
think cannot be thought; rather, as Husserl assures us, configurations of words can
be found that only seemingly have consistent meaning. In terms of the noema this
means that there are moments of sense that cannot manifest themselves as parts of
the same core. If so, then the conception of the noema as thinkable content should
not be regarded as trivial. This situation requires more detailed explanation.

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In Logical Investigations Husserl recommends distinguishing nonsense, i.e., lack

of sense, from the absurd.12 Examples of the latter provide meanings like wooden
iron or round square, while the former concept can be explained on the basis of
configurations of words like about or King however or a man is and. Husserl
claims that in the first case, one deals with rightful but absurd meanings whereas in
the second case there is no meaning at all:
In the one case certain partial meanings fail to assort together in a unity of
meaning as far as the objectivity or truth of the total meaning is concerned. An
object (e.g., a thing, state of affairs) which unites all that the unified meaning
conceives as pertaining to it by way of its incompatible meanings, neither
exists nor can exist, though the meaning itself exists. Names such as wooden
iron and round square or sentences such as All squares have five angles
are names or sentences as genuine as any. In the other case the possibility of a
unitary meaning itself excludes the possible coexistence of certain partial
meanings in itself. We have then only an indirect idea, directed upon the
synthesis of such partial meanings in a single meaning, and at the same time
see that no object can ever correspond to such an idea, i.e., that a meaning of
the intended sort cannot exist (Hua XIX/1, p. 335: 2001b/67).
In the second case mentioned in the quoted passage, the non-existence of the
object is correlated with the non-existence of meaning. In contrast, in the first case
the fact that the expression is objectless does not entail lack of sense. Thus, the
meaning or its lack makes a difference here. As regards the absurd, the noematic
moments that constitute senses of properties are unified by the objectifying form.
Thanks to this fact, some object is intended and it does not matter if it exists or
not. We can also say that something is meant in the act. In the case of
nonsense, however, the noematic content is structured in such a way that it cannot
establish an objective reference. On the basis of moments of sense like a man is
and, the form of objectivation cannot be constituted (Hua XIX/1, p. 334: 2001b/
67). Therefore no object, no state of affairs or any intuitive unity, is meant in the
act. In other words, there is no meaning at all (Hua XIX/1, pp. 334348: 2001b/
Thus the ego deals with a sense when, and only when, an objective reference is
established, i.e., when an objectifying apprehension is intentionally constituted.
Consequently, the lack of the latter necessarily entails a lack of sense. To
summarise: expressions like wooden iron or round square give absurd but
genuine meanings. Thanks to these, objects are meant despite the fact that they
cannot be presented. However, there are also nonsensical expressions.13 On the
basis of combinations like a man is and or about or King however, it is
impossible to constitute any meaning because an objectifying apprehension, which

Husserl (Hua XIX/1, p. 334: 2001b/67): Man darf, wie wir in der Unters. I schon betont haben, das
Sinnlose (das Unsinnige) nicht zusammenwerfen mit dem Absurden (dem Widersinnigen), welches die
ubertreibende Rede ebenfalls als sinnlos zu bezeichnen liebt, obschon es vielmehr ein Teilgebiet des
Sinnvollen ausmacht.
Sensu stricto they are not expressions because there is nothing that they express.

Husserl Stud (2008) 24:243259 253

is fundamental for every concept, cannot be realized (Hua XIX/1, p. 334:

In the case of nonsense, noematic content does not contain an objectifying
structure. But this does not mean that there is no noema at all. Quite the contrary, a
solid noematic structure is constituted; however, its content differs from what could
be expected here. Namely, noematic unity involves a sense through which the ego
tries to apprehend particular meanings from the collection a man is and and unify
them into one objective reference. In other words, through noematic content, the ego
tries and fails to constitute an objective reference on the basis of partial meanings
that correspond to elements of composition a man is and.
Because some senses cannot be unified into one meaning, the conception of
noema stands under an important limitation. The case becomes clear when
considering the noema as thinkable content. Strictly speaking, the impossibility of
constituting a meaning indicates a content that cannot be thought. If so, then not
every noematic structure is possible. The arranging of noematic content is limited
by the fact that some content is thinkable and other content is not. Thanks to
this, the idea of noema as possibly thinkable content gains an important
Moreover, in Logical Investigations Husserl discusses the laws that regulate the
sphere of the possible and impossible, objective and objectless meanings (Hua
XIX/1, p. 342: 2001b/71). On this theme he distinguishes two levels of formal
logic.14 On the upper level one finds the laws that define material and formal
kinds of absurd meanings.15 On the lower level one finds the most essential laws
that regulate the sphere of meaning in general, i.e., the laws of meaning-
compounding. This is also where nonsense, i.e., the lack of sense, is distinguished
from every meaningful formation; it does not matter whether the latter is absurd
or not. In this place, logical interest goes together with the interest of pure
universal grammar.
It is easy to see that the laws of meaning-compounding specify the concept of
noema. The reason for this is that these laws, by distinguishing genuine meanings
from nonsense, also distinguish thinkable from unthinkable content. Any content
that is possible to be meant constitutes meaning. The latter in turn is the same as the
noematic core. Hence, the laws of meaning compounding are the same as the laws
of noema structuring. They make it clear which structure is possible and which is
not. In other words, laws of meaning compounding describe thinkable and
unthinkable content, possible and impossible structures of noema.

