Husserl, Edmund: Philosophy and the Crisis of European Man

For a profounder understanding of Greco-European science (universally speaking, this means philosophy) in its fundamental difference from the equally notable oriental “philosophies’’, it is now necessary to consider in more detail the practically universal attitude, and to explain it as mythical-religious, an attitude that, prior to European science, brings those other philosophies into being. It is a well-known fact, to say nothing of an essentially obvious necessity, that mythical-religious motives and a mythical-religious practice together belong to a humanity living naturally – before Greek philosophy, and with it a scientific world view, entered on the scene and matured. A mythical-religious attitude is one that takes as its theme the world as a totality – a practical theme. The world in this case is, of course, one that has a concrete, traditional significance for the men in question (let us say, a nation) and is thus mythically apperceived. This sort of mythical-natural attitude embraces from the very first not only men and animals and other infrahuman and infra-animal beings (Wesen) but also the suprahuman. The view that embraces them as a totality is a practical one; not, however, as though man, whose natural life, after all, is such that he is actually interested only in certain realities, could ever have come to the point where everything together would suddenly and in equal degree take on practical relevance. Rather, to the extent that the whole world is looked upon as dominated by mythical powers and to the extent that human destiny depends immediately or mediately on the way these powers rule in the world, a universally mythical world view may have its source in practicality and is, then, itself a world view, whose interests are practical. It is understandable that priests belonging to a priesthood in charge of both mythical-religious interests and of the traditions belonging to them should have motives for such a mythical-religious attitude. With this priesthood these arises and spreads the linguistically solidified “knowledge’’ of these mythical powers (in the broadest sense though of as personal). This knowledge quasi-automatically takes on the form of a mystical speculation which, by setting itself up as a naÎvely convincing interpretation, transforms the mythos itself. At the same time, obviously, attention is constantly directed also to the ordinary world ruled by these mythical powers and to the human and infrahuman beings belonging to it (these, incidentally, unsettled in their own essential being, are also open to the influence of mythical factors). This attention looks to the ways in which the powers control the events of this world, the manner in which they themselves must be subject to a unified supreme order of power, the manner in which they with regard to individual functions and functioners intervene by initiating and carrying out, by handing down decrees of fate. All this speculative knowledge however, has as its purpose to serve man toward his human aims, to enable him to live the happiest possible life on earth, to protect that life from sickness, from misfortune, need and death. It is understandable that in this mythico-practical approach to knowing the world there can arise not a little knowledge of the actual world, of the world known in a sort of scientific experience, a knowledge subsequently to be subjected to a scientific evaluation. Still, this sort of knowledge is and remains mythico-practical in its logical connections, and it is a mistake for someone brought up in the scientific modes of thought initiated in Greece and progressively developed in modern times to speak of Indian and Chinese philosophy (astronomy, mathematics) and thus to interpret India, Babylonia, and China in a European way.35

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