You are on page 1of 10

Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

Kant, Husserl, and the Nonempirical Ego Author(s): David Carr Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 74, No. 11, Seventy-Fourth Annual Meeting American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division (Nov., 1977), pp. 682-690 Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2025771 Accessed: 10/11/2010 06:12
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=jphil. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Journal of Philosophy, Inc. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Journal of Philosophy.

http://www.jstor.org

682

THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

ON THE USE AND ABUSE OF DECONSTRUCTION

ERRIDA, accordingto both speakers,has nothing to say.


Garver deplores this; Rorty applauds it. Both arguments need modification, in differing degrees. Given Derrida's view of Western philosophy, Garver's paper can itself be deconstructed to yield its own refutation. Rorty, understanding Derrida's aims, both understates (in section I) and (in III) overstates their import. The stress on archi-ecriture does, in my view, add a significant dimension to the philosophy of language. Moreover, although the end run around Heidegger (Rorty's II) issues unquestionably in the techniques described in III, it is doubtful whether this outcome is as irreversible as he makes out.
MARJORIE GRENE

University of California at Davis

KANT, HUSSERL, AND THE NONEMPIRICAL EGO *


W

HAT sense can we make of the distinction between the

empirical and the nonempirical (pure, transcendental) ego? My purpose here is to examine some possible interpretations of this distinction, rejecting some and trying to find an acceptable one, while exploring some of the difficulties involved. I shall concentrate on two philosophers: Kant, who seems to have originated the distinction, and Husserl, who, among Kant's many successors, seems to have accorded it the most importance. First let us look at some passages in Kant. Early in the Transcendental Deduction (B), Kant introduces the notion of "pure" or "original apperception," which he wishes to distinguish, he says, from empirical apperception, "because it is that self-consciousness which, while generating the representation 'I think' (a representation which must be capable of accompanying all other representations, and which in all consciousness is one and the same), cannot itself be accompanied by any further representation." 1 Thus apper* Abstract of a paper to be presented in an APA symposium on The Philosophy of Jacques Derrida, December 30, 1977, commenting on papers by Newton Garver and Richard Rorty, this JOURNAL, this issue, 663-673 and 673-681, respectively. * To be presented in an APA Symposium of the same title, December 29, 1977. Gary M. Hochberg will comment; see this JOURNAL, this issue, 692-703. 1 Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, Norman Kemp Smith, trans., (London: Macmillan, 1963), B 132.

KANT, HUSSERL, AND THE NONEMPIRICAL

EGO

683

ception means self-consciousness, and there are two different ways in which I can be conscious of myself. In empirical self-consciousness I know myself as an object; on the basis of inner sense I attribute certain properties to myself. This seems unproblematic enough. Kant's various remarks about pure self-consciousness, on the other hand, seem contradictory. At one point he says that in it I make use of a concept which should have been "included in the list of transcendental concepts" (A 341, B 399); a few pages later he says that it is a question of the "empty" representation "I," "and we cannot even say that this is a concept, but only that it is a bare consciousness which accompanies all concepts"; indeed, of this "I," he says, "we cannot have any concept whatever" (A 346, B 404). At one place Kant insists that this self-consciousness is by no means to be counted as knowledge (B 158); at another he characterizes such apperception as "the first pure knowledge of understanding" (B 137). Pure apperception is once described as the apprehension of my own existence: "I am conscious of myself, not as I appear to myself, nor as I am in myself, but only that I am" (B 157); elsewhere it is described as a "mere" representation, i.e., not the "perception of an existent (the Cartesian cogito, ergo sum), but in respect of its mere possibility" (A 347, B 405). These passages make it very difficult to see what Kant means by pure self-consciousness or apperception. Perhaps we can get at it by contrast to empirical self-consciousness. In empirical self-consciousness we clearly have not only a concept but intuitions to go with it, such that we gain knowledge of an object in terms of both existence and properties. One traditional way of approaching pure apperception is to say that it involves no ascription of particular properties to the ego. All those traits of character, dispositions, and the whole history of particular events, actions, thoughts, and experiences which distinguish me from you, are furnished by empirical self-consciousness. But there is another way of being conscious of myself, Kant seems to be saying, which involves none of these: at most I attribute thinking to myself, but not, so to speak, on the basis of watching myself do this; nor do I attribute particular thoughts to myself, but only the function of thinking in general. It is this self-consciousness that is the condition for my being able to think or even experience anything at all. Thus we have two different sorts of self-consciousness, or apperception. But does this justify talk of two different sorts of ego, an empirical and a nonempirical ego? Are the two sorts of self-consciousness distinguished not only by what they attribute to the ego

