Transcendental History
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Transcendental History

Kenneth A. Loparo, Kenneth A. Loparo

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eBook - ePub

Transcendental History

Kenneth A. Loparo, Kenneth A. Loparo

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Transcendental History defends the claim that historicality is the very condition for human knowledge. By explaining this thesis, and by tracing its development from Kant and Hegel to Derrida and Agamben, this book enriches our understanding of the history of philosophy and contributes to epistemology and the philosophy of history.

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Part I
Three Lessons in Thinking about History
Husserl and the History of Reason
It is in the text known as “The Origin of Geometry,” published as Appendix VI to The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology,1 that the problem of history comes to the fore in Edmund Husserl’s writings. Husserl there states: “As will become evident here, at first in connection with one example, our investigations are historical in an unaccustomed sense.”2 This claim raises several questions. First: what is the “unaccustomed sense” in which history here presents itself? Second, and more fundamentally: what are the implications for Husserl’s philosophy of this admission that it must confront the problem of history?
Those familiar with Husserl’s conception of science will recognize immediately that the above talk of history does not betoken a descent into relativism. For the issue here is not that of determining scientific knowledge – the object of Husserl’s critical gaze in The Crisis – as relative to time and place. The issue is not one of “factical” or actual history, of history in an empirical or chronological sense. This is made clear by Husserl’s own testimony (albeit not from this same Appendix VI to The Crisis but from the previous one, Appendix V – which, however, is also appended to §9a, and also dates from 1936). There Husserl writes that the “radical problem” of science’s historical possibility is concerned “not only” with its “historical-factical origin with regard to time and place,” but also with “its original meaningfulness [Sinnhaftigkeit], and thus with the refashioning of its original sense.”3
The question, then, is how we are to understand history as anything other than “factical” or actual. Shall we ascribe to “factical” history some sense in which it transcends its actual course and becomes more or less independent of it? Shall we retain the word history when speaking of history in this sense?
Jacques Derrida has proposed using the word proto-history – which is, incidentally, a borrowing from Merleau-Ponty. Other proposals have included arche-history and transcendental history. Yet the choice of any designation other than simply history might lead us to forget that, for a philosopher of Husserl’s bent, the problem of history does not concern history of any kind other than the history we actually have. Rather, it indeed concerns our actual history, albeit as “actual” in a strong sense. Husserl’s resistance to using designations other than simply history when speaking of the problem of history is already visible in our citation from Appendix V. We certainly should attend, he writes, to factical history, but we should attend to it “not only” as factical.
The development of this argument in Merleau-Ponty and beyond represents only one line of discussion of this Husserlian (and not-merely-Husserlian) problem. Another potentially fruitful line is one that reaches from Alexandre Koyré to Gaston Bachelard, both of whom regarded the history of science and the theory of science as two sides of the same coin. Koyré and Bachelard, too, involved history in the philosophical elucidation of the foundations of science in a way that clearly avoided relativism. This makes their concept of history just as “unaccustomed” as the one that Husserl proposes. As Bachelard puts it: “To sum up my thinking, I would say I think that the history of science cannot be empirical history.”4 Koyré and Bachelard indeed propose a variety of designations for non-empirical history: histoire sanctionée, histoire jugée, mémoire rationnelle, itinerarium mentis in aeternitatem, etc. Yet I will not take up this terminology here. It is my wish, instead, to discuss the problem of history as it concerns history tout court.
In what follows, therefore, the topic of discussion will be Husserl’s own determination of the philosophical problem of history rather than the contributions made by his followers. For the problem itself is so important as to constitute a task for philosophy in general. It is philosophy itself – philosophy as is known from tradition, as well as from today’s institutions – to which the problem of history appears unaccustomed.
* * *
