Reflections on the Foundation of the Relation between the A Priori and the Eidos in the Phenomenology of Husserl

  • Theresa Pentzopoulou-Valalas
Part of the Martinus Nijhoff Philosophy Texts book series (MNPT, volume 2)


To compare the a priori and the eidos in the phenomenology of Husserl is to close oneself in a circle, to enter into a labyrinth the end of which is the same as the point of departure. For the eidos is truely a priori and the a priori is essentially eidetic. There is thus an identity of terms that an explicit note of Husserl appears to found de jure.1 It is, however, an identity of two notions which must be grasped in a different movement of thought. In Husserlian language: one cannot intend the a priori in the same way that one intends the eidos.


General Essence Ideal Object Individual Object Pure Possibility Phenomenological Sense 
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  1. 1.
    Translated by Laurence E. Winters from “Reflexions sur le fondement du rapport entre l’a priori et l’eidos dans phénoménologie de Husserl,” Kant-Studien, 1974(65), Heft 2, pp. 135–51.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    FTL, E—p. 248, F—p. 332 n. (a), G—p. 255.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Phenomenological explication makes clear what is included and only non- intuitively co-intended in the sense of the cogitatum (for example, the ‘other side’), by making present in phantasy the potential perceptions that would make the invisible visible. CM, E—p. 48, F—p. 41, G—p. 85.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Husserl, Ms. F I 28, S. 298–99 (SS 1920), cited by Iso Kern, Husserl und Kant ( The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964 ), p. 56.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    In the usual philosophical sense, the a priori designates that which is not chronologically, but logically prior. Kant, in the introduction to the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, stresses the fact that the notion of the a priori indicates in general that which is independent of experience and even of all sense impressions. But a principle which is itself based on experience cannot be called a priori. It is not only necessary that a knowledge not be derived from an experience, but that it is also absolutely independent of all experience (Kr. d. r. V. B 2-3). Max Scheler gives a phenomenological definition of the a priori: the a priori designates all the ideal unities of signification and the propositions which are given in person by an immediate intuition, without implying the position of the existence of a subjectivity which would think them, nor the existence of an object to which they would apply. See Der Formalismus in der Ethik unci die materiale Wertethik (Bern: Francke Verlag, 1954), p. 68. The Husserlian influence in the thought of Scheler is felt, because, as Iso Kern indicates (p. 57), for Husserl the a priori designates principally that which is independent of all psychological subjectivity. Cf. equally the Prolegomena. Husserl posits the a priori conditions of knowledge as being the conditioned which can be discussed and investigated apart from all relation to the thinking subject and to the Idea of Subjectivity in science. LI, Prolegomena, E - p. 233, F - p. 259, G p. 238.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    FTL, E—p. 246, F—p. 330, G—p. 218.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Ibid., E—p. 249, F p. 334, G—p. 108.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Ibid., E - p. 248, F - p. 332, G - p. 220. Let us draw attention equally to the Cartesian Meditations where Husserl speaks of an “ontological” a priori tied to the idea of the a priori constitution of the world, a formulation which signifies the elucidation of the a priori of the universal structure of the world. CM, E—p. 137, F p. 116, G p. 164.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    FTL, E—p. 251, F—p. 335, G p. 222.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    PL., E—p. 28, G—p. 28.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    “…such expressions as ‘essential necessity’ and essentially determined1 forced themselves upon us—phrases in which a definite concept of the Apriori, first clarified and delimited by phenomenology, receives expressions.” CM, E—p. 69, F—p. 59, G—p. 103. Cf. also PL, E—p. 27, G—p. 27. In the Prolegomena Husserl posits a priori laws as being laws that would be under the jurisdiction of theory as such, that is to say, under the general essence of the ideal unities which constitute the theory of science. ZJ, Prolegomena, E—p. 233, F pp. 258–59, G p. 238.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    The conjunction of the a priori and the formal was brought about in Kantian critique. Let us here recall that this identification of the a priori and the formal was vigorously criticized by Scheler, who saw in this a fundamental error in the Kantian system. Scheler, p. 74.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    In paragraph 65 of the Prolegomena Husserl considers the ideal conditions which make possible.a theory in general. He is thus led to distinguish the ideal noetic conditions (founded a priori on the idea of consciousness as such) and the purely logical ideal conditions founded purely on the “content” of consciousness, a content which is itself properly understood as a priori.Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    René Schérer, La phénoménologie des “recherches logiquesde Husserl (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1967), p. 254. Our translation. “The notion of directed glance (visée, abzielen), intention or act has already been admitted without further examination. It was, in effect, sufficient for the advancement of the preceding Investigations to establish a general distinction between the real content of consciousness, its real parts or its lived content (vécu), and its intentional content, irreal or ideal in the sense of signification, and, again, the real in the sense of the actually existing object. It was sufficient to free the concept of consciousness from its psychological interpretation which would reduce consciousness to a web of psychic events, rendering incomprehensible the domain of ideality and the objective laws which govern it. This was an ascendent step: it led toward the formal a priori or generally, that of abstract ideality.”Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    LL Prolegomena, E—p. 233, F—p. 258, G—p. 238.Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    As Quentin Lauer remarks in HusseiTs Philosophie comme science rigoureuse (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1955), notes pp. 154–163, even the content of the science is a priori. “It is ‘constituted’ as given in the intentionality of consciousness, which constitutes the objectivity of the formal and the material sides, which makes it still more radically constitutive than the formal a priori of Kant.” Our translation. All the notes in the original edition are not in the English translation, Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy, trans. Quentin Lauer (New York: Harper and Row, 1965).Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    This is the sense of the principle which Husserl sets forth in the Formal and Transcendental Logic. “To every operational law of the theory of forms there corresponds a priori a subjective law concerning constitutive subjectivity.” E—p. 182, F—p. 247, G—p. 162.Google Scholar
  18. 17.
