Published in The Cambridge Companion to Husserl, Barry Smith and David W. Smith, ed., 1995, pp. 138-167.


It is clear from this exposition that fulfillment as well as Knowing--which indeed is only another word for the same thing--can be characterised as an act of re-identification.

- Husserl, VIth Investigation, Subsection 8


From its earliest phases up to the present, philosophical inquiry has taken the nature of knowledge to be a central concern. Even the extreme sceptic must come dangerously close, for him, to knowing what knowledge is, if his claims are to be at all intelligible and interesting, since a person who does not know what he is denying the possibility or actuality of would have little claim to be taken seriously. Accordingly, each sceptical philosopher has articulated, more or less, a conception of knowledge which he regards as reasonable to accept. Most of the philosophers commonly counted "great" have not been sceptics, of course. They are usually quite straightforward with their claims, not only to know, but to know what knowledge is, and often have given reasons supporting their view. Still, no philosophical positions have been more contested than those on the nature of knowledge, and this remains so up to today.

We have equated fulfillment with Knowledge (in the narrower sense) and have indicated that by “fulfillment” only certain types of re-identification are designated, those, namely, which bring us closer to the goal of Knowledge. What that is to mean we perhaps can make clear by saying: In each fulfillment a more or less complete INTUITIONALIZATION occurs.

- Ibid., Subsection 16

Some of us who continue to believe that reflection upon texts by Edmund Husserl is a better than average way of working toward substantive philosophical conclusions are especially attracted by what he had to say about knowledge or Erkenntnis. This is certainly true for me. I would never have chosen to work at philosophy as a profession but for the single--though multi-faceted--issue of realism. I have always felt that realism had to be true, because there is just no way that the objects of our world--whether particulars or universals (a tree or galaxy, a color or shape)--could, being what they are, be produced or sustained in existence by acts of thought or perception, being what they are. (Yes, yes, I know: What are they?)

Yet I have to admit that many others feel just a strongly that realism must be mistaken. And of course they have their arguments, against which people such as Thomas Reid in the Eighteenth Century, and the American New Realists or the later `Critical' Realists of the Twentieth Century, have not been able to prevail. At least that is the general view of the matter, in which I regretfully concur. And they all seemed to me to have failed for a simple but profound reason. They were unable to give a proper substance and nature to consciousness itself.

One is haunted by the image of G. E. Moore trying to "fix his attention upon consciousness and to see what, distinctly, it is," in response to which "it seems to vanish: it seems as if we had before us a mere emptiness." When we introspect the sensation-of-blue, he thought, we can see the blue alright; but "the other element," consciousness-of-blue, "is as if it were diaphanous. Yet it can be distinguished if we look attentively enough, and if we know that there is something to look for." He tried to make the reader see consciousness, but confessed his fear that he "succeeded very ill."1

And rightly did he fear. We all know of the retreat that was beat soon afterwards, especially to the North and West of the English Channel, from "consciousness" into language, as the proper subject of philosophical analysis: bringing with it the rejection of "private space" (and private `language', but really consciousness itself as previously understood), and proposals of "logical" behaviorism, the "topic neutrality" of mental reports, functionalism, and most recently various forms of "externalism" or contextualism, which tend to analyse knowledge as a social reality that no human individual taken by herself can realize, for it simply is not a state of an individual--much less a state of mind.

There have been a few who attempted to stand against the anti-realist flood, such as Gustav Bergmann. But they have now disappeared, leaving hardly a gurgle behind. Curiously, so far as the prospects of realism are concerned, we have returned at the end of the Twentieth Century almost precisely to the point where the remarkable efforts toward realism around 1900 found us. As we then were not supposed to be able to "transcend" our own mental states, or perhaps "experience" in some more impersonal sense (Bradley, Dewey), we now allegedly cannot transcend our language and its social history. The ego-centric predicament is replaced by a lingo-centric predicament. In either case, "there is no ready-made world," as Hilary Putnam says, and we are left with the clear implication that the world is `made' in the interactions of consciousness (now language) and .... and what? The result is that we (I, you) never see or know what `we' (collectively) have not, in some sense, "made."

What is most intriguing in Husserl's thought to me, the always hopeful realist, is the way he works out a theory of the substance and nature of consciousness and knowledge which allows it to grasp a world that it does not make, and even to be known--even observed!--to grasp it. He gives an observable substance to knowledge that does not force it or its `products' to stand between the knower and what is known, and leaves the viewing of the relationship between them a distinct possibility. Even to hint at such possibilities is no doubt scandalous in the contemporary context. The force of the philosophical Zeitgeist drives flatly against them. I know of no way to avoid the immeditate offense. But I hope that an exploration of what Erkenntnis is, according to Husserl, might help us at least to begin to think such unthinkables.


Husserl's concern with Erkenntnis in general developed in two main stages. When he first began his work he was not concerned with the general issue of the nature of knowledge at all, but with the quite specific issue of how to turn the powerful technique of general arithmetic into a body of knowledge. I have elsewhere related how his hopes for a quick victory in terms of "inauthentic" representations, or representations by means of signs, were dashed upon what he found to be the facts of consciousness in the working arithmetician .2 As he struggled with the issue of knowledge of the "absent" (an infinity of numbers and their specific and general relations) in terms of a "present" (algorithmic symbol systems) that has little or no natural relation to it, his horizons gradually broadened over the years to a realization that "common sense" as well as scientific knowing pervasively manifests this same gap between its descriptive make-up and its subject matter. At the end of his important 1894 paper, "Psychological Studies in the Elements of Logic," he expresses his amazement that "a psychical act can reach out beyond its own immanent content to another content >object< which is not really met with [bewusst] at all."3 This is the first stage of his concern with Erkenntnis in general.

