Phenomenological movement

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD075-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 22, 2024, from

3. Constitutive phenomenology

The founding text of constitutive phenomenology is the first book of Husserl’s Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie (Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy) (1913). Posthumous works have made it clear that Husserl’s transcendental constitutive phenomenology began by 1906 and is broader than the books published in his lifetime seem to show. Even during his lifetime he recognized in ‘Nachwort zu meinen Ideen…’ (‘Author’s Preface to the English edition of Ideas…’) (1930) a ‘constitutive phenomenology of the natural attitude’, also called a ‘mundane’ or ‘worldly’ phenomenology, that amounts chiefly to phenomenological psychology. Much in the realistic, existential and hermeneutical tendencies can be seen as convergent with this mundane constitutive phenomenology. Nevertheless, the aim of most constitutive phenomenology is transcendental.

Constitutive phenomenology emphasizes processes within conscious life as they are intentive of objects, but it also reflects correlatively on the objects as intended in such processes. Constitutive phenomenology is specified by its concern with constitution. To analyse the ‘constitution’ of a matter is definitely not to distinguish the components of which it is composed, but rather to describe the syntheses of intentive processes in conscious life with which it correlates as an intentional object. The expression was taken from Kantianism, but is not confined to operations of conceptually structuring objects. There is pre-predicative experience in which objects are constituted as perceived, valued, willed and so on, but not yet formed into states of affairs.

Between Logical Investigations and Ideas I, Husserl published ‘Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft’ (1911). It shows how his concern had broadened from the formal sciences of logic and mathematics to include the natural as well as the human or cultural sciences. Thus what he seeks in Ideas I are subjective conditions for the possibility of science of all kinds. His transcendentalism, however, differs from those of Kant and others in so far as he holds that the conscious life in which the world and worldly sciences could be subjectively grounded is itself the object of reflective observation, eidetic intuition and description.

The opening part of Ideas I is devoted to eidetic method. It has unfortunately led to confusion between the eidetic and the transcendental methods, between going from ‘facts’ to ‘essences’ and going from conscious life in the world to conscious life as transcendental. Conscious life in its non-worldly or transcendental status is the same life that is originally encountered in the ‘natural’ or naively world-accepting attitude of the zoological and cultural sciences as well as in everyday life; but if the world is not to be grounded in part of itself, part of this worldly or natural (and realistic) attitude needs to be reduced to a transcendentally reflective attitude, and the conscious life, then reflectively thematized, needs to have its ‘being in the world’ placed in suspense. This is accomplished through transcendental phenomenological bracketing or epoché, a species of suspended judgment focused on the spatial, temporal and causal relations of conscious life with the rest of the world. In this attitude the world can be seen as an object intended to by non-worldly conscious life that, in the technical signification of the word, ‘constitutes’ it. ‘Constitution’ refers to the ways in which types of objects correlate with types of conscious processes. Husserl went on then to assert that conscious life has a more fundamental being than its being in the world, which not even all other transcendental phenomenologists accept.

In its middle parts Ideas I describes the natural attitude and transcendental epoché, offering detailed analyses of the parallel structures of the ‘noema’ or object as it is intended to and the ‘noesis’ or intentive conscious process in which objects are constituted. It also discusses how conscious life has an inner time in which each conscious process is ‘protentive’ to later and ‘retrotentive’ to earlier processes; how there is an ‘I’ who can engage in the processes strictly called acts; how sensuous ‘stuff’ is formed in perception; and how objects have characteristics as believed in, valued and willed, as well as modes of appearance and manners of givenness, including clarity and distinctness in recollection and imagination as well as in perception and ‘eideation’.

The last part of Ideas I is devoted to rational justification. The theory of reason is the culmination of transcendental phenomenology. Justification for Husserl comes from the seeing, intuiting or ‘evidencing’ of the matters themselves. There is adequate and inadequate evidence, and apodictic and assertoric evidence, and such can directly and indirectly justify not only believing, but also valuing and willing; there is then epistemological, axiological and practical reason.

The second book of Husserl’s Ideas, chiefly composed in 1912–15 and devoted to the natural and human sciences, was also worked on by his assistants Edith Stein and Ludwig Landgrebe; although it was not published until 1952, it was known in manuscript to Martin Heidegger before Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) (1927) and to Maurice Merleau-Ponty before Phénoménologie de la perception (Phenomenology of Perception) (1945). Husserl returned to the formal sciences in Formale und transzendentale Logik (Formal and Transcendental Logic) (1929).

At Freiburg during the 1920s and in retirement until his death in 1938, Husserl went beyond the ‘static phenomenology’ that uses eidetic method to disclose types of possible objects and consciousness. ‘Genetic phenomenology’, as he termed it, seeks to elucidate how active syntheses have origins in passive syntheses, a search that emphasizes time in individual life but also extends into history, intersubjectivity, the genesis of the lifeworld, and the teleology of conscious life in what he more broadly calls ‘generative phenomenology’. These are all central issues in the later Husserl and in the background of his last work, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie (The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology) (1936).

Husserl’s thought was eclipsed in Germany during the Nazi period, but continued to be developed after the Second World War by a number of figures, three of whom can be mentioned. First, in Théorie du champ de la conscience (The Field of Consciousness) (1957), Aron Gurwitsch draws upon Gestalt psychology to revise Husserl’s accounts of the ‘I’ and attention, denying the need for the former as organizer and asserting the inherent organization of the field of consciousness into theme, thematic field, and margin. Second, in Collected Papers (1962–96), Alfred Schutz reflects from the standpoint of the ‘constitutive phenomenology of the natural attitude’ on the everyday common-sense constitution of the socio-cultural lifeworld and on how the cultural sciences – economics and sociology in particular – can know aspects of it. And, third, in Zur Kritik der hermeneutischen Vernunft (The Critique of Hermeneutical Reason) (1972), Thomas Seebohm returns to the traditional methodical hermeneutics as interpretation and critique of texts and traces that was pursued in Friedrich Schleiermacher, Augustus Boeckh and Wilhelm Dilthey, and seeks a transcendental phenomenological grounding for it.

It has been easy on the basis of the publications of his lifetime to caricature the mature Husserl as a modern-day (but nonrepresentationalist) Cartesian for whom disembodied and situationless intellects reflect upon the forms of their own thinking and have great difficulties knowing and interacting with one another. Closer study shows, however, that places for philosophy of the cultural as well as the natural sciences, for value theory and ethics, and for embodiment, empathy and communal life are sketched in those very same publications, although only developed in lectures and manuscripts, many of which have been published posthumously in Husserliana (see Phenomenology, epistemic issues in).

Citing this article:
Embree, Lester. Constitutive phenomenology. Phenomenological movement, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD075-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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