Crisis? What Crisis? On Hanna On Moran on Husserl On The Crisis of European Sciences.

A guest authored edgy essay by Emre Kazim

Said she: this is just so old and stuffy! … I’ll show you toucans and earthworms instead.[i]

No, this essay isn’t about the 1970s rock band Supertramp, except by way of borrowing the iconic cover-design of their fourth album as an evocative image for what I actually want to talk about philosophically.

Instead, this essay is a series of critical reflections on Robert Hanna’s 2014 essay, “Husserl’s Crisis and Our Crisis,”[ii] which is a critical study of Dermot Moran’s 2012 book, Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction,[iii] which in turn is a critical introduction to Edmund Husserl’s The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy,[iv] written between 1934 and 1937 and posthumously published in 1954.

In “The Vienna Lecture,” aka “Philosophy and the Crisis of European Humanity,” Husserl writes this:

Thus the philosopher must always have as his purpose to master the true and full sense of philosophy, the totality of its infinite horizons. No one line of knowledge, no individual truth must be absolutized. Only in such a supreme consciousness of self which itself becomes a branch of the infinite task, can philosophy fulfill its function of putting itself, and therewith a genuine humanity, on the right track. To know that this is the case, however, also involves once more entering the field of knowledge proper to philosophy on the highest level of reflection upon itself. Only on the basis of this constant reflectiveness is a philosophy a universal knowledge.

Let us summarize the fundamental notions of what we have sketched here. The “crisis of European existence,” which manifests itself in countless symptoms’ of a corrupted life, is no obscure fate, no impenetrable destiny. Instead, it becomes manifestly understandable against the background of the philosophically discoverable “teleology of European history.” As a presupposition of this understanding, however, the phenomenon “Europe” is to be grasped in its essential core. To get the concept of what is contra-essential in the present “crisis,” the concept “Europe” would have to be developed as the historical teleology of infinite goals of reason; it would have to be shown how the European “world” was born from ideas of reason, i.e., from the spirit of philosophy. The “crisis” could then become clear as the “seeming collapse of rationalism.” Still, as we said, the reason for the downfall of a rational culture does not lie in the essence of rationalism itself but only in its exteriorization, its absorption in “naturalism” and “objectivism”.

The crisis of European existence can end in only one of two ways: in the ruin of a Europe alienated from its rational sense of life, fallen into a barbarian hatred of spirit; or in the rebirth of Europe from the spirit of philosophy, through a heroism of reason that will definitively overcome naturalism. Europe’s greatest danger is weariness. Let us as “good Europeans” do battle with this danger of dangers with the sort of courage that does not shirk even the endless battle. If we do, then from the annihilating conflagration of disbelief, from the fiery torrent of despair regarding the West’s mission to humanity, from the ashes of the great weariness, the phoenix of a new inner life of the spirit will arise as the underpinning of a great and distant human future, for the spirit alone is immortal.

History is written by a future pen, and indeed, the history that is written is itself judged in time as a historical statement. We read the history written by those in the past as an expression of a self-referential economy of signs to be deciphered, by us, here in the present. As such, it is a particularly queer task to evaluate a writer from the past who is judging their present time in historical terms. This is the case with Husserl’s Crisis of European Sciences.

The task is made even more problematic when a text understands itself (if we can speak of the text as minded and animate), as Husserl’s Crisis does, as a Critical evaluation in the specifically Kantian sense.

By a “Critical evaluation” I mean an a priori evaluation of some set of beliefs, claims, judgments, or propositions (let’s call that set, S), together with a formulation of the conditions of the meaningfulness of the members of S — that is, what is formulated are “transcendental propositions” that specifically express the a priori presuppositions of the members of S.

(“A priori” means non-empirical, which in turns means, underdetermined by all actual or possible contingent and/or sensory facts; and definitionally speaking, a proposition P is the presupposition of another proposition Q if and only if Q cannot be either true or false unless P is true.)

That in turn raises the following hard or at least bi-levelled question: how are we — who live in the contemporary present, therefore historically distant and distinct from that Critical evaluation itself — Critically to evaluate that earlier Critical evaluation?

One way is “factually” to investigate claims in the book and ask if they are well argued or indeed true.

Along this dimension, my own reading is that Husserl gets most things factually wrong — his take on the conceptual movements and historical significance of, e.g., the legacy of Greek antiquity, what I call “the Galilean heresy,” and even the classical tradition of sociocultural and philosophical Enlightenment, are all open to serious criticism.