The signified contents (objects), he continues in this paper, "enter into consciousness either not at all or only in a quite rudimentary fashion.... But all of this does not trouble us. It seems as if the meant objects themselves underlay the sequence of words" or symbols used. Thus the question arises as to how we are to understand "the possibility of knowledge in general," especially "scientific knowledge, which is totally based upon the possibility of our being able purposively to prefer such thinking...over thought more fully adequated to intuition. But how, then, is rational insight possible in science?" And "rational insight," to which intuition is indispensible, is for him an absolute requirement for Erkenntnis.

Now these comments actually come toward the end of a paper, crucial for any understanding of the development of Husserl's views, in which he has been working toward a solution of his puzzle about arithmetic by exploring necessary connections within the elements of consciousness, including some of the fundamental relationships between a mere representation and a corresponding intuition of the same object. He speaks here in some detail of fulfilment, ultimately the key concept for his clarification of knowledge, as is announced in the epigraphs above. For example he remarks:

"If a representation goes over into its correlative phenomenon, e.g., into an intuition immediately intended by it, then the immediate psychical experience of the fact that the intuited is also the intended shall be designated as consciousness of the fulfilled intention. Of the intuition involved in such a case we say that it is borne upon a consciousness of fulfilled intention. Of the representation we say, more simply, that it has found its fulfilment. This latter term will be used by us in general to designate the non-mediated or mediated correlate of a representation....The ultimate fulfilment of any representation is the intuition proper to it. It is pure intuition--a term which expresses the fact that a content bears no representative function whatsoever."4 He will later standardly say, of course, that "the final fulfilment of all intentions lies in perception" (LI 763), meaning "intuition."

What is lacking in this early account of fulfilment, and so of Erkenntnis, is fulfilment as, ultimately, a relationship to the object or subject matter itself. If you were just to read the 1894 paper without knowing anything else about Husserl's works, you could easily come away with the impression that intentionality (and as a result, fulfilment) is only a relationship between experiences or aspects thereof. And if you study his early development (from Brentano) you can see why this would have had to be so--which certainly must be agreeable to those, from Heidegger to Derrida, who have poisoned the stream of Husserl's thought by turning it into a socio-historical form of idealism, as well as to their contemporary `Analytic' counterparts such as Quine, Putnam and Rorty.

But in the light of what we will see below, we must say only that Husserl in this 1894 paper had not yet worked out a theory of intentionality that will permit it to reach beyond components of consciousness. This is because he was still befuddled by talk of "immanent" or "intentional" objects. To develop such a theory is the work of his mid- and late-1890's. This work came to expression in the 1896 review of Twardowski's Zur Lehre vom Inhalt und Gegenstand der Vorstellungen, in the research notes drawn together by the Husserliana editors under the title "Intentionale Gegenstande," in an essay length letter of 1901 to Marty--all of which are contained in Husserliana XXII--and above all in the Vth "Logical Investigation" of 1901. As a result of working out a view of intentionality that at last permits one to speak seriously of the "objectivity" of "contents," his question about the nature and possibility of knowledge is no longer stated in terms of what is present and how it enables us to grasp what is not present--though that always remains an issue. Rather, as of 1900 at least, it is in terms of "the relationship between the subjectivity of knowing and the objectivity of the content known."5 And this marks the second stage of his concern with Erkenntnis in general.


Beginning, as he did, with attempts to understand science--Arithmetic, but very soon science in general--Husserl's first concern had been with theory. In his Logical Investigations, accordingly, the primary goal was to work out an account of how theory can be present in and to the minds of many individual knowers, while having a unity, identity and being that was independent of those minds and their acts. For theory, he holds, is objective: the same for many, and dependent on none--nor on all together or successively--for its nature and existence. Pure logic, or logic as a strictly formal discipline or body of knowledge, is for him simply an account of the logical unity of actual and possible theories.6Its theoretical content has, accordingly, no reference to mental or linguistic acts, nor to anything anthropological or "worldly."

By contrast, "logic" in the broader sense of a Kunstlehre or technology of knowledge, concern for which Husserl never abandoned, treats precisely of the instruments (including theory and its corresponding symbolisms) by which the human mind achieves knowledge, showing how they accomplish what they do.7 Any account of human knowing has to deal with how theory integrates itself into mental and linguistic acts of theorizing, and the role that symbolisms play in the human grasp of objective realities, including theories themselves. Inquiry into the theoretical foundations of logic in the inclusive sense forces us, accordingly, to deal with the question of its relationship to psychology and other disciplines. And: "This question coincides in essence...with the cardinal question of epistemology, that of the objectivity of knowledge." (LI 56) We have to give a phenomenological treatment of acts of knowing in relationship to what can be `in' them, and in that sense "subjective," without losing its objective status: its independence in nature and existence.

An examination of acts of consciousness (or of language) that is adequate to provide theoretical foundations for logic in the inclusive sense--or even for a clarification of pure logic as a body of knowledge--also makes it clear (LI 253-254) that those acts aim at or are about objects or states of affairs which stand as identical, and hence as objective, over against multitudes of actual or possible meanings or acts bearing upon them. And it establishes that every `mere' thought of or reference to an object is subject to "Ideal laws" that govern the possibility (or impossibility) of arriving at Erkenntnis of that object. Every representation provides guidelines to a better or fuller cognitive grasp of its "object." These are found by Husserl to be bedrock phenomenological "facts" about cognitive experiences generally. But they, in turn, provoke the questions to which his mature analysis of Erkenntnis must provide answers. These are:

"How are we to understand the fact that the `in itself' of the objectivity comes to `represention'--indeed, that in Erkenntnis it falls within our `grasp' [zur `Erfassung' komme]--and so ends up by becoming subjective after all? What does it mean to say that the object is both `in itself'and is `given' in Erkenntnis? How can the Ideality of the universal, in the form of concepts or laws, enter the flux of real psychical Experiences and turn into an Erkenntnis possession of the one thinking? What does the adaequatio rei et intellectus involved in knowing signify in the various types of cases, depending on whether the knowing grasp takes in an individual or universal, a fact or a law, etc.?" (LI 254)

It is these questions which Husserl intends to answer in his Logical Investigations. That is why its "Second Part," made up of the six "Investigations" themselves, is given the general title: "Investigations in the Phenomenology and Theory of Erkenntnis." The VIth Investigation, which states his results, is titled: "Elements of a Phenomenological Clarification of Erkenntnis."