    The subjective structures in question in the already described inquiries of a logic directed to the subjective has a congruity with the corresponding concepts pertaining to the theory of objective logic which is obviously not a matter of accidental psychological fact. They indicate an Apriori which is perfectly correlated with the Objective Apriori. FTL, E—p. 182, F—p. 246, G—p. 162.Google Scholar
  19. 18.
    Scherer, p. 58. “It is a question of unveiling the hidden lived-experiences (les vécues) which are in correlation with the idealities defined in the first four Investigations. A displacement of interest is witnessed, and the theme of the last Investigation will properly be the uncovering of the acts by which the subject grasps these idealities, through which it becomes conscious of idealities.” Schérer, p. 57. Our translation.Google Scholar
  20. 19.
    The formal, then, requires the “placing into brackets” of the empirical, of the psychic. But at the same time the formal obliges us to turn to the side of a no longer psychological, but constitutive subjectivity. “…in return,” writes Schérer, “what has awakened us to the idea of a possible indifference with regard to subjectivity, can be thought a priori as an object of a possible subjective knowledge; this turnabout leads to the idea of a treatment of the subjective act, not as a simple fact, but as pure possibility.” Schérer, p. 56. Our translation. And he cites in support of this “conversion toward the subjective” the same text in which Husserl posits in explicit terms the correlation between ideal objects and constituting subjectivity: “Now although it was made evident,” wrote Husserl, “that ideal objects, in spite of the fact that they are formed in consciousness, have their own being, being-in-themselves, there is nonetheless an important task here which has never seriously been seen nor embarked upon: the task, namely, of making this peculiar correlation between ideal objects of the purely logical sphere, and subjective psychic experiences as forming activity into a theme for research.” Phänomenologische Psychologie (PP), p. 26, cited in Schérer, p. 57.Google Scholar
  21. 20.
    S. Bachelard comments that the phenomenological method is purely intuitive, for it aims at the uncovering of the profound sense of the world and of human being. Now, it is through this revelation that the idea of the a priori actively emerges. “But, this uncovering makes apparent the essences which call attention to the a priori structures. And these a priori structures are revealed not only in the objective world, but also in constituting subjectivity. This objective a priori cannot be ‘philosophically intelligible’ a priori unless it is referred precisely to the ultimate sources of intelligibility, that is to say, to the essential necessity which governs the transcendental sphere. To comprehend the world, it is necessary to lay bare the essential laws which determine the manner in which the objective world plunges its roots into transcendental subjectivity; in short, it is necessary to lay bare the subjective a priori. This a priori governs the set of the constitutive functions of the ego.” S. Bachelard, La logique de Husserl (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1957 ), p. 265. Our translation. In English as A Study ofHusserl’s Logic, trans. L. Embree(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968 ).Google Scholar
  22. 21.
    “…to grasp in particular the already described relatedness of every straightforwardly derived Apriori to the antecedent Apriori of its constitution; accordingly, to understand also the a priori apprehensibility of the correlation between object and constitutive consciousness.” FTL, E—p. 249, F—p. 334, G p. 220.Google Scholar
  23. 22.
    “Now it is clear: Only by the aforesaid uncovering of the performance that constitutes the being sense of the given world can we avoid every countersensical absolutizing of this world’s being and know, universally and in every respect, what we (as philosophers) are allowed to assign to that sense….” FTL, E pp. 243–44, F—p. 362, G—p. 215.Google Scholar
  24. 23.
