Phenomenology and Metaphysics

This paper was presented at an APA Symposium in San Francisco, March 30, 1995.



Under the heading of "Husserl's Ontology" I have chosen to discuss the troubled relationship between phenomenology and metaphysics. Like oil and water, they are not supposed to mix except as subjects of thought and discourse. Doing phenomenology is not supposed to involve, but is supposed to exclude, doing metaphysics. At least phenomenological doings are not supposed to be dependent upon metaphysical doings for evidence. And doing metaphysics via phenomenology is thought to be impossible, because the latter, some say, only gets you ‘appearance’, while the former reaches for ‘reality’—and it is further assumed of appearance and reality that, like East and West, "never the twain shall meet."

Most commonly, perhaps, this presumed mutual exclusion is set up by understanding "metaphysics" to be a set of hypotheses or conjectures about what exists in the "real" world, the world of things or res, that fill the field of normal sense perception and provide the subject matter of the ‘natural’ sciences. Given this, the idea is that existential claims about that world must be held aside in describing consciousness and its ‘objects’; and, on the other hand, that no amount or kind of phenomenological description can determine the truth of any such an existential claim. But it is clear that Husserl, at least, intended the "bracket" to be far more inclusive than this, as ''56-65 of Ideen I make abundantly clear.

It certainly is tempting to take these subsections of Ideen I, and similar passages in Husserl's works, as simply holding that phenomenological work is independent and exclusive of ontology. Thus Joseph Kockelmans (See pp. 99ff of A First Intro. to Husserl's Phenomenology, Pittsburg, PA.: Duquesne University Press, 1967) rather characteristically says: "Here <Ideen I, ''59-60> Husserl even claims ‘the absolute independence of phenomenology from all sciences, including the eidetic sciences’, that is, from the formal and material ontologies....." (p. 102) "Formal ontology which makes abstraction from all the regional distinctions of the different objects,...[is] the science which deals with the formal idea ‘object-in-general’. Its subject matter consists in the conditions under which anything whatsoever can be a legitimate object of man's thought and science....[T]his formal ontology is a branch of logic as universal analytic, it is, on the other hand, also true that it comprises the whole mathesis universalis (formal logic, arithmetic, pure analysis, set theory, etc.)"

Now of course there is a crucial point to be made here, but I think it is not that of the ABSOLUTE INDEPENDENCE OF PHENOMENOLOGY FROM ALL ONTOLOGY, FORMAL AND MATERIAL ALIKE. Rather, if one assumes such an "absolute Independence," then phenomenology—at least in the form it takes in Husserl's hands—simply becomes unintelligible; for then what is plainly being done in fundamental stretches of phenomenological analysis must be passed off as something it simply is not. This is because those analyses necessarily involve ontological analyses of consciousness, both of the act and the stream. That is inevitable, since they are directed against analyses of consciousness that include or are founded upon mistakes in ontology, both formal and material. Husserl has to show up these mistaken analyses and replace them with correct ones before he can correctly describe elements, acts and streams of consciousness. To illustrate, the ‘reductions’ themselves presuppose the whole/part analysis of the act of ‘representation’ contained in the Vth Investigation—in particular, that the object of an ‘act’ is not a part of it. That same analysis is also presupposed, though in a different respect, in the analyses of fulfillment and knowledge in the VIth Investigation (titled a "Phenomenological Elucidation of Knowledge"), as well as in the corresponding "Phenomenology of Reason" elaborated in the last three chapters of Ideen I.

So the basic structures to be theoretically elaborated in formal ontology (without the Kantian overtones incorporated in Kockelmans’ statement) are fully elaborated in the progress of phenomenology and are inseparable from that progress. You don't first do your phenomenological work and then, when that is done, do your formal ontology—in the way you perhaps first do your phenomenology and then your philosophy of psychology, or your philosophy of physics, or your analysis of the "Life World." Of course formal ontology as the whole mathesis universalis is somewhat like the philosophy of physics, etc. in this regard. (First do your phenomenology of knowledge and then you do it.) But such basic ontological questions as those about the distinction between existence and non-existence, identity and difference, the Real (individual) and the Ideal (universal), and about the theory of whole and part (cornerstones of any formal ontology) are thoroughly worked out in the course of the basic descriptive work of phenomenology as the descriptive theory of the essences of experiences. Formal ontology as a self-contained and theoretically completed science, and formal ontology as a kind of work you must do to achieve clarification of the essence of knowledge—the results of which (later) make up the core of formal ontology as a self-contained science—these are different things.