Nevertheless, such a reading would be a misreading.

This is because Husserl is not a historian of European philosophy or European culture more generally, and we are not reading a serious historical argument — indeed he does not, and he need not, litter the text with historical sources.

On the contrary, Husserl’s philosophical history is in fact historical thinking, which is to recognise the situatedness of oneself and the inherently contingent nature of this situatedness.

The recognition of this, at Husserl’s time, is not original (many brilliant 19th century philosophers understood this point very well); rather, what deserves praise for is his exhortation to philosophize transcendentally, in view of the historical situatedness and existential situation of European humanity in the 1930s.

Husserl’s neo-Kantian “I think” is read in the present tense, while also understanding that the present-I is something essentially embodied, existentially embedded, and (to use Pascal’s phrase), already embarked on its historical life-journey, all the while making sure that there is no equivocation between the “I think” and the essentially embodied, existentially embedded, and already-embarked Self.

Transcendental thinking, in turn, is precisely this awareness; it is the Critical-I, the transcendental ego, which reflectively looks back on, and at, itself.

At the same time, the Self’s self-conscious awareness of its own essential embodiment, existential embeddedness, and always-embarkation is emancipatory.

In contrast to the radical-subjectivist Existentialist, however, this Husserlian emancipation would be foolishly misunderstood, if construed as a radical departure from history itself.

So, no matter how radically free he is, Sartre remains French, bourgeois, and elitist.

On the contrary, this Husserlian emancipation — the Self’s self-conscious Critical awareness of its own historicity — is a freedom from what might be called mental enslavement to the given, understood as the rationally unCritical, passive acceptance of one’s own historical place in time and space, and all the cognitive, moral, sociocultural, political, and philosophical baggage that naturally comes with that.

Hence, when Hanna, in his Critical evaluation of Moran’s Critical evaluation of Husserl’s Crisis (which is itself a Critical evaluation of contemporary European sciences and humanity), engages with this historical text, he does so (also in line with Moran) with a self-conscious Critical awareness of his own (indeed our own) historicity.

The problem with Husserl’s contemporaries, a central object of his critique, is mirrored today, at the end of the second decade of the 21st century, in contemporary people’s (and not just European, but now globally) correspondingly profound lack of a self-conscious Critical awareness of their own historicity — thus they are mentally enslaved to their own givenness.

Coincidentally, there is a direct parallel in both Husserl’s and also Hanna’s Critical evaluations of their respective historical-times, in the form of a serious critique of scientific naturalism, which, in a nutshell says, in Wilfrid Sellars’s nice phrase (riffing on Protagoras) that (formal and natural) science is the measure of all things, both as regards our knowledge and also regards the nature of reality.

In turn, the sociocultural valorization of formal and natural science from the standpoint of scientific naturalism, is scientism.

However, this is not the crux of contemporary mental enslavement to the given; indeed, it is only the symptom.

For this mental enslavement to the given is just as apparent in those who propound anti-science, that is, a culturally relativistic skepticism about the formal and exact sciences, in popular political discourse and even academia, not to mention professional academic philosophy.

Nevertheless, to be critical of scientific naturalism and therefore to be anti-scientistic is not to be anti-science!

Being critical of scientific naturalism and therefore anti-scientistic, yet also pro-scientific, is perfectly consistent, and indeed, that’s the view espoused by Husserl and Hanna.

Anti-science, by sharp contrast, fails disastrously, and is to be philosophically rejected in no uncertain terms, because it is cognitively, morally, and politically self-stultifying or self-undermining.

In a world of “fake news,” “alt-facts,” and culturally relativistic or even nihilistic skepticism about the formal and exact sciences, many contemporary people, even including professional academics in the post-Modernist or social-constructivist tradition, embrace relativistic or even nihilistic skeptical denials of The Law of Non-Contradiction, The Law of Excluded Middle, “2+2=4,” contemporary physics, contemporary biology, contemporary chemistry, etc., etc., not to mention Climate Science.

That being so, since at least a “core” logic — containing minimalist versions of The Law of Non-Contradiction and Excluded Middle, whereby not every proposition is both true and false (or not-true), or such that it’s neither true nor false (or not-true) — governs the consistency, truth, validity, and soundness of all claim-making or statement-making, beliefs, arguments, and cogent reasoning of every kind, then the anti-science so-called “position” cannot even genuinely be a position — instead it’s nothing but posturing, that is, striking an attitude.

