Into Alfred Schütz’s World

  • Kurt H. Wolff
Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 26)


The title of my exploration tells its intent. It comprises an effort to enter the world of Alfred Schütz himself. I say “Alfred Schütz himself,” rather than Alfred Schütz’s work, because I wish to do right by something that is as trivial as it is important, as obvious as it is quite generally ignored, namely, that works, even in philosophy, not to mention sociology, are written by human beings (hard as it may sometimes be to believe). Taking this seriously means that there is a point in the effort to understand a piece of writing (or any other work) at which it is necessary to go outside of it and to its author so that our understanding may be illuminated by encountering the human being the author is, as well as the time and place in which the author lived, just as in this same process author, time, and place are illuminated by illuminating the work.


Cognitive Style Multiple Reality Subjective Meaning Cartesian Meditation Genuine Understanding 
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  1. 1.
    Alfred Schütz, “On Multiple Realities” (1945), Collected Papers, I [henceforth CP I], ed. and introd. Maurice Natanson, The Hague: Nijhoff, 1962, pp. 207–259, esp. 207; also cf. “Don Quixote and the Problem of Reality” (1954), Collected Papers, II [henceforth CP II], ed. and introd. Arvid Brodersen, The Hague: Nijhoff, 1964, p. 135.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Alfred Schütz, Reflections on the Problem of Relevance (1947–1951), ed., annot, and with an introd. Richard M. Zaner, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1970.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Brenda Venable Powell, “The What and Why of Experience: The Contrapuntal Relationship between Cognitive Style and Systems of Relevance,” The Annals of Phenomenological Sociology, II (1977): 107–133; the quotation is from p. 120.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Alfred Schütz, “Husserl’s Importance for the Social Sciences” (1959), CP I, pp. 140–149. Also see his earlier “Some Leading Concepts of Phenomenology” (1945), CP I, pp. 99–117, and the still earlier “Phenomenology and the Social Sciences” (1940), CP I, pp. 118–139.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Alfred Schütz, The Phenomenology of the Social World (1932), trans. George Walsh and Frederick Lehnert, introd. George Walsh, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1967, Ch. 4; originally, Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt (1932), Wien: Springer, 1960, Vierter Abschnitt.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Georg Simmel, “How Is Society Possible?” (1908), trans. Kurt H. Wolff, in Wolff, ed., Georg Simmel, 1858–1918: A Collection of Essays, with Translations and a Bibliography, Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1959, p. 342.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Alfred Schütz, “Common-Sense and Scientific Interpretation of Human Action” (1953), CP I, pp. 11–13, or “Symbol, Reality and Society” (1955), CP I, pp. 315–316.Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    Edmund Husserl, Cartesianische Meditationen und Pariser Vorträge (1929 ff.), Den Haag: Nijhoff, 2950, p. 149; cf. Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, trans. Dorion Cairns, The Hague: Nijhoff, 1960, p. 120. (Italics omitted.)Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Alfred Schütz, “Sartre’s Theory of the Alter Ego” (1948), CP I, pp. 195,197.Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenologie de la perception, Paris: Gallimard, 1945, p. i; cf. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962, p. vii. Also see Paul Ricoeur, “Husserl’s Fifth Cartesian Meditation,” in Ricoeur, Husserl: An Analysis of His Phenomenology, trans. Edward G. Ballard and Lester E. Embree, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1967, pp. 115–142.Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    Cf. this germane, sweeping statement by Georg Simmel: “The history of philosophy shows the peculiar and not particularly praiseworthy fact that it has left unfulfilled its claim to provide a deeper assessment of life in regard to a number of the most important and problematic elements of life. Apart from occasional observations, it does not instruct us concerning the concept of fate, the enigmatic structure of what we call ‘experiencing,’ prior to Schopenhauer even the deep meaning for life of happiness and suffering in so far as this meaning is morally significant. Of the great vital powers, it has perhaps neglected love most — as if love were a kind of incidental matter, merely an adventure of the subjective soul, unworthy of the seriousness and rigorous objectivity of philosophical endeavor.” Georg Simmel, “Der platonische und der moderne Eros” (?; 1921), in Simmel, Fragmente und Aufsätze aus dem Nachlass und Veröffentlichungen der letzten Jahre, ed. and preface Gertrud Kantorowicz, München: Drei Masken Verlag, 1923, p. 127; cf. Donald N. Levine’s almost identical translation in Simmel, On Individuality and Social Forms, ed. and with an introd. Donald N. Levine, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971, p. 235.Google Scholar
  12. 22.
    Part of “Sinn einer Kunstform (Musik),” in Alfred Schütz Theorie der Lebensformen (Frühe Manuskripte aus der Bergson-Periode), ed. and introd. Ilja Srubar, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1981. The whole book, containing Schütz’s writing during the years of Bergson’s greatest influence on him and preceding Der sinnhafte Aufbau, awaits analysis in relation to Schütz’s later work. Meanwhile Srubar’s “Einleitung: Schütz’ Bergson-Rezeption” is most helpful, as is Helmut R. Wagner’s to his English translation: see n. 26 below.Google Scholar
  13. 24.
    Alfred Schütz and Thomas Luckmann, The Structures of the Life-World, trans. Richard M. Zaner and H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr., Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973.Google Scholar
  14. 26.
    For a very recent (different but compatible) critique of Schütz for his neglect of praxis (in the Marxian sense of Critical Theory), see Zygmunt Bauman, “In the Prevailing Circumstances” (on the occasion of Alfred Schütz, Life Forms and Meaning Structure [see the original cited in n. 22 above], trans., introd., and annot. Helmut R. Wagner, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982, and Burke C. Thomason, Making Sense of Reification: Alfred Schütz and Constructionist Theory, London: Macmillan, 1982), Times Literary Supplement, 19 November 1982, p. 1283. The general thrust of Bauman’s critique is similar to that of phenomenology more generally advanced by members of the Frankfurt School; see Kurt H. Wolff, “Phenomenology and Sociology,” in Tom Bottomore and Robert Nisbet, eds., A History of Sociological Analysis, New York: Basic Books, 1978, pp. 506–509. The analysis of the relation between Bauman’s and the present critique remains to be worked out.Google Scholar
  15. 27.
    “Here [with this second question], you have reached a core problem of the whole approach of Schütz to mutual understanding and intersubjectivity. It has occupied me for a long time. It is clear to me that Schütz, with his extraordinary capacity for friendship and all it entails — with, in evey case since he left Vienna, rare and short personal encounters interspersed by sometimes close to [a] year or more intervals of spatial separation — considered this never a matter of self-observation and maintained a theoretical position which I explain by his adherence to some basic principles of Husserl: the exlusion of emotional experiences from phenomenological observation in favor of ‘rational’-cognitive processes. (He knew better in his early Bergsonian days.) [Cf. Alfred Schütz, Life Forms and Meaning Structure. (1924–1928)] And he was not quite comfortable with phenomenological rationalism either, as he showed when repeatedly praising Scheler for having concerned himself extensively with emotions.” From a letter to the author by Helmut R. Wagner, February 5, 1983.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kurt H. Wolff
    • 1
  1. 1.Brandeis UniversityUSA

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