Formal ontology as a completed discipline, bearing upon what lies ‘outside’ of consciousness as well as what lies ‘within’—is not prior to doing the phenomenological work of descriptive analysis, but comes after it. However, the phenomenology cannot be done without doing work, and attaining results, that are essential to any formal ontology. This a part of that ZIG-ZAG pattern noted by Husserl in '6 of the general "Introduction" to LI Vol II as being necessary in the process of a phenomenological and ‘presuppositionlessness’ clarification of knowledge.

Husserl's statement about his primary investigation of whole and part—a statement made in his "Introduction" to the 2nd edition of LI, 1913—indicates his view of the centrality of ontological work to phenomenological work: "I have the impression," he says, "that this Investigation [the IIIrd] is all too little read. I myself derived great help from it: it is also an essential presupposition for the full understanding of the Investigations which follow." (LI p. 49 of the English edition) One recalls that "the Investigations which follow" are, in order, the IVth on "The Idea of Pure Grammar," the Vth "On Intentional Experiences [‘Acts’] and their ‘Contents’," and the VIth on "Elements of a Phenomenological Elucidation of Erkenntnis." In all of these the concept of part and whole, and of ‘Ideal Law’ connections as opposed to ‘real’ connections or ‘facts’, play an indispensable role, especially with respect to the Ideal elements that enter into wholes and their parts. Specifically, he is concerned with those wholes that are ‘acts’ of various degrees and kinds of complexity, and with their parts and the interrelations founded upon the natures of their parts. Fulfillment, and ultimately that special relation to the object which, for him, constitutes Erkenntnis, essentially involve interrelationships between acts that are founded in the parts and properties of those acts, in the kinds of acts they are.



I take Ontology to be a field of research that aspires to a plausible theory of being. It has two main parts: a clarification of what it is to be or exist, and a determination of what ultimate sorts of things there are. With this in mind let us consider two areas of ontological analysis that were integral aspects of groundbreaking phenomenological inquiries in Husserl's own philosophical progress: (i) the discovery of the contrast between dependent and independent ‘moments’ of wholes (1894: "Psychological Studies in the Elements of Logic" and the IIIrd "Investigation"), and (ii) the introduction of "the most fundamental of epistemological distinctions, the distinction between the real and the ideal,...between real and ideal truths, laws, sciences, between real and ideal (individual and species) generalities and also singularities etc." (1900: "Prolegomena," '51; see IInd and IIrd "Investigations" of 1901)

The 1894 paper, "Psychological Studies in the Elements of Logic," expresses the first positive results of Husserl's research on the rebound from the collapse of his initial project of providing philosophical clarification for arithmetical knowledge. His project had run aground on the fact that nearly all of the work by which the arithmetician comes to conclusions about the relationships of numbers, known or unknown, consists in calculation. Calculation is a method of manipulating sense-perceptible symbols. "Es is nicht eine Betätigung mit Begriffen, sondern mit Zeichen." (Phil. der. Arth. 2nd edition, "Husserliana XII," p. 240) The field of number relations could never be mastered by the human mind, he saw, if it had to work with concepts, for our powers of thought are not great enough. Even in counting, "Man folgt zählend ganz einfach der Systematik der Bezeichnungen und erhält schliesslich ein zusammengesetztes Zeichen, dessen Bildungsweise genau diejenige des gesuchten Begriffs verbirgt." (Loc. cit.)

But, as a matter of fact, the sense presentations of physical symbols, which in calculating serve as "uneigentlich" representations of a subject matter not even being thought of at the time, lead over into states of knowledge. By going through the symbolic routine we come to know how many trees there are in a grove, what the sum of a column of figures is, what is the root of a given equation, etc. In a slightly earlier writing Husserl inquired: "How is it that one can speak of ‘concepts’ which one, nevertheless, does not authentically (eigentlich) possess, and how is it not absurd that the most certain of all the sciences, arithmetic, is to be based upon such concepts?" {Opening lines of "On the Logic of Signs (Semiotic)," p. 20 of Edmund Husserl, Early Writings in the Philosophy of Logic and Mathematics, trans. Dallas Willard, Volume V of the English translation series, "Edmund Husserl: Collected Works," ed. Rudolf Bernet, (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994).}

He had not been able to answer this question in the Philosophy of Arithmetic; and that explains why it ends, not with the hoped-for bang, but with a whimper to the effect that the formalized calculus or algorithm of arithmetic is required to make epistemic mastery of the field of numbers possible. That "requirement" is the main "Logical Source" of number-arithmetic of which the title to Part Two of the book speaks. He had hoped to tell us how such a calculus could provide such mastery. But he found no way to do this at the time. How can sense contents (those corresponding to the algorithm) function in the arithmetical manner to yield knowledge?

