Robert Welsh Jordan
<The following essay was published as Chapter 4 of To Work at t he Foundations, ed. J.C. Evans and R.W. Stufflebeam (Dordrecht; Hingham, Massachusetts; etc.: Kluwer Academic Publishers , 1997) 55-64; the pagination of the published essay is reproduced within angle brackets within the text below. The essay was written for presentation at the memorial symposium for Aron Gurwitsch that was held at the New School for Social Research in 1991. However, it was not presented at that occasion since the author chose to p resent instead a talk that attempted to correct a serious error he noted in many of the papers being presented. The thesis of that talk has been published in the meantime as "Multiple Heideggers? An Early, Still Prevalent Misreading” by the electronic journal, Contemporary Studies in Phenomenology and Hermeneutics (http://www.unt.edu/csph/Vol_01_winter00/rwjordan.htm)NNNNNNNNNNNN
The relation between phenomenology and idealism was something a number of those around this table puzzled over here back in the 60's. Professor Gurwitsch used to argue persuasively and, I think, correctly that neither perceived objects nor perceptual noemata can be correctly thought of as eide in Husserl's sense of that esoteric word. Yet one thing which makes his meaning of the word so very abstruse is the fact that Husserl entirely agrees with this conviction yet speaks all the while of the noematic objects of perceptual experiences as ideals [i.e., Ideen im Kantischen Sinn]. <56> From the late 1920's throughout his distinguished career, Gurwitsch argued, if I read him correctly, that the description of the perceptually meant object need not refer to an idea of the object which would be distinct from the sense or meaning of the object; the perceptual noema has, he insisted, no such constituent.
Nevertheless, crucial issues remain to be resolved about what genuine affinities, if any, a phenomenological philosophy may have with idealism. That there are such issues seems obvious in the case of those phenomenologists who seek to assimilate phenomenology to Kantian or to absolute idealism. But analogous issues must also be faced by any phenomenology which seeks to assimilate itself to derivatives of idealism with respect to the "phenomenal world" found in various schools of vitalistic philosophy (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bergson, Dilthey) as well as in the work of William James. Part of what is at stake in these issues is the concept of truth that was a theme central, it seems to me, to all of Husserl's work as well as to that of Heidegger.
Against realistic interpretations of Husserl, Gurwitsch argues that Husserl's use of 'Erscheinung' to refer to the perceptual noema must not be taken as if the perceptual noema were a mere appearance, a sign of a hidden reality or an image referring essentially to a non-apparent original:
<57>When the term appearance is taken according to Husserl, the difference between the appearance of a thing and the thing itself is not a difference between the object of sense perception and some concealed reality. Rather the difference is between one particular determinate manner of presentation of the thing and the totality of possible aspects under which the self-same thing may present itself…the thing itself proves to be the all-inclusive systematic grouping of its appearances. Hence the difference may be defined as that between one member of a system and the system itself to which the. member belongs…we may define the appearance of a thing as the thing itself as given in a particular one-sided manner of presentation or, to put it differently, as the apprehension of a system of appearances from the vantage-point of one of its members…
And he maintains that the phenomenological reduction “makes possible the realization of the program of phenomenology, namely, to account for objects as they really are in terms of objects. taken for what they are experienced as.
These theses lend themselves readily to the phenomenological understanding of perception as access to the thing itself. It seems as if the perceived as such can be identical with the perceived object as <it> is. It was the position of Husserl and of Heidegger that when the perceived is also judged about, given "nominal form" through a judging act, it remains at least an open possibility that the perceived, the syntactically formed state of affairs, and the thing itself coincide, that they be numerically one. So conceived, the true proposition would not have to correspond to any member of an inaccessible realm of alleged facts. The phenomenological conception of consciousness as being open to other objects with which it must be in the world afforded, in the work of Husserl and Heidegger, an <58> important alternative to traditional conceptions of absolute truth as well as to the many forms taken by skeptical relativism before and since. Some features of Gurwitsch's phenomenology tend, it seems to me, to preclude this conception of propositional truth and to lead away from the conception of sensuous perceiving as a way of access to transcendent things.
