Concerning Phenomenology, trans. of Adolf Reinach's Ueber Phaenomenologie
The lecture Ueber Phänomenologie was read in Marburg during January of 1914. It was first published in Reinach's Gesammelten Schriften (Halle, 1921), and was later published separately under the title "Was Ist Phänomenologie?" (München, 1951). This English version is a revision of my translation from the 1951 edition that was published in The Personalist, Spring 1969, Vol. 50, #2, pp. 194-221, with the permission of the Reinach heirs and Kösel-Verlag. The present revised version was made in the light of the 1989 edition of the lecture published in Adolf Reinach, Sämtliche Werke: Textkritische Ausgabe in 2 Bänden, edited by Karl Schuhmann and Barry Smith, (München: Philosophia Verlag), pp. 531-550. A separate English translation by Derek Kelly, titled "What Is Phenomenology," appeared in The Philosophical Forum, Vol. I, #2 (New Series), Winter 1968, pp. 234-256.
I have not set myself the task of telling you what Phenomenology is. Rather, I would like to try to think with you in the phenomenological manner. To talk about phenomenology is the most useless thing in the world so long as that is lacking which alone can give any talk concrete fullness and intuitiveness: the phenomenological way of seeing and the phenomenological attitude. For the essential point is this, that phenomenology is not a matter of a system of philosophical propositions and truths - a system of propositions in which all who call themselves “Phenomenologists” must believe, and which I could here prove to you - but rather it is a method of philosophizing which is required by the problems of philosophy: one which is very different from the manner of viewing and verifying in life, and which is even more different from the way in which one does and must work in most of the sciences. And so today my aim is to touch upon a series of philosophical problems with you, in the hope that, at this or that point, it will become clear to you what the peculiarity of the phenomenological attitude is. Only then is the basis for further discussions given.
There are all sorts of ways in which we relate to objects - to existing and to nonexisting objects. We stand in the world as practically active beings. We see it, and yet we do not really see it. We see it more or less exactly, and what we see of it is, in general, governed by our needs and purposes. We all know how laborious a task it is to learn to really see; what work is required, for example, to actually see the colors which all along fall within our visual field and are swept over by our glance. What holds true in this case is true to an even higher degree of the stream of psychical events - of that which we call “Experiencing” (Erleben), and which as such does not, like the sensible world, stand over against us as something foreign to us, but rather is in essence of the self (ichzugehörig) - in short, of the states, acts, and functions of the ego. This “Experiencing” is just as remote and difficult to grasp in its qualitative structure or nature as it is certain for us in its existence. What the normal person beholds of it - in fact, what he even merely notices of it - is little enough. Joy and pain, love and hate, yearning, homesickness, etc., certainly present themselves to him. But in the last analysis these are only crudely cut sections out of an infinitely nuanced domain. Even the poorest conscious life is yet much too rich to be fully grasped by its bearer. Also here we can learn to look; also here it is art which teaches the normal person to comprehend for the first time what he had hitherto overlooked. This does not mean merely that, by means of art or technique, Experiences are evoked within us which we would not have otherwise had, but also that, out of the fullness of Experience, art allows us to view what was, indeed, there already, but without our being conscious of it.
Difficulties increase when we turn to other matters yet farther from us - to time, space, number, concepts, propositions, etc. Of all these things we speak; and when we so speak, we have reference to them, we mean or intend (meinen) them. But in this intending (Meinung) we stand infinitely far from them. We still stand afar off from them when we have definitionally delimited them. If we wish to mark out the class of judgments which are propositions (Urteilssätze), for example, as the class which consists of all of those propositions that are either true or false, then the essence of the proposition and of the judgmental proposition - that which it is, its “whatness” (Was) - has come no closer to us thereby. If by contrast we aim to grasp the essence of red or of color, then, in the last analysis, we need only to fix upon some perceived, imagined, or represented color, and, in what is so presented, lift the essence (So-Sein), the “whatness,” of the color away from that which, as singular or actual, is of no interest to us.
If, now, the Experiences in the ego are to be brought closer to us in this way, the difficulties are considerably greater. We well know that there are such things as feelings, acts of will, and convictions. We also know that they, like all that is, can be brought to adequate intuition. But if we try to conceptualize them, to bring them to us by means of their specific characteristics, then they seep away from us. It is as though we grasped in a void. Psychologists know how years of practice are required in order to master the difficulties involved here. But right from the beginning we are always dealing with Ideal entities (Ideelles). To be sure, we do speak of numbers and the like; we operate with them; and the designations and rules with which we are familiar are quite adequate to enable us to attain
the goals of practical life. But the essence of such things is yet infinitely removed from us. And if we are serious enough not to be satisfied with definitions - which, after all, cannot bring the fact itself (der Sache selbst) a hair closer to us - then we must say, as St. Augustine said of time: “If you do not ask me what it is, I believe that I know. But if you ask me, then I no longer know it.”
It is an oppressive and disastrous error to suppose that this natural distance from objects, which is so hard to overcome, would be suppressed by science. Many sciences, by their very nature, do not involve direct intuition of essences (Wesenschau). These sciences can be and are satisfied by definitions and derivations from definitions. Other sciences are indeed by their very nature allotted the task of direct essence intuition, but in their factual development have avoided that task up to now. The significant - in fact, the frightening - example of this latter is Psychology. I do not speak of it insofar as it is a science of empirical laws, i.e., insofar as it attempts to formulate laws of the factual, real course of consciousness. Here the case is quite different. I am speaking of what is called “Descriptive Psychology,” of that discipline which strives to take an inventory of consciousness, and to fix upon the various species of Experience as such. This has nothing to do with establishing existence: with the individual Experience, with its occurrence in the world at some point of objective time, and with its union with a spatially localized body. In the sphere of Descriptive Psychology, all of that is of no concern. There the question is not about existence, but about essence, about the possible species of consciousness as such, indifferently of whether, or where, or when they occur. But it will surely be replied that we nonetheless could not know Experience-essences were they not also realized in the world. Now this objection is mistaken, as it stands. We do in fact also have knowledge of species of Experience of which we know that, in the purity that they have as conceived by us, they perhaps have never been realized in the world. But even if the objection were wholly correct, it could only indicate that we humans are limited in the species of Experience accessible to us, and limited by what we are ourselves permitted to Experience. But the dependence of essences themselves upon their possible realization in consciousness is, of course, not thereby established.
