This paper explicates the systematic importance of the concept of expression in Husserl’s social phenomenology. We argue that the structure of expression prevails in Husserl’s analyses of interpersonal relationships, cultural objects in the surrounding world, and the different levels of community and culture. Three interrelated claims will be made: First, expression indicates the peculiar manner of constitution of a person as a spiritual subject, in contrast with the constitution of a person as a unity of body and soul. Second, there is an essential relationship between a person and her surrounding world, and hence not only is a person always given as a system of expressions, but also is a cultural object given as such. In other words, spirit is expressed in the system “person-surrounding world.” Third, the system “person-surrounding world,” i.e., the unity of subjective spirit and objective spirits, can also be an expression of communal spiritual life and culture—what Husserl calls “higher order personal unities”—once they are constituted through appropriate communal acts. Hence, it belongs to the essential structure of a person to be doubly expressive of subjective spirit and cultural spirit.
With a robust concept of expression, we can better clarify the distinction between different approaches in the study of a human person. While the natural scientific approach takes the person as a real unity, the human scientific approach sheds light on the person as a multilevel expressive system.
Our exposition will focus on Ideas II, which we take to be the major site, in which Husserl formulates his technical and robust conception of expression vis-à-vis the problem of the structure of the person and cultural objects. Remarks from other works, including the Vienna lecture and Experience and Judgment will also be orchestrated at appropriate junctures to support our reconstruction.