Husserl, known as the father of the Phenomenology movement, sought to describe human experiences and Kantian “things in themselves” without making metaphysical assumptions. That is, he attempts to describe phenomenon in terms of how they appear in his own consciousness without conflating with the naturalistic and other scientific attitudes of his times. In contrast with scientific naturalism that use induction and general theories to organize large collections of data, phenomenology investigates particular examples of one’s own consciousness to discern what is essential to such experiences.  i.e. to construct a theory of science that would ground all other sciences (much like psychology).

Husserl (Phenomenology)

To systematize human experience into a theory of science, Husserl begins with language (propositional systems) as units of consciousness; the consciousness that gives voice to language are so-called “intentional acts” or “intentional experiences” that representing something as something. Such acts may be about non-existing (imagined, phantasy content) objects which includes forms of mental imagery (pictoral and kinesthetic representations). These acts differ from non-intentional units such as affects, moods, senses (pain) that are non-representational (not about anything).

The structure of consciousness could be partitioned into the act of consciousness and the phenomenon that it is being directed at. To arrive at knowledge of essences or “objects in themselves that appear in consciousness”  he introduces a method called “bracketing” (Epoche) which culls away assumptions of how we normally think of objects as separate, external things. What we are left with are the invariant features that are perceived which constitute our understanding of the object. For example, my understanding of a rectangle can be bracketed to yield a four-sided shape with four right-angles. Abstract species such as rectangles of same area can be eidetically reduced to shapes of rectangles whose product of lengths and widths are the same. Such common features are said to have consistent meanings that are fulfilled by a “unified intuition” which can be read-off.


For indexical or context-sensitive experiences, Husserl characterizes them by their “singularity”, i.e. the object or set of intentional objects that are relevant in all possible worlds. The indexical experience is thought of as one of many worlds on a manifold that pertain to future courses of experiences with the indexical case as its root. These potential experiences constitute the “intentional horizon” conditioned on the indexical event. e.g. the anticipation of a moving car. Experiences on such a horizon share a common identity labeled as “determinable” X which is a higher-order (moment) belief/judgment.

For inter-subjectivity, we undergo acts of empathic experience where conscious acts are attributed to other subjects. The existence of other subjects follows from an egocentric view that others who act in ways similar to my own will perceive things in ways similar to my own; one puts himself in the other’s shoes. Such a belief allows one to ascribe intentional acts to others without inference (self-evident) and is a part of the intentional background or “lifeworld” or foundation of sense-making that is built into language and culture a priori. Lifeworld is thus a “world-horizon” of all potential experiences. e.g. prescientific qualities such as spatial shape, motion, body, and spatiotemporality. These qualities ground the more objective sciences when they employ any propositional content or appeal to intuitive acceptance (self-evident truths).


German Idealism

German Idealism

German idealism begins with Kant’s epistemology as a synthesis between the rationalist and empiricist schools of thought. Knowledge was previously dichotomized divided between a priori and a posteriori propositions; a statement was true/false through verification with/without experience by necessity. However, such a distinction had been wrongfully conflated with grammatic structures in language systems derived from Aristolean logic; continuing the dualstic tradition, Kant makes the finer distinction that predicates can either be wholly contained within the subject (analytic) or outside it (synthetic). The structural deconstruction of propositions could then be classified under analytic-a prior (definitional), analytic-a posteriori (impossible by definition), synthetic-a priori (questionable), and synthetic-a posteriori (common-sense). The rationalists restricted truth-claims to only the analytic-a priori i while the empiricists to that of synthetic-a posteriori with both camps mutually rejecting claims of the other. Kant argues that the propositions in metaphysics, geometry, and mathematics are synthethic-a priori where truth-claims outside the subject can be made without an appeal to experience; Proving such claims require a “transcendental argument” or an appeal to necessary assumptions that structure all apprehensions and mental acts.

Kant argues that all our intuitions (perceptions) must be organized along some manifold of space and time which is outside the subject. To experience an object requires a representation along spatial-temporal axes; objects must occupy (be delineated in) a region and we mentally arrange our intuitions in sequences (succession) to create separation through memory (time). The representation must be further differentiated into conceptual structures (categories for organizing things in space-time, schema) for our sensible inputs to become things; our things have quantity (unity as one percept, plurality as many percepts, totality as union of all percepts over moments in time), quality (negation as the normal-state, reality as the abnormal state or something is present in tlme, limitation as occupying the present amongst many), relation (inherence/subsistence as a persistence of subject or the temporality of predicates over time, causality as necessity of percepts from their antecedants in time, reciprocity as the dynamics between predicates of different subjects), and modality (I liken this to a probability space of different realizations and their covariances). Such a schema both enables and limits the sort of metaphysical truth-claims that one can make. Many of those posited by the rationalists are shown to be  provable from both the original assertion and their negations using transcendental arguments; “antinomies” such as space-time has a beginning/end and space-time is infinite are shown to be beyond the scope of reason. In restricting the space of knowledge as derived from the systemizing function of reason and the limitations of phenomena  (the thing in itself or noumena can never be known), Kant leaves its complement open to faith.