684

THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

(particular properties versus thinking in general) and by whether or not they are based on inner sense, but also by having distinct referents? A pure ego distinct from the empirical one would seem to be an ego without particular properties. Can such a thing exist? Granted that we do not cognize it, and thus do not need its properties, delivered by intuition, in order to know it. But is it even thinkable? In order even to think of it as a particular existent, don't we have to think of it as possessing properties? To these questions a traditional answer has run as follows: What I am conscious of in pure apperception is not a particular, and it is for this reason that I do not need to attribute particular properties to it. Also, for this reason, it must be regarded as distinct from the empirical ego. What I am conscious of is not those particular properties which distinguish me from other persons, but rather those general properties which I share with any and all other egos, such as thinking as such. In other words, I am aware not of my particular self but of the essence of myself, the I as such or in general (ilberhaupt), the "pure form" of the I. Such an ego is "transcendental" because it transcends all particular egos like you and me. This is often thought to be what Kant had in mind. He may be saying that, insofar as I make an objective and synthetic a priori judgment about the world, I refer implicitly not just to what I think but to what any rational subject would think, what belongs to thinking as such. If it is objected that the term self-consciousness is not appropriate here, since I am not conscious of my self as distinct from others, most defenders of this interpretation would probably accept the objection. It is still not clear, however, that this commits us to two distinct egos, one empirical and the other pure. The two forms of "self"consciousness are now distinguished by their objects, to be sure. But in the case of pure apperception I am aware of the concept or form of any ego at all, and it seems clear that this object is precisely a concept or a form, and not itself an ego, just as the concept of a table is a concept and not a table. Now the problem of attributing properties of instances to the form goes back to Plato, and the notion of a generalized ego has a long history going back to the Averroistic interpretation of Aristotle's De Anima, if not to Aristotle himself. So perhaps we should not dismiss the notion of a Bewusstseinfiberhaupt so lightly. But it is hard to see why such a notion is necessary, for Kant or the others. We may admit that the concept or form of a rational subject is an objective essence

KANT, HUSSERL, AND THE NONEMPIRICAL

EGO

685

with a normative status for the individual in his judgments without thereby having to attribute to it any rational agency or other ego-like properties. nIt seems, then, that we have to choose between two possible interpretations of what Kant says, neither of which involves positing two distinct egos: either there are two different ways of being conscious of one and the same ego, distinguished by what they attribute or do not attribute to it, and on what basis; or else empirical and pure apperception are awareness of two different objects, one of which is the particular ego, "myself," and the other of which is the form or essence of any ego, but is not itself an ego. Let us turn now to Husserl. Here we find the concept of a pure or transcendental ego, but no trace of the attempt to divest it of its particularity or to generalize it into a "consciousness in general." Unlike many of his commentators, Husserl does not confuse the transcendental ego with the eidos ego (which is more properly called the "eidos transcendental ego") mentioned in the Cartesian Meditations.2 The latter is clearly an eidos, not an ego. The transcendental ego is clearly to be regarded as an individual.8 Transcendental philosophy, he says, is "the knower's reflecting upon himself and his knowing life." The source of all transcendental philosophical assertions is "I myself." 4As transcendental ego I am the subject of a conscious life that consists of a stream of individual experiences. I am also, as he says, a "substrate of habitualities" (66) and "constitute myself in the unity of a history" (75). Accordingly, the term 'transcendental ego' is used by Husserl in the plural (30), and he faces the problem of how these transcendental egos experience one another. But the transcendental ego is sharply distinguished from what Husserl calls the empirical, the psychical, or the mundane ego, or sometimes "I, this man" (25). What does Husserl mean by this distinction? Clearly, if Husserl is to maintain this distinction, it will have to be on different grounds from those mentioned in connection with Kant. If I understand him correctly, it is a matter of two different ways in which the ego can relate to anything else besides itself. In both cases we are dealing with particular properties-or activities -of the ego: perceiving, thinking, valuing, and even feeling. But
2 Dorian Cairns, trans. (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1960), p. 71. Page references to Husserl are to this book, unless otherwise noted. ISIdeas, W. R. Boyce Gibson, trans. (New York: Macmillan, 1958), p. 112. 4 The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, David Carr, trans. (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern, 1970), p. 97f.

