Panentheism.  Revisionism.  Anarchocapitalism.



Essays by Me

Essays by Others

From Philosophical Essays in Memory of Edmund Husserl, Marvin Farber, ed., Harvard University Press, 1940, 219-230.  Hartshorne’s critique of his former teacher’s thought draws upon the insights of “four recent metaphysical geniuses,” especially the panpsychism of Whitehead.

Husserl and the Social Structure of Immediacy

Charles Hartshorne


Although there are many things in Husserl that seem to me magnificently right and valuable, I shall in this essay be concerned chiefly with some features in his doctrine which I am inclined to view as partly erroneous.   Husserl is a subtle philosopher, and it will be difficult to quarrel with him without committing the straw-man fallacy.   My primary aim, however, is not to prove the incorrectness of certain of his ideas, but to show that some ideas which he did not hold deserve much more careful consideration than he gave them, leaving it to other students of his work to estimate the exact extent to which he deviated from these ideas, and the exact reasons for his doing so.  There is always danger that the greatness of a man’s thought in some directions will give prestige to his blind spots and weaknesses and thus become a barrier to inquiry, just as there is the opposite danger that his weaknesses will serve as the excuse for shirking the labor of assimilating his real achievements.  It is not easy to combat both of these dangers at the same time, and I shall leave largely to others the counteracting of the second mentioned.

The view which I wish to contrast to Husserl’s is that experience is immediately social in a sense which Husserl apparently did not allow.  Doubtless Husserl would have verbally agreed that experience is immediately social, that is, immediately in relation to other minds, or that other minds are immediately given, but he would not have meant by this all that I have in mind, or all that such thinkers as Whitehead or Peirce, or I think Bergson or James, would have meant.  The issue may be suggested by saying that for Husserl other minds are directly given in, but not real constituents of, one’s own stream of consciousness.1  Or again, that they are immediate but not immanent, rather “transcendent,” factors of the stream, as indeed is one’s own ego as a human personality.  The alternative doctrine, therefore, is that one’s own experience contains the actual experiences of others as real, immanent elements.

The very statement of the issue brings out a strong point on Husserl’s side of the argument.  How can, say, feelings of another become ingredients of my conscious life without becoming my feelings, and thereby ceasing to be the feelings of the other?  This argument, however, though it is suggested by Husserl himself, is hardly a phenomenological one, since it argues not from the given but from vague associations of words, from ideas merely as such, ideas like “my” and “other.”  Naturally, therefore, Husserl does not rest his position on such a consideration alone, or even chiefly.  Were it otherwise, he would show himself a dialectician rather than a phenomenologist.

The “transcendence” rather than imma-nence of other minds is to be interpreted in connection with Husserl’s doctrine of physical objects as also transcendent of immediacy.  Yet they, too, are immediately given.  What does this mean?  I may not succeed in saying.  But two points are unmistakable.  The physical object is more than any real ingredients of the stream of consciousness in two respects.  First, in addition to the aspects of the object actually given there is always an infinity of others virtually or potentially given, though as virtual these too are somehow given.  Thus the actualities of experience never exhaust the object.  But second, Husserl seems to hold that both actual and potential experiences of the object are always experiences of the object, not the object itself, even in part. The experiences are the references, not the referent, in the meaning situation.  So far, so good.  There must be experiences in this sense of meanings which are distinguishable from the thing meant, though perhaps there must also be a sense of “experience” in which both meaning and referent are contained and unified, and doubtless Husserl would grant this in his own way.  But what is the object, if it is not actual or potential experiences?  In the social case, the object is, for Husserl, in part at least really constituted of feelings and the like, though not of those which constitute my, the subject’s, experience.  But the physical object as such, even the other person’s body, is for Husserl not made up of feelings or other psychic acts or states.  What is it made up of?  He uses the phrase “unity of meaning,” which suggests to me the paradoxical view that what is meant is the unity of “what is meant” as such.  The atmosphere is for me thin at this point, but when I get my breath I seem to see Husserl trying to escape both horns of a, to me, rigorous dilemma.  The dilemma is this: the being of the object consists or does not consist in being meant; if it does, then the object is most intelligibly viewed as an act of meaning which must be enacted to really exist or occur, but then either meaning is its own object, really has no object, or it has as its object another meaning (more generally, feeling, willing, or psychic state), this being the social solution; while if the being of the object does not consist in being meant, then we have a dualism of acts of meaning (including feeling, etc.) which exist only as enacted, actualized, and of objects only accidentally related to psychic acts of any kind.  The latter horn of the dilemma is a somewhat generalized statement of Cartesian dualism, and is not avoided by eschewing the word “dualism,” or by other such verbal abstentions. The former horn has two branches: (1) Though consisting in psychic acts, the object of a given act has its being not through relation to that act, but through other acts in such wise that the ”being meant” which is essential to it is not that of which it is object, but that of which it is subject; not what is meant by or about it, but what it itself means (and feels and wills)—although it may be coessential to things that they be meant, felt, and willed by one supreme subject, God, and sometimes important to them to be meant by other finite objects. (2) The object does not itself mean; it is the “passive” terminus of meaning, a mere idea, or unity of meaning, as such, or even the mere act of meaning initially under consideration. The first of these, 1, is the social solution of the dilemma, on the whole a recent rather than traditional doctrine.  The second, 2, is a generalization of Berkeleyanism, the contrary extreme to Cartesianism.

