Micah Tillman defends Edmund Husserl

I allowed him three paragraphs, and he emails me the following:

Husserl was a mathematician whose desire to understand how (and why) mathematics actually works turned him into a philosopher of logic, science, language, and mind. Without the movement he inaugurated, Heidegger (and therefore everyone who followed Heidegger), Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Levinas, and Derrida (and even John Paul II) would not have become the philosophers we know them as today.

Husserl was inspired by Hume and Kant, but believed both made a fundamental mistake. Empiricists like Hume became skeptics after concluding that all we truly know are our own sensations; we never experience the “real things” we think we do. Idealists like Kant essentially agreed (we experience only phenomena, never noumena) but believed that at least we could discover the universal rules of the human mind.

Husserl argued that the “things themselves” actually show up for us through our experiences and therefore we can learn about the real world through a study of the structures (patterns, types, and forms) of human experience. In the process, he reconciled empiricism and idealism. The empiricist insistence on experience over speculation is central to phenomenology, as is the idealist claim that the study of the mind is the path to knowledge of ultimate reality. With the combination of the two, every area of the world, and every part of life, became a subject for philosophical investigation, and philosophy experienced a kind of second birth.

Earlier I had named Husserl as “the worst philosopher.”  But of course I am delighted to present a contrasting view.  Micah is a professional philosopher and an adherent of phenomenology, his web page is here.  His recently completed dissertation was “Empty and Filled Intentions in Husserl’s Early Work.”  He describes the “things themselves” — in less than 140 characters — here.


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