, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 5-30
Date: 23 Sep 2011

Husserl on Geometry and Spatial Representation

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Abstract

Husserl left many unpublished drafts explaining (or trying to) his views on spatial representation and geometry, such as, particularly, those collected in the second part of Studien zur Arithmetik und Geometrie (Hua XXI), but no completely articulate work on the subject. In this paper, I put forward an interpretation of what those views might have been. Husserl, I claim, distinguished among different conceptions of space, the space of perception (constituted from sensorial data by intentionally motivated psychic functions), that of physical geometry (or idealized perceptual space), the space of the mathematical science of physical nature (in which science, not only raw perception has a word) and the abstract spaces of mathematics (free creations of the mathematical mind), each of them with its peculiar geometrical structure. Perceptual space is proto-Euclidean and the space of physical geometry Euclidean, but mathematical physics, Husserl allowed, may find it convenient to represent physical space with a non-Euclidean structure. Mathematical spaces, on their turn, can be endowed, he thinks, with any geometry mathematicians may find interesting. Many other related questions are addressed here, in particular those concerning the a priori or a posteriori character of the many geometric features of perceptual space (bearing in mind that there are at least two different notions of a priori in Husserl, which we may call the conceptual and the transcendental a priori). I conclude with an overview of Weyl’s ideas on the matter, since his philosophical conceptions are often traceable back to his former master, Husserl.

This paper is dedicated to my friend Claire Ortiz Hill for her sixtieth birthday.