Nothing could be further from this anti-scientific posturing than the Husserl-Hanna style of transcendental Critical evaluation.

One possible worry about transcendental-Critical evaluation in the Husserl-Hanna sense, however, is that it evokes the image of a detached Sage who criticizes from a pulpit on the sidelines, yet never directly engages with the congregation or the real world, and does nothing.

Nevertheless, this is far from the truth about the transcendental-Critical standpoint.

First, and foremost, the transcendental-Critical standpoint is explicitly in relation to one’s own historicity: hence this is not to preach from the pulpit, rather it is to self-criticize in front of a mirror, and to face up to oneself-in-the-world.

Second, and this is particularly true with respect to both Husserl and Hanna, their transcendental-Critical self-critique is effectively a mode of social criticism that self-consciously challenges Husserl’s and Hanna’s own social status as established philosophical authorities.

Husserl was expelled from his university position by the Nazis and indeed by his own former student, Heidegger; and Hanna has also exited professional academic philosophy into the world of independent, borderless philosophy, as it were, in Shakespeare’s lovely phrase in The Winter’s Tale, “pursued by a bear.”

Now back to my earlier question: does historical thinking require a knowledge of history?

In the case of Hanna, in contrast to Husserl himself, there is clearly also a direct scholarly engagement with history.

Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy is an example of this; here he not only produces a philosophical “history that might have been,” that is, a Kantian history of the Analytic tradition, but also criticizes and debunks the fallacious or in any case philosophically questionable views of various founders of classic Analytic philosophy from Frege to Quine.

The point is to emancipate us (the reader and the wider philosophical community) from the all-too-familiar clutches of such readings, drummed into us in graduate school.

In subsequent work, Hanna has extended this emancipatory Kantian approach to the philosophy of mind and action (Embodied Minds in Action, co-authored with Michelle Maiese), to philosophical logic (Rationality and Logic), to the philosophy of mind and knowledge (Cognition, Content, and the A Priori), to metaphysics (Deep Freedom and Real Persons), to ethics (Kantian Ethics and Human Existence), to theology-&-politics (Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism), and, most recently, to political philosophy of mind (The Mind-Body Politic, also co-authored with Michelle Maiese).

Historically-informed Kantian philosophy, in this sense, is essentially a rhetorical device; it is a presentational tool for engaging the philosophical imagination of oneself and one’s contemporaries: the purpose is to agitate us philosophically, living in the present, so that we dare to think and know (Sapere aude!), and also dare to care, feel, choose, and act for ourselves, in solidarity with all others who are also prepared to do the same.

In effect, then, Hanna asserts that transcendental-Critical evaluative thinking is a collective self-emancipation that translates into a radically enlightened philosophical challenge directed at the twenty-first century’s profoundly alienating, inauthentic, deforming, and destructive social-institutional and political structures.

Here, just to take only one aspect of this, zeroing in on contemporary professional academic philosophy, in a devastatingly forlorn observation Hanna writes:

One of most depressing and also most striking things about contemporary [professional academic] philosophy is its fragmentation, and correspondingly, the mutual isolation of contemporary [professional academic] philosophers as individuals and also as members of philosophical groups. It seems that, paradoxically, the more easily philosophers are able to communicate with one another, the less they actually do so for real philosophical purposes, and the less they actually share as thinkers and moral agents who are supposedly personally and collectively committed to philosophy as a way of life, or life-project, and not just a ‘job’. Indeed, sometimes even [professional academic] philosophers working on exactly the same topics are essentially isolated from one another […] why?

Sadly, my experience concurs with this.

There is a sense in which the contemporary student of professional academic philosophy is not only imaginatively impoverished, but also profoundly alienated.

Contemporary professional academic philosophers, or at least massively most of them, are either mentally enslaved on the one hand by scientific naturalism and scientism or equally mentally enslaved, on the other hand, by self-stultifying anti-science.

And at the same time, the currently hegemonic multi-culturalist, social-justice approach to professional philosophical activism is dogmatically mind-manacled to the hopelessly incoherent, and morally as well as politically self-stultifying doctrine of identitarianism.

