Possibilities (Husserl)

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Here’s another thing I hadn’t understood about Husserl and which I like very much, namely his status as a philosopher of possibility-potentiality. In the author’s preface to the English translation, he referred to eidetic phenomenology as “the science of pure possibilities” that “must precede the science of real facts” (7). I can’t think of a better methodology for Jewish philosophy as philosophy of religion.

For as much as Husserl had to contend with the notion that phenomenology is a type of solipsism, possibility proved to be the mode that allowed Husserl to extend noesis beyond the noetic act of the Ego. It allowed him to consider those zones that lie just outside the intending subject’s glance. This is the way in which the “empty mist of indeterminancy gets studded over with intuitive possibilities, or presumptions” (92).

I think I know why he calls the mode of possibility “remarkable.” I’m guessing it signals a little bit of wonder on Husserl’s part as to the way in which consciousness shifts, modally. He describes the “remarkable modification of which transfers consciousness in the mode of actual orientation to consciousness of in the mode of non-actuality and conversely. At the one time, the experience is, so to speak explicitly aware of its objective content, at the other implicitly and merely potentially. The objective factor, whether in perception, memory, or [fantasy], may already be appearing to us, but our mental gaze is not yet directed towards it, not even in the secondary sense, to say nothing of being “busied” with it in some special way” (106-7).

As the mode of ego-extension, possibility is also the mode of intersubjective life, the view of which was cosmopolitan, meaning “the essential possibilities for the setting up of an understanding, possibilities therefore, that worlds of experience sundered in point of fact may still be united together through actual empirical connexions into a single intersubjective world, the correlate of the unitary world of minds (of the universal extension of human community)” (136).

I’m also going to guess that it is the mode of possibility that allows consciousness to establish itself in relation to noematic phenomena. “What goes on in the stream of experience outside the personal ray or cogito…lies outside the Ego’s actuality, and yet…still belong to the Ego in so far as it is the field of potentialtiy for the Ego’s free acts (249).

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish though and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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One Response to Possibilities (Husserl)

  1. efmooney says:

    ** At the one time, the experience is, so to speak explicitly aware of its objective content, at the other implicitly and merely potentially. The objective factor, whether in perception, memory, or [fantasy], may already be appearing to us, but our mental gaze is not yet directed towards it, not even in the secondary sense, to say nothing of being “busied” with it in some special way”** Thoreau speaks of the eye having a ‘double intention’ — which means that ‘objective content’ can be ‘double’ (or triple), appearing this way, then that, then both-at-once. The example is looking at a river bottom, seeing the sky reflected on the river’s surface, then seeing both sky and bottom together, then seeing sky, river-surface, and river-bottom together. In Husserl’s lingo, objective content here is double (or triple), and our ‘mental gaze’ can see one part of the double or the other, or both at once, or both-and-the-water-as-medium of perceived bottom and sky. I like this expansive sense of the rich, artistically provocative plenitude of “objective content.” “Objective content” is not “one thing.” Thus artists and art lovers can look at a painting, or hear music, forever hearing and seeing new things, all a tiered set of ‘things’ open to our glance equally and simultaneously — equally and simultaneously “objective content.”

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