So, quite naturally, the first of the "psychological studies" in the 1894 article deals precisely with sense contents and their interrelations in the field of consciousness. The examples chosen were mainly from the domain of sounds or tones, which Husserl's mentor, Carl Stumpf, had been carefully researching for some time. No mention is made of the problem with arithmetical knowledge. Indeed, this first ‘study’ is a remarkably restrained piece of work, possibly reflecting a sense that the difficulties of understanding knowledge of any kind are far greater than Husserl had previously supposed and require independent studies of the most fundamental sort. Nevertheless, he reaches conclusions of complete generality with regard to parts in relation to their respective wholes and other parts of those same wholes. Most importantly:

"We call dependent any <sense> content with regard to which we have the Evidenz that change or suppression of at least one among the <sense> contents given with (but not included in) it must yield a change or suppression of that content itself. Any content of which this is not true is independent. In the latter case, the thought of the content itself remaining intact while all simultaneous contents are suppressed contains no absurdity. With contents of the former sort we have, one can also say, the Evidenz that they, being such as they are, are conceivable only as parts of more inclusive wholes; whereas with contents of the second type this Evidenz is lacking." (Early Writings, p. 142)

At first he seems not to have understood the significance of his discoveries here. But in a remark published three years later he indicates a belated recognition that this definition of "the dependent character of a content" has nothing to do with contingent acts of experience nor with sense contents alone. "Hence, the definition must be given an objective turn, in a very obvious manner:—There obtains a law of objects in general according to which a content of the relevant type can exist only as a part of a whole, and thus only in connection with other contents. In the case of several contents which are dependent relative to one another, the law states that such contents, i.e., contents of the appropriate content types, can exist only in connection with each other. One sees immediately that the crucial distinction here is not one restricted to ‘contents’, but rather is one which applies to objects in general. That makes it metaphysically significant. (Womit er metaphysische Bedeutung gewinnt.) But the same then is also true of the remaining distinctions connected with it which are dealt with in this study." (Early Writings, 179n)

What Husserl has really come to here is the view that there are certain relatively simple, Ideal structures that have exactly the same nature wherever they show up—specifically, dependence (necessary connection) and independence between parts of wholes. Later, the concepts of foundation and of Ideal or pure law connection will be introduced and copiously dealt with (see especially the IInd and IIIrd Investigations). Dependence of contents will be further clarified in terms of Ideal entities or universals, species and genera, and their necessary connections,

"Ideal Law" connections. Thus a later (1901) statement on independence: "In the ‘nature’ of the content itself, in its ideal essence, no dependence on other contents is rooted; the essence that makes it what it is, also leaves it unconcerned with all other contents. It may as a matter of fact be that, with the existence of this content, other contents are given, and in accordance with empirical rules. In its ideally graspable essence, however, the content is independent; this essence by itself, i.e. considered in a priori fashion, requires no other essence to be interwoven with it." (etc. etc., IIIrd "Investigation," English ed. p. 443) This, of course, is precisely the principle of the "reductions" later invoked as a part of phenomenological methodology.

Accordingly, within the "immanent," and with ‘the bracket’ securely in place, major structures of formal ontology are fully present for what they are, with Evidenz. By 1900 this was understood to be so for all of what Husserl then calls "the pure, the formal objective categories,...such as Object, State of Affairs, Unity, Plurality, Number, Relation, Connection etc., ideal laws" to "the categories of meaning," such as "Concept, Proposition, Truth etc." (LI, English p. 237) The very "notion" of these categories "makes clear that they are independent of the particularity of any material of knowledge." (Loc. cit.) Wherever else they may apply, then, will not change what they are within the ‘contents’ of consciousness. There is nothing more to be known about these structures than what may be seen of them there.

This basic idea of COMPLETE GIVENNESS is understood as applicable to crucial cases of Ideal entities (and their laws or interconnections) beyond the range of formal ontology. Most importantly, for Husserl's earlier problems, it is applied to the fundamental concepts of pure logic (LI 164-166, 225-226, etc.) and the laws grounded in them as fully transparent objects of intuition. And it is applied to mental acts and their interrelations, with regard to their "essences at a higher specific level ("mit den Wesen von höherer Stufe der Spezialität"). (Ideen I, '75) He has in mind "das gattungsmässige Wesen von Warhnehmung überhaupt oder von untergeordnetet Arten, wie Wahrnehmung von physischer Dinglichkeit, von animalischen Wesen u. dgl.; ebenso von Erinnerung überhaupt, Einfühlung überhaupt, Wollen überhaupt usw. Vorher stehen aber die höchsten Allgemeinheiten: Erlebnis überhaupt, cogitatio überhaupt, die schon umfassende Wesensbeschreibungen ermöglichen." (loc. cit.) ["...the generic essence of perception generally or of subordinate species such as the perception of physical thinghood, of animal natures, and the like; likewise of memory, empathy, will, and so forth, in their generality. But the highest generalities stand foremost: experience in general, cogitatio in general, and these make it possible to give comprehensive descriptions of the essential nature of things." Boyce Gibson transl.]