Now we turn to consider his mature theory of what Erkenntnis or knowledge is, and to see how he lays the foundation for his realist answer to the above questions.

The opening sentence of the VIth Investigation reaffirms that his aim all along has been die Aufklarung der Erkenntnis, and emphasizes how important the Vth Investigation was for our advance toward that goal. In the simplest of terms, knowledge is a matter of finding something to be as it is thought to be, or at least of having insight into the possibility of such a finding. This means that Erkenntnis is an act with other complete acts as parts. It is a "molecular," not an "atomic" act. How its sub-acts can come together in it is dependent upon their structure. The internal structure of the "act" of thought as such is what is displayed by the Vth Investigation, and that explains why it is of such importance. As a result of his research in the mid and late 1890s, coming to expression there, representation and corresponding intuition are no longer treated as wholes which magically come together as the latter `fulfils' the former. Rather, they are seen as complexes in which what they have in common and how they differ stand out and provide the basis for an analysis of what fulfilment amounts to.

Most importantly for our concerns here, meaningful acts as such manifest four dimensions of variability. Any two acts may differ as to their object, of course. But they also may differ as to how one and the same object is presented, e.g. in different relationships. These two dimensions together constitute what in the Vth Investigation he calls the "matter" of the act. (LI 588, 652, 737) Or, again, two acts may differ in the `attitude' assumed toward one object presented in the same way. This difference, which we would today call the "propositional attitude," is called the "quality" of the act by him. (LI 588f) Matter and quality together form the act's "intentional essence." (590) Taken in relation to a respective linguistic expression, the intentional essence becomes a "semantic essence"--or, when `taken Ideally', just a meaning in Husserl's Ideal sense. (590-593) The intentional or semantic essence of an act is to be distinguished from a corresponding epistemic (erkenntnismassige) essence, possible in principle for all acts with objects that actually exist or are. This "epistemic essence" is precisely what is to be analyzed in the VIth Investigation. (744-745)

Finally, for our present purposes, acts may differ with respect to whether their objects exist or not. Some may want to balk at this, for is it not a central thesis of Husserl's thought that the existence or non-existence of the object makes no difference to the act or meaning directed upon it? We hope to make clear below the senses in which this is and is not true. But what we need to have before us at this point is that some acts have existent objects, while other do not, and that in the latter case there does not stand in for the `real' object an `intentional' object, safely tucked inside the act itself to make it possible for it to `have' its object, to be about what it is about. The identity of the real and the intentional object, and the abandonment of the `immanent' object as essential to the make-up of the act, is decisively demonstrated in the Vth Investigation. (LI 557ff & 595f) It is the indispensable foundation for Husserl's understanding of what the problem of the possibility of knowledge is, and for his account of Erkenntnis.


With these dimensions of possible variation in mental acts before us, we can now turn to an exposition of Husserl's phenomenological elucidation of knowledge: of the "matching up" of mere meaning with corresponding intuition to establish a relation to the object "itself." And a phenomenological elucidation always works from a description of cases, preferably the simplest cases incorporating the essences in question. Thus Husserl begins with the simple case of intuitive naming, first considered statically (VI, subsection 6), and then dynamically (subsection 8). Here is his description of the "static" union:

"I speak, e.g. of my inkpot with the inkpot itself standing before me: I see it. The name names the object of the perception, and names it by means of the signifying act, which imprints itself as to kind and form upon the form of the name. The relation between name and thing named exhibits, within this state of unity, a certain descriptive character, to which we have already called attention: the name `my inkpot' as it were imposes itself upon the perceived object, and so-to-speak tangibly adheres to it. But this `adherence' is of a peculiar sort." (LI. 688;cf. 584)

The adherence of the meaning laden words to the named object, while observable, is not a matter of some physical relation which the thing named has to the physical side of the words. The act-experiences--of the words and of the inkpot, objects which do not themselves in any way enter into the experiences as their constituents--are unified in the act of Erkennen, of knowing or `re-cognizing'. In seeing that this object is my inkpot: (1) I know what my inkpot is, conceptualize it as I think of it, and (2) I see this which fits the conceptualization, and (3) I am aware that the seen is the conceptualized. "That's it!" we may say in such a context; and the that is determined by the perception, while the it is determined by the conceptualization. The identity of the intention or "matter" in the conceptualization, on the one hand, and in the perception (intuition), on the other, brings the "fulness" of the object though the perceptual act to the act of conceptualization or mere meaning. This latter is then `filled full' of the reality of the object itself. That is, it is actually joined to the object--and, in the ideal case, in every respect that it `reaches for' in it. "In fulfilment, the object is `given' intuitively in the same way in which the mere meaning means it....The ideally conceived element which thus coincides with the meaning is the fulfilling sense, and...through this coincidence, the merely significant intention (or expression) achieves relation to the intuitive object...." (LI. 743) The actual union of the conceptualizing act with the object on the basis of a corresponding intuition of that object, together with a recognition of the identity of object of the concept and of the perception, is what Erkenntnis is as an act. And it is an act, though one of a special type. (LI 696f, 707, 819) In a dispositional sense we `have'Erkenntnis, are knowledge-able, when we are in a position, or are qualified, to actualize the path toward the re-cognitive union of concept and perception, or at least know that such an actualization is `in principle' possible.

