The Transcendental and the Psychological


This paper explores the emergence of the distinctions between the transcendental and the psychological and, correlatively, between phenomenology and psychology that emerge in The Idea of Phenomenology. It is argued that this first attempt to draw these distinctions reveals that the conception of transcendental phenomenology remains infected by elements of the earlier conception of descriptive psychology and that only later does Husserl move to a more adequate—but perhaps not yet fully purified—conception of the transcendental.

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  1. 1.

    The Idea of Phenomenology comprises five lectures delivered as the introduction to Husserl’s 1907 course titled “Major Topics in the Phenomenology and Critique of Reason” and informally known as the “Dingkolleg” or “Thing-lecture.” The main body of this lecture course was published as Hua XVI and is translated in Hua CW VII.

  2. 2.

    See Smith and McIntyre (1984, 108–23), who claim—incorrectly, I believe—that Husserl’s distinction between the object which is intended and the object as intended is a forerunner of the later distinction between the intended object to which the act is directed and the intentional object (noema) by which it is directed; cf. Drummond (1990, 26–31, 54–57).

  3. 3.

    That this is Husserl’s view is confirmed by the fact that Husserl claims that the “semantic” essence of acts that give meaning to expressions, i.e., the correlate on the side of the act of the ideal meaning of the expression, coincides with their intentional essence (cf. Hua XIX/1, 435; Husserl 1970b, 592–93). Just as the meaning of a particular expressive act is the instantiation of a meaning-essence (Hua XIX/1, 106; Husserl 1970b, 330), so too the particular meaning-giving act is an instantiation of an intentional essence which determines in specie the meaning of the expression. And, by extension, any particular act is an instantiation of an intentional essence that determines in specie the object as intended in a determinate manner and as the object of a certain kind of act.

    For discussions of Husserl’s view that the meanings present in individual acts of meaning are instantiations of meaning-essences, see Willard (1977) and Mohanty (1977). Smith and McIntyre (1984, 116–17) also take the view that in the first edition of the Investigations the real content of an individual act is an instantiation of the act’s intentional essence, i.e., that the relationship between the act’s ideal, intentional content (where “intentional content” does not refer to the intentional object of the act) and its real content is the relationship of instantiation rather than the relationship of possession of a common, abstract part. While this view of meaning is correct for the first edition of the Logische Untersuchungen, it has already changed by the time of the publication of the second edition; indeed, in Ideen I, Husserl essentially discards the language of intentional essence, and its inclusion in the second edition of the Logische Untersuchungen is largely a consequence of Husserl’s decision not to rework the Logische Untersuchungen in their entirety. As Husserl’s views mature, there is no longer a need to describe ideal or intentional content in terms of “species” or “essences”; in its place will come the language of irreell, the “ir-real,” which is also ideal or abstract. Furthermore, this abstract component of an intentional experience can be shared by various acts because it is intentional as the objective correlate of these acts rather than as their essence; see Drummond 1990, passim.

  4. 4.

    This controversy was first characterized by Hubert Dreyfus (1972, 135; revised 1984, 98) as a debate between those who view the perceptual noema as a concept (Føllesdal) and those who view it as a percept (Gurwitsch). But the debate was not limited to a debate about the perceptual noema, and it came to be more broadly characterized as one between content-theories of intentionality (and of the noema) and object-theories, or between mediator-theories and object-theories, or between the Fregean interpretation and the non-Fregean interpretation, or between propositional and transcendental readings, or between west-coast and east-coast readings (or yet others—indeed, there might be more ways of characterizing the debate than there are positions in it!).

    Gurwitsch (1964, esp. 228–79; 1966a, 332–49; 1966b, 124–40; 1966c, 175–286; 1966d, 3–55; 1967, 24–57), while recognizing that the noema is also a sense, emphasizes the noema or intentional object as the intended objectivity itself simply as intended. This identification of the object which is intended with the object as intended, i.e., with the noema as sense, raises the questions of how to explicate, first, the difference and, second, the relation between the object intended and the object as intended. Gurwitsch’s responses to these questions were united in his claim that the intended object itself is a whole of noematic parts or presentational moments or senses.

    Føllesdal (1969, 680–87; reprinted 1984, 73–80; 1990, 263–71), on the other hand, emphasizes the noema as sense, as an abstract intensional entity which semantically mediates the act’s reference to the object. Føllesdal’s view remains very close to the position Husserl enunciates in the first edition of the Investigations. His students Smith and McIntyre (1984, 143) revised this position somewhat, arguing that the noema was not an instantiated essence or tokened type, but an abstract particular which is the correlate of the noesis. Hence, intentional directedness is analyzed by them as a triadic relation: the act entertains a noema (i.e., a sense) and thereby prescribes an intended object which might or might not actually exist. An act’s entertaining a sense refers the subject of the act to an object in a determinate way in much the same way that a word’s expressing a sense refers the speaker (or author) and audience to an object in a determinate way. The sense is a determinate manner of presenting.

    Some authors have adopted an irenic approach to the controversy. See e.g., Mohanty (1981; 1982, 70–79), Welton (1983, §§4.1, 5.4, 6.4, and chap. 7) and Larrabee (1986, 209–30). For a brief overview of the controversy, see Drummond (1997, 494–99), and for criticisms of both Gurwitsch and Føllesdal, as well as of the irenic approach, see Drummond (1980, 9–21; 1990, esp. chaps. 4–5; 1992, 89–109; and 1998, 89–126).


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Correspondence to John J. Drummond.

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Drummond, J.J. The Transcendental and the Psychological. Husserl Stud 24, 193–204 (2008) doi:10.1007/s10743-008-9044-4

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  • Intentional Object
  • Intentional Content
  • Logical Objectivity
  • Intended Object
  • Transcendental Phenomenology