These features can be made distinct by examining some aspects of the theory which, as I shall try to show, need fuller discussion and revision in some instances.
What Gurwitsch meant by an 'all-inclusive system of appearances' needs elaboration. Such a system can be considered a definite set in that the members must all be appearances of the selfsame object. Members of the system must occur in a style that is compatible with the style in which members have already occurred. But the system must not be conceived as closed, as having a finite number of members. The whole system is implicit in each member only in this sense, regardless of any holistic, naturalistic, or deterministic beliefs the perceiver may cherish. The horizons of meaning belonging to the thing which is being identified with this system of appearances are open, not closed.
Gurwitsch clearly acknowledges this indeterminacy of the perceptual noema. Yet he criticizes Husserl's seeming acknowledgment of the self-same phenomenon, apparently because he seeks to lay at Husserl's door the doctrine that the phrase, "the pure X," i.e., the object as pole of identity, denotes something eidetic. Remarkably, Gurwitsch takes Husserl to task for having conceived the noematic object, the mere polar unity of its objective sense, to be an element within the very object whose unity it is, "an identical element common to all noemata related to that [self-same] <59> thing." Husserl, Gurwitsch says, regarded the unity of the object as if it were a sort of idée fixe which must accompany all representations of the self-same thing. Having misrepresented Husserl's doctrine in this way, Gurwitsch proceeds to criticize this way of recognizing the indeterminacy of the noematic object. This way of conceiving the matter, he writes, deprives the perceptual noema of the individuality it would have if it were unitary by Gestalt coherence. On Husserl's view of the perceptual noema, it is said, the indeterminateness of the noematic object's horizons of meaning implies that they are "empty" in the sense that they are general ideas and so are deficient in individuality, as if the horizonally intended determinations were not there. What Husserl says in the passage referred to seems, however, quite the opposite: "This empty horizon is not a nothing." On the contrary, Husserl goes on to explain that whatever determinations of the thing are given are apperceived as coexisting with other determinations which are absent only in that they are not themselves given. Their being so cointended normally entails reference to potential perceivings to which they would be given. In the event that these become actual there will occur a synthesis through which they will be identified with the determinations previously intended as having coexisted with the previously given determinations. This synthesis will not make it true that the emptily intended determinations were there; it will disclose this fact, explicate it for consciousness, constitute it for the ego. The apperceived appearances of those determinations which are compossible with the given appearances cannot be given in any future and now anticipated perceiving. This sort of consideration is likely to be what led Husserl to differentiate between a quality of a thing and the appearances of that quality and between the appearances of the thing and the thing.
<60> Gurwitsch's own account of this feature of apperception in terms of Gestalt coherence may itself be deficient unless it provides an account of those determinations apperceived as coexisting at the same time as the appresenting determinations. As nearly as I have so far made out, however, his own account refers only to future appearances, quite as if the thing could appear only to present and future experiences in the same stream of consciousness. However, Husserl is dead right to insist that the consciousness of any appearances as those of an Objective thing requires reference to appearances that cannot be given through any experience occurring in the self-same stream of consciousness but could be given only through experiences belonging to some other stream of consciousness.
Gurwitsch's analysis of the perceptual noema into pure systems of appearances would seem to imply that the apperceived appearances of a thing's apperceived determinations would be among those of its constituents which are not "given in direct and ordinary sense encounter." But Gurwitsch's own analysis needs supplementation in as much as it seems to say only that such constituents "are the noematic correlates of the anticipations and expectancies which pervade and permeate the present perception."
That the appresented would co-exist with the presented is crucial to any description of the sensuous noema but seems to go missing when Gurwitsch re-writes the sentence, "A real thing is a unity of constituents," into its supposed equivalent, "A real thing is a system of appearances." It is an error to rewrite 'a unity of constituents' into 'a system of appearances'.
