Categorial Perception, Evidence and Truth

Categorial perception is conceived by Husserl as a true analogue to ordinary sensory perception. As already stated, this is not because categorial acts have their own determinate objects of direct intention.37 The analogy obtains, rather, because categorial acts share with ordinary judgments and presentations the three essential features of quality, matter and representative content, the latter being here also that moment which ‘makes up the difference between “empty” signification and “full” intuition’ (II A643/808).

But what is the representative content in the case of categorial acts? It is provided, Husserl argues, by the very acts of categorial shaping themselves, acts of collecting, identifying, connecting, setting into relief, and so on. That is, it is provided by the very operation of that cognitive processing on the basis of which the given categorial objects are set before us in the first place. The directedness to a categorial object is therefore a fulfilled directedness to the extent that the complex acts necessary for the setting forth of the given object are in fact carried out. A fulfilled directedness to a species, for example, occurs only if parts or moments of given objects standing in relations of exact similarity are in fact picked out and the objects grasped as identical in this or that respect, so that their (qualitative) identity can itself be made into an object in a process of what Husserl calls ‘ideating abstraction’. A fulfilled directedness to an aggregate occurs only if given individual objects are in fact brought together in actually executed collecting acts. A fulfilled directedness to a state of affairs occurs only if given objects or determinations are not merely perceived together but grasped determinately in a judgment, and in such a way that we have an experience of agreement between the meaning of our judgment and the state of affairs which corresponds thereto.

But now, Husserl argues, when a state of affairs is given in this manner, then our acts correspondingly add up to what he calls an evident judgment, an experience which has the peculiar property that it instantiates that quite special sort of species which we call a truth. For each single truth is a species whose instances are fulfilled experiences of states of affairs, cases of correspondence between fulfilled meaning act and meant object.38

When a given state of affairs is given to us in a fulfilled manner, then a certain truth is instantiated. We can reflect on this instantiation and perform an act of grasping the species involved, so that the truth itself becomes our apprehended object. ‘We hereby apprehend – through ideating abstraction – the truth as the ideal correlate of the transient subjective act of cognition, as one [ideal singular] over against the unlimited manifold of possible cognitive acts and of knowing individuals.’ (I A230/227)

One could in principle apprehend in this way a whole theory, a whole deductively closed collection of truths, for here, too, there is an opposition between the ideally identical theory as a structure of truths on the one hand set over against an array of dispersed evident judgings on the other. The fulfilled apprehension of an entire theory, however, and therefore also of an entire domain of scientific objects, is ruled out by factual constraints on consciousness. Our properly scientific knowledge is always partial and incomplete, as contrasted with that direct knowledge of objects which is vouchsafed to us through inner and outer perception. Scientific knowledge is indeed a cognitive possession that survives even when the relevant objects are not themselves present to the cognising subject. And as Dallas Willard points out in his remarkably sophisticated study of this aspect of Husserl’s logic, the absence of the relevant objects is ‘of necessity the normal case in scientifically organized research and knowledge’ (Willard 1984, p.12). This partiality, too, may be made the object of its own kind of theoretical investigation, an investigation of the various different ways in which our cognitive acts may fall short of the ideal of theory or of knowledge in the strict and proper sense. And indeed Husserl’s framework provides us with the means not only for investigating the structures of a science as a deductively closed collection of fulfilled cognitions and validations in specie, but also for coming to an understanding of the nature and status of the various definitions, algorithms and other auxiliary devices which enable the scientist to economise on cognitive fulfilments in more or less justified ways. Willard’s study, which sets new standards of scholarship in work on the early Husserl, is now the definitive treatment of this aspect of Husserl’s theory of science.

Barry Smith, Logic and Formal Ontology


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