Contra Gurwitsch

  • John J. Drummond
Part of the Contributions to Phenomenology book series (CTPH, volume 4)


Aron Gurwitsch’s interpretation of Husserl’s doctrine of the noema depends upon a criticism of Husserl’s philosophy of perception, specifically of the distinction Husserl makes between the intentional essence and the sensuous matter within the perceptual act or, in Husserl’s alternate terminology, the perceptual apprehension and its sensuous contents. Gurwitsch contends that this distinction presupposes a phenomenological version of the constancy-hypothesis,1 and his critique rests, consequently, upon a phenomenological reinterpretation of Gestalt psychology’s critique of traditional dualisms in psychology and their adherence to the constancy-hypothesis.2


Intentional Content Intended Object Perceptual Appearance Hyletic Data Empty Intention 
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  1. 1.
    For Gurwitsch’s critique of Husserl, see FC, esp. pp. 265–73; “Phenomenology of Thematics and the Pure Ego: Studies of the Relation between Gestalt Theory and Phenomenology” (hereafter “Thematics”), tr. by E Kersten, and “Some Aspects and Developments of Gestalt Psychology” (hereafter “Aspects”), both in Gurwitsch, Studies in Phenomenology and Psychology (hereafter Studies), Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1966, pp. 175–286 and 3–55 respectively.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The locus classicus for this critique is Wolfgang Köhler’s “On Unnoticed Sensations and Errors of Judgment” in The Selected Papers of Wolfgang Köhler, ed. by M. Henle (New York: Liveright, 1971), pp. 13–39.Google Scholar
  3. 3a.
    Cf., e.g., Ideen I, 213 [224] and Edmund Husserl, Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Zweites Buch: Phänomenologische Untersuchungen zur Konstitution (hereafter Ideen II), ed. by M. Biemel, Husserliana IV (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1952), pp. 41–42.Google Scholar
  4. 3b.
  5. 3c.
  6. 4a.
    Cf. DR, 45; cf. also Edmund Husserl, Erfahrung und Urteil: Untersuchungen zur Genealogie der Logik (hereafter EU), ed. by L. Landgrebe (4th ed., Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1972), pp. 99–100Google Scholar
  7. 4b.
    Experience and Judgment: Investigations in a Genealogy of Logic, ed. by L. Landgrebe, tr. by J. S. Churchill and K. Ameriks (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), p. 92.Google Scholar
  8. 5a.
    Føllesdal (“Husserl’s Theory of Perception,” HICS, 93–96) argues, without merit, that Husserl did not hold the view that there are “noeses-independent hyletic data that can be re-identified from one act to another.” While Føllesdal is correct in the view that hyletic data are perspectival variations only within the context of the full act, this in itself does not guarantee that these data are not reidentifiable from one act to another. Furthermore, Føllesdal does not try to argue for another interpretation of those texts, such as the one quoted above, which seem clearly to posit the presence of such data as a real component of perceptual acts. Finally, the text to which Føllesdal does appeal in support of his view is inappropriate for it is concerned with sense (Sinn) and not sensations-contents (Empfindungsinhalte) and it argues, moreover, for the identity of sense between empty and filled intentions while recognizing that we must distinguish the modes in which the sense is given. Thus, the noemata of the emptily intending act and that of the fulfilling act are not identical, since the object just as it appears and in the how of its givenness is not throughout identical. The sense-component in those noemata is, however, identical. But all of this says nothing about the identity or lack thereof of the sensuous contents in two different interpretations of the same sensuous complex. McKenna also argues that Gurwitsch’s assertion that for Husserl “hyletic data are, in themselves and apart from their interpretation, ‘amorphic and devoid of organization’” is incorrect; cf. William R. McKenna, “The Problem of Sense Data in Husserl’s Theory of Perception”, Essays in Memory of Aron Gurwitsch 1983 (hereafter Essays, Gurwitsch), ed. by L. Embree (Washington, DC: Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology and University Press of America, 1984), pp. 224–27.Google Scholar
  9. 5b.
    McKenna is correct that Husserl’s later accounts of passive synthesis and association (cf. esp. Edmund Husserl, Analysen zur passiven Synthesis: Aus Vorlesungs-und Forschungsmanuskripten 1918–1926 (hereafter APS), ed. by M. Fleischer, Husserliana XI (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966), §§26–41; and EU, §§16–19) suggest that the sensuous contents have a form and organization of their own. Furthermore, McKenna is correct in his claim that some early texts likewise suggest this.Google Scholar
  10. 5c.