Husserl continues on in this passage to make the crucial point that "it obviously lies in the nature of general comprehension, analysis and description of essence that there is no correspondent dependence of results at the higher levels on those at lower levels." Analyses of the higher generic structures of consciousness, when done rightly, are done, and there is nothing further to be added.

Now the idea of modal connections of a general ontological nature between parts and wholes—and other parts—is extended in the second "Psychological Study" of 1894 to whole acts of consciousness. In particular, Husserl finds that any representation whatever necessarily has the possibility of passing over into other more or less modified representations of the same object or objectivity. And if it has the possibility (‘in principle’) of passing over into an intuition of that same object, that object must exist. Correlatively, if the object exists, then any representation has the possibility (‘in principle’) of passing over into a corresponding intuition of it.

As Husserl states it in Ideen I, '142: "Prinzipiell entspricht (im Apriori der unbedingten Wesensallgemeinheit) jedem ‘wahrhaft seienden' Gegenstand die Idee eines möglichen Bewusstseins, in welchem der Gegenstand selbst originär und dabei vollkommen adäquat erfassbar ist. Umgekehrt, wenn diese Möglichkeit gewährleistet ist, ist eo ipso der Gegenstand wahrhaft seiend." ["To every object ‘that truly is’ there intrinsically corresponds (in the apriori of the unconditioned generality of the essence) the idea of a possible consciousness in which the object itself can be grasped in a primordial and also perfectly adequate way. Conversely, when this possibility is guaranteed, the object is eoipso‘that which truly is’." (Boyce Gibson transl.)

Of course these acts of consciousness studied in the 1894 article are themselves always parts in larger wholes, and finally in the all-inclusive whole of the total stream of consciousness. Section 2 of the second study gives a "provisional delimitation" of the concepts of representation and intuition, and of the all-important relation of fulfillment as it occurs between a representation or ‘mere thought’ of an object and the corresponding intuition in which that object is at least more fully given or ‘itself present’ than it was to the representation. (See '16 of VIth "Investigation") A survey of examples and linguistic usage in Section 1 of the study leads to:

"...a division of representations into those which are intuitions and those which are not. Certain psychical experiences, in general called ‘representations’, have the peculiar character of not including their object in themselves as immanent contents (and thus as present within consciousness)....In contrast to them stand other psychic processes (Erlebnisse), likewise called ‘representations’ in the language of many psychologists. But these processes do not merely intend their ‘objects’. Rather, they really include those objects within themselves as their immanent contents. Representations in this sense we call ‘intuitions’."

When a mere representation goes over into an "intuition" of the same object, "...then the immediate psychical experience of the fact that the intuited isalso the intended shall be designated as consciousness of the fulfilled intention. Of the intuition involved in such a case we shall say that it is borne upon a consciousness of fulfilled intention. Of the representation we say, more simply, that it has found its fulfillment." (Early Writings, pp. 154-156)

Knowledge in the non-dispositional or act sense is then, for Husserl, a matter of entirely finding something to be as it was thought to be. The IVth Logical Investigation is devoted to spelling out exactly what this means. There he remarks that "the epistemologically pregnant sense of self-evidence [Evidenz] is exclusively concerned with this last unsurpassable goal, the act of this most perfect synthesis of fulfillment, 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, and given as it is meant, and made one with our meaning-reference." ('38, English transl. p. 765)

Now this latter statement obviously is an improvement over the one from the 1894 article, which said that the intuition that is the complete fulfillment of an act of ‘representing’ really includes the object within itself as its immanent content! That seemed to treat the object as if it were a part of the act. By the VIth "Investigation," of course, Husserl has progressed to the point where he wants to stay away from such language at all costs, and so we see him treating the object simply as united with the representational meaning in intuition. A few years later, in the 1908 lectures on The Idea of Phenomenology, he proposes two senses of immanence: "genuine immanence (reelle Immanenz) differs from immanence in the sense of self-givenness as constituted in evidence (Evidenz)". (English transl. p. 3) This brings with it corresponding senses of transcendence (27-28), and the possibility that something might be ontologically transcendent and yet immanent in the sense of "fully given."