Husserl (Hua XIX/1, p. 350: 2001b/7576): Nichts hat die Diskussion der Frage nach dem richtigen
Verhaltnis zwischen Logik und Grammatik so sehr verwirrt als die bestandige Vermengung der beiden
logischen Spharen, die wir als die untere und obere scharf unterschieden und durch ihre negativen
Gegenstuckedie Spharen des Unsinns und des formalen Widersinnscharakterisiert haben.
As Husserl emphasises, the expression round square contains notions that are materially qualified,
thus this kind of absurdity is called a material one. On the other hand, there is formal absurdity; Husserl
(Hua XIX/1, p. 343: 2001b/72): Gesetze wie der Satz vom Widerspruch, wie der von der doppelten
Negation oder wie der modus ponens sind, normativ gewendet, Gesetze des zu vermeidenden formalen

254 Husserl Stud (2008) 24:243259

5 Final Remarks: The Idea of Thinkable Content in the Context of Various

Interpretations of the Noema

The conception of the noema that has been elaborated in this paper expresses in
large part the consequences of Husserls standpoint. He accepts that self-
contradictory formulas have meanings. Simultaneously, his conception of inten-
tionality establishes the noema as the structure of sense which constitutes a
meaning. Thus, questions about the reasonability of self-contradictory formulas or
any other absurdity in fact refer to the structure of the noema. In this paper, it was
stressed that the noematic core must be able to assemble arbitrary moments of sense,
since without this ability an explanation of the absurd seems impossible.
Similarly, Husserl stresses that two competing apprehensions constitute the
experience of conflict. But this explanation entails that the noema can comprise two
objectifying structures of sense. Thus, noematic abilities to assemble arbitrary
moments of sense and to be related to two different objects are inferred from the
results of Husserls analysis. The same holds for all the other characteristics of the
noema that help here to specify the concept of thinkable content. If this is the case,
then the latter notion seems to be implied by Husserls philosophy. Perhaps this
knowledge motivated Danuta Gierulanka when she speculated as to whether the
German ideell could be translated into the Polish language as pomyslane (in
Husserl 1975, p. 328), which in English means being thought. But is the concept
of noema, understood in this new fashion, consistent? This issue requires a detailed
explanation that cannot be given here. Nevertheless, one thing seems certain,
namely, that an agreement between the idea of thinkable content and the other
leading conceptions of the noema cannot be forged. Let us consider three of the
most influential and important interpretations of Husserl to see how they comport
with the thesis that is presented here.
The first interpretation belongs to Dagfin Fllesdal. In his famous article,
Husserls Notion of Noema, Fllesdal writes, To one and the same noema there
corresponds only one object (Fllesdal 1969, p. 683). If only one object means
only one objectifying structure of sense, then Fllesdals conception does not agree
with the result of this paper, since the latter asserts, among other things, that in some
instances the noema comprises senses that relate to two different objects. Otherwise,
as is emphasised in the examples, the phenomena of intentional conflict are hard to
However, one might want to argue that intentional conflict is based on two
different objectivations of the same substrate and that thus, in fact, consciousness is
directed toward only one object, i.e., to the differently apprehended substrate. This,
one might believe, supports Fllesdals thesis. Nevertheless, the correctness of this
argumentation rests on an ambiguity in the notion of object, and so is only apparent.
Let us consider this in more detail.
Husserl makes a distinction between the object as a substrate and the object as a
categorial formation. The former notion refers to the pre-predicative unity that is
constituted on the lowest level of activity (1973, pp. 5863, 64, 7279). In contrast,
the second notion refers to the predicative unity that is attained only on the highest
level of activity (1973, pp. 62, 198). The substrate is the object in the broader sense,