Kant’s ethical work concerns the universality of duty (deontology) on the premise that morality presupposes freedom of which reason can not demonstrate but must assume to have; relegating actions to causal laws undermines reason’s ability to affect will.  Things in the world are thereby classified as having or not having reason (actors and things that can only be acted upon or can only follow causal laws). As actors, the principles from which actions are made must treat other actors as ends in themselves rather than means to ends; failure to-do so would undermine the freedom that reason presupposes, turning man back into animals (freedom is a good). The consequence is the universalization of maxims into laws that do not undermine the freedom of all actors on principle (categorical imperative); the morality of an act is judged not upon realities but on its motive and reason. I find such laws similar to Rousseau’s general will and analogous to convergence laws that lead to globally optimal solutions. This universalizing perspective will be radicalized by later German philosophers such as Fiche, Schelling, and Hegel (whom I’ll be concerned with next) through its broadening from moral judgments to all of reason.

Hegel sought a universal law that would explain development of self-consciousness, experience, reason, and reality in terms of dialectic from the ground-up (evolution of spirit/mind).  Its starting point is anthropocentric as it posits human awareness as fundamentally concerned with the relationship between self and other. The lord and bondsman (master/slave) analogy is a primary example where two consciousnesses seek self-determination through mutual recognition but fail to do; the lord identifies with his power over the bondsman through penalty of death while the slave identifies with mastery over/objectification of the environment in compensation of the threat by his master. Neither parties become fully self-determined or free as the recognition is asymmetric. The lord cannot kill his slave for otherwise he loses his identity; the bondsman remains powerless in other affairs. This struggle towards the self-determination of individuals cannot be resolved outside of ethical life (e.g. personal morality) whose concrete form would ultimately be actualized in the State. Such a process is grounded in Hegel’s logic which has a triadic structure.


The triadic-dialectics of Hegel (abstract, negative, concrete) and Fichte (thesis, antithesis, synthesis) posit that propositions/claims have flaws within themselves which cannot be resolved unless mediated by thing outside the context; a pure being (awareness in itself) is indistinguishable from nothing and thus require something determined or concrete as a mediation (a more recent example may be the hand-held spear negated into a thrown spear and then synthesized into bow with a quiver of arrows). From the resulting concrete/synthesis, the two lesser moments are sublated into higher categories and the process repeats until a future equilibrium (progress).

Hegel’s principle posits a cognitive tension or paralysis between abstractions (ideas) and their indetermincies which can only be realized through something more concrete (ideas and our awareness undergo differentiation which are eventually realized in sensible things). Every resolution of previous flaws/contradictions expands both possibility/realized spaces while new antagonisms emerge from their mediations. Man (humanity) thus becomes self-determined when he achieves a unity between the abstract universality (uncoerced choice, will in-itself) and the subjective-will (can give concrete expression to will) through the State and the multi-faceted social, economic, and political institutions that arise. Further analysis is beyond the scope of this blog entry.

German Idealism

Modern Philosophy III

Modern Philosophy III

Berkeley begins the modern idealist tradition with his complete rejection of material as metaphysical substance. Working from Locke, Berkeley’s immaterialism does not deny the existence of objects per-se, but that existence has become contingent on perceptions (of ideas or state-of-mind) by a subject. The subject, referred to as spirit, is analogous to the mind and “active” in the sense of possessing will/judgment and the aperception of ideas.  This is to say that there are no mind-independent things which leads to a fully subjective and restricted world-view; the existence of other spirits can only be known through the ideas that they incite in our minds. His moral philosophy is also contrarian to that of Locke; passive-obedience is a negative moral duty to the government without exceptions.


Hume both extended and finalized many of the issues that were contained in Locke and Hume’s empiricism. He’s most known for formulating the problem of induction or the inference of the unknown from known events. Underlying all of the induction is the assumption of uniformity or the regularity in nature; the observations that one makes thus far persists in both time and space outside that window. Such an assumption cannot be demonstrated as one can easily conceive of a world that is non-uniform. Neither can a probable argument towards its validity be meaningful as this is the very question that induction seeks to answer; logic/reason cannot be used to justify this hypothesis.

Hume’s notion of causality relates his conception of induction to man’s psychology. Here, causality is always preceded by the impressions of two conjoined events serialized in time. With repeated apprehensions, ideas or mental states of these impressions are formed such that the latter idea becomes associated with the former impression. The mind, by its necessity to determine relations, cannot help by make the leap to causation from its conditioning (Pavlov later demonstrates this in the 19th century). Related is his conception of the self as a mere bundle of perceptions; we have difficulty experiencing impressions of our self but instead have chains of perceptions that follow by necessity.

Hume’s ethics make an important distinction between reason/passion, is-ought, and moral responsibility in a compatibility view of free-will. Reason is always a slave (to serve) to passion in the sense that knowledge does not compel the will as does feelings/sentiments do. This follows from the formulation of the “is-ought” problem where no amount of descriptive statements can ever deduce a prescriptive statement. His compatablist’s free-will holds that while necessity binds actions to motives, it is the will that must have choice for otherwise the actions would be judged as only given to chance which non-regular.

hume1 hume2

Modern Philosophy III