    Indeed, some clear examples, but not mentioned by him, are the texts of DR which discuss the pre-empirical spatiality of the visual field itself, where the visual field is considered the complex of sensuous contents presenting objective space and the objects therein; cf. esp. §§20–23, 46, 48–53; cf. also Ideen II, §§10, 13; and for a view grounded in Husserl’s but which does not appeal to the notion of sensuous contents, cf. John J. Drummond, “Objects’ Optimal Appearances and the Immediate Awareness of Space in Vision,” Man and World 16 (1983): 184–6, 202 n. 6. McKenna’s argument, however, establishes only that Gurwitsch has exaggerated Husserl’s position. The pre-empirical spatiality of the sensuous contents does not itself account for seeing birds, presented through contents with both qualitative and quasi-spatial characters, as a flock of birds; it does not, in other words, account for the figural factor. Nor does the pre-empirical spatiaiity of the contents account for (1) seeing the profile/goblet ambiguous figure as two faces in profile or (2) seeing the figure in the store window alternately as a human or as a mannequin. Thus, this correction of Gurwitsch does not in and of itself negate the view that Husserl’s theory of perception is dualistic or that there are sensuous constants which are indifferent to higher levels of sensuous organization and does not undercut Gurwitsch’s criticism of this dualism. I shall below say more about McKenna’s arguments for sensuous contents.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 6.
    For this discussion of Husserl’s doctrine of figural factors, cf. FC, 71–77 and “Thematics,” 252–53.Google Scholar
  12. 7.
    FC, 174; cf. also Aron Gurwitsch, “On the Intentionality of Consciousness” (hereafter “Intentionality”), Studies p. 132; Aron Gurwitsch, “Contribution to the Phenomenological Theory of Perception” (hereafter “Theory”), Studies, p. 339; and Aron Gurwitsch, “Perceptual Coherence as the Foundation of the Judgment of Predication”, Phenomenology and the Theory of Science (hereafter PTS), ed. by L. Embree (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974), p. 246–47.Google Scholar
  13. 8.
    FC, 176; “Thematics, 185 ff.; “Intentionality,” 133; “Theory,” 340. Cf. also Aron Gurwitsch, “Husserl’s Theory of the Intentionality of Consciousness in Historical Perspective”, Phenomenology and Existentialism, ed. by E. N. Lee and M. Mandelbaum (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967), pp. 46–47; this last paper appears in a slightly enlarged version in PTS (cf. p. 231) and in an abbreviated and edited version as “Husserl’s Theory of the Intentionality of Consciousness,” HICS, pp. 59–71. All my references to this paper will be to the version in PTS and will use the abbreviation “IHP.”Google Scholar
  14. 9.
    For such generalizations, cf. also Aron Gurwitsch, “On the Object of Thought”, Studies, pp. 141–143; “Theory,” 339 ff., 345 ff.; “IHP,” 231, 235; and FC, part five.Google Scholar
  15. 14a.
    ‘Contemporaneous’ here is not to be understood in its primary sense of ‘at the same time;’ its sense here is instead pre-temporal and really denotes coexistence within a single phase of consciousness. It can be used in this extended sense, however, because consciousness constitutes itself as a temporal flow. For an account of Husserl’s views on the nature of time-consciousness, the temporality of the ego, and the structure of the pre-temporal momentary phase of absolute consciousness, see John Brough’s excellent essay “The Emergence of an Absolute Consciousness in Husserl’s Early Writings on Time-Consciousness”, Man and World 5 (1972): 298–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 14b.
    Cf. also Robert Sokolowski, Husserlian Meditations (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974), chap. 6.Google Scholar
  17. 14c.
    Sokolowski’s views in this work reveal a change, in response to Brough, from the account he gave in Formation, chap. III A Fregean account of Husserl’s views on time-consciousness can be found in Izchak Miller, Husserl, Perception, and Temporal Awareness (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1984) and the same author’s “Husserl’s Account of Our Temporal Awareness”, HICS, pp. 125–46, although Miller—for unknown reasons—seems to rely exclusively on the Heidegger-Stein 1928 edition of Zeitbewusst. rather than the critical edition. The 1928 edition, however, masks important developments in Husserl’s thought, whereas the critical edition is careful to determine the dates of the various sections (sometimes even paragraphs) of the 1928 edition. An understanding of the chronological development of Husserl’s views is important, however, for a proper understanding of Husserl’s mature views on time-consciousness and the ego.Google Scholar
  18. 15a.
    Cf. also Edmund Husserl, Phänomenologische Psychologie: Vorlesungen Sommer-semester 1925 (hereafter PP), ed. by W. Biemel, Husserliana IX (2nd ed., The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968)Google Scholar
  19. 15b.
    Phenomenological Psychology: Lectures, Summer Semester, 1925, tr. by J. Scanlon (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1977), §29. I have briefly discussed the ambiguities of Husserl’s use of “appearance” (“Erscheinung”) in “On the Nature of Perceptual Appearances or Is Husserl an Aristotelian?”, The New Scholasticism 52 (1978), sec. II.Google Scholar
  20. 18.
    William McKenna, “The ‘Inadequacy’ of Perceptual Experience” (hereafter “Inadequacy”), Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 12 (1981): 126–27.Google Scholar
  21. 19.
    McKenna points to some of these differences in the two papers I have cited. Cf. also John J. Drummond, “On Seeing a Material Thing in Space: The Role of Kinaesthesis in Visual Perception” (hereafter “Seeing”), Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 40 (1979–80).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • John J. Drummond
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMount Saint Mary’s CollegeEmmitsburgUSA

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