686

THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

these can be seen as related in two different ways to other objects or events: they can be causally related to them, or they can be intentionally related to them. Understood intentionally, everything other than the ego is considered only to the extent that it is an object for the ego's consciousness, or more broadly, has a meaning for it, means something to it. Anything that means nothing to me has no intentional relation to me, even though it may have a causal relation. The ego is conceived as the subject of consciousness, whose essense it is to be of something; and anything else whatsoever has a place in this schema only if it has the value of this "something." Everything else has meaning; the ego, through its conscious intentionality, bestows meaning. Even the ego's relations to itself and its own experiences are conceived intentionally. Past and future experiences, for example, are considered only to the extent that they have meaning for the present. In this sense have an "influence" on the present; not in the sense of causal efficacy. The empirical consideration of the ego, on the other hand, consists in treating its activities and properties as causally related to the objects and events of its environment, attempting to find regularities and establish causal laws. This approach was practiced by introspective psychology as well as by behaviorism; and I see no reason why externally observed conscious activities cannot be considered intentionally as well as causally. Thus it is not our access to mental phenomena-whether by introspection or external observation-that determines the status of the ego. Nor should the distinction between pure and empirical ego be confused with the distinction between the eidetic and the empirical or factual. What distinguishes the phenomenological method is not that it is eidetic -many nonphenomenological disciplines are also eidetic, according to Husserl-but rather that the subject matter that it treats eidetically is the transcendental ego in its intentional relation to the world. Again we have two different ways of considering the ego, and again we must ask: does this justify talk of two distinct egos? One objection to Husserl might run as follows: the mode of self-consciousness he describes is surely possible-that is, we can focus on or consider exclusively the intentional relations of the ego to the world-but the causal relations are still there. It is not that there exists an ego whose properties are nothing but intentional relations. There is just the ego, which relates to the world in both these ways and perhaps others as well. Anything that involves the ego, including its intentional experiences and thoughts, must be

KANT, HUSSERL, AND THE NONEMPIRICAL

EGO

687

causally related to other events. Thus the pure ego is a sort of abstraction, not something that exists concretely. Actually, Husserl does not argue for the numerical distinctness of the two egos. He would disagree, however, with the view that the pure ego is a mere abstraction. For him it is something that exists concretely in its own right. Indeed, it is of the utmost importance for his whole philosophical program that this be so. "If conscious experiences were inconceivable apart from their interlacing with nature," he says, "in the very way in which colors are inconceivable apart from extension, we could not look on consciousness as an absolute region for itself alone in the sense in which [in phenomenology] we must actually do so" (Ideas, 156). But how can Husserl make good on this? Husserl believes that the causal relation of the ego to the rest of the world is required by the assumptions of what he calls "the natural standpoint." The natural standpoint consists essentially in the belief in a unified, all encompassing space-time world, to which I and my experiences also belong. To the essence of this world belongs the regular causal interrelatedness of all events within it, including mental events. But though all this is required by the natural standpoint, that standpoint is not itself a necessary assumption. As is well known, Husserl believes it is possible to "suspend" or bracket the natural standpoint. All that is left is the ego, consciousness, and its world, interrelated in a purely intentional way. But isn't the suspension of the natural standpoint just an operation of abstraction leaving us merely with something abstract? Husserl believes not. The feasibility of the phenomenological epoche is guaranteed by the notion of intentionality. Consciousness is intentionally related to its objects. If this intentional relation entailed the existence of those objects, then we would have to say that the objects stood on the same ontological level with consciousness, so to speak, or that they belong to its real surroundings within the space-time world. In this case ego and objects would have to be related not only intentionally but also causally. But intentionality does not, in fact, entail the existence of its objects. In this sense it is not even a relation in the usual sense of the term. All that is required when we begin with the ego considered as intentional subject is intended objects, not real objects or a real world. We can sum up Husserl's position as follows: I exist concretely as transcendental (intentional) ego, and I am or can be conscious of myself as such. I may further assume the natural standpoint and thus take myself as an empirical ego, but I need not. Thus the im-

