Phantasy and Phenomenology (Edmund Husserl)


Empathy and phantasy are an integral part of phenomenological method. In particular, it is phantasy, or imagination, that suggests that there’s more to consciousness than what presents itself to consciousness. Phenomenological consciousness includes as well that which lies outside the immediate zone of consciousness. Phantasy or imagination stand out as a kind of perception.

As a “spiritual” phenomenon, the personal ego as understood by Edmund Husserl in Ideas II is not a thing-like datum. The body is experienced as the body of a “soul,” but not localizable as such (185). The sense is one of an excess of reality beyond the merely physical in the physical (186). Viewed personalistically, the person is a subject of a surrounding world that is perceived in acts, remembered, gasped in thoughts, etc. (194-5). The “essence of personal being” is “being of persons and for persons.” Summing up the progress made so far, Husserl continues, “We carried out a segment of personal life or we phantasized ourselves into such a segment in a full and lively way, and we also, by empathy. Entered into the personal life of another” (219-20).

Not confined to “logical investigations,” Huserl was a phantasist. About phantasy as a kind of dim perception, he will explain further on in the third part of Ideas by positing phantasy in terms of a question. “[C]an I not think myself into motivational situations in which I have never yet been and the likes of which I have never yet experienced? And can I not see , or discover in a quasi-seeing, how I would then behave, although,, I might behave differently…although it would be thinkable that I would decide differently….whereas in fact, as this personal Ego, I could not behave that way?”  I do, according to Husserl, “by means of phantasizing presentifications of possible situations, in which I ‘reflect’ on what kind of sensuous or spiritual stimuli would affect me, [etc.].”

By the “quasi” in “quasi-seeing” Husserl means something like imaginal thinking and “practical possibility.” An example given would be the quasi-joy,” in which “I place myself, or think myself, into a pleasure.” At issue in this case is possible pleasure, not actual pleasure, possible seeing and things like that. The quasi-perception is my wanting something or wanting to do something, to decide in “such a way in a given situation” (275-6, 275n1). “I could do it,” but then again, “I could not do it” (277).

The point this suggests about Husserl is that, as it developed, his model of phenomenology turned into an aporetic method to consider forms of mental states at the border between presence and absence, the physical and the spiritual. His thinking lends itself to images and to the imagination at precisely this point of quasi-perception.

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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3 Responses to Phantasy and Phenomenology (Edmund Husserl)

  1. efmooney says:

    Not only does imagination saturate all that lies outside focalized consciousnesses (as well as what’s within it). It infuses our visions of what might be as these are delivered in befitting reverie.

  2. dmf says:

    given a waxing poetic of reverie one might even take on a psychoanalysis of fire

  3. Craig Martin says:


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