Husserl, Edmund: Philosophy and the Crisis of European Man

[From: Edmund Husserl, Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy, Translated with Notes and an Introduction by Quentin Lauer, Harper Torchbooks, ©1965 by Quentin Lauer]


In this lecture I will venture an attempt to awaken new interest in the oft-treated theme of the European crisis by developing the philosophico-historical idea (or the teleological sense) of European man.1 In so far as in thus developing the topic I bring out the essential function that philosophy and its ramifications in our sciences have to perform in this process, the European crisis will also be given added clarification.

We can illustrate this in terms of the well-known distinction between scientific medicine and “naturopathy’’. Just as in the common life of peoples the latter derives from naïve experience and tradition, so scientific medicine results from the utilization of insights belonging to purely theoretical sciences concerned with the human body, primarily anatomy and physiology. These in turn are based on those fundamental sciences that seek a universal explanation of nature as such, physics and chemistry.

Now let us turn our gaze from man’s body to his spirit, the theme of the so-called humanistic sciences.2 In these sciences theoretical interest is directed exclusively to human beings as persons, to their personal life and activity, as also correlatively to the concrete results of this activity. To live as a person is to live in a social framework, wherein I and we live together in community and have the community as a horizon.3 Now, communities are structured in various simple or complex forms, such as family, nation, or international community. Here the world “live’’ is not to be taken in a physiological sense but rather as signifying purposeful living, manifesting spiritual creativity – in the broadest sense, creating culture within historical continuity. It is this that forms the theme of various humanistic sciences. Now, there is an obvious difference between healthy growth and decline, or to put it another way, between health and sickness, even for societies, for peoples, for states. In consequence there arises the not so farfetched question: how is it that in this connection there has never arisen a medical science concerned with nations and with international communities? The European nations are sick; Europe itself, they say, is in critical condition. Nor in this situation are there lacking all sorts of nature therapies. We are, in fact, quite overwhelmed with a torrent of naÎne and extravagant suggestions for reform. But why is it that so luxuriantly developed humanistic sciences here fail to perform the service that in their own sphere the natural sciences perform so competently?

Those who are familiar with the spirit of modern science will not be embarrassed for an answer. The greatness of the natural sciences consists in their refusal to be content with an observational empiricism, since for them all descriptions of nature are but methodical procedures for arriving at exact explanations, ultimately physico-chemical explanations. They are of the opinion that “merely descriptive’’ sciences tie us to the finitudes of our earthly environing world.4 Mathematically exact natural science, however, embraces with its method the infinites contained in its actualities and real possibilities. It sees in the intuitively given a merely subjective appearance, and it teaches how to investigate intersubjective (“objective’’)5 nature itself with systematic approximation on the basis of elements and laws that are unconditionally universal. At the same time, such exact science teaches how to explain all intuitively pre-given concretions, whether men, or animals, or heavenly bodies, by an appeal to what is ultimate, i.e., how to induce from the appearances, which are the data in any factual case, future possibilities and probabilities, and to do this with a universality and exactitude that surpasses any empiricism limited to intuition.6 The consistent development of exact sciences in modern times has been a true revolution in the technical mastery of nature.

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