Now in subsection 8 Husserl turns, as we noted, to consider a "dynamic coincidence of meaning and intuition, where an expression first functions in merely symbolic fashion, and then is accompanied by a more or less corresponding intuition." (LI. 694) For example, I am looking for my Inkpot, and experience it coming into view as I open a drawer in my desk. The phenomenological difference from the `static' union previously discussed is obvious. The two sub-acts (conception/intuition) and the act of Erkennen that synthesizes them to yield knowledge of the respective object are here spread out across time. "We have a first stage of mere thought (of pure conception or mere signification), a meaning-intention wholly unsatisfied, to which a second stage of more or less adequate fulfilment is then added, where thoughts repose as if satisfied in the sight of their object...."

Here the focal phenomenon is that of the "empty" signification becoming fulfilled. The descriptive union of thought and object, based on the intuition, becomes more vividly present because of the contrast between "before" and "after" that stands before us in such cases. "The act of pure meaning, like a goal-seeking intention, finds its fulfilment in the act which renders its matter intuitive.... The intentional essence of the act of intuition gets more or less perfectly fitted into the semantic essence of the act of expression." (LI. 694)

The crucial point to get here concerns what happens to the semantic or intentional essence of the act of `mere thought' that enters into the fulfilment synthesis. In fulfilment it undergoes, according to Husserl, a peculiar modification which is its fulness (LI. 698f, 728-731) This fulness consists in the peculiar relation--by no means mere intentionality--which the act, and hence its essence, achieves to the object itself. (LI. 744) The act (or meaningful word), through its meaning in union with the corresponding intuition, actually attaches itself to the meant. (LI. 691f) That is why Husserl repeatedly speaks of the fulness of the object itself, or some part thereof, being imparted to the intention. (LI. 726, 728, 729, 762, 765) As fully given, "the object is fulness itself." (766) In its less than perfect degrees, fulfilment of a more or less signitive intention is simply a matter of its matching up to a corresponding act that is more of an `intuition' of the same object. But there is possible in many cases "the perfection of final fulfilment which presumes this fulfilment, and which is an adequation with the `thing itself'." (LI. 763; cf. 718, 724, 729)

Of course by treating one special form of consciousness or language-meaning as being or involving a relation--in the strict sense that conforms to the two axioms, "Rab ---> (Ex)Rax" and "Rab ---> Rba" (where R is the converse relation for R)--Husserl is not exactly unique. Descartes'"clear and distinct ideas," Hume's vivid impressions, Russell's `acquaintance', denotation and proper names, David Kaplan's `vivid' names, and "rigid designators" as treated by many contemporary philosophers, are all fumbling around over the same factor of thought: the "reality hook" as some have called it.

The object of the knowledge-act for Husserl accordingly is not the fulfilling intution, nor is it any other experience or psychical content--except in the special cases where such are taken for our subject matter. This is a point that must be belabored. We know and classify the perceived object as my inkpot. "The expression seems to be applied to the thing and to clothe it like a garment." We are not "classifying the perception rather than its object....That would involve acts of a quite different... constitution..., expressible through expressions...such as `the perception of the inkpot'." (LI 688f) Again, "If I call this intuited object a `watch', I complete, in thus naming it, an act of thought and knowledge; but I know the watch, and not my knowledge. This is of course the case in all acts that confer meaning.... If I assert something, I think of things, that stand in this or that manner.... I do not think and know my act of judging, as if I were also making it into my object...."(LI 837f) And: "In the unity of knowledge, it is not the fulfilling act...that we know, but the fact which is its objective correlate.... We achieve knowledge of the intuited fact in question." (LI 839) It must be emphasized that all of this remains true of all categorially formed acts and their objective counterparts. (LI 783)

Now to all of this the quality or propositional attitude involved in an act makes no difference. "Quality" has no bearing upon the nature of fulfilment as such. (LI 728, 760) So what we have looked at in the case of a name representation and its union with the intuited object is to be seen in acts of fulfilment independently of whatever propositional attitudes they may or may not involve. In particular, fulfilment is not restricted to assertive acts or acts of belief, though such acts have a special interest because of their relation to judgment and theory. (LI. 721) Also, the complexity of the act--including the number of sub-acts, or the levels of sub-acts, upon which it is founded--makes no difference to the generic nature of fulfilment as seen in these simple cases of intuitive naming. Of course there must be specific differences in the fulfilments possible for different types of objects and the corresponding thoughts and intuitions that can grasp them. But these do not effect the basic nature of Erkenntnis, which is our focus here.


Now a few clarifications with respect to degrees of fulfilment:

Although all knowing, in the strict sense of a full grasp of "the object itself" by the mind, is an act of fulfilment, not every act of fulfilment amounts to a knowing of the respective object--just as every act of fulfilment is an identification, but not conversely. (LI 720) The intuition involved in a fulfilment must be adequate if that fulfilment is to be a case of Erkenntnis. It is adequate just in case every aspect of the object as conceived is also directly given. (LI 745f) This is the case of the "pure" or complete intuition, already mentioned, where the act contains no intentional bearing upon its object that is not also given. (LI 734, 762f) Pure intuition is an option only in a restricted range of cases--those of mental acts and of certain essences or universals and their connections--and is not possible for physical world or its objects. (LI 831)

The ideal limit of intuitive presence realized in a pure intuition is also called "Evidenz" by Husserl. (LI 765) He allows us to speak loosely of Evidenz--and, indeed, of Erkenntnis, where there are lower but still significant degrees of intuitive presence. "But the epistemologically pregnant sense of Evidenz is exclusively concerned with this last and unsurpassable goal, the act of this most perfect synthesis of fulfilment, which gives to an intention, e.g. the intention of judgement, the absolute fulness of content, the fulness of the object itself. The object is not merely meant, but in the strictest sense given, the given as it is meant, and made one with our meaning-reference [in eins gesetzt mit dem Meinen]." (Ibid.) Evidenz in this strong sense remains exactly the same in character whether the objects concerned are individuals, universals or states of affairs, of whatever specific kind.