In the 1908 lectures he makes the crucial point about traditional treatments of knowledge that they rest upon "the unspoken supposition that the only actually understandable, unquestionable, absolutely evident givenness is the givenness of the abstract part genuinely (reell) contained within the cognitive act, and this is why anything in the way of a cognized objectivity that is not genuinely (reel) contained within that act is regarded as a puzzle and as problematic. We shall soon hear that this is a fatal mistake." (p. 28)

Husserl's alternative will be taken from within his descriptive analysis of fulfillment. As he said in the VIth "Investigation," "It is a primitive phenomenological fact, that acts of signification <‘mere’ representation> and acts of intuition can enter into this peculiar relation <of fulfillment>." ('8) And again: "All intentions have corresponding possibilities of fulfillment (or of opposed frustration): these themselves are peculiar transitional experiences, characterizable as acts, which permit each act to ‘reach its goal’ in an act specially correlated with it." ('13)

In Husserl's understanding, "the perfection of final an adequation with the ‘thing itself’." (VIth "Investigation," ' 37, English transl. 763) In that case "The intuition fulfils the intention which terminates in it as not itself again being an intention which has need of further fulfillment, but as offering us the last fulfillment of our intention." This is not possible in the case of sense-perceptible things and events. There we can have "an objectively complete percept, but <only> one achieved by the continuous synthesis of impure percepts,..." For example, as we walk around and touch a tree. But this will not "fill the bill" for fulfillment that achieves the ‘thing itself’. "An ultimate fulfillment may contain absolutely no unfulfilled intentions, it must issue out of a pure percept." (p. 763)

So it is possible by reflection upon certain fulfillment transitions or syntheses, Husserl thinks, to determine that the object concerned is fully present as conceived. In that case, though the object in question may not be a reell part of consciousness, we know that it must exist, for a relation involving it (not mere intentionality directed upon it, and therefore the possible "inexistence" of the object) is before us. And the relation cannot exist without its terms. Of course we ‘see’ the object too, and Husserl seems to regard the very connection of the relation (of complete fulfillment) to the object to be observable. Thus, as he indicates in The Idea of Phenomenology, we understand how it is possible for ‘mind’ to ‘reach’ object, and hence "the possibility of knowledge of the transcendent (not genuinely (reell) immanent)," by seeing mind do it. "The essences of this relation" is "somehow given," so that one "can ‘see' it and can directly inspect the unity of cognition and its object, a unity denoted by the locution ‘reaching the object’." (p. 30) As entities in general are susceptible to comparison in terms of their various features, and various relations are confirmed to hold between them, so it is in the case of the mind and its objects. The object of course exists provided that the properties under which it is conceived actually belong to it, and they actually do when they are fully present as so doing. There is an "Ideal Law," and hence a necessary connection, between the possibility of pure perception and existence. And if it is actual it is possible.

We have already said a good bit about Ideal being and Ideal law connections, but just a few more remarks——

The arguments in favor of Ideal entities or universals, which we will not go into here, are of course primarily developed in the IInd "Investigation." This "Investigation," like the argument about the dependency relations of parts and wholes and wholes and wholes, is carried out with the "bracket" effectively in force, so far as the essentials of the argument are concerned, even though the "bracket" terminology does not come until later. The primary subjects of analysis are the ‘meanings’ or intentional properties or "act-characters" of acts of thought. These are, simply, representations (concepts) and judgements (propositions) in the sense they are referred to in the traditional laws of formal logic.

In the context of the Logical Investigations as a whole, the aim is to show that what the laws of pure logic presuppose, as demonstrated in the "Prolegomena," is actually the case. Those laws presuppose certain strict identities, e.g. the identity of terms in the premisses and conclusion of the syllogism, or of propositions in the case of modus ponens or other laws of ‘sentential’ logic; but strict identities also in all cases of concrete thought and discourse involving "the same" concept, proposition and argument, and not just arguments of "the same" form. All of these samenesses must be taken in the strict sense of identity, Husserl thinks, or otherwise the very sense of the familiar laws of logic is destroyed. Instead of being the exact, non-inductive laws, with no existential import for the real or factual world—as, Husserl holds, we all know them to be and use them as such—they are transformed into vague, empirical generalizations with existential import for the world of mental fact. {See my Logic and the Objectivity of Knowledge, pp. 149-166, for detailed elaboration of his discussion of these points.} The IInd "Investigation," then, is designed to establish by description and argument the existence and nature of the Ideal entities presupposed by pure logic, over against the real (strictly, the "reell") entities that make up the flow of actual events in the mental life of individual human beings. Again, all of this is "under the bracket." Chapter One of the "Investigation" is devoted to showing that our "consciousness of universality," as he calls it, cannot be properly described and interpreted except in terms of literal but non-individual identities upon which it is directed, both intuitively (originär) and otherwise. (LI 149; cf. 800) The remainder of the "Investigation" is devoted to picking apart the mistakes of "Modern Theories of Abstraction" on this point—those, namely, of the British Empiricists from Locke to Mill.

