Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

The Political and Educational Importance of Phenomenological Reduction in the Light of the Dispute between Paul Natorp and Edmund Husserl

Wojciech Hanuszkiewicz

Thursday 2 December 2021

11:30 - 12:10

Zoom 1-2

The exchange of ideas between Edmund Husserl and Paul Natorp, as Iso Kern showed in his classical study, had a very strong influence on the development of phenomenology. Despite incessant mutual criticism, Husserl gradually approached the solutions proposed by Natorp in his analyses. However, the whole controversy can also be viewed from the reverse perspective. Natorp also took up (in his later works) some important motifs from Husserl’s phenomenology and created, what was hardly recognized, his own variant of the phenomenological reduction, which largely focuses on the political dimension of community life. Natorp examines the problem of community life, which was also of great importance for Husserl’s analyses, from the perspective of the working and educational community, because, in his opinion, both work and education constitute original forms of human activity. The main purpose of the presentation is a detailed exposure of this topic.

One of the main points of contention between the two authors is the method of reduction. In his introduction to psychology, Natorp emphasizes that the task of psychology consists in “reducing the mental representation, which has always somehow been objectified, to the immediate nature of consciousness.” The Marburg philosopher understands this reduction to mean the reconstruction of the immediate life of consciousness from the already objectified cultural products (creations). Husserl, on the other hand, tries to switch off the objectified world through phenomenological reduction and to make the life of consciousness accessible as intuitively given. The phenomenologists work—as Husserl wrote in his letter to Natorp dated March 18, 1909—“from below up.” In his review of the Ideas, Natorp criticized the phenomenological category of being-given very sharply. For Natorp, every act of thinking and intuitive perception is an element of the continuous process of objectivation. As a result, the act of intuitive giving—contrary to Husserl’s point of view—is always also the act of objectification.

In his later works, Natorp did not forego the method of reconstruction. However, he approaches the position of Husserl by exposing the role of the individuated ethos of spontaneous self-education and self-creation within the fraternal working and educational community—especially in Social-Idealism, Lectures on Practical Philosophy, and Philosophical Systematics. This ethos cannot be reconstructed from the objectified laws that are characteristic of the ethics of the ought. Fraternity (solidarity) as an individualized mode of being cannot be carried out from the objectivations of cultural and socio-political life; nevertheless, it can only be grasped in the act of objectification, as a non-objectifiable overall disposition that, as it were, “from below” the rigid objectivations of the social life fulfilled and transformed. The preservation of access to such an overall disposition can be treated as a variant of the phenomenological reduction. The latter is based above all on the change in attitude, in which, as Husserl emphasizes in his Ideas II, “the educational aspect of the phenomenological reduction” also takes place. The educational significance of this change of attitude is that, thanks to it, we learn to grasp the constant transition from the objectifying to the non-objectifying overall disposition to our environment. Only this constant change in our attitudes enables the renewal and reshaping—for the sake of the working and educational community—of the objectivations of economic and socio-political world. From this point of view, we must also explain the educational aspect of phenomenological reduction for the political.