If we cast a glance at the factually existing Psychology, we see that it has not yet once succeeded in getting clear about its supreme and delimiting essence: about the essence of the psychical itself. Not that the opposition between the psychical and non-psychical is first constituted by means of our determining and defining. Rather, to the contrary, our determining must be directed by the distinctions of essence which are ultimately given and found before us. All of that which can enter into the stream of our Experience, that which belongs, in the genuine sense, to the ego (such as our feeling, willing, perceiving, and the like), is distinguished in essence from all of that which transcends the stream of consciousness, standing over against it as foreign to the ego (such as houses, or concepts, or numbers). Taking the case where I see a material, colored object in the world, the object - with its properties and modalities - is then something physical; but my perception of the object, my turning to it and attending to it, the joy which I feel over it, my admiration and, in short, all that presents itself as an activity or state or function of the ego - all of that is psychical. And now, as to present-day Psychology: it deals with colors, tones, odors, and the like, just as if in them we have to do with conscious Experiences, just as if they did not stand over against us as foreign in nature as the highest and thickest of trees. We are told that colors and tones are, after all, not actual (wirklich), and thus are subjective and psychical. But that is only obscure words. Leaving the non-actuality of colors and tones undecided - and let us assume that they are non-actual - do they perchance thereby become something psychical? Can the distinction between essence and existence be so far misunderstood that the denial of existence is confused with a transformation of essence, of the essential character? Concretely expressed: Does a gigantic house of five floors which I suppose myself to be perceiving by any chance become an Experience when this perceiving turns out to be a hallucination? Thus, all of those investigations of tone and color and odor must not be claimed for psychology. One has to say of the investigators who deal solely with sense qualities, that the genuinely psychical has remained foreign to them, even if they do call themselves “Psyche-logists.” Certainly, the seeing of color and the hearing of tones are functions of the ego, and they belong to Psychology. But how can the hearing of tones, which has its proper essence and follows its proper laws, be taken for the heard tones? There is, after all, such a thing as the unclear hearing of a strong tone. The strength here belongs to the tone; clarity and unclarity, on the other hand, are modifications of the function of hearing.
Of course, not all psychologists have misunderstood the sphere of the psychical in this way; but the tasks of pure essence-apprehension have been comprehended by only a very few of them. People want to learn from the natural sciences, and want to “reduce” Experience to the farthest possible extent. And yet this way of putting the problem is senseless from the very start. When the physicist reduces colors and tones to waves of determinate kinds, he is dealing with real existence, whose factuality he intends to explain. Leaving the broader sense of reduction undecided, reduction certainly has no application to essences. Or would one perhaps wish to reduce the essence of red, which I can view in any instance of red, to the essence of waves, which nonetheless is an evidently different essence? Now it is precisely with facts that descriptive psychology has nothing to do. It has nothing to do with explanation of existences and the reduction of them to other existences. When it forgets that, there arise those reduction attempts which are in truth an impoverishment and falsification of consciousness. Then one comes to posit as the fundamental essences of consciousness feeling, willing, and thinking, let us say; or to propose some other such inadequate division of consciousness as that into representing, judging, and feeling. And when one then takes up one of the infinitely many Experience-types not covered by these classifications, it must be twisted into something which it, nonetheless, is not. Suppose it is the Experience of forgiving - a deep-seated and noteworthy act of a peculiar kind. Well, it certainly is not an act of representing. So people have attempted to maintain that it is a judgment: the judgment that the wrong done is, after all, not so serious, or really is no wrong at all - thus rendering absolutely impossible any meaningful forgiving. Or, one says that forgiving is the cessation of a feeling, the cessation of anger, as if forgiving were not something with its own positive nature, and much more than a mere forgetting or disappearing. Descriptive Psychology is not to explain and to reduce to other things. Rather its aim is to illuminate and elaborate. It intends to bring to ultimate, intuitive givenness the “whatness” of the Experience, from which, in itself, we are so remote. It intends to determine this “whatness” as it is in itself; and to distinguish and mark it off from other “whatnesses.” Thereby, to be sure, no final stopping place is attained. Of the essences laws hold: laws of a peculiarity and dignity that distinguishes them absolutely from all empirical connections and empirical uniformities. Pure intuition of essence is the means whereby one attains to insight into, and adequate comprehension of, these laws. But concerning such intuition I do not wish to speak until the second part of these remarks.
Essence intuition is also required in other disciplines. Not only the essence of that which can be realized arbitrarily many times, but also the essence of what is by nature singular and uniquely occurring, requires illumination and analysis. We see that the historian endeavors, not only to bring the unknown to light, but also to bring the known closer to us, to bring it to adequate intuition in its very nature. Here it is a matter of other goals and other methods. But we also see here great difficulties, and the dangers of evasion and construction. We see how, again and again, development is spoken of, and the question about the “what” of that which develops is neglected. We see how the environment of a thing is anxiously inquired into, only in order not to have to analyze it itself; how questions about the essence of a thing are believed resolved by answers to questions about its origination or its effect. How characteristic here are the frequent juxtapositions of Goethe and Schiller, of Keller and Meyer, and so on - characteristic of the hopeless efforts to define something by means of that which it is not!
