Husserl, Edmund: Philosophy and the Crisis of European Man

Regarding this question of interpersonal relations, nothing can be said here; no one lecture could exhaust the topic. I do hope, however, to have shown that we are not renewing here the old rationalism, which was an absurd naturalism, utterly incapable of grasping the problems of spirit that concern us most. The ratio now in question is none other than spirit understanding itself in a really universal, really radical manner, in the form of a science whose scope is universal, wherein an entirely new scientific thinking is established in which every conceivable question, whether of being, of norm, or of so-called “existence”59, finds its place. It is my conviction that intentional phenomenology has for the first time made spirit as spirit the field of systematic, scientific experience, thus effecting a total transformation of the task of knowledge. The universality of the absolute spirit embraces all being in a absolute historicity, into which nature fits as a product of spirit. It is intentional, which is to say transcendental phenomenology that sheds light on the subject by virtue of its point of departure and its methods. Only when seen from the phenomenological point of view is naturalistic objectivism, along with the profoundest reasons for it, to be understood. Above all, phenomenology makes clear that, because of its naturalism, psychology simply could not come to terms with the activity and the properly radical problem of spirit’s life.


Let us summarize the fundamental notions of what we have sketched here. The “crisis of European existence”, which manifests itself in countless symptoms of a corrupted life, is no obscure fate, no impenetrable destiny. Instead, it becomes manifestly understandable against the background of the philosophically discoverable “teleology of European history”. As a presupposition of this understanding, however, the phenomenon “Europe” is to be grasped in its essential core. To get the concept of what is contra-essential in the present “crisis”, the concept “Europe” would have to be developed as the historical teleology of infinite goals of reason; it would have to be shown how the European “world” was born from ideas of reason, i.e., from the spirit of philosophy60. The “crisis” could then become clear as the “seeming collapse of rationalism”. Still, as we said, the reason for the downfall of a rational culture does not lie in the essence of rationalism itself but only in its exteriorization, its absorption in “naturalism” and “objectivism”.

The crisis of European existence can end in only one of two ways: in the ruin of a Europe alienated from its rational sense of life, fallen into a barbarian hatred of spirit; or in the rebirth of Europe from the spirit of philosophy, through a heroism of reason that will definitively overcome naturalism. Europe’s greatest danger is weariness. Let us as “good Europeans” do battle with this danger of dangers with the sort of courage that does not shirk even the endless battle. If we do, then from the annihilating conflagration of disbelief, from the fiery torrent of despair regarding the West’s mission to humanity, from the ashes of the great weariness, the phoenix of a new inner life of the spirit will arise as the underpinning of a great and distant human future, for the spirit alone is immortal.


1. It is unquestionable that “Western man” would be a happier expression in the context. Husserl, however, speaks of europäischen Menschentums, which, as will be seen later, must be translated as “European man” if the rest of the text is to make sense.

2. Geisteswissenschaften: In certain contexts it will be necessary to translate this term more literally as “sciences of the spirit”. This will be particularly true where the term occurs in the singular. cf. p. 154 n. 1 and n. 10 infra.

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