How does Husserl escape from the dilemma?  Apparently not in the Cartesian direction, for he is an idealist in the broad sense of making meaning essential to existence.  Yet also not in the Berkeleyan direction, at least in the form in which the object is a real part of the psychic state in which it is meant.  Yet perhaps the historical Berkeley is not far from Husserl, whose object seems to be a “passive idea,” a something meant whose essence is to be that.  It is almost, if not quite, as though the of relation produced its own term, aided somehow by “unity,” or as though a “below” constituted the being of the thing so related, a “that which is below as such.”  It seems possible that one of the paths which led to such a conception is the argument, in dreams and illusions there is nothing which is meant apart from the acts of reference themselves, therefore the of relation does not essentially presuppose its term.  But dreams may on the contrary be interpreted as setting us in relation to entities whose existence has no dependence upon the dream, partly to realities in nature, such as the cold air that makes me dream of being cold, partly to possibilities, also in their fashion real factors in the cosmos apart from the dreamer.  I know that Husserl has his ways of recognizing all this, but I do not know that he never yields to the fallacious argument indicated; on the contrary, I fear that in his intricate subtleties he may somewhat lose track of the simple logical outlines of the problem.

Of course, the physical object is for Husserl something more particular and definite than just the meant as such in general, for it may be round, colored, heavy, in particular.  But I am asking what the physical object in general is, in relation to mind in general.  And it seems that mind as enacting meanings refers to something whose being is to be meant (as having unity of” aspects,” etc.).

There are two alternatives to such a view.  The object may be essentially something more than the meant, and only accidentally in any such relation.  This is what I mean by Cartesian dualism, perhaps unduly generaliz-ing the meaning of this expression so that it includes views which would not describe themselves as dualistic, but are so in just the sense I have defined.  Or, the object may be composed of such psychic states or acts as feelings, thinkings, and the like other than those of which it is, in the case in hand, the meant object.  (The psychic constitution of the object may include, as essential aspects, potential as well as actual states.)  This I should call the social view of the physical object.  It can, I think, hardly be denied that it is a real alternative to both the dualistic and the subjectivistic views.  It is as realistic as dualism, for it makes the object quite as real as the given subject, and real in the same generic sense since it is the same generically (though as different as may be specifically) in nature.  But the view agrees with Berkeley that apart from all. experience there is no reality whatever.  In a clear, simple sense, then, the view mediates between the two extremes.  Husserl’s view (like that of Hegel, to one reader at least) gets between them in a way which to me appears now as a subtle and elusive refinement of Descartes, now as such a refinement of Berkeley, and at all times as an unconscious confusion, not a real higher synthesis of them.