That a direct apprehension of essence is so unusual and difficult that to many it appears impossible may be once explained by the deeply rooted attitude of practical life, which more possesses and operates with objects than it contemplatively intuits them and penetrates into their peculiar being. But it is also explained once again from the fact that many scientific disciplines - in contrast to those hitherto discussed - have as a matter of principle nothing to do with direct intuition of essences, and consequently produce in all who are devoted to them a profound disinclination to any direct grasp of essences. Here, of course, I mention Mathematics above all. It is the pride of the mathematician not to know - in its material essence - that of which he speaks. I refer you to how David Hilbert introduces the numbers: “We conceive of a system of things, call those things ‘numbers’, and designate them as a, b, c,..... We conceive of these numbers as having certain reciprocal relations, the description of which is given in the following axioms,” etc. “We conceive of a system of things, and call those things numbers, and we then state a system of propositions which those things are to stand under.” Of the “what,” the essence of these things, nothing is said. In fact, even the expression “thing” says too much. It must not be taken in the philosophical sense in which it designates a determinate categorial form; it only stands for the most general and absolutely contentless concept of “something in general.” Of this “something,” then, all sorts of things are said - better, they are “ascribed” to it, e.g., a + b = b + a; and out of this and a number of other propositions - without touching upon the essence of objects - a system is consistently and cogently constructed in purely logical sequence.
Removal from objects cannot be pushed farther than is found here. An insight into their structure, and all Evidence (Evidenz) for the ultimate principles, is given up as a matter of principle. The insight which does have play here is a purely logical insight: - it is the Evidence, let us say, for the fact that an A which is B must be C, if all B is C, an Evidence which comes without the essences which stand back of the A, B, C being considered. The axioms which are presupposed [in number theory] are not in themselves tested and verified as holding true. The only means of verification available in Mathematics, that of proof, is not at our disposal here. The axioms are suppositions, besides which other contrary axioms are possible upon which one can also attempt to construct self-consistent systems of propositions. Yet more! Not only has the mathematician no need, within his discipline, to verify the underlying axioms; he also does not need to understand their ultimate material content. What does “a + b = b + a” really mean? What is the sense of this proposition? The mathematician can decline the question. The possibility of sign commutation suffices him. The information gotten from him beyond this is unsatisfactory for the most part. In fact, the proposition certainly does not refer to the spatial arrangement of signs on the paper. But it also cannot refer to the temporal order of psychical acts in a subject - not to the fact that it is indifferent whether I, or some subject or other, adds b to a or a to b. For it is a proposition which says nothing at all about subjects and their acts and the temporal course of those acts. Rather it states that it is indifferent whether a be added to b or b to a. But what is to be understood by “adding,” since it is nothing spatial or temporal - that is now the problem, and a problem to which the mathematician can be indifferent, but upon which the philosopher, who must not stop at the signs but push on to the essence of that which the signs designate, must employ himself most intensively.
Or, take the law of association: a + (b + c) = (a + b) + c. This proposition surely has a sense, a sense of the most extreme importance, even; and it certainly does not, in the last analysis, have to do with the fact that the bracket signs can be written differently. The bracket does have a signification, and this signification must be fathomable. It certainly stands, as a sign, on a different level from “=” and “+”. It signifies no relation or operation, but rather indicates the type and scope of relations and operations, as is also done by means of punctuation marks. But by means of this indication, or by means of that, now these, now those signs are taken together and marked off from the other; and the signification of the whole expression is modified accordingly. To understand just this modification of signification and its possibility is a problem which also may fall to the mathematician. That is the question about sense. Alongside it stands the question about being, i.e., the problem of bringing to intuition, and, if possible, to the ultimate degree of insight, whether or not the postulate is correct; whether or not that which the proposition, “a + b = b + a,” expresses can prove out as valid and grounded in the essence of numbers. Precisely such considerations lie especially remote from the mathematician. He formulates his postulates, and the postulates of different systems may be contradictory to each other. Perhaps he postulates as an axiom that through a point not on a given straight line one and only one straight line in the same plane can be drawn which does not intersect the first straight line. But he could also posit that, through the point not on the given straight line, several such straight lines, or none at all, can be drawn; and on these postulates also a system of consistent propositions may be founded. The mathematician as such must contend for the equal worth of all such systems. For him, there are only the postulates and the logically complete and consistent deductive consequents built thereon.
But the systems are not of equal worth! There in fact are such things as points and lines, even if they do not exist as real things in the world. And, in acts of a particular type, we can bring these forms to adequate intuition. But if we do that, then we see (sehen wir ein) that, in fact, through a point not on a given straight line, one straight line on the same plane can be drawn which does not intersect the first-mentioned straight line, and that it is false that none such can be drawn. Thus, either in this latter postulate mentioned above the same terms mean something different than in the former, or it is a matter of a system of propositions which is built upon an invalid postulate, and which, as such, is also able to have a certain value - in particular, a mathematical value. If one understands by “points” and “lines” things which have to satisfy such postulates, then that is not in the least objectionable. But the removal from all material content then becomes exceptionally clear.
The peculiarity of mathematics renders intelligible the peculiar character of those solely mathematical minds who have done certain great things within mathematics, but who have done more harm to philosophy than could be briefly stated. They are of the type which only formulates postulates and carries out derivations therefrom. In this way they lose the sense for ultimate and absolute being. They have unlearned how to see, and can only prove. But philosophy has to do precisely with that for which they have no concern. This is also the reason why a philosophy in the geometrical style (more geometrico) is, when taken literally, a flat self-contradiction. On the other hand, only from philosophy can mathematics receive its ultimate clarification (Aufklärung). It was from philosophy that there first issued the investigation of the fundamental mathematical essences and the ultimate laws grounded in them. Also, philosophy alone can make completely intelligible the way in which mathematics is to proceed onward from those elements, by repeatedly leading it back to the intuitive essence-content from which it is so far removed. Here our first task must surely be to learn to see the problems once again, to penetrate through the thicket of signs and rules which operate so admirably to get at the material content. Concerning negative numbers, for example, most of us have genuinely thought only as children. Then we stood before something puzzling. Now those doubts have been put to rest - but on quite a dubious basis for the most part. Many now seem to have almost lost all awareness that, while there indeed are numbers, the contrast between positive and negative numbers rests upon an application of technique, the principle and right of which is by no means readily transparent. This is similar to the way jurists are about the technicalities of civil rights.