Although the problem of history is only explicitly mentioned in the last phase of Husserl’s work, we can trace his discussion of the theme back to his early days. Indeed, a manuscript that served as the basis of one of Husserl’s first courses as a teacher of philosophy bears a close thematic relation to “The Origin of Geometry.” The title of this course, offered in 1887, was “Historical Survey of the Philosophy of Mathematics” [Geschichtlicher Überblick über die Philosophie der Mathematik]. A noteworthy passage in this manuscript reads as follows: “Of course, no formal knowledge [kunstwissenschaftliche Erkenntnis] can be attained unless sciences exist that allow one to see what knowledge is really about.”5 In a manuscript written only slightly later, “Varia operativa” (1890), the same consideration is articulated almost as a thesis: “Not all deducing can be formal.”6 The basis of this near-thesis runs as follows: “If no material [sachliches] judging and deducing were given, no formal judging or deducing would be given either.”7
As is clear from Husserl’s emphasis on material [sachliche] knowledge, we here encounter the line of development in his work that will later lead to his determination of the relation between “fact” and “essence,” and between “the science of fact” (Husserl’s term for any actual branch of science) and the “science of essence” (or eidetics, i.e., the establishment of the research field proper to a branch of science). That is to say: we here meet the line of development that will culminate in the first chapter of Husserl’s Ideas, vol. I (henceforth “Ideas I”). In that chapter, Husserl analyzes the relation of “the science of fact” to “the science of essence” as a double dependence. First, any science of fact must respect the principles “treated by formal logic,” and so must enter “into a relation with the complex of formal-ontological disciplines.”8 Second, every “matter of fact includes a material essential composition.”9 All sciences of fact “must be grounded on the regional ontologies which are relevant to them and not merely on the pure logic common to all sciences.”10 A regional (or material) ontology is the basis of each particular science, just as formal ontology is their common foundation. The two sets of presuppositions meet at only one point: in the very concept of “region”.
With this concept Husserl refers to a formal feature that is characteristic of every science of fact. Namely, by its very essence, the science will be limited in range by the particular field that it concerns, i.e., by its object. The concept of region is thus the formal-ontological notion of the material-ontological condition that obtains in every science, namely, that the objects with which its research deals will always be subordinate to a particular species [Gattung]. As a general term, therefore, “region” designates what Husserl also terms “the object in general.” In 1913, in the context of Ideas I, Husserl does point out that the “empty form” – the region of the object, of the “something in general” [etwas überhaupt] – can only with reluctance [mit Vorsicht] be called a region.11 Only material ontologies are “ontologies ‘proper’ [eigentliche].”12 In sum, formal logic is dependent on material logic, and, in a mirror of that relationship (to borrow a phrase of Roman Ingarden’s), formal ontology is dependent on material ontology.
Now, when we examine the concept of region in light of the development of Husserl’s philosophy, we discover that this concept marks the culmination of a series of investigations into the “proper” [eigentliche] regions of science. Before completing Ideas I, Husserl had been engaged in elaborating the regions of number (On the Concept of Number, 1887); arithmetic (Philosophy of Arithmetic, 1891); and logic (Logical Investigations, 1900–1901) or, in his preferred parlance, “the logical” [das Logische]. In Husserl’s terms, we might capture the gist of these investigations by saying that they were concerned with nothing other than the objects of the various sciences, albeit “not only” in the manner in which the various sciences themselves regard their objects. That is to say, the object of an eidetic science is the same as the object of the corresponding matter-of-fact science. But the eidetic science treats that object in sensu eminenti: e.g., the number as number; arithmetic as arithmetic; the logical as logical.
It is perhaps not surprising that, on this point, Husserl’s early critics misunderstood his relation to the foundation (in tradition’s sense) of the scientific fields that he was examining. Wilhelm Wundt, for example, complained that the positive content of Husserl’s Logical Investigations amounted to nothing more than assuring its reader “that A = A is really valid” [daß wirklich A = A].13 Similarly, Paul Natorp remarked that the argument of the Logical Investigations is reminiscent of “explaining idem per idem” [als erkläre man idem per idem].14 In retrospect, such readings turn out to be not to the point, since they fail to attend to Husserl’s literal program: he states openly that the aim of his Logical Investigations is not to explain but to elucidate or make explicit. Scien...

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