    Ibid., E—p. 165, F—p. 224, G p. 147.Google Scholar
  25. 24.
    APS, p. 213.Google Scholar
  26. 25.
  27. 26.
  28. 27.
    Ibid., p. 218. “The great theme of transcendental philosophy is consciousness in general as a hierarchical structure of constitutive performances in which ever new levels or layers of ever new objectivities… are constituted.” Our translation.Google Scholar
  29. 28.
    FTL, E p. 276, F—p. 367, G p. 244.Google Scholar
  30. 29.
    “Any ‘objective’ object, any object whatever (even an immanent one), points to a structure, within the transcendental ego, that is governed by a rule. As something the ego objectivâtes, something of which he is conscious in any manner, the object indicates forthwith an universal rule governing possible other consciousnesses of it as identical—possible, as exemplifying essentially predelineated types. And naturally the same is true of any ‘imaginable’ object, anything conceivable as something intended. Transcendental subjectivity is not a chaos of intentional processes. Moreover, it is not a chaos of types of constitution, each organized in itself by its relation to a kind or a form of intentional objects. In other words: the allness of objects and types of objects conceivable for me—transcendentally speaking; for me as transcendental ego—is no chaos: and correlatively the allness of the types of the infinite multiplicities, the types corresponding to types of objects, is not a chaos either: noetically those multiplicities always belong together, in respect of their possible synthesis. That indicates in advance a universal constitutive synthesis, in which therefore all actual and possible objectivities (as actual and possible for the transcendental ego), and correlatively all actual and possible modes of consciousness of them, are embraced.” We quote the whole passage. CM, E—pp. 53–54, F—p. 46, G—p. 90.Google Scholar
  31. 30.
    FTL, E p. 292, F—p. 387, G—p. 257.Google Scholar
  32. 31.
    Schérer, pp. 350–51. “If, now,” writes Schérer, “we define empiricism not as a radicalism diverted from its project while maintaining a fertile idea of reduction, but as an a posteriorism, and we contrast it to a rationalism founded on the position of an a priori, then phenomenology reveals to us lived-experience (vécu) as the ultimate a priori, the source of all rationality. Because it is the constant return to lived-through-experience which allows the rational elucidation of experience, opening to us the access to the unity of its origin and that, as Husserl correctly said, prior to all theory of experience, it was a question of the presence of animate beings acting in a natural environment. Before, that is to say, originarily, and it is for this reason that we weigh the lived-through- experience, and that alone it is able to deliver itself to us if we elucidate it as it is, in its universal a priori.” Our translation.Google Scholar
  33. 32.
    Schérer, p. 342.Google Scholar
  34. 33.
    Kern, pp. 60–61.Google Scholar
  35. 34.
    Experience in the phenomenological sense is evidence, and evidence is the fundamental character of intentionality Cf. CM, E—pp. 57–58, F—p. 49, G—p. 93. See also FTL, E—p. 233, F—p. 312, G—p. 206: “Experience is the performance in which for me, the experiencer, experienced being ‘is there,’and is there as it is, with the whole content and the mode of being that experience itself, by the performance going on in its intentionality, attributes to it.”Google Scholar
  36. 35.
    Schérer, p. 351.Google Scholar
  37. 36.
    CM, E p. 74, F—p. 62, G—p. 108.Google Scholar
  38. 37.
    Ibid., E—p. 71, F—p. 60, G—p. 105.Google Scholar
  39. 38.
    “…that nothing exists for me otherwise than by virtue of the actual and potential performance of my own consciousness.” FTL, E—p. 234, F-p. 314, G—p. 207. “… in my intentionality it is legitimated, it receives its content and its being-sense. Naturally the world for every one presupposes that, in my ego—the ego who says, with the universality in question here, ego cogito, and included in his actual and possible cogitata everything actual and possible for him….” FTL, E - p. 237, F-p. 318, G - p. 210.Google Scholar
  40. 39.
    “It concerns the essence of subjectivity in general, which is unveiled through the examples, but in a purely possible generality. It is a priori because it passes from the fact of a thought to the thinkable, to the unconditioned.” Schérer, p. 66. Our translation.Google Scholar
  41. 40.
    Ibid., pp. 353–54.Google Scholar
  42. 41.
