Husserl’s Theory of Intentionality (CM 2)

Phenomenology Lectures 2008-9: Husserl (II)


Husserl’s Theory of Intentionality (CM 2)

In CM 2, Husserl makes a few comments about the ‘new science’ that he thinks the epoche makes possible. The idea is that the phenomenologist pauses at a place whose interest Descartes didn’t notice – at the content of the cogitationes (mental states) that are made available. Descartes used ‘cogito’ as a premise – concluded cogito ergo sum, and then moved on to ask metaphysical questions about what was implied by my existence. Husserl says that we can ‘shift the weight of the evidence’ (p. 31) given in ego cogito to notice the nature of the manifold cogitationes. [“manifold cogitationes”] He introduces Brentano’s thesis at this point, and claims that every mental state, even parenthesised, has an object – the cogitatum. [“parenthesised”] […]

p. 33: ‘Each cogito, each conscious process, we may also say, “means” something or other and bears in itself.. its particular cogitatum.’

And (Brentano’s thesis):

the word intentionality signifies nothing else than this universal fundamental property of consciousness: to be conscious of something; as a cogito to bear within itself its cogitatum (p. 33)

There are at least two aspects of this claim that need to be examined.

(i) the claim about the ‘universal fundamental property of consciousness’, being that of ‘being conscious of something’:  ie this endorses Brentano’s famous claim

(ii) Husserl’s account of the cogitatum; ie the way in which his theory of intentionality is at the same time a theory of the structure of the objects of experience.

I Intentionality as ‘the mark of the mental’

Brentano’s thesis: we can draw a line round states or acts that are mental by isolating just those states or acts that are intentional, ie. about, or directed towards, something. [NB]

Recent debate in analytical philosophy of mind has focused on the question whether intentionality is necessary and/or sufficient for mentality. [NB] […]

II Husserl’s account of the intentional structure of consciousness:  How the cogito, ‘bears within it its cogitatum

§17 of CMis important for explaining Husserl’s account of the inherent structure of consciousness – it’s entitled ‘The two-sidedness of inquiry into consciousness as an investigation of correlatives. Lines of description. Synthesis as the primal form belonging to consciousness’

[NB] [CORRELATION] The ‘correlatives’ are what make the enquiry two-sided: Husserl calls them the ‘noetic’ and the ‘noematic’ sides to conscious experience. He gives some examples when he introduces those terms on p. 36: noematic determinations relate to the intentional object as such – say, that it is present, or that its being is certain. Noetic determinations are the modes of consciousness correlated with these properties, for example perception correlates to an object’s presence, memory to its being past.

[NB] The doctrine of synthesis explains how we have consciousness of an object as an object.

Husserl makes it clear that all intentionality – in other words, all consciousness of something – involves synthesis (note, in the sub-title quoted, Husserl says that synthesis is the ‘primal form’ of consciousness).
Husserl’s example of perceiving a die (κύβος/ζάρι): 

‘“this” die is given continuously as an objective unity in a.. changeable multiplicity of manners of appearing..The one identical die appears, now in “near appearances”, now in “far appearances”: in the changing modes of the Here and There, over against an always co-intended, though perhaps unheeded, absolute Here (in my co-appearing organism).’ (p. 40) [ΝΒ]

Synthesis establishes a one:many relationship between the object experienced and the experience of it, (between the appearances, and that which appears). [NB]

It is thanks to synthesis that we have an experience of something as a unified, thing.

Husserl shows this structure applies also to temporal determinations of appearance.

In perception

we have to distinguish the Objective temporality that appears (for example: the temporality of this die) from the “internal” temporality of the appearing (for example: that of the perceiving of the die). This appearing “flows away” with its temporal extents and phases, which for their part, are continually changing appearances of the one identical die.’ (p. 41)

So what Husserl is pointing out in this passage is that within consciousness we find the room for a distinction between, as he puts it, appearances and things that appear. […]

[Husserl vs. Brentano] An important thing to note is that Husserl’s conception of an intentional object is of something that is not wholly contained within the acts of consciousness that apprehend it.

Husserl’s theory of intentionality thus develops that of Brentano, for whom there was no real distinction between ‘object’ and ‘content’.

Husserl distinguishes between TWO ways in which an object can be ‘in’ consciousness:

‘This being-in-consciousness is a being-in of a completely unique kind: not a being-in-consciousness as a really intrinsic component part, but rather a being-in-it “ideally” as something intentional, something appearing…’ (p. 42).

‘Intentional analysis is guided by the fundamental cognition that.. every cogito is indeed.. a meaning of its meant.. but.. at any moment, this something meant is more.. than what is meant at the moment “explicitly”. In our example, each phase of perception was a mere side of “the” object, as what was perceptually meant. This intending-beyond-itself, which is implicit in any consciousness, must be considered an essential moment of it’ (p. 46)

Husserl believes that he has done something extremely important: he has given an account of the transcendence of objects to consciousness, but from the perspective of the post-epoche consciousness.

One DOESN’T start with two items, a mental act and an independent object, and ask how the former can represent the latter.

Rather, starting with the post-epoche consciousness, one asks what the representation of an object consists in.

Thus Husserl provides an ‘adverbial’ rather than a ‘relational’ account of intentional experience, yet one which makes room for the distinction between an object and its appearance. […]

                  SR, UCL, 2008

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