If we bring ourselves to the point where, as philosophers, we must bring ourselves - penetrating through all signs, definitions and rules - to the facts themselves (zu den Sachen selbst), things will present themselves quite differently than is today believed. Permit me to show this my means of a simple example which is rather easy to overlook. The division of numbers into ordinal and cardinal is generally accepted today. But people do not agree on which type of number, the ordinal or the cardinal, is the primitive, or on whether we must or may not designate one of them as more primitive than the other. If one takes the ordinal as primitive, Helmholtz and Kronecker are usually invoked. And it is very instructive, for our purposes, to go back to what these mathematicians truly said. Kronecker states that he finds in the ordinal the natural starting point for the development of the number concept. The ordinals provide a supply of ordered designations which we can assign to a determinate group of objects. Suppose we have the series of letters, a, b, c, d, e. Now, in sequence, we designate them as first, second, third, fourth, and finally fifth. If we wish to designate the total of the ordinal numbers used, or the number of letters, we use the last of the ordinal numbers employed in order to do it. But, now, it should be clear that Kronecker here introduces certain signs, not numbers. And indeed he first introduces the ordinal signs because he can then use the last of these signs for a designation of the number. But for the philosopher, this is where the problem first begins. How is it to be understood that the ordinal sign can at the same time indicate the number of all the designated ‘somethings’? What, after all, is the ordinal number, and what is the cardinal number? Let us now take a few steps down the road which leads to clarification of these concepts.
The question has been raised about the sense of numerical assertions. More precisely, the problem is: Of what are numbers really predicated? To this question very many and very diverse answers have been given. Let us look a little closer at some of these answers. One of them requires little consideration. That is Mill’s view that number is asserted of the things enumerated. Were the number three really attributed to the enumerated things, as, for example the color red is attributed to them, then each of them would be three, just as each of them is red. So it has been said that the number is not asserted of the enumerated things, but the assertion is made about the totality, about the group composed of the enumerated things. But we must also dispute that. Groups can have many sorts of properties, depending upon the objects which compose them. One group of trees can be next to another. A group can be greater or smaller in size. But a group cannot be four or five. To be sure, a group can contain four or five objects. But then it is the containing of four objects which is predicated of the group, and not the four. A group which contains four objects is just as little itself four as a group containing only red objects is itself therefore red. Perhaps one may assign the number four to the group which has four elements; but one cannot predicate the number four of it. And since the number cannot, as has been shown, even be predicated of the objects which the group contains, we find ourselves in a difficult position.
These difficulties have caused Frege to take the numerical statement to be an assertion made about a concept (Begriffe). “The Kaiser’s coach is drawn by four horses” is to signify, then, that under the concept of the horses which draw the Kaiser’s coach four objects fall. But, of course, no advantage is gained by this move. It is asserted of the concept that four objects fall under it, but the four is not asserted of it. A concept which subsumes four objects is just as little four as a concept which subsumes material objects is, therefore, itself material. I will not go into the many other attempts to solve this problem.
In such situations there is one question which, for philosophy, is obvious: Is there not to be found in the very problem posed a certain prejudgment? Doubtless there is in this case. The prejudgment is already contained in the very way the problem is put. One inquires about the subject of which the number is predicated. But how, indeed, does one know that the number is predicated of anything at all? Can one presuppose that every element of our thinking must be predicable? Certainly not! We need only consider a simple case to see that. For example, we often say: “Only A is B.” In the assertion there corresponds to the “only” an important element; but obviously it would be completely absurd to ask of what the “only” is predicated? The “only” concerns the A in a certain manner; but it can neither be predicated of it, nor of any other thing in the world. The same is true of “All A’s are B,” or “Some A’s are B,” and so on. All of these categorial elements <“all,”“some,” etc.> are impredicable. They simply give the range of the objects with which the predication, the being-B, has to do. This also sheds light on number. Two things are true of it: First, in and for itself it is impredicable. And, second, it presupposes predication, insofar as it determines the quantitative range of the somewhats, the multiplicity of the somewhats, which fall under a predication. A number does not answer the question, “How many?” But it does answer the question, “How many A’s are B?” For category theory this point is of the very greatest importance. Insofar as numerical determinateness presupposes a predicative involvement in certain things, it resides in a quite different sphere from, let us say, the category of causality. It resides in a sphere which we shall later come to know as that of the “state of affairs” (Sachverhaltes). Moreover, from here on, further differentiations very easily yield themselves. For example, it is possible that the predication concerned has to do with each single one of the objects of the domain it determines, or only with these objects taken together. If we say that five trees are green, it is meant that each single tree is green. If, by contrast, we say that four horses suffice to draw the coach, then certainly each horse does not so suffice. Such differences can be rendered intelligible only by the view of number here represented, according to which, as was said, numbers themselves are not predicable, but presuppose the predicative involvement of certain somethings, the range of which the number then determines.
This must suffice for now as a determination of cardinal number (Anzahl). But then there is supposed to be yet another sort of number (Zahlen), the ordinal numbers. Let us take a closer look at them. The cardinal number turned out not to be predicable. By contrast, there appears at first glance to be no doubt about the predicability of the ordinal. Obviously the ordinal is affirmed, and, indeed, is affirmed of a member of an ordered group. It appears to assign to this member its position within the set. It seems obvious to say that the ordinal is what determines the respective positions of elements in ordered groups. But that does not hold up, once we leave aside words and signs and turn to the facts themselves. What then is truly the case with the members of the series and their positions? We have, first, the opening member, the first member of the series; and, corresponding to it, there is the closing member, the last. Then there is a member which follows the first one, then one following the member following the first one, and so on. So the position of any member can be defined by continuously tracing backward to the member which opens the series. Of a number, or of something numerical, nothing has yet been said. One does not do so by speaking of the “first” member. The “first” has exactly as little to do with “one” as the “last” has to do with “five” or “seven.” And further, there is absolutely nothing more in the series - no peculiarity of series members as such, nothing numerical - which might be extracted by us. The elements have their positions in the series, and these positions can be defined by the successor relation to the opening member. Nothing is said of number.