Moreover, by substituting 'system' for 'unity' in the sentence, it is strongly suggested that the unity in question is definitive as to its meaning. However, any such system of appearances can itself acquire as part of its meaning that it belongs as a member to a more inclusive system which is nevertheless the system of appearances of the self-same thing. Such a shift in meaning would occur, for example, if a previously isolated culture were to come into contact <61> with members of a quite alien culture. Such a shift in meaning would be analogous to the sort of shift that would occur when persons previously unaware of the possibility become aware of being color blind.
More and more, it appears that Gurwitsch's conception of the perceptual noema precludes not just representative realism but the very possibility whose defense was a major part of Husserl's concept of phenomenology as philosophical theory, viz., that what is given be something real that is no mere system of appearances. In place of this Husserlian and Heideggerian concept of phenomenological philosophy, Gurwitsch gives us a constitutive phenomenology which begins to seem an idealism in a readily understandable meaning of the word. The identity of the proposition with its alleged subject matter is a constituted and necessarily contrafactual meaning .
By refusing to differentiate between a thing's appearances on the one hand and, on the other hand, its qualities and other characteristics, Gurwitsch's theory identifies the appearances as the thing's only "content." From every change in the appearances, there results, he writes, "a materially different What, a new theme, results." It would seem on this view to be impossible that something pre-given sensuously be correctly identified with something which is the subject member of a predicative judgment:
We cannot endorse Husserl's view of an "identical noematic nucleus" which is varyingly illuminated by a unitary attentional function and among whose components and <62> constituents sometimes one, sometimes another, is rendered conspicuous and brought into prominence.
Gurwitsch appears to endorse William James's view that anything singled out to be subjected to judgment cannot be a fact that had already been existent but must be a new set of facts that "when first discovered, are known in states of consciousness never till that moment exactly realized before, states of consciousness which at the same time judge them to be determinations of the same matter of fact which was previously realized." The syntactically formed matter of fact cannot be identical with any previously existing fact. If such an identity is believed in then the belief mistakes fiction for fact. The proposition is held to be a fictitious idea whose agreement with fact cannot be shown. But it is a fictitious idea generated according to some more or less definite rule. This appears to be the position of both James and Gurwitsch; it has important features in common with the position of David Hume.
The existing thing itself can be given only if it be identical with its actual or possible appearances to the perceiving subject. In one of his last essays Gurwitsch writes:
[C]orresponding to every act there is an intentional correlate or noema, that is, the object intended, taken however exactly as, and only as, it is actually intended through the act under discussion. For instance, if we think of Shakespeare as the director of the Globe Theatre, the corresponding noema is not the real historical person who was born in 1563, died in 1616, wrote the Sonnets, Hamlet, King Lear, and other plays, was director of the Globe Theatre, and so on. Rather, the noema is that historical person under the aspect of his role and function. with respect to the Globe Theatre. Correspondingly, the perceptual noema is not the thing encountered per se with all the properties, qualities, modes <63> of behavior under specified conditions (causal properties) which belong to it regardless of whether or not they are actually perceived and regardless of whether they are already known or still to be discovered. The perceptual noema is rather the thing as it presents itself through the given particular perception, that is the thing as appearing under a certain aspect, from a certain side, in a certain orientation. briefly, in a certain manner of one-sided adumbnational presentation.
