Affect & Phenomenology (In the Pleasure Attitude with Edmund Husserl)


In the phenomenology advanced in Ideas II, Husserl proved himself to be an accomplished aesthete. He presents consciousness in gorgeous oscillation between the theoretical and the pleasure attitude. Phenomenological consciousness provides no fixed point perspective. Its intuitions are multiple, folding into and out of each other as a constant stream of conversions and modifications. These are theoretical and affective. Instead of one supplanting the other, logically or axiologically, their mutual oscillation, their “striving together in parallel,” is fundamental to human consciousness as such in its self-formation vis-à-vis intentional objects. “[I]n such thematic interweavings, new objectiviites are thus always being constituted” (p.15).

These passages from the chapter on “The Idea of Nature in General” caught my attention:

“But we are no longer performing the seeing in this eminent [theoretical] sense when we, seeing the radiant blue sky, live in the rapture of it. If we do that, then we are not in the theoretical or cognitive attitude but in the affective….[T]hough we have adopted the theoretical attitude, the pleasure may very well be present still, as, for example, in the observing physicist who is directing himself to the radiant blue sky, but then we are not living in the pleasure. There is an essential phenomenological modification of the pleasure, and of the seeing and judging, according as we pass over from the one attitude to the other..That is, all acts which are not already theoretical from the outset allow of being converted into such acts by means of a change of attitude. We can look at a picture ‘with delight.’ Then we are living in the performance of aesthetic pleasure, in the pleasure attitude, which precisely is one of ‘delight.’ Then again, we can judge the picture, with eyes of the art critic or at historian as ‘beautiful.’ Now we are living the performance of the theoretical or judgmental attitude and no longer in the appreciating or pleasure-taking.”

“Living in simple sense intuition, the one on the lowest level and performing it theoretically, we have theoretically grasped a mere thing in the most straightforward manner. When we pass over to the aesthetic grasping and judging of value, we then have more than a mere thing, we have the thing with the ‘what’ charter (with the expressed predicate) of the value; we have a value-thing.”


“On each side there are intentions which strive in parallel: a representing (cognitive, tending toward knowledge) striving versus an evaluating one which tends towards expectations, toward the delighting enjoyment.””

(Ideas II, p. 10-11)

The ideas about affect appear concerning “emptily anticipating horizons of feeling or will, fleeting glances that pre-grasp beauty, following certain indications, but without actually grasping anything at all, but which will suffice for “doxic turn[s] and predication” (p.12).

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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2 Responses to Affect & Phenomenology (In the Pleasure Attitude with Edmund Husserl)

  1. dmf says:

    shades of Kant?

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