But if this is so, why do those ordinal designations which, nonetheless, suggest numbers come about? Very simple! The position designations were rather complicated from the beginning. Already the c member must be designated as the member following the member following the first member. The complication finally becomes unbearable, and one has to contrive a more convenient mode of designation. Now of course there are relations between the group and its members, on the one hand, and the numbers (Anzahlen) - note well, the numbers - on the other. The series contains a number of members, and the same goes for each part of the series. The member c is that member up to which the series contains three terms. Therefore we call it the third. Likewise, d is the fourth; and so we can coordinate to each member of the series such a designation, just because at each of its members the series contains a determinate and always different number of members.
But now consider the confusion occasioned by remaining at the level of signs. In addition to numbers - cardinal numbers - there is to be a second type of number, ordinal numbers. Well, where are they then? Seek as long as you wish, they will not be found. There are numbers (Anzahlen) and the designations of numbers. There are, further, ordinal designations, which with the aid of cardinal numbers can define the position of elements in ordered sets. But there are no ordinal numbers. Philosophy has possibly been bewildered here because it blindly followed the sign-makings of the mathematicians, and thereby took words for facts. Is anyone so far gone as to wish to derive the cardinal numbers (Anzahl) from a mode of designation which yet has the cardinal numbers as a presupposition? As to that mode of designation, now, one of course must not be misled into straightway equating the word-designation with the number-designation. In fact, the word-designation certainly does not always use the number. The first is not the onest (einste). Whether or not there is a linguistic formation in which is expressed the fact that the opening member is at the same time that member up to which the series contains one term, I do not know. Also, the member following the first need not be designated with the aid of a number. In German we, indeed, say “zweite” (‘twoth’) but the Latin says “secundus.” So not all ordinal designations are ordinal number-designations. Further investigation of this must, of course, be left to the linguist.
When we aspire to essence-analysis, we will naturally set out from words and their significations. It is no accident that Husserl’s Logische Untersuchungen begins with an analysis of the concepts word, expression, signification, and so on. Right away it turns out that scarcely believable equivocations hold sway here, and especially within philosophical terminology. Husserl has exhibited fourteen different significations of the concept representation, and in so doing he has in no wise exhausted the equivocations in that concept which - mostly unclarified - play a role in philosophy. It has been very unjustly objected that these differentiations of signification are overly subtle and scholastic. A minute and intrinsically obvious distinction can lead to the subversion of a whole philosophical theory, if the great philosopher concerned has not paid attention to it. Instructive examples of this are, precisely, the terms “representation” and “concept,” with their numerous and fundamentally distinct significations.
But further - and this aspect we ourselves have just now brought out - the analysis of signification not only can lead to the making of distinctions, but also to the suppressing of unjustified distinctions. It is understandable that the young Phenomenology should at first have gazed in astonishment at the infinite richness of that which, so far, had been interpreted away or overlooked. But in its progress it will also have to do away with many things which have been falsely claimed to be distinct realities - an example of which seems to me to be, precisely, the ordinal number.
Moreover, there is no need of special emphasis on the fact that the essence-analysis which is required is in no wise exhausted by investigations of significations. Even though we do begin with words and word-significations, that is only supposed to lead us to the facts themselves, which are what is to be illumined (aufzuklären). But direct access to the facts is also possible, without guidance through significations of words. Indeed, not only is the ‘already intended’ to be illumined, but new essences also are to be discovered and brought to intuition. To a certain degree, the step from Socrates to Plato is what is in question here. Socrates did signification analysis when, in the streets of Athens, he put his question: “You talk of such and such. Now just what do you mean?” Here it is a question of clearing up the obscurities and contradictions of significations - a procedure which, moreover, really has nothing to do with definition, and certainly not with induction. By contrast, Plato does not start with words and significations. He aims at the direct intuition of the Ideas (Ideen), the unmediated grasp of essences as such.
I have already indicated that essence analysis is no ultimate goal, but rather is a means. Of essences laws hold true, and these laws are incommensurable with any fact or factual connection of which sense perception informs us. The laws in question hold of the essences as such, in virtue of their nature (Wesen). There is no accidentally-being-so in essences, but rather a necessarily-having-to-be-so, and an in-virtue-of-essence-cannot-be-otherwise. That there are these laws is one of the most important things for philosophy and - if one thinks it out completely - for the world at large. To present them in their purity is, therefore, a significant task of philosophy. But one cannot deny that this task has not been carried out. True, the apriori has always been acknowledged. Plato discovered it, and since then it has never disappeared from sight in the history of philosophy. But it has been misunderstood and restricted, even by those who have maintained its right; and there are two objections which we must, above all, raise: - that of the subjectification of the apriori, and that of the arbitrary restriction of it to a few domains in spite of the fact that its governing influence extends absolutely everywhere.
We must first discuss the subjectification of the apriori. About one thing there has been constant agreement: apriori knowledge is not derived from experience (Erfahrung). For us that follows from earlier reflections with no further comment. Experience refers, as sense perception, to the singular, to the “that-right-there” (Diesda), and seeks to grasp it as this. The subject tries, as it were, to draw to itself what is to be experienced. In fact, sense perception is in its essence only possible from some location; and, for us humans, this point of origination for perception must be in the near environment of the perceived. With the apriori, by contrast, we have to do with the viewing and the knowing of essences. But no sense perception is required in order to grasp essence. Here are involved intuitional acts of a wholly different sort, which can be realized at anytime and in any place the representing subject may find itself. To take a quite simple and trivial example, I can now, in this moment, convince myself with complete certainty of the fact that orange lies qualitatively between red and yellow, if only I succeed in bringing to clear intuition for myself the corresponding natures (Washeiten). I need not have reference to some sense perception, which would have to lead me to a place in the world where a case of orange, red, and yellow could be found. Because of this, not only - as is often pointed out - does one need to perceive merely a single case in order to apprehend the apriori laws involved in it; in truth, one also does not need to perceive, to “experience,” the single case. One need perceive nothing at all. Pure imagination suffices. Wherever in the world we find ourselves, the doorway into the world of essences and their laws everywhere and always stands open to us.
