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Transcendental Promises: Reconsidering Husserl’s Philosophy


A new generation of scholars has championed a picture of Husserl’s work that challenges the understanding of transcendental phenomenology as solipsistic, Cartesian and inevitably focused upon science. Today’s Husserl scholars are likely to stress genetic description rather than static analysis, intersubjectivity rather than the transcendental ego, and socio-political philosophy rather than epistemology. In light of these developments, the promise for transcendental phenomenology may seem to be approaching new heights, but prior to a wholesale endorsement it may be well to assess the promises made on transcendental phenomenology’s behalf. The panel pursues a critical engagement with transcendental phenomenology through three intertwining themes: Husserl’s philosophy as a response to the philosophical tradition, the transcendental reduction as an attempt to cast aside certain philosophical problems and the relevance of transcendental phenomenology to our ongoing activity in the world.


The first paper, “Reconsidering Husserl’s Modern Inheritance: Humean and Kantian Influences in Husserl’s Ethics,” investigates the relationship between Husserl’s lectures on ethics and Kant’s moral philosophy. The paper aims to establish the basis for a fruitful dialogue between the two thinkers by arguing that both respond to concerns arising from Hume’s ethical empiricism. Both Kant and Husserl agree that any viable moral philosophy must 1) preserve the universal necessity of moral laws and 2) maintain a strong notion of human freedom. Husserl, however, unlike Kant reserves a significant role for the emotions in the practical lives of human beings. This feature alone makes Husserlian ethics a viable alternative to contemporary Kantian moral philosophy.


The second paper, “Dualism, ‘Perfect Freedom,’ and the Epoché: Appealing to Bergson,” is a critical comparison between Husserl and Bergson. The paper begins by outlining Bergson’s criticism of dualism, which anticipates Husserl’s later analysis in the Crisis. While Bergson confronts both naturalism and idealism, Husserl believes that a robust idealism implicitly refutes naturalism. Husserl relies upon this implicit refutation to justify the subject’s perfect freedom to perform the epoché. The gap in explanation leaves Husserl’s transcendental idealism as an unjustified prejudice. Bergson’s refutation of naturalism not only complements Husserl’s idealism to form a good argument for the epoché but also paves the way for considering Bergson as a transcendental phenomenologist.


The third paper, “The Practical Relevance of Transcendental Phenomenology,” investigates the connection between practical concerns and Husserl’s later transcendental phenomenology by looking at ethics through the method of constitutional analysis. Constitutional analysis investigates the meaning of a given field of inquiry and ultimately leads to transcendental criticism. As a type of criticism, transcendental phenomenology brings to light the degrees of certainty attaching to claims by looking to the evidential activities of the subject. Seen in this light, transcendental phenomenology is a therapeutic philosophy that assures ethics does not overreach its bounds by positing claims of obligation where none exist.


Taken together, the three papers argue for a more modest transcendental phenomenology that is attentive to its history, its relation to other thinkers, and its continued responsibility for clarifying philosophical issues.

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