The Origins of Husserl’s Totalizing Act
  • Jonathan Kearns Cooper-Wiele
Part of the Phaenomenologica book series (PHAE, volume 112)


At noon on Monday, October 24th, 1887, Dr. Edmund G. Husserl defended the dissertation that would qualify him as a university lecturer at Halle. Entitled “On the Concept of Number,” it was written under Carl Stumpf who, like Husserl, had been a student of Franz Brentano. In this, his first published philosophical work, Husserl sought to secure the foundations of mathematics by deriving its most fundamental concepts from psychical acts.1


Logical Investigation Number Concept Transcendent Object Evident Method Causal Reality 
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  1. 1.
    Edmund Husserl, Husserliana, Band XII, Philosophie der Arithmetik, ed., Lothar Eley (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1970), p. 522. Theodore de Boer, The Development of Husserl’s Thought, trans. Theodore Plantinga (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Phaenomenologica, vol. 76, 1978), pp. 98f.Google Scholar
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    Christa Jungnickel and Russell McCormmach, Intellectual Mastery of Nature, vol 2, The Now Mighty Theoretical Physics, 1870–1925 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 85–98.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 101.Google Scholar
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    Lindenfeld, Transformation of Positivism, pp. 79f. The later nineteenth century wit nessed a proliferation of specialities within physics which, in sub-dividing the discipline, left the impression of a less than unified scientific community, if not theory. There were many conflicting theories, e.g., in electrodynamics. Jungnickel and McCormmach, Intellectual Mastery of Nature, pp. 101, 110. Knight, Age of Science, pp. 4f.Google Scholar
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    Dallas Willard, Logic and Objectivity of Knowledge, p. 32. The establishment of a psychology yielding propositions of which there was “absolute certainty” was no less than a moral and social mission for Brentano. He regarded his psychology as the discipline that would lay the foundations for future social progress and reformation. See de Boer, Development of HusserTs Thought, p. 104. His belief in evidential certainty accessible to all only contributed to his anti-authoritarian positions. As a pacifist, he opposed Prussian militarism and Bismarckian “Realpolitik.” He was a Catholic priest, but was excommunicated upon the presentation of his brief to the German Bishops in Fulda attacking the proposed dogma of papal infallibility. It was his deep sense of virtually messianic mission that impressed students like Stumpf and Husserl, and they remembered him for it years afterward. Indeed, Stumpf even entered seminary due to his influence, and Anton Marty took Holy Orders. Spiegelberg, Phenomenological Movement, pp. 28f. Meinong was deeply interested in educational and curriculum reform and collab orated with Höfler on the writing of textbooks. In this they were also joined by Mach, who understood his clarification of physical concepts as productive of social edifica tion. He advocated the deconstruction of such concepts as “ego” and “force” in the education of children, believing this would initiate the end of social strife. He also allied himself with various Austrian and Russian socialists. Lindenfeld, Transformation of Positivism, pp. 79f. Brentano’s descriptive psychology increasingly became for him less a propadeutic to explanation (as it functions in his Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint of 1874) and more the definitive means to elaborate evidential moral norms rather than those strictly logical and mathematical (as in his lecture of 1889 on the origins of ethical knowledge). It became the means to combat historicistic relativism infecting ethical theory and that of jurisprudence. See Spiegelberg, Phenomenological Movement, p. 38, and de Boer, Development of Husserl’s Thought, p. 57.Google Scholar
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    Morris Kline, Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 167f. Kline expresses both Husserl’s purpose and means when he observes that the mathematical work of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries was, in being logically unfounded, “surely crude,” but “also masterfully creative.”Google Scholar
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    Willard, Logic and the Objectivity of Knowledge, p. 258.Google Scholar
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    In a manuscript dated between 1887 and 1890 (KI 28), Husserl cites the “essential difference” between the “objects” of mathematics and those of the natural sciences. Whereas mathematics deals only with “purely logical dependencies of magnitudes and positional relationships” which are “immediately given,” the sciences deal with “real relationships of things to each other” which are only “hypothetical and inferred.” Whereas every mathematical law is “subject to the principle of contradiction,” and whoever denies it “is asserting an absurdity,” a natural law is subject only to the “precepts of induction.” One who denies the latter asserts that which is “in the optimal case, infinitely improbable,” only. See Miller, Numbers in Presence and Absence, p. 8.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Hubert L. Dreyfus, ed., Husserl, Intentionality, and Cognitive Science (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1984), p. 56. See preceding pages for Føllesdal’s discussion of Frege and Bolzano in response to his on-going exchange with Mohanty on the question of influence. See Chapter VI below for a note on the possible resolution of the Føllesdal-Mohanty controversy. Cf., Willard, Logic and the Objectivity of Knowledge, pp. 178f.Google Scholar
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    Alfred Schutz, Collected Papers, III: Studies in Phenomenological Psychology (The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Phaenomenologica, vol. 23, 1970), pp. 51–52ff.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan Kearns Cooper-Wiele
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Massachusetts at BostonUSA

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