Now it is crucial for our discussion to acknowledge that in most cases where we `confirm' a thought, we do not literally carry through to this Ideal limit of Evidenz, but simply assure ourselves that we could do so if we wished. And sometimes we mistakenly do so. The `really being so' experienced in the grades of fulfilment short of Evidenz is merely an assumed one, which may or may not hold up. (LI 708) "There are," Husserl observes, "only too many false and even absurd recognitions [Erkenntnisse]. But these are not `authentic' recognitions--namely, not logically sound and complete recognitions, recognitions in the strong sense." (716f) But "All inauthentic fulfilment implies authentic fulfilments, and indeed borrows its character of fulfilment from these authentic cases." (727) The many events which are experienced or taken as fulfilments, but in fact do not have a corresponding object in reality, are therefore not fulfillments at all.

On the scale of degrees of fulfilment, representations short of full intuitiveness, which Husserl usually calls "mediate" presentations, always in some measure present their ultimate objects "as objects of other presentations, or as related to objects so presented." Objects can of course be presented through their relations to other objects, and these "other objects" may also be presentations. In this latter case "the presentations are presented presentations in the relational presentation: they belong among its intentional objects, not among its constituents." (LI 724)

When I see this apple here, for example, an essential part of what my perception is of is its back side and its inner and unseen parts. These parts are present to me essentially in terms of how my present perception of the apple would develop if I were to proceed to open the apple up with a knife, or bite into it, or etc. etc. There is possible here, "phenomenologically, a continuous flux of fulfilment or identification, in the steady serialization of the percepts `pertaining to the same object'. Each individual percept is a mixture of fulfilled and unfilled intentions. To the former corresponds that part of the object which is given in more or less perfect projection in this individual percept, to the latter that part of the object that is not yet given, but that new percepts would bring to actual, fulfilling presence." (LI 714; cf. 701) The result is a sequence of syntheses of "identifications binding self-manifestations of an object to self-manifestations of the same object." This sequence is governed by an iron law of essence which "dictates a determinate order of fulfilment a priori" (LI 724) for every presentation, according to its type.


Now we must pause to emphasize the importance of this phenomenologically accessible structure of 'emptiness' passing over into filled-full-ness, with reference to one and the same object, in Husserl's account of "the possibility of knowledge" and the nature of Erkenntnis. It is simply the heart of his "theory of knowledge"--which of course he declines to call a "theory." He tells us, with specific regard to knowledge of physical objects, that "all perceiving and imagining is a web of partial intentions, fused together in the unity of a single total intention. The correlate of this last intention is the thing, while the correlate of its partial intentions are the things's parts and aspects." (LI 701) Then he adds a comment that addresses his basic question about the subjectivity of knowledge act and the objectivity of the knowledge content (object). It is in fact one that applies to "finding things to be as thought" without restriction to the type of objectivity. For, in generality, "Every feature of an object is somehow included in the scope of every presentation" of it (LI 729, 731), and every presentation not a pure intuition, no matter how empty, indicates a course of development, starting from it, through which its objective correlate can be grasped with greater intuitive fulness. (See subsection 149 of Ideas I) His comment is: "Only in this way can we understand how consciousness can reach out beyond what genuinely makes it up (das wahrhaft Erlebte). It can, so to speak, `mean' beyond, and the meaning can be fulfilled." (LI 701)

In assessing this statement we first of all need to be clear on what its author is not doing. He is not attempting a definition of "fulfilment" (or "knowledge"). By examining cases we discover, he holds, that fulfilment characterizes the phenomenological essence of the knowledge relation (Erkenntnisbeziehung). (LI 695) But "That acts of signification and intuition are capable of entering into this peculiar sort of relationship is a primitive phenomenological fact." (Ibid.) If one asks how the same "matter," as explained above, "can at one time be apprehended (aufgefasst) in the manner of the intuitive representative, and at another time in the manner of the signitive, or wherein the difference of character in the form of apprehension consists, then I am unable to give a further answer. It is a matter of a phenomenologically irreducible distinction." (LI 742)

Also, we need to be clear that he is not attempting to explain intentionality or meaning itself. This too he regards as a phenomenological primitive. (LI 400) But given generic intentionality, basic "ofness" or "aboutness," and given also that a specific case of it can be empty and then be filled full of what it is of or about, his aim then is to call attention to the structure of the compound acts where objects are found to be as thought, where Erkenntnis is present.

In these cases, we find consciousness indeed "reaching out beyond what genuinely makes it up." The object is not a part or aspect of the act. This language presupposes a clarification--in his mature, Vth Investigation doctrine of intentionality--of the puzzling fact referred to in the 1894 paper, already referred to. There he had said that "It is certainly a most remarkable fact in its own right, that a psychical act can refer out beyond its immanent content [uber seinen immanenten Inhalt hinausdeuten] to another content which is totally outside of consciousness [das in keiner Weise bewusst ist]."8 In the Vth Investigation we have definitively set aside (LI 558-560, 578-580) those "immanent objects" which were what previously made a special mystery of how we "get beyond" them in thought or meaning to engage with, to `mind', what is not immanent. The interpretation of intentionality and of "acts" in that Investigation removed the "immanent object" and recognized in their place "act characters" (LI 562f, 566f) or meanings, along with what he later calls the "hyletic data" in the act, as the substance of concrete objective reference. A given meaning has the possibility, under Ideal law,of passing through a sequence of representations or symbolizations more full of "the object itself," up to the point where it is directly related to that object. This possibility is what constitutes its "reach beyond" its own make-up. Indeed it is the possibility of knowledge.