688

THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

portant thing about this doctrine is that empirical properties are not to be construed as essential or necessary to the existence of the ego. Nothing requires that the subject of intentionality be construed as part of the natural world. Husserl describes the natural standpoint as a prejudice from which we can liberate ourselves. This conception involves some difficulties, to which we shall return in a moment. First, however, without examining it any more closely, perhaps we can use it to understand Kant better, to find an interpretation for Kant's distinction which is more satisfactory than those we have explored before. We considered the possibility that the object of what Kant calls pure apperception was not the particular ego-my self, strictly speaking-at all, but rather the idea of any such ego, such that I abstract from the particular properties that distinguish me from others. But on closer inspection this will not do, for it turns out that the empirical ego, as Kant conceives it, is not an instance of the concept of an ego that he seems to have in mind. The empirical ego is an object in the world, and, insofar as it is experienced and known, it must be subject to worldly causality. Contrasted to this is the idea of a self that acts spontaneously, one whose activity is to be understood not as happening according to causality but as following the rules (concepts) of the understanding. Thus rather than distinguishing between my particular ego and the concept of any such ego, Kant seems to be distinguishing between two different kinds of ego, or egos whose activities, properties and relations to the world are to be understood in two very different senses. It is neither difficult nor surprising to find the concept of intentionality in what Kant says about knowledge and experience. In knowing, the ego is not simply affected in some way, but goes beyond itself to the object. The object is not merely something that acts on the self; rather, it becomes an object for the self, the referent of a concept and the subject of a judgment. However we may judge the success of Kant's arguments for the achievement of objectivity, this is at least what is intended. The "I think" in this sense is not the object of a representation, but accompanies representations as their subject. Like Husserl's transcendental ego, it is nothing apart from its intentional relations to the world. A Husserlianized interpretation of Kant's distinction between pure and empirical apperception would then be as follows: each has a particular as its object, and thus can be called "self"-consciousness; and they have as their objects, if not two egos, then at least the same ego under two very different descriptions. Kant

KANT, HUSSERL, AND THE NONEMPIRICAL

EGO

689

wants to maintain, of course, that we have no knowledge of the ego as "pure," because we cannot experience it. But this is because his notion of experience is restricted to nature, i.e., causally determined objects. He does not seem willing to admit, as Husserl always admitted, that we "experience" even other persons under an intentional and not merely a causal description. Hence there should be no problem with experiencing ourselves in this way as well. Others, of course, are experienced under both descriptions. Part of the problem of Husserl's fifth Meditation, as I understand it, is to explain how beings that are experienced as part of nature (i.e., as mere bodies) are also experienced as intentional subjects. In my own case, however, this is not a problem, provided that the natural attitude is not a necessary assumption of conscious experience, provided it can be suspended. This leaves us with the self existing concretely as transcendental ego, without its natural relations to the world. But is Husserl really convincing in his attempt to show that the natural standpoint can genuinely be dispensed with, rather than subjected to an operation of abstraction which would actually still leave it in force? As is often pointed out, no question seems to have bothered Husserl more, throughout his life, than this question which is the most important of all for his whole philosophical approach. Here are some of the problems that arise: Given the concrete existence of such an ego, why does it behave the way it does? Where does it come from? Does it have a beginning and an end, and, if so, how are these brought about? The "purist" phenomenological reply will be: But these are all questions of causality required by the natural standpoint, and our insistence on an answer to them just shows that we have failed to perform the epoche. But why is it so hard to overcome the natural standpoint? Why does Husserl call it "natural"? Does he mean that it belongs to the "nature," i.e., the essence of consciousness to have such a standpoint? Surely not, one would think, if the phenomenological reduction, which consists in overthrowing this standpoint and replacing it with another, is possible. But the natural standpoint is obviously not just a standpoint that one can adopt or discard at will. Otherwise Husserl would not be constantly warning of the temptation of "falling back" into it. But whence this gravitational pull on consciousness-or is it an original fall from grace? Are these again causal questions, to be rejected as presupposing the natural standpoint? If we cannot dispense with the answers to them, then we cannot dispense with the natural standpoint either.

690

THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY

Another seemingly intolerable consequence that follows from2 Husserl's approach is that it seems to entail some sort of solipsism Husserl tried to meet this objection in the fifth Meditation, bul it is unclear whether, in order to admit philosophically the exis tence of other consciousnesses, we have to revert to the natural standpoint in which we have ordinary experience of them. All Husserl gives us is a description of that experience (149). In some of the later passages Husserl seems to be trying to develop the notion of a plurality of egos whose only interrelation would be intentional, rather than causal. Here Leibniz's monadology occurs to him, which seems appropriate: the relations between monads, on the sense of Leibniz's notion of representation, seem to be intentional and are certainly not causal. But Husserl seems uncomfortable with this solution, since it seems to involve him in an unargued realism of a plurality of monads, all external to one another. Hence he says that the plurality of monads which "is a mutual externality from the point of view of naive positivity or objectivity is, when seen from the inside, an intentional mutual internality [intentionales Ineinander]" (Crisis, 257). This is the dismaying and, to me at least, incomprehensible notion to which Husserl is led by his concept of the transcendental ego. This is what is required by the full suspension of the natural standpoint. If we find this consequence intolerable, and are left with the natural standpoint as an inescapable assumption, then the phenomenological approach is an abstraction and the nonempirical ego something abstract. It still makes perfectly good sense to approach the ego in purely intentional terms, but in doing so we are still dealing with an entity that has causal relations to the world as well.
DAVID CARR

University of Oklahoma