Edmund Husserl and Jacques Lacan: An Ethical Difference in Epistemology?
The text of Andrzej Leder examines Husserlian phenomenology and Lacanian psychoanalysis under the presumption that philosophical concepts and theories can be read as expressions of moral attitudes. It presupposes that putting aside the tangle of different terminologies and theoretical backgrounds, we can find similar constructions for describing the implicit structure of experience. Nevertheless, the phenomenological and psychoanalytic methods can be readily distinguished according to their respective attitudes towards what is being experienced. That is to say that ethics rather than epistemology divides these two fields. This difference could also be restated in terms of the optimistic confidence of phenomenology in the possibilities of human thought, in contrast to the careful apprehension of psychoanalysis concerning its limitations or inherent failures.
Husserl was able to attain the realm of pure consciousness through the procedure of the phenomenological reduction (epoché), in which essence was cut from any existential or empirical judgments and could therefore be studied with absolute confidence. The basis for the cognitive confidence of phenomenology was trust in the adequacy of the subjective and objective poles of the intentional act. Following Husserl, we must affirm that objectivization preserves essence. With Husserl we believe this and we approve of this order of things. It appears evident, that the phenomenologist has to adopt the attitude of trust and confidence.
Freudian psychoanalysis introduced the returned epoché, which turned consciousness into the great unknown. Given that Freud was as interested as Husserl in preserving trust in our cognitive capacities, he introduced a rescue mechanism – the unconscious as the given source of meaning that permits us to decrypt the sense of experience.
With Lacan we face a double epoché. Consciousness is not “the given”, nor is the unconscious, as the later must always be retroactively “reconstructed” from a given meaning, which is the product of the aforementioned “catastrophe”. Are we then facing a kind of skepticism? After all, Lacan is often read as a modern skeptic.
Andrzej Leder’s proposal is that the problem is more complex. The dynamics of his research doesn’t lead in the direction of skeptical doubt, but rather towards the realization that we face a crisis of the purely cognitive attitude towards experience. As in Kafka’s saying: “daß das Erkennen als solches Trost ist”, epistemology appears here as a way of dealing with depressive, post-traumatic position. Different epistemological attitudes – the one of Husserl, of Freud, of Levinas and of Lacan – represent different ways of transcending this position. ‘— End of Abstract’