    CM, E—p. 137, F—p. 116, G—p. 164. “Tracing the essence of such constitution and its egological levels, we made visible an Apriori of a completely novel kind, namely the Apriori of constitution. We learned to distinguish, on the one hand, the self-constitution of the ego for himself and in his primordial own- essentialness and, on the other hand, the constitution of all the aliennesses of various levels, by virtue of sources belonging to his own essentialness. There resulted the all-embracing unity of the essential for belonging to the total constitution accomplished in my own ego—the constitution as whose correlate the Objective existing world, for me and for any ego whatever, is continually given beforehand, and goes on being shaped in its sense-strata, with a correlative Apriori form style. And this constitution is itself an Apriori.”Google Scholar
  43. 42.
    Ibid., E—p. 137, F—p. 116, G—p. 164.Google Scholar
  44. 43.
    FTL, E—p. 246, F—p. 330, G —p. 218.Google Scholar
  45. 44.
    Ibid., E—pp. 246–47, F—p. 330, G—p. 218.Google Scholar
  46. 45.
  47. 46.
    “In this inquiry, the variation of the necessary initial example is the performance in which the ‘eidos’ should emerge and by means of which the evidence of the indissoluble eidetic correlation between constitution and constituted should also emerge.” FTL, E—p. 247, F—p. 331, G—p. 219.Google Scholar
  48. 47.
    This correlation is nothing but the noetic-noematic correlation, the cogito and the cogitatum qua cogitatum. Cf. FTL, E—p. 262, F—p. 349, G—p. 231.Google Scholar
  49. 48.
    “It thus becomes evident that an ontic Apriori is possible, as a concretely full possibility, only as the correlate of a constitutional Apriori that is concretely united with it, concretely inseparable from it.” FTL, E—p. 248, F—p. 333, G—p. 220. We understand here in what sense it is necessary to comprehend the concrete a priori to which Husserl so often refers. The concrete a priori designates the concrete unity of the ontic a priori and the constitutive a priori.Google Scholar
  50. 49.
    The Husserlian theory of essence is expounded in paragraphs 1–16 Í Ideas. We are referring here to the work of Iso Kern, Husserl und Kant, pp. 55–62. Cf. also E. Levinas, La théorie de l’intuition dans laphénoménologie de Husserl (Paris: Félix Alean, 1930), pp. 142–174; Eng. trans. A Orianne (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973).Google Scholar
  51. 50.
    “The essence (eidos) is a new kind of object. Just asthe given of individual or experiencing intuition is an individual object, the given of eidetic intuition is a pure essence.” Our translation. Ideas, E—p. 49, F p. 21, G p. 14 (pp. 10–11 in 1913 ed.)Google Scholar
  52. 51.
    “But, precisely with this coinciding, what necessarily persists throughout this free and always-repeatable variation comes to the fore: the invariant, the indissoluble identical in the different and ever again different, the essence common to all, the universal essence by which all ‘imaginable’ variants of the example, and all variants of any such variant, are restricted. This invariant is the ontic essential form (a priori form), the eidos, corresponding to the example, in place of which any variant of the example could have served equally well.” FTL, E—p. 248, F—p. 332, G p. 219.Google Scholar
  53. 52.
    APS, Beilage XVII, p. 403.Google Scholar
  54. 53.
    This is what Levinas shows very clearly in La théorie de l’intuition. “The individual object,” he writes, “is an indispensable base for the perception of essence. The mode of existence of the ideal object directs us, in some way, to the individual object, implying a relation to it. But the existence of the individual object does not play the role of a premise in eidetic knowledge. It is independent of the ‘actuality’ of the individual objects,” p. 156.Google Scholar
  55. 54.
    APS, p. 213.Google Scholar
  56. 55.
    “Presented here is not a mere external analogy but, rather, a radical commonality. Also, eidetic intuition is an intuition, just as the eidetic object is an object. The generalization of the concepts ‘intuition’ and ‘object,’ which belong together correlatively is not an arbitrary idea, but, rather, is one compellingly required by the nature of things (Sachen).” Our translation, ¡deas, E p. 49, F pp. 21–22, G—pp. 14–15 (p. 11 in 1913 ed.).Google Scholar
  57. 56.
    “…the intuitive grasping and positing of essences does not in the least imply the positing of an individual existent; pure eidetic truths do not in the least contain assertions concerning facts. Therefore, one cannot infer from eidetic truths alone any truths concerning facts.” Our translation. Ideas, E p. 51, F p. 25, G—p. 17 (p. 13 in 1913 ed.).Google Scholar
  58. 57.
    “…as a result, no eidetic intuition is possible without the free possibility of turning one’s regard to a ‘corresponding’ individual and becoming conscious of it as example - just as, conversely, no intuition of an individual is possible without the free possibility of performing ideation and by this directing the regard to the essence which is exemplified in the individual seen. However, this does not alter the fact that both kinds of intuition are in principle different.” Our translation. Ideas, E—p. 50, F—p. 23, G—pp. 15–16 (2. 12 in 1913 ed.).Google Scholar
  59. 58.
