The Totalizing Act: Key To Husserl’s Early Philosophy

  • Jonathan Kearns Cooper-Wiele
Part of the Phaenomenologica book series (PHAE, volume 112)


The totalizing psychical act, which is the key to Edmund Husserl’s philosophy, first appears in his Inaugural Dissertation at Halle of 1887, titled “On the Concept of Number” (Über den Begriff der Zahl; hereafter BZ).


Content Relation Physical Relation Conceptual Hierarchy Primary Relation Individual Content 
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  1. 1.
    Edmund Husserl, Über den Begriff der Zahl: Psychologische Analysen (Halle a.S.: Heynemannische Buchdruckerei/F. Beyer, 1887). Republished in Philosophie der Arithmetik (1890–1901) edited by Lothar Eley, Husserliana, Band XII (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1970). All references to this article (hereafter BZ) are to the Nijhoff edition See BZ 295, 2–7.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ibid., 291, 13–17. Morris Kline [Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980)] asserts that irrationals were not so problematic by this time because they could be represented as points on a line. It was probably this need for geometrical props to which Husserl objected. See p. 153f.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ibid., 291; 294, 20–37.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ibid., 294, 25–33.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ibid., 292, 32–293, 4.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ibid., 295, 13–30.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Dallas Willard discusses this hierarchy and succinctly describes the “more important… ‘contents of consciousenss,’ according to Husserl’s ‘initial view.’” [Logic and the Objectivity of Knowledge (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1984), pp. 36–38 (hereafter LOK)]. See also pp. 29–34, where he presents Husserl’s conceptual analysis against its historical backdrop from Hume onward. Theodore de Boer also discusses this topic in some detail. See Chapter One of his The Development of Husserl’s Thought, translated by Theodore Plantinga (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1978), especially pp. 4–9 and 40–50 (hereafter DHT). Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Husserl emphasizes that every “collection” presumes a “colligating act” (kolligieren). BZ 305, 6–10. See also Edmund Husserl, Philosophie der Arithmetik. Psychologische und logische Untersuchungen, Erster Band (Halle-Saale, 1891). Republished in Philos ophie der Arithmetik (1890–1901) edited by Lothar Eley, Husserliana, Band XII (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1970). All references to this work (hereafter PA) are to the Nijhoff edition. See PA 25, 16–19.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    BZ 316, 30/PA 45, 13. In the context of this reference, Husserl substitutes, at PA 45, 9, “It is indubitable” (unzweifelhaft) for, “it is certainly correct” (richtig), at BZ 316, 27, and “separated” at PA 45, 14, for “discrete” at BZ 316, 32. Since “separated” is used in BZ (at 317, 4, and reproduced at PA 45, 24), these alterations perhaps indicate a harmonizing of BZ with itself more than anything else. However this may be, PA has no less of an interest in indicating the psychic fundament of such notions. See 330, 31–37/69, 15–21; 316, 31/45, 14.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ibid., 316, 30/45, 13.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Ibid., 330, 28/69, 11. cf., BZ 316, 34/PA 45, 17–18. While the point is essentially the same in each of the latter parallel passages, that in PA might be interpreted as placing more emphasis on the act. In the PA passage it not only unifies the contents but is itself “unified.” It not only “connects” but “encompasses” them. More than simply being directed upon them, it “surrounds” them. However this “directedness” is certainly not dropped from PA as a characterization of the act (see PA 30, 21/BZ 308, 36). It should not be inferred, either, that the characterizations of it in this passage of PA are missing at other points from BZ (see BZ 329, 30/PA 68, 15; BZ 330, 32/PA 69, 16; BZ 332, S/PA 72, 25). Franz Brentano uses the verb “richten” to describe this psychical activity as well (see his Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt, Erster Band, ed., Kraus, Leipzig, 1929, p. 124f.).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Ibid., 330, 29/69, 12.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Ibid., 316, 34/45, 17–18. In PA, Husserl substitutes “connecting” (verknüpfen) for “unifying” (einigen) in BZ as a modifier of “interest.” Husserl uses the word “connect” also in BZ to characterize the nature of the relation of the act to the contents. This additional use of the term may imply that the relation of the act to the contents, and the consequent relation of the contents to one another, is of a piece. There are other instances where a characteristic of the act is expressed in its contents, e.g., Husserl implies that the unity of the contents is a function of the unity of the act (cf., BZ 334, 3/PA 74, 19).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Ibid., 317, 4/45, 23. The sentences are identical with the exception that, in PA, the “complex” is inserted before “psychical act” (BZ 317, 5/PA 45, 25).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    BZ 330, 35/PA 69, 19.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Ibid., 332, n. 1, 4/73, n. 1, 4. This whole is “psychical” because (Husserl writes, endorsing the view of J. S. Mill) its “parts” are united by a “psychical act thinking (them) together” (zusammendenken). Compare this passage to that at BZ 330, 29/PA 69, 12. Husserl does explicitly warn against the use of the metaphor of “whole/parts” because it implies more of a unity among the contents of this act than he wishes to convey that there is (see BZ 335, 7–10/PA 77, 16–21; the latter passage makes essentially the same point, albeit paraphrased). 329, 30/68, 15; 330, 32/69, 6; 332, 8/72, 25; 331, 25–6/72, 3–4.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Ibid., 329, 323/68, 17–18. Husserl’s use of the term, “foundation” (Fundament) as an apparent synonym for the contents collected, less likely indicates that the totalizing process is radically dependent on these (it certainly requires contents in principle, but is by no means determined by the particular natures of such) than it does that this process presumes individual representing acts of such entities, prior to any thought of their being totalized (at any rate, this is his view of the matter by the time of PA). Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    With regard to the use of the term, “intentional” as indicating relatedness or directed-ness to a content, de Boer notes (DHT, p. 9) that, in the corpus of Thomas Aquinas, “intentio,” in the cognitive order, refers to the specific “objective” (as opposed to “real”) mode of being of the object in the mind of the knower. Only in the connative order does it refer to a “striving after” or an “impulse” for Aquinas (“Intentio est proprie actus Voluntatis”). According to de Boer, Brentano adapted this meaning with reference to cognitive acts, as Husserl does as well.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    BZ 300, 29/PA 19, 34. It is not entirely clear what Husserl means to convey by the use of “peculiar” (eigen) here, since he also speaks of the spatial extension and color, and the latter and intensity, of the object as “connected” (verknüpfen) in “mutual pervasion” (gegenseitiger Durchdringung), cf., BZ 300, 26–9/PA 19, 31–4.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Ibid., 333, 28–334, 3/74, 7–19. There are minor changes in the PA rendition of this passage. Perhaps the most significant is that lines 10–13 are not emphasized by Husserl in PA as they are in BZ. PA also substitutes “grasp” in this sentence for “notice” in BZ. Perhaps this indicates an “activation” of the act, at least in this passage.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Ibid., 337, 25–32. This text is absent from PA because the parallel texts diverge after BZ 337, 9, and PA 82, 8. The remaining few pages of PA constitute an expansion of BZ. Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    The outlines of Husserl’s detailed investigations of inner temporality are evident here (and are developed much further in his article of 1894, “Psychological Studies for an Elementary Logic”)Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    cf., BZ 308, 30–6/PA 30, 15–21, where Husserl also emphasizes the noticing facet of the act.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    BZ 298, 26–299, 2/PA 16, 16–25. The passages are essentially the same, however PA includes the phrase, “And accordingly also enumerated” (PA 16, 20/BZ 298, 29), and substitutes “multiplicity” (Vielheit) at line 23 for “plurality” (Mehrheit) at line 32 of BZ. Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    BZ 330, 34–6/69, 18–20. The phrase, “eben nur,” can be rendered other than “only just,” but regardless of translation, the meaning seems to be that the act is the sole unifying source and force. This locution then emphasizes the absence of the totalizing act among its contents.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Ibid., 332, 29–30/73, 3–4. This phrase, “eben bloss” functions similarly to “eben nur” in the preceding note, cf., BZ 334, 3, and PA 74, 18. In the latter PA passage, Husserl drops the quotation marks surrounding “together,” and “one” is not emphasized as it is in its antecendent BZ version. This might be taken to suggest greater cohesion among the contents and, by implication, a more powerful act. Such a situation does not then necessitate an emphasis on the unity or singularity of the latter. However the fact that the quotation marks are extant in other places in PA (cf., PA 73, 3–4) prevents any sustained interpretation of this sort.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Ibid., 332, 33/73, 7. Husserl actually speaks here of the absence of the “unification” (Einigung). Within the context, he might as well have referred to the “holding-together psychical act ”as he does in the preceding sentence.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Ibid., 334, 3/74, 19.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Ibid., 332, n. 1, 3–5/73, n. 1, 3–5. These two passages are virtually identical, with the exception of the substitution in PA of “primary relations” for “content relations” in BZ. At PA 70, n. 1, Hussel comments on his avoidance of the term, “physical phenom enon,” and emphasizes that “intentional inexistence” is the distinguishing mark of “psychical” relations when compared to “primary relations.” This was also the main criterion for Brentano in distinguishing “physical” and “psychical” phenomena. The term “physical phenomenon” refers then to “primary” absolute contents, not to their “abstract moments” (which [even “physical”] relations are).Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    BZ 301, 19–21/PA 20, 26–8.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Ibid., 333, 32–5/74, 10–13. cf., BZ 330, 34–6/PA 69, 18–20 for the characteriza tion of this reflection as “peculiar” (besonder). At line 20 of BZ 333/PA 73, 7, the connection is also called the “collective unification” (Einigung). Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Ibid., 300, 34–8/20, 3–7.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Ibid., 329, 24–30/68, 9–15.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Ibid., 331, 6–26/69, 29–33; 71, 19–72, 4. Husserl interpolates the BZ text in PA at BZ 331, 10, and between PA 69, 33, and PA 71, 22. PA 69, 29–33, paralleling BZ 331, 6–10, makes essentially the same point with somewhat different language, in cluding the usual substitution of “primary” for “physical” or “content” with regard to relations. For this reason, BZ 331, 10–11 is omitted by PA. In this sentence Husserl cites “content relations” as a viable synonym for “physical relations.” Similarly, with the exception of a couple of minor alterations in PA, BZ 331, 12–26 is essentially reproduced at PA 71, 24–72, 4.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Ibid., 331, 29–332, 9/72, 5–25. Even concepts of “physical” relations are gained via “reflection” (cf., BZ 300, 22–4/PA 19, 27–30). This reflection is, however, not reflexive, since it is directed upon contents and not acts.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Ibid., 332, 17–33/72, 30–73, 7. It is striking that PA omits BZ 332, 12b-16. Since BZ 332, 25–33/PA 72, 38–73, 7, more or less amplifies it, Husserl may have regarded it as redundant for PA. The passage has been used as one of the foundations for the claim that some sort of contentual status is suggested here for this “unity” (Einheit). Perhaps Husserl himself regarded it, four years later, as sufficiently ambi guous and suggestive of a “physical” unity among the contents (which he propounded neither in BZ nor in PA) as to warrant its deletion from PA. Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    BZ 328, 13–19/PA 66, 5–11. Husserl amplifies the point in PA by appealing to “inner experience” (Erfahrung), and by insisting that the collective connection is neither to be “dissolved into” nor defined in terms of any other relations.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Ibid., 334, 13–14/75, 26–28.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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