But how about the “phenomena,” the “evidence” from the given, to which Husserl of course appeals?  In his Cartesian Meditations he gives an extended treatment of our experience of other minds, and from this we can see part at least of the evidence in question.  We know other persons through a form of immediate apperception of their bodies as akin to our own.  The experiences belonging to these other bodies are not our own in any part, if for no other reason, because, being in a different part of space, the other body imparts to its experiences a perspective different throughout from our own.  It is notable that from this it seems to follow that if two bodies could overlap in space, their experiences might, so far at least as this factor is concerned, overlap to the same degree.  Now the defenders of the social view of objects of course do hold precisely to such bodily overlapping.  A man’s cells and still smaller individual constituents are for such thinkers sentient individuals (with varying degrees of individuality and independence) which occupy the same parts of space as the man’s body, in part, occupies.  Of course such “other minds” are only in the broadest sense, the strictly generic sense, minds or psychic monads at all, but philosophy is concerned precisely with those generalities so broad that to one in a non-philosophical mood they seem tenuous to the point of triviality.  (The more particular and juicy universals are the field of science.)  But radically sub-human mind is one extreme of which the contrary pole is the radically superhuman, or perhaps the divine.  Now either the divine is “disembodied spirit” or its body is the universe.  In either case it is not spatially separated from ourselves; so that again we see that the notion of direct overlapping is not excluded by the bit of evidence which Husserl adduces, along with others to be considered presently.  Finally, even human bodies need not be considered as without qualification separated in space, if one admits that there is no “simple location,” and that everything is in some degree everywhere.  What then is true is that human bodies are primarily in separate places and only secondarily, or in faint degree, overlapping, with the implication that their experiences are likewise only in minor degree (perhaps beyond the reach of introspection) immanent to each other.  In that case the phenomenal evidence for the overlapping must be chiefly indirect, for instance, through analogy with the mind-body relation as social and given as such.  Husserl himself employs a similar type of apperception through analogy.  The question is whether or not it is a faithful description of the experience, say, of feeling a pain “in” one’s body to say that it is a direct, though decidedly indistinct, awareness of the sufferings of some of the bodily parts, which sufferings, through this sympathetic partici-patory awareness—this social overlapping—are made our own.  To me this is the only description I can identify as faithful, though in view of the obscurity of the experience (an obscurity in principle recognized by Husserl in other cases), it is understandable how doubt and controversy should arise.

How, granting for supposition the truth of this description, do we distinguish between the feelings of the social other, as its feelings, and our own, if the former become the latter?  It must be noted here that a double distinction remains possible.  With a radically sub-human mind, what for us as immediately intuiting its experience is a more or less negligible part is for the “other” the whole; with the superhuman other, we might be the part and the other the whole.  But, also, what in the other is active, in us might be passive (again concepts which Husserlseems to accept), since in receiving as valid for us what was spontaneous decision in the other we would be playing a relatively passive role.  There is also the question of temporal order.  According to Whitehead, all immediate sociality is in the form of memory, of direct apprehension of the past, and such apprehension differs from its object by adding to its content certain new relations and values without altering the old, so that the distinction is that between x and x + (y x); that is to say, the added factor involves the original factor but not vice versa. We cannot here further consider the tenability of this doctrine.

That all individuals are sentient, as Leibniz and others have held or do hold, is a notion which Husserl is reported to have said is not perhaps without phenomenological justifica-tion, since the analogy with our own body admits of degrees and may never reach a strict zero.  But Husserl seems to feel that something more than its own inner experiences, in themselves and as apprehen-sible by us, must still be involved in the physical object, this more constituting its materiality.  I cannot see what is left, however, if one takes into account all the ways in which we might be able to mean all the ways in which other sentient individuals might mean and feel, in relation to each other and to us.2 The mere “extendedness” of matter is simply a pattern of interaction between individuals, and our scheme of active-passive sympathetic overlapping of individuals allows for such a pattern, in which individuals are “near” each other if their interaction is intimate and relatively independent of the interactions of other things.  All geometrical ideas can be generated from such a scheme, as has perhaps been in principle fairly clear since Leibniz, or at least since Peirce, who certainly must have known the meaning of the geometrical problem, if anyone ever has.