But right here at this undeniable point the most harmful of misunderstandings have set in. What does not, as it were, enter into us from the outside by means of sense perception seems necessarily to be exist “on the inside.” So apriori knowledge is marked as a possession of the soul, as something innate - even though only virtually - to which the subject needs merely direct its glance in order to perceive it with indubitable certainty. According to this particular picture of human knowledge, which has been so influential historically, all men are ultimately equal in their “knowledge-holdings,” and are distinguished only by the manner in which they improve upon the common supply. Many live and struggle along without the slightest suspicion of their riches. But if a piece of apriori knowledge is once drawn to light, then insight into it can be avoided by no one. Vis-a-vis such knowledge there is discovery or non-discovery, but never deception and error. For this point of view, the pedagogical ideal is the platonic Socrates, as understood by the philosophy of enlightenment (Aufklärungsphilosophie), who unlocked mathematical truths in the slave merely by questioning - for which only the awakening of memories was required.
One corollary of this view is the doctrine of consensus omnium as the indubitable guarantee for the highest axioms of knowledge. A further corollary of it is the talk of apriori truths as necessities of our thought, as an excretion of our having-to-think-so and of not-being-able-to-think-otherwise. But all of this is fundamentally mistaken; and against such views Empiricism has had an easy go of it. Apriori connections obtain indifferently of whether or not all, many, or none whatsoever of men or other subjects acknowledge them. They have universal validity at most in the sense that anyone who wants to judge correctly must acknowledge them. But that is characteristic of all truths whatsoever, and not of apriori truths alone. Even the most highly empirical of truths, e.g. that to some one at some point in time a piece of sugar tastes sweet, has general validity in that sense.
But we must totally reject the concept of thought-necessity as the essential criterion of the apriori. If I ask myself which was earlier, the Thirty-year War or the Seven-year War, then I become aware of a necessity to think of the first as earlier; and yet what we have here is empirical knowledge. On the other hand, whoever has negated an apriori connection, whoever has denied the principle of contradiction, or did not regard as true the principle of the univocal determination of all events, apparently sensed no thought necessity in these.
What then is to be made of all of these Psychologistic distortions? Certainly necessity has a role to play in the apriori, but the necessity is not one of thought. Rather, it is a necessity of being. Just consider these matters of being. One object lies somewhere in space beside another. That is an accidental being - accidental in the sense that the essence of each object permits it to be removed from the other. But by contrast: The straight line is the shortest line of connection between two points. Here it makes no sense to say that matters could also be otherwise. It is grounded in the nature of the straight line as a straight line to be the shortest line of connection. Here is a necessary-being-so. Hence, this is the essential point: states of affairs are apriori in that the predication in them - the being-B, let us say - is required by the essence of the A; that is, in that the predication is necessarily grounded in that essence. But “states of affairs” are there indifferently of which consciousness apprehends them, and of whether they are apprehended by any consciousness at all. In and for itself the apriori has not even the least thing to do with thinking and knowing. That admits of insight with utter clarity. But if one has insight into (eingesehen) it, then one can also avoid the illusory issues that have arisen in connection with the apriori and, in the history of philosophy, have led to the most amazing of constructions. Apriori connections find application, for example, in the events of nature. If these connections are conceived of as thought-laws, then the question of how this application is possible arises. How does it happen that nature complies with the laws of our thought? Are we to assume here an enigmatic pre-established harmony? Or are we perhaps to say that nature can lay no claim to a peculiar and intrinsic being of its own? That it is to be in some way thought of as being functionally dependent upon thinking and positing acts? The reason why nature should accommodate itself to the laws of our thinking is not susceptible to insight. But in truth the issue here has nothing whatsoever to do with laws of thought. Rather, here we have to do with the fact that such and such a property or event is grounded in the essence of something. Is it then to be wondered at that all things which share this essence are subject to the same predication? Let us speak concretely and as simply as possible. If it is grounded in the essence of change to stand in a univocal dependence upon temporally previous events - not if we must think this, but if, rather, this must be - then is it to be wondered at that the same is also true of every particular concrete change in the world? That it should be otherwise is inconceivable, it seems to me. Or, better said, it is evident that it could not be otherwise.