So between scientism, anti-science, and identitarianism, contemporary professional academic philosophy throws students of philosophy into an existentially self-immolating, endlessly vicious circle that Sartre so aptly called No Exit.

But radically on the contrary, according to the tradition represented by (a properly interpreted!) Kant, Husserl, and Hanna, we must have rational faith that “I can dare to think and know for myself, and also to care, feel, choose, and act for myself, and others can do so too!”

For we are all innately endowed with these basic capacities, the unified collection of which constitutes our human dignity, and therefore we are all able to Critically accept, evaluate, and creatively engage with our own historicity, and then emancipate ourselves

I also believe, however, that the implications of the transcendental-Critical standpoint require further fleshing-out.

For example: What is are the implications of Critical evaluative thought with respect to the life-world? i.e., with respect to the pre-reflective, non-conceptual, etc., pre-Critical standpoint.

Consider the following real-world thought-experiment.

Pious Joe abstains from eating pork based on the belief that it is forbidden by religious dictates. The authority of this dictate is a product of a complex set of social, cultural and familial structures/beliefs, i.e., a product of historical situatedness.

At some point in his life, Joe is undergoes a radical re-evaluation of his worldview, and then concludes that in the overwhelming number of cases, his beliefs are rationally ungrounded.

Joe thinks about this, and begins to publicize these claims. Immediately he is labelled a heretic and is excommunicated.

He romantically views himself as a kind of Spinoza — excommunicated and radically misunderstood by his contemporaries, yet eventually to be praised by future Critically evaluative people and glorified by the test of time.

After some time, however, Joe begins to panic. In his inner and/outer exile (let’s also postulate that he’s unemployed and homeless), he feels alienated and rootless, profoundly bored, and profoundly isolated, not to mention hungry and shelterless — so in a reworking of the Zarathustrian comedy, Joe eventually finds that even despite his condemnation of “the herd,” and their mental slavery, he cannot live atop the mountain, on the sidelines with only his pulpit to comfort him. So Joe returns to his community.

Suspicious, the elders (aka power elite) of his community test him by presenting a table with various meat-dishes as an offering to break the customary fast. Joe sees that pork is offered and eats all but that plate. The elders ask him why he has abstained and he replies “because I now understand why it is forbidden.”

Triumphantly and triumphalistically, they ask Joe about his realization, and he explains:

there is nothing wrong with pork, because the Almighty is indifferent to what we eat; however, it has come to be that through our forefathers we do not eat pork, and for the good [i.e. the instrumental ends] of our community, it is morally imperative that we abstain from eating pork.

Joe then winks and completes his confessional explanation by adding —

… at least in public.

The elders laugh and there is a spirit of fraternity: it turns out that this is what they call “enlightenment.”

Joe is a Critical evaluative thinker, and indeed “enlightened,” yet there is no change in the actual lifeworld: for he’s always acting as if he’s mentally enslaved.

It looks to me like something is profoundly wrong with this story; nevertheless, the story seems coherent from the Critical evaluative standpoint.

More generally, here is what I see as a central tension in Hanna’s work: Kant is read as being radically individual, or thoroughly individualistic — see, e.g., Hanna’s “radical autonomy — and yet at the same time, he is a committed social-institutional and political, hence communal, thinker.

So I’m confused.

Otherwise put, the highly evocative notion of a personally and collectively transformative insight that Hanna proposes, by way of Critical evaluation, is in a dilemma —

On the one hand, do we Critically evaluate from the pulpit on the sidelines, thereby seriously risking alienation and rootlessness, profound boredom, profound isolation, hunger, and homelessness?

Or on the other hand, do we cynically rejoin the mentally enslaved herd, and mimic their herd-like beliefs and actions, all the while holding them in Critical-evaluative contempt?

Again, in a nutshell: as Critical evaluators, do we publicly and actively express autonomous heresy, only to be excommunicated and forced into a life of philosophical social failure and personal suffering, like that of Diogenes?, or do we mimic the herd, thereby living a life soaked in mental slavery and physical coercion?

Robert Hanna, please tell us what precisely it means to be a rational rebel for humanity!


[i] Author’s notes on a recent visit to The National Gallery.

[ii] R. Hanna, “Husserl’s Crisis and Our Crisis,” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 22 (2014): 752–770, also available online at URL = <>.

[iii] D. Moran, Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012).

[iv] E. Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. D. Carr (Evanston, IL: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1970).



Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Saturday 29 June 2019

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