Husserl Stud (2008) 24:243259 255

whereas the categorial unity of subject and predicate constitutes the pregnant
concept of the object (1973, p. 62).
Moreover, the term substrate refers to the base for all subsequent
determinations, cognitive determinations as well as those which are axiological or
practical (1973, p. 59). According to Husserl, on the level of perceptive
explication, a low level of activity, the ego contemplates the substrate in its
different determinations (1973, pp. 61, 76). On the highest level, in turn, this
substrate is apprehended in the form of a subject. Additionally, its determinations
are formed into predicates (1973, p. 205). In this way, the object in the
pregnant sense is founded upon the object in the broader sense. The former has
the structure x is P, whereas the latter serves as the substrate in this structure.
Hence, the intentional conflict between the apprehensions of a mannequin and
a human body involves three different objects. Two of themsubstrate as
mannequin and substrate as human bodyare objects in the pregnant sense.
The third is the substrate taken in abstraction from its apprehensions, i.e., the object
in the broader sense.
In these terms, one may wish to construe Fllesdals thesis such that in
intentional conflict consciousness is directed not to the different apprehensions but
to their substrate, i.e., to the object in the broader sense. Nevertheless, such a
construal holds only if the object in the broader sense can constitute a self-sufficient
unity of knowledge, i.e., an intuitive unity that can be presented for itself. This is
impossible, however, since the substrate is always apprehended in some manner.
There is no genetic difference between acts that present the substrate and the act that
constitutes the object in the pregnant sense. More precisely, these acts are always
blended. The substrate, when it appears for the ego, is meant in the form of a subject
from the beginning. It can appear only as the subject of properties, and there is no
other way for it to come to consciousness. Hence, it cannot be presented for itself
and, therefore, it does not constitute a separate unity of knowledge. Instead, it is
only the abstract part of the object that is used by Husserl to explain different levels
in objectifying operations (1973, pp. 205207).
Therefore, in the intentional conflict that takes place between the mannequin
and human flesh, consciousness is directed at two different objects that are
constituted on the basis of the same intuitive substrate. The latter object, in turn, is
only the abstract part in the objective form; that is to say, it is the material content of
the subject and predicate. Thus Fllesdals thesis cannot be defended by appealing
to the notion of object in the broader sense. Instead, his thesis requires the noema
to be related to at most one object, whereas analyses in this paper reveal that, in
some instances, the noema must contain more than one objectifying unity of sense.
Finally, Fllesdals thesis fails to explain any intentional reference that is more
complicated than singular objectivation. Let us consider the following example.
Suppose that Fllesdals thesis holds and only one object corresponds to one noema.
Because consciousness cannot simultaneously constitute more than one noema, the
ego cannot be aware of more than one entity at a time. In this light, consider a
situation in which a mother asks a child which toy, out of two, he would like to
have. According to Fllesdal, when the child examines toy A, there is no intentional
reference to toy B. On the other hand, when the child considers toy B, he cannot be

256 Husserl Stud (2008) 24:243259

aware of A. The question then arises: How it is possible that the child will finally
make a decision?
The simplest explanation is that the child compares both toys and decides which
one he prefers. However, comparison is a relation between at least two objects. This
means that a child must be aware of both things simultaneously. Only then can he
discern a feature that makes one toy more attractive than the other.
In fact, Fllesdals thesis also fails to explain phenomena of immanently directed
experiences. Briefly speaking, the consciousness of A can be investigated only if A
is still present for the ego. Hence, the noema of an immanently directed act refers to
the noetic-noematic structure as well as to the presented object. Therefore, the
noema of immanent perception must contain two objectifying structures of sense,
whereas Fllesdals thesis allows only one such structure in the noema. This is also
the main difference between the conception of thinkable content introduced in
this paper and Fllesdals interpretation of the noema. The idea of thinkable content
allows a noema to contain more than one objectifying structure of sense, but
Fllesdals notion does not.
The second interpretation of the noema that will be brought into dialogue with
the results of this paper belongs to John Drummond. He identifies the noema with
the intentional object. However, he posits that they are not perfectly coincident
(Drummond 1990, pp. 116118, 123, 186187).16 According to Drummond, the
content of the noema differs in some respect from the content of object; this
explains why they are not coincident though they are ontologically indiscernible.
Therefore, it can be stated that the noema and the perceived object share the same
subject. The latter, when considered in the natural attitude, is the subject of the
perceived object. In contrast, after phenomenological reduction, it becomes the
subject of noema.17
In this context, let us consider two competing apprehensions: the apprehension of
a green leaf and of a red leaf. Suppose that the first of them is confirmed while
the second one is disappointed. According to the explanation from the previous
sections, the senses of both are simultaneously contained in the noema (otherwise
the phenomenon of conflict cannot be constituted), but only one apprehension can
be intuitively fulfilled at a time. Let us agree with Drummond that the fulfilled part
of the noema that contains the sense of green leaf is ontologically indiscernible

