The Question of Violence Between the Transcendental and the Empirical Field: The Case of Husserl’s Philosophy


In this article, I address the question of violence with respect to the phenomenological difference between the transcendental and the empirical field. In the first part, I phenomenologically address the notion of violence, developing a concept required for an account of the phenomenon of violence. Thus, I correlate it with the notion of vulnerability, arguing that violence cannot be understood irrespective of vulnerability. However, a proper phenomenological account has to indicate the subjective conditions of possibility of a phenomenon as it is given in experience. Therefore, we should ask: what is the status of violence when we are talking about the transcendental field? This question leads to the second part of my article, where I address the notion of violence from the perspective of the difference between the pure and the empirical ego, as it has been traced out by Husserl. If from the point of view of an empirical ego the concept of violence is meaningful, from the point of view of the transcendental ego it seems to be absurd. This is particularly significant, because Husserl is talking about the transcendental ego as being immortal. The pure ego is thus invulnerable and this means that violence—understood from the point of view of both the violating subject and the violated one—is something that cannot be linked to the transcendental field. The question that arises—how is violence possible on the empirical level, since it is impossible on the transcendental level?—is a question to which Husserl cannot respond.

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  1. 1.

    See also Staudigl (2011: 214), Staudigl (2015: 255), and especially Staudigl (2006).

  2. 2.

    For the difference between epistemological foundation and ontological foundation, see Nenon (1997).

  3. 3.

    On this issue, see Ricœur (1955: 46–49, 61–65), Kern (1964: 286–293), Marbach (1974: 247–282, 319–329), Carr (1977), Mohanty (1996: 23–27), Pradelle (2012: 29–76), or Lohmar (2012).

  4. 4.

    “Beschäftigung mit Sachen — Beschäftigung mit Menschen (als wie mit Sachen und Menschen). Konnex — Hemmung, Zwang, Willenseinstimmingkeit, Streit (November 1932)” in Husserl (1973b: 508–510).

  5. 5.

    See also Staudigl’s (2015: 66 ff.) analysis of this passage. Incidentally, Staudigl himself analyses violence referring to humans. See, for instance, Staudigl (2007a: 238), who argues for explaining “how phenomenology is able to conceive of the manifold vulnerability of the subject’s embodiment as an irreducible component of human existence [my emphasis]”.

  6. 6.

    “Will er nicht, so brauche ich evtl. Gewalt, ich zwinge ihn”.

  7. 7.

    On this issue, for more detailed analyses, see Mensch (1997, 2009), and Lohmar (2012).

  8. 8.

    On the notion of eidos-ego, see Serban (2016).

  9. 9.

    However, one must notice that, in one of his personal copies of the book, near his reference to Kant, Husserl (1983: 133) made the following remark: “whether also <Kant’s> sense I leave undecided…”. See also Husserl (2000: 115).

  10. 10.

    On the same relation, but between the pure ego and the personal ego, see Dodd (2010: 62).

  11. 11.

    In Cartesian Meditations, Husserl (1982: 65–68; 72 f.) gradually describes the various notions of ego from the point of view of constitution: from the pure ego to the human psyche.

  12. 12.

    See, on the issue of the pure ego’s death, MacDonald (2007), Dodd (2010), Geniusas (2010), Sigrist (2012), or Gérard (2016). Sigrist (2012) interestingly argues that death can be understood from the point of view of the primordial sphere, if we take into account memory and sedimentation. He argues that we understand death through the “death” of every moment, which passes away in the past. This passing away gives a clue for our finitude, i.e., for our possible death. However, if we look in one of Husserl’s (2001b: 467) manuscripts, we can find a passage that directly contradicts Sigrist’s argument: “[o]ne imputes the possible cessation of every conceivable particular being to a putative cessation of the stream of life. The cessation itself as the cessation of the object presupposes a non-cessation, namely, consciousness to which cessation is given”. Therefore, not only that Sigrist’s argument is invalidated, but, on the contrary, it is an argument for the immortality of the ego.

  13. 13.

    For an analysis of Husserl’s notes on Heidegger’s Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics from the point of view of death and finitude, see Geniusas (2010: 87).

  14. 14.

    Eduard Marbach (1974: 215 ff.) pointed out that Husserl constantly hesitates when it comes to determine the temporal status of pure ego, sometimes stating that it is immortal, at other times stating that it is eternal. However, as Husserl (2001b: 471) says somewhere, the ego “is an eternal being in the process of becoming” (my emphasis). This shows the living character of the ego and, therefore, its essential relation to time.


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This article is part of the project The Structures of Conflict: A Phenomenological Approach to Violence (PN-III-P4-ID-PCE-2016-0273), funded by UEFISCDI.

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Breazu, R. The Question of Violence Between the Transcendental and the Empirical Field: The Case of Husserl’s Philosophy. Hum Stud 43, 159–170 (2020).

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  • Violence
  • Vulnerability
  • Death
  • Pure ego
  • Transcendental
  • Edmund Husserl