Since these immanent "act characters" or meanings, with their possibilities, simply are the reach of an act toward its determinate object--whatever else may be required for their foundation within the act--we no longer have the problem of `getting beyond' the `circle of ideas', for we do not start out from within such a circle. As Moore saw, and said in his confusing language, but was unable to develop and defend: "There is, therefore, no question of how to `get outside the circle of our own ideas and sensations'. Merely to have a sensation is already to be outside that circle. It is to know something which is as truly and really not a part of my experience, as anything which I can ever know."9 It is the invaluable contribution of the Vth Investigation to provide an analysis of intentionality and mental acts that can make sense of Moore's insight.

So this is what we are to make of the "mean beyond" portion of Husserl's important comment above. The "and the meaning be fulfilled" part refers to the capacity of the "empty" meaning to be joined directly to its object in a unique relation founded on the "fulfilling synthesis of identification" that we have been discussing. So Erkenntnis is a relational state or whole involving a complex act--indeed, a categorially `forming' act, since it is consciousness of, among other things, an identity (LI 819)--in union with its object. This is a union which, unlike mere intentionality, requires, by the Ideal law governing it, that the object exist if the act (of that specific type) exists.


Because misunderstanding is so likely on this point, we must strongly emphasize that the relationship established between the "mere thought" with its meaning and the corresponding object by the fulfilment synthesis is notjust intentionality, though in it intentionality is obviously presupposed in a number of ways. This Erkenntnis relation, the Erfassung of the object, requires that the object exist, just as hitting a ball with a bat requires that the ball exists. With respect to fulfilment in its ultimate stage, or Erkenntnis in the strict sense, there is no corresponding "inexistence."Erkenntnis is a peculiar type of whole which exists only as its parts do, and one of the parts is the object in question. Some of the parts, on the other hand, may exist without the whole. This is true of the "mere thought" involved, of the intuition involved, and of the object involved, though not of the peculiar synthesizing act of identification, nor of the relation of the thought to the object which is realized on the basis of that synthesis.

Moreover, in the relationship to the mere thought that is realized when the thought achieves its object in union with an appropriately identical intuition, the object receives a property which it does not have outside of that relationship. It is, if you wish, the property of being known by a certain person. (LI 696) But that property in no way distorts or conceals the identity of the object before, during or after the time when it has it, any more than being hit by the bat does so to the baseball. Husserl comments with reference to categorial acts, of which Erkennen is one, that "The object is intellectually grasped by the intellect, and specifically by Erkenntnis (which indeed is itself a categorial function), but is not distorted.... Otherwise...relational and connective thought and knowledge would not be of what it is, but would be a falsifying transformation into something else." (LI 819f) The property of being hit by bat x at time z does not produce or destroy the identity of the ball, but in fact presupposes that identity as determing what is and was hit. It is the same for the property of being known by person x at time z. Both the relation of hitting and of knowing are "external," and the properties which they impose upon their relata are contingent, with a coming and going that can in suitable cases be observed.10

Intentionality, on the other hand, does not impart a property to its object That is why `inexistence' of the object is possible for it, and why the two axioms for genuine relations stated above do not hold for it. If it imparted a property to its object, then of course the object would have to exist. For nothing can both have properties and not exist. And since very often, as we know, intentionality's object does not exist in "the real world" (as with Pegasus, etc.), it would have to exist you-know-where: "immanently,""in the mind." All of which explains, once again, why Husserl's final dismissal of immanent objects as a factor in mental acts is of such great importance for the analysis of Erkenntnis.


The externality of the Erkenntnis relation or context to its object--its inability to cast an inescapable veil or distortion over that object--is what opens up the possibility of comparing object with meaning and of observing the agreement between a conceptualization and its object. Among philosophers this is generally thought to be out of the question because, in taking something as our object, and all the more so in knowing it, we must necessarily modify it. Thus we can never grasp it as it is apart from consciousness or `in itself'. The Midas Touch of the mind transforms the substance of all it contacts. But once we realize, following Husserl, that the object, when appropriately "given," is in itself as we then find it to be, and that knowledge is not a distorting but an apprehending function, nothing stands in the way of comparing the object with our thought of it, and finding them to "agree" (or not). Of course we can and do also compare the object as given with its conceptualizations. But this does not exclude that the object as given is, under suitable circumstances, the object as it is, the object an sich.

On Husserl's view, therefore, we on appropriate occasions live through the agreement between conceptualization and the object as given--including the cases where the object as given is the object itself, every phase of the object being directly united with the meaning directed upon it from the conceptualizing act. And while not every such agreement lived through is viewed, all can be viewed by an objectifying act appropriately directed upon it. (LI 765f) Mental acts are not ontologically privileged by Husserl, so that all other things--and even whatever mental acts may be cognized--take their character from their status as objcts. A mental act, a representation or judgment for example, is just one specific type of entity, which may from time to time have whatever relations to other entities are made possible by the kind of thing it is. And as entities can in general be observed in their interrelationships, so can a sign or mental act and its object. It is this fact alone that opens the door to a phenomenology of Erkenntnis and of "Reason," the minds capacity validly to grasp reality. (IP 33, 46)11


This all stands out even more clearly in the 1908 lectures on The Idea of Phenomenology. The main issue dealt with in these lectures is precisely how in Erkenntnis the mind enters into relation, `grasps', what is independent of it in existence and nature: the "transcendent," as Husserl usually calls it here and later. "How can Erkenntnis reach the transcendent?" he asks. "What I want to understand is the possibility of this `reaching'." (IP 4, cf. 1) And how is it possible to understand this possibility? Only by seeing cognition actually reach its object. (IP 4, 29f) In seeing the `reach' I can abstract its essence and know what it is, thus understanding how it can come about or what makes it possible. Indeed, in appropriate cases--the "dynamic" ones--I can see it come about, see how it arises.