When one has fixed upon the peculiar character of apriori connections in themselves - as forms of “states of affairs,” not as forms of thinking - then, and only then, can there be raised, as a second problem, the question of how these “states of affairs” genuinely come to givenness, of how they are thought or, better, known. The immediate Evidence of the apriori has been mentioned, as opposed to the non-Evidence of the empirical. But this contrast is not tenable. What is meant by it is, indeed, quite clear. That that which stands over against me in the sense world as being the case and existing really is the case and exists - for this, acts of perception themselves do indeed provide a basis, but no irrefutable guarantee. The possibility that the houses and trees that I perceive do not exist always remains open in the very face of this perceiving. An ultimate and absolute Evidence is not present here. If therefore one wishes to say that judgments about the real existence of the physical cannot lay claim to ultimate Evidence, that would be quite correct. But this is also said, quite generally, of empirical judgments; and there one goes wrong. If we assume that the perception of the house, of which I spoke above, is an illusion, and that the perceived house therefore does not exist, it of course by that very fact remains that I do have such a perception, even though it is illusory. How could we otherwise speak of an illusion at all? In contrast to the judgment, “There stands a house,” the judgment, “I see a house,” possesses ultimate, irrefutable Evidence. But it is obviously an empirical judgment. That I see a house certainly is not grounded in the nature of the ego. So the lack of ultimate Evidence is not a distinguishing mark of empirical knowledge. But it is correct to say that all apriori knowledge is without exception capable of irrefutable Evidence: that is, it is capable of having its content intuitively given in the strongest sense. What is grounded in the essence of objects can be brought to ultimate givenness in essence intuition. Certainly there is apriori knowledge which cannot be known in isolation, but rather requires derivation from other apriori knowledge. But this also finally leads one back to ultimate connections which are insightful taken by themselves. Certainly they are not to be blindly accepted, nor rested upon a mythical consensus omnium or mystical “necessities of thought.” Nothing lies further from, precisely, phenomenology than that. This derivative knowledge must rather be brought to luminosity (Aufklärung), to the highest sort of intuitive givenness; and we precisely stress that for this purpose a special effort and methodology are required. However, with the utmost rigor we must contest the attempt to further justify in turn the ultimate apriori connections: to show their right by reference to something else. We contest the attempt to ground the absolutely clear and insightful sources of knowledge by reference to brute, uninsightful facts, which themselves can be grounded only through those sources. Here, it seems to me, is again validated what we earlier said about the anxiety over setting our minds upon ultimate connections themselves and about the blind grasping after something else to support them - as if such an attempt at grounding, if it is not to be quite arbitrary, did not also have to finally come to rest on connections given through underivative insight.
Up to now I have been objecting to the subjectification of the apriori. No less an evil is what I have previously called the “impoverishment” of the apriori. There are few philosophers who have not in some way acknowledged the fact of the apriori; but there also are none but what have in some way reduced it to a small province of its actual domain. Hume enumerates a few “relations of ideas.” And they are, surely, apriori connections. But why he restricted such connections to relations, and then only to some few of them, is not clear. And moreover the restrictiveness with which Kant conceived of the apriori could not but become disastrous for subsequent philosophy. In truth, the realm of the apriori is incalculably large. Whatever objects we know, they all have their “what,” their “essence”; and of all essences there hold essence-laws. All restriction, and all reason for restriction, of the apriori to the, in some sense, “formal” is lacking. Apriori laws also hold true of the material - in fact, of the sensible, of tones and colors. With that there opens up to investigation an area so large and so rich that yet today we cannot see its boundaries. Allow me to mention only a few matters from it.
Our psychology is so proud of being empirical psychology. The result is that it neglects the vast stock of knowledge which is grounded in the essences of Experiences, in the essence of perceiving and representing, of judging, feeling, willing, and so on. When it does bump into essence-laws, they are misinterpreted as empirical laws. I mention to you David Hume as a classical example of this. At the beginning of his main work he speaks of impressions and ideas, and says that to each impression there corresponds an idea of the same object. This Hume takes as one cornerstone of his philosophy. But how are we to understand this proposition? Does it mean that in each consciousness in which the impression of an object is realized an idea of that same object must also be realized? That would be a very dubious claim. We certainly have impressions of many things without having any ideas of them - things of which perhaps no one at all has ever had an idea. In any case, we certainly have no reason to maintain the contrary. But how then did Hume come to set such a proposition right at the head of his discussions? Where does the proposition get that power to convince which it certainly does have? Well, of course it is correct to say that to every impression there corresponds an idea, and conversely - in the sense, say, that to any straight line there corresponds a circle of which it is the radius. It is here no question of real existence, of being realized in empirical consciousness, but rather is one of an Ideal correlation. And so, likewise, the connection which Hume contends is empirical is in truth apriori, grounded in the essence of impressions and ideas. The same goes for the second proposition which forms a foundation of Hume’s epistemology, viz., that in its elements every idea presupposes an earlier impression of the same subject matter, and that we therefore can have an idea only of something the elements of which we have already perceived. This proposition presents serious difficulties, but from the outset one is certain that it cannot be an empirical proposition. How could we know whether the new-born child has impressions first, or ideas? One must not say: “Obviously he must first have impressions before he can have ideas.” Right where claims to such “obviousness” are raised is where we must begin working. These claims always indicate essence connections which are begging for scientific elucidation.
Up to here we have dealt with peripheral Experiences, but in the deeper psychical levels things are not otherwise. Above all, just think of the motivation connections which we follow with such clarity both in practical life and in the historical disciplines. We understand (verstehen) that out of this or that disposition, or out of this Experience, this or that action could arise or must arise. It is not as if we have a certain number of times had the experience (Erfahrung) that men under certain conditions have acted with this or that intention, and now we say: “Probably this man will act in the same way.” Rather we just understand that things are and must be so. We understand it from the motivating circumstances. But bare empirical fact never yields understanding. The historian who empathetically follows a motivation connection, the psychiatrist who track the process of an illness: they all understand. Also when the development in question first confronted them, they were guided by essence connections, even though they never have and could not possibly have formulated the essence connections involved. Here lies the connection between psychology and history of which so many spoken: a connection which empirical psychology does not touch upon, but which, rather, is the subject matter of apriori psychology, the beginning of which is still an affair of the future. Empirical psychology is in no wise independent of apriori psychology. The laws grounded in the essence of perception and representation, thought and judgment, are constantly presupposed when the empirical course of these events in consciousness is investigated. Today the psychologist includes these laws among the obscure representations of the natural life. They belong to that region of dreary truisms with which he no longer bothers. And yet a thoroughly worked out theory of psychological essences could gain a significance for empirical psychology similar to that which geometry possesses for natural science. Just consider the laws of association. How badly their true sense has been misunderstood! Their very formulation is in fact usually an outright falsehood. It is not correct to say that, when I have at the same time perceived A and B, and now represent A, a tendency exists to represent B as well. I must have perceived A and B together in a phenomenal unity - even if it is only the loosest of relations - in order for that tendency to become intelligible. Where two objects appear to us in a relation an association sets in. Further, if the relation is one which is grounded in Ideas (Ideen) themselves, such as similarity or contrast, then not even such a previous appearance is necessary. In that case the representation of an A leads, already as such, to the representation of the similar or contrasting B, without my ever needing to have perceived A and B together at any time. It is wholly arbitrary to base association on a certain few relations, as today is done, for example, with spatial or temporal contiguity or similarity. Any relation at all is capable of setting up associations. But above all, in association we have to do, not with empirically collocated facts, but rather with intelligible (verstehbare) connections, grounded in the essence of things. To be sure, we have here a new type of essential connection: not one of necessity, but one of possibility. It is intelligible that the representation of an A can lead to the representation of a B similar to it, not that it must so lead. Motivation connections likewise are largely those which involve an essentially can-be-so, not an essentially must-be-so.