One of the most significant aspects of Husserl's interpretation of concepts and propositions was his location of them ontologically as properties: properties of possible (and sometimes actual) acts of consciousness. Of course they also can be objects of conceptual—and in some cases of intuitive (originär gebende)—consciousness. Also, they, in turn, have properties of their own. That is what it means in general for objects or entities to exist. Replying to those who equate "object" with "sense-perceptible object," he states: "If object <entity> is defined as anything whatsoever, e.g., a subject of a true (categorical, affirmative) statement, what offence then can remain, unless it be such as springs from obscure prejudices? Also, I did not discover the general concept of Object, but only set up in a new form something which all pure logical propositions demanded, and at the same time pointed out that it is in principle indispensable, and therefore also determinative of general scientific speech. In this sense, indeed, the tone-quality cis, is a numerically unique member in the tone-scale, or the number 2is, is in the series of numbers, like the figure of a circle in the ideal world of geometrical forms, any arbitrary proposition in the ‘world’ of propositions. In brief, the ideal in all its diversity is an ‘Object’." (Ideen I, '22; cp. LI English ed. 329f and 340ff <'31 of Ist "Investigation" and '2 of IInd>)

[The influence of Lotze's interpretation of Plato on Husserl, and how the resultant interpretation of the Ideal enabled him to integrate Bolzano's views of representations, propositions and truths "in themselves" into his own philosophy of logic is now fairly well known. (See chapter II of my Logic and the Objectivity of Knowledge on these matters.)]


In sum, a clarification of the act of consciousness that essentially involves a determination of structures of general and regional ontology is presumed, by Husserl, to provide understanding of what it is for the mind to ‘reach’ its object, what it is for an object to be, and under what circumstances we can be sure that an object exists. This in turn allows us to determine, at least in important cases, which types (‘categories’) of objects actually exist. This ontological scheme is immediately applied to acts of consciousness and their reell and Ideal components and the laws that govern them. But his analysis amounts to nothing less than an ontological analysis of the "reality hook" itself; and, if successful, it provides us with a basis for determining whether or not certain objects and categories of objects exist. We can then at least make a good start on the project of determining "what there is."

Thus, the process of phenomenological clarification not only involves ontological analysis, but it also lays the foundation for determining which of the various types of entities that we think of and talk about actually exist. Indeed, its primary concern is for acts of consciousness themselves, especially as they take the basic forms of representation, judgment and knowledge. But what general ontological structures are elaborated in that domain applies to every other domain of objectivities.



Husserl attempts to provide an ontologically clarified account of the particular state of mind that secures the existence of the respective object. Through the years that state has been addressed by philosophers under various headings, such as "clear and distinct ideas," "vivid impressions," "vivid names," "rigid designators," "satisfied functions," "logically proper names," and "being in the range of a bound variable (in a true sentence in the true theory)." However, Husserl recognized that this special state of mind (or language), the reality hook, can itself only be understood if it is set in a framework of clarified ontological structures. His awareness of this and his effort to supply such structures is, I think, unparalleled. On the other hand, failure to address this issue has resulted in matters of the greatest philosophical importance being addressed from an extremely obscure conceptual basis, which, strangely enough, manages to pass itself off as perfectly clear. This was the case with regard to Locke's "New Way of Ideas" and its Empiricist and Positivist successors. But more recently it is commonly found in talk of names, functions, variables, etc. They are commonly taken as the key to ontological problems, whereas in fact—as I believe Husserl clearly saw—ontology is the key to them.

Bertrand Russell, for example, explicated existence in terms of "functions." He held that the fundamental form of the "...notion of ‘existence’ that which is derived immediately from the notion of ‘sometimes true’. We say that an argument a‘satisfies’ a function Fx if Fa is true; this is the same sense in which the roots of an equation are said to satisfy the equation. Now if Fx is sometimes true, we may say there are x's for which it is true, or we may say ‘arguments satisfying Fx exist’. This is the fundamental meaning of the word ‘existence’. Other meanings are either derived from this, or embody mere confusion of thought." (Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, p. 164)

G. E. Moore essentially followed Russell in his explication of "Lions (etc.) are real." But he used interestingly different language, for the most part, speaking of properties instead of functions: "‘Lions are real’ means...that...the property of being a lion,...does in fact belong to something—that there are things which have it, or, to put it in another way, that the conception of being a lion is a conception which does apply to some things—that there are things which fall under it. And similarly what ‘Unicorns are unreal’ means is that the property of being a unicorn belongs to nothing." (p. 212 of "The Conception of Reality," in Philosophical Studies (London, 1922))." The view expressed here by Moore is, I believe, almost exactly Husserl's view of the distinction between existence and non-existence.