Why does Husserl hold the contrary view? In an absolute sense, no one could answer.  But one may guess.  Practically the whole of the tradition, even the idealistic tradition, is either on Husserl’s side or ambiguous with respect to the issue.  Peirce is really the first clear exponent of a social view of experience, or in his own phrase, of “agapism,” though many before him had verbally professed to make “love” a leading principle in philosophy.  Then there is the plausible traditional dualism, in some form accepted by Husserl, of secondary and tertiary qualities, of sensation and feeling, given fact and given value.  Heidegger has attacked this dualism, which is closely associated with the dualism of psychical and physical, and with the denial of the social character of experience.  Behind all this is a dualism derived from practical life, not perhaps adequately overcome in the “phenomenological reduction,” that between the attitude of manipulation, or exploitation of ”tools” or “materials,” and the social attitude of sympathetic participation and cooperation.  The dualism appears as secondary if we admit that fellow beings can be used as well as sympathized with, and that thus the social view includes and explains exploitation while exploitation cannot explain sympathy.

Every society involves order and interdependence, and the possibility of ”mechanical” manipulation follows deductive-ly, though somewhat intricately, from these ideas.  Hence the manipulability of things is no proof of their non-social character, and adds nothing whatever to such character, while it abstracts from or neglects much of it.  This abstraction seems to me to explain dualistic theories which it nevertheless is incapable of justifying.

The illusion of a real dualism arises easily because of: (1) our absorption, with reference to physical objects, in exploitation; (2) our inability to have immediate and vivid social relations with entities outside our own bodies; and (3) the largely unconscious character of the immediate social relations we do have within the body.  Through the body we indirectly know and manipulate external objects; the body itself we do (in part) directly intuit and move sympathetically, but in a manner which biological needs require to be largely out of the focus of attention.  The subject-object relations we chiefly attend to are those in which the mere patterns of interdependence (the space-time properties) as alterable by us are alone important, because the only inner qualitative feelings of things we need to worry about are those we directly share through the mind-body relation, and these we take for granted, our problem being to get the ones we like by arranging objects outside the body in such a way as experience shows will produce them (by what bridges of sympathy we need not in practical life consider).  Thus the cards are stacked by nature to produce dualistic doctrines.  The smell of a certain chemical may enable the chemist to recognize it, and so aid in its control; but it seems reasonable to suppose that the quality of the odor tells us more directly what is going on in some of the bodily cells than what the chemical is like in its individual parts.  The cells are not manipulated, but communed with intuitively; the chemical is manipulated and represented (mediately given) through this communion.  But consciousness is upon the manipulation, not the communion.  I do not believe that anything essential in this account is extra-phenomenological, though a more general term than “cell” would be required to bring this out.  The mind-body communion is given, and none the less so because its objects are not distinct in the phenomenon.  And the external object as immediately given is not the object which we “see” or “hear” and handle, but the body as actually in a certain state which is in a “unity of meaning” with what we are immediately aware of as potentialities of existence which, through the bodily state, are mediately perceived or known (probably) to exist in actual form outside the body.  This may not seem phenomenological, but I cannot see that Husserl’s account is any more so.  It is indeed a datum that something is immediately given in perception as outside the body as given in that perception, but it does not follow that the perceived body itself is here (say the seen hand in the visual field) given immediately, or that much of anything is immediately given except actualities well within the body (especially in the optic nerve and brain) and possibilities of actuality elsewhere.  These actualities may all be actualities of feeling and the like, and the possibilities may similarly be of psychical states.  They include an inexhaustible system of possible perceptions which could be had of the object by minds like ours. I seem to see a place for all Husserl’s data, so beautifully described, in this scheme, except his alleged datum of an irreducible difference between the physical as such and the psychical.

There is the “intentionality” of experience and there is its sociality. For Whitehead the intentionality is the sociality; for Husserl there are intimate relations, but somehow a metaphysical gulf, between the two.