    Ricoeur remarks quite correctly that essence is the pure signification which is fulfilled in eidetic intuition. Ideas, F p. 18, n. 5. Essence is thus the correlate of each individual fact.Google Scholar
  60. 59.
    In the sixth Logical Investigation, Husserl identifies the essence and the general. Categorial intuition which grasps the general is an act founded on empirical intuition; thus is constituted a new sphere of objectivities “given in themselves and sustained by fundamental acts.” Our translation.Google Scholar
  61. 60.
    “The material a priori,” writes M. Dufrenne, “is not material solely through its content, but also according to its mode of presence.” La notion d a priori (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1959 ), p. 107; Eng. trans. E.S. Casey ( Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1966 ).Google Scholar
  62. 61.
    See LI, E—p. 792 (Vol. II, paragraph 48), F—p. 136 (Tome 3), G—p. 152 (Band III). “Categorical acts are characterized as founded acts.”Google Scholar
  63. 62.
    “Eidetic intuition could not be a criterion for the a priori, their evidence is not primarily logical, it is first of all sensuous.” Dufrenne, p. 118. Our translation.Google Scholar
  64. 63.
    CM, E—pp. 71–72, F—pp. 60–61, G—pp. 105–06.Google Scholar
  65. 64.
    Ideas, E—p. 50, F—p. 23, G—p. 16 (p. 12 in 1913 ed.).Google Scholar
  66. 65.
    CM, E—pp. 83–84, F—p. 70, G—p. 117.Google Scholar
  67. 66.
    Here it is necessary to understand the concrete a priori in the sense of the universal concrete life of the transcendental ego. We then see that Husserl entirely constituted an a priori system distinguishing within the a priori different levels. We pass, in effect, from the a priori of sensible intuition, which is the a priori of nature which surrounds us, to the constitutive a priori, that is to say, to the a priori of phenomenon, finally arriving at the higher level, the a priori of idealizing acts. Cf. CM, E—p. 146, F—p. 125, G—p. 173.Google Scholar
  68. 67.
    It is in the fourth Meditation that this idea of pure possibilities enclosed in the transcendental ego, itself a pure possibility, is thrown into relief: “To me as the meditating ego, guided by the idea of a philosophy as the all-embracing science, grounded with absolute strictness, a science I took as a tentative basis, it becomes evident after these last considerations that, first of all, I must develop a purely eidetic phenomenology and that in the latter alone the first actualization of a philosophical science—the actualization of a ‘first philosophy’-takes place or can take place. After transcendental reduction, my true interest is direct to my pure ego, to the uncovering of this de facto ego. But the uncovering can become genuinely scientific, only if I go back to the apodictic principles that pertain to this ego as exemplifying the eidos ego: the essential universalities and necessities by means of which the fact is to be related to its rational grounds (those of pure possibility) and thus made scientific (logical). It should be noted that, in the transition from my ego to an ego as such, neither the actuality nor the possibility of other egos is presupposed. I phantasy only myself as if I were otherwise; I do not phantasy others. In itself, then, the science of pure possibilities precedes the science of actualities and alone makes it possible as a science. With this we attain the methodological insight that, alone with phenomenological reduction, eidetic intuition is the fundamental form of all particular transcendental methods (that both of them determine, through and through, the legitimate sense of a transcendental phenomenology).” CM, E—p. 72, F—p. 61, G—p. 106. We quote the whole paragraph.Google Scholar
  69. 68.
    Bachelard, p. 265.Google Scholar
  70. 69.
    “The ‘phenomenological self-explication’ that went on in my ego, this explication of all my ego’s constitutings and all the objectivities existing for him, necessarily assumed the methodic form of an a priori self-explication, one that gives the facts their place in the corresponding universe of pure (or eidetic) possibilities.” CM, E—p. 84, F—p. 71, G—p. 117.Google Scholar
  71. 70.
    Ibid., E—p. 88, F—p. 74, G—pp. 120–21.Google Scholar
  72. 71.
    Thus is realized what Husserl called the “.. ‘unfolding’ of the universal Logos of all conccivable being.” CM, E—p. 155, F—p. 132, G—p. 181.Google Scholar
  73. 72.
    Ideas, E—p. 157, F—p. 190, G—p. 138 (pp. 109–110 in 1913 ed.).Google Scholar
  74. 73.
    CM, E—pp. 83–84, F—pp. 70–71, G—pp. 116–17. “Transcendency in every form is an immanent existential characteristic, constituted within the ego.”Google Scholar

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