The key to Husserl's discussion in this text is his distinction between two senses of "immanent," with corresponding senses of "transcedent."12 Something is of course immanent to the act or to the mind if it is genuinely (reell) contained in it as a constituent, and correspondingly transcendent if it is not. (IP 27f) This we might call "ontological" immanence/transcendence. But now, in conformity with our discussion of Erkenntnis in the strong sense above, Husserl articulates a second meaning of "immanent" (and "transcent"). In this case anything is immanent if it is object for the absolute self-givenness of perfect Evidenz. (IP 28, 47-49) Here the act-intentions are, as we have seen, directly united--in the full sense related--to all the features and phases of the object as well as to the object as a whole. This we might appropriately call an "epistemological" immanence/transcendence. Something immanent in this latter sense might be transcendent in the first sense, which is exactly the case with crucial cases of essences or universals and their laws. And something transcendent in the second sense sense might be immanent in the first sense, as with a thought or valuation not fully focussed on in intuition. (LI 725)

Now after these clarifications Husserl makes a crucial move. He includes the object that is fully given within the domain left over after the phenomenological reduction. How is this to be warranted? I believe it is to be taken in the following way: He rejects the "naturalist's" error that "Erkenntnis is something apart from the Erkenntnis-object," and that "Erkenntnis is given, but the Erkenntnis-object is not." (IP 3) The Erkenntnis relation itself is fully present in and to consciousness, and it is also, according to him, directly involved in or attached to its object, whether that object is a part of consciousness or not. There is nothing "between" it and its object, and where it is its object also is. Thus: "Phenomenological reduction does not entail a limitation of the investigation to the sphere of genuine (reell) immanence, to the sphere of that which is genuinely contained within the absolute `this' of the cogitatio.... Rather it entails a limitation to the sphere of things that are purely self-given,... In a word, we are restricted to the sphere of pure evidence." (IP 48f)

The upshot is, as we have indicated, that something can now be both transcendent (independent of the mind in character and existence, not immanent in the ontological sense) and immanent (fully given to the act conceptualizing and intuiting it). And this is, specifically, true of the Erkenntnis relation itself. Evidenz can be given in Evidenz. It can be fully found in a reflective "seeing" directed upon a case of finding something to be exactly as it was thought to be. (IP 36) Thus it is epistemologically immanent. But it also is ontological transcendent, for it is an abstract structure, an essence, which--like all universals--exists and is what it is independently of its cases. Though `in' the concrete act of knowing in the manner of universals viz a viz their instances, it is not a part of the act. It does not cease to exist when the act with all its parts does.

Now this, for Husserl, solves the problem of the possibility of knowledge in general. That possibility is just the possibility of the mind fully coming into direct relation with what is not a part of, not genuinely (reell) contained in, the relevant acts directed upon it. Thus, he says, it would be "senseless, with respect to the essence of cognition [Erkenntnis] and the fundamental structure of cognition, to wonder what its Sinn is, provided one is immediately given the paradigmatic phenomena of the type in question in a purely `seeing' and eidetic reflection within the sphere of phenomenological reduction." (IP 45)

Having determined what this possiblity is in general, it can now be calibrated to provide norms of epistemic `acceptability' in cases where full givenness is not yet achieved--or even where it is impossible, as with physical objects and the sciences of the natural world. (IP 46) Thus a "Critique of Reason," an analysis of the limits to which we can speak of Erkenntnis with reference to objectivities of every type, can (and must) be developed. In Ideas I this enterprise is called a "phenomenology of reason." (subsection 138) It is also there called "noetics in a pregnant sense of the term" (subsection 145), since Erkenntnis is strictly a function of acts of consciousness in the concrete--not of the phenomena of pure logic, nor of noemata ('appearances').13 But we must break off at this point and leave it to the reader to test our interpretation of Husserl's Erkenntnis and Vernunft against a reading of the Fourth Section of Ideas I, titled precisely "Vernunft und Wirklichkeit," or "Reason and Actuality." It opens with a discussion of how the appearances of objects, the ways they are "given," mediate the relation to an actual object (not just intentionality) that is always the claim of reason. (See end of subsection 128)


So how does Husserl answer the four questions listed in Section III above, which, we have said, his mature analysis of Erkenntnis must answer? Let us go over them one by one:

1. "How are we to understand the fact that the `in itself' of the Erkenntnis falls within our `grasp' and thus becomes subjective?"

Answer: The objectivity as it is when unknown, and thus `in itself', is not changed by entering into the Erkenntnis relation. Rather, through the fulfilling synthesis it becomes directly related to the meanings directed upon it, and in that sense only does it "become subjective." It is `possessed' by the act and mind. But it does not take on the nature of the mental, any more than a ball takes on the nature of the bat or the person that hits it.

2. "What does it mean to say that the object is both `in itself'and is `given' in Erkenntnis?"

Answer: It is to say that the direct union of the act with the object in the peculiar context of Erkenntnis does not turn the object into something other than what it is outside of that context.

3. "How can the Ideality of the universal, in the form of concepts or laws, enter the flux of real psychical experiences and turn into an Erkenntnis possession of the one thinking?"

