Contra the Fregean Approach

  • John J. Drummond
Part of the Contributions to Phenomenology book series (CTPH, volume 4)


Any appraisal of the positive arguments for the Fregean interpretation of the noema must begin with Føllesdal’s “Husserl’s Notion of Noema” and must take account of Smith and McIntyre’s detailed expansion thereof. Føllesdal argues for twelve theses concerning the noema,1 the first and chief of which is that “the noema is an intensional entity, a generalization of the notion of meaning (Sinn, Bedeutung)” (“HNN,” 681 [HICS, 73]). While it is clear from Ideen I (203 [241]) that noemata are to be considered senses (Sinne), Husserl also makes clear that he is using “sense” with an extended meaning. And we cannot assume that this extended meaning is a simple generalization of the notion of linguistic sense, i.e. the sense of a linguistic expression, which, at least in the first edition of LU, Husserl shares with Frege. In the first place, Husserl himself indicates that this extended meaning of “sense” is to be distinguished from and involves a modification of the more ordinary meaning of “linguistic sense,” for which he reserves the term “Bedeutung” (Ideen I, 285 [294]). While this distinction is essentially a limitation of the term “Bedeutung” to a certain class of acts, the fact that the acts to which the notion is generalized have different characters underlies the possibility that the generalized notion might find different applications in those acts.


Phenomenological Description Intentional Content Linguistic Meaning Intended Object Intentional Experience 
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  1. 1.
    Cf. Richard Holmes, “An Explication of Hussel’s Theory of the Noema,” Research in Phenomenology 5 (1975): 143–53 and Langsdorf, “The Noema as Intentional Entity” for criticisms of Føllesdal’s theses; both papers provide good accounts of a proper approach to Husserl’s theory of the noema. I shall in the course of this paper criticize a number of Føllesdal’s theses, but this criticism shall occur in the larger context provided by Smith and McIntyre.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    Cf. Føllesdal, “HNN,” pp. 682, 683 [HICS, 75, 76]): “(2) A noema has two components: (1) one which is common to all acts that have the same object, with exactly the same properties, oriented in the same way, etc., regardless of the ‘thetic’ character of the act—that is, whether it be perceiving, remembering, imagining, etc., and (2) one which is different in acts with different thetic characters,” and “(7) Each act has one and only one noema.”Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Ideen I, 297 [309]: “Jedes Noema hat einen ‘Inhalt’, nämlich seinen ‘Sinn’, und bezieht sich durch ihn auf ‘seinen’ Gegenstand.”Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Cf. Holmes, “An Explication of Husserl’s Theory of the Noema,” pp. 146–48, 153, and Langsdorf, “The Noema as Intentional Entity,” p. 769.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Donn Welton [The Origins of Meaning: A Critical Study of the Thresholds of Husserlian Phenomenology (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1983), p. 126] correctly raises the same point against Smith and McIntyre.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Cf. Langsdorf, “The Noema as Intentional Entity,” pp. 771–73 for a different criticism of the conjunction of Føllesdars theses (8) and (9). Her criticism argues that the text Føllesdal cites appeals only to the notion of noematic sense and that Føllesdal has run together the notions of noematic sense and full noema in counting it as support for his thesis (9) and that thesis (9) is the only intelligible explanation of (8), to which it is, in fact, equivalent. I have argued that even if Husserl uses both senses of Sinn, there is insufficient support for the thesis that noemata are abstract (intensional) entities distinct from the intended object itself. Indeed, Langsdorf throughout her paper criticizes Føllesdal for conflating the notions of noematic Sinn and full noema. This is ironic after Føllesdal’s cautions about Husserl’s usage. It should be noted that Smith and McIntyre in their formulation of point four maintain the distinction between full noemata and their Sinne.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Holmes also attempts to answer claims in favor of the Fregean interpretation supported by appeals to this text; cf. “An Explication of the Husserl’s Theory of the Noema,” pp. 149–52.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Cf. Brough, “The Emergence of an Absolute Consciousness in Husserl’s Early Witings on Time-Consciousness,” esp. pp. 311–13, for an account of the development of such a view in Husserl’s reflections on time-consciousness.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    We can see the same development in I. Miller’s Perception and Temporal Awareness, §§2.4–3.3.Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    I. Miller, Perception and Temporal Awareness, p. 61 (cf. also n. 12), again recognizes difficulties Husserl’s language presents for the Fregean interpretation when he points to the ontological use of the term “bearer” to denote the object qua substratum of properties. He claims that the device of noema quotation changes the referent of the expression rather than our understanding of the way in which it refers to that substratum.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • John J. Drummond
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMount Saint Mary’s CollegeEmmitsburgUSA

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