Drummond (1990, pp. 186187) states: this long text, in other words, reveals the identification,
albeit not the perfect coincidence, of (i) the state of affairs itself as an objectivity which transcends our
knowledge and cannot be fully known but which is the correlate of the ideal of the complete judgmental
experience thereof, (ii) the state of affairs as an identical objectivity intended in a manifold of judgings
intending the state of affairs with varying, associated determinations, (iia) the state of affairs as an
identical objectivity intended in a manifold of judgings intending in the state of affairs in the same
determinate manner, and (iii) the state of affairs as intended in this individual judging, but also of (iv) the
proposition in the purely logical sense.
Drummond (1990, p. 113): the Sinn (full noema) is the object intended straightforwardly in
the act, but when intended in our natural experience it is not present as a sense; it is a material object in
the world. Only after the performance of the reduction and the adoption of a philosophical attitude is the
object intended in the act revealed as a noema or Sinn (in the broadest sense), i.e., as an objects
significance for a perceiving consciousness. So, he concludes: The object, the sense, and the noema are
the same differently considered.

Husserl Stud (2008) 24:243259 257

from the perceived object, but what about the rest of the noematic content, and what
about the sense of red leaf that is not fulfilled?
This example makes clear that the interpretation of the noema presented in this
paper is different from Drummonds. For one thing, it requires that the noema be
clearly distinguished from the individual existence as regards its formal-ontological
aspects. When I perceive, I can think that the perceived object is different from that
which I see. In that case, the act of thinking and the perceptual experience have the
same substrate but different objects. This means that the noema comprises two
objectifying structures of sense. Only then can the ego discern a respect in which
one object is different from the other. Hence, the situation requires the noema to
refer to two different objects, of which only one is intuitively given. On
Drummonds reading, however, the noema is ontologically indiscernible from the
intentional object. Therefore, the noemas mode of being must be identified with
both the mode of being of the intuitively given object and the emptily intended one.
If the latter does not exist, the noema must be simultaneously regarded as an existent
and a non-existent object. Therefore Drummonds conception cannot allow the
noema to comprise two objectifying structures of sense without falling into
The last conception that will be brought into dialogue with the interpretation of
the noema presented in this paper belongs to Jacek Pasniczek. Inspired by Roman
Ingardens conception of the pure intentional object, this philosopher holds that in
the noematic structure, two different subjects can be distinguished (Pasniczek 1987;
Ingarden 1965).18 Let us explain his conception briefly.
Suppose that a perceptual act apprehends an apple as a green and tasty fruit. In
this case, the noematic content is comprised of the sense of the substrate, i.e.,
noematic X, and senses of properties.19 Content as such can be explained in the
following manner: x is an apple, which is a green and tasty fruit. Clearly, properties
belong to the object in the noematic content, but they do not characterise the noema
when it is taken as part of the experience. Instead, the properties of being bestowed
by noesis, constituting a unity of sense, comprising the thetic components,
etc., belong to the noema and not to the object in the noematic content. Therefore,
Pasniczek holds that two different subjects can be distinguished in the noematic
structure. The first of them is the subject of the object in the noematic content. This
is described as green, tasty, etc. The second subject, in contrast, is the subject
of the noema that is considered as the intentional component of the experience.
Further, these subjects have different ranks. The second subject is superordinated to
the first one (Pasniczek 1987, p. 31). In fact, the object that is founded upon the first
subject is nothing more than a property of the object founded upon the second
subject. In other words, the object in the noematic content is a property of the
It is necessary to look at Ingardens theory of the pure intentional object in order to understand
Pasniczeks interpretation of the noema. However, because this theory cannot be sufficiently explained in
brief, we direct the reader to Ingardens original work. One can also find an outline of Ingardens ideas in
Smith (1980) and Kung (1963).
Of course, in this case, as in previous ones, the noematic content is regarded in abstraction from the
thetic component.

258 Husserl Stud (2008) 24:243259

By distinguishing two subjects in the noematic structure, Pasniczeks conception

provides a noteworthy specification of the noema. Nevertheless, this specification
tends in different directions than that of this paper. Pasniczek considers one object
as the content of the noema and another object as the noema itself. Moreover, he
holds that the content cannot determine more than one object. In contrast, the idea
developed in the present paper allows noematic content to determine more than one
object. Thus, in the respect that is relevant here, Pasniczeks conception does not
differ from Fllesdals, and the same arguments can be formulated against both
This short discussion of the most important and influential readings of the noema
discloses the fact that the idea of possible thinkable content highlights another
aspect of the problem of intentionality. Once again, it opens up the question of the
relation between noema and intentional object. It also suggests answers that are
different from all those that are currently held. If the analyses that have been carried
out in this paper are correct, therefore, one must agree that a great amount of work
still needs to be done in order to understand the structure of consciousness.


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