Answer: Of course they can `enter' in the manner of every type of objectivity that is fully given, as signitive or `inauthentic' representations of them progressively give way, in the appropriate manner, up to the point where, if possible, they are given in pure intuition. All said under 1 and 2 applies to them. However, concepts and laws (as propositions) also are present in appropriate thought acts as their properties. They are the intentions or meanings of those acts "Ideally conceived." In those acts they are `possessed' as the instance possesses its nature or "species" through exemplification or predication. The singular cases from which the concepts and propositions that make up theory are `abstracted' to become objects of eidetic insight are events of conceptualization and judgment that wholly fall within the ontologically immanent sphere. This no doubt confers upon them a significant advantage in becoming epistemically immanent, or the objects of knowledge in the full sense. But it has no bearing upon the basic nature of Erkenntnis bearing upon concepts and laws.

4. "What does the adaequatio rei et intellectus involved in knowing signify?"

Answer: It signifies that the components of the object and the intentionalities or meanings involved in the Erkenntnis synthesis are set into direct relation with each other, each meaning being paired intuitively to an objective component and conversely.


So to say that knowledge of x is possible is, for Husserl, simply to say that the representation `x' can be incorporated in a synthesis of fulfilment where x is intuitively found to be precisely as `x' represents it. Accordingly, a `critique' of knowledge and reason--of Erkenntnis and Vernunft (see IP 50 for a brief statement on their interrelationship)--is a matter of determining, as a matter of essence, the precise manner and extent to which objects of specific types that may be in question can be given in intuition. To the extent that they are "in principle" subject to intuition they are knowable.

We can see here that Husserl is substituting "empty intention" for "understanding," and "intuition" for "sensibility," in the familiar Kantian "critique" project. Kant's critique of reason was carried out by limiting knowledge to the sensibly given, shaped by the apriori forms of sensibility and understanding. One can easily see how Husserl might have been tempted to compare his critique to Kant's, and on what points Kant's critique would be vulnerable in such a comparison--as well as how Kant might reply.

In fact, Husserl is quite stern in his criticism of Kant. His general point is that Kant simply does not succeed in "clarifying the relationship between thinking and intuiting," as well as the various confusions of principle associated with that relationship. (LI 832) Certainly, from its earliest appearance, Kant's first Critique was hounded by complaints that the relation he hypothesized between sensation and concept--or between the various faculties and factors involved in cognition--is hopelessly obscure. That is a historical fact. Moreover, it would seem that his very analysis of knowledge would necessitate that we can have no knowledge of that relation--other, perhaps, than that it must be there. For the interaction of sensibility and understanding does not itself fall under the forms of sensibility.

Husserl points out that Kant tried to `save' knowledge, show that it is possible, before determining what it is, "before subjecting it to a clarifying critique and analysis of essence." (LI 833) This is further traced to Kant's failure to get clear on the specific nature of "pure Ideation, the adequate survey of conceptual essence, and the laws of universal validity rooted in those essences." (Ibid.) Thus it was naturally impossible for him to "investigate the pure, essential laws which govern acts as intentional experiences, in all their modes of sense-giving objectivation, and their fulfilling constitution of `true being'. Only a perspicuous knowledge of these laws of essence could provide us with an absolutely adequate answer to all the questions regarding...the `possibility of knowledge'." (LI 834)

Of course Kant's own understanding of intuition and universals (essences) was so very opposed to the one adopted by Husserl that there is little likelihood that he would have been convinced by Husserl's criticisms of his Critique of Pure Reason. On the other hand, Kant's position on the relation of the mind to object in Erkenntnis may be one we are driven to, but it is hardly one we could have hoped for; and his answers to the four questions about knowledge posed and answered by Husserl would seem to simply give away points essential to the vast significance of knowledge as an ideal of human existence.

Moore, who now shows up here for a final bow, was also much concerned in his early work to undo the damage he thought Kant and similar thinkers (such as F. H. Bradley and A. E. Taylor) had done to the prospects of knowledge. He accordingly thought that if his line of thought about the distinctness of consciousness from its object could be driven through, a vast and astonishing ffect on philosophy for good would be secured: "It will indeed follow that all the most striking results of philosophy--Sensationalism , Agnosticism and Idealism alike--have, for all that has hitherto been urged in their favor, no more foundation than the supposition that a chimera lives in the moon. It will follow that,...all the most important philosophic doctrines have as little claim to assent as the most superstitious beliefs of the lowest savages."14

These now somewhat quaint-sounding or even humorous remarks expressed, I believe, a valid insight into the fundamental significance of interpretations of Erkenntnis (or just intentionality) for philosophical views generally, especially in the Modern and Contemporary periods. They touch upon the possibility of avoiding an all-smothering relativism, which now seems generally conceded to hold the upper hand in the life of intellect and taste. If Moore could have established his claim that "I am as directly aware of the existence of material things in space as of my own sensations" (p. 30), he would have established something with every bit of the significance for philosophy that he surmised. However, he did not establish it, later adopted an apologetic tone with reference to his "Refutation of Idealism," and in his final paper on perception had to confess that he was unable to arrive at any satisfactory view of the relationship between "sense data" and objects.15

Does Husserl come out any better? Well, at a minimum we can say for Husserl that he has a coherent story to tell about what consciousness is like, and how it, as "mere thought" or empty meaning, can move and `reach' toward and seize the corresponding objects as they are in themselves. That it is not a story which can be told within an Empiricist or Naturalist framework is no automatically devastating objection to his story, though it is likely to be taken as such today. But to regard it as such is only to beg the question as to the nature of knowledge, no matter how ready we are to do so today., and to push us back to the higher-level question of how we are to know the nature of knowledge. Here again Husserl has a coherent story. It is a story, about "phenomenological research," which well may do a better job of accomodating what we seem to know about knowledge before we adopt our philosophical positions than any other. And it may also do a better job of interpreting the implicit claims of science to reveal how things are, as distinct from how they appear. At least it supports the view that there really is such a distinction, and that it is accessible to the human mind.


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