But what is a function, what is it for a function to be ‘satisfied’ or for it to be ‘true of’ an object. Indeed, are functions satisfied by objects or by names? Or by both? And what kind of entity is it that could be ‘satisfied’ by both if "satisfied" is used unambiguously? Could there really be such an entity? Throughout his Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, Russell speaks of functions as being concepts, as being properties and as being linguistic expressions—as if this were all the same thing. Now surely only intense confusion or some very hefty arguments could allow one to treat these as if they were the same, or to speak of ‘satisfaction’ or ‘being true of’ with regard to a function as if that relation were indifferent to the distinction between concept, property and linguistic expression.

Both before and after Russell and Moore the reality hook for language and mind was often thought of primarily in terms of names. Recall, for example, J. St. Mill's view of proper names, where the meaning of the name was regarded as the object it named, and Russell's own view of logically proper names, which involved essentially the same idea. In these cases the meaningfulness of the name logically entailed the existence of the object named. Of course this view led to the discovery that a lot of words were not names after all. But suppose you have a true name in this sense. The relationship involved between the name and the object surely cries out for an ontological analysis. The object can hardly be part of the name, nor are name and object identical. There must then be some relation that ties them together in such a way that the existence of the object can be deduced from the meaningfulness of the name. What could it be?

It seems to me that Kripke's idea of a rigid designator contains, and does nothing to solve, these same problems. The discussions of causality and the historical chain certainly are interesting and philosophically illuminating in various respects. But with regard to the central issue of how the name is necessarily attached to the object, Moses or Ben Franklin etc., one can hardly hope for much from causation or history, to say the least. Is there any more to be learned from Kripke than that in certain cases we do indeed ‘get through’ to certain entities, as opposed to having only an oblique and contingent contact with them, and that there are some very tight modal restrictions on what those entities can and cannot be?

Of course the most famous interpretation of the reality hook in this century must be in terms of neither functions or names, but in terms of variables. (To be sure, the variable is nothing without the function and the quantifier.)

Quine writes an essay "On What There Is." {Review of Metaphysics, 1948; reprinted in From a Logical Point of View, 1953} In this essay he does not discuss what there is (or which things there are), nor in the end, I think, does he discuss what it is for something to be. Rather, he only discusses certain bad arguments from certain linguistic facts (indeed, names) to the existence of certain types of entities; and then he tells us what that linguistic fact is from which one can properly argue to the existence of objects. But it may be that he doesn't do that either, and only tells us about that linguistic fact from which it may be deduced that the relevant language users (or is it the ‘theory’ itself) are "committed" to the existence (?) of certain entities.

His well-known slogan is that "to be is to be in the range of a bound variable"—surely in a true sentence or theory. (All of the mechanisms of functions and quantifiers are required to spell this out.) But he would be caught in a vicious regress if he were maintaining in all generality that to be is to be related (what relation?) to a bound variable in a statement. For that can't then, without a regress, also be what it is for a variable (statement, theory) to be. And surely a thing could not be in the range of reference of—that is, have a certain relation to—a pronoun or variable unless that pronoun or variable itself existed. One might suppose there are no relations to what does not exist.

Should we posit an ‘unmoved’ variable at some point, which does not depend for its being upon some further variable of which it is, according to the slogan, a value? And shall we indeed say that for a variable (statement, theory) to be, it must be the value of a bound variable in a metalinguistic statement in a (or the) true metalinguistic theory?

Perhaps Quine should be understood as saying only that if something (or a certain kind of thing) falls in the range of the bound variable in the true theory, then we may be certain that it exists.

There is no doubt in my mind that Quine does not, with his well-known slogan, intend to give a necessary condition of existence itself, an analysis of what it is for something to exist. It seems to me that all he says about scientific theory would rule that out. Indeed, on p. 16 of From a Logical Point of View he states that "We must not jump <from the slogan> to the conclusion that what there is depends on words." But must we not at least say that he makes the knowledge of what there is depend upon our knowledge of ‘words’, and that he can consistently avoid the conclusion that what there is depends upon words only by disclaiming any suggestion that he has, with his slogan, given an analysis of what it is for something to be, or even stated a necessary condition of the existence of anything.

But surely the philosophical interest in Quine's formula largely depends upon its being taken without such disclaimers. As he says in his opening lines of his famous essay, the ontological question is, "What is there?" Not, "How does one know what there is?" These are two radically different questions.