I am aware that Husserl puts great stress upon the social or intermonadic character of the physical world.  It is for him essential to physical existence to be capable of being perceived by a plurality of subjects as their common world.  Still, something more is perceived than the members and interrela-tions of the world-society.  This more I do not find as a phenomenon.  The question is, does Husserl find, or merely verbally postulate, it?  I venture to think the latter.

Apart from the social issue there seems little that is fundamental dividing Husserl’s philosophy from that of James, Peirce, Whitehead, or Bergson.  The essential methodological element in phenomenology, broadly conceived, is common to these men.  James had his radical empiricism, Peirce a formal doctrine of phenomenology (or “phaneroscopy” as he also called it), Whitehead perpetually emphasizes the appeal to immediate intuition, and Bergson’s doctrine is also put forth as a description of the essential characters of existence as directly intuited.  I emphasize these names deliberately, for if such men, with their unsurpassed equipment and genius, with all the resources of modern logic and scientific temper, together with sufficient learning in the history of thought and a devotion to truth not likely to be surpassed, were unable to give any indication of what a rigorous metaphysics should be, then I should vote for the positivistic explanation of their failure—that the task is impossible, or meaningless.  The main possibilities for metaphysics in the coming century or two at least must have been set forth by these men, just as Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza set forth these possibilities for the Newtonian era which even Kant could not transcend (but only curtail and set in doubt).  The question is whether or not the metaphysical founders of our time have arrived at a more consistent and generally acceptable view than did these earIier giants.  To me it is a patent and hopeful fact that among the four recent metaphysical geniuses mentioned there is a fair degree of harmony, and further that there is less conflict between their doctrines and the practical beliefs of men in general than was the case with the sixteenth-century metaphysics.  If we add Husserl to the list of recent thinkers mentioned, there is still considerable agreement, for instance upon the Bergsonian dictum that time is creation—open alternatives, objective indeterminacy—or nothing.  The chief alien element that a devotee of the other men finds in Husserl is his at least apparent denial of the social structure of immediacy.  I wonder if it could fairly be held that Husserl had actually devoted enough attention to this problem to make this disagreement, if it exists, constitute an argument against the social doctrine itself?  To raise this question has been the purpose of this discussion.

What is the importance of the question?  There is a formal and a general philosophical side to the answer.  On the formal side, the non-social doctrine takes us back to the idea of separate monads, each with its own private states (Husserl, immanent ingredients or experiences), that is, in effect, “substances” in the sense which has led to so many difficulties.  (On this point I think Whitehead, James, Peirce, and Bergson could be shown roughly to agree.)  Husserl’s doctrine that what transcends the stream of experience is yet directly given in it may seem to overcome the difficulty, but there is the question of whether or not this escape is not really either unreal or an inconsistency if real.  Turning to the more than formal side, the social idea is without doubt our essential conception in the realm of values.  If there is an absolute of value, it is love.  Of course love must be so construed as to include beauty and appreciation of the truth, but love is indeed the most explicit and complete form of beauty, since it is “unity in contrast” between minds or experience-streams as wholes, and in such contrast all conceivable differences are included.  And truth is a form of love in that it is loyalty of one mind to the operations of other minds, including one’s own at other times, and in that truth about nature is truth about other minds, including the divine, if the social view of reality is true.  This social view, though it by no means identifies the real and the ideal, as if all must be for the best, does say that there is some degree of value, however slight, in all reality, and thus it unifies knowledge of fact and value under one principle, without at all denying the tragedy of unrealized values, or real but negative values, disharmonious social relations.



1 Husserl says, for example:  “There is no absurdity in the possibility that all foreign consciousness which I posit in empathic experience may not exist.  But my empathy and my consciousness is originally and absolutely given. . . . Only of an ego and an experience-stream in relation to itself . . . is there such a thing as immanent perception.” (Ideen, sec. 46; my translation.)

2 Some of what Husserl says about the difference between physical objects and experiences describes, I should say, the difference between the properties of aggregates and of individuals.  The different sides and aspects of objects are also different objects (atoms, etc.).  Then there is the difference between individuals directly communed with and those (outside the body mostly) mediately represented through such communion.  A social world is not poor in distinctions.  

Posted February 28, 2007

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