REVIEW – Hegel, Husserl and the Phenomenology of Historical Worlds

Hegel, Husserl and the Phenomenology of Historical Worlds Hegel, Husserl and the Phenomenology of Historical Worlds by Tanja Staehler is an effort of integration between the phenomenological thinking of two of the most influential philosophers in the contemporary tradition: G.W.F. Hegel and Edmund Husserl.

The main thesis is to show how Husserl’s phenomenology radicalises Hegel’s by adding the character of infinite openness to the teleological development of historical Spirit which afterwards will manifest itself as horizonally and bottom up constituted.  At the same time an Hegelian narrative applies to the entire “parabola” of Husserl’s thought which the author describes as a progressive development from an abstract to the concrete phenomenology of his later studies. With the latter in mind (the phenomenology of the Crisis) an effort of recollection is requested in order to clarify the motivations and reasons which eventually led to the very beginning of phenomenological method (reduction by Epoche).

Hegel and Husserl, in their different phenomenological traditions, both make clear that if philosophy wants to be recognised as a rigorous science it must be “presupposition-less. A leap thus is required by consciousness in order to clarify what remains overshadowed by the immediacy (in Hegel) and naïveté (in Husserl) of our natural attitude toward the world. In this sense phenomenology takes the sceptical critique as its own starting standpoint by moving the focus of analyses from its directed-ness toward being backward to the level of its appearance to consciousness. Scepticism becomes then a moment in the philosophical approach more than a simple school of thought (a point we credit to Hegel) and the very beginning of self-reflection.

However while Hegel in the Phenomenology of Spirit follows the path of a thoroughgoing scepticism “directed against the being of sense-certainty which takes its being as true as such” and whose underlying purpose is to point beyond the level of phenomena (although in a new mediate form), for Husserl the phenomenological approach takes the shape of a cautious refraining from positing the being in the world. We might say that while the teleological presupposition leads Hegel toward a pre-established pathway engaging in what the author calls a pedagogical dialectic between the natural attitude and philosophical consciousness, Husserl chooses the path to suspend the natural attitude itself and to assume a philosophy of a perpetual beginning.

The possibility of self-certainty is triggered by a tension between the unity of the object and the multiplicity of its properties which leaves us the feeling of a phenomenal world with a character of an ungraspable double nature. However that uncanniness is only a consequence of an analytical static point of view and that when a dynamic perspective is taken the contradiction is solved. The concept of force in Hegel is considered in order to show how the coexistence of unity and its unfolding multiplicity is easily graspable when framed within a process-oriented approach. Staehler sees here a common pattern with the Husserlian image of the apple tree and the changing of its determinations in the persistence of an identical bearer.

However, while a dynamic-oriented philosophy might represent the possibility of a parallelism between the two philosophers, a basic difference between them remains in the attitude toward the nature of the unity beyond the phenomena. While Hegel, carried by his teleological impetus, does not show any kind of refraining from positing the identity of the object for Husserl its possibility can be given only when all its modes of appearance are taken into account, a possibility that lies in the infinite.

The fact that the absolute identity of the object might be attainable only by an ideal and infinite perspective does not mean that Husserl denies the possibility of knowledge. The tension between unity and manifold is a tension between the focus on the objectivity of the object beyond phenomena and the relativity of a kinaesthetic, individual and cultural horizons. Objectivity in Husserl is always partial but anyway possible and progressively enriched not only at the level of internal consciousness but even through communication with others.

Inter-subjective cultural worlds appear and are presented by the author as a plexus of products, norms and values and also as “a world of custom, laws and regulations which the individual needs to consider.” They manifest themselves with the double nature of being established (stiftung), re-established and changed by men but at the same time at work as contextual constraints. The possibility of re-inventing history makes clear how there is an inner teleology at work in the Husserlian ideal-history. Goals conceived as norms and values are continuously posited anew thus offering the possibility of an open historical development in contrast with the Hegelian absolute teleology.

This abstract is part of a review published on the © Phenomenological Reviews website under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Read it in full here

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