Or perhaps the essay is written upon the tacit assumption, never at any point discussed or justified, that the conditions of being are the same as or necessarily connected with the conditions of being known. That some such assumption is present is, I think, shown by the fact that the slogan shows up in a paper entitled "On What There Is." This would move his view toward Husserl's, at least. One might spell out a way in which knowledge and truth (true theory) necessitates the existence of corresponding objects, as Husserl tries to do. But it seems to me that, while dumping names in favor of variables may well get rid of some bad ontological inferences, we are still left with an ontological blur between the variable and what falls in its range.

In my paper "Why Semantic Ascent Fails" {Metaphilosophy, 14, nos. 3-4 (July/October 1983), pp. 276-290.} and elsewhere I tried to argue that talk about language is not inherently any clearer or less problematic philosophically than talk about anything else. It just turns out not to be true, as Quine somewhere says, that talk about "miles" is inherently better as a way of doing philosophy that talk about miles. It can be a refreshing change, and you get a different set of issues, examination of which may even throw some light in some contexts on the epistemology and ontology of miles or whatever else the topic may be. And it may seem like a revolution, as in fact it did, when one is sick to death of talking about ideas, impressions, and experiences of miles etc.

But if Husserl is right in his general analysis, it would not help to just change the subject to "language." You will only get the same problems about inherent make up and how it founds the reality hook as you had with representations, judgments and all the stuff of experience. In addition, you may have lost the crucial element of intentionality, which may alone make meaning, truth and the existential tie possible.

Maybe. Of course the problems are neck-deep at this point. But I have to say that many ontological discussions via‘language’ really look pretty sloppy, for all their dazzle, once you really begin to probe the issues to which Husserl tries to respond with his analyses of the act and its object—and, of course, of language and its functions by appropriate extensions (Ist "Investigation," etc.). Serious ontological work has to be done before functions, names, variables and all the other members of the language family can be used to much purpose in solid philosophical work.



Given Husserl's analysis of what it is to be and how being is known, his account of the sorts of objects there are follows. Every subject of properties exists or has being. It is possible to determine that many types of subjects of thought and discourse have properties. Husserl's views concerning the major classes of existents turn out to be remarkably commonsensical. Mental acts and their concrete and abstract elements (including universals), with the states of affairs and events they make up, stand in the epistemically strongest position, because of their perfectly translucent character, which, supposedly, permits the totality of their aspects to be given simultaneously in one completely intuitive act of cognition. Universals not, properly speaking, instanced in mental acts can in part be fully given (e.g., the number 3) and in part cannot (e.g., the number 839). In any case, if we are taking a philosophical inventory of existents, mental acts (as individuals of a certain type, with their various dependent moments), universals, events and facts go in with absolute Evidenz. One who has appropriately investigated them after the requisite phenomenological clarifications cannot be mistaken in supposing them to exist.

Beyond these, and in a somewhat weaker position epistemically, there are bodies and minds, in the ordinary sense of the intersubjective world, along with the natural world and its social, historical, cultural and intellectual units and processes. Husserl accepts these into his inventory of "what there is," though ‘the thing itself’ in such cases never has the absolute Evidenz characteristic of mental acts and certain universals. It would, as he explains in the last chapters of Ideen I, nevertheless be unreasonable to reject the existence of, say, apples, given a thorough examination of one by the usual means. There is nothing more that one could reasonably require, once you know what kind of thing an apple is.

This picture of Husserl's ontology amounts to saying that the objects met with in his description of "The World of the Natural Standpoint," in Ideen I, really do exist. In this respect Husserl's view of the "real" world is very like that outlined in the opening paragraph of G. E. Moore's "The Defense of Common Sense."

We should add that categorial form itself exists, has properties; and, in my view, Husserl holds it to be independent in its existence from any mental acts in which it might be ‘viewed’ or instanced. If minds had never come into existence in our universe otherwise as it is, there would still be facts, classes, universals, etc.

Then in mid-career the irreelle emerges as a crucial component of Husserl's ontology—one not at all, in my opinion, to be confused with the Ideal. The irreelle exists because it has, on Husserl's account, properties of its own.

And finally we have to add to Husserl's list of true beings the peculiar features and structures of the "Life world."

On the other hand, my guess is that Husserl is not what has in recent years been called a "Scientific Realist." But neither is he an "Anti-Scientific Realist." I presume that the ultimate constituents and nature of material and historical reality, together with their extensions in space and time, together with ultimate reality in general, including God etc., fall within the "infinite tasks" of which he sometimes spoke. While, it seems to me, Husserl did not agree that knowledge generally was without absolute foundations, he conceded the point for factual domains considered as totalities.

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