Gurwitsch means to preclude identification of the perceptual noema with "the thing encountered per se with all the properties…which belong to it." This would put him thoroughly at odds with some of the main achievements of phenomenology in the work of Husserl and Heidegger. Without resorting either to phenomenalism or to naive realism, they had tried to show how to keep open some crucial possibilities which philosophy otherwise resolutely closes off:
First, that what is itself given in perceptual experience be identical with the transcendent thing intended;
second, that the world within which this transcendent thing has its being and the world pregiven through experience are one;
third, that the object about which a predicative judgment is made and the object which acquires syntactical form for the ego through predicative judging and the syntactically formed state of affairs or proposition are one;
fourth, that the identity of a proposition with its subject matter can itself be given or evident;
fifth, that true existential judgments can be founded upon the pre-givenness of the thing itself and therefore explicate the world itself rather than some mere representation of the <64> world or some Weltanschauung or empty prejudice about the world;
sixth, that openness to things is characteristic of consciousness as intentional;
seventh, that there is at least one significant alternative to the traditional alternative conceptions of truth-the correspondence, the coherence, and the skeptical; the last, including its several antifoundational variations, pragmatic, hermeneutical, critical…
:When Husserl introduced his use of 'Eidos' as if it were a German term, he wrote [Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book., F. Kersten (Trans.) (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982, p. 8)] that he did so to lessen the risk of misinterpretation by making his terminology less equivocal than that of his Logical Investigations and that the same terminological innovation would enable him to retain the concept Kant had expressed by the word 'Idee' while keeping a clean differentiation between all universal essences whether material or formal on the one hand and, on the other hand, what he would now be referring to as Ideen [ideas, ideals]. Some of the things to which he applies the latter term are not eidetic objects at all but instead are real objects. If this reading of Husserl is correct, this effort of his was largely futile. The point has been pervasively overlooked, probably even by Professor Gurwitsch. Is Husserl's point so contrary to things modern and even postmodern intellectuals take for granted that almost no one apart from Dorion Cairns and Martin Heidegger would notice? The point, if it exist at all, is so intertwined with all that follows in this essay and is so pervasively overlooked that, as an introduction to the essay the following exemplary passage should be studied, keeping in mind that every constituent of a real thing, including every one of its constituent forms , would be an ideal in the Kantian sense and would not be anything eidetic at all:
Just as the thing is an ideal [Idee] so is each of the attributes belonging to its essential content and, above all, each of its constituent "forms," and this is so from [its] regional universe right down to the lowest order unity to which it belongs. More precisely: In its idea/being [Wesen] the thing is given as res temporalis…res extensa…res materialis…unity of causal relations…Even in respect of its specifically real components what we meet with are ideas [not eide whether formal or material]. All components of the thing ideal [Dingideel are themselves ideals, each involves the "and so forth" of "endless" possibilities. (pp. 347-348)
:A. Gurwitsch, The Field of Consciousness (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1964, p. 184).
:Gurwitsch, The field of Consciousness, p. 232
:A perceptual appearance which is itself given, he writes, "predelineates…the total…configuration along more or less indeterminate but specifically generic and typical lines" [A. Gurwitsch, Phenomenology and the Theory of Science, Lester Embree (Ed.) (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1974, p. 253)].
:Gurwitsch, Phenomenology and the Theory of Science, p. 250. Gurwitsch reads Husserl on this point as if the latter had believed that a being is a constituent of itself!
:Gurwitsch, Phenomenology and the Theory of Science, p. 252.
:Hua. 9, p. 181. Editor's note: It is customary to use the abbreviation 'Hua' followed by the volume number when referring to Husserliana, Edmund Husserl, Gesammelte Werke (Den Haag: M. Nijhoff).
:Gurwitsch, Phenomenology and the Theory of Science, p. 253.
:See Hua. 6, p. 167 (English trns. p. 164). An analogous shift in meaning can take place with respect to the co-intended world itself: Each of us has her/his life, which is meant as the world for all. Each has that world with the sense of a polar unity of worlds that are subjectively relative which are transformed in the course of correction into mere appearances of the world, the life-world for all, the continuously enduring unity which is itself a universe of individuals, of things. That is the world, a different one has no meaning for us, and it becomes phenomenon through the epoché. [Hua. 6, p. 258 (English trns., p. 254f)].
:A. Gurwitsch, Studies in Phenomenology and Psychology (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1966, p. 265).
:Gurwitsch, Studies in Phenomenology and Psychology, p. 266.
:William James, Principles of Psychology vol. 1, (p. 196f), as quoted by Gurwitsch in Studies in Phenomenology and Psychology, p. 258.
:Gurwitsch, Phenomenology and the Theory of Science, p. 247.
:In terms approximating Heidegger's: "World or being is given [es gibt Sein]." "World or being is given to consciousness [Das Sein schickt sich dem Denken zu].