As there is required an essence theory of the psychical, so also an essence theory of the natural is required. To get such a theory one certainly has to abandon the attitude peculiar to the natural sciences, which of course pursues quite determinate purposes and goals that also are ones especially hard for us to abandon. But here too we must succeed in grasping the phenomena purely, in working out its essence without preconceptions and prejudgments - the essence of color, extension and matter, light and dark, tones, and so on. We must also investigate the constitution of the phenomenal thing, purely in itself and according to its essential structure. In that structure color, for example, certainly plays another role than does extension or matter. Everywhere it is essence laws that are at issue. Existence is never posited.
In all of this we are not working against natural science. Rather we are creating the basis upon which its structure (Aufbau) can be understood for the first time. But into this I can go no further. The first thrust of phenomenology has been to trace out the most diverse of the domains of essence relationships - in psychology and aesthetics, ethics and law, etc. New domains open up to us on all sides.
But let us look away from the new problems. From the standpoint of the examination of essence, new light is thrown upon the old problems supplied by the history of philosophy, especially upon “the problem of knowledge.” What sense can there be in defining knowledge, reinterpreting it, reducing it, even removing the very possibility of it, just to be able to replace it with something which it just is not? We all do speak of knowing (Erkennen), and we mean something thereby. If this meaning is too indeterminate, then we can orient ourselves by some case where knowing is present: a certain and indubitable knowing, and the most uncomplicated and trivial case, is precisely the best. Consider the case where we know ourselves to be filled with joy, or where we know we are seeing a red thing, or where we know that tone and color are different, etc. Here too it is not a matter of the singular case of knowing and of its existence; but in the singular we view, as always, the “what,” the nature or essence of the knowing, which consists in an accepting, a receiving, in a making one’s own something presenting itself. To this essence we must go. It is what we must investigate. But we must not substitute for it something other. For example, we must not say that knowing is in truth a determining (Bestimmen), a positing (Setzen), or some other such thing. We must not do it because, while colors can indeed be ‘reduced’ to waves, essences cannot be reduced to other essences. Indeed, there are such things as acts of positing or determining, and their essence too must be illumined. There is the judgment - specifically, the assertion - as a spontaneous, discrete, positing act. Then there are certain assertions that prove to be positings of determinations. Thus we have assertions of the form, A is B. But by realizing in ourselves an act of determining, and bringing it near to us in its essence, we see very clearly that its essence is not identical with the essence of knowing. In fact, more: we see that every determination essentially refers back to a knowing, from which alone it can receive its justification and verification. Should one say that man can actualize no knowledge acts, but only acts of determining, that would be a bold assertion, and one which is certainly untenable; but it would not be intrinsically absurd. However, if one said that knowledge is in truth determination, that would be just like saying that tones are really colors.
Certainly essence analysis is not exhausted by separating out all of that which must not be confused with the subject to be investigated. Rather, it only starts with that. And this is what I really wish to impress upon you as vigorously as possible. If in phenomenology we want to break with theories and constructions, and if we strive to return to “the facts themselves,” to pure and unobscured intuition of essences, that does not mean that intuition is thought of as a sudden infusion and inspiration. Today I have continuously stressed the fact that immense efforts of a peculiar type are required in order to surmount the distance which naturally separates us from objects and to attain to a clear and distinct apprehension of them. It is precisely with respect to such efforts that we speak of phenomenological method. In following that method there is a nearer and ever nearer approximation to the object, but along the way also lie all of the possibilities of deception which come with any type of knowing. The intuition of essence too is something which must be worked out; and this “work” stands under the model sketched by Plato in the Phaedrus, of the soul having to rise up with its team to heaven in order to view the Ideas.
At the moment when, in place of momentary brainstorms, there sets in the laborious work of illumination, there philosophical work is taken out of the hands of individuals and laid into the hands of ongoing generations of relief workers. To future generations it will be just as unintelligible that an individual could project philosophies as it is today that an individual might project natural science. When continuity within philosophical work is attained, then that developmental process within world history in which one science after another separated off from philosophy will be realized within philosophy itself. Philosophy will become a rigorous science - not in that it imitates other rigorous sciences, but rather by keeping in mind that its problems require a peculiar procedure, the working out of which is the task of the centuries.
*The lecture “Ueber Phänomenologie” was read in Marburg during January of 1914. It was first published in Reinach’s Gesammelten Schriften (Halle, 1921), and was later published separately under the title “Was Ist Phänomenologie?” (München, 1951). This English version is a revision of my translation from the 1951 edition that was published in The Personalist, Spring 1969, Vol. 50, #2, pp. 194-221, with the permission of the Reinach heirs and Kösel-Verlag. The present revised version was made in the light of the 1989 edition of the lecture published in Adolf Reinach, Sämtliche Werke: Textkritische Ausgabe in 2 Bänden, edited by Karl Schuhmann and Barry Smith, (München: Philosophia Verlag), pp. 531-550. A separate English translation by Derek Kelly, titled “What Is Phenomenology,” appeared in The Philosophical Forum, Vol. I, #2 (New Series), Winter 1968, pp. 234-256.